Truth and Reconciliation Commission to Address Ethnic Violence in Solomons

Truth and Reconciliation Commission to Address Ethnic Violence in Solomons

By Hayley J. Campbell
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Oceania

HONIARA, Solomon Islands – The Solomon Islands Truth and Reconciliation Commission is open and will begin addressing the ethnic violence which killed 100 and displaced 20,000 in 1997 to 2003.

Today, several thousand people came to watch South African Nobel laureate and Archbishop Emeritus, Desmond Tutu, open the Commission to the public. The Archbishop spoke at the opening where he encouraged the Solomon people to embrace forgiveness and peace.

On Monday, Prime Minister, Derek Sikua, announced the Commission members which included three Solomon Islanders and two foreign members.

In 1997, ethnic conflict almost destroyed the Solomon Islands. Australia led a peacekeeping intervention in 2003, but tribal tensions have persisted. The Commission was formed to address these concerns.

The Commission hopes that through reconciliation methods, the country might move away from its troubled past and embrace sustainable peace.

For more information, please see:
Radio New Zealand International – Solomons Truth and Reconciliation Commission launched – 29 April 2009

BBC News – Solomons launches truth inquiry – 29 April 2009

The Australian – Solomon Islands gets Desmond Tutu truth help – 29 April 2009

Humanitarian Disaster in Sri Lanka

By Ariel Lin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – The civil war between the Sri Lanka government and Tamil Tiger separatists is creating a humanitarian disaster.  According to aid workers, more than 100,000 civilians have fled the territory controlled by the rebel group while the Sri Lanka military blasted an earthen barricade on Monday.  However, another 50,000 civilians remain trapped in the war zone facing starvation.

“The civilian population in the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)-controlled Mullitivu coastal areas are faced with serious crisis due to the deliberate denial of food and other humanitarian supplies by the Sri Lankan Government,” the LTTE Political Office said in a statement.

News reports have showed the Tamil Tigers refusing civilians to leave, and they are shooting at those who try to escape.  Furthermore, the United Nations and the G8 have accused the rebel group of using civilians as human shields, and forcibly recruiting people to fight. The G8 called for a stop to the fighting to save the civilians.

The United Nations sent John Holmes, the U.N. Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, to Sri Lanka to push for more protection for civilians.  John Holmes described the situation as “very dire” and called for a stop in the fighting to preserve of the lives of the tens of thousands of civilians. The U.N. Security Council urged the Sri Lanka government to allow a humanitarian assessment team in, but Colombo rejected.

The international community is deeply concerned about the rising death toll and reports of humanitarian law violations.  “The EU strongly condemns the killings of civilians and calls on all parties to take all necessary action to avoid further civilian casualties,” the European Union said in a statement.

Internal United Nations tallies say that since the end of January, nearly 6,500 have been killed in fighting. The flood of refugees threatens to overload the existing facilities, aid agencies have warned.  However, the rebel group has vowed no surrender and the government rejected calls to stop the fighting.

For more information, please see:

AP – Rebels warn of starvation in Sri Lanka war zone – 25 April 2009

BBC – Anticipating an end to Sri Lanka’s war – 25 April 2009

Reuters – ReG8 condemns use of “human shields” in Sri Lanka – 25 April 2009

Voice of America – Tamil Tigers Claim 150,000 Civilians on Brink of Starvation – 25 April 2009

Washington Post – U.N. dispatches top humanitarian to Sri Lanka – 25 April 2009

French Polynesian Workers Preparing Suit Over Nuclear Testing

By Sarah E. Treptow
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

PAP’ETE, French Polynesia– Tomorrow, a court in French Polynesia will hear a case lodged by eight former workers of French nuclear weapons testing sites in Mururoa and Fangataufa.

Moruroa e Tatou, the French Polynesian based association representing the workers, will represent the workers in the Pape’ete Court who will be judging the cases for the first time ever.  Of the eight former workers, three are alive and five will be represented by their widows.  The workers claim their illnesses are due to nuclear testing and are asking for financial compensation.

