Asylum Center Expansion Is Evidence of Policy Failure

By Eileen Gould
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania


CANBERRA, Australia
– The Australian government will increase the capacity of a Christmas Island detention facility as a result of the increase in the number of individuals seeking asylum.

As a result of the government’s plans, the detention center, which will cost approximately $40 million, will be able to hold more than 2000 individuals.

The government believes that it is necessary to increase the number of beds by approximately 50%.

It will continue to expand the center as space is needed and remains committed to a policy of mandatory detention for all unauthorized boat arrivals.

Christmas Island officials claim that careful planning of the expansion will be necessary to ensure human treatment and avoid overcrowding.

While the government claims these plans are an effort to cope with the influx of asylum seekers over the last few months, opposition officials have a different view.

They claim this is evidence of the administration’s failing immigration policies.  Expanding the capacity of detention facilities is not the answer, they claim, but rather the government must strengthen Australia’s immigration laws.

“[The Prime Minister’s] policy was a failure, it’s in chaos and it’s a shambles,” opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull stated.

Over the last several months, these policies have sparked bitter debate.  Prime Minister Kevin Rudd claims that the influx is the result of the current situations in countries such as Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.  The opposition, however, claims that the Rudd’s relaxation of the severe immigration policies inherited from his predecessor is at the root of the problem.

Rather than applying to the UN Refugee Agency, many asylum seekers will travel to Australia illegally by boat, which is encouraged by the administration’s lax policies.

This debate rages onward as seventy-eight Sri Lankan asylum seekers remain aboard a ship in waters just off one of the Indonesian islands.

Neither the government nor the asylum seekers are budging on their positions.

The asylum seekers indicated that they were being treated well but refused to disembark unless the ship went to Australia.

Indonesia will allow the ship to remain there for another week.

For more information, please see:

ABC News – Detention centre expansion ‘proves policy failure’ – 31 October 2009

ABC News – Detention centre expansion confirmed – 31 October 2009

The Age – Christmas Is detention centre to expand – 31 October 2009

BBC News – Australia to expand asylum centre – 31 October 2009

Election Fraud Surrounding Female Afghan Voters

By M.E. Dodge
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

KABUL, Afghanistan –   As women lined up to cast their ballots at various national voting stations, the event was tarnished by fraud and corruption. One man cast 35 votes for female relatives. Others lugged in sacks full of voting cards they claimed had been collected from women voters. In a village of only 250 people, 200 women supposedly voted in three hours.

Unfortunately, these stories are not unfamiliar. In Afghanistan‘s recent presidential election in August, one very sensitive area was that of fraud as women exercised their right to vote. The same speculation and concern remains present as the election on November 7 draws near for the runoff between President Hamid Karzai, and former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah. Analysists are concerns as the stakes are so high.

Accepting the presence of fraud as it relates to allowing women to vote, the situation cannot be resolved in the weeks just before the election. There is a general acceptance of proxy voting by male relatives on behalf of female family members. In such circumstances, many women have expressed their reluctance to vote, primarily because of the threats of violence and polling centers that swarm with men. Further, those women who do brave the polling centers and are able to cast their ballots are often uneducated and therefore more easily manipulated.

Despite the uncertainty of how deeply rooted or how significant the impact of fraudulent women voting will be on the results in November, there is increasing speculation that women’s polling stations were more problematic than men’s since officials have not yet released the list of women’s polling stations.

FILE - In this Thursday, Aug. 20, 2009 file photo, Afghan women voters line up

This Photograph, taken August 20, 2009 shows Afghan women voters lining up to cast their ballots. Image Curtesy of Associated Press.    

According to a U.N. report, back in August, men arrived at voting stations carrying and submitting hand-fulls of female voter cards. Poll workers permitted these ballots to be cast without argument. The report further revealed that in some cases, men dragged in sacks full of cards supposedly for their female relatives. Under this sort of sporadic and unregulated election scheme, Theresa Delangis, part of a team working on election issues with the U.N. women’s fund, commented, “It allowed for women’s votes to be manipulated. Block voting, proxy voting, or there were just no women at the polling stations and those ballots were used for fraudulent votes.”

Concern remains as observers indicate that Afghanistan is no more of a safer voting environment now than it was two months ago. Election officials claim they have plans to recruit more women, but there is no reported progress to-date, as government workers are apparently waiting on a report of gender related proposals to the voting process.

