Nigerian Islamist Radical Group Leader Killed

By Jennifer M. Haralambides
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria – The leader of the Islamic fundamentalist group Boko Haram,  Mohammed Yusuf, was killed yesterday in a shoot-out with security forces.

“He has been killed.  You can come and see his body at the state police command headquarters,” said Isa Azare, spokesman for the Maiduguri police command.  It was reported that Yusuf’s bullet-riddled body was shown to journalists by police and displayed on state television shortly after his death.

Human rights activists have begun to allege that Yusuf had been executed and warned of revenge attacks, although police say that he died in a shoot-out.

The Nigerian information minister, Dora Akunyili, said that the Nigerian government does not “condone extrajudicial killings,” but then added, “what’s important is that he has been taken out of the way, to stop him [from] using people to cause mayhem.”

Last week during security driven raids, in search of the radical leader, it was rumored that Yusuf had fled town and was heading either to Chad or Cameroon.  However, he was finally taken into custody yesterday afternoon.  The attack resulted in heavy casualties, mostly on the side of the fundamentalists.  Police officials report that he was hiding in a goat pen at his parents-in-law’s house.

Governor Ali Modu Sheriff declared the capture of Yusuf and other remaining members of the sect to be a victory.  He also promised to come up with a bill to regulate religious sermons within the state.  Until such governmental action is implimented, the military will begin what they call “show-of-force” in Borno, Bauchi, Kano, Katsina, and Yobe to assure the civilian population of their preparedness to curtail any activities of the Boko Haram.

The Boko Haram have been in existence as far back as 1995, but have existed under many different names. This radical Islamist sect is commonly referred to as the “Nigerian Taliban.”

Nigeria map (source: Al Jazeera)

Al Jazeera – Nigeria’s Boko Haram Cheif ‘Killed – 31 July 2009

BBC – Nigeria Row Over Militant Killing – 31 July 2009

Reuters – Hundreds of Bodies in Streets After Nigeria Unrest – 31 July 2009

This Day – Boko Haram Leader Killed – 31 July 2009

Times Online – Radical Islamic Leader Mohammed Yusuf Shot Dead By Nigerian Security Forces – 31 July 2009

Impunity Watch – Over 100 Civilians Freed From Captivity in Nigeria – 29 July 2009

Fiji Faces Commonwealth Suspension

By Angela Marie Watkins
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

SUVA, Fiji – Fiji will likely be suspended from the Commonwealth bloc, New Zealand said Wednesday — a day after Fiji’s military ruler strengthened his grip on power by replacing the ailing president with a stronger ally.

Commonwealth ministers will consider this week whether to suspend Fiji from the 53-nation group after the military-led government delayed elections until 2014, rather than 2009 as had earlier been promised. Suspension from the Commonwealth would see Fiji lose access to the body’s $7.5 billion aid budget and further isolate the government.

At its last meeting in March, a Commonwealth committee warned Fiji it would be thrown out unless it made progress toward restoring democracy.

Since then, self-appointed Prime Minister Commodore Frank Bainimarama, who seized power in a December 2006 coup, has rejected international demands to restore civilian government by the end of the year. His ally, President Ratu Josefa Iloilo, in April abrogated the constitution, fired the judiciary, censored the media and reappointed the military government for five years.

Bainimarama announced Tuesday Iloilo will retire on July 30. Vice President Ratu Epeli Nailatikau will serve as acting president until the Cabinet and chief justice decide on a replacement. Observers in Fiji say Iloilo’s replacement by Nailatikau, a former army commander who helped guide Bainimarama’s rise to military power, only underscores the regime’s dominance and could strengthen it.

With no constitution in place, the president has absolute power and rules by decree, but is widely viewed as answering to Bainimarama.

Bainimarama says he wants to change the electoral system in the ethnically divided nation before holding a ballot. Under the present system, people in some constituencies can only vote for candidates from their ethnic community.

