Jewish Cemetery Vandalized in Strasbourg On Holocaust Remembrance Day

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

STRASBOURG, France – A Jewish cemetery in Strasbourg was the target of anti-Semitic vandalism on Wednesday.


Jewish cemetery3
Photo: One of the desecrated tombstones in a Jewish cemetery in Strausbourg. [Source: Ynet]
According to The Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (CRIF), an umbrella group of Jewish organizations throughout France, there was extensive damage done to a number of the tombs in the Cronenbourg cemetery.  In addition to swastikas being drawn on 18 gravestones, the German words “juden ruas”, or “Jews out”, were written on one of the tombs.  Another 13 tombs were overturned.

After learning of the desecration, French President Nicolas Sarkozy declared that he “firmly condemns this unbearable act, the expression of odious racism.”  A member of the Israeli Knesset, Shlomo Molla, who was in Strasbourg attending events marking Remembrance Day, commented on the tomb’s vandalism.  “It was a horrible sight, which probably stemmed from the rising anti-Semitism [in] Europe.”

The fact that the vandalism occurred on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day is believed by some to be more than a coincidence.  Laurent Schmoll, a leader in Strasbourg’s Jewish community, noted that the vandalism occurred “at the moment we celebrate the anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps, and I think there has to be a link.”

This is not the first time that Strasbourg’s Jewish cemeteries has been targeted by anti-Semitic messages.  Similar acts in previous years have occurred on International Holocaust Remembrance Day in Strasbourg, a city home to approximately 17,000 Jews.

For more information, please see:

AP – Jewish cemetery desecrated in eastern France – 27 January 2010

JTA – French Jewish cemetery vandalized – 27 January 2010

YNET – Jewish cemetery in Strasbourg desecrated – 27 January 2010

Papuan Human Rights Activist Dies at Age 61

By Cindy Trinh
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

MANOKWARI, West Papua – Papuan human rights activist, Viktor Kaisiepo, passed away in his home town of Amersfoort, in the Netherlands, at the age of 61.

Kaisiepo was a spokesperson for the West Papua People’s Front, which is a federation of Papuan organizations in the Netherlands.

Kaisiepo was born in Dutch New Guinea. His family left for the Netherlands when Dutch New Guinea was handed over to Indonesia in 1962.

Kaisiepo’s father was a well-known activist for Papuan independence. Viktor Kaisiepo followed his father’s footsteps, and also became one of the most well regarded activists for Papuan independence.

Kaisiepo frequently lobbied the United Nations to promote the rights of his people as well as the rights of other indigenous peoples.

He devoted his life to the right to self-determination of the Indonesian province of Papua.

Kaisiepo became a familiar face to the indigenous activists throughout the world, representing the indigenous peoples of Papua at various international conferences.

He was the Executive Director of the Foundation Papua Lobby, and a member of Presidium Dewan Papua and represented the organization in Europe, the United States, and at the United Nations. Since 2003, he served as a consultant to the Word Bank Grants Facility for Indigenous Peoples.

He also co-founded and held positions in various NGOs, including: the Unrepresented Nations and People’s Organization (UNPO), an international organizations with 110 millions members whose aim is to achieve recognition and improvement for peoples through peaceful means; the International Alliance of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in the Tropical Forests; the secretariat of Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific (NFIP); and served as a Human Rights Defender in 1985 for the United Nations.
Kaisiepo will be remembered as one of the most influential human rights activists.

For more information, please see:

Radio Netherlands Worldwide – Papuan activist Kaisiepo dies – 31 January 2010

Radio New Zealand International – Papuan activist Kaisiepo dies aged 61 – 31 January 2010

Solomon Star – Papuan activist Kaisiepo dies aged 61 – 31 January 2010

Cultural Survival – “We’ve Gained a Lot”: Viktor Kaisiepo Discusses the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People

First People’s Worldwide – Board Bios

China Responding With Rules to Combat Forced Eviction

By M.E. Dodge
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China – Chinese authorities are reacting and trying to calm angered people threatened to be evicted from their homes. For decades now, China has engaged in heavy urban development, causing millions of citizens to relocate. Many are left homeless, sometimes with inadequate or no compensation as crews move in to decimate certain areas. In turn, some regions have implemented rules that are designed to curb abuses by developers and demolition crews which have been the cause of poverty, unrest and deaths.

