People’s Committee for Political Reform in Tonga Hopes to Submit Petition for New Prime Minister

By Cindy Trinh
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

NUKU’ALOFA, Tonga – The People’s Committee for Political Reform in Tonga hopes to present a petition to the King requesting for a new Prime Minister. The petition is in accordance with the Tongan Women’s National Congress, who also seeks the replacement of the current Prime Minister, Dr. Feleti Sevele.

The leader of the protest for women’s rights, Mele Amanaki, has continued to pray and fast until Sevele is replaced. Amanaki and other members of the Tongan Women’s National Congress have been fasting for almost two weeks in a protest against the poor governance of Sevele. They argue that the Sevele administration’s blatant failure to recognize women’s rights and the injustices they suffer must come to an end.

On October 22, 2009. Amanaki started drinking water after eight straight days of fasting. However, the King did not respond to her petition seeking the replacement of Sevele. In response, Amanaki stated: “I have faith in God that he’s going to grant what we want and it’s amazing the strength that he gives me. It’s not that I could go and run a marathon but to be able to go without food for 10 days I just praise the Lord because he’s the one who gives me strength.”

Currently, approximately 800 women are fasting one day a week in support of the protest.

On October 23, 2009, the People’s Committee for Political Reform in Tonga announced that it hopes to present a petition calling for the replacement of Sevele. The petition has close to 6,000 signatures, and follows the petition of Amanaki and the Tongan Women’s National Congress.

A representative of the People’s Committee for Political Reform, Isileli Pulu, criticizes the current administration’s handling of various issues, including the rising crime rate against women. She states that the two organizations are supporting each other, and they are “hoping that the King will make a wise decision on how to handle this because this is not the first time for us to submit a petition for the Prime Minister to resign and hopefully the King will concede our petitions and act likewise.”

Opponents to the hunger strike do not believe that protesting in this manner is the appropriate way to overthrow Sevele. The chairperson of Tonga’s Civil Society Forum, Drew Havea, stated that the Forum does not “condone a protest hunger strike aimed at toppling the Prime Minister.”

The Civil Society Forum opposes the same issues as does the Tongan Women’s National Congress, but it does not agree with the approach the Congress is taking. Havea stated that the Civil Society Forum belongs to “a Christian denomination and we don’t think it is God’s will for us to take our lives. I mean the issues we need to work in whatever ways, we can support, but not to commit suicide.”

For more information, please see:
Islands Business – The People’s Committee for Political Reform in Tonga says it hopes to present a petition calling for a new Prime Minister to the King this afternoon – 23 October, 2009

Pacific Islands News Association – Tonga People’s Committee for Political Reform poised to submit petition to King – 23 October, 2009

Radio New Zealand International – Tonga People’s Committee for Political Reform poised to submit petition to King – 23 October, 2009

Radio New Zealand International – Tongan hunger striker now drinking but still determine to fast until death – 22 October, 2009

UN Blames North Korea’s Regime for Food Crisis

By Hyo-Jin Paik
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

UNITED NATIONS – A UN report released yesterday blamed North Korea’s oppressive regime, which leaves its people to live in continual fear of repression by authorities, for the food crisis in North Korea.

The report said 9 million out of 24 million North Koreans are suffering from food shortages, and the World Food Programme is reaching fewer than 2 million people due to countries cutting international aid to North Korea because of Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile tests.

Calling North Korea’s human rights record “abysmal,” UN Special Rapporteur Vitit Muntarbhorn, a Thai academic, said, “The freedoms from want, from fear, from discrimination, from persecution and from exploitation are regrettably transgressed with impunity by those authorities, in an astonishing setting of abuse after abuse.”

Nk_2girlsMalnourished North Korean girls dying of starvation.  Courtesy of bloggers-unite.

He added, “It is the exploitation of the ordinary people which has become the pernicious prerogative of the ruling elite.  This is all the more ironic since it is reported that the economy has improved slightly over the past year, an indication that more resources could be available to help the population.”

The report provided that North Korea’s natural resources were more abundant than its neighbor, South Korea.  South Korean government estimated that undeveloped mineral reserves in North Korea are worth about $5.94 trillion.

Although North Korea’s food crisis usually stem from natural disasters which impact the production, the Thai professor said, “[North Korea] is not poor yet the money is not spent on the people.”

Apparently, North Korea’s exports last year totaled several billion dollars. 

North Korean deputy UN Ambassador Pak Tok-hun rejected the findings in the UN report saying the report is a “politically conspired document full of distortion, lies, falsity, [and] devised by hostile forces.”

