100 Human Skulls Found in India

By Alishba I. Kassim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

ALIGARH, India – Nearly 100 human skulls were found in a dried up pond in the Northern Indian city of Aligarh. The remains belonged to people whose bodies the police were unable to identify.

The discovery was made by children playing in the pond after it had dried up. The children located several skulls, after which police officials were notified. Police officials recovered approximately 98 more skulls alongside other bones and human remains. The bodies appear to have been there for at least a decade.

Local officials commented that the bodies most likely belonged to victims of road accidents, inconclusive shootings, and the like, and the police disposed off the bodies in the pond in order to avoid having to organize cremations. Aligarh city police chief, Maan Singh Chauhan, said he suspected this had been going on for two decades and many junior-rank officials could be responsible.

Several human rights groups in India are appalled at this recent discovery and have accused the police of being callous. A senior official of the Uttar Pradesh State Human Rights Organization, Asish Shukla, said “even dead bodies deserve honorable cremation after post mortem…It seems the dead bodies were just thrown in the pond, denying them the respect they deserve.”

In a region that is known to house rampant human rights violations where even the living are often accorded no respect, it comes as no surprise that the dead are treated the same.

For more information, please see:

CNN – 100 Skulls Found in Indian Pond – 25 May 2009

AOL News – Skulls Found in India – 25 May 2009

ABC News – 100 Human Skulls Found in India25 May 2009

Canadian Supreme Court Denies Constitutional Rights to Afghan Detainees Abroad

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

OTTAWA, Canada – The Canadian Supreme Court declined to decide if non-Canadians transferred by Canadian troops to Afghan custody should be extended constitutional rights. The rejection of the appeal application brought by Amnesty International and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Union effectively upheld a lower court ruling that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not protect non-Canadians abroad.

A lawyer for the two rights groups expressed disapproval of the ruling by pointing out that “just about every other democratic country has affirmed that military detainees held on foreign soil have human rights protections in their domestic courts-including the United States.” Human rights groups insist that torture of detainees in Afghanistan is “endemic,” and that Canadian soldiers should not take part in prisoner transfers if there are grounds to believe the detainees will be tortured.

Rights groups say that the potential for Canada to extend Constitutional protections abroad came when Canadian courts held that the rights of Omar Khadr, a Guantanamo detainee were violated.  However, the Federal Court of Appeals explicitly stated that the Khadr decision had no impact on the Afghan detainee case. The Court of Appeals opinion in this case cited Afghan sovereignty with respect to military affairs as a reason for their holding. The Supreme Court, by custom, did not give a reason why they refused to hear the case.

Despite the ruling, a public inquiry by the Military Police Commission into these allegations is scheduled to begin Monday in Ottawa. Rights groups remain adamant that when military police transfer captive insurgents to Afghan authorities known to torture their detainees, they fail to live up to international obligations.

Fiji Courts Reopen Even Without the Chief Justice

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

SUVA, Fiji – The Higher Courts have reopened in Fiji today, but without the Chief Justice, who has gone on leave.

Seven weeks ago, Fiji’s president, Ratu Josefa Iloilo, declared himself head of state. He repealed Fiji’s Constitution and dismissed judicial members. Last month, Fiji’s President made a new decree which established the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, the High Court and other courts as necessary. This decree made it possible for a chief justice to be sworn in, as well as other judiciary members. Those members were appointed amidst growing concerns over the new court system’s independence.

But Chief Justice Gates disagrees with those concerns. He says that, after witnessing five previous coups and dismissals of the judiciary, this time judges will stay on and help get more judicial members appointed.

“From such efforts will emerge a truly independent judiciary and in time a closer approximation to the rule of law than we have had in 20 years or more,” Chief Justice Gates said.

New judicial members were sworn in last Friday which included Chief Justice, Anthony Gates. Other appointed High Court judges included Justices Devendra Pathik, Daniel Gounder, and Sosefa Inoke. The interim government is expected to appoint more judicial members soon.

Although the courts reopen Monday, Chief Justice Gates is on leave until next week. His office expects he will resume work as soon as he returns.

