ETA Leader Captured In France

ETA Leader Captured In France

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MADRID, Spain – The leader of the Basuqe separatist group ETA, which has fought for decades to establish an autonomous state in northern Spain, was captured in France today.

Ibon Gogeascoechea, 54, was arrested in the French town of Cahan in Normandy in the culmination of a long-term law joint enforcement investigation by French and Spanish officials.  Gogeascoecha has been wanted for twelve years for the killing of a Spanish police officer.  Benat Aguinegalde and Gregorio Jimenez Morales, both wanted by Spanish authorities, were also arrested in Cahan.  The three men had been using falsified license plates and passport identification, with caused suspicion.  According to Spanish Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, the three men were planning “to enter Spain almost certainly with the worst of intentions.”

Gogeascoechea is the latest in a string of arrests of high-ranking ETA leaders.  His arrest marks the fifth ETA  leading official arrested since May 2008.  Thirty-two ETA suspects were arrested overall in the last year.  Gogeascoechea has also been wanted by Spanish police for his aid in the bombing of the Guggenheim museum in Biblio, Spain in 1997.

The ETA separatist movement has existed in northern Spain and southwestern France since the 1960s.  The bombing and targeted killings carried out by ETA since then have resulted in approximately 825 deaths.  The ultimate political objective of ETA is the establishment of an independent nation in that part of the Iberian peninsula.

These arrests are believed to have dealt a significant blow to ETA, which has been categorized as a terrorist organization by both the United States and the European Union.  Rubalcaba warned, however, against the public becoming complacent.  “This does not eliminate the risk of an attack.  ETA has the worst intentions, so we can’t lower our guard.”

For more information, please see:

AP – Spain says ETA chief arrested in France – 28 February 2010

CNN – Spain: Basque ETA chief arrested – 28 February 2010

DEUTSCHE WELLE – Spain says top ETA rebel leader captured in France – 28 February 2010

TELEGRAPH – ETA leader arrested in France – 28 February 2010

South Korea’s Highest Court Upholds Death Penalty

By Hyo-Jin Paik
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

SEOUL, South Korea – Despite voices calling the holding by the highest South Korean court upholding death penalty a setback in constitutional court ruling, South Korea’s Constitutional Court ruled that the capital punishment system prescribed by the country’s criminal code does not violate its Constitution.

This five to four ruling comes 13 years after the last execution and amidst the ongoing national debate on whether to abolish capital punishment.  The Court specifically stated that the South Korean death penalty system does not violate “human dignity and worth” as protected under the Constitution.

Amnesty International said it was “deeply disappointed” by the Court’s decision, adding that the organization considers South Korea to be abolitionist in practice since the country has not carried out any executions since February 1998.

Amnesty’s Asia-Pacific Deputy Programme Director Roseann Rife said, “This is a major setback for South Korea and runs counter to the current abolitionist trend in the country…Any move backwards on this issue is extremely damaging to South Korea’s international reputation.”

Rife also commented that South Korea, as an economic leader, should also “lead by example of fully respecting every individual’s right to life.”

However, the Court stated that the capital punishment system is a “type of punishment anticipated by the Constitution.”

Moreover, the Court said, “The public good, including the protection of the lives of citizens through crime prevention and realization of justice, is not lesser than the protection of the right to life of a person who has committed a heinous crime.”

The Korean Bar Association (KBA) responded to the Court’s ruling by commenting that abolition of the death penalty is “not simply an improvement of the criminal justice system.”

KBA also released a statement saying, “It is highly regrettable that the Constitutional Court could not go so far as to issue ruling of unconstitutionality when South Korea has been classified as an abolitionist country in practice.”

South Korea currently has 57 people on death row.
For more information, please see:

Amnesty International – South Korea Death Penalty Abolition Set Back By Constitutional Court Ruling – 25 February 2010

The Hankyoreh – Constitutional Court upholds the death penalty – 25 February 2010

The Washington Post – South Korea court upholds death penalty – 25 February 2010

UN Condemns Gadhafi’s Jihad on Switzerland

By Nykoel Dinardo
Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

Geneva, Switzerland – The United Nations (UN) responded to Libya’s Moammer Gadhafi on Friday, February 26, stating that his call for jihad against Switzerland is “truly absurd.”  Colonel Gadhafi announced the day before that the nation of Libya was in a holy war with Switzerland, after the European country passed a law banning minarets, a tower from which the call to prayer is announced from a mosque.  

Although there are only four minarets in all of Switzerland, the minaret-banning law was passed by the Swiss government in December of 2009.  It has been the subject of

A poster used to advertise the anti-minaret law.
A poster used to advertise the anti-minaret law.

controversy since it was brought before the Swiss Parliament.  The Swiss People’s Party (SPP) proposed the law, claiming that minarets were a sign of Islamisation and publicized the law using posters depicting minarets as missiles, which were considered by many to be inflamatory.  Although the Swiss federal government encouraged the people not to vote for the law, stating that it could violate the concepts of freedom of religion and human rights, the law passed by 57.5 percent.  Since its passage, a claim has been brought before the European Court of Human Rights, and there has been increased fear of retaliation by extremists.   

Gadhafi’s jihad is the latest response to the law.  Gadhafi announced the jihad in a speech on February 25, claiming that Switzerland is an “obscene, infidel state.”  He went on, saying that “those who destroy God’s mosques deserve to be attacked through jihad, and if Switzerland was on [Libya’s] borders, [they] would fight it.”  Gadhafi made this announcement on a holiday marking the birth of the Prophet Muhammad.