Ap_north_korea_shortage_081208_mnNorth Korea farmers working in the fields.  Courtesy of AP Photo.

Pak added that pressuring his country was “totally useless” and emphasized “the pride in [North Korea’s] system to protect human rights.

Luckily, South Korea’s Unification Minister Hyun In-taek said Friday that South Korea will soon send a limited amount of humanitarian aid to ease North’s food shortage.

For more information, please see:

AFP – UN official slams “abysmal” NKorea rights record – 23 October 2009

AsiaNews – UN: human rights situation in North Korea “very bad” – 23 October 2009

CBC News – N. Korea regime to blame for food crisis: UN – 23 October 2009

Guardian – UN envoy says North Korea should feed its 9 million hungry citizens – 23 October 2009

Straight Times – S.Korean to resume limited aid – 23 October 2009

Summit in Thailand Launches Human Rights Group

By Megan E. Dodge
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

CHA-AM, Thailand – Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) are meeting under heavy security at a beach resort in Cha-Am. Representatives at this regional summit announced their official effort to engage in a new human rights watchdog.

The East Asian Summit group – is made up of member countries: Burma, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. Talks at this summit seek to integrally include India, Australia, New Zealand, China, South Korea and Japan.

After the opening ceremony marking the convened national figureheads, leaders convened to discuss the economy, climate change, disaster management – and human rights. Some say the commission is in part a response to criticism that the region is weak on its efforts to curb human rights abuses by member nations such as Burma. Speculators, however, question whether it will have sufficient powers to make a real difference. Those who are weary on the effort have expressed that they believe the body will do little to deter human rights violators, because it has no power to punish members, according to one source.

Previously, Burma blocked activity by the Asean summit which attempted to call for an amnesty on behalf of detained Burmese democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. Furthermore, the organization’s Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, one of the central elements of the legally binding ASEAN Charter signed last year, was a disappointment to many rights advocates when it was limited to the promotion rather than the protection of human rights. Efforts this year have continued to hamper the endeavor. Back in April, Asian leaders were scheduled to hold the summit and propel the human rights initiative, however, anti-government protesters forced the meeting to cancel. Now, five member states -Burma, Cambodia, Laos, the Philippines and Singapore – refused to meet the five individuals chosen by civil rights groups to represent their countries.

Sister Crescencia Lucero, the Franciscan nun who was to have been the Philippines representative, stated, “I am very disappointed, and I see this as not only a rejection of me personally and the organization I represent, but as a rejection of the democratic process in the region.”

Regional politicians sometimes cite the European Union as their model, but their ambitions risk running aground on the vast political and social differences between the states, which range from the absolute monarchy of Brunei to the communist governments of Vietnam and Laos. Debbie Stothard, a human rights activist from Malaysia comments, “the commission has not been designed to be effective and impartial.” It It must be recognized though, the commission is still a considerable milestone for a region ruled by governments as diverse as the thriving democracy in Indonesia, the hermetic communist regime in Laos and the repressive military dictatorship in Myanmar.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Asian leaders launch rights group – October 23, 2009

Wall Street Journal – Summit to Test Japan-China Supremacy  – October 21, 2009

Cambodia News – Thailand Mounts Large Security Operation at Asian Summit – October 22, 2009   

Associated Press – Southeast Asia to have rights monitor – October 23, 2009

Israeli PM Pushes to Change War Crimes Laws

By Meredith Lee-Clark

Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

 

JERUSALEM, Israel/West Bank – On October 20, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that his government would try to change international law regarding war crimes.

 

Netanyahu’s statement came amid his government’s toughening stance on the Goldstone Report endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council the week before. The report accused Israel and Hamas, the ruling Palestinian party in the Gaza Strip, of war crimes during heavy fighting between the two sides in Gaza last winter. During the 22-day conflict, approximately 1,400 Palestinians and thirteen Israelis were killed.

 

Netanyahu characterized the Goldstone Report as an attempt to “delegalize” the state of Israel, spreading false allegations against the country.

 

“I want to make it clear to everyone,” said Netanyahu at the October 20 meeting. “No one can undermine our ability and right to defend our children, our citizens and our communities.”

 

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak supported the Prime Minister’s statements, adding that a change in international war crimes laws was “in the interest of anyone fighting terrorism.”

 

Public opinion in Israel, however, has been more mixed. Newspaper editorials appeared in newspapers such as Ha’aretz, criticizing the government’s approach to the military action in Gaza as well as its aftermath, calling it “one-dimensional” and short-sighted.

