Human Smuggling to be Addressed by Australia and Sri Lanka

By Eileen Gould
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

CANBERRA, Australia – Three Indonesian nationals have been charged with attempting to smuggle more than fifty asylum seekers into Australia.

Last week, the Australian federal police first charged two Indonesian men, aged 32 and 18, with people smuggling.  Another Indonesian, aged 19, was subsequently charged with the same offense, bringing five or more non-citizens into the country.

In October, the HMAS Bathurst was stopped by officials off the northwest coast of Western Australia, which led to the discovery of these three men.

People smuggling has been an ongoing concern of the Australian government.   Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has taken it up with his counterpart in Sri Lanka, Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake and Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama.

While at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Trinidad and Tobago, Rudd met with the Sri Lankan Prime Minister to discuss current problems in the Pacific region surrounding refugees and people smuggling.

Sri Lanka and Australia have agreed to continue to work together to combat the problem. Australia promises to continue to provide support to Sri Lanka to address the situation.

Providing housing for displaced individuals has become a huge problem, as a large number of individuals are awaiting resettlement from camps in Sri Lanka.  Recent reports indicate that these individuals are approximately 130,000 in number.

Rudd says, “It is a huge problem in terms of the adequate provision of housing to accommodate the basic life needs of internally displaced persons.”

A report released last week on the Arabic news network Al Jazeera claimed to expose the people smugglers’ methods in bringing asylum seekers from Indonesia to Australia.

The asylum seekers are hidden below deck on board the smugglers’ boats.  The people smugglers allegedly will pretend to be in danger so that the Australian authorities will pick them up and bring them to one of several immigration detention facilities.

Despite multiple arrests for people smuggling, one man admits that he ‘has no fear’ and will bribe Indonesian police to get out of jail.

The trial for one of the three Indonesian men charged with human smuggling began last week at the Perth Magistrates Court and continues today.

If convicted of people smuggling, the individuals face a maximum penalty of twenty years in jail or a $220,000 fine.

For more information please see:
Daily Mirror – Australian PM discusses issue with Sri Lankan counterpart at CHOGM – 01 December 2009

Big Pond News – Rudd talks on refugees at CHOGM – 30 November 2009

Herald Sun – Teen Indonesian charged with people smuggling – 27 November 2009

Jakarta Post – Indonesians face 20-year sentence for alleged smuggling – 27 November 2009

Sydney Morning Herald – Report exposes people smuggling methods – 23 November 2009

Gaza Fishermen Shelled by Israeli Navy

By Meredith Lee-Clark

Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

 

AL SHUDANIYYA, Gaza – The Israeli navy reportedly shelled several Palestinian fishing boats near the Gaza coast, according a report by the International Middle East Media Center on November 29. No injuries were reported.

 

An Israeli army spokesperson said that the boats had “violated security boundaries off the coast of the Gaza Strip… out of the permitted fishing zone.”

 

This incident was the latest in a series between the Israeli navy and Palestinian fishermen. Earlier in November, one Palestinian fisherman was moderately injured after being shot in the stomach by Israeli naval officers while fishing off of the Gaza city of Rafah.

 

The 1993 Oslo Peace Accords set a Palestinian fishing range of nearly twenty nautical miles off the coast of Gaza. Since 1993, however, the Israeli navy has reduced the allowable fishing zone to three nautical miles. After the shooting near Rafah in November, Israel told CNN that it has made the zone smaller as a security precaution, in an effort to cut down on weapons smuggling into the Gaza Strip, as well as to prevent attacks by Hamas from sea. Since the fighting in Gaza between Israel and Hamas last winter, the Israeli navy has imposed a formal blockade on the region.  The Gaza Strip lies along the Mediterranean Sea, and is approximately twice the size of the United States capital, Washington D.C.

 

The restricted zone poses serious problems for the nearly 3,500 Palestinian fishermen forced to stay within an area of seventy-five square miles. The Israeli blockade has made it difficult for Gaza fishermen to repair their nets and equipment. Additionally, it is often difficult for fisherman to tell whether they are in the shifting boundaries.

 

The fishing zone is severely overfished, and the small daily catches contribute to the persistent economic depression in the Gaza Strip.

 

“Once we risked going a little further as there were no fish,” said one fishing captain. “We tried to cross the border a little but the Israeli navy came and started shooting at us… we had to leave the area.”

