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

Immigration Judge Bribed Refugee for Sex

By William Miller

Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

TORONTO, Canada – Steve Ellis an immigration judge in Canada is on trial for offering to approve a refugee claimant’s application if she would have sex with him. Ji Hye Kim, the refugee claimant said Ellis told her he would only approve her application if she would have an intimate relationship with him at a coffee shop where Kim worked.

Ellis was the adjudicator who reviewed Kim’s application when she applied in 2006. She was seeking asylum to escape her abusive father and creditors who had threatened her in South Korea. While Ellis was adjudicating Kim’s case he approached her at the coffee shop where she worked and asked her if he could meet her privately to discuss her case.

Brad Tripp, now Kim’s husband was suspicious when she told him about the judge’s request. At Tripp’s suggestion, Kim agreed to carry a concealed digital recorder to the meeting. Tripp also filmed her encounter with Ellis from a distance. While testifying at Ellis’s trial, Tripp said “I felt that we needed to record this meeting to protect Ji Hye’s rights to a fair hearing.”

At the meeting Ellis told her that he was going to reject her application but would be willing to reconsider if Kim agreed to have a casual intimate relationship with him. He also told her that he was married and did not want any commitment from her.

Speaking through an interpreter Kim said “Mr. Ellis had the power to decide about my application of refugee claim. I had to kind of decide between the status of my refugee claim and the relationship between Mr. Ellis and me.”

Ellis was a Toronto City Councilor before being appointed to the Immigration and Refugee Board in 2000.  He is also a non-practicing attorney. He is currently out on bail and has been suspended from his job at the Immigration and Refugee Board

For more information, please see:

Toronto Star – Boyfriend Devised Plan to Film Refugee Judge – 25 February 2010

AFP – Canadian Judge Accused of Seeking Sex From Refugee – 23 February 2010

Canadian Press – Adjudicator Accused of Sex Bribery Seen on Video Meeting With Refugee Claimant – 23 February 2010

Demonstrators Protest Possible Legislation Protecting Berlusconi from Prosecution

By Elizabeth A. Conger
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe Desk

ROME, Italy – On Saturday, tens of thousands of Italians gathered to demonstrate against Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and his perceived attempts to evade prosecution. Legislation is currently being discussed in the Italian Parliament which would, in effect, prevent Berlusconi from going to trial. Protesters, accusing the Italian Prime Minister of seeking to undermine the legal system, marched through the streets carrying banners reading: “Enough, the law is the same for everyone.”

Demonstrators at a rally against Berlusconi on February 27, 2010. The sign reads: Berlusconi - small man, big corruptor. [Source: AP]

Berlusconi, on trial in two corruption cases, says that he is the victim of political persecution, and has recently compared the judiciary to the Taliban. On Friday, he said to a crowd in Turin: “If the prosecutors don’t like a law then they challenge it and it gets rejected by the courts…we are in the hands of this band of Taliban.”

The Italian National Association of Magistrates responded by condemning Berlusconi’s speech as “an intolerable escalation of insults and aggression.”

Angelo Bonelli, head of the Italian Green Party, said: “We are starved of legality…today, the real Taliban is Berlusconi who wants to tie the hands of the magistrates.”

Berlusconi, a former media tycoon, is currently on trial for allegedly paying British attorney David Mills $600,000 to provide false testimony during the 1990’s, and for alleged tax fraud. Mills was Berlusconi’s former tax attorney. On Thursday the Supreme Court in Rome ruled that even though Mills was found guilty last year of taking the bribe and sentenced to four and a half years in prison, the case should be dropped because it had timed out under the ten year statute of limitations.

On Saturday, a court in Milan adjourned Berlusconi’s trial until March 26. Berlusconi’s attorneys requested that the trial be suspended further until details on the Mills ruling were published. It is customary for Italian courts to delay publishing such judgements until two or three months after the cases are finished. The judges refused to delay further, saying: “the trial cannot be suspended for an undetermined amount of time.”

