HRW Urges Syria to Reveal the Fate of the Sidnaya Inmates

By Lauren Mellinger
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria  – On January 27, Human Rights Watch released a statement reporting that the  status of inmates at Sidnaya military prison is still unknown.  The prison has been at the center of controversy since July 2008, after prison guards were accused of using lethal force in order to put down a prison riot.   

At least 1,500 inmates are imprisoned in Sidnaya, located northwest of Damascus.  Syrian authorities maintain that prison guards “quickly restored” order after the riot began, and publicly blame Sidnaya inmates convicted on charges of terrorism and religious extremism for instigating the riot.  According to Syrian human rights organizations reports, at least 25 inmates have died as a result of the prison guards use of lethal force in quelling the riots, although HRW reports indicate that ten people died in the riot, including one police officer.

In October 2008, after several attempts to obtain an update on the status of the prisoners from the Ministry of Justice failed to produce any information, 17 mothers of prisoners detained in Sidnaya publicly appealed to the Syrian government, in particular to Syrian President Bashar al-Asad.  They urged the government to provide them with information on family members detained at the prison.  According to the statement released by the mothers, they were aware of “the burial of bodies in [the town of] Qatana at night,” on the order of the Syrian security services and they were concerned their relatives may have been among the dead.

Since July, the fate of the inmates has been unknown, as government authorities have prohibited any outside contact with the prisoners, “imposing a complete information blackout,” including banning the use of cell phones around the perimeter of the prison. 

On December 18, residents of the town of Sidnaya reported seeking smoke emerge from the prison and the sound of gunshots.  One resident reported to HRW that after smoke was seen emerging from the prison, Syrian authorities closed the road leading from the town to the prison in order to accommodate military trucks en route to the prison but that the road was reopened the following day.

According to Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa Director at HRW, “Syria’s long blackout on the fate of at least 1,500 detainees is nothing less than scandalous…The lack of information about Sidnaya has caused enormous anguish to the families and fueled fears and rumors…The Syrian authorities need to come clean and allow families and lawyers access to Sidnaya.” 

HRW urged the Syrian government to reveal the status of the inmates, and to begin an allow lawyers to begin an independent investigation into the fate of prisoners who were injured or killed as a result of lethal force used by prison guards in the July riot. 

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – Syria: Reveal Inmates’ Conditions – 27 January 2009

Reuters – Reports of More Trouble at Syria Jail-Rights Group – 27 January 2009

Taiwan News – HRW: Syria Must Speak Out on Prison Riot Victims – 27 January 2009

American Samoa to Deal With Human Trafficking

By Sarah E. Treptow
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

American Samoa – Director of Homeland Security, Tualamalesala Mike Sala, has been asked by lawmakers to help draft legislation that will plug loopholes leading to human trafficking in American Samoa.  The US Justice Department highlighted the Daewoosa Samoa case in which almost 200 Vietnamese and Chinese women worked as slaves at a local garment factory.  The Daewoosa Samoa case was one of the worst cases of human trafficking in recent history.
A prostitution racked was also uncovered in 2007 which was an example of illegal activity profiting from relaxed enforcement of immigration laws.  During the confirmation hearing of Mr. Sala, Representative Archie Taotasi Soliai asked him to focus on what can be done.  Mr. Soliai said, “Now as legislators we would depend on you to maybe provide some recommendations or perhaps introduce legislative action to try and prevent all these problems and plug the holes with respect to our immigration issues.”  Mr. Soliai said he believes one of the major contributing factors to human trafficking here relates to immigration issues.  Mr. Sala said he agrees with the observation.
Mr. Taotasi went on to say, “It is in the best interest of our people to collaborate and work together with you.  We depend on you to provide information for legislation to plug the holes in immigration laws which will prevent human trafficking.”  Mr. Taotasi asked Mr. Sala to submit a list of recommendations to draft proper legislation dealing with human trafficking.
Three years ago human trafficking legislation was introduced in the Senate but the bill was defeated when no action was taken.  The measure was to create local laws dealing with human trafficking.
For more information, please see:
Radio New Zealand International – Calls in American Samoa to plug loopholes that has led to human trafficking – 30 January 2009

Pakistani Newlyweds Fear Honor Killings

By Shayne R. Burnham
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

KARACHI, Pakistan –
Pervez Chachar and his wife, Humera Kambo, are the latest example of the prevalence of “honor killings” as a tradition and custom. Chachar and his wife have been living in a room at a local police station for the past four months. They fear that their families would kill them.

Chachar stated, “I know they will kill her and I have to protect her.”