For more information, please see:
Radio New Zealand International – Fiji higher courts reopen but Chief Justice takes leave – 25 May 2009

Fiji Daily Post – Avoiding the ’87 mistake – 25 May 2009

BBC News – Fijian leader reinstates judges – 22 May 2009

Spate of Attacks on Journalists in Ex-Soviet Republics in Recent Months

By Meredith Lee-Clark
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

YEREVAN, Armenia – A prominent Armenian journalist, Never Mnatsakanian, was attacked by unknown assailants outside of his home in Yerevan, the Armenian capital, on May 6.  Mnatsakanian’s assault is the latest in a series of attacks on journalists in the South Caucasus region.  In addition to the assault on Mnatsakanian, the editor of a pro-opposition news website, Armenia Today, was severely beaten on April 30. The Paris-based media outlet, Reporters Without Borders, ranked Armenia 102nd out of 173 countries in its 200 report of media freedom.

News media have reported similar attacks on journalists in neighboring Azerbaijan. On May 10, Azerbaijani police used physical force against protestors marching against the commemoration of the “Flower Holiday,” a nationalist celebration of the late president.  News media reported that police had arrested thirty students involved in the protests.  Police also attacked Khadija Ismailova, director of the Baku bureau of Radio Liberty, after she tried to get information from them about the arrests.  Other sources report that Durna Safarli, correspondent for Radio Liberty, Elchin Hasanov, reporter for Yukselish Namina, and Afgan Mukhtarli and Layla Ilgar from the newspaper, Yeni Musavat, were also attacked by police as the journalists covered the Flower Holiday protests.

In Armenia, a senior police official has recommended that journalists carry guns to protect themselves against such attacks.  Several non-governmental organizations have called for police investigations, though many Armenians believe that such investigations are cursory at best.  One journalist attacked in late 2008, Edik Baghdasarian, is conducting his own investigation into the identities of his assailants.

Article 19, a United Kingdom-based advocacy group for free expression, has condemned the attacks on journalists in these former Soviet republics as “creating a climate of impunity for the perpetrators and fear amongst journalists working in these countries.”

For more information, please see:

NASDAQ – Armenian Television Journalist Attacked in Capital – Police – 22 May 2009

Article 19 – South Caucasus:  Continued Violence Against Journalists Symptomatic of Ongoing Repression in the Region – 15 May 2009

Eurasianet.org – Armenia:  Free Speech Under Assault in Yerevan – 14 May 2009

Human Rights House Network – Journalists Harassed by Police while Attempting to Cover Student Protests – 13 May 2009

Azeri Report – Student Protests Spoiled “Flower Holiday” of Azeri Government – 10 May 2009

U.S. Woman Gang-Raped in Iraq Seeks Justice by Overcoming a Mandatory Arbitration Clause

By Nima Nayebi

Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

NEW ORLEANS, United States – The fifth circuit heard arguments recently in the case of Jamie Leigh Jones, a Texas resident and former KBR employee who alleged she was gang-raped by Halliburton employees in 2005 while working in Baghdad’s “Green Zone.”

Jones sued Halliburton and several of its subsidiaries in 2005, but Halliburton insisted that she was bound by contract to submit all claims arising from the alleged rape to private arbitration. Jones argued that the arbitration clause of her contract did not apply to a claim involving rape, “because it is not a work-related matter.”

Fifth circuit Judge Keith Ellison wrote: “This court does not believe that plaintiff’s bedroom should be considered the workplace, even though her housing was provided by her employer.”

While in the Green Zone, Halliburton and its then-subsidiary KBR housed Jones in predominantly male living quarters. Jones reported being harassed just two days after arriving there, but her request for different living barracks was dismissed. She was told “to go to the spa” instead.

Just two days later, firefighters working for Halliburton allegedly drugged and brutally raped Jones, causing severe injuries which required reconstructive surgery. No criminal charges were filed against her assailants because the Coalition Authority limits the power of the Iraqi government in prosecuting foreign contractors.

Jones’ experience in Iraq led her to inaugurate the Jamie Leigh Foundation, a “nonprofit organization dedicated to helping United States citizens and legal residents who are victims of crime while working abroad for government contractors and subcontractors.” Jones had also been an outspoken critic of the Fair Arbitration Act of 1925 (FAA), which is currently under Congressional scrutiny.

Georgia Representative Hank Johnson has introduced H.R. 1020, the “Arbitration Fairness Act of 2009.” On 28 April, Jones and others adversely affected by mandatory arbitration clauses lobbied for the act during “Arbitration Fairness Day.” Representative Johnson stated: “One of our indelible rights is the right of a jury trial. Guaranteed by the Constitution, this right has been gradually ceded by citizens every day as they purchase a new cell phone, buy a home, place a loved one in a nursing home, or accept a new job. Once used as a tool for businesses to solve their disputes, arbitration agreements have found their way into employment, consumer, franchise and medical contracts.”

