Three Boats, Three Days, Controversy Continues Over Asylum Seekers

By Eileen Gould
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

CANBERRA, Australia –   A boat carrying forty-eight asylum seekers was intercepted by Australia’s navy this past Wednesday off the north-west coast of Western Australia, near the Ashmore Islands.

The Ashmore Guardian vessel, working under the Border Protection Command, stopped the boat around 9AM on Wednesday.

These individuals have been taken to Christmas Island for mandatory health, national security and identity checks.

In the last week alone, border authorities seized a total of three boats carrying asylum seekers and crew.  This past Monday, the navy intercepted eleven asylum seekers near the Ashmore Islands.  Again, on the following day, the navy intercepted an additional thirty asylum seekers and three crew members, who were attempting to enter Australia.

This brings the total number of asylum seeker boats arriving in Australia to sixty-one in 2009.

2009.12.31 Asylum Seeker boat
Border protection take asylum seekers to Christmas Island for health, safety and identity checks (Photo: Courtesy of ABC News).

Tony Abbott, the federal Opposition Leader, accused Prime Minister Kevin Rudd of being soft on border protection and losing control of the nation’s borders.

In the future, Mr. Abbott says that the navy or coastguard may turn around boats carrying asylum seekers at sea, an approach endorsed by Mr. Rudd before the last election.

Even though taking such action may potentially violate international law, Abbott stated that “[t]his is something that is being done in the past and something that’s being done by comparable countries and if we are to fully protect our borders we can’t rule it out.”

This approach has been rejected by Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor.

Mr. O’Connor supports the Government’s current policy, which involves taking intercepted asylum seekers to the detention facility on Christmas Island, where they remain while waiting for their refugee status to be processed.

In November 2007, Prime Minister Rudd called for tough measures to handle immigration, claiming that turning the boat back at sea is an effective deterrent.

At that time, he stated, “Deterrence is effective through the detention system but also your preparedness to take appropriate action as the vessels approach Australian waters on the high seas.”

Former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser has voiced criticism of both Mr. Abbott and Mr. Rudd.

Referring to the standoff with the Sri Lankan asylum seekers this past October, Mr. Fraser stated that the Government’s handling of the situation “doesn’t do Australia’s image as a humane, civilized, compassionate community much good.”

In light of this past week’s events, the Government’s border protection policy has come is being reviewed.

According to the Minister for Home Affairs, Brendan O’Connor, the Government has spent more than $650 million to implement a strategy to prevent successful people smuggling.

For more information please see:
The Australian – Tony Abbott boat plan ‘miserable’ – 01 January 2010

The Daily Telegraph – More boat people intercepted – 31 December 2009

Sydney Morning Herald – Turn asylum seeker boats back: Abbott – 31 December 2009

ABC News – Another asylum seeker boat intercepted – 30 December 2009

Egypt’s Role in Israeli Blockade of Gaza Criticized by International Protestors

By Meredith Lee-Clark

Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

 

EREZ, Gaza/Egypt Border – International activists against the blockade of the Gaza Strip protested across Egypt on December 30, calling for Egypt to open its border with Gaza at Rafah. Egyptian border officials refused to allow the activists to cross into Gaza, telling the activists that they were not allowed to cross because of the “sensitive situation,” and that the Egyptian border is opened occasionally, and then only to goods, not people.

 

Over one thousand protesters gathered in Cairo, some reporting they were injured in scuffles with Cairo police. At one point, the Egyptian authorities offered to allow one hundred members of the Gaza Freedom March (GFM) into the Gaza Strip, but GFM leaders refused the offer, saying in a statement that they “refuse to whitewash the siege of Gaza.”

 

The GFM organized protests in Cairo, at the border with Gaza, and at the French Embassy in Cairo. Over one thousand, three hundred protesters from forty-two countries joined in the demonstrations. Other protesters, such as U.S. citizen Hedy Epstein, an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor, have gone on hunger strikes to protest the one-year anniversary of the Israeli military action in the Gaza Strip.

 

Many Palestinians, Egyptians, and members of the international community have questioned Egypt’s role in the ongoing Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip. In addition to refusing to allow border crossings, Egypt has drawn sharp criticism from neighboring Arab countries for its reported construction of a deep steel wall at its border crossing at Rafah. Smuggling tunnels dug between Gaza and Egypt have been the only routes for goods to come in and out of Gaza since the Israeli blockade began in early 2009.  The wall would cut off these tunnels.