The 944,000-strong population is made up of 57 percent indigenous Fijians and 38 percent ethnic Indians, according to U.S. government data. Three of the nation’s four coups in the past 22 years were sparked by ethnic tensions.

In the latest crackdown on freedom of speech, the government banned Fijian Methodists from holding their annual conference, saying it was too political and might encourage anti-government sentiment.

The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group will meet in London July 31, according to a statement. The Commonwealth is largely composed of countries with historic links to Britain and includes Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

For more information, please see:
Associated Press – Fiji faces possible suspension from Commonwealth – 30 July 2009

Associated Press – President of military-led Fiji plans to step down – 29 July 2009

Bloomberg –  Commonwealth to Consider Suspending Fiji Over Election Delay – 29 July 2009

The New Zealand Herald – Fiji may face full suspension – 29 July 2009

Commonwealth Gives Fiji September 1 Deadline

By Angela Marie Watkins
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

SUVA, Fiji – The Commonwealth will suspend Fiji on September 1 unless the South Pacific island nation re-activates a multi-party political forum intended to pave the way for a credible national election by October 2010.

After a seven-hour meeting, ministers agreed that Fiji must commit by September 1 to holding elections by October next year or face full suspension from the Commonwealth. “The group noted that Fiji’s situation with regard to fundamental Commonwealth values had deteriorated strikingly since March,” the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group said in a statement.

In March, the Commonwealth gave Fiji a six-month deadline to restore democracy, three years after military leader Bainimarama overthrew the elected government.

If a country is fully suspended, it loses access to Commonwealth advice and technical assistance. Commonwealth member states are encouraged to take further steps such as limiting government-to-government contacts. Full suspension from the Commonwealth would also mean Fiji athletes would not be able to compete in the Commonwealth Games next year.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully, who represented New Zealand at the meeting, said he was not optimistic that the new deadline would bring about a change of heart for the Fiji regime. “The economic situation in Fiji has been deteriorating. There’s got to be a point where the regime decides it’s time to re-engage with the international community and accept some help. I hope this is the time but I’m not holding my breath,” McCully said.

Bainimarama has already said that the Commonwealth could go ahead if it wanted to suspend Fiji.

The Commonwealth groups 53 countries, mainly former British colonies. Fiji is already suspended from its meetings and the Commonwealth threatened in March to fully suspend Fiji at a September ministerial meeting if it did not make progress in restoring democracy.

Fiji was suspended from the Pacific Islands Forum last May.

For more information, please see:

Radio New Zealand International – CMAG gives Fiji till September to restore democracy or face full suspension – 31 July 2009

Radio New Zealand International – NZ’s foreign minister says Commonwealth has sent Fiji a clear message – 31 July 2009

New Zealand Herald – ‘Clear ultimation’ given to Fiji – 1 August 2009

Reuters Canada – Commonwealth sets September 1 ultimatum for Fiji – 31 July 2009

Protests in Iran Re-Ignite at End of Mourning Period

By Meredith Lee-Clark
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

TEHRAN, Iran – Forty days have passed since Neda Agha-Soltan was killed during a post-election protest on the streets of Iran, and as the traditional mourning period draws to a close, those who question the validity of the June 12 presidential election are once again taking to the streets.

On July 30, hundreds of protestors gathered at the grave of Neda, a 26-year-old music student whose death was captured by a fellow protestor’s mobile phone camera and was watched by millions worldwide on YouTube. Police reportedly prevented Mir Hossein Mousavi, the leading reformist presidential candidate, from staying at the graveside service. Mehdi Karroubi, another reformist candidate, was also at the service.

As the mourning period ends, several people arrested during the protests are preparing to go on trial beginning August 1, under numerous charges such as attacks on government and military offices, vandalism, arson, and “contacts with enemies.” Many international human rights groups question the validity of such trials, especially considering reports that the Iranian government has repeatedly arrested and intimidated human rights lawyers.