The fifth circuit’s decision will allow others who have been similarly victimized to challenge employment contracts which have kept them from suing in court.

Most Wanted Suspect Arrested in China for Trafficking Children

By Hyo-Jin Paik
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China– China’s Ministry of Public Security arrested Zhang Weizhu, one of the most wanted criminals for human trafficking in China.  Zhang is the third suspect to be arrested after the Chinese police launched a nationwide campaign against human trafficking in April.

Despite the efforts by the Chinese police, the parents of kidnapped children claim that the government efforts are not enough to curb this growing social problem.  The parents are prevented by the police and neighborhood security committees from staging protests to bring attention to the problem.  A parent of a missing child with the surname Mo said, “On the day we planned to hold the protest, the police kept watch at the bus terminal and intercepted us.”

Parents who try to report their missing children to the authorities are often met with refusal by the police, and the local media has failed to publicize information regarding the abducted children.  A mother with the surname Deng said, “The TV station demanded a note from the police station proving that our child was really missing.”  She added, “But the police station said this was a big criminal case and…cannot be publicized.  They said it would have a bad effect on society.”

Chinese girl Young Chinese girl in Anhui Province (Source: AFP)

Nevertheless, Zhang Xinfeng, the Vice-Minister of Public Security, released a statement urging all authorities to continue their efforts in cracking down on the human trafficking rings and to compile a DNA database to identify the missing children.

There is apparently a huge market for children in China, and both boys and girls are being trafficked.  260 children were freed after the Chinese police solved 312 child trafficking cases since the campaign started in April, and there is a reward of 50,000 yuan ($7,326.55) for information leading to the arrest of the suspects on the top 10 most wanted list.
For more information, please see:

China View – China arrests most-wanted suspect in human trafficking cases – 22 May 2009

People’s Daily Online – Vice police chief vows to strike against human trafficking – 15 May 2009

Radio Free Asia – China Vows Action on Trafficking – 21 May 2009

Shanghai Daily – Police net third trafficker – 22 May 2009

Yemeni Police Kill Three in Clash with Protesters

By Nykoel Dinardo
Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

ADEN, Yemen – Three people died following protests in Southern Yemen during the week of May 18, after police clashed with the protesters.  One man died at the scene of the protest.  The other two died in the hospital shortly thereafter.   At least twenty-five others were injured and another 120 were arrested for their involvement.

The protests were focused on the political status of South Yemen.  The protests marked the 19th Anniversary of Unity Day, the day when South Yemen and North Yemen were united at one nation.  The people of South Yemen have claimed independence and many of the organizations leading the protests are considered separatist organizations.  Most of the protests have been organized by the Southern Movement, a group that is strongly against the government in Yemen’s capital, Sana’a.

Yemen is the poorest country in the Arabian Peninsula; however most of the oil reserves are located in South Yemen.  A large portion of the population is also located in the South.  Residents in the South claim that they face discrimination and live in poor economic conditions.  As the economic crisis has hit the country, residents of the South claim that they have been denied jobs and property so that they could be reserved for Northern residents. 

Over 3,000 protesters were trying to go into Aden City to protest these conditions when they were met by security forces that were sent to break up the groups.  When the protesters met the security forces, they used themselves as human shields when police fired live rounds into the crowd.  They also shot tear gas into the groups of people. 

State-run news agencies in Yemen refused to admit that the clash took place, despite reports of the clash in many international news sources.  The news agency, SABA, claims that the deaths were not caused by security forces but instead by “rogue elements.”  According to Aden Governor, Adnan al-Jefri, the event has been escalated and magnified by the media.  He told SABA on May 21 that there had been “no clashes…between security forces and demonstrators in Aden.” 

For more information, please see:

CNN – Yemen Denies Reports of Deadly Clashes – 22 May 2009

AFP – Yemeni President Urges Dialogue After Deadly Clashes – 21 May 2009

Al-Bawaba – Yemen: At Least Three Killed in Clashes – 21 May 2009

BBC – Civil War Fears As Yemen Celebrates Unity – 21 May 2009

Reuters – Three Killed as Police Disperse South Yemen Protest – 21 May 2009

SABA – Aden Governor: No Clashes Between Citizens and Security – 21 May 2009

Canada Convicts First International War Criminal in Landmark Decision

By Karla E General
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

MONTREAL, Canada – A Quebec court today found Desire Munyaneza guilty of all seven counts of war crimes committed in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, under a Canadian law enacted in 2000 that allows residents to be tried for crimes committed abroad.