The draft rules were issued by the state council, China’s cabinet, on January 29. The regulations aim to ban developers and demolition crews from forcing people out through violence or by shutting off their access to essentials such as water or electricity. They would also demand that compensation be set at market price and that where homes are judged “old and dangerous,” 90% of residents would have to agree to the specified project or development. The rules also require that demolitions would be halted if occupants brought lawsuits. These rules are far more interactive and cognizant to the needs of citizens, who at present, have no say thereby allowing developers to go ahead even when challenged.

Despite the named and codified grievances, critics warn of potential loopholes in the rules, and express concern hat enforcement will be difficult because it is at least as important as the changes on paper. Before these rules even entered draft form, academics declared practices by developers as a breach of the constitution. Professors from Peking University said that such unfair practices took place in both cities and the countryside, and that land could be seized in some circumstances.

One professors, Shen Kui, said,: “I’m basically satisfied; this is progress and there are some big changes.” He went on to state that he believed the rules, still in draft form, would take effect within months, and that “the regulations will decrease the new cases where you get violence, but of course it also depends on a change in attitude from local governments … Courts [also] need to be more independent when dealing with these cases.”

What is clear, is that after several highly publicized incidents of individuals setting themselves on fire, China is striving to respond to displacement and forced eviction by developers.

For more information please see:

BBC NewsChina outlines plans to outlaw forced evictions – January 30, 2010

TelegraphChina moves to calm unrest over property seizures – January 29, 2010

Financial TimesChina shakes up rules on land seizures – January 29, 2010

American Defects to North Korea to Join the Military

By Hyo-Jin Paik
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

SEOUL, South Korea – An American crossed into North Korea from China on Monday and is being detained by North Korea for illegally entering the communist country.

The unidentified American is apparently seeking asylum in North Korea and wants to join the North Korean military.

An anonymous source from North Korea said the 28-year old American said he came to North Korea because he “did not want to become a cannon fodder in the capitalist military” and instead “wants to serve in the North Korean military.”

North Korea’s Central News Agency broke the news of this case on Monday.  The news agency reported that the American was arrested for trespassing and that he is currently under investigation.

South Korea’s National Intelligence Service unable to confirm the report, and the U.S. Embassy in Seoul had no comment regarding this case.

This is the second case in the past month of Americans being detained by North Korea.  In late December, the North detained an American missionary, Robert Park, for illegally crossing the North Korea-China border.

The U.S. State Department has requested the Swedish government to act an intermediary as the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang represents U.S. interests in North Korea, because the North and the U.S. have no formal diplomatic relationship.

The State Department spokesman said that the report is being investigated; however, at the present time, there is no information regarding the man’s name or occupation.

The detention of Americans comes at a time when North Korea ignored warnings from both Washington and Seoul and fired live artillery into the sea by the disputed border area between the North and South Korea.

Experts have said that North Korea may use detainees as bargaining chip with the U.S. in negotiations concerning North’s nuclear programs.

For more information, please see:

Reuters – North Korea holding second U.S. citizen, U.S. says – 29 January 2010

Telegraph –American ‘defected’ say North Koreans – 30 January 2010

The Washington Post – Report: Detained American seeks asylum in NKorea – 30 January 2010

2.4 Million Colombians Displaced

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Colombia-A new report by a non-governmental organization released on Wednesday found that in the last twenty-five years, 2.4 million people were displaced under the presidency of Alvaro Uribe. The report was prepared by the Consultancy on Human Rights and Displacement (Codhes).