A Swiss sociologist, who has written extensively on Gadhafi, has argued that Gadhafi’s claims should be taken seriously – stating that his choice to announce the jihad on the holiday was intended to incite extremists.   Despite these claims, Swiss lawmaker Oskar Freysinger told the Associated Press that “[he] can imagine this won’t be taken very seriously.”  Switzerland has issued no security alerts or taken any actions of heightened vigilence.  Furthermore, there has been speculation that Gadhafi’s jihad is a personal attack.  Gadhafi is known to hold a grudge against Switzerland since July 2008, when his son Hannibal Ghadafi and his son’s wife were arrested by the Swiss on charges on assaulting their maid.

The UN headquarters in Geneva responded to the announcement by condemning Ghadafi’s actions.  Sergei Ordzhonikidze, the UN Chief in Geneva, explained that “such declarations on the part of a head of state are inadmissible in international relations.” 

For more information, please see:

 TIME – Gaddafi vs. Switzerland: The Leader’s Son on What’s Behind the Feud – 27 February 2010

Swiss Info – Swiss Thank Europe for Solidarity in Libya Row – 27 February 2010

Associated Press – Swiss Face “Holy War” with Gadhafi’s Libya – 26 February 2010

BBC – UN Deplores Gaddafi Call for Anti-Swiss ‘Jihad’ – 26 February 2010

The New York Times – Switzerland Unruffled by Qaddafi’s Call for ‘Jihad’ in Wake of Its Ban on New Minarets – 26 February 2010

BBC – Swiss Minaret Appeal Goes to European Court – 16 December 2009

Nauru Votes Against Proposed Amendments to Its Constitution

By Cindy Trinh
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

NAURU, Yaren – The people of Nauru voted against the proposed amendments to the country’s constitution. The proposed changes was called the Constitution of Nauru Referendum Amendments Bill.

The Constitution of Nauru was written before its independence in 1968. In the last 6 years, the Nauru government began the process of constitutional reform.

The process included years of discussion and negotiation. Supporters of reform hoped that it would end the “volatile nature of Nauru politics.”

Advocates for the proposed changes to the Constitution state that the changes were designed to improve the “transparency and accountability of public institutions, and to make the Constitution more relevant to the Nauruan people.”

The Bill sought to strengthen human rights, change the way the President was elected, and clarify the roles of the President and Cabinet to provide stronger mechanisms for ensuring stability and continuity of the government.

In the referendum on Saturday, February 27, 2010, Nauruans were asked to vote for or against the constitutional amendments, including giving themselves the power to vote for the country’s President, removing it from the members of Parliament.

But 2/3 of the votes were opposed to the changes, and the referendum will not be adopted.

The government says nearly 3,000 votes out of the approximate 4,400 casted in the referendum opposed the 34 proposed changes.

As in a general election, polling booths were stationed in all 14 districts around the island.

For more information, please see:
Asia Pacific News – Changes to Nauru’s constitution rejected at referendum – 28 February 2010

Australia Network News – Changes to Nauru’s constitution rejected at referendum – 28 February 2010

Radio New Zealand International – Nauruans vote against proposed Constitutional amendments – 28 February 2010

Venezuela Denies OAS Human Rights Findings

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

Venezuela Ombudsman Ramirez, pictured above, accused the OAS of lacking impartiality.
Venezuela Ombudsman Ramirez, pictured above, accused the OAS of lacking impartiality. (Photo Courtesy of AP)

CARACAS, Venezuela- Venezuela is strongly denying the findings of a new report on human rights from the Organization of American States. The report was released earlier this week by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and made findings that the Venezuelan government often intimidates or punishes citizens based on their political affiliation. The Venezuelan government claims that the Commission distorted statistics to construct a pattern of political repression that does not actually exist.

The report was compiled by seventy-five jurists and rights activists from Antigua, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, El Salvador, and the United States. The report specifically finds that democracy is in danger in Venezuela because the state punishes critics, including anti-government television stations, demonstrators, and opposition politicians who advocate an alternative form of government.

The report also states that “the commission considers alarming the number of cases of extra-judicial execution; torture; forced disappearances; death threats; abuse of authority; and cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment meted out by agents of the Venezuelan state.” Human rights workers and journalists were among those most affected by the “pattern of impunity.”

Venezuelan Ombudswoman Gabriela Ramirez told members of the press that the report “attempts once again to discredit and weaken the democratic institutions of the state.” She further criticised the OAS for a lack of impartiality demonstrated by taking statistics out of context and using others selectively. Ramirez maintains that the data actually shows that human rights violations have decreased in Venezuela.

The report acknowledges that the Chavez government has observed citizens’ economic, social, and cultural rights. However, the commission “emphasizes that observance of other fundamental rights cannot be sacrificed for the sake of realizing economic, social, and cultural rights in Venezuela.”

For more information, please see:

AP-Chavez Rejects Report Citing Human Rights Violations-26 February 2010

CNN-Venezuelan Official Disputes Report on Human Rights Abuses-25 February 2010

Washington Post-OAS Report Criticizes Venezuela-25 February 2010

Organization of American States-IACHR Publishes Report on Venezuela– 24 February 2010