 

International reaction has also been dubious. William Schabas, Chair of the International Institute for Criminal Investigation, told the Jerusalem Post that Netanyahu’s goals of changing the international laws of war was unrealistic, and that such an initiative was “almost an admission” that Israel had committed war crimes during the Gaza fighting.

 

“It’s one thing to claim that [the rules of war] should change,” said Schabas. “But that doesn’t give you an excuse to violate them until they’ve changed.”

 

Schabas added that one cannot change the rules by characterizing one’s enemies as cruel and vicious, and if a country breaks international law, the country behaves like the terrorists the country is trying to defeat.

 

During the October 20 cabinet meeting, Netanyahu also instructed the Israeli Justice Ministry to establish a unit to address legal challenges against Israeli officials and military officers in international courts. Charges have been brought by pro-Palestinian groups against such individuals in courts in Britain and other European countries during recent weeks.

 

For more information, please see:

 

Jerusalem Post – Schabas: Israeli Plan to Change Laws of War is Unrealistic – 22 October 2009

 

Al Jazeera – Israel Push to Change Laws of War – 21 October 2009

 

ChinaView – Israel Strives to Change Int’l Law of War Following Goldstone Report – 21 October 2009

 

New York Times – Israel: Panel to Fight UN Report – 20 October 2009

 

Ha’aretz – Why Israel Failed in the Gaza War – 18 October 2009

Rwandan Genocide Fugitive, Turned Italian Priest, Arrested

By Jared Kleinman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

KIGALI, Rwanda – Officers from the Italian Carabinieri and Interpol’s National Central Bureau in Rome, Italy, arrested Emmanuel Uwayezu, a Rwandan fugitive who is accused of genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, complicity in genocide and crimes against humanity. He is currently in Italian custody and is awaiting extradition to Rwanda.

Rwandan Justice Minister, Tharcisse Karugarama, could not reveal whether or not Uwayezu’s extradition will be effected soon but said that the Government welcomes the move by Italian Police to arrest the man who orchestrated the killing of over 80 children of Mary-Mercy School Complex in Kibeho, where he served as headmaster. “This man was arrested on the basis of indictments issued by Rwanda and Interpol. Usually, we prefer that such individuals be handed over to us, but the most important thing is to see the arrest being made. As a country, we are happy and what we want to see is justice being delivered.” said Karugarama.

Uwayezu who has been working at a parish known as Madonna Del Rosario e S. Pio V in Ponzano, under a modified name of Emmanuel Mihigo Wayezu, was discovered by the London-based human rights group “African Rights” in May this year, consequently alerting Italian police to carry out investigations. Uwayezu arrived in Italy in 1997, took an alias, and was working as a vicar at the Church in Empoli commune near Florence when he was seized, Interpol said.

Uwayezu is accused of “participating in meetings with government and military authorities which allegedly planned the extermination of the Tutsi ethnic group” and “complicity in the massacre of some 80 students in May 1994 in the college which he headed.” According to Interpol’s statement, the Rwandan arrest warrant says Uwayezu was alleged “to have acted individually and as part of a conspiracy to plan and commit genocide by instigating Hutus to kill Tutsis in the area of Gikongoro, as director of the Groupe Scolaire Marie Merci college in Kibeho.”

The clergyman defended himself, saying “I took no part in genocide. Instead, the bishop and I tried unsuccessfully to save young people massacred by the militia.”

Uwayezu becomes the second Rwandan priest to be arrested serving the church in Italy under a false identity. Athanase Seromba who used to be vicar of Nyange Parish in the Western province, was found guilty of Genocide by International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda (ICTR) in Arusha and is serving a life sentence.

The 1994 Rwandan genocide left an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus dead over a 100-day period, the United Nations and Interpol say. Millions more were raped and disfigured, and nearly an entire generation of children lost their parents.

For more information, please see:

CNN – Clergyman Linked to Rwandan genocide seized in Italy – October 22 2009

AFP – Rwanda to seek extradition of Hutu priest arrested in Italy – October 22 2009
APO – INTERPOL praises Italian arrest of Rwandan genocide fugitive as ‘powerful’ example of international co-operation – October 22 2009

AP –  Interpol says Rwandan fugitive arrested in Italy – October 22 2009

All Africa – Gov’t Welcomes Arrest of Genocide Fugitive in Italy – 22 October 2009

Draft Deal Reached In Iranian Nuclear Talks

By Bobby Rajabi
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

VIENNA, Austria – On October 21, a draft agreement was made for the export of Iran’s enriched uranium in Vienna. The agreement was formed between Iranian negotiators and representatives from the United States, France and Russia.