According to the report, 2009 saw a twenty four percent drop in displacement relative to 2008. In 2008 there was a record high of 380,863 people forcibly displaced. The head of Codhes stated that “clearly there is progress in some sectors of society, but not for the entire population, which calls into question the entire police of “Democratic Security.”

The report found that people are most affected in the regions of Chaco, Nariño Antioquia, Cordoba, Cauca, Arauca, Valle del cauca, Risadalda, Bolívar, Cesar, Meta, and Guajira. Narña, reportedly has experienced the worst displacement, with fifty-six percent of the total amount of displacement events.

Nariño is located on the border with Ecuador and is home to the majority of Colombian indigenous communities. It has been the sight of constant conflict between the Colombian military and the FARC rebels.

The “Democratic Security” policy went into effect in 2003, and has operated with the objective of widening the territory under the direct control of the central government and denying access of land to illegal armed groups; protecting population centers with the presence of security forces; and fighting the flow of drugs.

The head of Codhes told media that “at the core of the reasons for this forced displacement is the violent appropriation of land, and threats to leave that are issued by paramilitaries and the Revolutionary Armed Forces in Colombia.” He also pointed out that, although the number of Colombians leaving the country has declined, “Colombia is still the country with the highest number of refugees in the world after Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and Sudan.”

The “democratic security” policy has been criticized as ignoring the social costs of its implementation and for the fact that Colombian civilians are exposed to danger and human rights abuses.

For more information, please see:

IPS-COLOMBIA:Who Cares About the Victims of Forced Displacement?-29 January 2010

Morning Star-Violence Forces Out 286,000 Colombians-28 January 2010

Colombia Reports-2.4 Million Colombians Displaced Under Uribe Presidency-27 January 2010

Child Labor in Ecuador

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

Child_labor071008_0

QUITO, Ecuador-The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, Guinara Shahinian, expressed grave concern about the continued use of child labor in Ecuador. Ms. Shahinian just finished a tour of Ecuador. She concluded that child labor is a continued impediment to development in Ecuador.

Ms. Shahinian spoke with key stakeholders in the field of child rights and child labor. She also spoke with children and workers. An official report will be submitted to the Human Rights Council. Child labor is most likely to be found in banana plantations, flower farms, and garbage dumps. Child laborers lose out on education and limit their potential to earn a higher income and move their families out of the poverty cycle.

Other instances of labor exploitation observed during the visit included inhuman and degrading treatment, as well as discrimination. These situations reportedly exacerbate labor exploitation which are disproportionately encountered by refugee and asylum-seeking communities of Colombian nationals.

Special Rapporteur Shahinian praised Ecuador for a “genuine commitment to the elimination of child labor, including its worst forms, domestic servitude, forced labor, and debt bondage.”  Ecuador has worked comprehensively with the U.N. in developing initiatives, including a monitoring system.

One potential source of the difficulty in ending child labor is the income inequalities between families of indigenous or Afro-Ecuadorean decent and those of European or Mestizo descent. Children of indigenous or Afro-Ecuadorean descent have the most difficulty accessing education and are more likely to live in poverty.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child prohibits children under fifteen years of age from being employed or working dangerous conditions. The Ecuadorean constitution reaffirms these ideas.

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Education Associates-Ecuador: Child Labor an Obstacle to Development-2 February 2010

SOS Children’s Village-Child Labor Impedes Development in Ecuador-2 February 2010

U.N. Radio-UN Expert Says Child Labor Still a Problem in Ecuador-2 February 2010

East Timorese Police Beat Up Man, UN Peacekeepers Watch

By Eileen Gould
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

DILI, East Timor – UN peacekeepers turned the other cheek as East Timorese police they were supposed to be mentoring allegedly beat up on a young man late last year.

The East Timorese police allegedly hit, kicked and repeatedly stomped on the young man near an official ceremony.

There is growing concern about the supervision and training that the UN Integrated Mission in East Timor is providing to local police.  The UN mission is also supported by Australian Federal Police and Australian soldiers.

Officers of the Policia Nacional de Timor-Leste (PNTL) allegedly kicked the man in the head and hit him with a rifle butt.

