100 Human Skulls Found in India

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.