Another UN Worker Killed in Pakistan

 By Hyo-Jin Paik
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan– A relief worker who works for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has been shot dead in northwestern Pakistan on Thursday in a failed kidnapping attempt.  The victim, Zil-e-Usman, was a 59-year-old Pakistani and a 30-year veteran of the UN.  This was the third killing of UNHCR employee in Pakistan in the past six months.

The slain senior UN official was attacked as he left a field office in the Kacha Gari Refugee Camp and was shot several times.

 Pakistan refugee camp Refugee Camp in Pakistan (Source: AFP)

UNHCR Chief Antonio Guterres said targeting aid workers must be stopped, adding, “There is no justification for attacks on humanitarian workers dedicated to the protection and care of the most vulnerable people.”  

The attack took place at a refugee camp in Pakistan’s Frontier Province where the government forces have launched a military offensive against the Taliban militants.  About 2 million Pakistanis have been driven from their homes in this region and have been placed in refugee camps.  Consequently, many international organizations have dispatched aid workers to this area of Pakistan although there was a risk that the aid workers could be targeted by the militants.

A Pakistani security official told reporters that he suspected the Taliban to be behind this attack.  The shooting came only days after senior Pakistani officials warned that the Taliban militants who had fought in the northern Swat Valley over the past few months were expected to retaliate against the Pakistani government and aid workers.  The Taliban fighters have targeted foreign diplomats and humanitarian workers in the past.

UN had lost its workers just last month in the devastating suicide bombing attack in a hotel in Peshawar.  Guterres said, “It is unacceptable that humanitarian workers doing such vital and selfless work are attacked in this way.”

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – UN workers killed in Pakistan attack – 16 July 2009

CBS – UN Worker Killed in Pakistan Refugee Camp – 16 July 2009

CNN – U.N. worker killed in Pakistan kidnap bid – 16 July 2009

Youth Activists Arrested in Azerbaijan

By Alishba I. Kassim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BAKU, Azerbaijan – Two student activists were arrested and beaten in Azerbaijan after they posted a video critical of the nation’s government.

Authorities arrested Adnan Hajizada, a University of Richmond graduate and fellow activist Emin Milli, in the capital city of Baku last week. A friend of the pair said government officials questioned them while they were out at dinner and struck Milli without warning, and then attacked Hajizada. The two were then arrested and accused of attacking the officials.

Hajizada and Milli are now awaiting trial, where they could be punished with up to five years in prison. They are being held in pretrial detention for the time being, reported The New York Times. Mehriban Efendiyeva, friend of the pair, as well as an activist, said “We note with great regret that in some parts of the world today, severe injustices against the driving force for the progress – the socially active youth – take places in the most brutal manner.”

U.S. Embassy and German officials have voiced concern about the detention and the arrests, which have prompted the Azerbaijani Interior Ministry and Prosecutor General’s office to respond by saying the two countries were “meddling in its affairs.” There are reports circulating that Milli and Hajizada were beaten, and are currently being denied access to lawyers or medical treatment.

A statement issued by the U.S. Embassy in Azerbaijan read, “We call on the Government of Azerbaijan to ensure that Mr. Milli and Mr. Hajizada are granted proper access to legal assistance and medical care. We ask that the Government of Azerbaijan exercise due process in this case and respect the rights of these individuals.”

The video posted by the two activists satirized the Azerbaijani government paying exorbitant prices to import donkeys. The video ended with the statement, roughly translated, “There will be someone to protect donkey civil rights, but who will protect human civil rights?”

For more information, please see:

AP –
Azerbaijani Blogger Arrests Prompts Backlash – July 14, 2  009 


The Collegian – 05′ Richmond Graduate Arrested – July 14, 2009  

The New York Times – In Azerbaijan a Donkey Suit Provokes Arrests – July 14, 2009


Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb Vows to Target China

By Ann Flower Seyse
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East Desk

ALGERIA– Al Qaeda in the Islamic Mahgreb or “AQIM” has vowed to avenge the deaths of many Islamic Uighur people during the recent riots in the northwestern province of Xin Jiang in China.  Although the threat does not come directly from Al Qaeda, the Algeria based group’s threat is likely to be supported by other branches of the terrorist organization.