Human Rights Watch’s Middle East Division reported that on July 15, plainclothes policemen seized human rights lawyer Shadi Sadr while she was walking to Friday prayers. On July 21, security forces reportedly made a threatening phone call to Mohammed Seifzadeh, another leading human rights lawyer, telling him they would “take steps” to prevent him from continuing to represent defendants. At least four other human rights lawyers have been arrested in Iran since June 12, and the head of the Iranian Judiciary has revised the regulations governing the Iranian Bar Association, severely restricting its members’ independence.

International human rights groups have called for Iranian authorities to end the threats against lawyers and to release those arrested. On July 25, several international cities hosted a global day of support for those killed and arrested since the election nearly two months ago.

For more information, please see:

Al-Jazeera – Iranian Police Clash with Mourners– 30 July 2009

Human Rights Watch – Iran: Stop Arresting, Intimidating Rights Lawyers– 26 July 2009

United for Iran – A Global Day of Action in Solidarity with the People of Iran– 25 July 2009

Amnesty International USA – Global Day of Support for Iran’s Victims of Human Rights Abuse– 24 July 2009

Human Rights Watch – Iran: Halt Moves to Curtail Lawyers– 16 July 2009

US Threatens Sanctions for Eritrea Over Somalia Rebels

By Kylie M Tsudama
Impunity Watch Reporter,  Africa

WASHINGTON DC, United States – United States Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice told a congressional committee that the United States is “deeply concerned and very frustrated” with Eritrea’s behavior in Somalia.

Eritrea is accused of arming, supporting, and funding al-Shabaab militants in Somalia, and of helping to destabilize the country and the surrounding region with a direct impact on US security.

“It is unacceptable, and we will not tolerate it, and nor will other members of the Security Council,” Rice said to the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Rice told the UN that Eritrea’s contributions to Somali rebels would not be tolerated and that the Obama administration is committed to international peacekeeping operations.  The US supports reforms that will save money, strengthen oversight, and prevent fraud and abuse, including a zero tolerance policy on sexual exploitation by peacekeepers.

The United States is contributing $2.2 billion of the United Nations’ $7.8 billion UN peacekeeping budget for 2009.

Eritrea is running out of time before the UN Security Council intervenes and faces possible sanctions if it does not change its behavior.

US UN Ambassador Susan  Rice_VOA “As I said in New York, there is a very short window for Eritrea to signal, through its actions, that it wishes a better relationship with the United States and the wider international community. If we do not see signs of that signal in short order, I can assure you that we will be taking appropriate steps with partners in Africa and the Security Council to take cognizance of Eritrea’s actions both in Somalia and the wider region,” said Rice.  “We will continue to discuss with colleagues in the Security Council appropriate measures, including potentially sanctions, against Eritrea for its actions in Somalia.”

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is set to visit with Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed during her visit to the region next week.

For more information, please see:

BBC – US Threatens Eritrea Over Somalia – 30 July 2009

Al Jazeera – US Threatens Eritrea with Sanctions – 29 July 2009

Reuters – U.S.’s UN Envoy Warns Eritrea Over Somalia Rebels – 29 July 2009

VOA – UN Ambassador Says US Committed to Peacekeeping – 29 July 2009

Over 100 Civilians Freed From Captivity in Nigeria

By Jennifer M. Haralambides

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria – Security forces in Nigeria have recently freed around 200 women and children who were being held captive during a crackdown on the radical Islamic sect responsible for the violence that has been sweeping the country, killing over 150 people.

The leader of the radical group involved in the violence, the Boko Haram, is Mohammed Yusuf.  Security forces and soldiers surrounded parts of a compound that houses the leader in the city of Maiduguri, destroying buildings including a small mosque.  During this raid they did not find the leader, his whereabouts are still unknown.

In search of his Yusuf’s followers, joint military and armed forces went from house to house arresting more than 100 people.  A major obstacle the troops face is that there are sill civilians in some of the neighborhoods, and troops need to be careful.   Human rights activists have counted at least 10 new bodies of those who have fallen victim to this religious clash.

