Human Rights Watch Issues Report on Zimbabwe’s Inability to Implement Reforms

By Jennifer M. Haralambides
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

ZimbabweHuman Rights Watch has issued a report declaring that South African leaders need to press Zimbabwe’s power-sharing government to end the ongoing human rights violations and to implement legal reforms.

This report, titled “False Dawn: The Zimbabwe Power-Sharing Government’s Failure to Deliver Human Rights Improvements,” focuses on the new government’s lack of progress in the many areas of human rights where reform is needed.

More than six months after the formation of a transitional, power-sharing government in Zimbabwe between the Zimbabwe African National Union–Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) and two factions of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), there has been little progress in instituting any promised human rights reforms and in demonstrating respect for the rule of law.

Human Rights Watch reports that his transitional government has demonstrated a lack of political will to create change. Police, prosecuting authorities, and court officials who are aligned with ZANU-PF continue to conduct politically motivated prosecutions of MDC legislators and activists.  MDC is the former opposition party and is now a partner in the government.

Local sources say that President Zuma, who was inaugurated six months ago, has failed to satisfy the expectations of both the public and the politicians alike because no agreements have been reached from the negotiations between President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF and the two MDC’s led by Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara.

“Southern African leaders should stop looking at Zimbabwe through rose-colored glasses…The region’s leaders need to press Zimbabwe openly and publicly for human rights reforms to prevent the country from backsliding into state-sponsored violence and chaos,” said Georgette Gagnon, the Africa director at Human Rights Watch (HRW).

In order to fulfill the demands of human rights groups, heads of state from members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) are holding a summit meeting in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, on September 7th, 2009.  At the summit meeting they are exptected to assess Zimbabwe’s compliance with a number of rulings by the SADC Tribunal on illegal actions.  President Zuma of South Africa, SADC’s current chairman, is also expected to update leaders on the progress made by the power-sharing government.

“Without these necessary changes, Zimbabwe’s inclusive government will continue to be built on sand,” says Gagnon.

The HWR report recommends a range of fundamental reforms that the power-sharing government should undertake to improve the human rights situation in Zimbabwe.

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – False Dawn: The Zimbabwe Power-Sharing Government’s Failure to Deliver Human Rights Improvements – 31 August 2009

Reuters – SADC: Press Zimbabwe to Implement Human Rights Reforms – 31 August 2009

The Zimbabwe Times – Mutambara is Correct on Zuma’s Role – 31 August 2009

Civilian Peacekeepers Kidnapped in Darfur

By Jennifer M. Haralambides
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

DARFUR, Sudan – Two civilians working with the joint UN-African Union (UNAMID) peacekeeping mission in Darfur went missing after a raid on their residences.  Sources say they were kidnapped at gunpoint.

Noureddine Menzi, a spokesman for the United Nations-African Union (UNAU) peacekeeping forces, said that early Saturday morning a gunmen stormed into the town of Zalingei and seized a man and a woman.  He says this is the first kidnapping of staff members who work for the peacekeeping force.  The nationality of the hostages or there captors is still yet to be verified, although sources close to the case say the man was Nigerian and the woman was a Zimbabwean.

Abdel Wahid al-Nur, the leader of the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM), lives in Zalingei.  SLM is one of Darfur’s main rebel groups responsible for contributing to the violence in the region.  Al-Nur, criticized the kidnapping and also denied that the SLM was involved in any way.  He said it showed the weakness of the peacekeeping mission.

The UN-AU force has contacted the kidnappers, and the outgoing political chief, Rodolphe Adada, has appealed for the release of the captives.   Sources say that Adada had previously angered Western diplomats by calling the situation in Darfur, “a low-intensity conflict.”

Human rights groups describe the situation in Darfur as genocide.  The UN puts the death toll up to 300,000 over the six years of fighting between rebel groups and government forces.  Clashes between rival ethnic groups break out frequently in Sudan, and the UN says at least 1,000 people have been killed in the wake of inter-tribal violence this year alone.

For more information, please see:

AFP – Darfur Peacekeepers Say 2 Civilians Kidnapped – 29 August 2009

AP – Darfur Peacekeepers Say 2 Civilians Kidnapped – 29 August 2009

BBC – Two Peacekeepers Seized in Sudan – 29 August 2009

VOA – Peacekeepers Kidnapped in Sudan – 29 August 2009

Sweet Sixteen Marriages in Malawi Protested

By Kylie M Tsudama
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

LILONGWE, Malawi – A bill that was recently passed in the Malawi legislature allows 16 year olds to marry with parental consent.  Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika is facing pressure from civil society groups to scrap the bill.

