Two Detained US Reporters Face Trial in North Korea

By Ariel Lin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

Pyongyang, North Korea – Two detained US reporters last month will face trial in North Korean.  North Korean government will charge Euna Lee and Laura Ling for illegal entry and “hostile acts”, the country’s state-run news agency says. The two reporters were working on a story about North Koreans who flee the closed country to make a better living in China.

“The illegal entry of US reporters into the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) and their suspected hostile acts have been confirmed by evidence and their statements,” the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.  The KCNA is preparing for indictments and a trial. It is also being reported that two reporters will be allowed consular access and will be treated in accordance with international law.

US government continues to work on this matter through diplomatic channels, according to an unnamed senior White House official.  “We have seen the brief North Korean press report (on the trial), and we have no higher priority than the protection of American citizens abroad”, the official says.

The detentions come in the middle of growing tension in the region as North Korea launched its satellite.  The North Korean government insists that the rocket is designed to put a communications satellite into orbit.  However, the international community believes it may be a test of a far-ranging military missile.  Some reports say that Laura Ling and Euna Lee’s fate may depend on missile launch diplomacy between North Korea and US.
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The use of the language “hostile acts” in the North Korea’ statements statement could means espionage.  Espionage convictions come with severe penalties, such as five to 10 years, or longer, in prison.

For more information, please see
:

BBC – US reporters face N Korea trial – 31 March 2009

Bloomberg – North Korea Prepares to Indict U.S. Reporters Held at Border – 30 March 2009

CNN – Report: North Korea planning to put American reporters on trial – 31 March 2009

People – Fate of Lisa Ling’s Sister Linked to Missile Launch Diplomacy – 03 April 2009

Wall Street Journal – Arrest of U.S. Reporters Adds to the Tension – 06 April 2009

Proposed Afghan Law Legalizes Rape

By Shayne R. Burnham
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghan President Karzei has reportedly signed a law authorizing the rape of women and prohibits women to leave the home without a male relative.

The law legalizes a husband to rape his wife by not allowing her to refuse sex.  It also would legalize the marriage of girls from the age of nine and force a woman to wear makeup at the demand of her husband.  The new law applies only to minority Shi’ite family law, which makes up 15 percent of the population.

Legislator Sayed Hussain Alem Balkhi defends the new law, stating that the new civil law offers more freedoms.  “This bill stipulates lots of leniencies compared to the civic laws that have been around for 40 years.  For example, (under the new law) a Shi’ite woman can seek divorce if her husband is not able to feed her or he disappears for a long time.”  He further said, “A shi’ite woman can go out for medical treatment, to see her parents without the permission of her husband, while this freedom is not enshrined in the civic law.”

Critics claim that President Karzei signed the legislation in an effort to gain Shia votes in the upcoming election on August 20.  More significantly, they believe that the passage of the law is a step backwards in the progress towards democracy.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said that the law was a “clear indication that the human rights situation in Afghanistan is getting worse not better.”

Women’s rights have vastly improved since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001.  Under that regime, women were not allowed to work, attend school or leave the home without a male relative.

The United States has expressed concern about the new law.  State Department spokesman Robert Wood said, “We urge President Karzei to review the law’s legal statute to correct provisions of the law that limit or restrict women’s rights.”

For more information, please see:

Associated Press – Critics Assail Afghan Law that “Legalizes Rape” – 2 April 2009

CNN – New Afghan Law Might Legalize Rape – 2 April 2009

Reuters – Law for Shi’ites Stirs Anger and Concern – 2 April 2009

Thai Man Jailed for Insulting Monarchy

By Pei Hu
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BANGKOK, Thailand – Suwicha Thakho, a Thai citizen has been sentenced to 10 years in jail under Thailand’s strict lese-majeste laws for insulting the king and his family.

Thakho altered digital images of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his family and posted them on the internet.  The Bangkok Criminal Court did not specify how the pictures were changed or where the pictures appeared.  Local newspapers reported that some of the pictures appeared on Youtube.

