Update: Taylor Trial Continues as Defense Continues to Present its Case

By Kylie M Tsudama
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

THE HAGUE, Netherlands – Last week Charles Taylor testified that he negotiated the release of UN peacekeepers in Sierra Leone.  He also denied having control over Liberians who traveled to Sierra Leone during its 11-year civil war.

These Liberians migrated to Sierra Leone after Taylor came into power.  They joined either the Special Task Force, which was a group of Liberians aiding the Sierra Leonean army, or the RUF, the Liberian rebel group called the Revolutionary United Front.  Taylor denied having any power over them saying he would not have been able to punish them for any crimes committed in Sierra Leone.

“How do you punish someone when he is not under your control?  You can only be responsible for people under your direct command.  Nobody can say that Taylor ordered me to do X, Y, or Z.  I did not have contact with them and there was no control over them.  I did not help them in any way,” Taylor said.

Taylor maintains that the United States and Britain were misinformed when they alleged that he supported RUF rebels and supplied them with arms and ammunition and provided a safe haven in Liberia for rebels.  He said the two countries were “after him.”

During testimony Taylor provided a detailed timeline which would show Sierra Leone and the international community that he wanted peace in Sierra Leone and was not supporting the RUF rebels.

Taylor admitted to actively participating in efforts to get President Tejan Kabbah and RUF leader Foday Sankoh into peace negotiations but denied doing it for Sankoh’s benefit.

“My plan to bring peace to Sierra Leone was not for Foday Sankoh but for the people of Sierra Leone.  This has never been for Sankoh but for Sierra Leone.  I was in a hurry to do something for my people in Liberia and this cannot move ahead without peace in Sierra Leone.  If there is no peace in Sierra Leone, there will be no peace in Liberia,” he said.

Taylor claims he encouraged Sankoh to change the RUF into a political machine, saying, “Stop the war, go into politics, drop the gun and go into politics.  You can’t go into politics with a gun in your hand.”

RUF ‘Salute Report’ from Sam Bockarie to Foday Sankoh makes no mention of help from Taylor.

For more information, please see:

CharlesTaylorTrial.org – RUF Salute Report Made no Mention of Help Received From Charles Taylor – 13 August 2009

CharlesTaylorTrial.org – “My Interest in Sierra Leone was for Peace for the People, Not Foday Sankoh,” Taylor Says – 12 August 2009

CharlesTaylorTrial.org – Charles Taylor Expelled RUF Collaborators From Liberia; Gives a Chronology of Steps He Took to Bring Peace to Sierra Leone – 11 August 2009

CharlesTaylorTrial.org – Taylor Did Not Have Control Over Liberians Who Travelled to Sierra Leone, Blames West for Mis-Information – 10 August 2009

Impunity Watch – Update: Charles Taylor Trial – 10 August 2009

Brazil and U.S. Conspired to Overthrow Democratically Elected Chilean President

By Mario A. Flores
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

SÃO PAULO, Brazil — The National Security Archive in Washington, D.C. published declassified White House secret memos showing that Brazil and the United States discussed plans to overthrow or destabilize Chilean President Salvador Allende in a 1971 meeting.

According to the formerly secret documents that reveal a deeper collaboration than previously known between the United States and Brazil, President Nixon discussed with Brazilian military regime-era President Médici a cooperative effort to overthrow the democratically elected Chilean administration.

Nixon, at a meeting in the Oval Office on Dec. 9, 1971, said he was willing to offer Brazil the assistance, monetary or otherwise, it might need to rid South America of leftist governments, the White House memorandum of the meeting shows.

The United States and Brazil, Nixon told Médici, “must try and prevent new Allendes and Castros and try where possible to reverse these trends.”

The records released also reveal that Brazil was involved in the Uruguayan election fraud of 1971 with consent from the United States.

Nixon saw Brazil’s military government as a critical partner in the region. “There were many things that Brazil as a South American country could do that the U.S. could not,” Nixon told his Brazilian counterpart, according to the memos.