 

For more information, please see:

 

Press TV – Israeli Navy Shells Palestinian Fishing Boats – 30 November 2009

 

International Middle East Media Center – Israeli Navy Shells Palestinian Fishing Boats – 29 November 2009

 

CNN – Fishermen Trawl Under Israeli Navy Scrutiny – 10 November 2009

 

Ma’an News Agency – Ministry: Gaza Fisherman Shot by Israeli Navy – 4 November 2009

Canadian Prime Minister to Visit China Amidst Human Rights Concerns

November 2009

30 November 2009

Canadian Prime Minister to Visit China Amidst Human Rights Concerns

By William Miller

Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

OTTAWA, Canada – Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper will visit China on Wednesday, December 2 for the first time in his four year administration. Harper’s administration has been critical of China’s human rights record and until recently has ignored relations with the country. Economic concerns are now compelling him to improve relations with the emerging super power. Although Harper has said this will not affect Canadian values, some fear that Canada will become too soft on human rights issues in China.

China has a poor international image on human rights. Beijing has long claimed that they are trying to establish a democratic society, but arbitrary arrests, torture, oppression, and pervasive internet censorship are still common place. China also consistently defends other countries with equally bad human rights agendas.

Harper’s administration initially took a harsh view on China’s human rights record and did little to promote economic relations with the country. Harper himself has said he would not sell out Canadian values for the almighty dollar when referring to China. Members of his own cabinet have called China “a godless, totalitarian country with nuclear weapons aimed at us.”

Recently, however, Canada has been looking to improve economic relations with China as China is now projected to be the strongest economy in the world by 2050. Canadian Ministers have been more willing China in the last year including Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon who has visited the country three times. Liberal politicians once in the minority are now being called on more often for their expertise in establishing relations with China.

Human rights groups have been showing concern that Canada will now begin to overlook the pervasive human rights issues in China. The Chinese Human Rights Defenders, a Hong Kong based human rights organization sent a letter to Harper urging him to push the human rights agenda during his visit. Although they support Canadian relations with China, they have stressed that Canada should not forget their values on the subject of human rights. Demonstrations are also scheduled in both Montreal and Ottawa to urge Harper to stand up for human rights in China and Tibet during his visit.

For more information, please see:

Globe and Mail – A More Sophisticated Engagement With China – 30 November 2009

Toronto Star – Will Values Be Baggage as Harper Heads to China? – 30 November 2009

Canadian Press – Harpers long, Winding Road To China – 29 November 2009

Canada Views – Ottowa and Montreal Rise Up For Tibet – 29 November 2009

Democrats Demand the Immediate Endorsement of Report on Democratic Reforms in Tonga

By Cindy Trinh
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

NUKU’ALOFA, Tonga – Democrats in Tonga demand that the Tongan government immediately endorse a report on democratic reforms to ensure that no more violence ensues in the country.
Starting in late 2006, massive rioting in the capital of Tonga, Nuku’alofa, caused significant damages in the immediate area. The Tongan people were protesting the lack of democratic reforms. Most of the district was destroyed.

In 2008, King George Tupou V stated that he would relinquish the monarchy power in hopes to introduce democratic reforms.

In early 2009, Tonga’s Commission for Reform announced that it would start holding public consultations and hearing petitions on democratic reform. Former chief justice Gordon Ward was the chair of the Commission, and wanted to determine the nature of political reforms to be put in place by 2010.

Although the public in Tonga remained somewhat skeptic, this was an important step in the process that would allow democratic reform to take place.

Currently, what is now known as the People’s Committee for Political Reform, has recommended a “popularly elected parliament and reducing the monarchy to a largely ceremonial role.”

Akillisi Pohiva and his co-chair on the People’s Committee for Political Reform, Uliti Uata, stated that they are willing to accept the Constitutional and Electoral Commission’s report and recommends that the Tongan government accept the report as well.

They contend that it is important for “every sector of society [to] embrace[] the report in full so that the reform process remains peaceful.”

They also stated that it would be a “token of respect to King George Tupou V for his role as the architect of peaceful political change.”

Pohiva and Uata fear that if the reforms are not supported that more violence will occur. The riots that happened three years ago erupted because of the opposition to the government, and they fear that this may occur again if these reforms are not accepted.