For more information, please see:

New York Times – Intimidation and Fraud Observed in Afghan Election – October 31, 2009 

Yahoo! World News – Fraud surrounds women voters in Afghan election  – October 30, 2009 

Khaleej Times – Fraud surrounds women in Afghan election – October 31, 2009

Austrian Students Protest Over Worsening Educational Conditions

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

VIENNA, Austria – Student groups in Austria protested again yesterday against what they see as poor educational conditions in the nation’s schools.  Approximately 30,000 students marched this past week in Vienna in opposition of proposed educational reforms and in favor of an overhaul in the nation’s educational system.  These marches, which have taken place in many of the country’s largest cities in recent days, have been organized by student organizations.

Students and teachers at the Academy of Fine Arts (AFA) in Vienna protested against this new educational reform proposal that is being adopted across Europe.  These reforms, known as the Bologna Process, are meant to the make it easier for students to study abroad and obtain degrees that can be recognized in other nations.  The AFA protesters alleged, however, that these reforms would prevent their ability to construct personally tailored degree programs.

The lack of funding for Austrian universities that currently exists has caused some of the student leaders to call for an end to free access to higher education.  Student Dominik Karas commented that “to increase the standard of education it would be better to reinstall tuition fees.”

Students at the University of Vienna also are calling for the elimination of entrance exams and fees for foreigners and longterm students.  Students have occupied one the school’s lecture halls for almost a week in an effort to draw attention to the funding issues.

The calls of the students involved in these protests have been directed at the national political leaders of Austria, notably the Prime Minister and Finance Minister.  Sigrid Maurer, Chairman of the Austrian Union of Students, has stated that these leaders must “take the education agenda into their hands.”

The student organizations are also calling for the end to alleged sex discriminations in certain university policies.  Currently females and foreign students are barred from certain university facilities.

This is not the first time that the Bologna Process educational reforms been met with student opposition.  In September students in Barcelona clashed with police over the implication these reforms.

For more information, please see:

XINHAUANET – Austrian students take to streets to demand more rights – 30 October 2009

PRESSTV – Austrian students urge education reform – 30 October 2009

EURONEWS – Austria’a students demand reforms – 29 October 2009

ASSOCIATED PRESS – Austrian students protest poor conditions, reforms – 26 October 2009

Pitcairn Considers New Draft of Constitution

By Cindy Trinh
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

ADAMSTOWN, Pitcairn – The Governor of Pitcairn, George Ferguson, announced that the island is considering a new draft of the constitution because there is a need for human rights to be “spelled out.” The current constitution was enacted in 1970. Since then, there has been a need for a document to include provisions regarding human rights. The new constitution would replace the 1970 constitution.

In June 2009, Britain called for the democratic reform of Pitcairn. The reform of Pitcairn was to bring the island in accordance with European standards of governance and human rights.

New management structures were implemented, such as the election of the mayor as the leading governmental authority on the island, and giving the mayor a council, which is divided into four managers. By updating the judicial structure of Pitcairn, Britain hoped this would give the citizens more rights that are guaranteed under the European Convention on Human Rights.

However, not everyone on the island agrees with the new structures. Some of the islanders voiced their dismay at the changes to the island’s governance.

In a commentary to the changes in Pitcairn’s governance, the director of the Pitcairn Islands Study Centre in California, claimed that “Britain wanted to give the impression it was giving its overseas territories greater freedom in deciding their own future, when it was not.”

He further stated: “They have too little freedom to live their lives according to the best interest of the island itself. Everything is looked at through the eyes of a Britisher who has been appointed from London, sits 4000 miles away from them and really doesn’t understand all the problems on this island.”

In response to the opposition of the reform, Ferguson now hopes to draft a constitution that will include a state of rights based on the European Union Convention on Human Rights. He also hopes to create a post of the Attorney General and to define the Governor’s role.

But the main focus of the new draft would be the “explicit setting out of people’s rights.” Ferguson hopes that the new constitution will serve as a document that “spells out” human rights.

In explaining why the new draft is needed, Ferguson stated: “We have recently done legislation very much with the principles of the Convention of Human Rights in mind, and we are pretty confident that we are broadly compatible with it. But it seems right to make the powers explicit, enable people to have the power to challenge legislation or administrative things in terms of those rights – make it an explicit power, rather than just self discipline on the part of the Government…”

For more information, please see:
Islands Business – New Pitcairn constitution to spell out human rights – 28 October, 2009

Pacific Islands News Association – New Pitcairn constitution to spell out human rights – 28 October, 2009

Radio New Zealand International – New Pitcairn constitution to spell out human rights – 27 October, 2009

Australian Broadcasting Corporation: Radio Australia – Big changes in Pitcairn government – 19 June, 2009

The New Zealand Herald – Democracy reform for Pitcairn – 18 June, 2009

Japan Urged to Protect Burmese Rohingya

By Hyo-Jin Paik
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

TOKYO, Japan –Japanese and international organizations sent a joint letter to Japan’s new justice and foreign ministers asking that the country’s new administration pressure Burma to end human rights abuses against minority groups.

