Iraq’s Palestinians Still Living In Fear, Seek Refuge Abroad

By Lauren Mellinger
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq – On September 5, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees announced that 25 Iraqi-Palestinian refugees, mostly vulnerable women and children currently residing in the al-Walid refugee camp, will be permitted to resettle in Iceland. 

Prior to the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003 there were around 34,000 Palestinians living in Iraq. Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, Iraqi-Palestinians have been especially vulnerable to attacks, harassment and persecution by Shiite gunmen.  Iraqi-Palestinians are especially targeted because many Iraqis resented the special status given to Palestinians under the former Sunni-led government.  Although sectarian violence has dropped across Iraq, the Iraqi-Palestinians remain one of the most vulnerable groups in Iraq, according to the United Nations.

Following the fall of Saddam Hussein, many of the Iraqi-Palestinians fled their communities in Baghdad and resettled in the al-Walid and al-Tanf refugee camps along the Iraqi-Syrian border, awaiting resettlement.  However, resettlement has been an arduous process as many countries including Syria, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories have closed their borders.  Only a few countries including Iceland, Sweden, Brazil and Chile have agreed to accept a few hundred of the Iraqi-Palestinian refugees fleeing from persecution. 

There are around 2,300 Iraqi-Palestinians living in the UN run al-Walid and al-Tanf refugee camps and lack access to basic services and adequate medical treatment.  To date, only 300 of the 2,300 refugees have been resettled in other countries.

Earlier this year, Chile accepted 117 of the refugees and Sweden has agreed to accept 155.  However, according to the UNHCR, it is unlikely that all of the Iraqi-Palestinian refugees will be resettled before next year.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Palestinians Head to Iceland – 8 September 2008

Jerusalem Post – 25 Iraqi Palestinians Head to Iceland– 8 September 2008

UN – Palestinians Stranded on Iraq-Syria Border to Depart for Iceland– 5 September 2008

AP – Iraq’s Palestinians Still Live in Fear – 29 August 2008

Local Governments in Northwestern China Imposed Strict Limits on Religious Practices

By Ariel Lin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia Desk

BEIJING, China — Local governments in northwestern China have imposed strict limits on religious practices during the traditional Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. “Faced with recent violent and disruptive activities by religious extremists, separatists and terrorists, we must… step up ideological education of religious leaders and followers,” a notice posted on Xinjiang’s Zhaosu county website said.  The rules include prohibiting mass prayers, the distribution of religious material, women from wearing veils and men from growing beards, as well as barring government officials from observing Ramadan.

Police are checking the identities of those who have beards or mustaches, and women who cover their faces, according to an officer who answered the phone at the Charbagh village police station, in Lop county, Hotan prefecture.  “We uncover the faces of veiled women by force if necessary,” he said. “We also arrest anyone teaching religion to children illegally,” he said, adding that police were also helping to enforce a ban on Muslim restaurant closures during Ramadan.  County rules also required companies and families that have workers or visitors from outside the county to register the outsiders with the nearest police station, and to sign an agreement “on maintaining social stability.”

Xinjiang is a vast desert region bordering Central Asia that is home to 8.3 million Uighurs, many of whom say they have suffered decades of political and religious repression under Chinese rule. Last month, a series of attacks on police in Xinjiang resulted 20 officers and security guards dead, and at least as many attackers killed or arrested.  The limits on religious practices put in place by local governments appear to be a part of the broader security crackdown.  It was unclear whether the rules would be relaxed after Ramadan.

For more information, please see:

AFP – China imposes Ramadan security crackdown in Muslim northwest – 05 September 2008

Economist – A crackdown in China’s wild West, its Muslim-majority chunk of Central Asia – 04 September 2008

Radio Free Asia – Ramadan Curbs on China’s Muslims – 06 September 2008

New York Times – Ramadan Curbs Imposed in China – 08 September 2008

BRIEF: Students Strike to Hold Papua New Guinea More Accountable for Corruption

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea — On Friday, more than 2,000 students in Papua New Guinea’s University of Technology in Lae staged a protest, accusing the government of corruption.

The protest was reportedly part of a movement to inspire other college campuses to hold the government responsible for what students believe is an inability to keep inflation low. Rising prices have created a situation where people can barely afford necessities with the money they make.

