Three Boats, Three Days, Controversy Continues Over Asylum Seekers

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