Recently, police declared that they have freed over 180 women and children whose husbands were among Yusuf’s followers.  Some of the men had been found with home-made guns and explosives believed to be planning attacks.

“These people have been organized and are penetrating our society and procuring arms and gathering information on how to make explosions and bombs to force their view on the rest of Nigerians,” said President Umaru Yar’Adua.

The Boko Haram, which translates to, “Western education is a sin,” in the Hausa language which is spoken across Nigeria is said to be modeled on the Taliban movement, and is sometimes called the “Nigerian Taliban.”  Its followers wear long beards and read or black headscarves and recognize only their own interpretations of sharia law.

For more information, please see:
AFP – Nigeria Fighting Rages as Death Toll Passes 300 – 29 July 2009

BBC – Captives Freed in Nigerian City – 29 July 2009

Reuters – Nigeria Hunts Islamic Sect, Women and Children Freed – 29 July 2009

Human Rights Watch Calls for Tunisia to End Activist’s Banishment

By Ann Flower Seyse
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

NEW YORK, United States – On July 28 Human Rights Watch sent a letter to the Tunisian Minister of Justice Béchir Tekkari and Minister of Interior Rafeek Belhaj encouraging the end of Tunisian activist Abdallah Zouari’s exile.

Zouari was convicted on charges of plotting to overthrow the state in a mass trial of the leaders and members of the Islamist Nahdha movement. He was sentenced to eleven years jail time plus five years “complimentary sentence” of post-release “administrative control.” Such administrative detainments are common in Tunisia and are typically executed by local police while the person lives in their own neighborhood or city.

After Zouari’s release from prison in June 2002, he was exiled to the Zarzis area in the southern governorate of Medenine, about 500 km from where his family lives in the capital of Tunisia. Aside from a thirteen- month stint in prison, Zouari has served the additional five year complementary sentence in Zarzis. In June of 2007, when the complementary sentence should have ended, an extra twenty-six months of banishment were added to his sentence without explanation.

 He served both the regular and the “complementary term” of his sentence and at the end of the complementary sentence the local authorities extended his confinement to the village for 26 months without reason on June 5 2007. This extension will run out in less than a week, Human Rights Watch has preemptively asked that Zouari be allowed to go free unless the Tunisian government can show real cause for continued detainment. When Zouari asked the chief of police who explained Zouari’s extended detainment to him, the officer merely said that the orders, “came from above.”

As the end of the 26 month extension is quickly approaching, Human Rights Watch has written a letter demanding that Tunisia show cause for further detainment. While Human Rights Watch did not agree with the legitimacy of the initial sentence, they are even more opposed to the arbitrary continuation of Zouari’s sentence.

For more information please see;

Human Rights Watch – Tunisia: End Activist’s Banishment – 28 July 2009

Media Line – Rights Group Calls for End to Tunisian’s Exile – 28 July 2009

Reuter’s – Alert Net: Tunisia: End Activist’s Banishment – 28 July 2009

Arabic News – Journalist Abdahlla Zouari’s Internal Exile Extended by 26 Months – 12 June 2007

Rivals Challenge Indonesia Election Results

By Angela Marie Watkins
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania


JAKARTA, Indonesia
– Indonesian opposition leader Megawati Sukarnoputri launched a Constitutional Court challenge Tuesday to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s landslide re-election victory.

Megawati received 26.79 percent of votes in the July 8 poll and Kalla 12.41 percent, while Yudhoyono received 60.8 percent, according to the final count released by the General Election Commission Saturday.

But Megawati believes she has won 35.09 percent compared to 48.70 percent for Yudhoyono, close enough to force the pair to contest a run-off in September, her chief legal adviser Gayus Lumbuun said.

“A lot of foul play in the election has meant people in this country have not been able to use their constitutional rights,” Firman Jaya Daeli, a member of Megawati’s camp, told reporters.