 

Since the beginning of the blockade, rocket attacks from Gaza into southern Israel have decreased by ninety percent from 2008 levels, but the blockade has also severely restricted construction and humanitarian supplies to the Palestinian territory, as well as food and fresh water. Though Gaza lies on the Mediterranean coast, the Israeli blockade has restricted the Palestinian fishing range. The Gaza desalination plant that had been nearly completed and was expected to supply the territory with ample freshwater was completely destroyed by the Israeli military during the fighting at the end of 2008. The blockade has nearly halted all reconstruction efforts in the territory.

 

Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz has reported that Egyptian officials have signaled that if an Israeli prisoner swap with Hamas for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit goes through, Egypt will open its border at Rafah. Some critics have pointed to this report as further evidence that Egypt is collaborating with the Israelis in their blockade of Gaza.

 

For more information, please see:

 

BBC News – Hundreds of Activists Protest Against Gaza Blockade – 31 December 2009

 

Ma’an News Agency – Internationals Injured in Gaza Protests – 31 December 2009

 

Al Jazeera – Activists Reject Egypt’s Gaza Offer – 30 December 2009

 

Ha’aretz – Egypt to Open Gaza Border if Shalit Deal Succeeds – 30 December 2009

 

Palestinian News Network – Egypt Blocks the Gaza Freedom March – 30 December 2009

Criminal Charges Against Former Blackwater Employees Dismissed

31 December 2009

Criminal Charges Against Former Blackwater Employees Dismissed

By Stephen Kopko

Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, D.C., United States – Since it began its private security operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the former Blackwater Company has received great scrutiny for its policies. Its corporate executives have been questioned by the United States Congress and by humanitarian organizations throughout the world.  Today, one of the company’s greatest controversies was answered. A federal District Court Judge dismissed all criminal charges against five Blackwater employees stemming from a 2007 incident in Iraq.

Since the 2007 incident, Blackwater has changed its name to Xe Services. It provides private security services and support personnel to the United States government. Their employees have worked in both the conflict in Iraq and the conflict in Afghanistan. Xe Services employees are normally former members of the different branches of the United States military. The company has been questioned for some of its policies and practices since receiving contracts from the United States government. For example, Xe Services has been accused of providing active service in certain raids by the CIA. This went against its contract with the CIA to provide only support services in a protective role. At the time of the 2007 incident, Blackwater was under contract to provide security for State Department officials in Iraq.

The five Blackwater employees were supposed to go on trial in one month for the allegedly criminal actions they took in 2007. According to prosecutors, while patrolling the Nisour Square in downtown Baghdad on September 16, 2007, the five employees opened fired and killed unarmed Iraqi civilians. A later F.B.I. investigation found that fourteen or the seventeen Iraqi’s that were killed during the incident were unarmed and the employees use of force was unjustified. Military investigators agreed with the F.B.I.’s assessment and stated that their actions were criminal. Blackwater and its five employees defended themselves stating that they fired on insurgents who first fired upon the employees. The Iraq government wanted to try the employees for murder in Iraq.

After an investigation by the State Department, the Justice Department brought manslaughter charges against the five employees. However, Judge Ricardo Urbina dismissed the manslaughter charges today in a ninety page ruling. The main reason cited by the Judge for dismissing the case was prosecutorial misconduct. According to the opinion, the five employees were initially questioned by State Department officials after the incident. Those investigators promised the employees that their statements would only be used for an internal State Department investigation and could not be used in a later criminal prosecution.  Despite the promise of immunity, prosecutors used the statements to obtain evidence and search warrants in building a case against the employees. Nevertheless, Judge Urbina’s ruling did not discuss who was at fault in the killings of the seventeen Iraqis. The Justice Department can appeal Judge Urbina’s ruling.

For more information, please see:

MSNBC – Judge Tosses Blackwater Shooting Charges – 31 December  2009

NYTIMES – Judge Drops Charges From Blackwater Deaths in Iraq – 31 December 2009

LATIMES – Blackwater Joined CIA Raids in Iraq and Afghanistan, Sources Say – 11 December 2009

Twin Bombings in Ramadi Kill Twenty Four

By Bobby Rajabi
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

RAMADI, Iraq – Twenty four people died on December 30 as the capital of Iraq’s Anbar province, Ramadi was rocked by a double suicide bombing. In addition to the dead, sixty people were wounded in the bombings. Among the wounded was the Anbar province’s Governor, Qassim Mohammed. Iraqi officials have described his condition as “very serious.”