This is the first threat by any branch of the greater Al Qaeda organization on China. Following the recent violence in the province of Xin Jiang many jihadists have been calling for vengeance. 

There are an estimated fifty thousand Chinese living in Algeria,  and they are part of hundreds of thousands of Chinese that work in North Africa and the Middle East.  There are many potential targets for AQIM very close to their cell in Algeria. Earlier in June AQIM attacked a convoy that carried many Chinese engineers. In this attack 24 Algerian security officers were killed, as the target was the greater project, and not the Chinese engineers.

Most of the people who have died in the recent attacks in Xin Jiang are ethnically Han, with only a small portion of Islamic Uighur casualties. China has asked for understanding from the terrorist group, and believes that if AQIM was aware of the whole story, that they would support China’s actions.

One Uighur living in exile in the United sates, Rebiya Kadeer, hopes that other Muslim countries, besides Algeria, will support the Uighurs in China. Kadeer was once a very successful businesswoman in China, but was forced to leave because of her peaceful protesting of Chinese rule. Kadeer hopes that increased Muslim support of Uighurs will help their rights in China.
For more information please see:

The Australian – Algerian Al-Qa’ida Vow to Target Chinese Workers – 15 July 2009

AFP – Al Qaeda Vows to Hit China Over Uighur Unrest – 14 July 2009

Penn Energy – Al Qaeda Threatens China’s Overseas Oil, Gas Interests – 14 July 2009

Telegraph UK – China Pleads for Understanding as Al Qaeda Vows for Revenge over Uighur Deaths – 14 July 2009

Recent Increase in Violence Spurs Increase in Security

By Ann Flower Seyse
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq – Vehicle bans were imposed in two predominantly Christian towns and security was increased around churches in Baghdad following a recent string of attacks that targeted the Christian minority.

The most fatal bombing occurred around dusk on June 12 as worshipers left the Church of Mariam Al-Adra, or the Church of the Virgin Mary, which is part of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq, in central Baghdad. A car bomb exploded outside the church killing three Christians and one Muslim who was also outside the church at that time. More than twenty others were injured by the blast.

On the evening of July 11, and early morning on July 12 four other homemade bombs were placed at two churches in the neighborhood of Wahda and two other churches in the Dora and Al Gadir neighborhood. At least eleven people were wounded in these attacks and some minor damage to the churches occurred.

Also on Saturday, Aziz Rizko Nissan, a senior Christian Government official, was shot and killed in the northern city of Kirkuk. It is unclear whether or not his religion played a role in the killing, or whether the killing was related to Mr. Nissan’s position in government.

In addition a bomb exploded next to a U.S. convoy of personnel that included U.S. Ambassador Christopher R. Hill. No one was injured in this explosion, and it is unclear if this attack is at all related to the other attacks.

On the morning of July 13, another bomb detonated near a church in the city of Mosul, injuring at least three children. This was the seventh church to be attacked in Iraq in this recent string of violence, bringing the total injuries to at least 35 with four fatalities over the past three days.

All of these attacks follow an announcement by Iraq’s senior military commander, Lt. Gen. Babakir Zebari, warning that attacks by extremists and insurgents would continue for years, even though these groups were losing ground. Zebari explained that although losing ground, the extremists and insurgents have a few strongholds and will continue to attack for the next several years. This announcement comes only weeks after American troops have moved out of Iraqi cities. Many Iraqis are complaining about their own military’s lack of action now that the US military has withdrawn from the cities. Referring to Iraq’s security services in the heavily secured government zone, Hossain Ali, a college student said, “They are just hanging out in the Green Zone and staring at us being killed.”