Megawati claims millions of voters — out of around 170 million who eligible in the world’s third-biggest democracy — were disenfranchised by inaccurate voter lists and insufficient polling booths in key districts.

Both defeated candidates had alleged that the voter lists were flawed in the run-up to the elections, amid claims that duplicate names and those of dead people were appearing on the electoral rolls.

Kalla has also challenged the results at the Constitutional Court. He said his challenge was about protecting the future of democracy in a country that emerged from 32 years of dictatorship only 11 years ago.

“The principle is that this nation must progress properly, honestly and democratically, because the democratic process must be implemented correctly and fairly,” Kalla said

Supporters of Kalla have alleged that electoral lists contained around 20 million duplicate names.

Election Supervisory Body chief Nur Hidayat Sardini said that “there were many violations,” but said the polls were “considered a success.”

President Yudhoyono was elected president in 2004 and Indonesians have, correspondents say, been impressed by his ability to manage the economy and clamp down on corruption.

Many see President Yudhoyono as someone who has turned the economy around and brought much-needed stability and security to the country.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Indonesia poll result challenged – 25 July 2009

Reuters – Indonesia president’s rivals cry foul after poll win – 25 July 2009

AFP – Megawati challenges Indonesia vote result – 28 July 2009

Libya Asks for Return of Terminally Ill Lockerbie Bomber

By Ann Flower Seyse
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

LONDON, United Kingdom– Libyan authorities have formally asked Scotland for the compassionate release of Abdel Basset al Megrahi. Megrahi is the former Libyan agent that was sentenced to life in 2001 for the bombing of a Pan Am airliner over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in 1988.

A Scottish government spokeswoman confirmed the application for compassionate release on July 25. Libya has been bringing up al Megrahi often in official conversations with Great Britain. Earlier in July Megrahi’s fate was brought up by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

The British government has deferred the issue to Scotland, which has a separate legal system from Britain. Now Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond and Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill will consider whether or not to grant the application.

Al Megrahi is currently appealing his conviction for the second time, but the hearing is not expected to conclude until next year. Fifty- seven year old al Megrahi was diagnosed with terminal testicular cancer last year. His doctors do not believe that he would live to the end of the appeal.

The Lockerbie bombing resulted in the deaths of all 259 people on board the London to New York flight, as well as eleven people on the ground. Libya accepted responsibility for the bombing in 2005, and agreed to pay 2.7 billion dollars in compensation to the victim’s families. This gesture helped to restore relations between Libya and the west. This announcement shifted public perspective on al Megrahi. Originally al Megrahi was perceived as being solely responsible for the bombing and after Libya claimed reponsibility, al Megrahi  was viewed more as an agent of Libya following his orders. Even some relatives of victims of the bombings support sending al Megrahi home, doubting both his guilt and the conviction.

Ultimately the decision to release al Megrahi lies with the Scottish Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill, who has ninety days to make his decision. It is expected MacAskill will make his decision in the first week of August. Last year he released three prisoners on compassionate requests, although typically only people with three months to live or less are released.

For more information please see,

The Guardian – Sick Lockerbie Bomber Pleads for Release – 26 July 2009

AFP – Lockerbie Bomber asks for Compassionate Release – 25 July 2009

BBC – Ill Megrahi Seeks Prison Release – 25 July 2009

The Herald – Megrahi Requests Release from Jail on Compassionate Grounds – 25 July 2009

Reuters – Libya asks for Lockerbie Bomber to be Freed – 25 July 2009

HIV Affected Families in Cambodia Told to Relocate

 

By Alishba I. Kassim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

TUOL SAMBO, Cambodia – In June 2009, the Cambodian government forcibly relocated 20 HIV-affected families to substandard housing at Tuol Sambo, a remote site 24 kilometers from the city. On July 23, the government moved another 20 HIV-affected families to the site.