A final agreement could not be reached after two days of negotiations as the Iranian negotiators did not have the authority give a final sign-off on the wide reaching deal. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the atomic watchdog of the United Nations, all the countries involved have been given till October 23 to ratify the draft deal.

Under the agreed upon draft deal, twelve hundred kilograms of the low enriched uranium will be shipped out of Iran in order to be processed into fuel. Russian nuclear insiders allege that the uranium will first be sent to the IAEA, who will forward it to Russia for enrichment. Russia will subsequently return to enriched uranium to the IAEA who will send it to France. According to the insiders, France has the “cell elements” needed for Iran’s reactor.

This method of exporting uranium allows Iran to receive the fuel that it needs. At the same time it gives guarantees to countries, such as the United Sates, that the fuel will not be used to produce nuclear weapons.

IAEA Director Mohammed ElBaradei is confident that the agreement will help all sides move forward. He is hopeful that all sides, namely Iran, will agree to the deal negotiated in the Austrian capital. ElBaradei claims that the deal reached reflects “a balanced approach to move forwards” and that it would help normalize Iran’s relationship with the rest of the international community.

Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, claimed that Iran came to the meeting looking for cooperation. Soltanieh said that the talks were successful, but emphasized that Iran’s leaders would thoroughly look over the contents of the agreement.

The United States is urging Iran to act quickly in signing off on the agreement. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said the United States looked forward to discussing “the full range of issues that have divided Iran and the United States for too long.”

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Draft Deal Agreed On Iran Uranium – 22 October 2009

AP – Diplomats: Iranian Negotiators Back Uranium Deal – 21 October 2009

BBC – Iran Nuclear Fuel Deal ‘Agreed’ – 21 October 2009

Guardian – Iran Nuclear Talks Reach Draft Deal To Export Enriched Uranium – 21 October 2009

Sri Lanka Begins Evacuating IDPs from Camps


By Alok Bhatt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

KATHANKULUM, Sri Lanka – Approximately 6,000 Tamil ethnic minorities have at least been permitted to return home from refugee camps run by the Sri Lankan government.  Over 250,000 internally displaced Tamils were confined to derisory conditions in the government’s supposed sanctuary camp since the end of a 25 year war against the Tamil Tigers rebel group.  The Tamils now being released signify the largest number of liberated persons since the onset of the struggle between the government and the militant Tamil independence movement.  With the release of the encamped Tamils, Sri Lankan nationals finally have the opportunity to repopulate lands once in the control of the Tamil Tigers.  

Government forces dismantled the Tigers in May.  After establishing numerous safe-zones across Sri Lankan territory, the government escorted droves of Sri Lankan Tamils to its camps until the population could be screened for militants among the civilians.  The government also contended that they needed to detonate mines surrounding the vicinity of the camps.  

Although the Tamils were supposedly safe from enemy attack, food, water, and clothing quickly became scarce in the government’s camps.  Also, heavy rains and subsequent flooding raised further health issues as water-borne diseases were feared to spread among the confined Tamils.  Monsoon rains also increased the difficulty of transporting supplies as pertinent routes become submerged, or otherwise impossible to traverse. 

The Sri Lankan government has released statements demonstrating its intent to release nearly 40,000 internally displaced Tamils over the coming weeks.  These seemingly abrupt liberation measures have actually been realized after months of international pressure.  Reports of the subhuman living conditions at the refugee camps and occurrences of civilian mistreatment by military and government agents have garnered the attention of alarmed state and non-government organizations.  The U.N. has repeatedly chastised the Sri Lankan government for confining the Tamil minority citizens and failing to properly maintain and supply their camps.

Although significant evacuation processes are currently underway in Sri Lanka, the government must release approximately 270,000 Tamil internally displaced persons.  The government has not given a specific time-frame as to when it plans on completing the evacuation process.  However, it has suggested that compensation programs will come into effect in order to aid many of those who lost their homes.  However, given the government’s history of unsubstantiated promises concerning the fate of the Tamil IDPs, the projected results of the evacuation and repopulation program remain unknowable. 
For more information, please see:

BBC News – Thousands leave Sri Lankan camps – 22 October 2009 

CDIC – Sri Lanka releases 4,300 ethnic Tamils… – 22 October 2009  

Sri Lanka Guardian – Make Lankan Tamils free: CPI to Centre – 22 October 2009

Civilians Killed in Somali Marketplace

By Jonathan Ambaye
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa Desk

MOGADISHU, Somalia– Today, close to 30 Somali civilians were killed and 60 injured, after a battle between militant insurgents and African Union peacekeepers ensued in a public market. The fighting began after the insurgents fired mortars toward the airport as the President was taking off for a conference in Uganda.