Parliament amended the Constitution.  This new legislation is an improvement on the law it replaced which allowed oarental consent to marriage at the age of 15.  Clause 9 in the Constitution (Amendment) Bill passed with over two-thirds support, although some Members of Parliament (MPs) from both the support and the opposition voted against it before it went through.

Article I of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Children defines the word “child” as “every human being below the age of 18.”  Activists are calling for the minimum age to be raised to 18 while some MPs asked the Minister of Justice to consider changing the marriage age to 18 or even 21.

MP Lifred Nawena said marriage at 16 goes against the government policy of youth education.  MP Chimango Mughogho said marriage requires girls to give birth and they are not mature enough at 16.

Minister of Justice Peter Mutharika, however, sees the increase in age as a positive.  He will not take a position on the matter saying only that Malawians should decide together how to move forward.

“Eighteen would be fine but 21 might be too old.  We could say 18 with parental consent or 21 without, but that is a matter of policy,” he said.  “Let the people and all the stakeholders, including boys and girls, debate the issue and agree on whether the marriage age should be 18, 21, or 25 as some people are proposing.  After the consensus, the matter will go back to parliament.”

People interviewed after the vote all agree that Parliament could have raised the age to 18 and that it would have been the appropriate age, as it is the minimum age when one can vote and make one’s own decisions.

Gender and children’s rights activists have called on the country’s leadership to protect and ensure girls’ rights not to marry so young to protect them from maternal death.  MacBain Mkandawire, Executive Director of NGO Youth Net and Counseling, says mental and physical health will be sacrificed if allowed to marry at 16.

Marriage at 16 is contrary to the government’s policy to educate the youth and reduce maternal deaths.

For more information, please see:

Angola Press – Protests at Proposed Law Backing Sweet 16 Marriages – 29 August 2009

Catholic Information Service for Africa – Malawi: Protests at Proposed Law Backing Sweet 16 Marriages – 28 August 2009

Daily Times – Law Commission Defends Marriage Age – 26 August 2009

Africa News – Malawi: Marriage Age Pegged at 16 – 03 August 2009

U.S.-Colombia Base Deal Continues to Threaten Peace in Latin America

By Mario A. Flores
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BARILOCHE, Argentina — A special televised presidential summit of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) held in Bariloche on Friday to discuss the use of Colombian military bases by the United States ended in tension and acrimony between leaders and resulted in a vague resolution.

Leaders from the left-leaning countries of Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia made clear their intense opposition in heated speeches to Colombia’s decision of allowing the United States to use up to seven Colombian bases to counteract drug trafficking and violence by insurgents.

US Bases in Colombia

Two of the most vocal leaders, Rafael Correa of Ecuador and Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, demanded that Colombia give the group copies of the agreement with the United States.

Correa argued that the accord is a risk to the region’s stability. “You are not going to be able to control the Americans,” said Correa, staring down at Uribe. “This constitutes a grave danger for peace in Latin America.”

Apparently bowing to requests from President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil, who leads the region’s rising economic and political power, Chávez refrained from his characteristic personal attacks and instead spoke of his deep mistrust of the President of Colombia and read a long document that he said demonstrated the United States is planning a war on South America.

Uribe insisted at the meeting that Colombia would not cede its sovereignty or even a “millimeter” of its territory to the United States. He said that the military bases would be under Colombian control and that the American soldiers will only combat the narcotics trade and domestic terrorism. He told the leaders that a copy of the 20-point accord with the United States was available on the Internet.

Uribe also went on to accuse Venezuela of giving refuge to top guerrilla commanders, and said that arms “from other countries” have been supplied to Marxist rebels in Colombia.

Although Chávez and his allies have been the most vocal opponents to the base access plan, less polarizing countries like Brazil and Chile are also opposed to the presence of foreign soldiers on the continent. But they also said Colombia’s neighbors should respect its sovereignty.

In a sign of the animosity that pervaded the discussions, Uribe had to be physically led by the country host’s president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, to participate in the traditional end-of-summit photograph with his peers.

