Concerns About Lebanon After the Lebanese Transparency Association Releases Results from its Corruption Preceptions Index

By Yasmine S. Hakimian
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BEIRUT, Lebanon – In a news conference on September 23, the Lebanese Transparency Association (LTA) release the official results of the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) for 2008. The conference was held at the Press Federation in Beirut.

The LTA has announced the results of the Corruption Perceptions Index for Lebanon since 2003. Each year their report includes results from other national chapters of Transparency International around the world. This year the LTA reported on 180 states, 20 of which are Arab countries.

The CPI does not measure corruption in and of itself. It records the perception of corruption estimated by public officials and politicians for each country. Transparency International defines corruption as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain.” As a result, the index is an indication of what how respondents feel about political and administrative corruption in their countries.

The index primarily focuses on corruption in the public sector, such as an abuse of official power for private interests. The CPI is a culmination of 14 different polls and surveys from 14 independent institutions. The data is handled by businesspeople, academics, analysts, and experts. Each country is assigned a score between 1-10, 1 being most corrupt and 10 being least corrupt. Using their score, the index ranks the countries.

Fadi Saab, the LTA board secretary, has emphasized that looking at the ranks of states each year does not accurately portray corruption. Instead, Saab suggests looking at the scores assigned to a country over the last several years and taking note of the country’s regional and international standing.

Of the 180 states included in the 2008 CPI, Denmark is as the least corrupt. Somalia is ranked the most corrupt. Of the Middle East, Qatar is ranked the least corrupt.

The CPI has reported on Lebanon for six years. This year, Lebanon received the same score it did in 2003 and 2007 at 3.0/10. The 2008 score as an improvement from Lebanon’s score of 2.7/10 in 2004. However, Lebanon scored slightly better in 2005 and 2006 at 3.1/10 and 3.6/10, respectively.

According to Saab, it is most concerning that Lebanon scored lower than the international average (4.0), as well as lower than the Arab Region average (3.49).

Lebanon’s score is a result of the country’s continuing political crisis over the past two years. It is also believed that the absence of legal mechanisms in Lebanon has affected its score. 

According to Saab, the CPI results indicate the necessity of serious efforts and urgent actions to help promote political stability in Lebanon. Saab believes a permanent solution needs to take place to re-shape the relationship between citizens and the state. Saab emphasized that cooperation among the different parties will strengthen good government, maintain the well-being of society, and promote the right of access to information.

For more information, please see:

The Daily Star – Lebanese Transparency Association Relays Parts of Corruption Study by Parent Organization – 25 September 2008

TerraNet – Lebanon Ranked 102nd Out of 180 Countries on Annual Corruption Scale – 24 September 2008 

Zawya – Lebanon Ranks 102nd Out of 180 Countries on Annual Corruption Scale – 24 September 2008 

Lebanon Support – LTA: Press Conference to Release the 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) – 22 September 2008

Vietnam Police Threaten Protesters in Land Dispute

HANOI, Vietnam – Protests and violence broke out between the Vietnamese government and the Catholic Church in Vietnam regarding religious land disputes in central Hanoi. As many as 3,000 Catholics have gathered from all around Vietnam to hold vigils and protests in Hanoi. Tensions rose last Friday when the Vietnamese government started bulldozing the disputed area. Protesters said they were beaten by batons, and the police shot tear gas canisters into the crowds. The Hanoi Police denied the incident and said it was merely an “unintentional scuffle” that happened between the protesters and the police.

Since last December, protesters have been holding protests to what they believed to be an unjustified taking of lands, which was formerly a Vatican embassy and residence. However, the Vietnamese government claimed that under Vietnam law, land under management and socialist reform policies enacted in 1991 cannot be claimed. This law has generated more than 200 land disputes in Vietnam. The recent protests have been the most publicized.

The Vietnamese government criticized the area’s Thai Ha parishioners for instigating “public dissidence” in Hanoi.  In order to avoid more public outcry, Vietnamese authorities attempted to appease protesters by converting the land into a National Park and a public library for the “interest of the people.” However, many Catholics still view the disputed land as sacred and the protests continue.