When Kambo’s family first learned that she married without their permission, Kambo was abducted by her family and Chachar was beaten. They were angered that she married a man from a rival tribe.

Generally in rural Pakistani society, actions such as marriage without the permission of the family are justification for death. Other acts by daughters that are deemed shameful include supposed illicit relationships, for marrying men of their choice and for divorcing abusive husbands. Additionally, being raped also brings shame to the family.

After the killings of 5 teenagers buried alive who wanted to choose their own husbands, a Pakistani lawmaker defended the tradition.

“These are centuries-old traditions and I will continue to defend them,” said Israr Ullah Zehri. “Only those who indulge in immoral acts should be afraid.”

Zehri also told Parliament that traditions in the Baluch province helped to stop obscenity. Most stated that the executions were “barbaric” while others said that such matters ought to be left to the people of the province.

The United Nations has estimated that 5,000 people, the majority of which are women, are killed as a result of honor killings in South Asia and the Middle East. Many go unreported and without punishment.

In a report, Amnesty International stated, “While recognizing the importance of cultural diversity, [we] stand resolutely in defense of the universality of human rights, particularly the most fundamental rights to life and freedom from torture and ill-treatment. The role of the state is to ensure the full protection of these rights, where necessary mediating ‘tradition’ through education and the law.”

For more information, please see:

Amnesty International – Pakistan: Honour Killings of Girls and Women – 1 September 1999

Associated Press – Pakistani Lawmaker Defends Honor Killings – 30 August 2008

Reuters – Pakistani Newlyweds Live in Fear of Honor Killing – 22 January 2009

Spain to Investigate Alleged 2002 Israeli War Crimes

By Laura Zuber
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

MADRID, Spain – On January 29, a Spanish High Court judge, Fernando Andreu, announced that the court will launch an investigation of seven Israelis over an attack on July 22, 2002.  The investigation relates to the decision to drop a one ton bomb on a housing block in a raid targeting Salah Shehada, a Hamas commander.  The attack killed 14 civilians, including nine children, and injured over 150 others.

The Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights brought the case before the Spanish courts on behalf of the families of the victims.  Main targets of the investigation are then-Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and Dan Halutz, the then air force commander of the Israeli army.  Other persons of interest include: Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter, former IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Yaalon, former GOC Southern Command Doron Almog, former National Security Council Head Giora Eiland and Brigadier-General (Ret.) Mike Herzog.

Not surprisingly, Ben-Eliezer strongly criticized the Spanish court’s announcement; claiming that Spanish law is siding with terrorist organizations.  “This is a ridiculous decision and, even more than ridiculous, it is outrageous,” Ben-Eliezer said. “Terror organizations are using the courts in the free world, the methods of democratic countries, to file suit against a country that is operating against terror.”

Ben-Eliezer said he does not regret his decision to bomb Gaza.  “Salah Shehadeh was a Hamas activist, an arch-murderer whose hands were stained with the blood of about 100 Israelis,” he said.  Shehadeh was the leader of Hamas’ military wing in Gaza, and Israel claims that he was responsible for attacks against hundreds of Israeli civilians.

Current Israeli Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, also criticized the Spanish court’s investigation.  Barak stated, “Anybody calling the liquidation of a terrorist a ‘crime against humanity’ is living in an upside-down world. All senior personnel in the military establishment acted appropriately, in the name of the state of Israel, through their commitment to ensure the security of Israeli citizens.”

Spanish law permits universal jurisdiction for certain crimes; such jurisdiction allows the prosecution of foreigners for such crimes as genocide, crimes against humanity and torture committed anywhere in the world.  On January 30, Israeli Foreign Ministry Tzipi Livni stated that she spoke with her Spanish counterpart.  According to Livni, “Spain has decided to change its legislation in connection with universal jurisdiction and this can prevent the abuse of the Spanish legal system.”

However, Spanish state television TVE quoted government sources as saying the possibility of a legal “adjustment or modification” would not be retroactive and would not affect the case before the courts.

For more information, please see:

Jerusalem Post – “We’ll Amend Law to Prevent Such Probes” – 31 January 2009

CNN – Top Israeli Official Blasts Spanish Court’s Probe – 30 January 2009

International Herald Tribune – Livni Says Spain to Drop Universal Legislation – 30 January 2009

Reuters – Israel Says Spain Says it Will Amend War Crimes Law – 30 January 2009

Al Bawaba – Spanish Court to Investigate Israeli Officials for Alleged ‘Crimes Against Humanity’ – 29 January 2009

Reuters – Spanish Court Investigates 2002 Israeli Gaza Attack – 29 January 2009

Thailand Blocks The Economist Magazine Again

By Pei Hu
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BANGKOK, Thailand – The latest issue of The Economist magazine, a British owned current-affairs magazine, will not be circulating in Thailand due to its coverage on the Thai navy’s treatment of illegal migrants from Myanmar. This is the second time that The Economist was blocked in Thailand in the month of January alone.