The United States was not present at the meeting. Although not a member of the regional organization, it elected not to send an observer. “We and the Colombians have been clear about the nature of the bilateral agreement,” Charles Luoma-Overstreet, a State Department spokesman, said in an e-mail message. “We will continue to reach out to our hemispheric neighbors to explain the agreement.”

The tensions during the seven-hour long meeting eased after the leaders unanimously agreed to a vague resolution that says no foreign military force should be allowed to threaten the sovereignty of a South American nation. The statement does not mention either Colombia or the United States, a result the Colombian press hails as a success.

“The resolution does not name Colombia or the United States but applies to all Unasur countries,” said Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina.

Partly in reaction to the U.S.-Colombia agreement, Venezuela has recently announced a series of military equipment purchases from Russia. And The New York Times reported just over a week ago that Russia will also help Ecuador develop a nuclear energy program for peaceful purposes.

Ecuador’s government said the Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation, or Rosatom, would provide “support and assistance” to Ecuador. Russia wants to increase ties with leftist governments in Latin America, a move that has renewed some cold-war-era antagonism with the United States.

For more information, please see:

The Washington Post – South American Leaders Assail U.S. Access to Colombian Military Bases – 29 August 2009

The New York Times – Leaders Criticize Colombia Over U.S. Military Pact – 28 August 2009

The Washington Post – U.S.-Colombia Deal Prompts Questions – 27 April 2009

The New York Times – Ecuador: Russian Nuclear Energy Aid – 21 August 2009

Taliban Militants Kill Pakistani Tribe Leaders

By Alok Bhatt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

BAKHAKEL, Pakistan – A suicide-bomb attack in Bakakhel, a town within Pakistan’s North West Province Frontier (NWPF), left four Taliban detractors dead and wounded a passing woman.  The attack represents the latest of multiple suicide-bombings which have recently been ravaging the Bannu district of northwest Pakistan.  A suicide-bomb attack on Saturday took the lives of eleven civilians in the Bannu district, and a similar attack in a Peshawar bazaar killed thirteen more non-militant Pakistani nationals on the same day.  While past violence was perpetrated by smaller militant organizations, Taliban fighters claimed responsibility for the death of the tribesmen.     

A police official reported that the assassin crashed a car carrying explosives into the vehicle of Pashtun tribesman Abdul Hakeem.  The bomber and Hakeem were killed instantly, along with three of Hakeem’s fellow tribesmen who served as his protectors.  Hakeem was an avid proponent of anti-Taliban measures, and recently issued a decree against suicide-bomb attacks.   Among his anti-Taliban exploits, Hakeem played an instrumental role in allowing Pakistani forces to cross into the Taliban stronghold in North Waziristan.  The chief of police of the Bannu district stated that this indictment likely incensed Taliban militants to target the tribesmen.   As an influential Islamic cleric and vocal critic of the Taliban, Hakeem signified the will of peoples who have long been suppressed by the Taliban’s militant strikes on the northwestern region of Pakistan.  

2009928131347164965_5 

 

It seems the Taliban has been systematically assassinating prominent local leaders to silence the voice of discontented Pakistani civilians.  On September 24, Taliban fighters shot dead four tribesmen who advocated government-run countermeasures against the Taliban.  These targeted attacks mark a sharp deviation from the indiscriminate bombings which have been occurring in Pakistan’s NWPF.  By removing community leaders with the resolve to voice the grievances of the populous, it appears that Taliban militants aim to undermine civilian objections to their methods of gaining control over the area.  Pakistan’s state military has stated on numerous occasions its resolve to beat back insurgencies and attacks by the Taliban and similar, smaller organizations.  However, without the support of dedicated and sympathetic community organizers, such as tribal elders, the weary civilians of Pakistan’s NWFP lose the vessels for their freedom cries.  
 

 

For more information, please see:

Al-Jazeera – Tribesmen killed in Pakistan attack – 28 September 2009

CNN – Pro-government elders killed in Pakistan attack – 24 September 2009

France 24 – Car-bomb attack kills anti-Taliban tribesmen – 28 September 2009

South Korean Fishermen Freed

By Hyo-Jin Paik
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

SEOUL, South Korea– After one month of detention for accidently entering North Korean waters when their satellite navigation malfunctioned, four South Korean fishermen were released and have returned home. 