For more information, please see:
Pacific Islands News Association – Tonga democrats want immediate acceptance of report on reform – 01 December 2009

Radio New Zealand International – Tonga democrats want immediate acceptance of report on reform – 30 November 2009

BBC News – Timeline: Tonga – 16 November 2009

Radio New Zealand International – Tonga Commission for Reform beings public consultations – 15 January 2009

Ex-Judge Accused of Bribery Commits Suicide

By M.E. Dodge
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China – An ex-judge, Wu Xiaoqing, who had been charged with taking bribes from gangsters, was arrested and committed suicide in his cell in central China.

WuPhoto courtesy of China Daily

Wu was found dead by his cellmates who alerted guards that he appeared dead. Officials said the former judge left a suicide note, but neither the detention house nor the police would disclose the contents of the letter. Wu, age 57, hung himself using the drawstring from his underwear five months following his arrest for corruption.

Wu, who was the ex-director of the enforcement bureau of the local municipal court, was arrested in June on suspicion of taking in more than half a million dollars in bribes from 1998 to 2008, according to a spokesman surnamed Li. Li, speaking for the Chongqing city government office, would give only his surname.

Wu’s arrest was part of a continuing crackdown on anti-corruption in sprawling Chongqing. The initiative has nabbed approximately 1,500 suspects — gangsters, prominent businessmen and 14 high-ranking government and police officials, according to China Daily newspaper. The ex-director of the enforcement bureau of the municipal higher people’s court and president of a local court college was seized in June as part of an anti-corruption initiative.

China in recent years has adopted a dual approach that combined both prevention and punishment to address the country’s wide spread corruption. As part of the anti-corruption initiative, officials from the National Peoples Congress have called for tougher penalties for officials with big assets from unidentified sources. Officials who cannot give the source of their assets could be jailed for up to 10 years, instead of the current five years. According to Li Shishi, director of the NPC Standing Committee’s Legal Affairs Commission “We consider it necessary to impose severe punishment on officials abusing their power for personal gains.” However, the range of punishment for charges of corruption or bribery are not uniformly applied.  A typical penalty range that is often referred to notes that the sentence for accepting bribes for amounts between 5,000 and 50,000 yuan is often one to 10 years in prison, five years to life for 50,000 to 100,000 yuan, and for bribes of more than 100,000 yuan the penalty can be 10 years in jail to the death sentence.  

Six gang members in the city have been sentenced to death for crimes including murder and blackmail. China has a mixed record of cracking down on corruption, but when the country does, the punishment is often severe. For instance, two years ago, the director of China’s food and drug agency was executed for approving deadly fake medicine in exchange for cash.

The most senior official to be subjected to China’s harsh bribery punishment for his recent corruption charges was Shanghai’s former Communist Party chief, Chen Liangy. Chen was sentenced last year to 18 years in prison for his role in a pension fund scandal. In addition to investigations of other public officials, Hu Yanyu, a partner at Zhibo Law Firm from 2001 to 2008 and Wu’s alleged mistress, are also being investigated along with at least 10 other lawyers, said Zhou Litai, a Chongqing-based lawyer.

For more information, please see:

CBS World News – Ex-judge Facing Corruption Charges Commits Suicide In Central China – November 30, 2009 

China Daily – Accused ex-judge found hanged in cell – November 30, 2009 

China Service News – Senior judge handed over to judicial organs over bribery allegations – November 30, 2009 

Yahoo! World News – Ex-judge facing China bribery charges kills self – November 30, 2009

Ex-Judge Accused of Bribery Commits Suicide

By M.E. Dodge
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China An ex-judge, Wu Xiaoqing, who had been charged with taking bribes from gangsters, was arrested and committed suicide in his cell in central China.

Wu was found dead by his cellmates who alerted guards that he appeared dead. Officials said the former judge left a suicide note, but neither the detention house nor the police would disclose the contents of the letter. Wu, age 57, hung himself using the drawstring from his underwear five months following his arrest for corruption.

Wu, who was the ex-director of the enforcement bureau of the local municipal court, was arrested in June on suspicion of taking in more than half a million dollars in bribes from 1998 to 2008, according to a spokesman surnamed Li. Li, speaking for the Chongqing city government office, would give only his surname.

Wu’s arrest was part of a continuing crackdown on anti-corruption in sprawling Chongqing. The initiative has nabbed approximately 1,500 suspects — gangsters, prominent businessmen and 14 high-ranking government and police officials, according to China Daily newspaper. The ex-director of the enforcement bureau of the municipal higher people’s court and president of a local court college was seized in June as part of an anti-corruption initiative.