Somali President, Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, a moderate Islamist, who took office earlier this year, was en route to an African leaders meeting in Kampala to sign the first ever convention to protect displaced people. His flight was unaffected by the attacks, however the city was not.

Upon the insurgents’ assault on the airport, African Union peacekeepers and government troops began to fire back. Their response to the insurgents found them firing into main markets in the city where the insurgents were scattered. This resulted in close to 30 civilian deaths and almost 60 injuries.

The insurgent attacks have been claimed by al-Shabab, a group considered to be an al-Quaida proxy. According to some Somali journalists, AU and governmental troops frequently target the market and other al-Shabab sites in the capital. The insurgents have been using congested areas to launch their attacks. The AU and government soldiers have received much criticism for their inability to minimize civilian deaths.

Somalia has been in a state of chaos since 1991, the last time it had an effective national government. Islamist “militants” dominate much of the southern and central parts of Somalia while the President and his UN-backed government have control of only limited parts of the capital. Over three million people are currently in need of food aid, while hundreds of thousands have fled the country.

For more information please see:

All Africa – Amisom Spokesman Denies Shelling Targeted to Bakara Market in Mogadishu – 22 October 2009

BBC – Shelling Kills Somali Civilians – 22 October 2009

VOA – Somalia Peacekeepers Accused of Firing Into Civilian Areas – 22 Octoober 2009

Eighty Five Thousand Reportedly Killed In Iraq From 2004 To 2008

By Bobby Rajabi
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq – On October 20, the Iraqi Ministry of Health released a report concluding that eighty five thousand Iraqis were killed from 2004 to 2008. The report marks the first time since the beginning of the war that the Iraqi government attempted to estimate the number of dead. The estimate includes violent deaths of military, police and civilians, but fails to account for foreigners killed violently since the beginning of the war.

Previous attempts to estimate the number of Iraqis killed were controversial. Estimates produced earlier using a number of different methods put the number dead between one hundred thousand and half a million.

According to the ministry’s report, the number of dead includes over twelve hundred children and twenty three hundred women. Also among the killed are over two hundred fifty professors, twenty judges, ninety lawyers and two hundred sixty journalists. It is believed that these professions were specifically targeted when the country descended into chaos. Fifteen thousand unidentified bodies that have been found since 2004 were also included.

The current report does not account for the first few months of the U.S. led incursion into the country. There was no functioning government in the country at the time to count Iraqi deaths. The report additionally does not account from the number of missing Iraqis. Estimates put that number close to ten thousand individuals.

The report comes at a time where there has been a spike in the violence in Iraq. The Iraqi government blamed the increase on their neighboring countries, Iran and Syria. They accused Syria of harboring former Iraqi Baathists while the United States claims that Iran has been funding, arming and training armed groups in Iraq.

The Iraqi foreign minister has urged the countries to cease their operations within the country. Also, the human rights minister, Wijdan Salim, said, “”They need to stop interfering and stop the terrorism from entering Iraq by their borders.”

Despite the report and alleged interference from neighboring countries, Salim remains optimistic that the situation in Iraq will improve. He remains hopeful that “2010 will be better than now.”

For more information, please see:

Los Angeles Times – 85,000 Iraqis Killed In Almost 5 Years Of War, Baghdad Says – 15 October 2009

AFP – More Than 85,000 Iraqis Killed From 2004-2008: Ministry – 14 October 2009

Al Jazeera – Iraq Releases New Death Toll Figure – 14 October 2009

BBC – Iraq Says 85,000 Violently Killed – 14 October 2009

Reuters – Iraq Rights Ministry Says 85,000 Killed In 2004-08 – 13 October 2009

Australia Declines Asylum for Tamil Refugees

By Alok Bhatt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

WEST JAVA, Indonesia – Kevin Rudd, Prime Minister of Australia, recently made a personal plea to Indonesian migration authorities to capture any asylum seekers headed towards Australian shores.  Following this request, Indonesian authorities intercepted a boat carrying over 260 Sri Lankan Tamil ethnic minorities en route to Australia.  The Indonesian vessel captured the Sri Lankan boat and escorted it to a West Java dock.
 
 
Photo courtesy of AFP

The Tamils, however, refused to leave the boat and began a hunger-strike which effectively ceased after the weekend. 