The article, titled “A Sad Slide Backwards” criticized the Thai Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva and the Thai navy for the treatment of thousands of Muslim Rohingya migrants from Myanmar. The report claimed that 500 of these migrants were cast out to sea in boats without engines and with little or no food.

“Our distributor in Thailand has decided not to distribute The Economist this week due to our coverage being sensitive,” Ian Fok a Hong Kong spokesman said.

Just a week earlier, in The Economist’s January 24 issue, an article titled “The Trouble with Harry” reported on an Australian writer that was sentenced to three years in jail for defaming the Thai monarchy was not allowed to be distributed. A staff member of Asia Books confirmed that the issue would not be put onto newsstands and claimed she did know the reason. The staff member also declined to give her name because she was not authorized to speak to the media.

Thailand has one of the most stringent lese majeste laws in the world where a person can be jailed up to 15 years for insults or threats to “the king, the queen, and their heir to the throne or the Regent.”

With the rise of internet users in Thailand, many bloggers would write about the Thai monarchy.  The Thai authorities have censored more than 2,000 websites due to the growing internet coverage of the royal family.

Persecutions under the lese majeste laws have been increasingly more common. Many of the charges are used for partisan political purposes.

The Economist itself has also fell victim to lese-majeste laws in the past.  In December, an article questioning the Thai king’s role in public life was banned. In 2002, a survey about Thailand was also banned.

For more information, please see:

APF – Economist magazine curbs distribution in Thailand– 26 January 2009

BBC – Thailand Bans Economist Magazine– 26 January 2009

Reuters – Economist Magazine Blocked in Thailand Again– 30 January 2009

Burma Sends 19 North Koreans to Thailand

By Pei Hu
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

– 19 North Koreans that were arrested in Burma for trying to defect to South Korea through Burma and Thailand were released by Burmese authorities.  Of the group, 15 were women and there was one seven-year-old boy. Instead of being jailed or deported back to North Korea, the refugees are now in detained in Thailand.

On December 2, 2008, Burmese authorities detained 19 North Koreans refugees near the Thai border for illegal entry.  Initially, Burma was going to try the North Korean refugees who can face up to three years in jail for illegal entry. However, refugee sympathizers and NGOs pressured the Burmese government to release the North Korean refugees and not to send them back to North Korea.

Burmese officials offered no comment on this issue. Burma has been trying to renovate strained ties with North Korea that was restored in 2007.

A Thai immigration official told Korea Times that the North Korean refugees surrendered to Thai authorities right away and said, “They were asking for political asylum in South Korea.”

He continued, “The South Korean embassy in Bangkok would have to notify us that their asylum applications were accepted, and then there must be an NGO group to give these refugees further assistance to reach their goal.”

Thailand does not formally recognize asylum seekers as refugees. However, Thai officials turnover many asylum seekers to NGOs and refugees groups that help asylum seekers settle in another country.

Thousands of North Koreans have fled North Korea due to property and political oppression.  Many of these refugees travel through China or Southeast Asia before seeking asylum in South Korea. South Korea is currently home to about 14,000 North Korean defectors.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Burma Frees North Korean Refugees – 1 January 2009

Irrawaddy –19 North Koreans Arrested at Thai-Burmese Border – 22 December 2008

Korea Times – Burma Sends 19 North Koreans to Thailand – 4 January 2009

Human Rights Abuses Against the Ethnic Chin in Myanmar

By Ariel Lin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

YANGON, Myanmar – Chin, an ethnic group living in Myanmar’s western Chin state.  About 90 percent of Chin is Christian, account for about one percent of Myanmar’s 57 million people.  The Chin National Front (CNF) rebel group is still fighting the junta. The recent Human Rights Watch report shows a wide range of human rights abuses carried out by the Myanmar Junta.  The abuses include forced labor, arbitrary arrests and detention, torture, religious repression and other restrictions on fundamental freedoms.  According to the report, tens of thousands of Chin flee across the border to India, and some of them were forced to return home.  Human Rights Watch called the Indian government to extend protection to Chin who have fled to the country to escape ongoing abuse in Myanmar.