A film of this incident was posted on the internet and handed over East Timorese authorities this month.

The sequence of events depicted in the film shows a young man, who was standing on a beach on Atauro Island and holding a sign relating to a local fishing group, being dragged away by PNTL officers, while UN police watch in the background.

No one has suggested that East Timor President, Jose Ramos Horta, who was holding a fishing competition on the Island, observed the incident.

After being dragged away, PNTL officers attempted to handcuff the youngman while two plainclothes officers stood on him, stomping on his back.

The video then shows the officers kicking the man in the head.  Another plainclothes officer slammed the rifle-butt into his stomach.

While the beating was taken place, the video also shows uniformed UN officers looking on, just beyond the circle of PNTL officers.

According to Gyorgy Kakuk, a UN East Timor spokesperson, a joint investigation, and a separate criminal investigation, has been commenced by both the UN and the PNTL.

The spokesman also indicated that once it is established what happened and why, that there may be a separate investigation into the responsibility of police officers, other than PNTL.

“The investigation has to determine what has happened, why did it happen there and, as a result of that investigation, perhaps there will be an investigation established into responsibility of other police officers other than PNTL.”

Australian peacekeepers were not involved in the incident.

However, in a separate controversial incident, Australian soldiers allegedly ran over an East Timorese woman in early December.  The soldiers, who were apparently unaware that the woman died as a result of head injuries from the incident, made no attempts to contact the victim’s family to express their regret or to offer compensation.

Since arriving in 2006, Australian troops, contrary to the UN’s system of accountability, are not under the command of the UN.  The Timorese also believe that Australian soldiers should be placed under UN control.

The UN peacekeeping mission in East Timor became involved in rebuilding the police forces in East Timor, so that they would be capable of policing the country by 2010.

Meanwhile, the Special Representative for the Secretary-General of the UN, Ameerah Haq, has visited several East Timorese districts that are in the transition process.

She noted, “I am impressed by the level of organization and professionalism displayed by PNTL officers . . . as well as the continuing working relationship with UN police officers who now focus on monitoring and mentoring their PNTL colleagues.”

For more information please see:

The Australian – UN peacekeepers stood by East Timorese bash a young man – 29 January 2010

UN News Centre – New UN envoy assesses progress made by Timorese police force – 29 January 2010

Sydney Morning Herald – Left in lurch, says Timor family – 28 January 2010

Twelve Die in North West Suicide Attack

By Michael E. Sanchez
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

KHAR, Pakistan- A suicide bomber blew himself up at a military checkpoint in a market in northwest- Pakistan on Saturday, officials said.

Senior administration official Iqbal Khattak told the Associated Foreign Press that a man wearing a vest packed with explosives walked up to the post in Khar, the main town in the restive tribal region in Bajaur, and detonated himself.  “So far 12 deaths have been confirmed, two of them were paramilitary soldiers,” he said.  Mr. Khattak also added that more than 20 others, all civilians, were wounded.  A senior military official, speaking anonymously, confirmed the blast and casualties.

The suicide bomber wanted to proceed towards the government buildings and military barracks nearby, but the soldiers stopped him.  The soldiers were killed when the bomber blew himself up.  The checkpoint resides in the town’s main bazaar which was shut down after the blast.  Mr. Khattak said three vehicles and four shops were destroyed in the bombing.

Bajaur lies in Pakistan’s volatile tribal belt region bordering Afghanistan.  Since the ouster of the hardline Taliban regime from Kabul in late 2001, Bajaur has become a stronghold for hundreds of Islamist extremists.

The attack came a day after Pakistani security forces killed at least 24 suspected militants in air strikes and clashes in Bajaur.  One paramilitary soldier was killed and three wounded in Friday’s clash.

Helicopter gunships and jets have pounded suspected militant hideouts since Tuesday, as the military step up operations in the region, the scene of a major anti-militant operation launched in August 2008.

