Maoists Attack Nepalese Media

By Pei Hu
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

Kathmandu, Nepal – On December 23rd, local Nepalese newspapers published blank editorial columns protesting a Maoist affiliated attack on Himalmedia, an English-language news publisher. On December 21st, a group of 50 union protestors stormed Himalmedia offices and attacked the employees and burned 2,500 copies of newspapers injuring 12 people.

The attack happened after the newspaper published news article was critical of Maoist affiliated trade unions and injured staff who allegedly tried to stop the news agency from publishing news that was critical of the Maoist-led government. “Trade unions in Nepal did not grow out of labor issues. Rather they were established by political parties be they Maoist unions or any other while extending their organization. They have always been mobilized to attain political ends,” said Professor Krishana Khanal, a political analyst. “The Maoists are trying to bring the media under their control through their unions.”

Maoists were a formal rebel groups in Nepal. Earlier this year, the Maoists won local elections and now have a majority in Nepal’s coalition government. However, Maoists have been criticized for using intimidating tactics to generate supporters.

Kunda Dixit, editor of Nepali Times, published by Himalmedia said, “We saw the attack as an attack on press freedom, on the values of democracy for which we fought, the media has fought, along with civil society and the democratic parties in the past… and now the threat comes from an elected Maoist government, and we thought we had to make a strong statement.”

The Maoist Prime Minister, Prachanda, denied any Maoist involvement in the attacks and promised an investigation. “The party cannot be blamed for the incident carried out by some individuals,” said Sharma Dinanath, a Maoist spokesman. “The government will investigate and take action against the guilty.”

Reporters Without Borders condemned the recent attacks on Himalmedia saying, “Threats and assaults against the media are escalating,” and “The Prime Minister, Prachanda, should keep his promise and launch an investigation to ensure the guilty are punished.”

For more information please see:

APF –  Nepal Media Protest Against Maoist Union Attack – 23 December 200

RSF – Militant Maoists Continue Their Attacks Against the Media – 23 December 2008

VOA – Nepal Media Protests Attack by Maoist Activists – 23 December 2008

Egypt Criticized for Refusing to Open Gaza Crossings

By Nykoel Dinardo
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt – As many countries throughout the Middle East protest the air strikes on the Gaza strip, many protests are focused on Egypt.  Egypt has offered to send humanitarian aid into areas affected by the strikes, but has seriously restricted crossings into Egypt at the Rafah border crossing.  These restrictions have been in place since 2007, but Egypt refuses to reconsider them in light of the number of residents attempting to flee the area.  The Rafah crossing is the only passing into Egypt from the Gaza strip.

Egyptian Ambassador to the UN Maged Abdelaziz said in a press conference on December 29 that those wishing to cross the border at Rafah were not being inhibited by Egypt.  He claimed that any difficulties in crossing were occurring on the Palestinian side of the border.

Several protesting groups, including a group of students in Yemen who attacked the Egyptian consulate earlier this week, claim that Egypt’s refusal constitutes approval.  They claim that Egypt is choosing Israel’s side over the Palestinians affected in this conflict for Egypt’s political gain.   Egypt is one of only two Arab states that have treaties with Israel.

Egyptian foreign minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit has called on Israel to end the attacks.  However, he also blamed Hamas for ignoring warnings that Israel would attack if rocket fires from Gaza did not cease.  This statement prompted several responses.  In Lebanon, roughly 4,000 protesters gathered to criticize Egypt’s response.  Although the protesters also criticized Israel’s attacks, the focus of the protest was on Egypt.  Slogans calling Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak a traitor and an Agent of the Americans were shouted by the crowds. 

Giving fuel to the fire, President Mubarak was photographed leaving meetings with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni the day before the attacks commenced.  The Israeli cabinet had already approved the attacks.  Gheit was also photographed smiling and shaking hands with Livni, though it is reported that he urged restraint in meetings with Israel. 

Although Egypt has been strongly criticized in the Arab world for its reaction to this conflict, the Arab League will meet today in Cairo to discuss possible future steps.

For more information, please see:

NPR – Arab League Meets in Egypt Over Gaza Crisis – 31 December 2008

International Herald Tribune – Arab Outrage over Gaza Carnage targets Egypt – 30 December 2008

The New York Times – Egypt Offers Humanitarian Aid but Is Criticized for Refusing to Open Gaza Border – 30 December 2008

Inner City Press – On Gaza, Egypt Blames Blockage of Rafah Crossing on “Other Party,” Strange Bedfellows Noted – 29 December 2008

The Jerusalem Post – Arab League Delays Emergency Meeting – 28 December 2008

Differing Accounts Regarding Collision Between Aid Boat and Israeli Navy

By Laura Zuber
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

TYRE, Lebanon – On December 30, a boat carrying international peace activists and medical supplies to Gaza sailed to the port city of Tyre, Lebanon after it was damaged in a collision involving Israeli patrol ships.  The SS Dignity was carrying crew and 16 passengers – physicians from Britain, Germany and Cyprus and human rights activists from the Free Gaza Solidarity Movement.  The SS Dignity was attempting to break the Israeli blockade to deliver humanitarian aid.