The report is based on extensive research and interviews carried out from 2005 to 2008.  Human Rights Watch interviewed Chin who are currently living in Chin state, and who fled the country permanently, most in recent years.  A Chin man who fled to India told the group, “They tortured me and put me in jail for one week. They beat me on my head and ears — I still have a hearing problem. Then the army forced me to work at road construction and repair the army camp.”

Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch said ethnic groups like the Chin have borne the brunt of abusive military rule in Burma for too long.  “It is time for this brutal treatment to stop and for the army to be held to account for its actions. India should step forward to protect those desperately seeking sanctuary,” she adds.

Amy Alexander, a Human Rights Watch consultant, told at a press conference the Myanmar Junta targeted anyone suspected of links to the CNF.  Religious suppression was also rampant in Chin State, the only predominantly Christian state in mainly Buddhist Myanmar.  “The military government regularly interferes with worship services… and also destroys religious symbols and buildings,” she says.

For more information, please see:

AP – Report: Myanmar’s Chin people persecuted – 27 January 2009

AFP – Myanmar abusing Christian Chin minority: rights group – 27 January 2009

BBC – Burma’s ‘abused Chin need help’ – 28 January 2009

Human Rights Watch – Burma/India: End Abuses in Chin State – 28 January 2009

Not So Grand Bargains, by Morton Abramowitz

Rather than striving for grand compromise, which is often superficial and can lead to greater resentment and conflict, Mr. Abramowitz advocates for a more incremental approach to the world’s biggest crises. He argues that this approach, with political will and vision, better accounts for all the complexities of a situation and, in turn, better addresses the root causes of a problem.

Not So Grand Bargains,
by Morton Abramowitz

Big problems demand bold moves, and in foreign policy bold moves often mean striking “a grand bargain”—a game-hanging proposal designed to change the world, stabilize a region or end a major protracted conflict. It sounds good. But bold ideas are not necessarily good ideas. Pursuing grand bargains is more likely to end up complicating the situation instead of diffusing the crisis. Indeed, the process of developing grand bargains will probably create stagnation and paralyze policymaking.

Unfortunately, few if any grand bargains with war and peace at stake have been reached in recent times. The Arab-Israeli grand bargain got off the drawing board, but the failure to achieve it in 2000 was followed by continuing violence.

More concretely, here are some of today’s grand bargains that political commentators and some diplomats are urging. In crude summary:

·The United States should put together an arrangement that produces a stable Iraqi state, despite the lack of agreement of its citizens on the nature of that state, while resolving the significant interests and troublesome involvements of Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia in Iraq’s affairs.

·To stop Iran’s nuclear-weapons program we need to put all the other issues between Iran and the West on the table reasonably quickly, make sure the interests of Israel, Russia, China and Saudi Arabia are served, and preserve the integrity of the non-proliferation agreement.

·If we want to get out of Afghanistan in any politically reasonable time frame, let’s resolve the Kashmir issue between India and Pakistan, establish an effective Pakistani political entity, bring the insurgent infested Federally Administered Tribal Area into Pakistan proper and corral all the decent contending Afghan parties to a powwow.

·Lastly, there is the continuing effort to create two states in Palestine. Violence has punctuated all recent attempts so that even some grand bargain proponents are now saying since everything has failed—from ceasefires and waiting for the ripe time to make peace, to the grand bargain of final-status negotiations—we have to look at the problem with fresh eyes. (That assumes there are fresh eyes and something new to see.)

This is a daunting list with daunting complexities; that’s the nature of a grand bargain. Put everything on the table, subject all basic considerations to an impressive range of discussion and try to limit events from derailing progress, as so often happens in Arab-Israeli negotiations. There are good reasons for pursing a grand bargain. It offers the hope of finality, real peace. The magnitude of the effort can give participants the sense of great achievement, the notion that creating a new world is at hand.

As power diffuses in the world, the United States will find the going even tougher, however charismatic its leadership, in fashioning grand bargains. Perhaps new “aggressive diplomacy” will work some magic. Unaggressive diplomacy certainly has achieved little this past decade.

The simple fact is that grand bargains are difficult to achieve. They are hard to put together because of all the necessary tradeoffs. With everything on the table, complexity is overwhelming and can generate endless bargaining and the constant reopening of issues that were thought settled. The enormous compromises that have to be reached make it difficult to sell grand bargains to publics. Once the effort fails, the situation is likely to worsen. The closest to a grand bargain in recent times was the Dayton agreements, but the contending parties were weak or utterly dependent on the U.S. Indeed Dayton was an incremental effort to establish Balkan stability.