According to Iraqi police, the first bomber was in a car while the second was on foot and wearing an army uniform. The first attack took place at 9:30am at a traffic junction near the provincial administration buildings located at the center of the city. A suicide bomber in a car triggered the first blast at a checkpoint on the main road.

The second bombing took place approximately thirty minutes later at a government building two hundred meters away. Mohammed was injured in this blast as he emerged from his office the inspect the damage from the first blast. The second attacker wore a suicide vest under what appeared to be an Iraqi army uniform and blew himself up as he ran into the crowd around the governor. According to a local police officer, Captain Ahmed Mohammed al-Dualimi, “some security people held him back, and he detonated himself.”

Initial reports on state television were that the governor had been killed in the second suicide blast, but they were quickly denied by his deputy, Hikmet Khalaf. The AFP quoted a doctor at the Ramadi General Hospital who said, “the governor is wounded. American forces came and took him for more treatment.” The US military did not immediately confirm the AFP’s report.

The recent attack appeared the mirror an October 11 triple bombing in Ramadi which killed nineteen people and injured more than eighty.

Anbar province was the center of Iraq’s Sunni uprising following the invasion of Iraq led by the United States in 2003. The province, however, had become relatively secure after tribal fighers accepted US support in 2006. There is a fear, however, that the recent attacks show that increase in violence is likely ahead of Iraq’s general elections in March 2010.

For more information, please see:

AFP – Twin Iraq Attacks Kill 23, Provincial Governor Wounded – 30 December 2009

Al Jazeera – Deadly Blasts Hit Western Iraq City – 30 December 2009

BBC – Deadly Double Blast Hits Street in Iraq City of Ramadi – 30 December 2009

New York Times – Bombs Kill 24 in Iraq and Wound a Governor – 30 December 2009

Pakistan Taliban Claim Responsibility For Parade Attack

By Michael E. Sanchez
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PESHAWAR, Pakistan- On Wednesday Pakistan’s main Taliban faction claimed responsibility for a suicide attack that killed 43 people at a Shiite parade in the commercial capital of Karachi, and have threatened more attacks.  Asmatullah Shaheen, one of the commanders of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), or Taliban Movement of Pakistan, made the claim on Wednesday in phone calls to news agencies from an undisclosed location.

“My group claims responsibility for the Karachi attack and we will carry out more such attacks, within 10 days,” he said, referring to the bombing of the previous day.

Shops, offices and schools were closed in the city after religious and political leader called for a day of mourning following the attack that in addition to the deaths left scores injured.

A bomber detonated explosives strapped to his body as crowds walked down Mohammed Ali Jinnah Road in the heart of Pakistan’s largest city on Monday, turning Ashoura, the holiest event on the Shiite Muslim calender into a bloodbath.  Shaheen, whose name is also on a government list of 19 most-wanted militant added, “We did it to protect the honor of the companions of the holy prophet” referring to the centuries old dispute between the Sunni, who dominate the Taliban and the Shiite over the succession to the Prophet Mohammed. 

It was the deadliest attack in Karachi in more than two years and one of the deadliest single sectarian-linked attacks in the conservative Muslim country’s history.  Since October, Pakistan has been pressing a major offensive against TTP in its South Waziristan stronghold on the Afghan border.

The bombing and the following arson by furious mourners underscored the extent of the volatility in Pakistan,were militant attacks have killed more than 2,760 people since July 2007.

Pakistan has posted a 10-million-rupee ($118,690) bounty for Shaheen’s capture dead or alive, when it published a list last month of its most-wanted TTP warlords.

Monday’s attack sparked riots as mourners rampaged, throwing stones at ambulances, torching cars and buildings and reducing shops to rubble. “Our office and the whole building is completely burnt.  Everything has been destroyed,” said Saleem Khan, who runs a car rental business in the city. 

 

Pakistan had tightened security to protect mass procession before Ashoura, deploying tens of thousands of police and paramilitary forces.  The attack was the third on the commemorations in Pakistan this year.

 

Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan’s President, blamed groups such as TTP for trying to turn Shiite and Sunni Muslims against each other.  

In Pakistan Sectarian violence periodically flares up between the minority Shiites, who beat and whip themselves in religious fervor during Ashoura, and the country’s majority Sunnis who account for 80 percent, who oppose the public displays of grief.