In October of 2008 in Mosul, many Christians fled the country following a string of attacks deliberately targeting Iraq’s Christian population. At the time, more than a thousand Christian families fled the city and at least fourteen Christians were killed in the city. There has been speculation that the attacks were designed to stir religious tensions, even though Sunni and Shi’ite groups are the ones targeted.

There are around 750,000 Christians in Iraq. Christians have been targets of attacks in the past, but are spared much of Iraq’s deadly violence. Authorities imposed vehicle bans in the predominately Christian towns of Tilkaif and Hamdaniyah, which are near the northern city of Mosul. Christian- dominated areas are now a security priority, although deputy head of Ninevah provincial council which includes Mosul said that “we will make our best efforts to keep security for the province and all its citizens of all ethnic and religious backgrounds without exception.”

For more information please see:

AP – Iraq Beefs Up Security After Attacks on Christians – 13 July 2009

CNN – Wave of Church Bombings Stretches into a Third Day – 13 July 2009

The Washington Post – Car Bomb Kills at Least Four Near Church in Baghdad – 13 July 2009

BBC – Baghdad Church Bombing Kills Four – 12 July 2009

NY Times – Church and Envoy Attacked in Iraq – 12 July 2009

Burma’s Junta Prepare to Free Political Prisoners

By Hyo-Jin Paik
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

NEW YORK, United States– Burma’s UN Ambassador Than Swe announced during a Security Council session that his country is preparing to release some of the political prisoners so that they can participate in the 2010 general election.  This decision was made at the request of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon during his last visit to Burma.

Swe said, “The Myanmar [Burmese] government is processing to grant amnesty to prisoners on humanitarian grounds…Myanmar [Burma] today is steadfastly proceeding on its chosen path to democracy.”

Ban visit Burma UN Secretary General Ban visit Burma (Source: AFP)

Ban told reporters after the Security Council meeting that he conveyed the international community’s expectation to the Burmese government in the clearest terms possible. He also added that “the world is now watching closely whether they [Burma’s junta leaders] will choose to act in the best interest of their country” since the Burmese people will bear the cost of any lack of cooperation by their government with the international community.

Other UN members, including the U.S., United Kingdom and France, together called for stronger action by the Security Council against Burma, especially with matters related to Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader who is currently on trial for violating her house rest.  Ban’s request to see Suu Kyi was denied during his visit, and Suu Kyi is not likely to be among the prisoners to be freed in time for the 2010 election.

The new constitution, which 92% of voters approved in last year’s referendum and will be voting for in the 2010 election, bars Suu Kyi from holding a political office.  Thus, some claim that the election is to further strengthen the powers of the junta generals.  In response, Swe remarked that “undue pressure from the outside would not be conducive to Myanmar’s [Burma’s] home-grown political process.”

Nevertheless, U.S. envoy Rosemary DiCarlo told the Security Council members that there could be “no free and fair election while key leaders of Burma’s Democratic opposition, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi…languish in Burma’s prison.” 

There was no official word on how many of the estimated 2,100 political prisoners will be release in time for the 2010 general election.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Burma junta ‘to free dissidents’ – 13 July 2009

Bloomberg – Myanmar to Free Political Prisoners, Envoy Tells UN – 13 July 2009

Mizzima – Burma preparing to free political prisoners – 14 July 2009

Kashmiris World Over Observe Martyr Day

By Alishba I. Kassim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Kashmiris all over the world observed Kashmir Martyr Day on Monday to pay homage to the Kashmiri martyrs who sacrificed their lives for Kashmir’s struggle for self-determination.

In occupied Kashmir, the present authorities have imposed curfews in places such as Srinagar and have barricaded all roads leading to Lal Chowk; home to the Lal Chowk March. The Chairman of the All Parties Huriyet Conference, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, despite being kept under house arrest by the India, urged all people to massively partake in the Lal Chowk March to remember Kashmir’s martyrs. Indian police have arrested scores of people in occupied Kashmir, and raided the homes of several APHC leaders.