SK fishermen freed Freed South Korean Fishermen (Source: AP)

Fishermen and their boats from both North and South Korea are often accused of straying into each other’s maritime border, because the two countries disagree on the exact location of the demarcation line.

The four fishermen, who were detained since July 30, 2009, were handed over to the South Korean Coast Guard at the two Koreas’ shared eastern maritime border on Saturday.  Park Kwang-sun, captain of the detained boat, said upon his arrival back to South Korea, “I am sorry to the public for causing concern, but I am deeply grateful for the support that secured our quick return.”  South Korean citizens have been holding protests demanding the fishermen’s return.  Park’s wife also thanked the South Korean government for her husband’s safe return.

A North Korea expert Kim Young-hyun of Seoul’s Dongguk University said, “The release turned on the green light for the overall improvement of inter-Korean ties.” 

Relations between the two Koreas have been strained for the past year.  However, the release of the detained fishermen is being considered as a conciliatory move on the part of North Korea, in addition to a sign that tensions are being eased between North and South Korea.

Furthermore, the two Korea’s have agreed to resume family reunions of those who have been separated since the end of the Korean War in 1953.  The last family reunion was held in 2007.

For more information, please see:

BBC – N Korea frees S Korea fishermen – 29 August 2009

MSNBC – North Korea frees four South Korean fishermen – 29 August 2009

NYT – North Korea Releases Fishermen – 29 August 2009

VOA – North Korea Releases 4 Detained South Korean Fishermen – 29 August 2009

Tensions Between Russia and Georgia Unresolved at Significant Anniversary

By Meredith Lee-Clark
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

TBILISI, Georgia – The status of the two South Caucasus regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia remains uncertain as the region marked the one-year anniversary of Russia’s recognition of the breakaway regions’ independence on August 26.

Russia recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia’s independence from Georgia on August 26, 2008, two weeks after intense fighting between Georgian military forces and separatists from the two regions, with support from the Russian military.  Abkhazia and South Ossetia have traditionally been ethnically mixed.  It is home both to those who claim Russian cultural identities as well as those who have cultural ties to Georgia.

International observers say that Abkhazia and South Ossetia remain in a legal gray zone:  Russia and Nicaragua remain the only two countries to recognize their independence.  They are a de facto part of Russia while remaining a de jure part of Georgia, though political power in the provinces is steadily slipping out of Georgia’s control and into that of Russia. 

Some experts speculate the situation may remain unresolved for the foreseeable future.  The situation is akin to situations in Cyprus and Taiwan.  On August 26, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev said that Russia’s decision to recognize the breakaway provinces’ independence was “unavoidable” and “irreversible.”  It seems equally unlikely that policies of non-recognition by the European Union and the United States will shift.

The situation has caused uncertainty for those living in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.  Georgia has attempted to establish a naval blockade around the area, threatening to arrest anyone who enters either area without Georgian permission.  Russia has also staked an economic claim to the area, as the Russian state oil company set up a subsidiary in Abkhazia on August 25.  The Georgian government has accused Russia of exploiting its sovereign natural resources, as well as unlawfully continuing its occupation of Georgian soil.  For its part, Russia has pledged its support for the reconstruction in the breakaway regions.

For more information, please see:

Georgia Today – Kremlin’s Victory or Confession – 28 August 2009

China View – Putin Pledges Firm Support for South Ossetia, Abkhazia – 27 August 2009

The Messenger Online – Russia is Continuing its Occupation of Georgia – 27 August 2009

Anti War.com – South Ossetia, Abkhazia to Celebrate Independence Day – 25 August 2009

Radio Free Europe – One Year After ‘Independence,’ Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Legal Gray Zone – 25 August 2009

Sofia News Agency – Russia:  South Ossetia, Abkhazia Independence Irreversible 1 Year Later – 25 August 2009

Update: Trial for Charles Taylor Still in Progress

By Kylie M Tsudama
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

THE HAGUE, Netherlands – Charles Taylor claimed in court this week that he had the international community’s approval to grant Sam Bockarie’s political asylum in 1999.  He also claimed that the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) leaders decided unanimously that Bockarie’s political asylum in Liberia would be the best for Sierra Leone’s peace process.