The Dignity’s crew and passengers claim that Israeli patrol ships intentionally rammed the boat three times.  Denis Healey, Dignity’s captain, added that the Israeli action came “without any warning, or any provocation.” 

The collision resulted in extensive damage to the Dignity and according to CNN correspondent Karl Penhaul, who was on board when the incident occurred, the boat was taking on water.  Healey told Penhaul, “It could have ended with people drowning if they hit us more square on…It [the Dignity] could have gone down in minutes.”

Former US Representative Cynthia McKinney, who was also aboard the Dignity, recounted the incident: “We were prevented from entering Gaza… by Israeli patrol boats that tracked us for about 30 minutes. They shone their spotlight on us and then all of a sudden they rammed us approximately three times, twice in the front and once in the side.”

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor denied the activists’ claims that Israeli patrol ships intentionally rammed the Dignity, calling the allegations “absurd.”  Palmor said the collision resulted after the Dignity tried to outmaneuver an Israeli navy ship and crashed into it.  He added, “There is no intention on the part of the Israeli navy to ram anybody.”

In addition, Palmor denied the activists’ claims that the collision occurred without prior warning.  He said that the navy patrol boat had warned the Dignity not to proceed to Gaza because it was a closed military area.  He added that the interception occurred after the Dignity ignored the radio warning.

Cypriot MP Eleni Theocharous condemned Israel and called it a “terrorist state.”  Theocharous and two other Cypriots were aboard the Dignity, which had set sail from Cyprus the day before.  She stated that the boat and the individuals on board were not violating any international laws. Rather, she claims that since the interception occurred in international waters, Israel violated international law.

The Dignity was carrying over three tons of Cyprus-donated medical supplies, including surgical equipment and antibiotics.  Cyprus state radio reported that the government would seek explanations from Israel over the incident.  Additionally, according to the Free Gaza group, the Lebanese government promised to provide a forensic analysis of what happened to the ship.

On December 31, Free Gaza promised to continue its attempts to bring humanitarian supplies to Gaza despite the Israeli blockade.  The group’s spokesman, Vangelis Pissios, stated “We have decided to send the same vessel or another one back within the next few days. The route to Gaza must remain open.”

Pissios said that the group is planning three to four monthly trips throughout the winter.  Since August, the Free Gaza group has made five successful trips to deliver aid to Gaza. 

For more information, please see:

Financial Mirror – Cypriot MP Says Israel Behaving as a Terrorist State – 31 December 2008

International Herald Tribune – Activists Vow to Persist in Gaza Aid Effort – 31 December 2008 

Ma’an News Agency – SS Dignity to Be Forensically Analyzed to Verify Israeli Attacks in International Waters – 31 December 2008

Associated Press – Gaza Protest Boat Sails into Lebanon – 30 December 2008

CNN – Gaza Relief Boat Damaged in Encounter with Israeli Vessel – 30 December 2008

Reuters – Gaza Aid Boat Damaged by Israelis Reaches Lebanon – 30 December 2008

Xinhua – Cyprus Regrets Israeli Blockage of Aid Boat for Gaza – 30 December 2008

Israeli Court Backs Limited Foreign Press Entry into Gaza

By Laura Zuber
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

TEL AVIV, Israel
– On December 31, Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled that Israel has until 10:00am Thursday to facilitate limited entry of foreign journalists into Gaza.  According to the Jerusalem Post, the ruling would allow a pool of up to 12 foreign journalists into Gaza, but only when the border is already open for humanitarian shipments. 

The Jerusalem Post characterizes the ruling as a recommendation and stated that the three-justice panel gave the government until Thursday morning to respond and the petitioners will have until noon Thursday to respond to the government’s position.

The ruling is a response to a petition filed by the Tel Aviv-based Foreign Press Association (FPA) on November 24.  FPA filed the petition following Israel’s ban of foreign journalists entering Gaza, which was imposed two months ago.  After the petition was initially filed, Israel temporarily opened the border for journalists on December 4.  However, when Operation Cast Lead began on December 27, a complete ban was re-imposed.

FPA Chairman Steven Gutkin, also the Jerusalem bureau chief for the Associated Press, cautiously welcomed the decision.  He said, “Anything that the court does that furthers our goal of ensuring free access to the Gaza Strip for the international media we view as positive.”  However, Gutkin added, “We note that the court ruling is limited in scope and we hope that the court will view positively our other wider position as well.”

Hila Gorni, an attorney for the Israeli government, said that the opening and closing of the border for the foreign press presented a security risk.  “Security “ reasons were also cited by the Defense Ministry when it closed the Erez crossing to all foreign journalists last month as the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas began to collapse.

In addition, Government Press Office Director Danny Seaman voiced concerns that Hamas will exploit foreign journalists as, he claims, that Islamic groups have done in the past.  Seaman said, “Based on our experience from the war in Lebanon and the way the foreign press has conducted itself in Gaza, we know that Hamas is in complete control of the news, and that reports from Gaza are carried out under duress.”

According to the Jerusalem Post, the Court will decide how to proceed following responses from both the Israeli government and the FPA.  The decision represents a limited resolution and the broader lawsuit asking for full media access to Gaza is still pending.

