Global Recession Hinders Human Rights in Central Asia

Global Recession Hinders Human Rights in Central Asia

By Hyo-Jin Paik
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan – When Central Asian countries did not answer questions from Amnesty International over the past year, experts concluded that governments in those countries have set aside human rights over economic issues.

However, Amnesty’s Europe and Central Asia Director Nicola Duckworth said, “You cannot separate human rights out from other…problems that exist, because human rights…rests at the base of the solution for problems, whether it is political, or whether it is economic.”

Consequently, in its annual report, Amnesty International found that the largest number of human rights issues are unresolved in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.   All dissent is suppressed in both countries, and while human rights activists are able to work in other Central Asian countries like Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan, such is impossible in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

Further, although death penalty was abolished in Uzbekistan in January 2009, no one knows how many people were actually executed or are serving life imprisonment, leaving surviving family members wondering whether or not their loved ones are alive.  Moreover, Uzbek refugees are often forced to return to their homeland where they risk human rights violations, and human rights activists working in Uzbekistan are harassed and persecuted.

Uzbekistan Protesters in Uzbekistan (Source: Front Line)

Impunity by the Turkmenistani government is prevalent as well.  In both countries, justice fails because there is no system to ensure rule of law in that there are obstacles, such as difficulty in obtaining a lawyer, failure of prosecutors to pursue investigations, low penalty for convicted officials, and fear of reprisals by the victims.

Some attribute the reason for repression to the fact that countries like Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are still strongly depended on Russia, and Central Asian countries have adopted the worst from its neighbors.

Ann Bayevsky of Hudson Institute has criticized the United Nations for its failure to address the problem saying, “They [UN Human Rights Council] just eradicated human rights investigations in [Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan] because human rights abusers hold the balance of power.”

For more information, please see:

ABC News – Amnesty: Recession Leading to Repression – 28 May 2009

Amnesty International – Amnesty International Report 2009 Europe and Central Asia – 28 May 2009

Human Rights Watch – Uzbekistan: Stop Detention, Harassment of Activists – 29 May 2009

Trend News – Amnesty International: Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan leading black list of Central Asia countries – 29 May 2009

Voice of America – Amnesty International Scores Russian Human Rights Record – 28 May 2009

Voice of America – UN Body Criticized for Not Fighting for Human Rights – 22 May 2009

Mexican Journalists Covering Government Corruption and Drug Trade Kidnapped and Murdered

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

DURANGO, Mexico – Mexican crime journalist Eliseo Barron Laguna was found dead, with signs of torture on Tuesday, May 26.  He is the second journalist killed in the state of Durango in less than a month. Carlos Ortega was shot dead as he was investigating police corruption in Durango. The next day Fidel Perez Sanchez, a crime reporter in Vera Cruz was reported missing. Mexico’s war on drugs and public corruption has made journalism increasingly dangerous.

The State Prosecutor’s office for Durango reported that armed men barged into Barron Laguna’s home late on Monday, beat him in front of his wife and daughter, and kidnapped him.  Laguna has been a reporter for the publication La Opinion de Torreon for 11 years.  His last article was about police corruption.

Traffickers have been known to harass journalists who report on drug gangs and attacks on the media have increased since Calderon launched his army-backed assault on the drug cartels at the end of 2006. Drug-related violence has killed 2,300 people in Mexico this year.

Mexico is considered the second most dangerous place in the world for journalists, after Iraq. Ten journalists have been killed this year alone, and at least eight have been killed for reasons directly related to their work. Most of the targeted journalists covered organized crime or  the government.

Research by The Committee To Protect  Journalists (CPJ) found that local and state authorities in Mexico have been ineffective at solving press-related cases and at times have been complicit in the crimes. The text of the CPJ report can be found here.

A bill imposing penalties for crimes against “journalistic activity” has stalled in the Mexican Senate. Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has called for a swift and efficient prosecution and resolution to the cases of murder and kidnapping of journalists. So far the police have made no arrests related to these recent killings and have made no public determination that the killings were related to the individuals’ work as journalists.

Israel Continues to Allow Settlement Expansion Despite International Protest

By Meredith Lee-Clark
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

JERUSALEM, Israel/West Bank – An Israeli government spokesman said on May 28 that Israel must be allowed to expand its settlements in the West Bank, echoing the sentiments of Israeli’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to his cabinet on May 24.  Mark Regev, speaking on May 27, said that any final arrangements regarding West Bank settlements would have to be part of any agreement with the Palestinians, but that until such an agreement is reached, Israeli settlements would be allowed to expand to compensate for “natural growth.”

Approximately 500,000 Israeli Jews live in settlements inside the West Bank and in predominantly-Arab East Jerusalem, areas which were captured by Israeli in 1967 and which many Palestinians believe will be the basis of a future Palestinian state.  While the Israeli government has condemned the twenty-two settlements, deeming them to be illegal, the organization Peace Now estimates that fifty such settlements have been built since 2001 and Israeli settlements currently take up approximately 40% of the land in the West Bank. 