The Tamils were apparently so afraid of prosecution in Indonesian lands that they made empty threats to ignite or detonate their boat.  Alex, the unofficial spokesperson for the Tamils, however, confirmed that the Tamil boat did not actually carry any explosives.  Despite the threats, Indonesian authorities captured the Tamils’ boat.  The International Organization for Migration provided basic necessities to the Tamils during their stay in the Indonesian dock.    

Rather than go home to Sri Lanka, the Tamils desire to reach the Australian territory of Christmas Island.  Located south of Indonesian territories, Christmas Island has been a popular sanctuary destination for nationals of war-ridden countries such as Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.  The influx of asylum seekers into the area has reached thousands of refugees per year.        

The Tamils left their homes in Sri Lanka to escape social and quasi-sanctioned persecution.  Intense tensions between Tamils and the Sinhalese ethnic majority escalated after the Sri Lankan government’s upheaval of the Tamil Tiger rebel group.  Tamil militants have been fighting desperately for a separate state for over 25 years.   However, with the recent defeat of the sole Tamil fighting force, the Tamil minority essentially lost its power to assert independence, and many Sri Lankan Tamil nationals took flight to avoid the discrimination. 

Many Tamils were captured by Sri Lankan military personnel or law enforcement, then subsequently maimed and tortured.  Alex has related that many of the people on the boat suffer from burns and severed limbs.  The women and children among the group of over 260 Tamils have suffered from displacement and loss of family.  On these humanitarian grounds, they sought asylum in Australian territory. 

However, Kevin Rudd remains unmoved and obstinate.  According to the prime minister’s own statements, he refuses to support the people-smuggling that has been infiltrating Indonesian and Australian territories.  However, the people-smuggling was to ensure a safe escape for Tamil refugees who would have otherwise been persecuted by the Sri Lankan government. 

The fate of the occupants of the captured ship in Indonesia remains to be decided.     

For more information, please see:

The Age – Asylum boat had holes drilled in hull – 22 October 2009 

Al-Jazeera – Sri Lankan hunger strike fails – 18 October 2009   

BBC News – Australian PM seeking migrant help – 13 October 2009

Prisoners in Papua New Guinea Attempt Jailbreak for Not Being Fed

By Cindy Trinh
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

MOUNT HAGEN, Papua New Guinea – Prisoners at a Papua New Guinea jail attempted to escape because they were not fed for two consecutive days. Prison guards successfully stopped the 487 prisoners from escaping. The prison break would have been the country’s biggest mass break-out in history.

The Baisu prison, located near Mount Hagen in the Western Highland Province of Papua New Guinea, only has capacity for 300 inmates, yet it holds 800 inmates.  A warder stated that the prison is extremely overcrowded and the facilities are “rundown.” The 800 inmates were starving and left without food because a contract with the prison’s food suppliers had expired.

The chief superintendent of Baisu jail, Simon Sobaim, explained that the prisoners had nothing to eat since Sunday, October 18 because of a dispute between rival food suppliers over the contract with the prison.

As a result of the lack of food, three of the inmates fell ill. Fellow inmates were furious and demanded that the ill inmates be taken to the hospital. Soon after, 487 of the prisoners attempted to escape the prison on Tuesday afternoon.

The inmates were able to get pass three layers of fencing. Many of the watch towers at the prison had been pulled down because they were rotten and in extremely poor condition. Thus, the prisoners were able to pass the fencing more easily. The prison guards had to fire shots at the escapees to stop them, but no one was killed.

Sobaim stated that this incident “would not have happened had the ongoing ration problem been resolved.” The police commissioner has asked the former contractor to return to feed the inmates, and will continue to supply food until the dispute over the contract is resolved.

A representative of the prisoners stated that the next time the prisoners “were made to go hungry, they would simply walk out and risk being shot dead.” The representative further stated that “while they were lawbreakers, they had a right under the law to be fed.”

For more information, please see:
The National – Jail Drama – 21 October, 2009

Radio New Zealand International – Prisoners in PNG attempt to escape jail for not being fed – 21 October, 2009

The Timaru Herald – PNG’s biggest ever prison break prevented – 21 October, 2009

Times Online – Prison guards thwart mass breakout in Papua New Guinea – 21 October, 2009

UPI Asia – Hungry Papua inmates’ jailbreak foiled – 21 October, 2009

Yemen Sentences Houthi Fighters to Death

By Ahmad Shihadah

Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

SA’NA, Yemen – A Yemeni court has sentenced 10 Huthi fighters to death and has jailed at least five others after a trial in the capital Sa’na. The fighters were sentenced to death on Tuesday for “associating with an armed group for criminal purposes, creating an organized terrorist group and resistance to the authorities.” The official SABA news agency reported the sentences given convicted members of the Huthi insurgency in the country’s north came one day after Huthu leader Al-Mohatwari was sentenced to death and 10 of this followers received jail terms ranging from 8 to 10 years.