The Thai court found Thakho guilty of both the lese-majeste law and the Computer Crime Act of 2007, which bars the circulation of material deemed detrimental to national security or causes public panic.

Recently, lese-majeste prosecutions were used more often, where some critics say is to silence the criticism of the eventual transfer to the throne to the crown prince, who is less popular than his father, who is now 81-years old.

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy and has one of the strictest lese-majeste laws in the world where Thailand’s royal family is sheltered from public debate. Thai lese-majeste law mandates a jail term of 3-15 years for “whoever defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir to the throne or the regent.” Anyone violating the Computer Crime Act can be imprisoned up to 5 years and fined about $2,770 dollars.

Since 2007, officials have blocked more than 5,000 websites for insulting the Thai monarchy. Several people are awaiting trial.

In February, the Thai King pardoned Australian writer Harry Nicolaides who was sentenced to three years in jail for insulting the crown prince in a published book.  The King also pardoned a Swiss citizen who was given a 10-year sentence for defacing the King’s portrait.

Last November, a political activist was jailed for 6 years for an anti-monarchy speech.

For more information, please see:

AP – Man given 10 years for insulting Thai monarchy – 3 April 2009

BBC – Thai man jailed for royal insult – 3 April 2009

Reuters – Thai man gets 10 years jail for insulting monarchy– 3 April 2009

Khmer Rouge Torturer Admits to Crimes Against Humanity

By Pei Hu

Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PHNOM PEHN, Cambodia – Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, admitted responsibility for crimes committed during the rule of the Khmer Rouge regime. Duch is accused of crimes against humanity including torture and premeditated murder that lead to 10,000 deaths.

During the short Khmer Rouge regime, 2 million lives were lost due to starvation, being over-worked, and from execution. At the UN-backed tribunal in Cambodia, Duch expressed “regretfulness and heartfelt sorrow” for his actions. Duch told the court, “May I be permitted to apologize to the survivors of the regime, and also the loved ones of those who died brutally during the regime… I ask not that you forgive me now, but hope you will later.”

On Tuesday, prosecutors opened their case against Duch. Co-prosecutor Chea Leang said, “For 30 years, one-and-a-half million victims of the Khmer Rouge have been demanding justice for their suffering… Justice will be done. History demands it.”

Duch, former Tuol Sleng prison ward, is the first key Khmer Rouge leader to be on trial, and four more Khmer Rouge leaders are awaiting trial. Leang said Tuol Sleng prison “formed an integral and indeed vital role in a widespread attack on the population of Cambodia.”

Prosecutors read out gruesome details from the notorious Tuol Sleng prison during the indictment, including medieval methods of torture. “Several witnesses said that prisoners were killed using steel clubs, cart axles, and water pipes.” The indictment also read, “Prisoners were then kicked into the pits, where their handcuffs were removed. Finally the guards either cut open their bellies or their throats.”

Thousands of people have died in Tuol Sleng, which is now a Genocide museum with photographs of the victims lining the wall.

Duch was in charge of interrogations at Tuol Sleng, but “every prisoner who arrived a S-21 [Tuol Sleng] was destined for execution.”

“As a member of the [Khmer Rouge] I recognize responsibility for what happened at Tuol Sleng,” Duch told the tribunal. At 66 years-old, Duch is the only Khmer Rouge defendant to admit his part in the atrocities, but he insisted that he did not hold a senior role in the regime and had no choice but to work at Tuol Sleng, “I was in a life and death situation for myself and my family.”

Duch was discovered in the Cambodian country side by British journalist Nic Dunlop in 1999. Dunlop said it was “surreal” to see Duch in a court room.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Khmer Rouge Leader Admits Crimes– 31 March 2009

Reuters –Khmer Rouge torturer accepts blame for 14,000 deaths– 31 March 2009

Toronto Star – Khmer Rouge torturer apologizes– 1 April 2009

U. N. Human Rights Report on North Korea

By Ariel Lin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

North Korea – A report presented by Vitit Muntarbhorn, a United Nations envoy to North Korea, states a “broad range of egregious human rights violations” in the country.  He accused North Korean authorities of committing widespread torture in prisons.  “Life in the reclusive communist-ruled country is ‘dire and desperate’,” said Vitit Muntarbhorn.