The green sheds that are now home to these families in Tuol Sambo are referred to as the “AIDS village.” The sheds lack running water and adequate sanitation according to Human Rights Watch. “By bundling people living with HIV together into second-rate housing, far from medical facilities, support services, and jobs, the government has created a de facto AIDS colony,” said Shiba Phurailatpam of the Asia-Pacific Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS. She further commented, “It’s hard to understand how a government that has received international recognition for its HIV-prevention efforts could so callously ignore the basic rights of people with HIV.”

Dozens of humanitarian agencies and regional groups sent a joint letter to Cambodia’s prime minister and health minister, asking the leaders to urgently address the unsanitary conditions in Tuol Sambo.

The joint letter stressed that conditions in Tuol Sambo do not meet the international standards for even temporary emergency housing. “The housing conditions in Tuol Sambo pose serious health risks for families living there… People living with HIV have compromised immune systems and are especially vulnerable. For them, these substandard conditions can mean a death sentence,” said Rebecca Shleifer, health and human rights advocate at Human Rights Watch.

The letter called on the Cambodian government to initiate a fair and open process with regards to housing services and to stop exposing HIV-affected families to further stigma and discrimination. “People living with HIV – like all others – need adequate living conditions that do not threaten their health and a way to earn a livelihood, so that they can provide for themselves and their families,” said Kevin Moody of The Global Network of People living with HIV.

The letter was delivered July 27. Many members of human rights agencies and health organizations eagerly await a response.

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – Cambodia: Aids Colony Violates Rights – July 27, 2009

Phnom Penh Post – Final HIV Families Withdraw – July   27, 2009 

Japan Becomes First in Asia to Ratify Disappearances Convention

By Hyo-Jin Paik
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

UNITED NATIONS– Japan ratified a UN human rights treaty on ending impunity for enforced disappearances.  The Permanent Mission of Japan to the UN submitted its ratification of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (“Disappearances Convention”) to the Secretary-General’s office on July 23, 2009.  Japan is the first country in Asia and the 12th country in the world to ratify the Convention.

Primer_afad_cover (Source: Asia Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances)

The Disappearances Convention’s goal is to prevent enforced disappearance, find the truth when this crime occurs, and to punish those responsible for the crime while providing reparations to the victims and their families.  The Convention was adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 2006, and it is the product of long and arduous efforts by families, NGOs and governments to address the problem of enforced disappearance through international law.
 
Christopher Hall of Amnesty International said, “The Disappearances Convention is one of the strongest human rights treaties ever adopted by the United Nations.  In the past, the perpetrators of this crime…were unlikely to be held accountable for their conduct…the Disappearances Convention is an important tool for the international community to half this trend.”
 
Amnesty International added that Japan must now take steps to fulfill its obligation under the Convention by enacting or amending any legislation necessary to implement the Convention.  Hall also said taking these steps will ensure that perpetrators are held responsible, and by doing so, “Japan will set an important example for the world – and other Asian countries – to follow.”
 
The Japanese government released a statement via its Foreign Ministry website saying that the ratification of the Convention is “meaningful in showing the international community the strong intention of Japan to oppose enforced disappearances….”
 
The Disappearances Convention prescribes that enforced disappearances, including abductions in the international community, is a punishable crime.  As of July 24, 2009, among the 81 countries listed as signatories, 12 countries (including Japan) have ratified the Convention.  To enter into force, the Convention must be ratified by 20 countries.

For more information, please see:

Amnesty International – Japan commits to ending impunity for enforced disappearances – 28 July 2009

Diplomacy Monitor – Deposit of the Instrument of Ratification of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance – 24 July 2009

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights – International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance – 20 December 2006

 

   

New Attack On Freeport Mine

By Angela Marie Watkins
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania


JAKARTA, Indonesia
– Three more people were wounded by gunfire Wednesday at the world’s largest gold mine, the latest ambush targeting employees of U.S. conglomerate Freeport in Indonesia’s underdeveloped Papua province.