The letter urged Japan to “urgently review its policies to protect the Rohingya both in Japan and Burma,” and to grant residential permits to Rohingyas in Japan.  In addition, Japanese government was asked to rescind their deportation order against Burmese asylum seekers.

The Rohingyas are one of the most persecuted minority groups in Burma, and the Burmese government refuses to grant Rohingyas legal status in Burma, which leaves this minority group stateless.

Human Rights Watch reported that human rights violations against the Rohingyas include extrajudicial killings, religious persecution, forced labor, and restrictions on movement.

Kanae Doi, Tokyo director of Human Rights Watch, said, “Tokyo’s silence sends a message to Burma’s generals that their horrendous persecution of the Rohingya can continue…The Rohingyas have faced persecution…and mistreatment in the countries where they seek refuge.  The Japanese government should ensure their protection….”

In the past ten years, 110 Rohingya refugees have entered Japan and have petitioned the Japanese government for asylum.  However, although reports of forced repatriation do not exist, Rohingyas in Japan have been denied refugee status or have received deportation notices.

Japan has traditionally been reluctant to pressure Burma regarding human rights issues.  However, the signatories of the letter asked that Japan’s new government “make human rights a central pillar of Japanese foreign policy” by pressuring Burma to stop the human rights abuses and to grant Rohingyas full citizenship rights. 

Rohingya-refugees-In-Bangla Rohingya mother and child at a refugee camp by the Burma/Bangladesh border.  Courtesy of BBC.

Human Rights Watch also released a photo essay and report on the Rohingyas.  The report points to insufficient international attention to this issue and documents the exodus of Rohingyas from Burma to Bangladesh, in addition to focusing on the 20-year long persecution of Rohingyas inside Burma, especially in the Arakan state.

The drafters of the letter also held a public event in Tokyo concerning the treatment of Rohingya refugees in Japan.

For more information, please see:

Asian Tribune – The Rohingya Refugees: Victims of Exploitation – 5 October 2009

Democratic Voice of Burma – Japan ‘should protect’ Burmese Rohingya – 29 October 2009

Human Rights Watch – Japan: Protect Burmese Rohingya Seeking Asylum – 29 October 2009

Human Rights Watch – Joint letter to Japanese Justice Minister and Foreign Minister on Rohingya – 29 October 2009

Israelis Restrict Palestinian Water Supply

By Meredith Lee-Clark

Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

 

JIFTLIK, Israel/West Bank – Amnesty International released a report on October 27, alleging that Israel unreasonably restricts Palestinians’ access to water in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Under the Oslo Accords, Israel and the Palestinian Authority are supposed to maintain shared control over water resources.

 

The report said that Israelis, particularly those in settlements in the West Bank, use up to 80% of the water from the Mountain Aquifer, which lies underneath the West Bank. The Mountain Aquifer is the only water source for most Palestinians in the West Bank, while only one of several for Israeli settlements. It also states that Israel takes all available water from the Jordan River, which runs down the eastern edge of the West Bank. The report estimated that Israelis use approximately 400 liters of water per person per day, while Palestinians are allowed 70 liters of water per person per day.

 

“The core issue is control over water resources and how Israel exercises that control to restrict access water for Palestinians,” said Donatella Rovera, the researcher who authored the Amnesty report. “There isn’t a lot of water, but there is water, and it should be divided in a more equitable manner. It is a shared resource that belongs to both Israelis and Palestinians.”

 

In the Palestinian village of Hebron, one of the seventeen wells has dried up, as has the nearby spring, Ein Shibley.

 

“There is very little water,” said Hussein Aidi, a farmer from Hebron. To secure more water, Mr. Aidi and his neighbors would have to dig deeper wells, requiring permits from the Israelis.

 

“The Israelis control the water,” said Mr. Aidi. “Their farmers can use as much water as they like. But they won’t allow us to dig deeper wells, and any water they give us is restricted.”

 

Closer to Jerusalem, Bedouin water holes have gone dry, forcing a halt on regular showers, laundry, and running toilets. Meanwhile, the Israeli Carmel settlement on the hill above features green, lush gardens.