The protests come on the heals of PNG Treasurer, Patrick Pruaitch’s statement that inflation had risen to a startling ten point 7 per cent.

Jackson Kiakari, the Student Representative Council president, who also leads the National Union of Students, has called for other colleges to push more accountability within the PNG government.

For more information, please see:
Radio New Zealand International — Students strike in Papua New Guinea over inflation and corruption — 05 September 2008

Protests in Pakistan Against Enforced Disappearances

By Shayne R. Burnham
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PAKISTAN – Post September 11, 2001, Pakistan joined U.S. efforts in the War on Terror by using the practice of enforced disappearances.  The Pakistani government has repeatedly denied reports of abducting hundreds of its own citizens who are suspected of terrorist activity.  Suspects are detained and held in secret facilities, secluded from the law and the outside world, and most are subjected to torture.   Pakistani organizations report that at least 563 cases of disappeared persons.

Saturday, August 30, 2008 marked the 25th International Day of the Disappeared when protesters demonstrated outside of the Pakistani High Commission in London.  Among them is Amina Janjua, founder of Pakistani Defence of Human Rights, an organization campaigning for the release of the disappeared.  Janjua’s husband, Masood Janjua, had disappeared nearly three years ago.  He was apprehended in Pakistan while traveling by bus.  Janjua was joined by Amnesty International activists; they were all chanting, “Justice now for the disappeared.”

The memorialized day also marks the start of Janjua’s international tour.  Janjua will head to Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States in order to raise global awareness and for other governments to investigate the disappearances and put pressure on the Pakistani government.

In Amensty International’s report, Denying the Undeniable, affidavits and testimonies confirm the arbitrary detention of terrorist suspects, despite Pakistan’s denials.  Evidence also shows how government officials obstruct attempts to trace them.  The report also calls upon other governments to ensure that they do not participate in, nor tolerate, this practice; there have been testimony by victims stating that they have been interrogated by foreign intelligence agents.  Moreover, Amnesty International insists that Pakistan’s new government reinstate those judges, who were removed for their meddling in the disappearances since December 2007 by President Musharraf, so that cases can be investigated more thoroughly.

For more information, please see:

Amnesty International – Protest Launches Tour Against Enforced Disappearance in Pakistan – 2 September 2008

Amnesty International – Denying the Undeniable:  Enforced Disappearances in Pakistan – 23 July 2008

Reuters – Pakistan’s New Government Must Reveal Truth About Enforced Disappearances, Urges Amnesty International In a New Report – 22 July 2008

Kiribati Seasonal Workers Mistreated in New Zealand

By Sarah E. Treptow

Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — A group of seventy Pacific Islands workers arrived in New Zealand in May as part of the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme to work in vineyards.  The workers were sent home early when the work was done, leaving most struggling.  “They do not have any employment here in Kiribati. One of the issues that we are looking at is how they are going to repay the money they borrowed from government to fund their trip to New Zealand, the airfare and other expenses,” says Taakei Taoaba, secretary of Kiribati’s labour department.

The returned Kiribati workers say they lived in overcrowded housing while receiving little work and little pay.  The New Zealand Department of Labour says twenty-two Kiribati workers living in a three-bedroom house was the worst overcrowding it has encountered.  According to a Department spokesman, the house was inspected before workers arrived and was deemed suitable for six or eight people.

It is the New Zealand Department of Labour’s job to ensure the workers are paid for the work they have done and accommodations are appropriate.  A notice has been served to the employer, Fore-Vintage Contracting, about the unacceptable accommodations and the investigation for the Kiribati group is continuing.

Some employers have complained about the seasonal workers being unskilled in the work and the department has said in the future they will work closely with the Kiribati government to make sure the workers are trained correctly.  There will also be an end of year review of the program and some employers will be routinely audited.

Ten Kiribati workers have absconded, disappearing into New Zealand.  The government is urging them to turn themselves in before they are found and deported.

The Australian government is considering a similar program for workers but has reported they will not make the same mistakes as the New Zealand government.