For more information, please see:

Aljazeera.Net-  Pakistani Taliban in Attack Claim– 30 December 2009

Associated Foreign Press-  Taliban Claim Pakistan Shiite Parade Attack– 30 December 2009

Reuters- Pakistan Taliban Says Carried Out Karachi Bombing– 30 December 20009

Iranian Prosecutors Threaten Opposition Leaders

By Nykoel Dinardo
Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

TEHRAN, Iran – On December 31, Prosecutor General Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei stated that opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karrubi would be put on trial if they do not denounce the anti-government protests that took place earlier in the week.  Ejei’s statement was published in the state-owned newspaper.

The Prosecutor stated that the anti-government leaders would be charged with “supporting apostates,” meaning that they would be charged with aiding those that go against God. 

Iranian police continue to actively hunt for the protesters.  Police posted over 100 pictures to their website and called upon others in the community, asking them to identify and report those in the pictures.  The police urged others to distance themselves from the protesters.  The police stated that they will be detained on suspicion of “damaging public property and insulting sanctities.”  There has not yet been any statement by the prosecutor regarding trials for detained protesters. 

Meanwhile, Pro-government ralliers have gathered outside the offices of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in a display the Iranian state news service called “splendid”.  The protesters wear white funeral shouds bearing red ink with statements like “May My Life Be Sacrificed for the Health of the Leader,” and “Khameneie is the Prophet’s Offspring, His Enemy is Impotent.”  Their shrouds symbolize their willingness to die if necessary to defend Iran’s clerical rulers. 

For more information, please see:

Business Week – Iran Prosecutor Threatens to Try Opposition Leaders – 31 December 2009

Chicago Tribune – Rally Backs Iran’s Leaders – 31 December 2009

Islamic Republic News Agency – Mass Rally of Pro-Leader Ralliers in Tehran Splendid – 31 December 2009

Tehran Times – Police Chief Urges Critics to Distance Themselves from Rioters – 31 December 2009

The Washington Post – Iran Opposition Leaders Face Threat of Prosecution – 31 December 2009

Justice for Argentina’s “Dirty War” Victims

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina-A series of investigations and trials are underway in a renewed attempt to confront the legacy of the 1976-1983 dictatorship. Fifteen policemen and officers are on trial before a three-judge panel for their roles in the “dirty war” deaths of over 30,000 people.  DNA test are being used to determine the origin of children thought to have been stolen from “disappeared” parents. 

Military and police defendants are charged with running clandestine torture centers known as the Athletic Club, the Bank, and Olimpo. The defendants are some of the dictatorship’s most notorious figures. They include the leader of the junta that governed Argentina after the 1976 coup and Reynaldo Bignone, Argentina’s last dictator.

Individuals charged with involvement in “Operation Condor” are expected to stand trial next year. “Operation Condor” was a cooperative effort between South American dictatorships in hunting down and killing leftists. The courts have requested declassified US cables that contain information about what the United States knew about Argentine military operations. The Argentine ambassador to Washington is petitioning the CIA and other agencies to open their files on Argentina.

Meanwhile, DNA tests are being used in the pursuit of justice for the estimated 500 children that were stolen from their leftist political prisoner parents and given away to regime supporters. The process has been difficult because many of the children do not know their origins or remain loyal to their adoptive parents. As a result, the Congress supported a bill that required the extraction of DNA from suspected stolen children, even if they did not want to know the results. 

DNA testing is also being used to identify bone fragments found in graves across Argentina. Over 600 skeletons have been compared with samples supplied by relatives of disappeared leftists. There have been forty-two matches made and another 100 waiting confirmation.

Argentine prosecutors have convicted sixty defendants since 2005 for violations of human rights through the use of the ordinary penal law and the criminal courts. 627 former military officers, policemen, and officials were charged with a total of 325 cases open nationwide. The resurgence in investigations and trials comes after the Argentina Supreme Court withdrew amnesty laws, which were in effect through most of the ’80s and ’90s.

For more information, please see:

The Guardian-Argentina’s Authorities Order DNA Tests in Search for Stolen Babies of the Dirty War-30 December 2009

PressTV-Argentine “Dirty War” Defendants on Trial-28 December 2009

The Washington Post-Argentina Puts Officials on Trial Over the Abuses of the Dirty War-28 December 2009

Serbian Official Resigns Due To Failure To Catch War Criminal

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

BELGRADE, Serbia – The failure to capture war criminal Ratko Mladic and bring him to justice has resulted in the resignation of the Serbian government official responsible for capturing him.

Rasim Ljajic had indicated earlier in the year that he would resign if he was unable to capture Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb military chief, and deliver him to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ITCY) by the start of the new year.  Until this development Ljajic had held the responsibility within the Serbian government of tracking down the war criminal who was first indicated by an international tribunal of the Hague in 1995.