Moruroa e Tatou said justice should be swift because witnesses of the nuclear testing period in French Polynesia from 1966 to 1996 are now getting old.

Walter Zweifel reported, “The veterans association has described the court case to get compensation as historic and comes after last year’s admission by France that its tests in the South Pacific were not clean as it had previously claimed.  But after years of unsuccessful campaigning for recognition, there is continued mistrust among veterans.”

The group had asked for the proceedings to be filmed for increased transparency, but they were told there was not enough time to organize it.

French Polynesian President, Oscar Temaru’s party, has announced it will support the workers.

For more information, please see:
Pacific Islands Report – French Polynesian Nuke Victims Head to Court – 24 April 2009

Islands Business – Tahitian nuclear test veteran association getting ready for “historic case” – 27 April 2009

Radio New Zealand International – Nuke victims compensation case to be lodged in French Polynesia tomorrow – 27 April 2009

Fiji High Court Will Not Hear Government Cases for a Month

By Hayley J. Campbell
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Oceania

SUVA, Fiji – For the next month, the Fiji High Court will not hear any government cases says Fiji’s Solicitor General, Christopher Pryde.

Mr. Pryde says that, due to Presidential decree, certain cases can no longer be challenged in court.

“The existence of the decrees won’t be capable of being challenged in the courts, for example the first decree was the abrogation of the constitution and that can’t be challenged in court,” Mr. Pryde said.

On April 10th, Fiji’s President, Ratu Josefa Iloilo, abrogated Fiji’s constitution and dismissed judicial members. There has been growing concern over the new court system’s independence.

Mr. Pryde, a New Zealand lawyer, lost his position after the abrogation of the Constitution. He has retaken the position of Solicitor General because he says it allows him to function more as a public servant and less as a politician.

For more information, please see:
Radio New Zealand International – No government cases to go before Fiji High Court for another month – 26 April 2009

Fijilive – Fiji courts take shape today – 20 April 2009

Afghan Journalist Released on Bail

By Shayne R. Burnham
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

KABUL, Afghanistan – Television reporter Fahim Kohdamani was released from detention in Kabul on April 19.  Human rights organizations call upon the release of pending charges against him, including defamation and insult.  He was arrested four weeks ago following complaint from an Iranian official.

Kohdamani worked for the privately owned television station, Emroz.  According to the Afghan Independent Journalists’ Association, it was alleged that an Emroz broadcast expressed “anti-Islamic sentiments offensive to some Shiite clerics.

“It is deplorable that an Afghan journalist was detained like a criminal because of a complaint by the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The public prosecutor and the government must resist foreign pressures that lead to the press law being applied arbitrarily. All Kohdamani did was criticize certain religious superstitions.”

Proof of the complaint lies in a letter that Iranian ambassador Fada Hossein Maleki sent to Afghan prosecutor general Mohamad Ehssagh Alko on March 23.  Maleki requested “legal proceedings” to be brought against the TV station Kohdamani works for, Emroz.  He alleged that Emroz insulted “senior officials of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and that these “suspect, separatist and insulting actions” should be dealt with under the Afghan criminal code.  The letter further threatened that relations between Afghanistan and Iran would suffer if prosecution was not pursued.

After his arrest, Kohdamani was interrogated by the Afghan prosecutor’s office about Ayatollah Khomeiny, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s founder. He was accused of criticizing a book written by Khomeiny.  However, Kohdamani explained that he did not criticize Khomeiny, personally, only  religious superstitions. He said, “In my programme, I combat the use of religions for personal or political interests.”

He continued, “I was not mistreated but it is intolerable that an innocent person should imprisoned with killers and traffickers . . . I am still awaiting another court summons  . . . and unfortunately, I cannot count on the Media Verification Commission as the conservatives on it are in the majority.”

For more information, please see:

IFJ – IFJ Alarmed by the Arrest of Two Journalists in Afghanistan – 25 March 2009

Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty – Kabul TV Station Faces Officials’ Wrath – 11 March 2009

Reporters Without Borders – Emroz Channel Presenter Freed on Bail After Being Held After Complaint by Iran – 21 April 2009