Different functions are being held in other parts of Kashmir that include speakers who have been paying tribute to those who lost their lives on June 13, 1931 when the Dogra troops shot dead 22 protesting Kashmiris in front of Srinagar Central Jail.

In Islamabad a rally was held where participants presented a memorandum at the UN office in which they asked the UN Secretary General to put an end to human rights violations and restrictions on movement and press. They further urged the Secretary General to play an active role in the Security Council to bring about a final resolution on the Kashmir dispute issue.

Here in the US, Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai, executive director of the Kashmiri American Council, spoke to representatives of Amnesty International and urged them to put an end to the atrocious violations being committed in Kashmir. In particular, Dr. Fai spoke about the recent abduction, rape, and murder of two young girls in Shopian by the military. Kashmiri territory has been in dispute ever since the Partition between India and Pakistan in 1947. Since then, there has been civil and international unrest surrounding the issue. Kashmir has been home to human rights violations, and breeding ground for acts of violence.

Dr. Fai ended her speech by quoting President Obama from his L’Aquila, Italy speech saying, “We don’t want stronger nations bullying weaker nations. On the other hand, where you have nations that are oppressing their people, isn’t there an international responsibility to intervene?”

 For more information, please see:

South Asian News Agency – Kashmir’s Martyr Day Observed World Over – July 13, 2009

Kashmir Watch – The Kashmir Tragedy: Kashmir Martyrs’ Day –  July 13, 2009

Greater Kashmir – Martys’ Day Observed in Pakistan – July 13, 2009  

Rape No Longer Legalized Under Afghan Marriage Law

By Hyo-Jin Paik
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

KABUL, Afghanistan – A new version of Afghan marriage law no longer requires a wife to submit to sex with her husband, only that she perform certain housework.  The original law required the wife to submit to the husband’s sexual advances every four days.  This sex clause was met with international condemnation for appearing to legalize marital rape.

This marriage law applies only to the minority Shiite Muslims in Afghanistan, and the 10% Shiite minority is allowed to settle family affairs under their own jurisprudence under the Afghan Constitution.  Nevertheless, the critics considered the law as a return to the old Taliban-era rules when the Afghan government is supposed to be promoting democracy and human rights.

The United Nations released a statement saying, “The United Nations has had concerns about parts of the law that do not conform with international law, particularly in regard[s] to the rights of women.”

Afghan marriage law Afghan Shiite women protesting the original marriage law (Source: AP)

The revised law now says the wife need only do housework that the couple agreed at the time of their marriage, and the clause requiring the women to obtain her husband’s permission to leave the house and the sex clause have been deleted.

The new draft appears to give women more freedom, stating that a woman is the “owner of her property and can use her property without the permission of her husband.”  However, although the new draft may be seen as a move towards better protection of women’s rights, many activists argue that the government has not done enough to make a significant change in the women’s daily lives. 

Women’s advocate Shukria Barakzai said, “We need a change in customs, and this is just on paper.  What is being practiced every day, in Kabul even, is worse than the laws.”  She remained skeptical as to how much change the new law will bring to the women’s lives, adding, “Still there are forced marriages and child marriages…and the lack of access to divorce.”

Although the revised law is likely to be approved, it is unclear how long it will take the parliament to take up the draft since the legislature is in recess for the next two weeks.

For more information, please see:

The Huffington Post – Afghan Marriage Law No Longer Legalizes Rape – 9 July 2009

MSNBC – Afghanistan revises contentious marriage law – 9 July 2009

Telegraph – Afghanistan revises marriage law but women still required to submit to sexual intercourse – 9 July 2009

Imprisoned American Journalist in North Korea Speaks Out

By Alishba I. Kassim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia



North Korea – After weeks of no news, the sister of one of the American journalists imprisoned in North Korea finally received word. Lisa Ling, a CNN contributor, said, “It was only the first time I had heard her voice in weeks… I was so relieved but I feel so helpless…It’s just difficult to know I cannot do anything to bring her home.”