For more information, please see:

Jerusalem Post – Courts Backs Limited Foreign Press Entry to Gaza – 31 December 2008

Jewish Telegraphic Agency – Court: Let Reporters into Gaza – 31 December 2008

Kazakhstan News – Israel High Court Overturns Ban on Foreign Journalists Entering Gaza – 31 December 2008 

The Guardian – Foreign Journalists Demand Gaza Access – 30 December 2008

International Herald Tribune – Foreign Journalists Asks Court for Access to Gaza – 28 December 2008

Over 700,000 Israelis within Range of Hamas Rockets

By Laura Zuber
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

BEERSHEBA, Israel – On December 30, long-range rockets fired from Gaza have landed around the southern city of Beersheba, 28 miles (46km) from the Gaza-Israeli border.  Correspondents say it is the furthest the Palestinian militants in Gaza have managed to strike.

 No causalities were reported as the rockets hit an empty school in Beersheba and an open area in the nearby city of Rahat; several individuals were treated for shock. Also, on December 31, two rockets hit the city of Ashkelon, injuring one person slightly. 

Following the attack on Beersheba, an Israeli police spokesman said 860,000 Israelis were now in range of Hamas rockets.  According to the UN, over 700,000 Israelis are under immediate threat due to the 40-km range of the rockets fired from Gaza.

On December 31, the recent increase in the range of rocket-fire, led Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak to declare a “special security situation” of all Israeli cities and towns within 30 km of the Gaza perimeter.  The declaration grants Home Front Command the authority to close factories, cancel conferences and events, and to conduct other civilian activities.  The Israeli cabinet is required to approve the special status, as it has already done for Israeli cities and towns within 20km of the border.

According to Home Front Command Maj.-Gen. Yair Golan, the Israeli air strikes in Gaza has impaired Hamas’ rocket firing capability, but it has not wiped it out.  “”This capability exists throughout the entire area and while it was hit hard, it was not eliminated.”  According to Israeli media, 100 rockets were fired from Gaza on December 30.  Three Israelis were killed in separate incidents.  Since the aerial campaign began on December 27, four Israelis have been killed in rocket attacks.

Also, Palestinian and IDF sources confirmed Israeli Air Force (IAF) strikes on dozens of smuggling tunnels in the Rafah area, near the border crossing between Gaza and Egypt.  This is the second time the tunnels have been bombed since the beginning of Operation Lead Cast.  Israeli officials argue that the tunnels are being used to smuggle metal and pipes necessary for the construction of Qassam rockets.  It is also believed that weapons and money destined for militant groups is being smuggled through the tunnels as well.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Gaza Rockets Hit Deep into Israel – 31 December 2008

Ha’aretz – As Rockets Fall, Peres Tours Ashkelon and Vows IDF is Ready for Anything – 31 December 2008

Jerusalem Post – Barak: “Special Security Situation” For Towns within 30 Km. of Gaza – 31 December 2008 l

Telegraph – More Than 700,000 Israelis Now in Range of Hamas Missiles – 31 December 2008

Relief Web – Israel/OPT: Situation Update 30 Dec 2008 – 30 December 2008

Yedioth – Grad Rockets Lands in Kiryat Malachi – 30 December 2008

World’s Reaction as Israeli Strikes Continue

By Laura Zuber
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

GAZA CITY, Gaza – December 30 is the fourth day of Israel’s aerial campaign in Gaza.  In Gaza City, Israeli air raids damaged five government buildings; including an Islamist university building, the Interior Ministry and the office of Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas political leader and former Palestinian Prime Minister.

As of December 29, the Palestinian death toll had reached 363, with 1,720 people wounded. According to UN figures, most of the victims have been Hamas security forces but at least 64 of them were civilians, including 39 children. 

In addition, rockets are still being fired from Gaza into Israel.  According to the Israeli military, since December 27, over 250 rockets have been fired from Gaza.  Additionally, on December 30, the Jerusalem Post reported that over 30 rockets have been fired that morning.

Also, on December 30, European Union (EU) foreign ministers will meet in Paris to discuss an appeal for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.  In France’s last act as EU president, Bernard Kouchner, the French Foreign Minister, will urge his European colleagues to issue a joint truce demand.  Reuters reported that a senior EU diplomat said that the EU were discussing ways to open humanitarian aid corridors to Gaza, by land, air or sea, but establishing them would require Israel and Hamas to hold their fire. 

According to Reuters, an Israeli government official said Kouchner spoke to Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak by telephone and proposed a 48-hour truce to allow in aid.  In addition, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s spokesman, Mark Regev, stated that Israel would like to see “convoy after convoy of humanitarian support and we are willing to work closely with all relevant international parties to facilitate that goal.” 

However, Regev added, “At the same time, it is important to keep the pressure up on Hamas, not give them a respite, time to regroup and reorganize.”  In addition, there are multiple reports of both sides rejecting any possibility of a temporary truce or renewing the previous ceasefire agreement.

As EU leaders met, protests against the Israeli military action took place across the world.  In London, hundreds of demonstrators returned for a second day of protests in front of the Israeli Embassy.  People chanted slogans in support of Palestine behind metal barriers and in the presence of 30 police officers and a police helicopter.  Protests held on the previous day resulted in the arrests of seven individuals for public disorder offenses.