“Bockarie did not voluntarily leave Sierra Leone.  ECOWAS extracted Bockarie from Sierra Leone.  That’s how he left.  He did not leave Sierra Leone voluntarily.  He came to Liberia in December of 1999.  People did not know the inside story.  But this is what happened.  It was an ECOWAS extraction, they took him out of Sierra Leone, he had no choice,” Taylor testified.

Among Taylor’s claims the United States government is said to have made an agreement to provide military training and scholarship for Bockarie during his asylum.  Taylor said he was surprised when the United Nations and the United States opposed Bockarie being in Liberia.

Taylor said once Bockarie and his men got Liberian citizenship he recruited them to join his Anti Terrorist Unit (ATU).  The ATU was an elite security force that protected Taylor and was headed by his son, Chuckie Taylor, who was convicted of crimes of torture committed in Liberia.

In regard to military and financial support that Taylor allegedly gave to Sierra Leonean rebels in exchange for diamonds, he contends that the expert who testified was unfairly biased against him.  Taylor said that Ian Smillie had previously accused him of diamond-for-arms trade when he was appointed an expert by the UN Secretary General.  Taylor said questions to the Secretary General regarding Smillie’s appointment went unanswered.

“I had concerns about pople who had made allegations against Liberia being on the panel.  You have already prejudiced the report by doing that,” he said.

Taylor called the 2000 UN Expert Panel Report “disgraceful” and said it was full of “disinformation,” maintaining that the report is biased.

Today is the fourth day Taylor has been responding to allegations made against him in that report.

For more information, please see:

CharlesTaylorTrial.org – United Nations Panel is at the Heart of Case Against Taylor, he says – 26 August 2009

CharlesTaylorTrial.org – Charles Taylor Dismisses United Nations Report on Sierra Leone as ‘Disgraceful’ – 25 August 2009

CharlesTaylorTrial.org – Taylor Says UN Report on Diamonds and Guns was Biased Against Him; CIA Helped his Rebel Group – 24 August 2009

CharlesTaylorTrial.org – International Community Sanctioned RUF Commander Sam Bockarie’s Relocation to Liberia; ECOWAS Leaders Changed Rebel Leadership in Sierra Leone, Not Taylor Acting Alone – 23 August 2009

Argentina Joins Growing Number of Latin American Nations to Decriminalize Small-Scale Drug Use

By Mario A. Flores
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — In what is the latest blow to America’s “War on Drugs,” the Argentine Supreme Court ruled that possession of small amounts of marihuana, meant for personal use and that do not represent a threat to someone else, is no longer a crime, making this nation the latest Latin American country to reject punitive policies toward drug use.

The Argentine Court’s unanimous decision, which found unconstitutional the arrest of five youths for possession of three marijuana cigarettes, came only days after Mexico’s Congress voted to end the practice of prosecuting people found to be carrying small amounts of illicit drugs, including marijuana.

Mexico now has one of the world’s most liberal laws for drug users after eliminating jail time for small amounts of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and amphetamine. The decision has resulted in some friction between Mexico and the United States, considering that Mexico’s northern neighbor contributes millions for the purchase of equipment destined to the fight against the drug cartels.

Argentine legislators vowed to start working immediately on a bill that would modify current drug laws to reflect this week’s Supreme Court decision and expect to submit it to Congressional vote by the end of this year.

If passed, the Argentine law would be part of a growing trend across Latin America to treat drug use as a public health problem and make room in overcrowded prisons for violent traffickers rather than small-time users.

The decriminalization of drug usage in Mexico and Argentina comes at a time when a respected group of former Latin American presidents have been calling for the legalization of marihuana.

Former presidents Fernando Cardoso of Brazil, Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico, and Cesar Gaviria of Colombia led a 17-member group of journalists, academics and others to form the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, which concluded earlier this year that the “war on drugs” strategy pursued in the region over the past three decades had been “a failed war, negative and ineffective.”

The study called for an urgent “in-depth revision of current drug policies” in Latin America, including decriminalizing possession of marihuana.

Brazil basically decriminalized drug consumption in 2006 when it eliminated prison sentences for users in favor of treatment and community service but imposes some of the stiffest sentences in the region to drug traffickers.