China in recent years has adopted a dual approach that combined both prevention and punishment to address the country’s wide spread corruption. As part of the anti-corruption initiative, officials from the National People’s Congress have called for tougher penalties for officials with big assets from unidentified sources. Officials who cannot give the source of their assets could be jailed for up to 10 years, instead of the current five years. According to Li Shishi, director of the NPC Standing Committee’s Legal Affairs Commission “We consider it necessary to impose severe punishment on officials abusing their power for personal gains.” However, the range of punishment for charges of corruption or bribery are not uniformly applied.  A typical penalty range that is often referred to notes that the sentence for accepting bribes for amounts between 5,000 and 50,000 yuan is often one to 10 years in prison, five years to life for 50,000 to 100,000 yuan, and for bribes of more than 100,000 yuan the penalty can be 10 years in jail to the death sentence.

Six gang members in the city have been sentenced to death for crimes including murder and blackmail. China has a mixed record of cracking down on corruption, but when the country does, the punishment is often severe. For instance, two years ago, the director of China’s food and drug agency was executed for approving deadly fake medicine in exchange for cash.

The most senior official to be subjected to China’s harsh bribery punishment for his recent corruption charges was Shanghai’s former Communist Party chief, Chen Liangy. Chen was sentenced last year to 18 years in prison for his role in a pension fund scandal. In addition to investigations of other public officials, Hu Yanyu, a partner at Zhibo Law Firm from 2001 to 2008 and Wu’s alleged mistress, are also being investigated along with at least 10 other lawyers, said Zhou Litai, a Chongqing-based lawyer.

For more information, please see:

CBS World NewsEx-judge Facing Corruption Charges Commits Suicide In Central China – November 30, 2009

China DailyAccused ex-judge found hanged in cell – November 30, 2009

China Service NewsSenior judge handed over to judicial organs over bribery allegations – November 30, 2009

Yahoo! World NewsEx-judge facing China bribery charges kills self – November 30, 2009

Persecution of Kurds in Syria a Widespread Problem

By Brandon Kaufman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria– According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), Kurds, who make up approximately ten percent of the Syrian population and who live primarily in the country’s northern and eastern regions, have been the subject of unlawful and unjustified discrimination in recent years.

In their report, HRW said that Syrian security forces have steadfastly attempted to ban and disperse gatherings calling for Kurdish minority rights or celebrating Kurdish culture., Additionally, the report details the detention of leading Kurdish political activists and their ill treatment while in custody.  The report documents that the repression of Kurds in Syria has grown exponentially following large scale Kurdish demonstrations throughout 2004.  The published material is based on interviews with over thirty Kurdish activists who have been recently released from prison.  In response to requests for interviews, members of the Syrian government turned down requests for information or meetings.

The report asserts that Syrian authorities have repressed over a dozen Kurdish political and cultural gatherings since 2005, all being conducted in a peaceful manner.  In addition to the repression of political meetings, security forces are said to have ended celebrations for the Kurdish New Year.

Sarah Lee Whitson, HRW Director for the Middle East and North Africa said that “aAt a time when other countries in the region, from Iraq to Turkey, are improving the treatment of their Kurdish minority, Syria remains resistant to change.  In fact, Syria has been especially hostile to any Kurdish political or cultural expression.”  She further went on to say that “the Syrian government sees threats everywhere, even in village new year celebrations.  If the government wants better relations with its Kurdish minority, it should address their legitimate grievances instead of trying to silence them.”

Under international law, Syria is obligated to uphold freedom of expression and association, as well as the right to freedom of assembly.  In addition, under international law, Syria is required to protect minorities and guarantee them the right to participate actively in public and cultural life.

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch- Group Denial: Repression of Kurdish Political and Cultural Rights in Syria– 26 November 2009

Human Rights Watch- Syria: End Persecution of Kurds– 26 November 2009

Asia Times- U.S. Designs on Syria’s Kurds– 9 April 2005

Brown Discusses the Possibility of Harare’s Readmission

By Jennifer M. Haralambides

HARARE, Zimbabwe – Gordon Brown said that significant reforms are still needed by the national unity government in Harare before they can be readmitted to the Commonwealth.

In 2003, President Robert Mugabe resigned Zimbabwe’s membership in the Commonwealth of Nations in protest of their continued suspension over human rights issues.

Gordon Brown, British Prime Minister, has raised the possibility of readmitting Harare while he was on his way to the summit of Commonwealth nations in Trinidad and Tobago that opened on Friday.  This would be the first time in years the Commonwealth leaders were scheduled to debate whether they should allow Zimbabwe back into the fifty three member club.