For more information, please see:

AP – Vietnam Denies Use of Stun Gun to Break Protests – 29 August 2008

BBC – Vietnam Warns Priests Over Land – 23 September 2008

BBC – Prayers and Protest in Vietnam – 2 September 2008

HRW Calls for Saudi Arabia to End Religious Discrimination

By Nykoel Dinardo
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

NEW YORK, New York – Human Rights Watch released a report on Monday, September 22, calling for Saudi Arabia to end discrimination against Ismailis, a religious minority.  The report, “The Ismailis of Najran: Second-Class Saudi Citizens,” describes the systematic discrimination that has been implemented by the Saudi government.  It also details discriminatory policies and recommends changes to increase equality. 

The Ismailis are a sub-group within Shia Islam who live primarily in the southwestern region of Saudi Arabia.  The majority of the population follows Wahhabism, a sub-group within Sunni Islam.  Several Sunni religious officials have made statements against the Ismaili faith which HRW has classified as equivalent to hate-speech.

According to the report, the Saudi government has increased policies that treat Ismaili followers as second-class citizens, especially with regard to employment, education and the justice system. It outlines instances where Ismailis have been dismissed from employment positions, have been arrested, and some tortured due to their religious practices. For instance, a man’s marriage was annulled by the government in 2006 because he was Ismaili and his wife was Sunni.  The court reasoned that the marriage was invalid because the man did not have sufficient religious qualifications.

Although there were complaints of religious discrimination before, following Prince Mish’al bin Sa’ud becoming governor of Najran in 1996 there were reports of increased tensions between religious groups in the region.  Specifically, the report details an incident in 2000 when Saudi officials refused to allow entrance into Ismaili mosques on Eid Al-Fitr, an important religious holiday.  The Minister of Interior required guards be placed outside Ismaili mosques and that anyone trying to enter be arrested.

The report also narrates the incidents known as the Holiday Inn Events.  In 2000, an Ismaili sheikh was arrested and accused of ‘sorcery.’  At a student protest responding to the arrest, gunfire and fighting broke out.  There were varying accounts of injuries but no fatalities.  When Ismaili leaders went to the Holiday Inn and requested to meet with the governor, who was staying there, a unit of armed personnel arrived at the scene and fired into the crowd.

The report makes recommendations for the Saudi government to change their policies.  These include an investigation, to be made public, regarding the Holiday Inn Events.  HRW also asks that Saudi Arabia take affirmative steps to ensure that Ismaili citizens are not discriminated against.  These steps include rebutting negative statements against Ismailis and passing legislation that protects Ismaili interests in constructing religious buildings.   

HRW released the report only two months after King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia hosted an interfaith conference with leaders in Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism.  HRW Middle East Director, Joe Stork commented that this report shows Saudi Arabia needs to practice what it preaches within its own borders.

For more information, please see:

Financial Times – Saudi Arabia Urged to End Discrimination – 23 September 2008

The Guardian – Discrimination Against Muslims in Saudi Arabia – 22 September 2008

Human Rights Watch –  The Ismailis of Najran: Second-Class Saudi Citizens – 22 September 2008

Human Rights Watch – Saudi Arabia: Shia Minority Treated as Second-Class Citizens – 22 September 2008

Khaleej Times – Human Rights Group Reports on Saudi Discrimination – 22 September 2008

Fiji Moves to Rejoin Pacific Forum

By Hayley J. Campbell
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

SUVA, Fiji – After last month’s summit boycott, Fiji’s interim Prime Minister has expressed interest in resuming his country’s participation in the Pacific Forum.

The Pacific Islands Forum was originally founded in 1971 to promote peace, harmony, security and economic prosperity within the Pacific nations. Fiji was one of seven founding members. The group of independent and self-governing states is now sixteen strong.

Bainimarama’s request to re-engage with the Forum is surprising given the interim government’s recent attitude toward the Forum. In June, the interim government suspended discussions with the Forum Joint Working Group on Fiji. Last August, the Pacific Forum issued Fiji an ultimatum that either Bainimarama return his country to democratic rule by March 2009 or face suspension from the Forum. In addition, Bainimarama choose to boycott the Forum’s summit meeting in Niue last month.

In his letter to the Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum, Niue’s Premier Toke Talagi, Bainimarama discussed proposals for Fiji’s return to democracy.

When interviewed, Talagi said the Forum was eager to continue their dialogue with Fiji:

“He wants to re-engage with the groups that have been working with them in the past, and that’s they joint consultative group and the ministerial contact group. And the Forum is pleased that he wants to do that because obviously we want to continue a dialogue to ensure that we can encourage them to hold elections by March as he promised.”