Munyaneza, 42, the first person to be convicted under Canada’s Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act, was found guilty on all counts related to genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, in connection with the three-month genocide perpetrated by Rwanda’s Hutu group. The actions of the Hutus resulted in the murder of an estimated one million members of Rwanda’s Tutsi group as well as moderate Hutus.

Munyaneza, an ethnic Hutu and son of a wealthy businessman, first came to Canada with his family in 1997, but was refused refugee status. He was arrested in Toronto in 2005 following an RCMP investigation that linked him to the murder and rape of civilians, and of leading attacks against ethnic Tutsis at the National University of Rwanda during the genocide. The organization known as African Rights also linked Munyaneza to Rwandans indicted by the United Nations International Criminal Court, and accused him of being a leader in a militia group that raped and murdered dozens of people. He was 27 at the time of the genocide.

Each of the seven counts that Munyaneza was convicted of carries a lifetime prison sentence.

Haitian Migrants Continue to be Targets of Mob Violence in the Dominican Republic

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

PETIONVILLE, Haiti – The Dominican Republic’s treatment of Haitian migrants was protested by over 150 people in front of the Dominican Embassy after the lynching of a Haitian migrant in the Dominican Republic. Carlos Nerílus was tortured and beheaded on May 2nd, as an angry mob watched and took pictures. There is no evidence that local authorities took any action to stop the lynching.

Haitian immigrants have increasingly been victims of mob violence in recent years. A report by Amnesty International found there to be “deep rooted racial discrimination” against Haitians in the Dominican Republic. The report can be found here.

Human Rights groups have expressed concern about discrimination and mass expulsion of Haitians in the Dominican Republic. Between 20,000 to 30,000 Haitians are deported from the Dominican Republic each year. Haitian immigrants have no way to normalize their immigration status without documents, thus widely limiting access to health care and fair labor conditions. Dominican-born children of Haitian migrants are denied Dominican citizenship.

Roughly 1 million Haitian nationals currently live in the Dominican Republic, most of which are undocumented and work in exploitative occupations such as agriculture and domestic service. Last year authorities uncovered a child trafficking ring that forcibly employed Haitian children as beggars.

In response to the beheading, the Dominican Republic has promised to prosecute those responsible.

Fiji’s Military Regime Faces EU Sanction

By Angela Marie Watkins
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

SUVA, Fiji – The European Commission canceled a grant worth more than $32.6 million to Fiji in a sign of growing international impatience at the military regime’s refusal to hold elections.

A statement from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade indicated that the cancellation “is the inevitable result of the interim government’s failure to return Fiji to democracy.” The statement went on to say that “Fiji and its people continue to bear the consequences of the interim government’s intransigent attitude.”

The United States and Fiji’s most affluent neighbors, Australia and New Zealand, have also imposed targeted sanctions.

The sugar industry is Fiji’s second-largest after tourism and contributes between six and eighth percent of the country’s total gross domestic product.

In early 2007, the European Union found that interim regime’s military coup of Fiji’s democratically elected government in 2006 had violated the Cotonau Agreement. Under that agreement, sugar produced by developing countries in Africa, the Caribbean, and the Pacific are given subsidized and preferential access to European markets. The EU announced in October 2007 that subsidies would be tied to progress toward democracy.

The military government says it will not hold elections before 2014. Recently, it has imposed a state of emergency under which the media is censored.

Last month, the military regime tightened its grip on power leading to its suspension from the Pacific Islands Forum, a regional bloc that represents the common interests of regional island nations.

For more information, please see:
Bloomberg – EU Cancel Substantial Aid to Fiji – 20 May 2009

Radio Austrailia – Australia Backs EU’s ‘Firm Line’ Canceling Sugar Aid to Fiji – 20 May 2009

AFP – EU cancels 2009 Fiji sugar assistance – 20 May 2009

Pakistan’s Human Shield: Civilians

By Alishba I. Kassim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PESHAWAR, Pakistan– The fierce battle against the Taliban in Pakistan has taken to the streets. As the Pakistani military advances towards Mingora; the stronghold of the Taliban in Swat, the number of civilian casualties has exponentially increased. Civilians on ground and international agencies blame the Taliban and the army equally.