Freeport said in a statement that several employees and their security detail were fired upon Wednesday while driving along the road where the previous shootings occurred to help a broken down vehicle. A mechanic and two policemen were shot, it said.

National police spokesman Nanan Sukarna said the attack was carried out by unidentified gunmen and that the three injuries were caused by shrapnel. The culprits escaped.

Two other policemen died Wednesday when their car flipped “while driving at high speed through a dangerous area” a few miles (kilometers) away, said local police chief Lt. Col. Godhelp Mansnembra.

It is the sixth attack by an unidentified gunman on the Phoenix, Ariz.-based company in under two weeks and the road targeted by the shootings, which links the Grasberg mining complex with the town of Timika, has been declared off limits unless employees travel with security. In the same area, a 29-year-old Australian, an Indonesian security guard working for Freeport, and a policeman died in ambushes earlier this month. In the same area, two American teachers and their Indonesian colleague were killed in a 2002 attack.

The series of attacks, which have killed two people and wounded dozens since they began July 11, comes as Indonesia recovers from twin suicide bombings in the capital, Jakarta, that killed seven people and wounded dozens, including two Freeport executives.

Wednesday’s attack comes a day after authorities said they rounded up 15 suspects allegedly behind the recent killings. Freeport CEO Richard Adkerson said Tuesday that six of them had been charged, including a man who apparently acknowledged being a sniper.

Papua is home to a four-decade-old, low-level insurgency against the government, and members of the Free Papua Movement who see Freeport as a symbol of outside rule and were initially blamed by authorities for the latest violence.

However, some experts believe the shootings resulted from a rivalry between the police and military over multimillion-dollar illegal gold mining or protection businesses at the mine. Others blame criminal gangs.

It is difficult to get accurate information out of Papua, a remote and highly militarized area that is off limits to foreign journalists.

Freeport has been targeted with arson, roadside bombs and blockades since production began in the 1970s during the U.S.-backed Suharto dictatorship. It is also regularly the focus of protests by local residents who feel they are not benefiting from the depletion of Papua’s natural resources.

For more information, please see:
CBS News – Freeport’s Workers Again Under Attack In Indonesia – 24 July 2009

Jakarta Post – Shooting incident hits Freeport again – 25 July 2009

Jakarta Post – Freeport employees back in work – 25 July 2009

Christians Executed in North Korea

By Hyo-Jin Paik
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

SEOUL, South Korea– North Korea publicly executed a woman for distributing Bibles in a northern town close to the Chinese-North Korean border.  In addition to distributing Bibles, Ri Hyon Ok, a 33-year old mother of three, was accused of spying for South Korea and the United States and for organizing dissents.  South Korea and human rights groups were unable to verify the allegations against Ri, but her parents, husband and children have been sent to a prison camp.

Although an estimated 30,000 North Koreans are believed to secretly practice Christianity in their homes, the country views religion as a major threat. The government has authorized four state churches (one Catholic, one Russian Orthodox and two Protestant), but North Koreans cannot not attend services or publicly display their religious fervor.  Only the country’s founder, Kim Il-sung, and his son, Kim Jong-il, may be worshiped in public.

NK religion Underground North Korean Christians (Source: Cornerstone Ministries)

Ironically, North Korean constitution guarantees religious freedom, and Pyongyang, the country’s capital, was once known as the “Jerusalem of the East” for its predominance of Christianity.  However, in reality, religious observances are extremely restricted, and violators are usually accused of spying or anti-government activities.  The Bible is also among the books banned in North Korea.  A U.S. government report found that an estimated 6,000 North Koreans Christians are jailed in “Prison No. 15” in northern North Korea, and religious prisoners face harsher treatment.

U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said in its report, “What religious practice…exist[s]…(are) tightly controlled and used to advance the government’s political or diplomatic agenda…[A]nyone engaged in clandestine religious practice faces official discrimination, arrest, imprisonment, and possibly execution.”