For more information, please see:
Fiji Times – Regime backs down, seeks Forum talks – 25 September 2008

Fiji Live – Fiji PM wins support from Cooks’ speaker – 25 September 2008

Radio New Zealand International – Pacific Forum chair welcomes Fiji moves to re-engage – 24 September 2008

Fiji Village – Revelations of Fiji Re-engaging In Forum – 24 September 2008

Pacific Islands Forum Website

Is the International Community Neglecting Human Rights Issues in North Korea ?

By Ariel Lin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PYONGYANG, North Korea – An independent report commissioned by the former leaders of the Czech Republic and Norway and a Nobel peace laureate, urged the international community to increase its level of intervention on North Korea’s human rights issues.  The report said the international community has far too long neglected the human rights situation in North Korea because of the nuclear threat.  The report comes as six-nation nuclear negotiations have stalled, with North Korea threatening to restart its nuclear reactor.  It said the discussion of human rights in those disarmament talks has largely been an “issue of secondary concern.”

The report pointed out one of the most pressing problems in North Korea – food distribution.  “Large segments of the North Korean population never receive any of the food provided by international relief agencies and other countries,” it said, noting that prisons still operate with “brutality and massive disregard for basic human rights.”  The report suggested that all dialogue with North Korea must make as a starting point Pyongyang’s commitment under global treaties and laws on rights and other issues, including the nuclear talks.  The report followed a 2006 assessment that accused Pyongyang of failing to live up to its responsibility under international law to protect its population from genocide, war crimes, or crimes against humanity.

North Korea recently took steps to restart its nuclear program after agreeing in November to dismantle it as part of an aid-for-disarmament deal. North Korea asked the International Atomic Energy Agency on Monday to remove seals and surveillance equipment from a key nuclear facility, the UN nuclear watchdog said Monday.  The request came three days after North Korea confirmed it was working to restart the Yongbyon reactor, and no longer wanted US concessions promised under the aid-for-disarmament agreement. US State Department spokesperson Robert Wood told reporters at a news briefing that Washington is “very concerned” about North Korea’s actions. The six-nation aid-for-disarmament deal is deadlocked due to a dispute over verification of the declaration of the North’s nuclear program, which it delivered in June as part of the agreement.

For more information, please see:

AP – North Korea wants seals removed at nuclear plant: IAEA – 22 September 2008

KBS – NGO Urges Participation in NK Human Rights Issues – 23 September 2008

International Herald Tribune – Report faults North Korean human rights – 23 September 2008

Reuters – World seen neglecting N. Korea human rights abuses – 22 September 2008

PA Forces Raid Hamas Office in West Bank

By Laura Zuber
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

HEBRON, West Bank
– On September 22, security forces from the Palestinian Authority (PA) raided the Hebron offices of Samira al-Halayka, a legislator from Hamas’s Change and Reform bloc.  According to al-Halayka, computers and documents were confiscated by the PA.  A security official in Hebron stated that the officers confiscated leaflets and other documents that he said incited violence against the Palestinian Authority.  In addition, al-Halayka’s guard was detained, but then later released.

This raid was conducted as part of a larger crack-down against Hamas in the West Bank.  Over the weekend, PA security officers, loyal to Fatah and President Abbas, arrested fifteen members of Hamas.  Hamas also claims that the PA shut down four organizations, which were purely charitable.  Earlier in the month, on September 11, Hamas reported that PA security forces arrested 11 of its members and supporters.

Tensions between Hamas and Fatah remain high following the Hamas takeover of Gaza in summer 2007.  In addition to violent confrontations, this tension has resulted in politically-motivated arrests against each others members.  Politically-motivated arrests are such an issue of contention that the two sides agreed to form a national committee aimed at ending the practice.

The heightened tension between the two factions has led to rumors of a Palestinian civil war.  Last week, ten Palestinian West Bank security chiefs met in Beit El with Israeli military and police officers.  Fatah officers openly called for “joint action with Israel against the common enemy – Hamas,” and expressed their “willingness to take care of the Hamas mosques and institutions using information provided by Israel.”

In addition, Hamas leaders, including former Interior Minister, Said Siam, stated that following January 9, 2009, Abbas will not be the legal Palestinian President.  Following the January 2005 presidential elections, which Hamas boycotted, the basic law was amended so that the next presidential and parliamentary elections will be held in the same year.  However, Hamas argues that following the January 2006 parliamentary election, it annulled this part of the law.