In February 2009, the army said Bajaur had been cleared of Taliban militants following the August 2008 operation.  But security situation has been deteriorating.  The BBC’s Islamabad-based Aleem Maqbool says the numerous attacks over the last six months show the militants still possess a significant presence in the area.

Close to the Afghan border, Bajaur has been suspected of being the hiding-place of top al-Qaeda leaders such as Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Pakistan’s military has been focusing on a major offensive, launched in October, nearby throughout the Talibban stronghold of South Waziristan.

For more information please see:

BBC News- Suicide Bomber Attacks Checkpoint In Pakistan -30 January 2010

AFP- 12 Killed In NW Pakistan Suicide Attack: Officials– 30 January 2010

The Long Way Journal-  Suicide Bomber Kills 12 Pakistanis In Bajaur– 30 January 2010

Hong Kong Legislators Resign Over Universal Suffrage

By Hyo-Jin Paik
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

HONG KONG, China– Thousands of people gathered outside Hong Kong’s Legislative Council to show support for pro-democracy lawmakers who resigned recently over “the slow pace of democrati[z]ation” in Hong Kong.

The five pro-democracy politicians who resigned were told by the head of Hong Kong’s Executive Council last week that their plan to push for a referendum on universal suffrage was unconstitutional.

Pro-Beijing media and Chinese authorities have also claimed that the referendum would be unconstitutional because it is not stipulated in the Hong Kong Basic Law agreed to between Chin and the United Kingdom before Hong Kong was returned to China.

This referendum was in response to the government’s proposal on electoral reforms, which pro-democracy parties opined did not sufficiently address the issue of direct representation.

Tanya Chan, one of the resignees, said she hopes the resignation will result in universal suffrage so that Hong Kong’s chief executive and legislators are elected and functional constituencies eliminated.

Pro-democracy proponents have criticized functional constituencies because they allow some voters to vote twice, first in a direct election and then again in functional constituencies.

A former British colony, Hong Kong currently directly elects only half of its 60 legislators and popular vote is not allowed for the chief executive position.  Thus, some feel that despite Hong Kong’s efforts in fighting for democracy for the last two decades, one-person-one-vote is still far away.

Another lawmaker, Alan Leong Kah-kit, said in his resignation speech that the current voting system in unfair and should be changed to “protect human rights and the rule-of-law as well as provide for better governance and quality of life.”

Religious groups have also organized a forum on constitutional reform.  Bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, Card Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, said, “I’m angry at the local government’s political reform proposal which offers neither progress nor any direction.  It gives people no choice….”

A recent survey showed that 60% of Hong Kong residents support universal suffrage.

For more information, please see:

AsiaNews – Card Zen calls for referendum to decide Hong Kong’s democracy – 18 January 2010

Monsters & Critics – Top Hong Kong adviser warns against democracy referendum – 22 January 2010

Spero News – Five democratic lawmakers resign to allow ‘referendum’ on universal suffrage – 28 January 2010

Australia Screens Asylum Seekers for HIV, UN Disapproves

By Eileen Gould
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

CANBERRA, Australia – Australia’s “discriminatory” policy of screening asylum seekers for HIV has been criticized by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

UNHCR’s regional office has requested that Australia end their health requirement for asylum seekers.  “The present operation of the health requirement is discriminatory in effect and endangers a number of human rights norms.”

Its submission to an inquiry into this practice accuses Australia of “fall[ing] short of its international obligations.”

According to the UNHCR, the health requirements prevent any migrant, who is found to have AIDS or HIV, from entering Australia, unless the individual receives a waiver from the Immigration Minister. Waivers are granted infrequently.

Under the law, asylum seekers with active tuberculosis are banned from entering the country.  However, some individuals, typically partners of Australian citizens are not subject to the same ban and are allowed into the country even if they fail a health test, on grounds of compassion.

The ordinarily strict health rules have been loosened for migrants, allowing any chronically ill foreign workers and families to immigrate, in order to solve the skills shortage.