Lisa Ling’s sister, Laura Ling, and Euna Lee, both journalists, were sentenced to 12 years in prison on charges of illegally entering the country to conduct a smear campaign. “I know that our government has been working behind the scenes very hard trying to bring the girls back home… but our countries don’t talk, and perhaps this could be a reason,” said Lisa Ling, hoping the recent arrest will encourage dialogue between the US and North Korea.

Ling said that without being able to look at her sister, it was difficult to discern her state. She said her sister was “very specific about the message that she was communicating, and she said, ‘Look, we violated North Korean law and we need our government to help us. We are sorry about everything that has happened, but we need diplomacy.’”

Both, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, former reporters for California-based Current TV, were arrested while reporting on the border between North Korea and China. North Korea’s state media released a report last month explaining how the two American journalists had illegally entered the country to record material for a “smear campaign” against the North Korean government. Ever since, the US has intervened trying to secure the release of the two journalists on humanitarian grounds.

A former North Korean prisoner, Kang Chol-Hwan, is also speaking out about the condition of North Korea’s “concentration camps.” Chol-Hwan has painted a bleak picture of chaos and violence in the camps and is hoping the American journalists obtain a speedy release. Chol-Hwan was sent to the camp because North Korea’s former leader, Kim Il Sung, thought Chol-Hwan’s grandfather was a traitor.

Chol-Hwan, now a journalist, is speaking out in part to expedite Laura Ling and Euna Lee’s freedom. Although he did add that he is convinced that the North Korea’s communist regime is treating both women well.



CBS – Lisa Ling Pushes for Sister’s Release – July 8, 2009

CNN – Sister Hears from Journalist Trapped in N. Korea – July 8, 2009

VOA News – Former North Korean Prisoner Speaks Out – July 8, 2009



Burn Attacks Against Pakistani Women Increase

By Hyo-Jin Paik
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

LAHORE, Pakistan – Violence against Pakistani women has increased in the past few months.  According to one report, more than 220 women were burned between April and June of this year, leading to the deaths of 40 women in Punjab.  The report also stated that while attacks against women are increasing, the assailants are enjoying impunity.

Although the attacks are not limited to a certain region of Pakistan, the hotspot for these inhumane attacks in the recent years has been Punjab.  Pakistani women who suffer acid burns appear to be those who have broken a social code or “honor,” for example, refusing to marry the man her family has chosen or for running away from unhappy marriages as well as being seen in public with an unrelated man.

Nisha Varia at Human Rights Watch said, “Violence against women in Pakistan is endemic…there are very high rates of domestic violence and incidents like acid attacks.”

Pakistan burn victimSabira Sultana was burnt by gasoline by her husband (Source: AP)

In an acid attack, acid is thrown onto the face and other body parts of the women.  Such an attack causes severe pain and bodily mutilation, but is commonly practiced in South Asia.  Varia also attributed the frequency of acid attacks to the fact that acid in readily available in Pakistan.

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said there is a great need to foster awareness among the victims to fight for justice so that the culprits are held responsible.  In many cases, even when the attack results in the death of the woman, her family often does not press charges, let alone report the crime.

Although the society does not consider burning women a crime, there is a movement demanding that burn attack cases be registered under the Pakistan Penal Code so that assailants can be found responsible for burning another human being.

Pakistani officials estimated that more than 150 women are burned each year with acid or kerosene, and the actual number of victims is probably much higher.  Luckily a local entrepreneur is raising money for reconstructive surgeries by hiring the victims to work at beauty salons.