Peru, the world’s second largest producer of coca leaves and cocaine, allows small-scale possession for individual use. Venezuela is more restrictive albeit small amounts of cocaine and marihuana possession are not a crime but administrative penalties can be imposed. Uruguay is holding presidential elections in October and the legalization of marihuana is expected to be a campaign issue.

However, a large group of nations (Paraguay, Panama, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Chile) remains to decide whether to lift penalties in cases of possession of drugs for personal use.

Countries in the region hope that new laws help counteract prison overcrowding, a rise in organized crime and rampant drug violence affecting all levels of society, but in particular the poor and the young.

Argentina has one of the highest per-capita rates of cocaine use in the world and a growing problem with synthetic drugs like Ecstasy. But the use of marijuana is not an especially serious problem in the country.

For more information, please see:

The New York Times – Latin America Weighs Less Punitive Path to Curb Drug Use – 26 August 2009

The Washington Post – Mexico’s new drug use law worries US police – 26 August 2009

The Washington Post – Argentina decriminalizes small-scale marijuana use – 25 April 2009

La Nacion – América latina, más permisiva con los ´porros´ – 27 April 2009

China to Curb Illegal Organ Trafficking

By Hyo-Jin Paik
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China – About two-thirds of all transplant organs in China are provided by executed prisoners.  However, this will soon change as the Chinese government is launching a voluntary organ donor program so as to stop harvesting organs from black market sellers and executed prisoners. 

In China, at least one million people are in need of organ transplants annually, but only about 10,000 actually receive organ transplants.   Such scarcity of available organs has led to corruption and a thriving black market for trafficked organs despite the fact that Chinese officials passed a law in 2007 banning organ trafficking. 

By creating an organ donation system, Vice Minister of Health Hugan Jiefu hopes that such program “will benefit patients regardless of social status and wealth.”

Furthermore, human rights groups have criticized the lack of transparency in China’s organ donation program and have been extremely concerned with the use of body parts from executed prisoners.  A Chinese newspaper, citing anonymous sources, reported that more than 65% of organ donations came from executed prisoners. 

China execute the most China executes the most number of prisoners than any other nation (Source: AFP)

Nicholas Bequelin at Human Rights Watch said, “If you’re a prisoner and you’re about to be executed, you do not have a real choice, especially in a system…(that) is completely untransparent and notorious for abuses against prisoners, as the Chinese system is.”

Minister Huang has stated that prisoners were “definitely not a proper source for organ transplants.”  Therefore, the new organ donation scheme is to reduce reliance of organ donation from death row prisoners and to combat the illegal trafficking of organs.

This new organ donation program will initially start pilot programs in ten provinces and cities where financial aid will be provided to donors’ families before being instituted nationwide.  Since 2003, only 130 people in mainland China have signed up to become organ donors
 

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – China launches organ donor scheme – 27 August 2009

BBC – China admits death row organ use – 26 August 2009

NYT – China Announces a System for Voluntary Organ Donors – 26 August 2009

USA Today – China sets up national organ bank to reduce dependence on prison donors – 27 August 2009

French Man Escapes from Islamist Radicals

Jennifer M. Haralambides
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

MOGADISHU, Somalia – A French security adviser seized by Islamist militants in Somalia discloses the details of how he escaped from his captors with out a struggle while they slept.

Marc Aubriere and his colleague were kidnapped from the Sahafi Hotel on July 14th in Mogadishu last month.  They were in Africa as part of a team who stationed to train troops from the country’s United Nations-backed interim government.  This government is battling Islamist rebels for control of the country.

He escaped while his captors, Hizbul-Islam rebels, slept.  Rumors surrounded the escape claiming that Aubriere killed three militants as he fled, although he denies the claims.  France’s foreign ministry also denies that any of the rebels were killed during the escape.

“I escaped at midnight last night.  The guards were very tired and sleepy.  I didn’t kill anyone or injur anyone while escaping,” said Aubriere.

Although French sources claim that France did not pay a ransom for Aubriere’s release, the reports are conflicting.  Aubriere said that he was treated fairly while he was being held by his captors.

The other man who was captured with Aubriere is still being held by a different Islamist faction, the al-Shabab.  Both groups control much of southern Somalia, although sources analysts say that the al-Shabab is notorious for being the more radical of the two groups.  Both groups have links to al-Qaeda.