“There is nothing in the Palestinian constitution saying that the president has the right to extend his presidential term for an extra year. According to the constitution, the presidential term is four years only,” said Siam.

For more information, please see:
Ha’aretz – PA Security Forces Raid West Bank Office of Hamas Legislator – 22 September 2008

International Middle East Media Center – P.A. Forces Arrest Five Hamas Member in the West Bank – 22 September 2008

Reuters – Palestinian Authority Raids Hamas West Bank Office – 22 September 2008

Xinhua – Hamas Official: Abbas not to be Legal President After Jan. 9 – 22 September 2008

Yedioth – Palestinians Headed to Civil War – 22 September 2008

Xinhua – Pro-Abbas Forces Arrest 11 Hamas Members in West Bank – 11 September 2008

Turkey: New Wave of Detentions in Ergenekon Investigation

By Lauren Mellinger
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

 ISTANBUL, Turkey – On September 18, a Turkish court ordered the arrest of six people in connection with the controversial Ergenekon investigation.  On Sunday, four members of Ergenekon were released from custody.  However, alleged members of the organization remain in Turkish military prison.

The Ergenekon organization was formed in the 1990s in order to combat what they considered to be the potential erosion of Turkish sovereignty, in light of Turkey’s growing ties to the European Union, and to combat the threat that they considered the ruling AKP party posed to secularism.  The AKP party has a pro-Islamist platform and considers the hard-line secularist Ergenekon organization to be the main obstacle in their hopes of reforming secular Turkish society. 

The Ergenekon investigation began in June 2007 after Turkish authorities discovered grenades in a house in the Umraniye district of Istanbul.  According to Turkish authorities, the purpose of the alleged crackdown on Ergenekon is to prevent a possible military coup from overthrowing the ruling AKP government.  Over 100 people, including Turkish politicians, journalists, intellectuals, actors and retired generals, suspected of being members of Ergenekon have been detained by Turkish authorities in connection with the ongoing investigation.

Reports are circulating alleging that the Ergenekon investigation is a farce, with the primary goal of implicating as many hard-line secularists as possible, limiting the threat to AKP.  Each wave of arrests and detentions have coincided with a domestic news cycle that was damaging to the AKP.  In addition, unsubstantiated reports have linked the Ergenekon to numerous terrorists attacks that were carried out in Turkey over the past 15 years.

The detainees have been charged with multiple counts including “forming an armed terrorist organization, being a member of a terrorist organization, and aiding the organization.”  The 2,455 page Ergenekon indictment, filed in Istanbul’s 13th Serious Crimes Court on July 25, allegedly contains a mixture of fact, rumor, speculation and misinformation.  47 individuals named in the indictment continue to be held in Turkish prisons.

For more information, please see:

Bianet – One of the Ergenekon Generals Released, Eleven New Arrests – 23 September 2008

Hot News Turkey – 5 Army Members Arrested, Ret. Gen. Freed in Turkey’s Ergenekon Probe – 23 September 2008

Hot News Turkey – Turkish Court Arrests 6 in Ergenekon Investigation – 22 September 2008

Eurasian Daily Monitor – Fact, Fantasy, and Farce As More Are Detained in Ergenekon Probe – 22 September 2008

22 September 2008

CNMI Officials Say U.S. Proposal Harms Locals’ Rights

Listen to this article. Powered by

By Hayley J. Campbell
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

SAIPAN, Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands – Local Island officials are speaking out against a U.S. proposal to create a national marine monument in the Northern Mariana Islands. Government officials claim that such a preserve would greatly inhibit locals’ rights to use the islands and their waters for their own economic benefit.

In a letter to President Bush, John B. Joyner, Ph.D., director of the Coastal Resources Management Office, Sylvan O. Igisomar, director of the Division of Fish and Wildlife, Frank M. Rabauliman, director of the Division of Environmental Quality, Ray Mafnas, senior policy advisor to the governor, and local community leaders like Lino M. Olopai, expressed their deep concerns for their people’s own autonomy:

“We remember being disposed of the area waters first by Spain, then Germany, followed by Japan, and now America? We beg your consideration so we, Pacific Island Americans, might avoid the never forgiven property plight of the Native Americans and the property infamy of the Japanese Americans.”