Serbian unit chief

Photo: Official Rasim Ljajic has led the Serbian unit in charge of capturing war criminal Ratko Mladic.
Mladic is charged with ordering the killing of approximately 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica and orchestrating the 43-month siege of Sarajevo during the Yugoslavia-Bosnian War.  He is indicted for charges of war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity relating to the massacre.

In his resignation letter to the Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic, Ljajic indicated that despite his decision to step down he had confidence that the unit he has headed for four years would achieve their objective.  “The past year has been the most successful so far.  We have never worked so hard…and I am certain that such an effort must have results.”

After the war between Yugoslavia and the breakaway republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina ended in 1995, Mladic lived free from prosecution in Serbia until recent years, when he then allegedly went into hiding.  The effort to capture Mladic began when a specialized unit was formed, with Ljajic in charge.  In the addition to the formation of a unit created for the purpose of capturing Mladic, the Serbian government has also offered a reward of 1 million euros for his capture.

The efforts of this Serbian unit to track down Mladic and deliver him to the ICTY has been seen as a sticking point in the possibility of Serbia receiving European Union membership in the future.  The government of the Netherlands has blocked Serbia’s entry into the EU, demanding that Serbia first must prove its commitment to capturing Mladic and others charged with crimes in the war.

Ljajic will remain in his posts as the Serbian Social Affairs Minister and as president of the National Council for Cooperation, which coordinates Serbian government efforts with the Hague.

For more information, please see:

AFP – Serbian official hunting genocide suspect Mladic resigns – 29 December 2009

AP – Serbian official quits over failure to get Mladic – 29 December 2009

BCC – Serbia minister quits for failing to catch Ratko Mladic – 29 December 2009

EPOCH TIMES – Serbian War Criminal Investigator Steps Down – 29 December 2009

NEW YORK TIMES – Serbian Minister Quits War Crimes Team – 29 December 2009

Burma Allows Repatriation by Rohingya Muslims

By Alok Bhatt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

DHAKE, Rohingya  – The Burmese government has recently conceded to the repatriation of 9,000 of an estimated 28,000 Rohingya Muslims.  The Muslims who have just been granted access into Burma are among an alienated group of peoples who have been fleeing from religious persecution perpetrated by the Burmese junta.  Since the 1970’s, Bangladesh has experienced an increasing influx of Rohingya Muslims escaping mistreatment and discrimination by the state and civilians of Burma.  Escape into Bangladesh has proved the most effective means for Rohingya Muslims desperate to evade maltreatment and unequal consideration in social aspects such as employment and trade. 

The respective Foreign Secretaries of Bangladesh and Burma met recently to discuss the terms and scope of the repatriation agreement.  During the discussion, the two figures seemed to conclude that repatriation should begin as soon as possible so as to give at least some of the over 30,000 Rohingya Muslims an official residence nation.   

Apart from the approximately 30,000 living under derisory conditions in Bangladeshi refugee camps, over 300,000 Rohingya Muslims originating from Burma reside illegally in other nations throughout Asia.  The Rohingya repatriation plan appears also to extend a welcome to Rohingya Muslims who have ventured beyond Burma to find peace in life. 

The repatriation of Burma by Rohingya Muslims has been a point of contention between the Burmese and Bangladeshi governments since the beginning of the 1990’s.  Although Bangladesh has established numerous camps to house the Rohingya refugees, human rights groups have often voiced concern over the inadequate living conditions of the refugee camps.  Essentials such as food, clothes, and shelter are apparently scarce in the camps, which are not readily supplied so as to tend to the needs of the refugee dwellers.  

However, despite the unfavorable situation of staying in refugee camps, a majority of the Rohingya Muslim refugees seem to prefer Bangladeshi shelters than returning their homes in Burma.  Although no reports discuss whether the issue of significant discrimination against the Rohingya Muslim group was considered in repatriation talks, refugees themselves have stated their desire to remain in Bangladesh where they are at least safe from state mistreatment. 

While these issues continue to be raised by human rights groups, it remains to be seen how many Burmese Rohingya Muslims will actually grasp the opportunity to return, supposedly without prejudice, to their native state.