Demonstrations also occurred in cities across the Arab world.  Demonstrators burnt Israeli and US flags and gathered in front of UN offices demanding stronger international condemnation. 

On December 28, Jordanian deputies burnt an Israeli flag during a parliamentary session.  Khalil Atiyah, a prominent independent deputy, along with several pro-government MPs and an Islamist deputy, set the flag aflame inside the lower house chamber during a special session to show solidarity with the Palestinians.

In addition, on December 30, Iran announced that it had set up a court to try Israelis for its air attacks on Gaza and is ready to try Israeli officials in absentia.  Judiciary spokesman Alirezi Jamshidi said, “The court is in a special branch in Tehran and entrusted with the task of dealing with the executors, planners and officials of this (Israeli) regime who have committed crimes.”

Jamshidi said the court was set up on the basis of the UN Convention on the Prevention of Genocide to which Iran is a signatory.  He called on all Palestinians who have been affected by the Israeli operation in Gaza to file complaints.

On December 29, the Iranian Islamic Republic News Agency reported that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had called for immediate legal action against Israeli leaders for the humanitarian crisis and death of innocent civilians in Gaza.  Iranian leaders said those involved in the attacks in Gaza “should be designated as a war criminal and murderer” and added that they would urge the UN to bring Israeli leaders before an international court.

In addition to targeting the governments of Israel and the US, demonstrators are also targeting Arab leaders.  In Beirut, hundreds of Hezbollah supporters demonstrated near the Egyptian Embassy, protesting against what they see as a tacit green light given by some Arab countries for the Israeli attack on Hamas. 

In Yemen, hundreds of angry protesters stormed the Egyptian consulate in Aden.  According to a security official, the protesters stormed the front gate, climbed the two-story building to the roof and set fire to the Egyptian flag.

In Annan, Jordanian protesters marched to the Egyptian Embassy and demanded that Cairo open its border with Gaza to end the blockade imposed on Gaza.  Demonstrators also demanded that the Jordanian and Egyptian governments sever their diplomatic ties with Israel and expel the Israeli ambassadors. 

The Israeli government has downplayed the international and Arab criticism regarding its recent aerial campaign.  A senior government official told AFP, “The tone of the criticism is moderate, restrained, more balanced, at least in the case of those countries that count… I’m not talking about Iran or other extremist states.”

Jerusalem Post noted the support from the US and the “evenhanded” reaction from the European leaders, including British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.  The Israeli newspaper dismissed the angrier condemnations as coming “from those who make no pretence at being evenhanded.”

For more information, please see:

AFP – Israel Downplays Criticism of Gaza Blitz – 30 December 2008

Jerusalem Post – Palestinian Terrorists Continue to Rocket Southern Israel; No Causalities – 30 December 2008

International Herald Tribune – Yemeni Protesters Attack Egyptian Consulate – 30 December 2008

Reuters – Iran Sets Up Court to Try Israelis over Gaza – 30 December 2008

Reuters – Israel Presses on with Gaza Strikes Amid Truce Talks – 30 December 2008

Scotsman – Hundreds Protest Outside Israeli Embassy over Gaza Attacks – 30 December 2008

Times – EU Leaders Meet to Discuss Gaza Violence – 30 December 2008

The Wall Street Journal – Gaza Protests Now Target Arab Leaders – 30 December 2008

Middle East Times – Iran Calls for War Crimes for Israel – 29 December 2008

Times – Protest Erupt in the Arab World Against Airstrikes – 29 December 2008

Reuters – Jordan Deputies Burn Israeli Flag in Assembly – 28 December 2008

Arrest of the China Democracy Party Founder

By Ariel Lin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia


BEIJING, China
– Guo Quan, a former associate professor at Nanjing Normal University and the acting chairman of the newly established China New Democracy Party, was arrested by police near his Nanjing home.  “He tried to set up an opposition party, they accused him of ‘subversion of state power,’ ” Mrs. Guo’s wife said.  “They told me that he had been formally arrested, but they didn’t give me any details,” Li said. “They gave a bunch of documents to his mother.”

Nanjing Police Department agents sent Mr. Guo’s mother a letter denying her request to hire a lawyer because her son’s case involved “state secrets.”  She says, “(They) arrested my son and forbade us to visit him and hire a lawyer. Does that mean they are going to try him secretly? I am upset! My son was arrested for being a human rights activist; now who is going to protect his human rights? I love my son, so I hired a lawyer, but the regime would not let the lawyer accept the case. How could his only act, writing an open letter to Hu Jintao, be deemed subversion?”  The authorities denied Guo’s family attorney’s request to visit him.

Mr. Guo’s defense attorney Guo Lianhui commented that Guo made his differing political views public, and the authorities mobilized the state machinery to suppress him.  “My client published a series of articles called ‘Democratic Voice’ and pointed out that there is no democracy and observance of human rights in China.” attorney Guo Lianhui added.