Peter Kornbluh, a senior analyst at the National Security Archives, noted that “a hidden chapter of collaborative intervention to overthrow the government of Chile” was now emerging from the declassified documentation. “Brazil’s archives are the missing link,” he said, calling on President Ignacio Lula da Silva to open Brazil’s military archives on the past. “The full history of intervention in South America in the 1970s cannot be told without access to Brazilian documents.”

Eventually, a CIA-supported coup, led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet, toppled the Allende government in Chile in 1973.

The daughter of Salvador Allende requested that Brazil open any secret archives that could shed light on any role it played in the 1973 overthrow of her father’s administration.

“It seems to me Brazil owes an explanation, if not an apology, to Chile in the form of a full historical reckoning of its role in the overthrow of Allende and the advent of Pinochet,” Kornbluh said.

For more information, please see:

The Washington Post – Allende seeks Brazil documents on ’73 Chile coup – 18 August 2009

The New York Times – Chile: Allende’s Daughter Seeks Secret Records About Coup – 18 August 2009

The New York Times – Memos Show Nixon’s Bid to Enlist Brazil in a Coup – 16 August 2009

National Security Archive at George Washington University – Brazil Conspired with U.S. to Overthrow Allende – 16 August 2009

Human Rights Watch Calls for Iraq to Act to Protect Homosexuals

By Nykoel Dinardo
Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq – On August 17, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report titled “They Want Us Exterminated: Murder, Torture, Sexual Orientation, and Gender in Iraq” which details the attacks that gay men in Iraq have suffered in recent months.

According to the report, militias in Iraq are persecuting gay men, torturing and killing them.  Although there have been reports about attacks by several small militias, HRW believes that most of the attacks are being perpetrated by the Mahdi Army, a militia led by Moqtada al-Sadr.  To support this claim, HRW cites the facts that the attacks seem centered around Sadr City, a slum in Baghdad that is named after al-Sadr’s martyred father.  

Moreover, Sadrist Mosques and officials of the Mahdi Army have been spreading warnings about the “third sex,” a derogatory term for homosexuals in Iraq.  According to the report, men have been kidnapped, tortured and murdered for something small, such as wearing a tight shirt, tight jeans, or a certain hairstyle – fashions claimed to be worn by the “third sex.”  HRW describes the situation as “social cleansing.”

According to HRW, hundreds of men have been killed in the last few months.  A hospital employee interviewed by HRW after he fled Iraq described the stories he was receiving from colleagues, “a fellow doctor-a colleague, a classmate of mine, who works at al-Kindi hospital-told me over the phone that more were killed yesterday. Four were brought in with their genitals cut off. And some were brought in, not dead, with glue in their anuses.”  The report explains that injecting glue into the anuses of suspected gay men has become a common form of torture, and men who suffer its effects are brought into hospitals almost daily.

HRW explains that the most astounding aspect of the situation is the lack of action to stop the killings.  According to the report, government officials actually participate in the persecution.  The report details the story of a man in Baghdad who ran safe-houses for gay men who had been disowned by their families.  He told HRW that officials for the Ministry of the Interior has arrested him, tortured and raped him, and finally he was freed when he bribed one of the guards.  According to HRW, ministry members take these actions claiming that they are within the law, punishing those who have participated in “indecent acts.”

The report concludes by calling on the Iraqi government to take action s to stop the persecution of gay men.  HRW reminds Iraq of their international obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which require states to provide for the rights to Life and Security (Article 9), to Protection against Torture, and Inhuman and Degrading Treatment (Articles 7 & 11), and to Non-Discrimination and Fundamental Rights (Articles 26, 17, 19, and 21).   They ask the government to publicly condemn such action and to prosecute those responsible.

For more information, please see:

CNN – Gay Men Attacked, Executed in Iraq, Rights Group Says – 17 August 2009

Human Rights Watch – Iraq: Stop Killings for Homosexual Conduct – 17 August 2009

Human Rights Watch – “They Want Us Exterminated”: Murder, Torture, Sexual Orientation and Gender in Iraq – 17 August 2009

USA Today – Rights Group Reports Anti-Gay Death Squads at Work in Iraq – 17 August 2009

The Washington Post – Gay Men Targeted In Iraq, Report Says – 17 August 2009

UN Cites Human Rights Violations in Operation Cast Lead

By Ann Flower Seyse
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

GENEVA, Switzerland
– United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has called for an in depth, transparent investigation of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead. Pillay stated that “there is significant prima facie evidence of serious violations of international humanitarian law having been committed by the Israeli forces and Palestinian militants,” during the operation which took place between December 27, 2008 to January 18, 2009. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights reports that at least 1,400 Palestinians were killed, and at least thirteen Israelis, three of which were civilians during Israel’s 22-day offensive on Gaza.