For more information, please see:

ABC.com – Hostage Escapes from Somali Militants – 26 August 2009

BBC – Somalia Hostage Tells of Escape – 26 August 2009

ITN – French Hostage Tells of Escape – 26 August 2009

VOA – French Hostage Freed in Somalia – 26 August 2009

Junta Leader May Run for President

By Kylie M Tsudama
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

CONAKRY, Guinea – Guinea junta leader Captain Moussa Dadis Camara may run for President of the West African country during its next election cycle.

Camara took power when former President Lansana Conte died in December.  When he took power he promised that he would step down in order to hold elections later this year.  Elections have been postponed until 2010.

It is yet to be announced whether or not Camara will be running.

(Source:AFP)

“I have nothing more to say, except that I might or might not stand,” he said.  “We shall follow your advice.  We shall do what you have requested.”

On Saturday hundreds of Camara supporters rallied in Conakry to ask him to remove his military uniform and stand in the presidential election.  Camara’s run for the presidency would be another move in this year’s push toward more power by West African leaders.

Guinean opposition parties, unions, and civil groups joined Sunday to urge people to oppose Camara’s candidacy should he choose to run.  Camara says, however, “it is they who don’t understand anything about democracy” if they want to stop him from running for president.

“It is for Guineans alone to freely choose their leaders without internal or external pressure or discrimination,” said The National Council for Democracy and Development (CNDD) junta.  “Therefore any member of the CNDD, of the government including the prime minister and any other citizens, is free to put forward their candidacy for the national election if they so desire.”

A statement from the US embassy expressed disappointment and concern, saying that any junta member’s candidacy “would undermine the transparency and credibility of the elections.”

Elections are currently set for January 31, 2010.  Legislative elections will be held on March 26.

For more information, please see:

IRIN – Guinea: ‘Yesterday was Better than Today’ – 25 August 2009

AFP – Guinea Junta Chief May Run in Polls – 24 August 2009

BBC – Guinea Leader ‘May Contest Poll’ – 24 August 2009

VOA – Guinea Military Ruler May Run for President – 24 August 2009

Reuters – Guinea Rejects U.S. Call for Junta-Free Election – 23 August 2009

Venezuelans March against Cuban Indoctrination in Schools Ends with Tear Gas

By Mario A. Flores
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela — Thousands of Venezuelans marched in Caracas this weekend over a controversial new education law passed last week that critics say it not only strengthens Chavez’s grip over schools and universities but also aims to instill his authoritarian nationalist ideology into the schooling system.

Police forcibly dispersed opponents of President Hugo Chavez’s government as thousands demonstrated both for and against an education law that critics fear will lead to Cuban-style political indoctrination in schools. Some opposition marchers carried placards that read: “I can’t stand your Cuban law.”

The police forces, in full riot gear and backed up by the National Guard, launched several attacks against the protesters. Helicopters hovered overhead as a water cannon drenched protesters and there were unconfirmed reports that dozens of people had been hurt.

The government claims the police used the water cannon and fired tear gas and rubber bullets only when government opponents knocked over a fence marking the end of the authorized route.

Teargasattack

The organizers of the march charge that the police started attacking well before the protesters approached the headquarters of the Chavez-nationalized telecommunications company, CANTV, which the government had set as the end site for the march.

The Minister of Interior and Justice, Tareck El Assaimi, had banned protesters from going on to the National Assembly, as the opposition originally wanted.

Oscar Perez, from the opposition party Alianza Bravo Pueblo claimed El Assaimi was responsible for “violations of human rights.” And National Assembly Deputy Juan Molina, from Podemos, the social democratic party which once backed Chavez but is now against him, denied that protesters had tried to get past the barricades at the final destination point, as the police claimed.

The new education law allows community councils, which are often pro-Chavez, to play a larger role in the operations of schools and universities. It also calls for the education system to be guided by the “Bolivarian doctrine,” a term Chavez uses to describe his socialist government.

Chavez’s previous attempt to reform education in 2002 led to mass protests at that time, eventually culminating in a failed coup attempt against him.

Church and university authorities oppose the new law. The church says it will hinder religious teaching and free the state from its obligation to subsidize private, church-run schools in poor neighborhoods.

“We have to fight for this country and for our children,” said one middle-aged woman shrouded in tear gas at the protest who was interviewed on the independent Globovision television station.