Brown said that although they are aware of the progress made by the unity government, Britain remains concerned about the rate at which the reform is taking place.  In an article for the Zimbabwe Independent Newspaper, Brown was quoted saying that the power-sharing government had made some recognized achievements such as raising the living standards of local residents, and taming of hyper-inflation.

The next step should be for the Commonwealth to make an offer of readmission that is conditional on the Zimbabwean government’s fulfillment of the 2008 Global Political Agreement (GPA) on power-sharing.  The agreement was intended to lead to a new constitution by August 2010 and free elections.

“I sincerely hope that by the time of our next meeting in 2011, Zimbabwe will have made enough progress for us to welcome them back into the Commonwealth,” said Brown.

Brown wants to see progress on reforms in security, justice, and the economy.  He would also like to see Zimbabwe embrace a “vibrant free press.”  Moreover, the most important implementation Brown is hoping for is a genuinely free and fair election.

News reports quoted Didymus Mutasa, the Zimbabwe’s Minister of State, saying that Zimbabwe did not want want to rejoin the commonwealth.  Also, some skeptics say that Mr. Mugabe is using the illusion of a power-sharing relationship with Mr. Tsvangirai as a way of re-establishing himself in the international community as statesman.

For more information, please see:

The Sydney Morning Herald – Mugabe’s Fate – 29 November 2009

Telegraph.co.uk – Robert Mugabe: Will Zimbabwe be Let Back Into Commonwealth? – 28 November 2009

Reuters – Brown Hopes Zimbabwe Can Rejoin Commonwealth – 27 November 2009

VOA – Britain’s Gordon Brown Moots Readmission of Zimbabwe to Commonwealth – 27 November 2009

Saudi’s Clear Mountain Area of Rebel Forces

By Ahmad Shihadah

Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

SA’NA, Yemen – Saudi Arabia says it has captured a strategic mountain area near its border with Yemen from Yemeni Shi’ite rebels. Saudi forces have been carrying out air and artillery strikes on Yemen for several weeks, after rebels killed a border guard in a raid. “The armed forces completely control al-Dood mountain, one of the most strategic regions,” deputy defense minister Prince Khaled bin Sultan was quoted as saying as he inspected troops just within Saudi territory. He also said Saudi forces had “cleaned up every inch of Saudi territory,” adding that “ant person who infiltrates or sniping will end up surrendering or dead.”

Yemeni officials said they had also engaged in heavy clashes with the Houthi rebels on the outskirts of the northern city of Sa’da. A military official told Reuters that Yemeni officials had prevented a rebel attempt to enter the city on Saturday.

The Houthi rebels denied that the area had been taken and said that Saudi Arabia had carried out further attacks – but they said there had been no clashes on the ground, and that Saudi troops were not in control of the area.

The Houthis have been battling the Yemeni government of Ali Abdullah Saleh since 2004, “citing political, economic and religious marginalization,” reports Al-Jazeera. The Houthis also accuse Saudi Arabia of allowing the Yemeni military to launch strikes against the rebels from within its territory, a claim denied by both nations, according to BBC. The Yemeni government launched a new offensive against the rebels in August 2009, the BBC says, leading to a wave of intense fighting. Reuters reports the Yemeni military tried to rout Houthi rebels near Sa’da, Yemen, leading up to the weekend.

For more information please see:

Al-Jazeera – Saudi ‘Seizes Key Rebel Area’ – 29 November 2009

BBC – Saudi Arabia ‘Clears’ Key Area of Yemen – 29 November 2009

The Christian Science Monitor – Saudi Arabia Steps Up Fight Against Yemen Rebels – November 29 2009

Philippines Election Violence Suspect Surrenders

By Hyo-Jin Paik
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

AMPATUAN, Philippines– A lead suspect, Andal Ampatuan Jr., accused of a massacre, which killed at least 57 people in the Philippines, has been turned over to the authorities by his family on Thursday.

Ampatuan Jr.’s family is a powerful pro-government clan allied with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.  Since the massacre, there has been mounting pressure from the public to crack down on lawless acts and warlords.

According to Asia Foundation, more than 80% of families in Maguindanao province, the scene of Monday’s massacre, have been made homeless due to clan violence.

About 250 prominent political families exist in the Philippines with family members who hold positions in various levels of the government.    The Ampatuan clan has been ruling the Philippines’ Maguindanao province for years. 