According to reports by South Korean human rights groups, execution of Christians in North Korean appears to have increased.  In the past year, North Korea has tightened its control over human rights policies, and some believe this may be the result of the government’s means of securing transition of power from Kim Jong-il to his son.

For more information, please see:

BBC – North Korea ‘executes Christians’ – 24 July 2009

The Huffington Post – North Korea Executes Christian For Distributing Bible: Rights Group – 24 July 2009

The Philadelphia Inquirer – N. Korea is said to kill Christian – 25 July 2009

Several Church Leaders Released By Fiji Government

By Angela Marie Watkins
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

SUVA, Fiji – Two detained Methodist leaders were released on bail Friday but warned not to meet.

The Reverend Manasa Lasaro and the Reverend Tomasi Kanailagi, both former Fiji Methodist Church presidents, appeared in court Friday afternoon on charges of contravening the Public Emergency Regulations.

The ministers were among several top clergymen arrested by police because of plans to go ahead with the church’s annual conference in spite of its cancellation by the interim government.

The interim government has banned the conference on the grounds that is is a political maneuvers by the ousted SDL Party but as yet the church has not issued an official statement canceling the event.

The SDL’s member for the Lami Open Constituency, Mere Tuisalolo Samisoni, says the Methodists make up the majority of Fiji’s population and the interim government is wrong to ban the conference.

“The people’s spririt cannot be stopped and that’s what democracy is all about. People’s right to choose, it’s a human right and that right is inalienable and for somebody to come, for a group of elite people to stop it, they cannot stop it. I mean it is the people who will choose to attend it or not,” Samisoni said.

Thursday, the church’s president and general secretary, along with the country’s highest ranking female chief, were also released on bail but prohibited from making public statements.

For more information, please see:
New Zealand International Radio – Church will never back down says Fiji’s SDL Party – 24 July 2009

New Zealand International Radio – Two more Fiji Methodist leaders released but warned not to meet – 24 July 2009

New Zealand International Radio – Fiji’s interim government accused of overstepping mark with church – 24 July 2009

The Christian Post – Fiji Church Leaders Freed, But Warned Not To Meet – 24 July 2009

UN Official Says Tensions Easing on the Israeli-Lebanese Border

By Meredith Lee-Clark
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East 
 

BEIRUT, Lebanon – The tensions that have recently flared up in southern Lebanon have been to ease, according to a senior UN official.

On July 22, Michael Williams, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, met with the Lebanese Foreign Minister, Fawzi Salloukh. After the meeting, Williams said that the situation is calming down. Williams has also met with Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri, and leaders from Hezbollah, in an effort to assuage concerns regarding UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the 36-day war between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006.

“All… have assured me strongly that active efforts are under way to reduce the tension and restore stability to the area,” said Williams.

Since July 13, the town of Khirbet Silim in Southern Lebanon has been the center of unrest in the past week, when there was an explosion from an alleged Hezbollah arms cache in an abandoned building, reportedly injuring thirty people. As the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) investigated the blast on July 17, fourteen UN peacekeepers were injured as civilians threw rocks and damaged vehicles in protest of the investigation, alleging that UNIFIL had overstepped its operational mandate. On July 22, UNIFIL refused to respond to such allegations, but a spokesperson said UNIFIL was awaiting the official report on the incidents.

Special Coordinator Williams said that the July 17 incident was being investigated thoroughly by both UNIFIL and the Lebanese Armed Forces, “to avoid anything like this happening again.”

Southern Lebanon has been the hub of political instability in the country, with Syrian nationals, al-Qaeda agents, and Hezbollah militants all accused of stirring up hostility and attacking UN peacekeepers.

For more information, please see:

The Daily Star – UNIFIL Silent Over Reports of Breaching Mandate – 23 July 2009

UN News Center – Tensions in Southern Lebanon ‘Calming Down’ After Incidents– 22 July 2009

Al-Jazeera – Lebanon Army Arrests ‘Terror Cell’– 21 July 2009