The incremental approach is the dreary alternative to the grand bargain. It worked more or less in the containment of the Soviet Union, the growth and expansion of the EU, the armistice after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the integration of China and the comprehensive peace agreement between North and South Sudan. While incremental agreements on these issues have not always led to any final settlement, they build some confidence among the parties and provide merciful periods of peace or the reduction of tensions. That is not to be sneered at. Incrementalism must be accompanied by vision and a political resolve to address root causes. Their absence is obvious in Africa where we take humanitarian measures in Sudan, Congo and Somalia that satisfy our publics, but do little to move the problem toward better resolution, while proclaiming our dedication to international moral principles.

We are not smart or powerful enough to both conceive and execute all the effort necessary to achieve wide-reaching agreements with parties with whom we lack cultural affinity or deep understanding. Nor does democracy make reaching such broad arrangements any easier; democratic governments change and goalposts are moved by domestic political forces. Incrementalism—the elements of which are involved in any grand bargain—also has its problems, but it is hard to forsake, and the standard must be twofold. First, our approach to seemingly intractable problems must be both realistic and broad. Second, any interim agreement or arrangement must not preclude moving on to the harder aspects of these monumental issues. With these two criteria in place, the incremental approach may not be as dreary as it sounds. We would be wise to listen with critical ear to the siren song of grand bargains.

This article, which is reprinted with permission, can be found here.

Fiji Calls Pacific Forum Ultimatum Akin to Declaring War

By Hayley J. Campbell
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

SUVA, Fiji – Following a decision to possibly suspend Fiji from the Pacific Forum, Fiji’s interim prime minister has accused Pacific leaders of all but declaring war on Fiji.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister, John Key, meanwhile, has called interim prime minister Commodore Frank Bainimarama’s reaction “ridiculous.”

On Tuesday, the Pacific Forum, an association of over sixteen independent and self-governing Pacific states, met in Papua New Guinea to discuss placing sanctions on Fiji for Bainimarama’s refusal to set a date for holding democratic elections.

Forum members voted on whether to ban Fiji from future meetings, as well as, suspend any development aid and technical assistance if Fiji has not set a date for elections by May 1, 2009.

Mr. Key has defended the Forum’s stance, saying the group has Fiji’s best interest in mind.

“They are totally ridiculous statement for Frank Bainimarama to be making and as far as we are concerned, the Forum wants Fiji to succeed, we extended a hand of friendship but that hand of friendship has to be done in a way where Fiji needs to understand that there needs to be a return to democracy,” Key said.

For more information, please see:
International Herald Tribune – Little chance seen of Fiji caving to pressure – 28 January 2009

Radio New Zealand International – New Zealand’s PM says Bainimarama reaction is ’ridiculous’ – 28 January 2009

Radio New Zealand International – NZ and Solomons PMs defend Forum’s decision on Fiji – 28 January 2009

Border Attack Kills Israeli Soldiers and Threatens Ceasefire

By Laura Zuber
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

KISSUFIM CROSSING, Israel/Gaza – On January 27, a bomb attack killed one Israeli soldier and injured three others as they patrolled the Kissufim border crossing.  According Israeli military authorities, it is unknown whether the explosive device was remotely detonated or pressured triggered.  This is the most serious exchange since the unilateral ceasefires were declared.

Following the attack, Palestinian witnesses report that a gunfight claimed the life a Palestinian farmer.  Some sources indicate that the gunfight was an immediate response to the bomb attack.  However, Dr Moaiya Hassanain of Gaza’s Health Ministry reported that the farmer was killed several miles away.

In confirming the border attack, Israel’s Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, added that Israel must respond to “whoever fires towards us, places a bomb [under us] or smuggles weapons.”  Also, Israel’s Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, warned that Israel would retaliate the grave ceasefire violation at the Kissufim crossing.  Mr Barak said that Israel “cannot accept” the attack. “We will respond, but there is no point in elaborating,” he said.

Such response took place in the form of Israeli airstrikes and ground incursion in southern Gaza.  Residents of Khan Younis report heavy fighting in the area.  One airstrike targeted a Hamas militant on a motorbike.  The strike left him and a passer-by wounded.  Shortly afterwards, an Israeli warplane flew over the strip causing a sonic boom, apparently in a warning to the population.  In addition, Palestinian sources say 20 Israeli tanks and seven army bulldozers have made an incursion.

Also, in response to the border attack, Israel closed the crossings into Gaza.  This comes at a difficult time, as the crossings were briefly opened in the morning to allow the entrance of humanitarian aid.