Philippines clan killing Victims at the massacre site.  Courtesy of Reuters.

Andal Ampatuan Sr. is the provincial governor of the Maguindanao province and has been grooming his son, Andal Ampatuan Jr., to succeed him in next year’s upcoming elections. 

However, Ampatuan Jr. is accused of allegedly stopping a convoy with more than 100 armed police and militiamen, and killing journalists, family and supporters of the Ampatuan clan’s rival gubernatorial candidate, Esmael Mangudadatu.

The Mangudadatu clan was ambushed as they were traveling to go file the election papers nominating Mangudadatu as the candidate for next year’s provincial governor.

A witness to the massacre said the victims were taken to a remote mountainous area.  The witness said, “Datu Andal himself said…anyone from the Mangudadatu clan – women or children – should be killed.” 

Philippines clan killings 2Investigators unearthing more bodies at the massacre site.  Courtesy of Reuters.

The witness added that Ampatuan Jr. also ordered the gunmen to make sure that no evidence of the killings was left behind and that all of the women were raped before they were killed.

Authorities have found bodies of the victims in a mass grave at the massacre site.  Bodies were found in large pits buried with vehicles.

Investigators have said that it appears that the victims were shot at a close range before being dumped in shallow graves.  Some victims also had their hands tied behind their backs.

To prevent retaliatory violence from the victims’ clan, the government has declared a state of emergency throughout the Maguindanao province and has deployed tanks and troops.

Human Rights Watch has expressed concern that the Ampatuan clan’s family connections with President Arroyo and the administration would hinder an impartial investigation.
For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Philippines’ key suspect surrenders – 27 November 2009

AP – Prime suspect in Philippine massacre surrenders – 26 November 2009

NYT – Suspect in Philippine Election Killings Surrenders – 25 November 2009

Anti-Taliban Tribal Figure Killed In Pakistan

By Michael E. Sanchez
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

 

KHAR, Pakistan-  Shahfur Khan, a key anti-Taliban tribal leader was assassinated Friday in a roadside bombing, the latest in a series of attacks against pro-government militias in the area of northwestern Pakistan.  

Mr. Khan was returning to his home to receive guests after prayers marking the start of the Muslim festival of Eid al- Adha when the explosion occurred, which killed him and wounded three others, according to local officials Jamil Khan and Abdul Malik.  Jamil Khan, a local administrator said “The tribal leader was killed on the spot and his colleagues were seriously wounded in the blast.”

After his predecessor was killed with at least 14 other people in a suicide bombing last year,   Khan emerged as a militia leader in the Mamund area of the Bajur tribal region.

Violence has increased in Bajur and other northwestern tribal areas along the Afghan border since the army launched an anti-Taliban offensive in South Waziristan in mid-October.  A military statement on Friday said that over Fifteen Taliban fighters were killed in operations over the previous day in South Waziristan.  Pakistani troops took control of three significant militant strongholds in the Bara area of Khyber tribal region, where another 15 insurgents were killed.

Authorities also found the bullet-riddled body of another tribal elder, Ameer Saiyed who was seized from his home late Thursday in an attack that also left his son dead.  Authorities found the father’s body Friday near his home in Wali Kor village, the official said.  

The government has bolstered their military campaigns by assisting tribal leaders and supporting local militias to battle the Taliban.

These militias, also known as lashkars, have drawn comparisons with government-backed groups in Iraq known as Awakening Councils.  These groups have been credited with beating back the insurgency there.  The lashkars however, are less organized and the tribesman use their own aging weapons.

Traditionally, tribal elders have had massive influence in northwestern Pakistan but have increasingly been targeted by al-Qaida and Taliban fighters as they joined forces with the government.

For more information, please see:

Associated Press- Key Anti- Taliban Figure Assassinated in Pakistan– 27 November 2009

Time of the Internet- Insurgents Kill Two- Anti Taliban Elders– 27 November 2009

BBC News- Anti-Taliban Elder Killed in Pakistan – 27 November 2009

UN Helicopter Attacked in DR Congo

By Kylie M Tsudama
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

KINSHASA, DR Congo – A UN helicopter flying over northern Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) on Thursday was fired at, injuring five people on board.  This is the second time this week that gunmen fired at UN helicopters.

According to MONUC, the UN peacekeeping mission in DR Congo, the helicopter was in the town of Dongo in Equateur province delivering supplies to twenty recently deployed Ghanaian peacekeepers.  Five of the thirty onboard were injured and the pilot quickly took off and landed in neighboring Republic of Congo instead.  Upon arrival in Republic of Congo, those injured were tended to.