Island officials compare the U.S. designation protecting CNMI waters to recent actions taken by Russia against Georgia and China against Tibet.

In addition, the group wrote to President Bush, “You have said repeatedly that it is the role of government to protect the rights of the minority, not to abuse them just because the government may have the power to do so.”

On Thursday, the Senate  adopted House Joint Resolution 16-13 which asks President Bush to reject the marine monument proposal.

For more information, please see:
Mariana Variety –  Gov’t urges Bush to reject monument proposal – 22 September 2008

Pacific Magazine – Island Officials Say U.S. Move Would ‘Trammel’ Local Rights – 22 September 2008

Dissident Websites in Myanmar are Under Cyber Attacks

By Ariel Lin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

YANGON, Myanmar – Shortly before the anniversary of the 1988 pro-democracy uprising and last year’s Buddhist-monk-led Saffron Revolution, two leading dissident websites in Myanmar have been shut down by a sophisticated cyber attack. The websites, run by the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) and the Irrawaddy news magazine, are operated by exiles outside Myanmar.  These websites are one of the few remaining sources of reliable news for people in Myanmar, however both were disabled on Wednesday.

Irrawaddy said Thai web host I-NET had confirmed on Wednesday its site had been under “distributed denial-of-service” assault.  Aung Zaw, editor-in-chief of the Irrawaddy online magazine, says his staff is gathering evidence and believes it will be able to identify the attackers.  He believes that the junta is behind the attack, just as it was behind the shutdown of Internet access in Burma during last year’s uprising.  Myanmar’s military junta has launched a series of crippling cyberspace attacks on dissident websites on the first anniversary of major protest marches by Buddhist monks, the Irrawaddy websites said on Friday.

DVB’s Thailand bureau chief, Toe Zaw Latt, said the agency’s website was only a small part of its reporting operations, and two major sources of news inside Myanmar, its radio and satellite television stations, both remained up and running.  The Internet inside Myanmar had also been running slower than its normal snail’s pace this week and Internet cafes had come under unusually tight surveillance, the Irrawaddy said.  Security was also tight on the streets of Yangon, with some vehicle checkpoints, one diplomat said.

For more information, please see:

Radio Free Asia – Cyber-Attacks on Burmese Web Sites – 19 September 2008

Reuters – Myanmar junta takes out critical websites – dissidents – 19 September 2008

Wall Street Journal – The Generals Go Cyber? – 19 September 2008

Tutu Reports to the United Nations on a Possible Israeli War Crime

By Yasmine S. Hakimian
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BEIT HANOUN, Gaza – On September 18, South African archbishop, Desmond Tutu, argued that Israel may have committed a war crime when it attacked Beit Hanoun in Gaza two years ago. Israel has repeatedly explained the shelling resulted from a flawed artillery firing system. The Israeli military claims their private investigation of the shelling uncovered a technical error. Mr. Tutu is critical of the explanation in his report to the UN Human Rights Council.

Israel’s shelling of Beit Hanoun killed 19 people. In his report to the UN, Mr. Tutu asks Israel to pay compensation to the victims. The report includes horrific accounts from several people who survived the shelling. The victims speak of dead people lying in the streets, local hospitals being overwhelmed, and of victims paying guards at Israeli checkpoints to receive treatment.

Defying the standards for international humanitarian law, Mr. Tutu claims the shelling shows a disproportionate and reckless disregard for Palestinian civilian life. As a result, he is concerned that a war crime may have occurred.

In his report, Mr. Tutu asked for an independent investigation into the shelling. He argued that the largely secret internal investigation performed by the Israeli military is legally and morally unacceptable.

Even as a UN special advisor, Mr. Tutu never received a report from the Israeli investigation. Mr. Tutu protested that without a well-founded explanation from the military and no independent investigation, no one has been held accountable for the shelling.

He explained the shelling has greatly increased the suffering of Gazans who are entitled to protection and support from Israel. Residents of Gaza have been stripped of their right to life through the killings that occurred in Beit Hanoun and the lack of an appropriate investigation into the deaths. 

At the presentation, the Palestinian ambassador to the UN, Mohammad Abu-Koash, said the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court should be contacted about Mr. Tutu’s report. In disagreement, the Israeli ambassador to the UN, Aharon Leshno Yaar, said nothing can be gained by rehashing the shelling now as a thorough investigation was performed and the results were shared with the UN.