 

Israel’s Water Authority protested the report, saying Amnesty International’s researchers had not consulted with the Israelis before publishing it. The Israeli Foreign Ministry said that Israel has “extensively surpassed the obligatory quantity” of water under the Oslo Accords, while Palestinians have “significantly violated” their own commitments under the treaty.

 

For more information, please see:

 

The National – Israelis Cut Water Supply to a Trickle – 28 October 2009

 

Al Jazeera – Israel “Cutting Palestinian Water” – 27 October 2009

 

Amnesty International – Israel Rations Palestinians to Trickle of Water – 27 October 2009

 

Jerusalem Post – Water Authority Blasts Amnesty On Report – 27 October 2009

 

Ma’an News Agency – Dry Water Holes Versus Green Gardens – 27 October 2009

UN Deploys 26,000 Troops to Darfur

By Jared Kleinman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

NYALA, Sudan — Twenty six thousand troops have been deployed to Sudan in a bid to restore order to the crisis-ridden country and aid in the integration of African states through conflict-resolution.

This number is reported to be the largest single ever deployed by the United Nations. Chairman of the African Union and the President of the Pan-African Parliament, Mr. Jean Ping, said this Monday while addressing the press after the First Ordinary Sessions of the African Parliament in Midrand, South Africa. According to Ping, the decision to position the huge number of troops was informed by the desire to prevent the killings, and keep the peace objectives, which he said have almost been achieved.

The force, known as the UN African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), will be largely composed of Africans and will consist of nearly 20,000 military personnel and 6,000 police officers. For the first 12 months, the UN force will incorporate the AU troops into their mission. UNAMID is tasked with acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter to support the “early and effective implementation” of last year’s Darfur Peace Agreement between the Government and the rebels, and it is also mandated to protect civilians, prevent armed attacks and ensure the security of aid workers and its own personnel and facilities.

When the United Nations Security Council made the decision in 2007 to deploy troops to Sudan, the conflict had already amassed more than 200,000 deaths and dislocated more than 2.5 million people. Currently, Sudan has more displaced people than any other country in the world. A 2008 report released by the Norwegian Refugee Council stated that the country had 4.9 million displaced people, or about one in eight of the population, more than half of them in Darfur.

“We have a minimum of 160 deaths every month and 56 women raped this month of April. This month also we have 136 people detained by the security forces,” said spokesperson of Darfur Hussein Abu Sharati in May 2008. The spokesperson further said they collected their information from all the IDPs (Internally Displaced People) camps.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called the mission “historic and unprecedented.” It will come after months of Sudanese resistance and will cost about $2 billion in its first year, reports The New York Times. “You are sending a clear and powerful signal of your commitment to improve the lives of the people of the region and close this tragic chapter in Sudan’s history,” Ban told the Security Council.

For more information, please see:

All Africa – 26,000 Troops Deployed to Sudan – 28 October 2009

Institute for War & Peace Reporting – Darfur Rebel Questions Neutrality of Peacekeeping Base – 27 October 2009

Sudan Tribune –  Darfur Displaced Dismiss UN-AU Monthly Death Figures – 4 May 2009

The Christian Science Monitor – Sudan Agrees to 26,000 UN Troops in Darfur – 2 August 2007

UN To Examine Australia’s Policies Amid Asylum Impasse

By Eileen Gould
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

CANBERRA, Australia – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to health is expected to review Australia’s immigration policies amid increasing international scrutiny.

Anand Grover will inspect detention facilities in Villawood and Brisbane, but not those at Christmas Island, when he visits Australia next month and will report back to the UN Human Rights Council and the General Assembly.

Grover’s visit does not necessarily signify the existence of “shocking human rights violations”, according to a representative of an Australian human rights group, the Human Rights Law Resource Centre.

International concerns about Australia’s procedures for intercepting boats and processing asylum seekers has also prompted Human Rights Watch, an international organization, to take a closer look at Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s policies.  This will be the first time since Rudd’s election in 2007 that the organization has decide to undertake an independent assessment of the Government’s policies.

In the past, Human Rights Watch was known to be highly critical of the Howard government’s policies concerning asylum seekers and temporary protection visas and issued “scathing criticisms” thereof.

Human Rights Watch is not the only group to express its concern with the Rudd administration’s treatment of asylum seekers. Several human rights lawyers and groups, including Amnesty International’s local branch, disapprove of processing these individuals in Indonesia as it has not yet ratified the UN Convention on Refugees.

The UN’s visit comes as the Government is attempting to win a $13 million bid for a seat on the Security Council.  Australia is currently working to improve its diplomatic relations and reputation through various policy initiatives, including increased foreign aid, ratifying various international treaties and becoming more involved in regional issues.