The helicopter “was attacked while it was on the ground.  It seems there were five people wounded but their lives are not in danger,” said MONUC spokesman Madnodje Mounoubai.

Armed movement Patriots-Resistance of Dongo claimed the attacks.  The movement, in a confused statement, denounced MONUC’s alleged “complicity” with Rwandan occupation forces, or “Mafia-like imperialists,” who the movement alleges is in the area.

“The Patriots-Resistance have again inflicted a resounding failure on the occupation forces and have retaken the town of Dongo.  A MONUC helicopter engaged in the fighting was hit by our fire,” said Patriots-Resistance spokesman Ambroise Lobala Mokobe.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned the attack that left three peacekeepers, a member of the Congolese national police, and a civilian pilot wounded.

“The Secretary-General calls on the Government of the DRC to ensure that the perpetrators of the attack against MONUC are held accountable,” said his spokesperson.

Additionally, the Secretary General has charged MONUC with assisting the government in protecting the civilian villagers in Dongo, and has encouraged the government to move toward a peaceful resolution of these violent clashes.  He has pledged MONUC’s assistance to the government in reaching a peaceful end to the violence.

The fighting in Dongo escalated last month when over 100 people were killed, including forty-seven policemen.  The local Lobala and Boba tribes are fighting over fishing rights.  At least 50,000 people have fled their homes because of the violence.

For more information, please see:

Xinhua – UN Chief Condemns Attack on UN Helicopter in DR Congo – 28 November 2009

AP – UN Helicopter Attacked in DR Congo; 4 Wounded – 27 November 2009

UN News Centre – Ban Deplores Attack on UN Helicopter in DR Congo – 27 November 2009

AFP – Armed Group Claims Firing at UN Chopper in DR. Congo – 26 November 2009

Reuters – Congo Gunmen Fire at U.N. Helicopter, Five Wounded – 26 November 2009

UN Expert Calls for End to Inhuman Practices Following Stonings in Somalia

By Kylie M Tsudama
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

MOGADISHU, Somalia – Following the recent stonings in Somalia an independent UN expert called for an end to the “cruel, inhuman and degrading” practices taking place there.

Shamsul Bari, the Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in Somalia, said the executions by flogging and stoning highlight the “deteriorating” human rights situation in this country.

“I strongly condemn these recent executions by stoning in Al-Shabaab-controlled areas of Somalia,” he said.

According to the strict interpretation of Sharia law (Islamic law) that Al-Shabaab follows, one can be found guilty of adultery if he or she has an affair and has ever been married, even if divorced.  An adultery offense is punishable by stoning to death.  An unmarried person who has sex before marriage is liable for 100 lashes.

Last week, a 20-year-old divorced woman from a small village near the town of Wajid (250 miles from the capital of Mogadishu) was buried up to her waist and stoned to death in front of a crowd of about 200 on the public grounds.  Her boyfriend was sentenced to 100 lashes.

Judge Sheikh Ibrahim Abdirahman, who works for Al-Shabaab militant group, said she was guilty of having an affair with an unmarried 29-year-old man and giving birth to his stillborn child.  That made her guilty of the offense.

This is believed to be the second woman stoned to death by Al-Shabaab for committing adultery.

Last year a 13-year-old girl was stoned to death for adultery after she was gang raped.  Islamist militants, however, said she was older and married.  She was buried up to her neck and stoned to death by 50 men in front of a crowd of 1,000.

Earlier this month a man was stoned to death for adultery.  His pregnant girlfriend awaits the same punishment but has been spared until she gives birth.

Somalia’s moderate Islamist president Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed believes Al-Shabaab is ruining Islam’s image by killing people and harassing women, saying, “Their actions have nothing to do with Islam.”

Bari has urged all Islamist groups and religious leaders to follow their obligations under international human rights and humanitarian laws.

For more information, please see:

UN News Centre – Somalia: UN Expert Urges end to Inhuman Practices After Recent Stonings – 27 November 2009

Examiner – Al-Shabab Stoning Men, Women, Children in Somalia – 21 November 2009

Al Jazeera – Somali Woman Stoned to Death – 19 November 2009

AP – Somali Woman Stoned to Death for Adultery – 18 November 2009

BBC – Somali Womand Stoned for Adultery – 18 November 2009

Palestinians Reject Israel’s Temporary Freeze Offer

By Meredith Lee-Clark

Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

 

JERUSALEM, Israel/West Bank – An offer by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of a ten-month freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank has been widely rejected by Palestinian lawmakers.