In response to the Pakistani military’s advancement, the Taliban have heavily mined Mingora and prevented many civilians from fleeing. The UN based Human Rights Watch said that the Taliban were using innocent civilians as “human shields” to deter attack. Human Rights Watch further reported that the Pakistani army itself was not taking precautionary measures when conducting aerial and artillery attacks which has resulted in even more civilian casualties.

Defense and political analyst, Talat Masood, reported that the Pakistani army was engaged in a frontal combat; something even the US troops did not engage in extensively in Afghanistan. As a result of this fight, the enemy is vulnerable and in close firing range from the army.

The civilians are just as close.

For more information, please see:

AFP – Pakistani Troops Fight the Taliban on the Streets – 18 May 2009
Daily KOS –A FailSafe Plan to Reduce Civillian Casualties – 21 May 2009
South Asia News – Pakistanis Angered over Civillian Deaths – 19 May 2009

Malaysia Deports Five Filipino Terror Suspects

By Hyo-Jin Paik
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

MANILA, Philippines– Five members of Abu Sayyaf who have been sought after for alleged high-profile kidnappings and bomb attacks are currently under the custody of Philippine National Police.  The five men were deported from Malaysia where they have been jailed in the recent years for violating Malaysian immigration law.

Abu Sayyaf is an al-Qaida-linked militant group known for beheadings and bomb attacks.  It is the smallest but the most violent Muslim militant group in the Philippines. Abu Sayyaf is said to have received funds from al-Qaida and is on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations.  U.S.-backed Filipino troops have been trying to wipe out this militant group comprised of about 400 fighters.

In 2009, Abu Sayyaf began a kidnapping spree in efforts to raise money for activities.  On Monday, Philippine police recovered the severed head of Abu Sayyaf’s latest victim, a Filipino farmer who was kidnapped and then beheaded when his family failed to pay the requested ransom of 25 million pesos ($535,000).

An advocacy group, International Christian Concern’s Regional Manager for East Asia, Natalia Rain said, “Imagine living in a state where you know you may be seized from your home at any moment and have your fate thrust into the hands of radical terrorists.”  Rain added, “The brazenness of men who would behead an elderly man for his impoverished family’s failure to pay an outrageous ransom should wake us up to the horrifying reality of this thirty-year conflict.”

The arrested suspects are alleged to have been involved with kidnappings of 10 European tourist and 11 Asian workers from a resort in Malaysia, and are linked to a 2002 bomb attack in a department store in southern Philippines. One of the suspects is also believed to have been involved in an unspecified past terrorist attack that targeted American tourists in the Philippines.

Currently, Abu Sayyaf  is holding captive an Italian Red Cross worker, Sri Lankan peace advocate, and school teachers.

For more information, please see:

BosNewsLife – Al-Qaeda-linked Group Beheads Kidnapped Christian Farmer – 19 May 2009

Global Nation – 5 Abu Sayyaf suspects deported from Malaysia – 20 May 2009

GMANews.TV – 4 Sayyaf members nabbed in Malaysia now under PNP custody – 20 May 2009

Monsters and Critic – Five suspected Philippine militants deported from Malaysia – 20 May 2009

MSNBC – Filipino militants behead kidnapped farmer: police – 18 May 2009

Taiwan News – Malaysia turns over 5 Filipino terror suspects – 20 May 2009

Baha’i Leaders Mark One-Year Anniversary in Prison

By Meredith Lee-Clark
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

TEHRAN, Iran – May 14 marked the one-year anniversary of the arrest of seven Baha’i leaders in Iran.  Human Rights Watch called for the release of seven leaders of the Baha’i community in Iran who, in February, were charged with spying for Israel, “insulting religious sanctities,” and spreading propaganda against the Islamic Republic.  The leaders could face the death penalty if convicted. 

The arrests are the latest in a series of hundreds of arrests that have taken place in Iran since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom estimates at least thirty Baha’is are currently imprisoned in Iran.   There is also evidence that since 1979, hundreds of Baha’is in Iran have been killed.  Iran’s constitution recognizes only Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians as legitimate religious minorities in the Islamic Republic, though these groups have also been subject to persecution.

Baha’is constitute the largest religious minority in Iran, with 300,000 members inside the Islamic Republic and approximately five million worldwide.  Baha’i was founded in the mid-nineteenth century in Persia, present-day Iran, and believers hold that humanity is one race derived from a single God.  Officials in Iran have deemed Baha’i a heretical offshoot of Islam.  The center of the Baha’i faith is the city of Haifa, in present-day Israel, heightening tensions between members of the faith and the Islamic Republic, which refuses to recognize Israel as a state.