 

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Bangladesh to send home thousands of Burmese refugees – 29 December 2009

Irrawaddy – Bangladesh, Burma Agree on Repatriation of Some Rohingya -30 December 2009

Silobreaker – Burmese Muslims to be repatriated – 29 December 2009

Gay Couple Arrested in Malawi

By Jonathan Ambaye
Impunity Watch Journal, Africa Desk

BLANTYRE, Malawi-Today, two men, Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza, were arrested and jailed after participating in Malawi’s first same-sex public wedding ceremony over the weekend.  The ceremony took place on Saturday.  The two men are set to appear in court soon, to face charges of gross indecency. Homosexuality is banned in the conservative southern African country where discussions involving sexual orientation are still very taboo. The country’s penal code outlaws homosexuality and sodomy, which are both punishable by a maximum of fourteen years in jail.

Hundreds of people attended the ceremony. It was held at a guesthouse in Blantyre, which included traditional and hip-hop music and consisted of the two men wearing traditional robes. “I went there to see for myself a gay couple, “Finiasi Chikaoneka, one of the hundreds of people who attended the ceremony told, AFP.  “There were many people who were just curious about the whole affair because this was the first time that gays have come out openly,” he added.

The Malawi law society, composed of around 150 lawyers in Malawi, has condemned the wedding, saying it was illegal and “against the order of nature.” Gift Trapenze, who is in charge of the centre for the Development of People (“CEDEP”), which is in an advocate for gays, prostitutes, and prisoners, defended the couple, saying “they were expressing their legal rights.” Trapenze claims the wedding was aimed at challenging the Malawi laws which were silent on these issues. “the two individuals were expressing their sexual orientation as human beings. The police should not interefere in this matter,” he told AFP.

For more information please see:

AFP – Malawi Arrests Newly-Wed Gays For Gross Indecency – 29 December 2009

BBC – Malawi Gay Couple To Face Court After Engagement – 29 Decemeber 2009

NY Times – Malawi Police Arrest 2 Men for Engagement Ceremony – 29 December 2009

Mousavi’s Nephew Among the Dead in Anti-Government Protests in Iran

By Bobby Rajabi
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

TEHRAN, Iran – Anti-government protesters clashed with Iranian security forces on December 27. The clash left at least eight protesters dead, including the nephew of opposition leader Mir Hussein Mousavi. Iranian officials deny opposition claims that police shot Seyed Ali Mousavi.

According to Mousavi’s website, Seyed Ali was shot in the back on the 27th as security forces fired on demonstrators in Tehran. The Mousavi family claims that Seyed Ali’s body had been taken without their permission from the hospital where it had been held. The official news agency of Iran reports that Seyed Ali and other bodies of people killed on December 27 were “retained in order to complete forensic and police examinations and find more leads on this suspicious incident.”

Opposition websites report that police fired tear gas on December 29 at a group of Mousavi supporters who were demonstrating outside of the hospital where Seyed Ali’s body had bee held.

Foreign media in Iran reports that the country is arresting opposition figures to stifle protests. Among those arrested on December 29 is Ebrahim Yazdi, leaders of the Freedom Movement of Iran, and his nephew. Yazdi’s son, Khalil, who lives in the US, told the BBC that Iranian authorities wanted to close down all opposition groups.

Also among the arrested was three aides to Mir Hussein Mousavi. A senior cleric from the holy city of Qom close to Mousavi, Mousavi Tebrizi, is also reported to have been arrested The Parlemannews website also reports that two aides to reformist former President Mohammad Khatami were among the individuals rounded up by authorities.

The violence on the streets of Iran’s major cities on December 27 were the worst since the protests immediately after the disputed presidential election. While state media confirmed eight deaths, other reports put the number as high as fifteen people. Mehdi Karroubi, another reformist candidate in the election, accused the Ahmedinejad regime of “dipping its hands in people’s blood.”

The Iranian government’s action towards the protesters has sparked controversy around the world. The US, UK, France, Germany and Canada all condemned the violence in Iran’s streets. President Barack Obama said that “the Iranian people have sought nothing more than to exercise their universal rights. Each time they have done so, they have been met with the iron fist of brutality.”

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Iran Rally Leaders ‘Enemies of God’ – 30 December 2009

Los Angeles Times – Iran Clamps Down on Protests – 29 December 2009

BBC – Iran Opposition Figures Arrested After Protests – 28 December 2009

Telegraph – Iran Arrests Key Opposition Figures in Effort to End Protests – 28 December 2009

Israel Continues Construction, Land Seizure Despite Settlement Freeze

By Meredith Lee-Clark

Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

 

EAST JERUSALEM, West Bank/Israel – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced a plan to build seven hundred new housing units in East Jerusalem and has invited construction contractors to bid on the project. The move has been widely condemned by the Palestinians and the broader international community, as East Jerusalem is predominantly Arab and is considered to be the capital of a future Palestinian state.