 

Prime Minister Netanyahu made the offer official after it was approved by his security cabinet on November 25. Netanyahu said that the move was a “very big step towards peace,” and said that he hoped the Palestinians and leaders from the Arab nations would take similar meaningful steps.

 

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat quickly discounted Netanyahu’s characterization of the offer, instead calling it “propaganda.” Erekat said he believed the offer was aimed more at appeasing the Americans, rather than the Palestinians. The administration of American President Barack Obama has put pressure on Netanyahu’s government to make a serious effort to restart peace negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Peace talks broke off at the start of the military action between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip between December 2008 and January 2009.

 

Hannah Ashwari, a member of the Palestinian legislative council, also denounced the Israeli announcement, saying the freeze would not actually stop settlement construction in Palestinian territories. The Israeli temporary freeze would not include construction projects that have already begun, nor any construction in East Jerusalem. Palestinians hope to make East Jerusalem the capital of a future Palestinian state.

 

“If you accept the fact that Jerusalem is excluded it means you have tacitly accepted that Jerusalem has been annexed by Israel,” said Ashwari.

 

The proposed settlement freeze has also drawn intense criticism from right-wing Jews in Israel. During a meeting for the ruling Likud party on November 28, many rank-and-file members lambasted the decision, blaming the Obama Administration, whom they see has forcing Netanyahu to halt settlement construction. One member called the Obama Administration “the worst regime there ever was for the State of Israel,” another said the settlement freeze was a “disgrace.”

 

Under the 2003 Middle East peace plan known as the Roadmap, Israel agreed to stop all settlement construction, while the Palestinians agreed to dismantle militant groups.

 

For more information, please see:

 

Ha’aretz – Likudniks Blast “Enemy of the Jews” Obama Over Settlement Freeze – 29 November 2009

 

Ma’an News Agency – Fayyad: World Should Demand Full Settlement Freeze – 29 November 2009

 

Palestinian News Agency – Palestinians Shun Israeli Settlement Restriction – 28 November 2009

 

Al Jazeera – Palestinians Reject Israeli Offer – 26 November 2009

 

Christian Science Monitor – Israel Settlement Freeze: Benjamin Netanyahu Promises 10-Month Halt, Angering Allies – 25 November 2009

Lebanese Women Subjected to Violence

By Brandon Kaufman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BEIRUT, Lebanon-According to Amal Ftoumi, media coordinator with the Lebanese Council to Resist Violence Against Women (LCRVAW), women in Lebanon find themselves largely unprotected from domestic violence.  In fact, some studies estimate that up to ninety percent of women in Lebanon are subject to some form of violence.  Ftoumi fears that few of the women dare to speak up even though they may be facing serious situations of physical abuse.

Ftoumi notes that the hurdles facing women who seek help against violence are enormous.  As she has said, “Society does not approve of women complaining about their husbands.  It is a woman’s job to be there for her husband, which makes it very difficult for women to stand up to abuse.”  Furthermore, many feel that a woman’s chances of receiving fair treatment in a court case are very remote.  Under Lebanese law, domestic violence cases are to be dealt with by one of the country’s religious courts.  Nonetheless, as Ftoumi contends, most, if not all of the country’s courts, rule in favor of men.

According to Zoya Rouhana, the director of an organization that stands against the exploitation of women, “Domestic law is treated in the same way as violence on the street.  It does not take into consideration that the woman has to go back to the one who attacked her in the first place.”  In addition, Rouhana notes that many women are afraid to take their case to court out of fear that they will lose their children.  It is fairly common that Lebanese courts give custody of the children to the husband.  To counteract this, Rouhana says that many women choose to keep silent about the violence even if that means enduring life with their abusive husbands.

On December 2, the Lebanese Parliament is scheduled to hold a session and discuss the possibility of creating a special court to deal with cases of domestic violence.  Additionally, another fundamental change being sought by the parliament is the specific naming of domestic violence as a crime in Lebanese law.

For more information, please see:

Daily Times- Day for End to Violence Against Women Marked– 25 November 2009

The Daily Star- Drive to Protect Women Picks Up Momentum– 25 November 2009

The Daily Star- Lebanese Women Bereft of Protection– 25 November 2009