According to Barnaby Philips, a reporter for Al Jazeera, “there is no relief in sight for Gazans and little indication that Tutu’s report can alter the grim facts of the Beit Hanoun killings.”

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Tutu Urges Israel ‘War Crime’ Probe – 19 September 2008

Jerusalem Post – Tutu: Israel May Have Committed War Crime – 16 September 2008 

BBC – Israel Raid ‘Could be a War Crime’ – 15 September 2008

Ha’aretz – Archbishop Tutu to UN: Israel May Have Committed War Crime – 15 September 2008

Ynet – Tutu Says Israel May Have Committed War Crime – 15 September 2008

International Pressure for Human Rights Tribunal in East Timor

By Pei Hu

Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

DILI, East Timor – East Timor President, Jose Ramos Horta, has faced criticism by his own citizens as well as the international community regarding the lenient treatment of Indonesian funded militia members incarcerated in East Timor.  The militia members were accused of committing human rights abuses. Horta and Indonesian leaders met for the joint Truth and Friendship Commission, where both countries attempted to bring the perpetrators of the 1999 violence to justice. Horta told reporters that the Truth and Friendship Commission is enough to bring justice. However, the Indonesian special court acquitted most of the 18 indicted suspects.

Before East Timor achieved its independence from Indonesia in 1999 by referendum, about 1,500 people were brutally murdered, tortured, and raped by pro-Indonesian militia. Nine years ago, the Indonesian government denied its involvement and has often said these acts of violence were sporadic actions of the pro-independence militia. However, BBC reporters have reported that Indonesian government assisted the militia.  The militia was loyal to Indonesia and used violent means to discourage a vote for independence.

Taking into consideration the close ties with its neighbor Indonesia, Horta issued a Presidential pardon to release some militia members involved in the East Timor conflict and decided not to establish a Human Rights Tribunal in East Timor. Horta encourages his citizens to forgive rather than to pursue justice through trials.

Joni Marques, the leader of the pro-Indonesian militia, Tim Alpha, was pardoned in July after being incarcerated 33 years. This move has been widely criticized by Timorese citizens and the international community. “Clearly, it’s not a good message with regard to impunity and accountability for serious crimes,” said Louis Gentile, the representative of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

In addition, Horta has been criticized by Western members of the UN for not actively pursuing a Human Rights Tribunal. In response, Horta criticized the UN of “hypocrisy” because he does not believe that the Western nations would fund such a tribunal. Horta believes in a pragmatic need for good relations with its neighbor Indonesia.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Indonesia funded ‘E Timor abuse’ – 10 July 2008

BBC – Justice and compassion in East Timor – 4 July 08

BBC – Ramos Horta slams UN ‘hypocrisy’ – 15 September 08

Children Soldiers in the Mindanao Conflict

By Shayne R. Burnham
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

COTABATO, Philippines – The Philippine Military accused the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) of using children as soldiers against the government.  Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita revealed that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will inform the UN General Assembly in New York this Thursday, citing a video clip of MILF’s human rights violations.

A member of the army’s 6th Infantry Division, Lieutenant Colonel Julieto Ando, stated that troops seized a video from a captured MILF base in Maguindanao.  Footage shows MILF’s recruitment and training of children.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child prohibits state governments and armed groups from using children under the age of 18 in armed conflict. However, although they admit to deploying young soldiers, MILF denies the use of children in their ranks.  Eid Kabalu, a senior rebel leader and civil miltary affairs chief, stated, “We have young members and these are the sons and even relatives of MILF []. We teach these young revolutionaries how to defend themselves from aggressors. They are not child warriors . . . .”  Furthermore, Muhammad Ameen, deputy chair of the MILF’s information committee, said, “We hope the United Nations will not try us in absentia and provide us an avenue to air our side and present evidence that the government is the one killing our children.”

The Mindanao conflict ensued last month when the government canceled a land deal with MILF.  It escalated after August 4th, when the Supreme Court entered a temporary restraining order against the signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain.  The Memorandum aimed to formally open negotiations between the government and MILF to end the four decade conflict and expand MILF territory.  Angered by the aborted agreement, MILF attacked multiple towns and villages in Muslim Mindanao, which has affected more than half a million people.