The fighters were captured during clashes in Bani Husheish located about 30 kilometers from Sa’na between March and June 2008. A defense lawyer speaking to the AFP stated appeals had been lodged  on behalf of two members of the group, but that the 13 others refused to appeal on the grounds that they did not recognize the courts legitimacy.

Battles between Yemeni forces and Huti rebels have raged intermittently for five years. Operation Scorched earth was launched by the Yemeni government this seen and has seen a fierce escalation of hostilities in the region. Human Rights Watch has accused both the Yemeni government and rebel forces of endangering civilian life during the fighting.

For more information please see:

UPI – 10 Yemen Insurgents Draw Death Sentences – 21 October 2009

CNN – Yemen ‘Rebels’ Given Death Penalty – 21 October 2009

Al Jazeera – Yemen Fighters Sentenced to Death – 21 October 2009

Uruguay Court Declares Military Amnesty Unconstitutional

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay-The Supreme Court held that a law providing amnesty to military officials accused of murders, disappearances, and other human rights violations during the eleven year dictatorship is unconstitutional. The ruling comes just days before Uruguay goes to the polls in a national plebiscite to determine if the amnesty law should be overturned, as a part of the national elections.

The Supreme Court ruling was in the case of Nibia Sabalsagaray, a twenty-four year old literature professor and social activist who kidnapped, taken to a military base, and turned up dead on June 29, 1974. Sabalsagaray’s death was declared a suicide at the time, despite clear signs of torture.

A challenge to the law in the late 1980’s was upheld by the Supreme Court in a split decision. The government refused to change the law, despite pressure from the victim’s family.  The new ruling found that the amnesty law violated Uruguay’s separation of powers and was not passed by the required super-majority.

The ruling of the Supreme Court is tied to the facts of the case and therefore, the precedent coming out of the decision is unclear. A plebiscite, to be held on Sunday of this week, will determine whether the law is officially overturned. Current polls show the laws not being overturned, though there is hope that the Supreme Court ruling will turn the tide. A simple majority vote would overturn the amnesty law.

Amnesty laws were considered as key to enabling transitions from dictatorship to democracy in South America, but have been subject to increasing scrutiny. The Uruguay amnesty law was passed by a congressional majority in 1986 and reaffirmed in 1989 with fifty-four percent of the vote in a plebiscite. One argument for the law is that it balances against another amnesty law on the books for leftist guerrillas accused of attacks.

The amnesty law applies only to crimes committed in Uruguay. Individuals have been accused of rights violations in other countries as a part of Operation Condor, a joint campaign by military regimes to remove leftist movements in the Southern Cone. Former Dictator, Juan B. Bordaberry is currently under preventive detention in a case involving the murders of four Uruguayans in Argentina.

Amnesty International estimates that ninety-nine percent of political prisoners who were interviewed during the eleven year dictatorship claimed that they had been tortured. During the peak of political strife in Uruguay, the number of political prisoners was estimated to be 7,000.

The America’s Deputy Director of Amnesty International commented, “This law was designed as a get-out-of-jail-free card for those who tortured, killed, and disappeared people in Uruguay . . . now it is time for Uruguay to show that it will not permit impunity for these crimes.”

Brazil and Chile currently have similar dictatorship-era amnesty laws in force.

For more information, please see:

Amnesty International-Uruguay Must Annul Law that Protects Police and Military Torture Suspects-20 October 2009

AP-Uruguay Supreme Court Rules Out Dirty War Amnesty-20 October 2009

BBC-Uruguay Dirty War Amnesty Illegal-20 October 2009

Earth Times-Supreme Court Strikes Blow Against Uruguayan Amnesty Law-20 October 2009

Retaliatory Expulsions Have Caused Humanitarian Disaster

By Jared Kleinman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

LUANDA, Angola – A rapidly expanding humanitarian crisis among the tens of thousands of people expelled by the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to neighboring Angola is beginning to unfold. Nearly 30,000 Angolans recently expelled from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), who are now seeking refuge in overcrowded camps in northern Angola, are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. Shelter, food, medicine and sanitation facilitation are among the most pressing needs, according to UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic. “The supply of clean water is insufficient,” said Mahecic. “Some of the expelled drink from the nearby contaminated rivers.” Diarrhea and vomiting have been reported among those living in camps, where many are sleeping in the open air.