The allegations which warrant further investigation include Israeli attacks on Gaza civilians, civilian hospitals, schools, administrative facilities and 27,000 private homes. Of particular concern for the UN is the “targeting of the civilian population and wanton destruction of property and religious and cultural objects” according to a separate report by a UN investigative team, released on August 14. “While these violations are of deep concern in their own right, the nearly total impunity that persists for such violations (regardless of the responsible duty bearer) is of grave concern, and constitutes a root cause for their persistence,” Pillay said.

Pillay’s report to the UN Human Rights Council also calls for the immediate easing of Israeli restrictions in the Palestinian territories. She hopes that this easing will lead to a lifting of the blockade on Gaza, which has been economically devastating to the people living there. Pillay claims that the blockade and restrictions on movement of people and goods in the West Bank “amount to collective punishment.”  The alleged torture of Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons and collective punishment both contravene the Geneva Conventions, to which Israel is a party.

Moreover, the report specifically calls for Israel to cease its settlement expansion immediately. It also asks Israel to cease evictions of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, and address the persistent impunity for settler violence. Pillay remains concerned over Israel’s disregard for the International Court of Justice’s recommendation regarding the barrier wall that Israel is constructing to keep assailants out. The wall would enclose 9.5 per cent of the West Bank area.

Israeli Ambassador Aharon Leshno-Yaar rejected the findings of Pillay. Leshno-Yaar felt that the report failed to note recent moves by Israel to ease restrictions on Palestinians, and reflected an anti-Israel bias by the U.N. Human Rights Council.

The Arab News Network al Jazeera reports that Israel is now running an ad campaign to discredit human rights agencies that have reported negatively on Israel, including Human Rights Watch.

For more information, please see:
Al Jazeera – UN: Israel Had ‘Impunity’ in Gaza – 15August 2009

Al Jazeera – Israel Questions Gaza War Reports – 14 August 2009

Christian Science Monitor – Israel Killed Palestinians Waving White Flags, Report Says – 14 August 2009

Fox News- U.N. Human Rights Chief: Israel’s Blockade of Gaza Strip Is Illegal– 14 August 2009

United Nations – Significant Prima Facie Evidence of Serious Rights Abuses in Gaza, UN reports – 14 August 2009

China Jails Eight Tibetans

By Hyo-Jin Paik
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China– A court in northwest China sentenced a group of Tibetans for their role in anti-government protests which took place earlier this year.  Six monks and two lay people were sentenced to jail terms ranging from six-months to seven years in Qinghai province, a region that is largely ethnically Tibetan and includes the birthplace of exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

The eight Tibetans were accused of inciting a mob attack of a police station in a Tibetan town of Rabgya back in March.  The unrest began when a Buddhist monk jumped into the Yellow River to escape police interrogation.  He had hung a Tibetan flag on the roof of his monastery on March 10, which was the anniversary of the failed 1959 Tibetan revolt against the Chinese government, and had distributed anti-government pamphlets.  The Chinese police detained about 100 monks after the violence broke out, and hundreds of Tibetans rioted and attacked the police station.

Tibetan monkMonk Palden Gyatso received the harshest sentence, seven years in prison (Source: NYT)

This recent violence resembled the mass protest of March 2008 in Tibetan-populated regions of China, which was the largest anti-government protest by Tibetans in decades.  According to the exiled Tibetan government, the subsequent crackdown by the Chinese government since last year’s riots has led to more than 200 Tibetan deaths.

Local Chinese officials have refused to release any information on the riots which took place this past March, and a court clerk told a news agency that she had no knowledge about the case of the eight Tibetans who were sentenced.  Remaining anonymous, she said, “We don’t know anything about the trial.  Nobody at our court knows.”

However, Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy expressed “its serious concern over Chinese authorities’ manhandling of the case and awarding lengthy prison sentences to what was a mere…exercise of the freedom of expression…guaranteed by the Chinese Constitutions….”  The Centre is urging China to reverse the verdict and ensure fair and free trial to the eight Tibetans.
For more information, please see:

AFP – China court jails eight Tibetans: rights group – 18 August 2009

AP – Report: 8 Tibetans jailed over protests in China – 18 August 2009

Reuters – China sentences 8 Tibetans over protests – activists – 18 August 2009

Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy – China sentences eight Tibetans to varying prison terms in Tibet – 14 August 2009

U.S. Peace Corps Pulls Out of Mauritania

By Jennifer M. Haralambides
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania – The Peace Corps has withdrawn its workers from Mauritania due to fears over security after recent attacks.

The Peace Corps, which has operated in Mauritania for over 40 years, announced that it has moved its volunteers out of Mauritania and into the nearby training center in Senegal.  The exact amount of people who will be moved is unknown, but the statement issued by the Peace Corps said there were roughly 141 volunteers in Mauritania, mainly in rural areas.

_46178437_mauritania_226x170 “Although it is the agency’s position that the volunteers are relatively safe in their communities and villages, it is potentially dangerous for them to travel safely in the country,” said the statement issued August 12th.

The U.S. government-backed group said on its website that the volunteer program in Mauritania would remain suspended until the security conditions improve, if at all.

On June 23, an American was shot dead in the Mauritanian’s capital city during an attack claimed by an al-Qaeda affiliate group.  Subsequently, on August 8th, a suicide bomber killed himself by setting off a bomb aimed at two French gendarmes from the French embassy.  Three people were killed during the bombing that took place just days after President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who vowed to make the fight against al-Qaeda a priority, was sworn in.

The Peace Corps volunteers were in the country attempting to help Mauritania boost their agricultural production, combat widespread erosion, and bolster health and education programs.

For more information, please see:

AFP – U.S. Peace Corps Pulls Out of Mauritania – 17 August 2009

AP – U.S. Peace Corps Pulls Out Mauritania Volunteers – 17 August 2009

BBC – U.S. Aid Workers Leave Mauritania – 17 August 2009

Reuters – U.S. Peace Corps Pulls Volunteers From Mauritania – 17 August 2009

Police Raid “Nigerian Taliban” Group in Niger

By Jennifer M. Haralambides
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

KANO, Nigeria – Nigerian police take more than 600 people into custody after raiding an isolated Muslim community in Western Niger.

On Saturday morning a team of 1,000 officers raided the Darul Islam community.  Police say no weapons were found and there was no resistance to the arrests.

This raid comes in the wake of the violent uprising of the Boko Haram Islamist group that has taken the lives of hundreds of people.  Some sources say that the authorities may be taking advantage of a possible way to disperse the Darul Islam (House of Islam) community.

“Our action of evacuating members of the sect from Darul Islam is necessary to forestall any religious crisis in the (central) state of Niger,” said state police commissioner, Mike Zukoumor.

_46213086_nigeria_niger_1609.cmp Much of the recent bloodshed involving the Boko Haram has occurred in the Nigerian city of Maiduguri and the officials have taken action.  One of the men taken away by the police told sources that local people were being taken away and questioned.

“We have not eaten anything since we were brought here and we have women and children among us,” said a Darul Islam resident.

Zukoumor said that those who are suspected of being involved in the self named “Nigerian Taliban” group are being kept in a government technical college and questioned about their activities.  The suspects could face prosecution if their activities are found to be detrimental to religious peace in the state.

Although the group has not been found to be engaged in any illegal activity just yet, the authorities are trying to establish the identity and nationality of the members of the Darul Islam community.

The United Nations human rights chief, Navi Pillay, and human rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called on the government to investigate the security forces’ role in this religious violence.