Changes in the rules would encourage those with work visas to move to Australia, as they or their dependants were previously were turned away for health reasons.

Sources have reported that Australian taxpayers will spend approximately $60 million on healthcare for 288 asylum seekers who were granted these “health waivers” last year.

The Immigration Department rejected applications from more than 1500 individuals who failed the health tests.

Further, the department extended the waiver recently so that some skilled foreign workers and their families would qualify. But the department has not yet announced whether any skilled permanent migrants were given waivers.

An immigration spokesperson verified that all states and territories, with one exception, agreed to extend the waiver to certain categories of skilled worker visas last year.

New South Wales, the state to which most migrants flock, has not yet accepted the extension of the waiver due to the impact on their hospitals.

He added that “if some applicants fail the health requirement, there is the option for a health waiver to be considered.”

For more information please see:

The Australian – United Nations blasts HIV tests on asylum-seekers – 29 January 2010

Visa Bureau – Migrants with HIV/Aids will be allowed to emigrate to Australia – 29 January 2010

Global Visas – Chronically ill foreign workers allowed to move to Australia – 28 January 2010

Israel, Hamas Deny Wrong-Doing Ahead of UN Gaza Report Deadline

By Meredith Lee-Clark

Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

 

JERUSALEM, Israel/West Bank – As the U.N. General Assembly’s deadline for a second report on the 2008-2009 Gaza War approaches on January 29, both the Israeli government and Hamas party leadership are denying they deliberately targeted citizens during the 22 days of fighting.

 

Israel announced that it would release its own report on January 29, responding to allegations of war crimes, made in the investigation by the U.N. Human Rights Council, and was led by South African Judge Richard Goldstone. The Goldstone Report accused both Israel and Hamas with war crimes and crimes against humanity, citing incidents during which each party’s military forces allegedly targeted civilian populations. The Goldstone Report also alleged that Israeli forces deliberately targeted humanitarian property, with the intent of completely destroying the Gaza infrastructure and terrorizing the Gaza population. Finally, the Goldstone Report called upon both the Israeli and Hamas governments to conduct internal investigations into its accusations, and for any war crimes to be tried by the International Court of Justice at The Hague.

 

In its anticipated response, Israel is expected to give explanations of Israeli Defense Forces actions in Gaza, without specifically addressing any of the allegations in the Goldstone Report. Likewise, Hamas has claimed that it only targeted Israeli military installations, and hit civilian buildings “by mistake.” Human Rights Watch has responded to the Hamas statement, saying it was “belied by the facts,” and that “[c]ivilians were the target…and deliberately targeting civilians is a war crime.”

 

Outgoing Israeli Attorney General Menachem Mazuz told the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz on January 28 that Israel must conduct an independent internal investigation into the Goldstone Report’s allegations to preserve its legitimacy.

 

Mazuz said that although he thought the Goldstone Report was biased, there was a danger of a “Serbianization” of Israel.

 

“Therefore I believe that Israel has a clear interest in conducting a serious, expert examination that will deal with the report and produce an opposing report,” said Mazuz. “It would be a serious mistake not to establish some sort of committee. We must remove the shame of accusing Israel of being a country that commits war crimes.”

 

For more information, please see:

 

Ha’aretz – Deadline Nears For Second UN Report on Gaza War – 29 January 2010

 

Ha’aretz – Mazuz: Israel Must Probe Gaza War to Counter Goldstone – 29 January 2010

 

Christian Science Monitor – Why Hamas Is Denying It Targeted Civilians in Israel – 28 January 2010

 

New York Times – Israel Completing Rebuttal to Goldstone Report – 23 January 2010

Russian Opposition Organization Appeals Ban on Freedom of Assembly Rally

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia – The Russian opposition group The Other Russia has declared its intention to appeal the rejection of their application to stage a rally supporting the need for greater freedom of assembly rights in St. Petersburg.