Mr. Guo founded China New Democracy Party to represent anyone petitioning the government and the ruling Communist Party for social justice in land disputes, forced evictions, and allegations of official wrongdoing.  He wrote 347 articles and offered constructive suggestions to the Chinese Communist Party.  However, Mr. Guo was fired from Nanjing Normal University for allegedly violating its constitution and rules on the conduct of faculty.  Then, Mr. Guo was expelled from the Communist-approved token opposition group Democratic Parties and Factions.

For more information, please see:

The Epoch Times – Beijing Arrests Acting Chairman of the China New Democracy Party – 24 December 2008

The Epoch Times – China Democracy Party Founder’s Mother Talks About His Arrest – 15 December 2008

Radio Free Asia – Blogger Charged with Subversion – 22 December 2008

Former Saddam Hussein Loyalists on Trial for Persecution of Political Opposition

By Lauren Mellinger
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq – On December 27, the Iraqi High Tribunal commenced a new trial against several former Baathist officials, including former Iraqi Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz and Ali Hassan al-Majid, also known as ‘Chemical Ali’, on charges that they were involved in the persecution of political opponents while Saddam Hussein was in power.  20 other high-ranking members of Saddam Hussein’s government were also indicted.

The current charges allege that both Aziz and Al-Majid’s perpetrated crimes against humanity, including the arrest of nearly 250,000 members of Dawa and other political parties.  Between 1981 and the 2003 US-led invasion, many of those arrested were either imprisoned or executed.  In 1980, the Iraqi government banned the Dawa party and threatened to execute any members.

One incident included in the indictment, is the massacre in Balad in 1981, where the government arrested 1,135 Dawa members and their families and held them captive at a camp in the desert near the Saudi border.  All men ages 15 years and older were executed, resulting in a death toll of 379.  When the women and children were released in 1984, the government had confiscated their homes and property.

Prosecutor Mahdi al-Haddo cited other instances of the Hussein government’s persecution of Dawa members in his opening remarks to the court including, accounts of Dawa members being fatally poisoned, tied to dynamite, or thrown into vats of acid.  Other allegations include the rape of the wives and daughters of Dawa party members.

According to al-Haddo, “We want to give a true depiction of crimes committed by the Saddamists against sons of Iraq in Balad.  We must show people across the nation, especially those characterizing Saddam as an Arab nationalist and his government as a democracy.”

The Dawa Party is currently led by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.  While many Iraqis, including relatives of the victims, welcome the new charges, critics claim that the timing of the trial is a political move by the Maliki government to increase their support among its core constituency – Iraq’s Shia population – before the upcoming provincial elections in January.  These critics argue that the fact that several of the current defendants have previously been tried, convicted and sentenced suggests that the timing of the current trial is politically motivated.

Al-Majid has previously received two death sentences by the Iraqi court for his role in the gassing of Kurds in northern Iraq, which killed nearly 5,000 people, and for his role in suppressing a Shia uprising in 1991.  Aziz was previously tried for his involvement in the execution of Iraqi businessmen for allegedly raising prices during the first Gulf War.  Several of the other defendants are currently facing charges in other trials involving atrocities committed while serving in the Hussein government.

For more information, please see:

Alsumaria – New Charges Against Former Regime Officials – 29 December 2008

Azeri Press Agency –  Former Saddam Hussein’s Associate’s Tariq Aziz and “Chemical Ali” Go on New Trial – 29 December 2008

BBC – Saddam Loyalists Face New Charges – 28 December 2008

NY Times – Ex-Hussein Officials and Others Go on Trial  – 28 December 2008

Reuters – Iraq Tries Saddam Officials for Crushing Opponents – 28 December 2008

Peace Building Likely to be Main Task for Tanis, Newly Elected President of Bouganville

By Sarah E. Treptow
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

WELLINGTON, New Zealand – James Tanis, a former guerilla fighter, has been elected President of the autonomous Papua New Guinea province of Bougainville.  Former National Government Cabinet Minister, Sam Akoitai, says he is happy with the choice of Mr. Tanis because he was instrumental in the peace process.  He has urged the ABG under Mr. Tanis’ leadership to prioritize weapons disposal and the referendum which are both key issues in the Bouganville peace agreement.  Mr. Tanis took up arms against supporters of the Panguna Copper Mine says Bouganvilleans have been isolated from decision making processes over the last few years.  Irreconcilable differences over the mine divided the landowners and local communities before it was closed in 1988 during the provinces 10 year long civil war.

Monica Taga of the Bougainville InterChurch Women’s Forum says she is happy with the victory and says there is a need to finish peace building in the formerly war-torn province.  She says there are three pillars within this, “The first pillar being peace building in regards to weapons disposal – that is incomplete.  And also rehabilitation, thinking about, if weapons are disposed, how do you rehabilitate those that own the guns right now.  The ex-combatants and the civilians who are victims at this time and also the reconstruction of the essential services.”

Mr. Tanis, the former separatist, beat 13 other contenders for the post made vacant by the death of Joseph Kabui in June this year.  The Post Courier newspaper reports he was nearly two thousand votes ahead of the second highest polling candidate, Mr. Akoitai.  In the first election for President in 2005 Mr. Tanis finished third behind Mr. Kabui and former Governor John Momis.

Meanwhile, Mr. Akoitai says many Bougainvilleans were denied their democratic rights in the poll because their names were not on the common roll.