In addition, he claimed about almost 7 million North Koreans have not received the food assistance. Muntarbhorn criticized North Korean government for using access to food as a method of controlling its population.  In December, the UN World Food Programme estimated that approximately 40 percent of North Korea’s population, or 8.7 million people, would need food assistance in 2008 due to a deficit in domestic cereal production.

“The abhorrent prison conditions, including lack of food, poor hygiene, freezing conditions in winter time, forced labor and corporal punishment, result in a myriad of abuses and deprivations,” Muntarbhorn wrote in his report.

Muntarbhorn never gained entry to North Korea, but he has been investigated North Korea for years.  He often consulted with U.N. agencies working in North Korea and human rights groups outside.  In preparing his report, he also spoke with North Korean refugees in South Korea, Japan and Mongolia.

North Korea rejected the report, saying it was filled with “fabrications and distortions.” Sang Il Hun, a North Korea representative to the U.N. Human Rights Council, said the report was a politically motivated attack on the country, and that North Korea adequately protects human rights.

For more information, please see
:

AFP – 6.9 million North Koreans lack food aid: UN expert – 16 March 2009

AP – UN expert: North Korea commits widespread torture – 16 March 2009

Bloomberg – North Korean Human Rights ‘Dire and Desperate,’ UN Envoy Says – 16 March 2009

Bloomberg – North Koreans Lacking Food Aid Total Almost 7 Million, AFP Says – 16 March 2009

Jurist – UN rights investigator cites North Korea for ‘egregious’ violations – 16 March 2009

Reuters – Life in N.Korea dire and desperate, U.N. forum told – 16 March 2009

Mexican President Gets Away with Genocide

01 April 2009

Mexican President Gets Away with Genocide

By Maria E. Molina
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

MEXICO CITY, Mexico – A federal tribunal has exonerated former President Luis Echeverría Álvarez of genocide charges stemming from a notorious massacre of student activists in 1968. Echeverria was the country’s interior secretary on Oct. 2, 1968, when soldiers opened fire on a student demonstration in Mexico City’s Tlatelolco Plaza before the capital hosted the Olympics.

A lower court previously ruled the massacre constituted genocide but dismissed charges of involvement against Echeverria.  The court, which issued its ruling late Thursday, rejected federal prosecutors’ argument that an army crackdown on unarmed student protesters fit the legal definition of genocide. It also upheld previous rulings that the 30-year statute of limitations for genocide had expired.

The collapse of this latest case is demonstrative of successive Mexican governments failure to address Mexico’s international human rights commitments. The government of President Calderon, in particular, has failed to acknowledge or address the legacy of human rights violations.

The massacre unfolded on the night of October 2, 1968, when Mexican security forces opened fire in a public area, La Plaza de las Tres Culturas at Tlatelolco. The public square was crowded with thousands of activists. When the shooting stopped, hundreds of people lay dead or wounded, as Army and police forces seized surviving protesters and dragged them away. No one knows for sure how many people were killed and to this day, no one has been punished for the crime.

Thursday’s ruling exhausted prosecutors’ legal possibilities in Mexico. It was not immediately clear whether they planned to appeal the decision to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, in Costa Rica.

For more information, please see:

Amnesty International – Violent Crime and Insecurity in Mexico Are Rooted in Legacy of Impunity and Injustice from Past, Says Amnesty International, Commenting on Court Ruling on 1968 Student Massacre – 27 March 2009

Associated Press – Mexican court upholds ruling on 1968 massacre – 27 March 2009

The Chronicle of Higher Education – Mexican Court Exonerates Former President Accused of Genocide in Student Killings – 27 March 2009