Italian law places a ten-year limit for prosecution of judiciary corruption crimes. The terms for Berlusconi’s trial are set to expire in early 2011.

For more information, please see:

AP – Berlusconi trial adjourned for a month – 27 February 2010

BBC – Silvio Berlusconi ‘avoiding justice’, demonstrators say – 27 February 2010

Telegraph – Court Insists Silvio Berlusconi’s bribery trial continue next month – 27 February 2010

BBC – Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi attacks ‘Taliban’ judiciary – 26 February 2010

Artists in China Beaten for Development

By M.E. Dodge
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China – A group of artists in one of Beijing’s best-known of art districts, the 798 factory complex, were beaten by an unidentified group who tried to evict them from their studios.
Left, Liu Wei, Liu Yi, Wu Yuren, Zhang Jun and Sun Yuan . The men are among the artists protesting the demolition of their homes and studios in the northern part of Beijing. Image courtesy of The New York Times.

This week, sixteen artists said they were beaten with bricks and batons by thugs trying to evict them from their studios. In response, more than a dozen of them mounted an unusual public protest in the center of Beijing to express their concern and voice their opinion against the demolition of art zones and the attacks.

In the early hours of the morning, it was reported that about 100 men wearing black coats and white masks were armed with wooden and iron bars and entered the Zhengyang art zone. The mob is said to have beaten resident artists with bricks and batons in an attempt to try and evict them from their studios.

Liu Yi, victim to the attack, described how a man grabbed his mobile phone as he rang the police. “When I tried to get it back, he got four or five people with sticks and iron bars to beat me. I fell down and he got other guys to watch over me so I couldn’t get away.”

The cost of Chinese expansion and demolition is the driving out of other sectors of society to make way for capitalistic growth. Though many are affected by development, artists are one segment of Chinese society in particular who have been forced to bear the brunt of development.

798 studio  demolished
The Red T art gallery in Beijing's 798 art district, demolished by the owner to make way for a car park. Image courtesy of The Guardian.

Contemporary artists in China face a difficult challenge in that they struggle to freely identify themselves as artists and have an even greater challenge in finding spaces to work. In 798 factory complex, studios have been replaced by commercial galleries, large institutions, shops and cafes, especially in the last decade. One of the causes of this is that foreign investors have taken an interest in contemporary Chinese art, which as inflated the cost of works abroad, but this has translated into soaring rents for artists in Beijing and elsewhere in China.

Some artists have signed contracts for periods of up to 30 years, and have spent a lot of time and resources on improving the studios. These artists are now threatened in 798 factory complex and other areas, such as Zhengyang and 008 zone, that their studios will be demolished by landlords and developers who are moving in.

One such artist, Wu Yuren, commented, “[People] assumed we would leave like cowards. They didn’t expect us to resist.”

In discussing the recent attacks, another artist said, “For artists it is very hard to believe the next place they rent will be safe. We all believe that as an international city [Beijing’s] development cannot be restricted to the economy. Culture and the arts are vital parts of its identity.”

Initially, officials played a minor role in the resolution of the attacks, as calls to the police reportedly went unanswered. However, in officials announced that the action of the artists is against the law, and that authorities consider the artists as “victims of a brutal assault.”

Artists were told that security facilities will be installed by March 4.

For more information, please see:

Beijing Today Artists Protest Demolition Threats – 25 February 2010

The New York TimesEvicted Artists Protest After Attack in Beijing – 25 February 2010

The Wall Street Journal Artists Protest Demolition Threats -23 February 2010

The GuardianBeijing artists say development is driving them out – 24 February 2010

Religious Clashes in Liberia

By Kylie M Tsudama

Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

MONROVIA, Liberia – In the midst of violence, the United Nations has sent peacekeepers to the northern Liberia village of Voinjama in Lofa County, where the government has imposed a curfew.

Clashes were sparked by the death of a Christian student in the Konean village near Voinjoma.  Her body was found “with body parts extracted” near a mosque.