For more information, please see:

Pacific Islands Report – Tanis Elected President of Bougainville – 29 December 2008

Radio Australia – James Tanis new Bouganville President – 29 December 2008

Radio New Zealand International – Finishing peace building process likely main task for new Bougainville President – 29 December 2008

Amnesty International Urges that India’s Anti-Terror Laws Violates Human Rights

By Shayne R. Burnham
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

NEW DELHI, India – The Indian Parliament has passed anti-terror laws in response to the terrorist attacks that occurred in Mumbai last month in order to enhance police security and combat future acts of terrorism.  The new legislation currently awaits approval by the President.

The amendments include changes to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and provisions of the new legislation aiming to set up a National Investigating Agency which will investigate terrorism.

The new amendments include overly broad definitions of “terrorism” and what constitutes membership of a terrorist organization; extends the maximum detention of suspects involved in terrorism from 90 days to 180 days; denies bail for foreign nationals who enter the country illegally; in certain cases, requires suspects to prove their innocence, and; allows proceedings to be closed to the public without specified grounds.

According to Amnesty International, India’s new legislation against terror would violate international human rights treatises.  “While we utterly condemn the attacks and recognize that the Indian authorities have a right and duty to take effective measures to ensure the security of the population, security concerns should never be used to jeopardize people’s human rights,” said Madhu Malhotra, Asia Pacific Programme Deputy Director at Amnesty International.

Amnesty International also stated that “India’s experience with previous anti-terrorism laws has shown that they can lead to abusive practices.”

Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram defended the bill in Parliament stating that it provided an “adequate balance” between “the demands of human rights and the people of India for strong anti-terror laws.”   He went on to say, “You have captured the mood of the nation. The nation expects parliament to pass these laws today and restore their confidence.”

Amnesty International has called on India’s President to reject the new amendments and for the President and Parliament to review the amendments so that they conform to human rights standards.

For more information, please see:

Amnesty International – Proposed New Indian Anti-Terror Laws Would Violate Human Rights – 23 December 2008

Associated Press – Amnesty International Slams Indian Anti-Terror Law – 19 December 2008

Boston Globe – India Supports New Antiterror Laws – 18 December 2008

Saudi Arabia Initiates Ad Campaign to End Violence Against Migrant Domestic Workers

By Lauren Mellinger
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

 RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – In December 2008, a Saudi corporation, which chooses to remain anonymous, initiated an ad campaign to stop abuse against migrant domestic workers in the country.  The campaign emphasizes religious teaching, focusing on mercy and compassion to advocate for a change in the treatment of foreign domestic workers.

 An estimated 1.5 million migrant domestic workers travel to Saudi Arabia annually in search of employment.  Many who are employed as domestic workers are subjected to emotional, physical  and sexual abuse by their employer.  For example, wealthy employers withhold wages.

 Human rights activities, including Human Rights Watch, claim that abuse against domestic workers is common in Saudi Arabia, and that the current ad campaign is a necessary first step toward addressing the issue.  All television advertisements end with a saying from the Prophet Muhammed regarding mercy and reciprocity.

The campaign features advertisements in several Saudi-owned newspapers and satellite television channels, and includes graphic images depicting the maltreatment of domestic workers in many Saudi homes.  One advertisement, which appeared in the newspaper Al Hayat, depicts a maid trapped in a kennel and wearing a dog collar; another ad shows a foreign chauffeur wearing saddle while a Saudi woman holds the reins.

 The ad campaign has been criticized heavily in Saudi Arabia, with many claiming that the harsh imagery is not an adequate representation of Saudi society.  Several journalists have called for an end to the ad campaign, claiming that it depicts Saudi society as cruel and heartless.  Several major newspapers have refused to publish the ads.  According to one journalist, Terad Al al-Asmari, the current campaign “could lead  to hatred between foreign labor and the Saudi citizen.”

 However,  a Saudi human rights lawyer and activist Abdel Rahmn al-Lahim has defended the campaign, stating that, “unlike conferences and seminar, a media campaign like Rahma reaches the average man and woman, who are more often than not, those same employers who mistreat their servants.”

 In response to a Human Rights Watch report released in 2008 regarding the plight of migrant domestic workers in Saudi Arabia, the government, through the Ministry of Labor, and the Saudi Association for Human Rights are collaborating to formulate guidelines that will regulate the relationship between foreign domestic workers and their employers.  The new regulations include legal guarantees for laborers, and an initiative to legalize professional contractors and corporations through which Saudi citizens can employ domestic workers based on a contractual relationship between the company, the migrant worker and the Saudi employer.  Both human rights advocates and the Saudi government consider eliminating the private sponsorship of migrant domestic workers to be a crucial step in ending abuse of migrant domestic workers.

 

 

Human Rights Watch is urging Saudi Arabia to ratify the UN Migrant Workers Convention, which guarantees migrant workers’ human rights and requires a state to provide protection for foreign workers against abuse by private employers and public officials.