The Baha’i leaders’ lawyer, Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, has experienced intense pressure from the Iranian government while preparing for the case.  Ebadi reported that in December 2008, police closed her human rights center and her private office was raided, and client files seized.  In addition, Ebadi has been denied access to the Baha’i leaders and no trial date has been set.

For more information, please see:

Iran Press Watch – Imprisoned In Iran For Religious Belief – 20 May 2009

Human Rights Watch – Iran:  Free Baha’i Leaders – 14 May 2009

New York Times – Seven Iranians Charged With Spying for Israel – 23 February 2009

BBC News – Iran arrests Bahai ‘leadership’ – 19 May 2008

Pakistan’s Refugee Crisis

By Alishba I. Kassim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

SWAT VALLEY, Pakistan – Almost 1.5 million people have registered for international assistance, fighting began in the Swat Valley region in Pakistan about three weeks ago. The total number of displaced people stands at about 2 million with the numbers steadily rising. The UNHCR spokesperson said that “it’s been a long time since there has been a displacement this big.”

The Swat Valley in Pakistan used to be a popular tourist attraction, but recently came under the strong control of the Taliban who imposed Sharia law in the region, and began advancing towards the capital. In response the Pakistani army launched an aerial attack, and have since then moved forward with a ground offensive, targeted at driving the militants out of the region.

The fighting has caused a mass refugee exodus, and has resulted in heavy civilian casualties.

Currently 1.30 million people are living in camps, while almost 1.04 million people are still without any shelter. Although the government of Pakistan in conjunction with the UNHCR is working hard to provide relief to the displaced citizens, the numbers are constantly rising and the situation is becoming dire as observed by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres. “It’s like trying to catch something that’s moving ahead of us because the number of people on the move every day is so big and the response is never enough.”

Emergency aid and relief is being sent over to Pakistan, but more will be needed in order to sustain the fight against the Taliban. The growing needs of the displaced people are steadily increasing in a crisis many compare to the Rwandan genocide.

For more information, please see:

Guardian – Swat Valley Refugee Crisis – 19 May 2009

CBS News – Pakistan Refugee Influx – 18 May 2009

DAWN News – UNHCR Warns of Humanitarian Crisis – 16 May 2009

Nine Sentenced to Death in Absentia

By Ann Flower Seyse
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMANHUR, Egypt – On May 18th an Egyptian court in Damanhur sentenced twenty-four people to death. All twenty-four cases have been sent to the mufti to sign execution orders, in accordance with sharia law. Nine of those sentenced were not present for their trials and conviction, as they remain on the run. 

Each of twenty-four was sentenced on murder charges for their participation in a violent land dispute in March of 2008 in the northern province of Beheira. Two rival associations both claimed title to a 500 acre agricultural plot in the Nile delta. Both parties had hired security guards to protect their land, and the dispute arose when one group of guards tried to claim the plot by force from the other group of guards. Authorities believe that this was purely a financial conflict and had no sectarian aspects.

Eleven people were killed, and as many as twenty-seven were injured in the conflict. Land suitable for farming is scarce in the Nile delta and this shortage often leads to disputes. While land disputes are not uncommon in Egypt, the number of casualties in this instance is unusual. Many landlords in Egypt hire private armed security guards to protect their land interests, but the guards typically only keep out squatters, and do not incur casualties.

Both the Daily News Egypt and E- Taiwan News article attributed to the Associated Press allege that the “gun battle” was over 1,500 acres, not 500 acres. Both sources also maintain that no dates for execution have been set, and all of the sentences have been appealed.

The nine people convicted in absentia remain on the run. The due process rights of these individuals under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights may come into question if they are found. This covenant, signed by the United Nations, supports the right for all people to be present at their own trial and conviction.

For more information, please see:

APA – Egyptian Court Sentences 24 to Death – 19 May 2009

Daily News Egypt – 24 Sentenced to Death Over Deadly Land Dispute – 19 May 2009

E-Taiwan News – Egypt: 24 Get Death Sentence on Murder Charges – 19 May 2009

News 24 – 24 Sentenced to Death in Egypt – 18 May 2009

New York Times – Egypt: Death Sentences Over a Gunfight – 18 May 2009

Reuters – Egypt Court Sentences 24 to Die Over Land Clash – 18 May 2009