For more information, please see:

AFP – Nigerian Police Raid Islamic Sect Compound – 16 August 2009

BBC – Nigeria Police Raid Muslim Sect – 16 August 2009

Newstime Africa – Police in Nigeria Target Another Muslim Sect – 16 August 2009

Reuters – Nigerian Police Raid Islamic Sect, Detain Hundreds – 16 August 2009

Jordanian Woman Killed for Marrying Without Family Permission

By Meredith Lee-Clark
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

AMMAN, Jordan – A 23-year-old pregnant woman was reportedly killed by her brother for marrying without her family’s permission.  On August 13, the 30-year-old man was charged with premeditated murder and illegal possession of weapons.

Jihad al-Diridi, the prosecutor who filed the charges, said the unnamed woman got married two years ago and had a baby boy.  The woman had reportedly reconciled with her parents, who invited her to another brother’s wedding on August 12, where the woman was killed.  Al-Diridi said the charged brother shot his sister in the head and abdomen after the wedding reception.  The woman’s husband was beaten by two other brothers, who were later charged with assisting in the crime.

After the killing, the brother who shot the woman walked to the nearest police station, turned himself in, and handed over his gun.  Sources said the man told police he had killed his sister “to cleanse his family’s honor.”

This “honor killing” was the second in two days in Amman.  The first such killing happened on August 11, when a 39-year-old man killed his 16-year-old niece.  The girl had been raped eleven months ago by two relatives and had become pregnant.  The uncle reportedly learned of the rape on August 8 and “decided to kill her in the name of family honor,” according to a source.  The girl was shot nine times in the head in her family home.  The uncle was charged with premeditated murder.

Fifteen honor killings have been reported in Jordan so far this year.  An average of twenty Jordanian women are killed each year by relatives who claim to be protecting the family honor, despite government attempts to curb the murders.  The Jordanian Parliament has refused to strengthen the penal code to create harsher sentences for the crimes.

For more information, please see:

Richmond Times-Dispatch – Jordanian Man Charged with Killing Pregnant Sister – 13 August 2009

Straits Times – Man Charged for Killing Sister – 13 August 2009

Vancouver Sun – Jordan Woman Killed for Marrying Without Permission – 13 August 2009

Jordan Times – Man Charged with Premeditated Murder of his 16-Year-Old Niece – 12 August 2009

Huffington Post – Jordanian Man Accused of Stabbing Pregnant Sister – 12 April 2009

Taliban Threats Discourage Afghan Voters

By Alishba I. Kassim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

TARAKAI, Afghanistan – A group of Taliban fighters made an announcement in a nearby village bazaar a few days ago, threatening to cut off the inked finger of anyone that votes in the upcoming election.

Local villagers told media that they would not participate in the upcoming presidential election. “We can’t vote. Everybody knows it. We are farmers, and we cannot do a thing against the Taliban,” said Hakamatullah, a farmer in the Tarakai area.

The situation is no different in the Pashtun heartland of eastern and southern Afghanistan where the Taliban exert significant authority. There too, many villagers have been warned against going to the polls. Conditions have been so chaotic that many Afghans have been unable to register to vote. The Pashtuns make up about 40 percent of Afghanistan’s population, and doubts regarding their participation are casting a dark cloud over the elections.

The Taliban leadership released the following statement last month with regards to the upcoming election, “Afghans must boycott the deceitful American project and head for the trenches of holy war. The holy warriors have to defeat this evil project, carry out operations against enemy centers, prevent people from participating in elections, and block all major and minor roads before Election Day.” In other released messages since then, Taliban insurgents have been claiming responsibility for the deaths of Hamid Karzai’s and Abdullah Abdullah’s campaign workers.

The U.S. has deployed additional marines to protect the villagers so voting can continue as planned, but local officials are still doubtful, “When you leave here, the Taliban will come at night and ask us why we are talking to you,” a villager named Abdul Razzaq said. “If we don’t cooperate, they will kill us.”

For more information, please see:

CBS – Tension Rises in Afghanistan – August 16  , 2009 

The Australian – Taliban Threat to Afghanistan Election – August 16, 2  009 

The New York Times – Fear of Taliban Discourages Afghan Voters– August 16, 2009

LRA Peace Negotiator Quits

By Kylie M Tsudama
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

KAMPALA, Uganda – David Matsanga resigned on Friday from his post as chief negotiator for the Lord’s Resistance Army in order to run for President in the country’s 2011 elections.