Those in opposition to Prime Minister Rudd’s policies claim that he is “damaging Australia’s reputation”.

On October 26th the Australian Human Rights Commission issued a report, which outlines the Government’s policy on immigration detention and processing at Christmas Island.

The Rudd Government affirms its commitment to a policy of mandatory detention for all “irregular maritime arrivals” while processing claims and subjecting these individuals to health, security and identity checks.

Further, it maintains that the facility on Christmas Island is used to detain single men only.  The Government promises that these detention facilities never house children.

The report also claims that it is “only right that [Australia] should treat people who seek [its] protection humanely… and meet our international obligations under the UN Refugee Convention.”

Australia’s policy has come under increasing scrutiny as officials attempt to decide how to resolve the situation of seventy-eight stranded Sri Lankan asylum seekers.

An Australian vessel picked up the asylum seekers on October 18th.  An agreement between Indonesia and Australia would allow them to disembark at an Indonesian port for processing at a detention facility just northwest of Jakarta.

Australia’s Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith, stated that the governments of both Australia and Indonesia have agreed that individuals rescued in open waters will go to Indonesia, and the UN High Commission for Refugees in Indonesia will process them.

The refugees, however, refuse to leave the boat because they want to go to Australia.  Ultimately they do not have a choice in the place where they claim asylum.

Prime Minister Rudd claims the Government is prepared to use force to remove them from the boat.  According to Indonesia, however, forcible removal is a breach of international law.

Despite mounting pressure, the Government has yet to resolve the fate of the Sri Lankan asylum seekers.

For more information, please see:
ABC News – Heat to end asylum seeker impasse – 29 October 2009

Bloomberg – Rudd May Use Force to Remove Sri Lankans from Ship, SMH Reports – 29 October 2009

Wall Street Journal – Surge in Refugees Presents a Problem for Australia – 29 October 2009

Brisbane Times – Indonesia governor rebels on refugees – 27 October 2009

Brisbane Times – Police head to Asia to fight smugglers – 27 October 2009

Sydney Morning Herald – UN puts Rudd policies in spotlight – 27 October 2009

The Government Monitor – Australia Government Committed to Mandatory Detention On Christmas Island – 26 October 2009

Iran Human Rights Documentation Center

October 2009

29 October 2009

Iran Human Rights Documentation Center

The Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC) seeks to establish a comprehensive and objective historical record of the human rights situation in Iran since the 1979 revolution, and on the basis of this record, establish responsibility for patterns of human rights abuses; make such record available in an archive that is accessible to the public for research and educational purposes; promote accountability, respect for human rights and the rule of law in Iran; and encourage an informed dialogue on the human rights situation in Iran among scholars and the general public in Iran and abroad.

The IHRDC believes that the development of an accountability movement and a culture of human rights in Iran are crucial to the long-term peace and security of the country and the Middle East region. As numerous examples have illustrated, the removal of an authoritarian regime does not necessarily lead to an improved human rights situation if institutions and civil society are weak, or if a culture of human rights and democratic governance has not been cultivated. By providing Iranians with comprehensive human rights reports, data about past and present human rights violations and information about international human rights standards, particularly the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the IHRDC programs will strengthen Iranians’ ability to demand accountability, reform public institutions, and promote transparency and respect for human rights. Encouraging a culture of human rights within Iranian society as a whole will allow political and legal reforms to have real and lasting weight.

In September 2009, IHRDC released its report entitled Forced Confessions: Targeting Iran’s Cyber-Journalists. The report compiles witness statements of three Iranian cyber-journalists and bloggers who were arrested and detained by the Iranian government in 2004 and 2005. The witness statements are the results of interviews conducted by IHRDC staff in 2008 and 2009. Currently, IHRDC is in the process of preparing another report compiling witness statements. These statements detail the experiences of several political prisoners who survived the Islamic Republic’s summary execution of thousands of prisoners during the summer of 1988. The statements are being prepared pursuant to in-person and telephonic interviews conducted with survivors.

IHRDC also publishes a newsletter. The September 2009 issue contains articles on:
1. Sentencing in Post-Election
2. TrialsUniversity Protests Continue
4. New Head of the Basij Appointed
5. Another Juvenile Executed
6. Karrubi in Danger of Being Arrested
7. IHRDC Co-Sponsors Panel on Iran

For additional information, please visit the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center website.

