Sri Lanka Rejects Human Rights Probe

By Alishba I. Kassim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – The Sri Lankan government continues to reject calls to probe for human rights violations amidst allegations that an unprecedented number of civilians perished in the battle against Tamil separatists.

Media Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena said “those who give various civilian casualty figures and call for these probes must have ulterior motives.” He further went onto say that the government was conducting its own analysis but declined to give any figures. “Our officials knew how many people were in the (war zone) area and we are taking a tally on the number of people now in the IDP (internally displaced persons) camps.”

Several groups such as Amnesty International have been calling for independent probes but are being met with resistance. Amnesty also urged the United Nations to reveal its own estimates of civilian casualties. Sam Zarifi, the group’s Asia Pacific director accused both sides of human rights violations and war crimes and repeated a request for an independent and international probe.

Last week Sri Lankan officials managed to garner enough South Asian support at the Geneva council session to pass a resolution describing the conflict as “a domestic matter that doesn’t warrant outside interference.” In a following controversial development, the council supported the Sri Lankan government’s decision to provide international NGOs and human rights agencies with limited access “as may be appropriate” to refugee camps.

Undoubtedly these developments have frustrated international organizations that are now unable to accurately assess the human rights violation in Sri Lanka and therefore are unable to respond appropriately.

It makes one wonder, when civilian victims are at issue, shouldn’t one accept all the aid and support available?

For more information, please see:

The Nation – Sri Lanka Rejects Probe after Crushing Tigers – June 01, 2009

Guardian – UN Rejects Call for Human Rights Inquiry – May 28, 2009

Straits Time – Sri Lanka Rejects Rights Probe – May 31, 2009

Press Trust of India – Sri Lanka Rejects Demands for Probe – May 31, 2009

Canadian Jewish Congress Presents Human Rights Award Amid Community Opposition to the Organization

By Sovereign Hager
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America
TORONTO, Canada – The Canadian Jewish Congress‘ 90th Assembly will meet today to discuss policy issues such as human rights, Darfur, hate, security and anti-semitism.  Speakers include four of Canada’s five major party leaders and Israel’s Vice Prime Minister, Silvan Shalom. The headlining event will be the Saul Hayes Human Rights Award, which will be presented to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The CJC has decided to award Harper for his vigorous condemnation of anti-semitism and his strong support of Israel. The award goes to a leader who has exhibited distinguished service to the cause of human rights.

The CJC was founded in 1919 in order for persecuted Jewish minority to gain political strength through collective action. The group has evolved into what some consider “the epitome of political power,” as evidenced by the meeting of leaders today. However, the CJC has become more divided than it was in the past, according to historians and local activists. This is particularly true among those who question Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. Critics of the CJC claim that it is increasingly intolerant of dissenting voices when it comes to Middle Eastern politics.

Some community members regret what they consider to be a focus on the state of Israel, when the original organization focused on human rights issues.  Toronto artist Reena Katz, an activist associated with Israel Apartheid Week, an international movement opposed to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians claims to have been “blacklisted” by the CJC. The CJC withdraw its affiliation with the Koffler Centre for the Arts after her exhibit was shown there.

Critics of the CJC say that it has “become the establishment” and make a point that the most prominent members are not activists or agitators, but business people and philanthropists. Others complain that the organization is no longer grass-roots, but instead operates top-down and stifles debate.

Regardless of the criticism, few in Canadian politics can ignore the organization, which claims to present a unified voice for Canadian Jews. This is evident by the high level government attendance to the CJC’s 90th anniversary celebration this weekend. According to CJC chief executive, Bernie Farber, the CJC has “a brand name that is the most significant ethnocultural organization in Canada.”

IBA’s Human Rights Institute Criticizes Fiji Interim Regime’s Raid on Law Society

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

SUVA, Fiji – The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute has condemned the Fiji Military’s break-in of the Fiji Law Offices and removal of confidential files.

Fiji’s interim government issued a decree last week which stated that the Chief Registrar of the Court would take over the Law Society’s job of issuing practicing certificates to attorneys.

Following that decree, the interim regime ordered the military to raid the Law Society Offices, and take files relating to complaints about Law Society members.

Mark Ellis, IBA’s executive director, has called the interim government’s actions a “gross invasion of the rule of law,” and is concerned that such actions hurt the law profession’s independence in Fiji.

Mr. Ellis also says that the raid on the Law Society Offices is just one of many questionable actions the interim government has taken since the 2006 military coup of Fiji’s federal government. He called the latest break-in the “death knell” to the independence of Fiji’s legal profession.

Meanwhile, Fji’s interim attorney general, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, has called IBA’s concerns “misplaced,” arguing that they are only shared by a few lawyers in Fiji.

For more information, please see:
Radio New Zealand International –  IBA criticises Fiji regime for raid on Law Society – 29 May 2009

The Australian – Fiji’s ‘junta judges’ – 29 May 2009

FijiVillage – BA concerns misplaced-AG – 29 May 2009

Internationally Recognized Advocate for Migrant Human Rights on the US-Mexico Border Dies at 72

By Sovereign Hager
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America
CHULA VISTA, California – Roberto Martinez, a committed advocate for migrant rights on the US- Mexico border died on May 20th from complications of diabetes. Martinez appeared at marches, spoke on behalf of migrants, cataloged human rights abuses, and testified before Congress on the impact of increased militarization at the border.

Martinez’s career in advocacy began when he led efforts in demanding police action to violence against immigrants.  He has consistently fought for government accountability for failed immigration policies. As the director of the American Friends Service Committee in San Diego, Martinez was instrumental in developing a human rights methodology, which is now widely regarded as a best practice by human rights organizations on the US-Mexico border.

The media often attacked Martinez’s convictions. Martinez received death threats, was arrested during the course of his work, and hate groups targeted his family. His wife, nine children, and their families survive him.

Martinez was the first US citizen to be honored as an International Human Rights Monitor by Human Rights Watch for his pioneering human rights advocacy in border communities. Recently Roberto received the prestigious Ohtli Award from the Mexican Government. This is the highest honor granted to a non-Mexican national for their service to Mexicans abroad. He was also the recipient of the Quezacoalt Award, presented by the Mexican National Commission for Human Rights.

Christian Ramirez, the national coordinator for the American Friend’s Service Committee reflected on Martinez’s death, saying “It’s going to be a terrible loss . . . for the whole border community. Voices like his are urgently needed at the border.”

Cook Islands Group Rejects Affirmative Action

By Angela Marie Watkins
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

AVARUA, Cook Islands – A Cook Islands political group says using affirmative action to get more women into parliament is wrong.

The Group for Political Change was responding to a two-day conference held this week in the Cook Islands aimed at developing a temporary measure, such as reserving seats for women, to increase women’s parliamentary representation to 30 percent. At the moment, women hold three out of the 24 seats.

The two-day conference was a joint initiative between the International Development Law Organization, the United Nations Development Fund for Women, the Gender and Development Division of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.

Participants in the conference claim that increasing the number of women in the Cook Islands Parliament is an important first step toward gender balance in government.

A founding member of the Group for Political Change, Elizabeth Ponga, says the Cook Islands society would definitely benefit from having more women MPs but that using affirmative action and bypassing the democratic process to vault women into parliament are wrong.

Ponga speculated that with a democratic political system it will only be a matter of time before there are more women in Cook Islands politics.

For more information, please see:

Radio New Zealand International – Cook Islands take first official step towards more women MPs – 30 May 2009

Radio New Zealand International – Cook Islands activists say affirmative parliamentary action for women wrong – 30 May 2009