For more information, please see:

The Latin American Herald Tribune – Chávez Government Cracks Down on Venezuela Opposition March – 24 August 2009

Globovision – Dirigentes políticos denunciaron ante el MP la actuación de los cuerpos de seguridad en marcha contra la LOE – 23 August 2009

The Washington Post – Venezuelans march over schools law, police use gas – 22 April 2009

Shift in Power in Tunisia’s Journalist Union Causes Concern

By Ann Flower Seyse
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

TUNIS, Tunisia– On August 19, Reporters Without Borders (RWB) announced that a group of pro-government reporters in Tunisia have taken control of the largest Tunisian union for journalists only two months before the general election. 

RWB stated their concern for the independence of the national union of journalists, and stated that this change does not “bode well” for the fairness of the upcoming election. 

Tunisia’s current president, Zine El Abdine Ben Ali, will be seeking a fifth term in this election. He has been in power since a bloodless coup in 1987.  In 2002, Ben Ali challenged the constitution so that he could have more time in office. He has also continued to poll ninety-percent in elections.

The new union president Neji Bghouri stated that he believes that the government took over an organization that was meant to be independent. The new president of the journalists’ union denies any government involvement with the vote that resulted in his placement.

These alleged problems with the press only add to several other human rights violations that human rights organization Amnesty International (AI) reported on August 20. 

Amnesty International’s report documents continued abuse in the name of counter-terrorism and security. AI’s focus surrounds the continued reports of mistreatment and ‘pervasive’ torture in Tunisian detention centers. 

The report also criticizes other countries that continue to return prisoners to Tunisia against the prisoners’ wills, and with full knowledge of likely mistreatment.  Extraditing a person to a country where it is known they are likely to face mistreatment, a practice sometimes called ‘Extraordinary Rendition,’ is a violation of the Convention Against Torture, Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment.  

Amnesty has called for the immediate end to torture and a clampdown on mistreatment and unlawful ‘security’ measures used in Tunisian detention centers.

For more information, please see:

Amnesty International – Tunisia Continues Human Rights Abuses in the Name of National Security – 20 August 2009

Afrique en Linge – Tunisian Journalists Change Leadership– 19 August 2009

BBC – Tunisia Reporter Move ‘Bodes Ill’ – 19 August 2009

Reuters – Row as Tunisia Journalist Picks Pro- Government Boss – 16 August 2009

Fatah Denies Holding Political Prisoners

By Meredith Lee-Clark
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East   

RAMALLAH, West Bank – On August 22, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad reiterated Fatah’s assertion that it did not hold any political prisoners.   

The Prime Minister spoke at a ceremony for Protect the Palestinian Flag in Ramallah. Fayyad’s statement contradicted claims by several human rights organizations, which have confirmed that prisons in both the West Bank and Gaza hold prisoners arrested for political reasons. Fatah’s rival party, Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, has also claimed that several of its members have been detained by Fatah security forces because of political motivations.   

Hamas claimed earlier this month that one of its members, Fadi Hamarna, who was imprisoned in Jneid Prison in Nablus in the West Bank, died at the hands of Fatah security forces. The Palestinian government in the West Bank stated that Hamarna had committed suicide in his cell after interrogation.  
 
The Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP) attributes many of the abuses within the Palestinian security system to its chaotic power struggles between the nine security forces operating under the Palestinian Authority (PA). The PA employs almost 40,000 people, one of the highest ratios of police to citizens in the world. The PA security forces are often characterized as having wide-spread corruption and little systematic regulation. The Gaza Strip, which is smaller than the U.S. state of Rhode Island, has at least twenty-four detention centers, the locations for which were kept secret until April 2009. According to MERIP, search and arrest warrants are rare, and mistreatment of prisoners is the norm rather than the exception.
 
On August 21, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met with the Palestinian interior minister about security issues, focusing on the release of so-called “petty criminals” ahead of the end-of-Ramadan festival, Eid-al-Fitr. President Abbas also noted that the PA had already recently released approximately seventy prisoners, and he encouraged efforts to maintain order within the Palestinian Territories.   

For more information, please see:   

Ma’an News Agency – Fayyad: PA Has No Political Detainees – 22 August 2009  

International Middle East Media Center – Hamas Political Prisoner Dies at a Palestinian Prison – 11 August 2009

Middle East Report – Palestinian Political Prisoners – Fall 1996