The Other Russia had intended to stage the rally on January 31st along one of the main avenues of St. Petersburg, Nevsky Prospect.  The city’s Law and Order Committee rejected the organization’s permit to hold a rally, citing concerns about the potential protest’s effects on local traffic.  Immediately after the Committee announced its rejection, the opposition group stated that it would seek a legal appeal to the decision.

The planned rally is part of the larger Strategy 31 movement in Russia, a long term effort to bring the issue of continued restrictions on the freedom of assembly to the attention of the Russian public.  The campaign’s name is based on Article 31 of the Russian Constitution, which is supposed to guarantee each Russian citizens’ fundamental right to assemble.

The Other Russia leaders have indicated that regardless of the city’s final determination about their permit to hold the rally, their members will follow through will the protest as planned.

The city of St. Peterburg’s rejection of the rally permit continues a trend in major Russian cities where local authorities have cited various reasons to forbid rallies organized by opposition groups.  When those rallies have been granted permission to occur they have often faced the police detention of those involved.  Earlier this month thirty-four protesters were arrested by Moscow police during an event remembering the deaths of human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov and reporter Anastasia Baburova.

For more information, please see:

RADIO FREE EUROPE – Russian Opposition To Fight Rally Ban In Court – 27 January 2010

AFP – Rights protesters arrested in Moscow – 20 January 2010

AP – Moscow rally in memory of slain lawyer, journalist – 19 January 2010

Israel, Hamas Deny Wrong-Doing Ahead of UN Gaza Report Deadline

By Meredith Lee-Clark
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

 JERUSALEM, Israel/West Bank – As the U.N. General Assembly’s deadline for a second report on the 2008-2009 Gaza War approaches on January 29, both the Israeli government and Hamas party leadership are denying they deliberately targeted citizens during the 22 days of fighting.

 Israel announced that it would release its own report on January 29, responding to allegations of war crimes, made in the investigation by the U.N. Human Rights Council, and was led by South African Judge Richard Goldstone.  The Goldstone Report accused both Israel and Hamas with war crimes and crimes against humanity, citing incidents during which each party’s military forces allegedly targeted civilian populations.  The Goldstone Report also alleged that Israeli forces deliberately targeted humanitarian property, with the intent of completely destroying the Gaza infrastructure and terrorizing the Gaza population.  Finally, the Goldstone Report called upon both the Israeli and Hamas governments to conduct internal investigations into its accusations, and for any war crimes to be tried by the International Court of Justice at The Hague.

 In its anticipated response, Israel is expected to give explanations of Israeli Defense Forces actions in Gaza, without specifically addressing any of the allegations in the Goldstone Report.  Likewise, Hamas has claimed that it only targeted Israeli military installations, and hit civilian buildings “by mistake.”  Human Rights Watch has responded to the Hamas statement, saying it was “belied by the facts,” and that “[c]ivilians were the target…and deliberately targeting civilians is a war crime.”

 Outgoing Israeli Attorney General Menachem Mazuz told the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz on January 28 that Israel must conduct an independent internal investigation into the Goldstone Report’s allegations to preserve its legitimacy.

 Mazuz said that although he thought the Goldstone Report was biased, there was a danger of a “Serbianization” of Israel.

 “Therefore I believe that Israel has a clear interest in conducting a serious, expert examination that will deal with the report and produce an opposing report,” said Mazuz.  “It would be a serious mistake not to establish some sort of committee.  We must remove the shame of accusing Israel of being a country that commits war crimes.”

 For more information, please see:

 Ha’aretz – Deadline Nears For Second UN Report on Gaza War – 29 January 2010

 Ha’aretz – Mazuz:  Israel Must Probe Gaza War to Counter Goldstone – 29 January 2010

 Christian Science Monitor – Why Hamas Is Denying It Targeted Civilians in Israel – 28 January 2010

 New York Times – Israel Completing Rebuttal to Goldstone Report – 23 January 2010

Iran Hangs Two Election Protesters

By Bobby Rajabi
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

TEHRAN, Iran – On January 28 the Iranian government hanged two men convicted of being enemies of God (Mohareb). These marked the first executions of protesters wince the protests over the disputed presidential election in June that awarded second term to Iranian President Mahmound Ahmedinejad. The executions of the two men were condemned by both nations around the world and Amnesty International.