For more information, please see:

CTV News – Pakistani charity helps acid-burn victims – 5 July 2009

Daily Times – Female Burn victims require government attention: AGHS – 4 July 2009

The Jerusalem Post – Women in Pakistan face wave of burn attacks – 6 July 2009

UN Chief Urges China to Respect Freedoms



By Alishba I. Kassim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

GENEVA, Switzerland – UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has been leading international calls to encourage restraint in China in the face of the recent riots. The riots in China’s Xinjiang region have killed at least 140 people. The violence erupted as China’s leader started a visit to Italy ahead of the Group of Eight industrialized powers summit.

Chinese state media reported that thousands of people fought with police and set fires to vehicles in the city of Urumqi. Uighur Muslims, native to the region, have rejected Beijing’s accusations that they organized the riots.

“Wherever it is happening or has happened the position of the United Nations and the secretary general has been consistent and clear: that all the differences of opinion, whether domestic or international, must be resolved peacefully through dialogue,” the UN chief told the press speaking about the riots in Xinjiang. He further added that “Governments concerned must also exercise extreme care and take necessary measures to protect the life and safety of the civilian population and their citizens and their properties, and protect freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of information.”

Italy’s President, Giorgio Napolitano raised the issue of human rights to China’s President, Hu Jintao. “We agreed that the…economic and social progress that is being achieved in China places new demands in terms of human rights,” Napolitano said at a news conference with the Chinese President. Britain also joined Italy’s President in urging China to show restraint.

The violence involved thousands of people in Xinjiang, home to ethnic Muslim Uighurs, who have long complained of repressive Chinese rule.

Update: Hussein Trial Postponed, Women Protesting Outside Sudanese Court

By Kylie M Tsudama
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

KHARTOUM, Sudan – Police launched tear gas and beat women in protest outside a Sudanese court on Tuesday.  The women are protesting the trial of female journalist Lubna Hussein who is accused of violating Islamic law by wearing trousers in public.  She faces 40 lashes.

There were 50 protesters, most of them women.  Some of the women wore trousers to show solidarity with Hussein.

Islamic law was adopted after an Islamic rebel group led a coup and gained power in 1989.  Activists and lawyers, however, say that the law’s interpretation is arbitrary.

Most of the women who were arrested along with Hussein during the raid were flogged and fined 250 Sudanese pounds (around $120).  Hussein and two others, however, chose to go to trial.

Hussein chose to publicize her trial and has invited human rights workers, Western diplomats, and other journalists to witness it.  She was required to wear the suspect clothing to court so that the judge and others could see it but she has chosen to wear the same outfit every day since the day she was arrested in order to highlight her case.

“I am not afraid of flogging. … It’s not about flogging. It’s not about my innocence. It’s about changing the law,” she said.  She added that she would be willing to go to Sudan’s constitutional court and “to receive (even) 40,000 lashes” if the court rules against her.

The judge for the Khartoum Criminal Court adjourned Hussein’s trial for a month to seek clarification from Sudan’s foreign ministry.  Hussein was working for the UN Mission in Sudan at the time of her arrest but submitted her resignation in order to avoid immunity and go on trial to challenge the dress code law.

For more information, please see:

AP – Police Beat Women Opposing Sudan Dress Code Trial – 04 August 2009

BBC – Protests at Sudan Woman’s Trial – 04 August 2009

CNN – Protests as Sudan ‘Tight Pants’ Trial Delayed – 04 August 2009

Impunity Watch – Woman Dares Court Over Flogging for Wearing Trousers – 02 August 2009

Chinese Baby Girls Being Sold for $3,000

By Hyo-Jin Paik
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China– An investigation by a Chinese newspaper found that about 80 baby girls in southern China’s Guizhou Province have been sold to childless families in the U.S. and Europe for $3,000 each. These baby girls were “confiscated” from families when the parents could not pay the $3,000 fine for violating China’s Family Planning Policy.

Chinese families in rural villages, unlike those living in urban areas, are allowed to have a second child to continue the family name and to help out with the farm if the first child is not a son.  However, if the rural families have more than two children, they face a fine of $3,000, which is several times a farmer’s annual income.  Accordingly, this is an unpopular policy among rural residents, and families in Guizhou Province who could not pay the fine had to hand over their babies to the local authorities. 