 For more information, please see:

 Al Arabiya – Saudi Mercy Campaign Highlights Islamic Values – 24 December 2008

 Angola Press – Saudi Campaign Against Maid Abuse – 24 December 2008

BBC –Saudi Campaign Against Maid Abuse – 23 December 2008

 Reuters – Mideast Should Act Against Maid Abuse – 17 December 2008

Fiji Expels NZ High Commissioner

By Hayley J. Campbell
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania


SUVA, Fiji – Following threats to expel New Zealand’s acting High Commissioner, Caroline McDonald boarded a flight bound for Auckland this morning.

Ms. McDonald, NZ’s High Commissioner, was accompanied by her husband, Simon Mark, who is also New Zealand’s Trade Commissioner. The two left this morning after 11 months of working to establish better foreign relations with Fiji.

McDonald has made clear, however, that she is still a friend to Fiji, “despite the sadness I feel,” she said.

This morning, British and American embassy cars provided a special diplomatic escort for the couple. The two boarded a 10:20 am Air New Zealand flight to Auckland.

Friends and family gathered at Nadi Airport in Fiji to see the couple off. In Auckland, several members of the media and foreign affairs personnel awaited Ms. McDonald and her husband’s arrival.

Five days ago interim Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum announced plans to expel Ms. McDonald to show the interim government’s anger over travel sanctions. Both New Zealand and Australia set travel restrictions affecting Fiji interim officials as punishment for the bloodless military coup of Fiji’s federal government in 2006.

New Zealand’s foreign affairs minister, Murray McCully, says he will meet with Ms. McDonald to discuss Fiji’s political situation in the next few days.

For more information, please see:
Matangi, Tonga – Alarm sounds again for media freedom in Fiji – 22 December 2008

Fiji Times – NZ still a friend of Fiji, says McDonald – 29 December 2008

Fiji Times – Diplomat backs democracy for Fiji – 29 December 2008

Radio New Zealand News – NZ hopes Forum will help to resolve dispute with Fiji – 29 December 2008

Taliban Destroys NATO Supplies

By Shayne R. Burnham
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PESHAWAR, Pakistan – Approximately two weeks ago, Taliban militants destroyed 11 trucks and 13 NATO containers in Peshawar, marking their sixth attack in 13 days.  In total, about 400 containers containing military supplies have been destroyed.

This region is home to one of a few lawless tribal districts that provide security to the Khyber Pass, a crucial trade route.  However, security has deteriorated with the rising power of the Taliban, particularly Hakimullah Mehsud, commander and lieutenant of Baitullah Mehsud, leader of the main Pakistani Taliban faction.

Pakistani citizens add to the deterioration of security by protesting U.S. missile attacks in their country and expressing sympathy towards Taliban insurgents.  Furthermore, some state that the government is doing little to stop the militants.

Kifayatullah Jan, manager at Port World Logistics, a contractor that has been ferrying NATO supplies, stated, “For us it may mean we close shop. We can’t do business if the government cannot provide us protection.”  Jan further stated that his company receives threats from Taliban militants to “stop transporting supplies to the Americans or face the consequences.”

Mahmood Shah, a retired Pakistani Army brigadier formerly in charge of security in the western tribal regions, said the government had the manpower to drive militants out of Khyber but had mounted only a weak response.  He said, “You have the chance to wake up, but if you don’t wake up now, there is a good chance you won’t wake up at all.”

Currently, the constant attacks have caused NATO to seek alternative routes through bordering nations.  NATO intends to deploy an additional 60,000 troops and tactics that include empowering the local tribes in the area to provide further security over the Khyber Pass.

For more information, please see:

Asia Times Online – Another Blow to NATO’s Supplies – 16 December 2008

International Herald Tribune – Taliban Choking a Vital NATO Supply Line – 25 December 2008

Reuters – NATO to Engage Afghanistan Tribes in Taliban Fight – 22 December 2008

Telegraph.co.uk – Khyber Pass:  Crucial for Trade and Invasion – 7 December 2008

Egypt Repatriates Eritrean Refugees

By Nykoel Dinardo
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt – On December 24, Egypt repatriated twenty-five Eritrean asylum caught on their way to Israel.  Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch made pleas that Egypt stay the repatriation until UNHCR could assess their claims. 

Human Rights Watch (HRW) deputy director Joe Stork said that Egypt’s actions were “outrageous” and that they were giving Eritrean officials access to nationals fearing persecution over the UNHCR.  Egypt is required under international human rights law and refugee law to stay repatriation of people who are at risk of torture or persecution. 

According to Amnesty International (AI), the group was part of a larger group of 104 – comprised of 78 men and 23 women, including one who was pregnant.  The remainder of the group is still being held in Nakhl detention center, in Northern Sinai.  AI reported that all of those deported are likely to be held incommunicado in inhumane conditions.  They could also be subject to torture or detention indefinitely without trial.  AI also reported that there are numerous other Eritrean detainees being held in other prisons in Egypt and that none of the migrants have access to UNHCR.  UN guidelines state that asylum holders should only be detained as a last resort.

Both HRW and AI request that Egypt uphold their obligations under international law.  HRW states that Egypt should under no circumstances deport the Eritrean refugees, and that the detainees should be given access to UNHCR.  AI is calling on Egypt to ensure that all those who are claiming asylum can have their petition reviewed. 