“I decided to resign as the chief negotiator and leader of the LRA peace delegation,” he said.  “I will return to Uganda to challenge for the presidency in 2011.  I will take my stake for president of the Republic of Uganda as an independent candidate.  I will unseat President (Yoweri) Museveni with a campaign for peace.”

Matsanga was a controversial negotiator for the LRA.  During peace talks in southern Sudan he claimed to have ended the conflict in northern Uganda with a peace agreement.

“I have fulfilled my mandate,” said Matsanga.  “The mandate was to silence the guns in northern Uganda and I have done it.”

However, LRA leader Joseph Kony was promised to Ugandan and United Nations officials for a peace agreement signing but he repeatedly failed to appear.  Ugandan officials lost confidence in Matsanga with the faltering peace process.  According to Paddy Ankunda, a former Ugandan military spokesman who also participated in southern Sudan, Matsanga was a “comedian” who never communicated with Kony.

Negotiation team member Justine Labeja also resigned.  The two cited President Museveni and Kony’s lack of commitment to peace agreements aimed at ending Uganda’s decades-long civil war as the reason for their resignations.  They said they could not “chase” Kony through the Central African Republic for his signature and that the Ugandan government failed to grant a ceasefire that would have allowed Kony to come out and sign the Final Peace Agreement (FPA).

“Museveni says Kony must sign the FPA, but he has refused to grant him a temporary ceasefire.  How does he expect Kony to sign the agreement?,” Matsanga said.

The peace talks lasted from 2006 to 2008 and a final agreement was made.  In April, President Museveni went to Sudan to sign the agreement but chief negotiator Salva Kiir postponed the signing when Kony failed to come.

Kony has previously been indicted by the International Criminal Court on 12 counts of crimes against humanity and 21 counts of war crimes.

For more information, please see:

AFP – Uganda Rebel Negotiator Says to Run for President – 15 August 2009

AllAfrica – Uganda: LRA Team in Peace Talks Resigns – 15 August 2009

VOA – Chief Negotiator for Ugandan Rebel Leader Quits – 15 August 2009

Colombian Government Denies Spying On OAS Human Rights Defenders

By Mario A. Flores
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States (OAS) said this week that it was the target of Colombian intelligence operations.

The IACHR said that it had received documents proving that at least one of its members had been spied on by Colombia’s intelligence agency, the Administrative Security Department (DAS), which answers to the president’s office.

According to the human rights commission, Susana Villarán, a former Peruvian minister who visited Colombia in 2005 as IACHR Commissioner and Rapporteur for Colombia was declared a “target” of intelligence operations by the DAS Special Strategic Intelligence Group known as G3.

In February of this year, the local magazine Semana revealed that the DAS had for years carried out illegal wiretap activities against opposition politicians, human rights defenders, journalists and even Supreme Court judges.

The IACHR expressed “concern” over these intelligence activities and requested information from Colombia on the espionage against people the Commission itself had ordered be protected, while calling for an investigation and punishment of those responsible.

The Commission later expanded its request for information to include all intelligence operations carried out with respect to the IACHR, the destination and use of the reports, and the investigations of the matter carried out by the Office of the General Prosecutor and the Office of the Attorney General.

The IACHR says the DAS files it received show that the G3 “was created to monitor activities tied to the litigation of cases at the international level” – cases of serious human rights violations involving the Colombian state that were being considered by the Inter-American human rights system.

The file shows that objective of the operation against the Commissioner and Rapporteur was “to identify the cases being studied by the Rapporteur and the testimony presented by nongovernmental organizations, as well as the lobbying these organizations are doing to pressure for a condemnation of the State.”

The IACHR says these intelligence activities violate Colombia’s commitment to respect the privileges and immunities of representatives of the OAS and to comply in good faith with the aim and purpose of the American Convention on Human Rights and other treaties of the inter-American system.

Following the IACHR revelations, the Colombian government issued a press release denying involvement in the alleged spying of the human rights commission.

Colombian authorities condemned the illegal activities of the intelligence organization and stressed its commitment to turn it into a “reliable and transparent” entity.

The Attorney General’s office is pressing charges against several G3 members in connection with the illegal spying scandal. It says that the G3 operated from DAS headquarters although it never appeared on the intelligence service’s organizational chart. Officials claim that the G3 has been dissolved.