Taylor Denies Ordering Bockarie Execution

By Jonathan Ambaye
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa Desk

THE HAGUE, Netherlands-After a three week judicial break, Charles Taylor took to the stand again on October 26, 2009. On this day Charles Taylor found himself denying allegations that he ordered the execution of a key Sierra Leonean rebel commander, Sam Bockarie, during Sierra Leone’s civil war. In response to the allegations, Taylor said, “The last person on this planet that I wanted killed was Sam Bockarie. I did not order him, killed.”

This statement came after  one of the prosecution’s witnesses testified in September 2008 that commander Sam Bockarie, also known as “Mosquito”, was executed as a result of an order by Taylor. Taylor denied these claims. Continuing his testimony regarding the allegations Taylor said, “I never wanted him dead. I liked him as a son. I never gave such an order that Bockarie should be killed.”

Taylor later gave an explanation of how Bockarie was actually killed. He claims Bockarie was killed in a cross-fire with Liberian government troops who were trying to prevent him from entering Liberia with armed men from the Ivory Coast.  Taylor also had to respond to the 2008 testimony of a former Sierra Leonean member of Taylor’s Anti-terrorist Unit (ATu), Jabati Jaward. Jaward testified that he was one of many others sent by Taylor to the Ivory Coast under the command of Bockarie.  Taylor denied this claim saying that members of the ATU disbanded and traveled on their own to different places, leaving some to go to the Ivory Coast.

Taylor made additional statements in regards to Bockarie’s death to further discount the allegations that he was involved in his death. Taylor said in court, “I was very hurt when Vice Presiden Blach, told me that Bockaries was killed. I sent Blah there because I did not want that boy killed,” Taylor said. Taylor would later also say, “Blah lied here, to say that he was just in the area when Bockarie was killed. I sent him there.”

For more information please see:

All Africa – Taylor Says He Did Not Order the Execution of Sierra Leonean Rebel Commander Mosquito – 26 October 2009

Charles Taylor Trial,org – Taylor Says He Did Not Order the Execution of Sierra Leonean Rebel Commander “Mosquito”– 26 October 2009

Impunity Watch – Taylor Continues to Deny Allegations – 1 October 2009

Rohingya Muslims Face Further Government Oppression

By Alok Bhatt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

COX’S BAZAAR, Bangladesh – Enduring a 30-year history of persecution in their native land, members of the Rohingya Muslim minority continue trying to elude human rights abuses under the Burmese junta.  The Rohingyas, who generally reside in the state of Myanmar, have been able to cross into neighboring nations such as Bangladesh and Thailand to escape impunity.  However, the recent construction of a razor-wire fence along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, across which many Rohingyas traverse in search of freedom from subjugation, further undercuts the Muslim minority groups’ reach for liberation.

The razor-wire barrier effectively eliminates one of the Rohingya peoples’ only routes to less hostile territory.  Though the Bangladesh government neither recognizes nor welcomes the Rohingyas, hundreds of thousands of them reside in makeshift camps in Bangladesh.  Although the U.N. attempted a repatriation into Myanmar for the Rohingyas in 2005, government threats of higher oppression of the minority Muslim group ended the initiative.

By keeping the Rohingyas within Myanmar borders, the government may continue to exploit and abuse them.  The Burmese government persistently denies Rohingya Muslims any form of national citizenship and continues to force the minority group into labor.  The Myanmar government also has a history of executing military operations against civilian Rohingyas.  In 1978, an army operation called “Nagamine” targeted Rohingya civilians living illegally in Myanmar and entailed the destruction of schools, mosques, and other structures.    

Considering the disposition of the ruling powers of Myanmar, Rohingya refugees in Thailand and Bangladesh cannot return to their homes.  Effectively disallowed from re-entering Myanmar borders, the Rohingyas must live under derisory, unsanitary conditions of refugee camps with a scarcity of food and clothing.

Bangladeshi authorities have also taken measures to prohibit more Rohingyas from entering the country.  Border patrol used to arrest and imprison Rohingya peoples attempting to cross into Bangladesh illegally.  However, given the significant number of refugees attempting to cross, Bangladeshi jails quickly became filled with Rohingya escapees looking for solace in Bangladesh.   Operations recently began to send new Rohingya refugees back to Burmese land.

Bangladeshi officials released statements saying that the Rohingya minority places a social and economic burden upon Bangladesh.  Although relief funds from Germany and numerous human rights organizations help maintain the refugee camps, the Bangladeshi government refuses to allow the Rohingyas to indefinitely remain within the nation’s borders.

Without a home to find peace, it seems the plight of the Rohingyas will continue to plague the group until the international community devises an effective means to secure the minority groups’ rights.   