For more information, please see:

Reuters – Egypt Repatriates 25 Eritreans, Ignoring Appeals – 24 December 2008

Reuters – Egypt Must Allow UN Access to Eritrean Migrants, Says HRW – 20 December 2008

Amnesty International – Eritrean Asylum-Seekers Deported From Egypt – 19 December 2008

Human Rights Watch – Egypt: Don’t Return Eritrean Asylum Seekers At Risk – 19 December 2008

Israeli Air Raids Kill Hundreds in Gaza

By Laura Zuber
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

GAZA CITY, Gaza – On the morning of December 27, Israeli Air Force (IAF) launched a series of massive air raids on Hamas targets in Gaza.  IAF air raids targeted “terrorist infrastructure” in Gaza and included targets from Gaza City to Khan Yunis.  According to analysts, this is the largest and most intensive air attack since the Second Intifada began in 2000.

For the first time, Israel attacked not just militants ordering or taking part in operations but members of the security forces and any buildings connected with them.  Every known police station, arms store and headquarters building in Gaza was attacked, regardless of whether they were occupied.

Israeli sources said that 50 targets were struck by 60 jet fighters in the first raid, beginning at around 11.40am. A second wave then attacked militants attempting to retaliate by launching rockets at Israel.

At least 200 people are believed to be killed; the BBC reports that 225 were killed.  In addition, the raid resulted in an estimated 400 injuries.  Retaliatory fire from Gaza killed one civilian in southern Israel.

The raids followed a decision by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s Security Cabinet to widen reprisals for cross-border rocket attacks on Israel.  The rocket attacks began again, after the six month cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas ended last week.  On December 25, Israel’s Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, issued a warning.  She stated that Israel “cannot tolerate” continuing attacks.  This warning came after about 50 rockets or mortars were fired from Gaza.

While Israel had been warning for days of action against Gaza’s militants, the scale and intensity of the attack, code-named Operation Cast Lead, was unexpected.  Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister, warned that air attacks would continue until the threat of militants firing rockets into Israel had been dealt with once and for all: “The operation will go on and be intensified as long as necessary… The battle will be long and difficult, but the time has come to act and to fight.”

The intensity of the operation and the number of casualties resulted in Palestinian, Arab, and international condemnation of Israel’s actions.  Knesset Member Jamal Zahalka, an Arab-Israeli, labeled the raid as a war crime and called for indictment of Barak, Israel’s Defense Minister, on war crimes in Gaza.  Zahalka also called for a general strike by Israel’s Arab community in protest of the operation.

Arab-Israelis across Israel rallied against the raids.  Protests also occurred in several West Bank cities and throughout the Arab world.  Egypt condemned the Israeli raids and opened its border with Gaza to allow casualties to be treated inside its hospitals. 

In Lebanon, Hizbullah called for speedy international and UN action against Israel. “What is going on in Gaza Strip is an Israeli war crime and represents genocide,” said a Hizbullah statement.  International and UN action is necessary “because silence is tantamount to complicity in this aggression.”

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, said he was “deeply alarmed” by Israel’s air attack and appealed “for an immediate halt to all violence.”  Additionally, Javier Solana, the European Union Foreign Policy Chief, called for an immediate ceasefire and urged “everybody to exert maximum restraint.”  White House spokesman, Gordon Johndroe, blamed the recent violence on Hamas, yet urged Israel to “avoid civilian casualties as it targets Hamas in Gaza.”

Despite the large number of casualties, Hamas leaders remain defiant.  Exiled political leader of Hamas, Khaled Mashaal, called for a new uprising against Israel; “I call upon you (Palestinians) to carry out a third intifada.” He added, “Resistance will continue through suicide missions.”

 

Meanwhile, Hamas leaders and former Palestinian Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh declared that Gaza would never cave to Israeli pressure, no matter how great. “We will not leave our land, we will not raise white flags and we kneel only before Allah,” he said.

For more information, please see:

AFP – Thousands Protest in Rabat Against Israeli Strikes on Gaza – 27 December 2008

Al Bawaba – Hamas Calls for New Intifada Against Israel as Gaza Death Toll Climbs to 225 – 27 December 2008

Al Jazeera – Hamas Press Conference After Israeli Gaza Strikes – 27 December 2008

BBC – Massive Israeli Air Raids on Gaza – 27 December 2008

BBC – Israel Defends Gaza Strikes – 27 December 2008

CNN – Israel Vows to Keep Up Gaza Attacks – 27 December 2008

The Economist – Hamas Rocket Attacks on Israel are Met with a Huge Air Strike on Targets in the Gaza Strip – 27 December 2008

The Guardian – Ian Black on Israel’s Hammer Blow in Gaza – 27 December 2008

The Telegraph – Israel’s Heaviest-Ever Air Strikes on Gaza Strip Kills Hundreds – 27 December 2008 l

The Wall Street Journal – Israel Strikes on Gaza Kill Scores – 27 December 2008

Yedioth – “Israeli Ministers War Criminals” – 27 December 2008

Yedioth – Mashaal: Launch Third Intifada – 27 December 2008

Yedioth – Olmert: Patience Needed on Gaza Op – 27 December 2008