For more information, please see:

IPS – COLOMBIA: Spying on Human Rights Defenders – 15 August 2009

Colombia Reports – Government denies involvement in wiretapping IACHR – 14 August 2009

Colombia Reports – IACHR says it was spied on by Colombian intelligence agency – 13 August 2009

Read the Press Release by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) – 13 August 2009

North Korea Releases South Korean Worker

By Hyo-Jin Paik
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

SEOUL, South Korea– North Korea released Yu Seong-jin, a South Korean employee for Hyundai Asan Corporation, on Thursday after detaining him for 137 days on charges of denouncing North Korea’s political system and persuading a North Korean to defect.

A North Korean official has said, “(Yu) criticized our honorable regime with malignant intention, interfered with the sovereignty of our republic, and committed grave and serious acts that violated relevant law.” 

South Korea and Hyundai Group have been holding negotiations with the North to free Yu for the past two months.  Hyun Jung-eun, the president of Hyundai Group, has actually been in North Korea for the past several days negotiating Yoo’s release with Pyongyang.  Hyundai Group is South Korea’s biggest corporate investor in North Korea.

Yoo released by NK (AP) Yoo Seong-jin talking to reporters following his release (Source: AP)

Yoo was released to South Korean officials in Kaesong, a North Korean town where a joint industrial park is run by the two Koreas, and he has crossed the border and has been reunited with his family.

Inter-Korean relations have been at the lowest point in years since a conservative president was elected in South Korea last year, but Yoo’s release is seen as a sign that the North could be ready to take a more conciliatory approach with its southern neighbor, as well as revive private business ventures between the two countries.  However, the North is still holding four South Korean fishermen who were captured by the North when their boat strayed into North Korean waters two weeks ago.

Accordingly, an analyst at Seoul’s Korea Research Institute for National Unification said, “It is still too early to say that this will lead to a resumption of official dialogue between the two sides.”  The two Koreas have never signed a peace treaty following the Korean War, which ended in 1953, and are technically still at war.
For more information, please see:

BBC – N Korea releases S Korea worker – 13 August 2009

Donga Ilbo – NK Frees Detained S. Korean Worker after 137 Days – 14 August 2009

NYT – South Korean Worker Freed by North – 13 August 2009

Venezuelan Protestors Clash over Education Bill

CARACAS, Venezuela – Scuffles broke outside the Venezuelan parliament building as lawmakers debated a bill that would broaden government control over schools.  Venezuelan police fired tear gas to disperse the protesters.
Thousands of teachers, union leaders, community activists, and militants of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela gathered near the National Assembly building in support of the law.  In a smaller march led by high profile politicians, opponents of the law demanded that discussions of the law be further postponed.

University and private school authorities fear that the law will allow an increase in government influence on campuses by involving grass-roots community groups, often loyal to President Chavez, in school operations.

One of the contentious parts of the law is that it strengthens the role of the state in education. Article 4 states that is the responsibility of the “Estado Docente” or the Educator State  is to guarantee “education as a universal human right and fundamental, inalienable, non-renounceable social duty, and a public service… governed by the principles of integrality, cooperation, solidarity, attentiveness, and co-responsibility.”

President Hugo Chavez claims that the bill is based on the ideals espoused by 19th century Venezuelan independence hero Simon Bolivar. Opponents say the changes would amount to indoctrination.

“This law is very dangerous,” said legislator Pastora Medina of the Humanist Front, a former government supporter and a member of the education commission. “It turns schools into centers for community activists and ignores the pedagogical aspect.”

Supporters of the law generally discount the claims that it’s aimed at indoctrinating children and downplay concerns, saying the legislation reflects the government’s efforts to ensure equal opportunities and teach social responsibility. The law, they claim, requires that education be “open to all forms of thinking.”