Chinese couple give up baby Chinese couple whose six-month old baby daughter was taken away by the government (Source:

Abandoned babies in China can be registered for adoption, but the investigation alleged that the local authorities confiscated the babies and then forged documents by labeling the babies as “orphans.”  The adoption fee of $3,000 per baby was split between the local authorities and the orphanages.  This type of foreign adoption program has been referred to as “Baby Economy,” and the local orphanages made huge profits.

Although China’s Family Planning Policy leaves some families devastated and gives rise to corruption in some villages, one official said, “This is the policy.  You pay, or you let the government take care of the baby.”  However, the babies are not raised by the government, but taken overseas.

Zhou Ze, a lawyer and professor at China Youth College for Political Science, commented that forcibly removing babies from their parents to make a profit constitutes abduction.

Adoption rules for foreigners in China were tightened in 2006, but the regulation has proven ineffective due to local government corruption.

For more information, please see:

BBC – China babies ‘sold for adoption’ – 2 July 2009

The Straight Times – Illegal babies sold – 4 July 2009

Telegraph – Chinese babies sold for adoption to US and Europe, report claims – 3 July 2009

UPI – Chinese baby girls sold for adoption – 2 July 2009

Pakistan’s 2 Million Refugee Crisis Worsens

By Alishba I. Kassim

Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia


PESHAWAR, Pakistan – Pakistan’s 2 million refugees displaced by the fighting in the Swat Valley are now facing threats of disease as they cope with unsanitary conditions due to damaged water and sewage systems.

“There are major challenges facing the displaced and those still caught in the conflict areas. Health facilities have been damaged or destroyed,” said Eric Laroch, assistant director-general of the Health Action in Crises Cluster of the WHO. Since most of the displaced people are living with host communities, there is an “enormous strain” on the region’s health-care system the UN reported. 

Pakistan’s refugees are threatened with diarrhea, measles, and respiratory infections as a result of the strain on the health service. So far the WHO’s early warning system has been able identify and control more than 30 potential communicable disease outbreaks. However, the refugee crisis is likely to worsen. “A displacement crisis the government said would only last for weeks looks set to go on for months with no relief in sight,” said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty’s Asia-Pacific director. 

Pakistan’s government said that by June 30, civilians may be able to start returning to their towns and villages within a week. However, the offensive is still going strong and it is unlikely that they will be able to return soon. The recent fighting has produced the largest exodus in Pakistan since the country’s founding in 1947 and the UN said that only about a quarter of the funds it requested for the refugee crisis have been received. Meanwhile, in absence of effective aid from such agencies, hard-line Islamist charities are using this time to help the refugees and garner support. 

For more information, please see:  

Bloomberg – Pakistan’s Refugees Face Disease Threat – July 3, 2009 

Miami Herald – Pakistan Short of Aid to Resettle Refugees –  July 2, 2009  

New York Times – In Refugee Aid, Pakistan’s War has New Front – July 1, 2009

Moroccan Court Decision Appears to Support the Restriction of Free Speech

By Ann Flower Seyse
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CASABLANCA, Morocco– On June 29 three Arabic language newspapers were ordered to pay  three million Dirhams, about $372,300 US, for defaming a head of state.  The papers, the Al-Massae, Morocco’s most popular daily paper, Al-Jarida Al-Oula and Al-Ahdath Al-Magrebia, were sued in an action brought by a public prosecutor on behalf of the Libyan Embassy. The action was based on content published by all three papers since the beginning of 2008 that allegedly defamed Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

In addition to the three million Dirham fine, several individual reporters from each paper have also been convicted of “attacks on the dignity of a head of state” and fined 100,000 Dirhams (about $12,410 US) per reporter. The reporters had called Gaddafi’s viewpoint “childish,” criticized the political theories that Gaddafi presented in his Green book, and for reporting the arrest of Gaddafi’s son and daughter-in-law in Geneva for assaulting their servants.  