Under international law, such settlements are illegal because they are on land that Palestinians claim form their independent state.  In the U.S.-supported roadmap peace plan, Israel must stop all settlement activity, and specifically included natural growth.

On May 27, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton insisted that construction of all Israeli settlements in the West Bank must immediately stop.  During his meeting with Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, on May 28, U.S. president Barack Obama repeated his call for a freeze on settlement construction, and said that he expected to hear a response from Prime Minister Netanyahu shortly.  Middle East experts have called the Obama Administration’s response to the current settlement expansion the strongest on the issue from the U.S. in years. 

For more information, please see:

Irish Times – Israel to Allow Expansion in Settlements – 29 May 2009

New York Times – Obama Calls for Swift Move Toward Mideast Peace Talks  – 28 May 2009

BBC News – No Exception in Israeli Settlement:  Clinton – 28 May 2009

New York Times – Israel Insists on Some Construction in West Bank Settlements – 28 May 2009

Al-Jazeera – Netanyahu:  Settlements to Expand – 25 May 2009

Palestine Monitor – Obama’s Logic vs. Netanyahu’s Rhetoric – 20 May 2009

No “Impunity” in Nepal?

By Alishba I. Kassim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

KATHMANDU, Nepal – In the primary Nepali dictionary, there is no word for impunity. This is particularly relevant today as Nepal is the process of formulating a new constitution. Previous constitutions have not dealt with human rights extensively, nor addressed specific areas of impunity. Local human rights groups have been urging the government to promote accountability and acknowledge and address the widespread human rights violations in the country’s new constitution by guaranteeing important rights.

Nepal has been home to rampant human rights violations against men, women, and children throughout its history. Although Nepal is party to several international treatises on human rights, the country is slow to act upon them.

Newly elected Prime Minister Madhav Kumar opined that the role of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal is insignificant. He further accused the OHCHR of “paying attention to political events and neglecting major human rights violations.” He also only extended its tenure for three months even though three years were requested.

The Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Kedernath Upadhaya, in response commented that the rights body alone cannot guarantee human rights without the help of the government and political parties. The Chairman’s comment is particularly relevant on the eve of writing a new Nepali constitution. The situation in Nepal, as of now, looks bleak since there is a marked communication barrier between human rights agencies, the government, and local political parties.

Perhaps they can start with introducing the word impunity into their dictionaries and their constitution.

For more information, please see:

KantipurOnline – OHCHR Insignificant in Nepal – May 27, 2009

Gulf News –  Amnesty International Report on Asia – May 28, 2009

Republica – OHCHR in Nepal Extended by Three Months – May 29, 2009

Asia Foundation – Impunity in Nepal – September 1999

Egyptian Dissident Continues to Speak Out After Sentence is Overturned

By Ann Flower Seyse
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

Saad Eddin Ibrahim in 2003
Iw picture 528 CAIRO, Egypt – Saad Eddin Ibrahim was convicted on the charge of damaging Egypt’s reputation for speaking out against current President Hosni Mubarak and his regime in August of 2008. The conviction was founded Ibrahim’s vocal opposition of Mubarak and the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). Ibrahim suggested in an opinion piece for the Washington Post that the United States withhold aid until Cairo took steps to end the smuggling of arms into the Gaza strip, and to rein in police abuses.

On May 25, Judge Ashraf Sheta overturned Ibrahim’s two-year sentence. The decision comes just days before President Obama is scheduled to speak in Cairo, and there is speculation that this decision was motivated by Obama’s visit. Ibrahim is hesitant to believe this, and has praised the Egyptian appellate court for their independent decision.

Ibrahim has been living in the United States in exile, and would like to return to Egypt to see his wife and family. He is hesitant to return while he still faces charges of spying, and treason. If convicted he could be sentenced to twenty-five years in prison. His lawyers are advising that Ibrahim remain in the United States until the charges have been resolved.

The complaints filed against Ibrahim have all been brought by members of the NDP. Ibrahim believes that this is a way for the government to try to intimidate him without directly criticizing or sanctioning him. While visiting Egypt previously there have also been attempts on Ibrahim’s life, which he thinks might have had some government involvement.

In spite of all of this, Ibrahim plans on continuing to speak out. He sees it as his duty to be a critic, because the country needs critics. Ibrahim wants to be a free voice to speak on behalf of those who are oppressed, and hopes to shed light on the problems within his nation.

For more information, please see:

The Media Line – Egyptian Dissident: Obama Should Listen to People, Not Officials – 27 May 2009

The Media Line – Egyptian Dissident ‘Will Not Stop Criticizing Regime – 26 May 2009

AFP – Egypt Court Overturns Dissident’s Jail Term – 25 May 2009

Al Arabiya News Channel – Egypt Court Acquits Leading Rights Activist – 25 May 2009

BBC News – Egypt Quashes Saad Eddin Ibrahim Jail Term – 25 May 2009