Iranian state television reported that Mohammad Reza Ali Zamani and Arash Rahmani Pour were executed. Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi confirmed the hanging as well. Dolatabadi explained that “they objected to the preliminary sentencing, but the appeals court upheld the verdict and they were hanged (on January 28.” He also said that Zamani and Pour “belonged to the monarchist group Tondar. During their trials they confessed to obtaining explosives and planning to assassinate officials.”

Zamani was among the scores of people who were arrested in the mass protests that followed the election. However, Pour’s lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, denied that her client had anything to do with the post-election riots. Sotoudeh told the Associated Foreign Press that Pour “was arrested in Farvardin (the Iranian month convering March-April) before the election and charged with cooperation with Tondar.”

Sotoudeh explained that Pour was convicted in a show trial in July 2009 and that he confessed to the charges because of threats made against his family. She insists that what her client went through constituted a “show trial.”

Baqer Moin, an Iranian author and journalists, said that the executions were intended to “set an example and frighten some of the people who may shout slogans that are not of the liking of the authorities.” Moin also explains that the executions could be used to head off any possible mass rally that could take place on the anniversary of the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

Civil unrest erupted in Iran after the June 12 Presidential election. The opposition insisted that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad won the election through fraud. Hundreds of thousands of Iranians poured into the streets. Dozens of protesters were killed with hundreds being detained. The Iranian government, in response to the protests, insisted that they were were a foreign backed bid to undermine the country’s Islamic system of government.

For more information, please see:

AFP – Iran Hangs First Two Post-Election ‘Rioters’ – 28 January 2010

Al Jazeera – Iran Executes Two Over Poll Unrest – 28 January 2010

AP – Iran Hangs Opposition Activists – 28 January 2010

BBC – Iran ‘Executes Two Over Post-Election Unrest’ – 28 January 2010

Australian Academic Says Fiji is Not Ready for Democracy

By Cindy Trinh
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

SUVA, Fiji – Jonathan Fraenkel, an academic at the Australian National University, says that Fiji is not ready to return to a free democracy.

Fraenkel fears that Commodore Frank Bainimarama, the prime minister of Fiji, will break his promise to the people of Fiji.

The Commodore stated in a speech that by 2014 politicians should be ready to take over the running of the country.  Fiji hopes to achieve democracy, and has been in the process of returning to a democratic government.

During his visit to Kadavu, an island in Fiji, the Commodore reiterated that national elections will be held in 2014. He used the visit as an opportunity to explain the reasons for past military coups, specifically in 1987 and 2000.

He explained that the takeover of 1987 was carried out to further the development of Fiji. In the 2000 takeover, where a number of soldiers lost their lives, the Commodore assured that the military will “never forget their fellow comrades who died.”

The Commodore has appointed four military colonels to the positions of divisional Commissioners, in hopes for “rapid development in the country.”

The Commodore called upon the people of Kadavu to support the government’s plans. Chiefs on the island of Kadavu have expressed their support for the Commodore’s administration, and urges the Commodore to continue his term after 2014 if reforms in the government are completed by then.

But Fraenkel fears that the Commodore’s plan for politicians to take over the running of the country will not be totally free from military influence. Such influence has resulted in Fiji’s history of human rights violations and abuses.

Fraenkel says that the Commodore has a history of changing what he has vowed to do.

He states: “A trail of broken promises and if we believe what we’re hearing, the electoral democracy that is restored in Fiji will not be one that is free of military influence.”

For more information, please see:
Radio New Zealand International – Fiji not set to return to democracy, says academic – 28 January 2010

Islands Business – Fijian province wants Commodore Bainimarama leadership to go beyond 2014 – 26 January 2010

Pacific Islands News Association – Fijian province wants Commodore Bainimarama leadership to go beyond 2014 – 26 January 2010