The papers and their journalists are shocked and upset by this verdict.  The Moroccan Press Union demonstrations staged immediately following the decision.  If the convicted papers and journalists have to pay the fines, it could bankrupt all three papers.

The verdict has been taken as a direct attack on free speech and on Morocco’s developing press. Laws that restrict the press have been in effect throughout Morocco’s sovereign existence, but many of the laws were amended in 2001 granting the press more freedom.

The fines were not based upon a measure of damages that Gaddafi suffered, nor were the damages based upon the papers’ resources. The lack of basis for the fines makes it appear as though the fines were imposed as a means to scare journalists away from writing the stories that they want to and from expressing their opinions and analysis openly.

Mohamed Abdel Dayem, Committee to Protect Journalists program coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, said “The exorbitant amount in damages indicates that the courts are being used again to settle political scores with critical journalists and to put critical publications out of business.” In its annual report released this month the Moroccan Association of Human rights concluded that the right to a fair trial was violated in all proceedings involving journalists in 2008. The group said “the judiciary has been used by the state to settle scores with journalists, to seek revenge and terrorize citizens.”

The papers plan to appeal the verdict. Defense attorney for the papers Hassan Semlali has stated that this decision was a “clear violation of the law.”  Furthermore, Editor of Al-Jarida Al-Oula, Ali Anouzla, said the ruling would not prevent him or his colleagues from “doing their job” and thinks that the decision was politically motivated.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera- Papers Fined for Gaddafi Libel – 30 June 2009

Magharebia- Moroccan Newspapers Ordered to Pay in Kadhafi Defamation Suit– 30 June 2009

Al Arabiya- Moroccan Newspapers Fined for Insulting Gaddafi– 29 June 2009

Committee to Protect Journalists- In Qaddafi Case Court Hands Down Harsh Judgment– 29 June 2009

Reuters- Moroccan Papers Fined for Defaming Libya’s Gaddafi – 29 June 2009

U.S. Senators calling for Vietnamese Priest’s Freedom

By Hyo-Jin Paik
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

WASHINGTON, U.S. – 37 U.S. Senators have written to Vietnam’s president asking for “immediate and unconditional release” of Father Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly, a Roman Catholic priest who has been a strong advocate for democracy in Vietnam.

Father Ly is the founder of Bloc 8406, a pro-democracy movement that began in 2006.  The Vietnamese government has accused Father Ly of spreading propaganda against its communist government.

Vietnam priest Father Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly (Source: AP)

However, the U.S. Senators believe that Father Ly’s trial back in 2007 was seriously flawed.  According to a human rights group, Father Ly was denied access to a lawyer and the security guards silenced him when Father Ly tried to speak during the four-hour trial.  Thereafter, he was sentenced to eight years.

In their letter, the U.S. lawmakers said, “Given these serious flaws in relation to his arrest, trial and imprisonment, we request that you…allow him to return to his home and work without restrictions to his right to freedom of expression, association and movement.”  The Senators added, “Father Ly’s arrest, trial and ongoing detention in this instance call into question Vietnam’s commitment to …fundamental principles.”

The Vietnamese Embassy in Washington did not confirm receipt of the senators’ letter, but Maran Turner of Freedom Now said imprisoning Father Ly would mean that U.S. government has placed Vietnam back on the list of “countries of particular concern” for violations of religious freedom.  U.S. did place Vietnam on this list in 2004, but removed it in 2006.

Father Ly is well known in the United States for his longstanding fight in promoting religious freedom and democracy for Vietnam, and the 63-year old priest has been jailed three times for a total of 17 years since 1970’s.

For more information, please see:

AP – 37 senators seek freedom for Vietnamese priest – 1 July 2009

BBC – US call to free Vietnamese priest – 2 July 2009

NYT – 37 U.S. Senators Urge Vietnam to Free Imprisoned Priest – 1 July 2009