No Palestinian militant group has claimed responsibility for the border attack.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Deadly Clash Along Gaza Border – 27 January 2009

BBC – Israel Launches Attacks in Gaza – 27 January 2009 h

Ha’aretz – Barak, Defense Officials Assess Response to Deadly Gaza Blast – 27 January 2009

New York Times – Two Killed in Violence on Gaza Border – 27 January 2009

Times – Israel Carries Out Air Strike After Bombs Kills Soldier on Gaza Border – 27 January 2009

Yedioth – Barak Vows to Retaliate Kissufim Attack – 27 January 2009

Fiji Times Publisher Deported

By Sarah E. Treptow
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

Image Courtesy of Fiji Times

Small Rex SUVA, Fiji – Rex Gardner, Fiji Times publisher and acting CEO, was declared a prohibited immigrant this week and was ordered out of the country by the interim Government.  The deportation follows a High Court ruling last week in which the newspaper was found in contempt of court and fined for publishing a letter criticizing the court’s validation of the 2006 military coup.  Mr. Gardner is the third newspaper publisher to be deported from Fiji in less than a year.  He was given his Removal Order at his office which was signed on Friday by the permanent secretary for Defense, National Security and Immigration, Peniame Naqasima.  Mr. Gardner was scheduled to meet Immigration officers yesterday afternoon but they failed to show up to the meeting.  He was classified as a prohibited immigrant under section 13(2)g of the Immigration Act of 2003, a clause of the act he called “obscure.”

Mr. Gardner is being deported eight months after his predecessor was also ordered out of Fiji.  In May Australian publisher Evan Hannah was deported amid claims he was a security threat.  In February of last year Russell Hunter of the Fiji Sun newspaper was deported following the publication of a series of controversial articles.

Immigration Director, Viliame Naupoto, confirmed Mr. Gardner will fly out of Fiji on Tuesday morning.  “It is because of his guilty plea on contempt of court,” said Mr. Naupoto.  The Immigration Director claimed the guilty plea put him in breach of his work permit and that the action is consistent with other foreign nationals that were deported.

Pacific Media Freedom Forum says the deportation is despicable and unacceptable.  Online co-chair, Monica Miller, criticized the move, saying that working in the Fiji media has become increasingly difficult due to the lack of media freedom.

Fiji Law Society president, Dorsami Naidu, said the action by the interim Government marked a sad day for democracy in Fiji.  Mr. Naidu said that if a person breaches his work permit there are processes to be followed allowing that person to present their case in court.  He continued, “This is a draconian way of doing things where the order is given in the evening when the courts are closed.”

For more information, please see:
Radio New Zealand International – Pacific journalist group says deportation of second Fiji Times publisher is despicable – 26 January 2009

The West Australian – Fiji Times publisher to be deported – 26 January 2009

Fiji Times – Deported – 27 January 2009

Fiji Times – A nation’s prayer – 27 January 2009

Fiji Times – Major setback, says FABC – 27 January 2009

“Strike Hard” Campaign in Tibet

By Ariel Lin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China – Chinese authorities launched a 42-day “strike hard” campaign in Tibet since Jan. 18, 2009.  According to the Chinese-language state-run Lhasa Evening News, “Within three days of the launch of the winter “Strike Hard” campaign, the Lhasa municipal public security bureau had deployed 600 officers and around 160 police vehicles, and had conducted raids on seven housing blocks, 2,922 rented houses, 14 guest house and hotels, 18 bars and three Internet cafés in Lhasa.”

The authorities in Lhasa had rounded up and interrogated 5,766 Tibetans in the first three days of the campaign.  Dharamsala-based Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) contends that the main objective of the campaign is probably to find participants in last year’s Lhasa unrest.  TCHRD assistant director Jampa Monlam said that police questioning is focused on last year’s March 14 demonstrations that turned into rioting in Lhasa.  “They are asking people where they were during the March 14 incident in Lhasa, whether they have an alibi, and so on. If you can’t prove where you were during that time, you will probably be detained.”

In addition, all visitors are required to apply for a temporary residence permit from the police if they wishes to stay for more than three days and less than a month in Lhasa, TCHRD said.

“Strike hard” campaign was first launched in China in 1983 to fight corruptions and crimes.  However, the motive of launching this campaign in China and in Tibet is very different.  The motive of launching such campaign in Tibet is to intimidate and eliminate those supporting Tibetan independence and human rights activists in Tibet.