For more information, please see:

Radio New Zealand International — Kiribati Government to try and ensure better treatment of seasonal workers in New Zealand — 05 September 2008

The New Zealand Herald — More than 20 workers in 3-bedroom house — 28 August 2008

Islands Business — NZ Government may compensate mistreated vineyard workers — 28 August 2008

Armed Groups Use Children in Chhattisgarh Conflict

By Shayne R. Burnham
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

CHHATTISGARH, India – For the past two decades, Maoist guerrillas have run a parallel government in the region of Bijapur and Dantewada.  The Maoists strive to liberate the red zone, the area of southern India to the border of Nepal.  In 2005, Salwa Judum, a civilian resistance emerged which later gained the support of the Indian government.  As a result of this conflict, 436 people including 200 policemen died in 2007.

Currently, all parties to the Chhattisgarh conflict are recruiting child soldiers to their ranks.  The Naxalites, a Maoist rebel group, admit that they have recruited children as young as 12 years old to “gather intelligence, for sentry duty, to make and plant landmines and bombs, and to engage in hostilities against government forces.”  Salwa Judum have used children in village attacks.  Chhattisgarh state police also concede to employing children under the age of 18 to serve as special police officers who participate in government security forces.  Eyewitnesses have seen children dressed in police uniforms armed with rifles.

Human Rights Watch children’s rights advocate Jo Becker states, “A particular horror of the Chhattisgarh conflict is that children are participating in the violence.  It’s shameful that both India’s government and the Naxalites are exploiting children in such a dangerous fashion.”

The conflict has not only placed children at the forefront of violence, but has also affected the children’s education.  Children are removed from school or are abducted for recruitment.  Children have dropped out of school in fear of being abducted.  School buildings have been destroyed due to acts of terror or hostilities with the Naxalites.  Many have fled to outside the region or the country itself but the language barrier of a foreign nation has prevented children from attending.

India is a party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child’s optional protocal on the involvement of children in armed conflict. Pursuant to the protocol, 18 years old is the minimum age for participation in hostilities, for government forces and non-state armed groups. In cases such as this, the protocol advises the Indian government to assist in the rehabilitation of children who have been recruited and used in armed forces in violation of international law.   However, the state government have yet to take action.

For Human Rights Watch’s report on the use of children by all parties in the conflict, click here.

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – India:  All Sides Using Children in Chhattisgarh Conflict – 5 September 2008

India eNews – Maoists Forcibly Recruiting Child Soldiers in Chhattisgarh – 2 September 2008

The Times of India – Maoists Training Children as Guerillas – 17 August 2008

Employment Discrimination Against Disabled and Migrant Workers in China

By Ariel Lin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China – Human Rights Watch said that despite recent positive steps taken by the Chinese government, discrimination against persons with disabilities continues in China.  Human Rights Watch applauded the Chinese government’s enactment of a variety of new laws including the Law on the Protection of Disabled Persons, Regulations on the Education of Persons with Disabilities, and the Regulations on Employment of Persons with Disabilities, which on paper provide impressive protections of the rights of China’s estimated 82.7 million persons with disabilities.  However, these protections have meant little to persons with disabilities and their advocates in China who struggle to promote their rights and, in particular, to fairly compete for employment, said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.

According to a 20087 survey conducted by the China University of Political Science and Law, 22 percent of the 3,454 respondents in10 major cities said their physical disabilities had prompted employers in both the public and private sectors to reject them for jobs.  Official statistics show that the number of employable people with disabilities did not have jobs rises by 300,000 per year since 2007. Although the government has imposed a mandatory quota requiring that people with disabilities comprise a minimum of 1.5 percent of all employees of government departments, enterprises, and institutions, there is little evidence of official efforts to enforce that quota.

Furthermore, 200 million migrant workers in China are still facing employment discrimination and services for them are not in place.  “Migrant workers have lower pay and worse welfare than urban workers,” said Li Zhuobin, a member of the Standing Committee of the 11th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) at a meeting on balanced development between urban and rural areas.  He purposed the Chinese government to implement the salary deposit rule in a variety of industries.  The salary deposit rule requires employers to deposit a certain amount of money in a special labor department bank account. The money is used to pay migrant workers whose employers don’t pay them. The rule has been implemented in the construction industry.  Li also suggested that preferential policies to promote employment should cover both urban and rural residents and local governments should continue lifting discrimination rules against migrant workers.

For more information, please see:

AFP – Beijing makes big efforts to help disabled, but hurdles remain – 04 September 2008

Human Rights Watch – China: As Paralympics Launch, Disabled Face Discrimination – 05 September 2008

XinHua – Chinese advisor urges ending discrimination against migrant workers – 02 September 2008