 

Several weeks ago, Mr. Netanyahu announced a ten-month freeze on Israeli settlements in the West Bank, as a gesture to show Israel’s good faith effort in negotiating with the Palestinians. The Israeli government did not include East Jerusalem in the settlement freeze, and has said it considers East Jerusalem to be part of a unified Jewish Jerusalem.

 

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat denounced the planned construction, and said that it was further evidence that the Israelis do not intend to negotiate with the Palestinians as equals.

 

“With each individual action it undertakes on the ground, Israel is saying no to meaningful negotiations, no to a just and lasting peace and no to the two-state solution,” said Mr. Erekat in a statement released after the Israeli announcement. “Every decision Israel takes to construct more illegal settlements makes a mockery of its so-called ‘settlement moratorium.’ If this is what Israel means by a settlement moratorium, then one can only wonder what Israel intends to do once that moratorium has ended.”

 

Mr. Netanyahu’s government has also drawn criticism from conservative Israelis for imposing the construction freeze in the West Bank. A week prior to the announcement of construction in East Jerusalem, a group of rabbis signed a letter saying that Israeli soldiers’ loyalty to religious institutions and communities that build settlements takes precedent over any duty to carrying out Israel’s diplomatic agenda, including enforcing the settlement freeze.

 

In addition to the planned construction in East Jerusalem, the Israeli State Prosecutor’s Office notified the High Court of Justice on December 27 that Israel was considering seizing private Palestinian land in the West Bank, despite the moratorium on such activity. Lawyers advocating for the Palestinian land owners, many of whom have lived on the land for generations, called the move “nothing short of an outrage.”

 

For more information, please see:

 

Al-Jazeera – Israel Plans Settlement Expansion – 28 December 2009

 

Ha’aretz – U.S.: Israel Plan to Build in East Jerusalem Harms Peace Process – 28 December 2009

 

Ma’an News Agency – White House Criticizes New Israeli Settlement Plan – 28 December 2009

 

Press TV – Israel Invites Tenders for Expanding Settlements – 28 December 2009

 

Christian Science Monitor – Israeli Settlements: Rabbis Say Soldiers’ Loyalty to God Trumps Army Orders – 18 December 2009

Canada Condemns Iranian Violence Against Protestors

28 December 2009

Canada Condemns Iranian Violence Against Protestors

By William Miller

Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

Lawrence cannon

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon condemned Iran’s use of violence against protestors on Sunday (PHOTO: Washington TV)

OTTAWA, Canada – Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon condemned Iran for attacks against protestors on Sunday, December 27. He expressed Canada’s concern for Iran’s use of violence against those who were simply utilizing their right to freedom of expression and added that he was particularly concerned that the crackdown occurred during a religious holy day.

In a public statement Cannon said “The government of Canada condemns the use of brutal violence by Iranian security forces and once again calls upon Iran to meet its human rights obligations.” He further said, “The people of Iran deserve to have their voices heard and to enjoy the rights to which they are entitled without fear of violence and intimidation.”

The violence occurred on Sunday during Ashura, a holy day of mourning on the Shia calendar. Iranian security forces attacked demonstrators in Tehran who were protesting against Ayatollah Ali Khamenei the Supreme Leader in Iran.

Police attacked using tear gas and batons killing at least eight and arresting some three-hundred protestors. Among the dead was Ali Mousavi, the nephew of the leader of the reformist movement Hossein Mousavi. It has been reported that he died from a gunshot wound.

Iran’s state-sponsored television news had originally put the death toll at fifteen in Tehran but has since claimed only eight protestors were killed. They claim that many of them were members of “anti-revolutionist terrorist groups.” Police have denied any responsibility for the deaths and a senior police official denied any allegations that the police used firearms during the crackdown.

Canada has been joined by other countries in denouncing the crackdown in Iran. Among those denouncing the violence were the United States, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the European Union.

For more information, please see:

Guardian.co.ck – Opposition Leader’s Nephew Among the Nine Dead Amid Rioting and Bloodshed in Iran – 28 December 2009

Press TV – West Condemns Iran Protest Crackdown -28 December 2009

Washington TV – Canada Condemns Violence Against Protesters in Iran – 28 December 2009

Lebanon Misses Deadline to Establish Torture Prevention Committee

By Brandon Kaufman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BEIRUT, Lebanon– According to a number of human rights organizations, Lebanon has not met a December 22 deadline to establish a national institution devoted to preventing torture.