For more information, please see:

Reuters – Venezuela passes education, land laws after clashes – 14 August 2009

BBC News- Venezuelan clash over education – 14 August 2009

Venezuela Analysis – Venezuelan National Assembly Passes New Education Law – 14 August 2009

El Universal – Oposición se declara en rebeldía y anuncia acciones contra Ley de Educación – 14 August 2009

Nigerian Government Accused of Arresting a Rights Activist in Order to Silence Protest

By Jennifer M. Haralambides
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

NIAMEY, Niger – Niger rights activist, Marou Amadou, has been arrested twice in one week.  Some suspect the new claims have been falsified in order to silence his protest.

Amadou has been placed in police custody and will faces new charges after having been jailed and then released on Tuesday.   He was originally arrested for calling for a protest against President Mamadou Tandja’s extension of his hold on power in a controversial referendum on extending presidential term limits.

Reports from Niamey say that while Amadou was preparing to leave the Niamey prison he was picked up by armed men in pick-up trucks.  He was subsequently faced with new charges claiming that created an illegal association.  This comes of course after he was released from custody on Tuesday for breaching state security, only to be released a day later.

Fellow activist say that when they saw Amadou through the prison gates he looked to have sustained injuries.

Justice Minister, Lompo Garba, reassured sources by saying that the government in Niamey was “at work, conducting investigations on the allegations of torture against Marou Amandou.”

Amadou’s activist group is called the United Front for the Protection of Democracy (FUSAD).  The group is allied to opposition parties that have been campaigning against a new constitution that extends Mr. Tandja’s term by three years.  The new constitution was approved earlier this month in a referendum that allows the president to run in subsequent elections, potentially giving him the opportunity to stay in power for life.

The European Union and France have both criticized this referendum and called on Niger to restore a more democratic framework.

For more information, please see:

AFP – Niger Rights Activist Faces New Charges After Release – 12 August 2009

BBC – Niger Vows Inquiry into “Beating” – 12 August 2009

VOA – Niger Opposition Vows to Continue Challenging President Tandja – 12 August 2009

Allegations of Fraud in Fatah Leadership Vote

By Meredith Lee-Clark
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

RAMALLAH, West Bank – After the election for Fatah’s leadership body, the Central Committee, many of Fatah’s Gaza leaders have quit, citing massive voter fraud.  In addition, Fatah leaders in both Gaza and the West Bank have composed a memorandum to President Mahmoud Abbas, calling for the rejection of the August 12 elections.

The election determining Fatah’s eighteen-member leadership council has come under scrutiny, as allegations have surfaced regarding last-minute ballot substitutions and unilateral decisions for or against candidates.  The election has also sparked underlying tensions between members of the older Fatah leadership, who came of age immersed in the ideologies of Fatah’s founder, Yassir Arafat, and younger, more pragmatic locally-born leaders who have negotiated with Israel. 

One member of the “old guard” who lost his seat was top Palestinian negotiator and former Prime Minister Ahmed Qorei.  Qorei claimed that “interventions” marred the balloting, and said that he had formally complained to the Fatah leadership, “not only against the results but also against the entire process of elections.”

Fourteen out of the eighteen seats on the Central Committee were won by individuals who had never previously served on the Committee.  Many Palestinians see the election as a response to Fatah’s reputation for corruption, cronyism, and infighting, and the embodied hopes of Palestinians in favor of a more transparent, pragmatic approach to the Israel-Palestinian peace process.  Jailed leader Marwan Barghouti and Mohammad Dahlan, former head of the Fatah security forces in Gaza, were two of the most well-known newly elected members, and both are considered possible unifying, pragmatic leaders of Fatah.

Saeb Erekat, another leading Palestinian negotiator and newly elected member of the Central Committee said the August 12 election was “a coup against a leadership that had monopolized the movement for a long time without even presenting a report about its work.”

President Abbas said that Fatah came out of the elections “energized” and dismissed any speculation that the party had suffered a split.

For more information, please see:

Jerusalem Post – Fatah’s Gaza Leaders Quit, Citing Massive Vote Fraud – 14 August 2009

AFP – Abbas Rules Out Talks Unless Israel Halts Settlements – 13 August 2009

Ma’an News Agency – Angry Fatah Members to Deliver Rejection Memo to Abbas Over Elections – 13 August 2009

BBC News – Young Leaders Dominate Fatah Vote – 11 August 2009

New York Times – Fatah Party Election Brings in a New Generation – 11 August 2009