 

For more information, please see:

Al-Jazeera – Rohingya suffer in Bangladesh camps – 28 October 2009

Burma Library – Bangladesh-Myanmar Relations and the Stateless Rohingyas – June 2001

Mizzima – Germany donates $430,000 for Rohingya relief in Bangladesh – 17 October 2009

ReliefWeb – Bangladesh expels Rohingyas – 16 October 2009

Saudi King Pardons Journalist

By Ahmad Shihadah

Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has issued a pardon for Saudi journalist Rossana al-Yami. Al- Yami was sentenced to 60 lashes and a two-year travel ban for her involvement in a television show in which a Saudi man detailed his sexual exploits. Al-Yami told the Reuters news agency, “the king has vindicated me. I am satisfied with the king’s order and I accept the decisions of the sovereign.”

The man at the center of the case, Mazen Abdul Jawad, is also seeking a pardon from the King. On the episode in question, Abdul Jawad bragged about his sexual exploits.  As a result, he was sentenced to five years in prison and 1,000 lashes. Abdul Jawad’s attorney Suleiman al-Jumeii maintains his client was duped by Lebanese Broadcast Company, which ran the episode, and was unaware in many instances that he was being recorded. Further, he urged the information minister to intercede with the King to include all those involved in the case under the same ministry committee. This was done in the hopes his client could be pardoned as well.[VAC1] Al-Jumeii issued a statement saying, “justice should not be divided as long as it is one case.”

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), King Abdullah’s decision sent an important message to the country’s courts regarding punishment of freedom expression. However, HRW still calls for real reforms in the legal system that will address the repeated attacks on the media by Saudi courts.

For more information please see:

Al-Jazeera – Saudi King Spares Journalist lashes – 27 October 2009

CNN – Royal Pardon for Saudi Journalist Sentenced to Lashes – 27 October 2009

Human Rights Watch – Saudi Arabia: King Overturns 60-Lashes Verdict Against Journalist – 27 October 2009

Colombia’s Security Policy Compromises Human Rights

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA,Colombia-Colombia’s National Planning Council blames the government’s “Democratic Security” policy and fight against drugs for the systematic increase in human rights violations. The National Planning Council is a constitutionally mandated body tasked with formulating, monitoring, and evaluating government policy.

President of the council, Adolfo Atehortua, called Colombia’s anti-drug policy a failure. He pointed out that drug production has not decreased and spraying to kill illicit crops has increased poverty in rural areas. “The general and indiscriminate aerial spraying of crops damages farmers who have no other options, the helpless producers . . . but does not eliminate the persistency of the drug plantations,” Atehortua said.

Atehortua further stressed that Colombia has become a consumer of drugs in addition to its exporting role. He recommended that soft drugs be legalized as part of an international campaign. Atehortua argued that legalizing the production of soft drugs, such as marijuana, would provide an opportunity for many farmers to “come out of hiding to develop real centers of agricultural production.”

Atehortua denounced the government’s security policy and the collaboration with the U.S. State Department.  The main point of criticism was the large number of “false positive cases”, where members of the armed forces have executed civilians and then presented them as guerrillas killed in combat in order to boost success figures. These acts have been denounced by the United Nations.

Atehortua called the “humanitarian crisis” the “dark side” of the Democratic Security Policy. Colombia is slated to sign a controversial security pact with the United States to enhance its war on “narcoterrorism” this week.

For more information, please see:

Colombia Reports-Council:Government Security Policy Caused Increase in Human Rights Violations-27 October 2009

El Pais-Colombia Avanza en Seguridad, pero no en derechos humanos-27 October 2009

El Espectador-Consejo Nacional de Planeación insiste en legalización de la droga-27 October 2009

Khmer Rouge Trial Ends, Sentencing for the Deaths of 12,000 Awaits

By M.E. Dodge
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PHNOM PEHN, Cambodia — The Khmer Rouge prison boss, Kaing Guek Eav, more commonly known as Duch, admitted personal responsibility for the torture and murder of more than 12,000 people. He shocked the war crimes court by asking to be acquitted and released.

Duch Khmer Rouge prison boss, known as Duch, stands beside a security guard during the closing arguments of his trial. Curtesy of The Guardian,

Duch is one of five aging senior cadres facing trial in the deaths of at least 1.7 million Cambodians who were murdered or died of starvation or overwork. From 1975 to 1979, before being removed after an invasion by the Vietnamese, the ultra-Maoist Khmer Rouge regime sought to create an agrarian utopia by abolishing religion, money and schools and forcing most of the population onto collective farms.