Last year, Lebanon signed the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture (OPCAT).  As part of that signing, Lebanon’s government was required to set up a mechanism within a year that would prevent torture through regular visits to the country’s detention centers.

A committee was set up June 20 under the direction of Former Justice Minister Ibrahim Najjar.  The committee drew up a draft proposal to implement a torture monitoring program, and they eventually sent their proposal to the Justice Ministry on September 30.  However, since that date the government has not taken any further steps.

Human Rights Watch and a number of other human rights organizations issued a statement saying that “the Justice Ministry took an important step when it created the committee, but now it has to finish what it started.  The next step is to send the proposal to the Cabinet.”  These human rights organizations believe it is imperative for the government to act on the draft proposal as soon as possible.

Additionally, the human rights groups have urged the Lebanese government to amend the country’s penal code to criminalize all forms of torture, not just physical violence, regardless of the objective of such torture, and to make the crime of torture punishable by a heavier sentence than the current maximum of three years.

The UN protocol is the first international human rights attempt to prevent torture and other forms of ill treatment by establishing a system of regular visits to detention centers.

In Lebanon, torture is prohibited by law.  However, despite the ban, a number of detainees, including suspected Islamists and suspected spies for Israel, have told various human rights groups that their interrogators beat them and tortured them.

For more information, please see:

The Daily Star- Lebanon Misses Deadline to Help Prevent Torture– 24 December 2009

United Press International- Beirut Lax in Torture Measures, Groups Say– 24 December 2009

Human Rights Watch- Lebanon: Government Misses UN Deadline on Torture Prevention– 23 December 2009

Nigerian Radical Attempts to Bomb US Passenger Plane

By Kylie M Tsudama
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

LAGOS, Nigeria – Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was charged on Saturday with trying to blow up Northwest Airlines flight 253, an American passenger plane carrying nearly 300 people.

Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old, London-educated Nigerian, boarded a flight in Lagos, Nigeria, changed planes in Amsterdam, and, as the flight was approaching Detroit, attempted to detonate a bomb.  Instead of exploding, however, the explosive device caught fire and burned the suspect.  He was treated for burns at a Detroit hospital before being transferred to a federal prison about 50 miles away in the city of Milan.

The suspect graduated from a prominent London university in June 2008 and soon after began showing signs of trouble.  He went to Dubai to continue his education but defied his family’s wishes and went to Yemen to study Arabic and Shariah law (Islamic law).

In May of this year, the UK denied Abdulmutallab re-entry because of the questionable nature of the university to which he said he was applying.

According to Nigeria’s Minister of Information Dora Akunyili, he entered and left Nigeria on December 24, the day before the bombing attempt.

“The man in question has been living outside the country for a while.  He sneaked into Nigeria on the 24th of December and left the same day,” she said.

His cousin Mohammed Mutallab claims that Abdulmutallab came into contact with extremist groups while studying in London and that he became influenced by these groups when he visited East London mosque.  The mosque has three times previously been accused of hosting Muslim extremist preachers.

Those in the town he grew up in blame his foreign education.

“Everyone knew about the Mutallabs and the father is honest, generous, helpful and above all a prominent banker.  I cannot see why his son should be involved in this act.  My only advice to the elite is to allow their children to mingle with the children of the masses so that he will have some of the traditional morals and values that (the elder) Mutallab himself enjoyed,” said Ibrahim Bello, a Funtua resident close to the Mutallab family home.

Abdulmutallab sent one final text message to his father, Alhaji Umaru Mutallab, in November saying he no longer wanted any contact with his family.  Mutallab and his wife applied for visas to Yemen to bring their son home but when they were denied, he alerted Nigerian and American officials.  He believed that his son had been “radicalized” during his trips outside the country.

Authorities in the United States, Europe, and Africa are all trying to figure out where Abdulmutallab has been in the past year and under whose influence he came.

“Nigerian security agencies are working hand-in-hand with international security agencies on this matter,” said Akunyili.

For more information, please see:

AFP – Plane Bomb Suspect ‘in Nigeria on December 24’ – 28 December 2009

Independent – Nigerian in Aircraft Attack Linked to London Mosque – 28 December 2009

Wall Street Jourmal – Suspect’s Privileged Existence Took Radical Turn – 28 December 2009

LA Times – Nigerian Accused of Trying to Destroy Northwest Airlines Flight Transferred to Federal Prison – 27 December 2009

Reuters – Nigeria Bomber’s Hometown Blames Foreign Schooling – 27 December 2009