For more information, please see

Punjab Newsline – China grills 5766 Tibetans under winter “Strike Hard” campaign in Lhasa – 23 January 2009

Radio Free Asia – China ‘Strikes Hard’ in Tibet – 26 January 2009

Tibetan Review – 5,766 rounded up in Lhasa under winter ‘strike hard’ move – 26 January 2009

World News – 5766 Tibetan people questioned in winter ‘Strike Hard’ campaign – 24 January 2009

Human Rights Group in Yemen Urges Government to Act to End the Use of Child Soldiers

By Lauren Mellinger
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

SANA’A, Yemen– On January 25, the Seyaj Organization for Childhood Protection, a Yemeni child-rights organization based in Sana’a made an urgent humanitarian appeal to end the use of children as tribal fighters in northern Yemen.  According to a recent study by the organization, as many as half of the tribal fighters involved in violent clashes in north Yemen are children.

Seyaj noted that over the past four months, more than 63 people were killed in ethnic clashes in Amran province in north Yemen, and forty percent of those killed were children.  According to Ahmad Al-Qurashi, the organizations director, “the tribal culture in Yemen does not regard a 15-year old as a child…Yemen’s society as a whole views a 15-year old as a man and they’re forced into battles.  The society views fighting alongside a tribe as an important part of a child’s passage to manhood.  We see children as young as 13 carrying weapons that are bigger than they are.”

Seyaj blames the Yemeni government  for the high rate of children currently serving as tribal fighters.  The tribal areas in north Yemen are not provided sufficient financial resources by the government, and as a result they lack educational opportunities, and health and development programs.  Often children drop out of school by the age of 12 and either work in their families’ farms or are inducted as tribal soldiers.  According to the report released by Seyaj, the government does not intervene in the northern tribal areas to prevent the tribes from recruiting children as soldiers. 

In its Child Soldiers Global Report 2008, the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers accused the Yemeni government of recruiting child soldiers in a war with rebels in north Yemen since 2004, despite the legal minimum recruitment age of 18.  According to the report, “joining the army was highly sought after, since other employment opportunities were extremely limited.  Parents sometimes agreed to the recruitment of their children into the armed forces because of their poor economic situation.”

Seyaj urged the government to provide the tribal areas with sufficient economic resources and with better educational opportunities in order to reduce the number of children serving as tribal fighters.  In addition, the organization is demanding that the fighting tribes throughout north Yemen to stop using children in armed clashes and to respect the State’s minimum legal age for an individual to join armed forces.  To that end, Seyaj recommends that government officials and tribal sheikhs enact a new law to punish those targeting women and children, using them as fighters for combat operations or for providing logistical support or any other form of engagement with tribal forces.
For more information, please see:

The Media Line – Report: Half Yemen’s Tribal Fighters are Children – 26 January 2009

Armies of Liberation – SEYAJ Opposes Use of Child Soldiers in Amran Tribal War – 25 January 2009

News Yemen – Yemeni Children Used as Soldiers in Sa’ada War: Report – 7 September 2008

Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers – Child Soldiers Global Report 2008 – 20 May 2008

Israeli Cabinet Approves Legal Team in Support of Soldiers

By Laura Zuber
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

JERUSALEM – On January 25, Israeli Prime Minister Olmert announced that the Cabinet approved a measure that will give legal protection to its military officers if they are accused of war crimes during the Gaza incursion.  This measure was proposed by Defense Minister Barak in response to international calls for investigations and prosecutions of possible war crimes.  

In announcing the measure, Olmert stated, “The state of Israel will completely back anyone that acted in its name… The soldiers and commanders that were sent on missions in Gaza need to know that they are safe from different tribunals.  Israel will assist them and protect them as they physically protected us during the operation in Gaza.”

Prior to gaining Cabinet support, Barak urged ministers to back the proposal; “The endorsement will ensure that since we sent out soldiers to carry out Operation Cast Lead, which was carried out exceptionally and by the most moral army in the world, the state of Israel, which sent the IDF on the mission, will give soldiers and commanders backing in the face of any external accusations or internal self-flagellation,”

The measure creates an inter-ministerial committee and is headed by Justice Minister Daniel Friedman.  It consists of representatives from the Prime Minister’s Office, the Foreign, Justice and Defense ministries, and will include experts on international law.

The purpose of the committee is “to coordinate Israel’s efforts to offer legal defense for anyone who took part in the operation.”  According to Olmert, Friedman “will formulate questions and answers relating to the army’s operations, which self-righteous people … might use to sue officers and soldiers,”

According to the proposal, Operation Cast Lead was a legitimate act of self-defense under international law, and followed years of restraint following the firing of thousands of rockets into southern Israel.  In addition, the proposal states that despite Israel’s best efforts, there were tragic and regrettable instances of civilian casualties.  Means of avoiding civilian casualties included dropping pamphlets and calling local residents to warn them to stay away from conflict zones.