Duch’s nine-month trial concluded with Duch asking the judges to consider his co-operation with the court, and proceeded to ask that the 10 years he had already served in jail be used as his sentence, and set him free. In the last statement of his concluding remarks, he said: “I would ask the chamber to release me, thank you very much.”

The statement reportedly came only two days after he told the court he was ultimately accountable for the deaths that occurred while he headed the Khmer Rouge’s Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh. Duch had admitted, “I am solely and individually responsible for the loss of at least 12,380 lives.” Duch was claimed to be responsible for the thousands of deaths, most of whom were tortured detainees at the notorious S-21 prison, where Duch was commander, before inflicting death in the nearby “killing fields.”

Officials involved in the proceeding seem skeptical. Prosecutor, William Smith, said outside of the court, that he was surprised by Duch’s last-minute change of heart. Smith stated, “The fact that he entered a request for an acquittal reinforces in our mind that his remorse is limited.” The prosecution has asked for 40 year’s jail for Duch, 67.

The judges are expected to deliver a ruling in March of next year. The maximum penalty they can impose is life imprisonment.

For more information, please see:

Sydney Morning Herald – Killing fields accused may not live to face court – November 27, 2009

The Times Online – Please release me begs Khmer Rouge torturer-in-chief – November 27, 2009

The Guardian –Cambodia torturer Duch – killer of 12,380 – asks court to set him free – November 27, 2009

CNN – Closing arguments end in Khmer Rouge trial – November 27, 2009

IDP Bill Will Fill Void in Humanitarian Law, But Implementation May Be the Real Issue

By Jared Kleinman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

KAMPALA, Uganda—17 African countries have adopted and signed the first ever convention on the protection and assistance of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) during the AU Special Summit on Refugees, Returnees and IDP’s in Africa that concluded over the weekend in Kampala, Uganda. The African Union Convention was signed by five AU Heads of State, five Vice Presidents and Prime Ministers as well as by Foreign Affairs Ministers and other Heads of Delegations who attended the historic event.

The African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa is a comprehensive document that will, if ratified, fill a void in international humanitarian law, say experts. Whereas the rights of people who flee across national boundaries are protected under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and a similar instrument introduced 18 years later by the Organization of African Unity (now the African Union), there has been no international legislation catering specifically for people displaced within their own country (IDPs).

IDPs vastly outnumber refugees in Africa. In just 10 of the 18 countries in east and central Africa, there are more than 10 million IDPs, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), with Sudan (four million), the Democratic Republic of Congo (2.12 million) and Somalia (1.55 million) heading the list.

This latest instrument, also known as the Kampala Convention because it was signed in the Ugandan capital, “obliges governments to recognize that IDPs have specific vulnerabilities and must be supported”, said Walter Kaelin, Representative of the UN Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons. “It covers all causes of displacement, is forceful in terms of responsibility and goes beyond addressing the roles of states to those of others like the AU and non-state actors.” “I truly welcome the adoption of the African Union Convention of the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa”, said Kaelin. “This is tremendous achievement and a beacon of hope for the over 12 million people in Africa displaced by conflict and the many more who are internally displaced by natural disasters or other causes.”

“The crucial challenge now is the same one facing international humanitarian law in general – ensuring that once the convention is signed and ratified by as many states as possible, it is actually implemented and respected,” ICRC president Jakob Kellenberger said. “States must now take concrete steps to implement the convention into their own national legislation and regulation systems, and develop plans of action to address issues of displacement.

“There is some question regarding the extent to which non-state actors and armed groups called upon by the convention to protect IDPs can be bound by its provisions. Nevertheless, the convention, which has benefited from the input of international experts, is considered to be generally consistent with international standards such as the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.”

AU officials in Kampala were cautiously upbeat, urging member states to remain engaged. “It is the responsibility of member states that the convention becomes a binding instrument,” Jean Ping, AU Commission President, said. “At this point, it is an achievement, but not an end in itself.”
“It is one thing to have a good convention and another to implement it,” Dismas Nkunda of the New York-based International Refugee Rights Initiative told IRIN.

In 2007, the AU adopted the African Charter on democracy, elections and governance, but it has so far been ratified by only two member states. Until African countries learn to respect the law, participants said, the continent would “remain at rock bottom” in its attempts to address the problems of the displaced.

For more information, please see:

All Africa – IDP Convention Fills a Void in Humanitarian Law – 27 October 2009

The New Times – AU Commits to Protect IDPs – 27 October 2009

United Nations Human Rights Council – AU Convention on Internally Displaced: “A beacon of hope for 12 million Africans,” say UN Representative – 26 October 2009

The East African – Hometruths for EA Summit on IDPs, Refugees – 26 October 2009