The Democratic Republic of Congo has expelled more than 20,000 Angolans from its territory this month alone in order to retaliate against Angola’s expulsion of illegal Congolese diamond miners, an Angolan official said. “We hope the expulsion of Angolans from the Congo ends soon,” said Angolan Foreign Ministry spokesman Abreu de Breganha, adding that the recent expulsions were to retaliate for the regular expulsion of thousands of illegal Congolese diamond miners from Angola.

During Angola’s almost three decades of civil war, which ended in 2002, the DRC hosted more than 100,000 Angolan refugees; since then, thousands of undocumented Congolese migrants – mostly thought to be illegal diamond diggers – have been working in Angola.

The ebb and flow of people expelled from both sides of the border has become a common spat between the neighbors. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) there have been six major waves of expulsions since 2003, in which a total of 140,000 Congolese were deported from Angola.

Tit-for-tat expulsions since August 2009 by the governments of Angola and DRC have led to more than 32,000 Angolans being repatriated to Angola, and about 18,800 Congolese nationals being deported from Angola. Following talks on 13 October in the DRC capital, Kinshasa, both countries agreed to “immediately stop the expulsions of citizens of their respective states,” said the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) representative, Bohdan Nahajlo

Nahajlo told IRIN that providing humanitarian assistance to the displaced was becoming a race against time, as the rainy season was closing in and would make the roads from the Angolan capital, Luanda, impassable, and the M’banza Congo airport in Angola’s northern province of Zaire was not an option because it was closed for renovation.

“Besides addressing the immediate humanitarian and protection needs, we should also prepare for a continuous flow of Angolans into the country,” who were crossing the border out of fear, and the hope of being reunited with their families in Angola, warned Nahajlo. A recent UNHCR assessment of Angolan refugees in the DRC found that about 43,000 were willing to be repatriated voluntarily, but “in this atmosphere people will be encouraged to return,” and the refugee agency was expecting a second wave of about 50,000 people, Nahajlo said.

For more information, please see:

All Africa – Almost 30,000 Angolans Expelled From Country Need Help – UN Refugee Agency – 20 October 2009

UNNews- Almost 30,000 Angolans expelled from DR Congo need help – UN refugee agency – 20 October 2009

IRIN – Humanitarian crisis now unfolding – 20 October 2009

Reuters – Congo expels over 20,000 Angolans in tit-for-tat – 12 October 2009

Joint Effort Undertaken to End People Smuggling

By Eileen Gould
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

CANBERRA, Australia –Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd agreed to cooperate on people smuggling after meeting today in Jakarta.

At a meeting following Yudhoyono’s inauguration to a second five-year term, Australia sought Indonesia’s assistance in controlling the number of refugees attempting to enter the country.  The two countries anticipate that asylum seekers will continue to seek refuge in Australia as the year comes to a close.

Cooperation is necessary because people smuggling involves the entire region, not just one or two countries.  Not only must the country of origin be involved, but the transit and destination countries must also be involved in order to settle the problem.

Over the next few weeks, officials from the immigration office, navy and the police will set forth guidelines to deal with boats intercepted in international waters.  The framework will provide a way for the governments to facilitate the resolution of people smuggling issues in the future so that they may avoid doing so on an ad hoc basis.

Officials will report to the President and the Prime Minister at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit to be held in Singapore this November.

The countries did not establish the type of assistance that Indonesia would need to prevent people from trying to enter Australia.

There have also been reports that Australia will pay Indonesia incentive payments in order to stop people smuggling, but Australian Immigration Minister Chris Evans has dismissed these reports as “speculation”.

The Government claims that Indonesia has used its police, immigration department and other agencies in the past to assist Australia in putting an end to people smuggling.

Evans indicated that Australia would provide funding to the UN’s refugee agency.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s administration and the opposition party have engaged in serious debate over the appropriate measures to address people smuggling.

Currently, there are approximately 255 Sri Lankans being held in Indonesia.  Australian Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard said that it is up to Indonesia, not Australia, to determine the fate of these individuals.

For more information, please see:
ABC News – Asylum seekers deal temporary: Indonesia – 21 October 2009

The Australian – Asylum-seeker incentive offer ‘speculation’ – 21 October 2009

Kompas.com – Framework Needed by Australia and Indonesia over People Smuggling – 21 October 2009

Bloomberg – Indonesia, Australia Boost Cooperation Against People Smuggling – 20 October 2009