The proposal also notes that Hamas “cynically” used civilians as human shields and is therefore responsible for noncombatant casualties.  In addition, Hamas is also accused of using civilians to manipulate the media and international public opinion.  According to Olmert, “Out of a policy of moral acrobatics they try to make the aggressor the victim and turn the victim into the aggressor.”  He added, “Hamas’s policy for years has been to fight to the last drop of Gaza civilians’ blood and to hurt them.”

While Israel is committing state resources to protect its soldiers from international prosecution over possible war crimes, it still has an international obligation to investigate and prosecute for violations of the law of war.  International, Palestinian, and Israeli human rights groups demand that the Israeli government investigate various allegations and hold those responsible accountable.

For example, the BBC reported on four year old Samar Abed Rabbu.  BBC’s Christian Fraser met Samar in an Egyptian hospital.  According to her uncle, an Israeli tank stopped in front of the family’s home in Jabaliya, in northern Gaza.  Israeli soldiers ordered the family out into the street.  Then, an Israeli soldier opened fire; killing Samar’s two sisters and injuring her grandmother.  Samar was shot in the back and the bullet hit her spine, making it unlikely that she will walk again.

According to Samar’s uncle, the soldiers were only 15 meters away and they were all carrying white flags.  Her uncle insists that this was a deliberate targeting of civilians and thus a war crime.  

The BBC went into Gaza to look for Rabbu’s family and found her father, Khalid Abed Rabbu.  Khalid’s account of the incident is similar to Rabbu’s uncle.  The BBC submitted a map of the incident, the time and date, and witness statements to the Israeli military, who promised to investigate the incident.

During the 22 day operation, Palestinian Ministry of Health, 1,314 Palestinians were killed. 412 were children under the age of 18, and 110 were women.  It is estimated that 65 percent of Palestinian casualties were civilians.  In contrast, 13 Israelis were killed during Operation Cast Lead.  Three civilians were killed by rockets fired from Gaza.  Ten soldiers were killed during the ground incursion; however, four were lost to “friendly fire.”

For more information, please see:

AFP – Israel to Protect Its Soldiers From War Crimes Charges – 25 January 2009

Bloomberg – Israel Names Team to Defend Soldiers Against War-Crime Charges – 25 January 2009

CNN – Israel Prepares Legal Defense of Soldiers – 25 January 2009

Jerusalem Post – Cabinet Okays Legal Backing for Troops – 25 January 2009

Independent – A Shameful War: Israel in the Dock Over Assault on Gaza – 25 January 2009

Reuters – Israel Promise Troops Legal Backing Over Gaza War – 25 January 2009

BBC – New Evidence of Gaza Child Deaths – 22 January 2009

BBC – Gaza Father Finds Out Child Survived – 21 January 2009

Pacific Leaders Will Meet Despite Fiji’s Absence

By Hayley J. Campbell
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

SUVA, Fiji – Leaders from around the South Pacific are traveling to Papua New Guinea for a meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum.

The Pacific Islands Forum represents over sixteen independent and self-governing states. Forum leaders meet to address issues involving the peace, harmony, security or economic prosperity of the participating Pacific nations.

The focus of this meeting will be on Fiji, and whether the Forum will suspend Fiji from the group for refusing to hold democratic elections in 2009.

On Friday, Fiji’s interim prime minister, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, announced he would not attend the meeting. Leaders from New Zealand and Australia have expressed their disappointment that Bainimarama will not appear to discuss the restoration of democracy in Fiji.

Fiji’s Interim Attorney General, Aiyaz Sayed Khayu, is flying to PNG today to take Bainimarama’s place. Bainimarama had considered sending either the interim attorney general or Fiji’s interim foreign affairs secretary, Ratu Isoa Gavidi. But Isoa Gavidi is currently suspended from his government position for commenting on a political matter in breach of Fiji’s civil service code of conduct.

The meeting in Port Moresby was almost called off last week after leaders from Fiji and Papua New Guinea postponed it without the consent of the Forum members.

The meeting has been rescheduled, however, for Tuesday the 27th.

For more information, please see:
Radio New Zealand International – Forum leaders begin to gather in PNG for special meeting on Fiji – 25 January 2009

The Australian – Pacific Leaders Forum back on – 26 January 2009

ABC News – Pacific forum to go ahead – 24 January 2009