Peace negotiations have ceased between the government and MILF and the government peace panel has since been dissolved.

For more information, please see:

ABS CBN News – Humanitarian Situation Still “Grim” in Mindanao Conflict Areas– 17 September 2008

Amnesty International – Mindanao Citizens Under Threat From MILF Units and Militias – 22 August 2008 – MILF Welcomes Gov’t Plan to Bring Child Warrior Issue to UN – 20 September 2008

Mindanao Examiner – Philippine Military Accused MILF of Using Child Soldiers in Mindanao – 12 September 2008

Rebellion in Manipur Fueled By the Military

By Shayne R. Burnham
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

NEW DELHI, India –  In the northeastern state of Manipur, the army has engaged in various human rights violations such as killings, torture, use of bombs and landmines, forced recruitment and extortion.  This has caused an insurgency in Manipur against the armed forces.

For the past 50 years, pursuant to the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), the army has  been granted immunity from their human rights violations.  The Act empowers the military to conduct warrantless arrests, shoot-to-kill and destroy property.  More importantly, it protects them from the prosecution of serious crimes, thus allowing impunity to easily occur.

“Soldiers and police are protected by laws granting immunity and officials unwilling to hold them accountable for serious crimes,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, senior researcher on South Asia at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “These laws perpetuate human rights abuses, which drive civilians to seek the protection of one or other armed group.”

On September 15, 2008, Human Rights Watch released their report, “These Fellows Must Be Eliminated:  Relentless Violence and Impunity in Manipur.”  This report details several cases where victim suspects are executed and tortured.  Victims also report how they were arbitrarily arrested, subjected to electric shocks, severely beaten and many have been subjected to waterboarding.

Despite various reports by the United Nations and various other human rights organizations, the Indian government has done nothing.  “The Indian government has not only ignored the pleas of ordinary Manipuris and UN human rights bodies to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, but has even ignored the findings of its own committee,” said Ganguly. “This reflects the sort of callousness that breeds anger, hate and further violence.”

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – India:  Army Killings Fuel Insurgency in Manipur – 15 September 2008

Human Rights Watch – Getting Away With Murder:  50 Years of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act – 18 August 2008

Human Rights Watch – India:  Repeal Armed Forces Special Powers Act – 18 August 2008

Human Rights Watch – These Fellows Must Be Eliminated:  Relentless Violence and Impunity in Manipur – 15 September 2008

Malaysia Crackdowns on Anti-Government Bloggers

By Pei Hu
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – The Malaysian government arrested Raja Petra Raja Kamarudin, Malaysian’s top anti-government blogger, this past Friday. In 2007, the Malaysian government passed the controversial Internal Security Act (ISA) to allow the government to arrest and detain citizens up to a month without explanation. The ISA has been criticized as an encroachment on free speech.

Raja Petra was arrested for allegedly publishing material that ridiculed Islam and government authorities on his widely read website, Malaysia Today. Raja Petra Raja Kamarudin’s arrest came after the government attempted to stop Internet service providers from allowing access to Malaysia Today. This was the first time the Malaysian government ordered the closure of a website.

Tensions broke out between the leader of the opposition party, Anwar Ibrahim and the Malay Muslim ruling party, who accused ethic Chinese for being power hungry. Anwar and the People Justice Party threatened to march the streets and topple the government.

Raja Petra’s arrest has stirred international attention since it was first brought up by Amnesty International. On September 20, Syed Azidi Syed Abudul Aziz “Kickdefella”, another anti-government blogger, was released. Police seized Kickdefella’s computer and arrested him on September 17 for posting “seditious” material on his blogs. He was the second blogger to be arrested after Raja Petra.

The arrests of Raja Petra and Kickdefella have not silenced bloggers. “We condemn these arrests and call for the release of … blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin, arrested under the ISA on 12 September,” a blogger nicknamed RPK wrote. The People Justice Party and Anwar publicly announced “such an attack on democracy will only accelerate the further slide of Malaysia’s dipping economic and political ratings.”

For more information, please see:

AP – Malaysia’s Top Anti-Government Blogger Arrested – 12 September 2008

Guardian – Malaysia Blogger’s Arrest Creates Dangerous Precedent – 12 September 2008

Impunity Watch – Malaysian Government Silences Critics with Arrests – 16 September 2008

Reporters without Borders – Blogger Kickdefella Released – 20 September 2008