“A few days ago a girl named Korpu Kamara went missing and were on a search for her, but yesterday she was found dead with bullet (wounds) on her body,” said Joseph Wulu.

Following the discovery, students in Konean went on a rampage and destroyed a mosque.

“In reaction the Muslims of Voinjama went on a rampage and burned down churches, including the Catholic mission,” Wulu said.

Media reports that two mosques, one church, and other properties have been burned down.  Witnesses have identified the Catholic, Baptist, and Episcopal churches in the area as those that have been burned down.  Additionally, a doctor at Talawayon hospital in Voinjama reported that four people died and another eighteen were being treated for injuries.

The outbreak of violence is said to have been a clash between Muslims and Christians.  This is the third violent outbreak between the two communities this year.

The UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) dispatched police and military personnel to help the Liberia National Police.  UNMIL called on “all the peace committees and local security committees to take the appropriate measures to contain the situation and act according to their designated objectives.”

Since 2003, UNMIL has had peacekeepers stationed in Liberia tasked with restoring peace.  Last year the UN Security Council extended the mandate in order for UNMIL to be authorized to assist Liberia with its 2011 elections.

For more information, please see:

Washington Post – Curfew in North Liberia After Religious Clashes – 27 February 2010

AFP – UN Peacekeepers Sent to Probe Religious Clashes in Liberia – 26 February 2010

UN News Centre – UN Blue Helmets Sent to Scene of Violence in North-West Liberia – 26 February 2010

Congress Fails to Pass Unemployment Extension

By Stephen Kopko

Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON D.C., United States-The United States Senate failed to pass an extension in unemployment benefits which are set to expire today. This failure has the potential to impact many United States citizens that depend on the benefits while they are trying to find jobs. 

The United States government offers unemployment benefits of money as well as health insurance to those who lose their jobs and meet certain criteria.  A person can receive up to ninety-nine weeks of unemployment benefits during their lifetime.  There are three tiers to the program.  The tier affected by the Senate’s failure was the final tier of unemployment benefits, the extended benefits protection program.  Those who qualify for extended benefits receive cash and health insurance for thirteen to twenty weeks after they have exhausted the other two tiers of insurance.  The failure of the Senate to appropriate funds for the program can impact thousands of people that depend on the program to survive.  According to the Department of Labor, approximately four-hundred thousand people will be affected in the first two weeks of March if funding is not passed.  If funding is not passed until May, three million people would be affected. The unemployment extension program costs approximately ten billion dollars.

The program’s funding was held up by Senator Jim Bunning.  Senator Bunning’s main contention for halting debate on funding for the program and not allowing it to go forward to vote is the cost of the program.  He believed that Congress should not add to the federal deficit by funding the program but find a way to pay for the program before funding is approved.  Senator Bunning believes that if the program is critical to the well-being of unemployed Americans, legislators could find a way to pay for the program. 

Supporters of the program believe Congress does not have to find a way to pay for the program before funding is appropriated because it is an emergency program.  They argued that the program is necessary while the United States is fighting out of an economic recession.  According to Senator Barbara Boxer, “Unemployment insurance is a lifeline to the long-term unemployed whose families have been hit very hard by the recession.” 

Many Senators hope to pass the funding next week.  They will try to pass funding retroactively to account for the days that are missed by not extending the program on Friday. 

For more information, please see:

CNN-Lone Senator blocks unemployment benefit extensions-27 February 2010

NY TIMES-Conflict in Senate Could Get Messier-27 February 2010

Christian Science Monitor-Jim Bunning killed the unemployment benefits extension. What now?-26 February 2010

Ivory Coast Opposition Joins Unity Government

By Jennifer M. Haralambides
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast – Opposition leaders say they are ready to join a new unity government that will end a stand off that has threatened the country’s peace process.

Two weeks ago President Gbagbo dissolved the standing governmental body, accusing it of fraud and of being controlled by the opposition party.   This dissolution caused deadly protests.

On Friday morning, Gbagbo announced the appointment of a new election commission, headed by a member of the opposition and tasked with preparing long delayed elections.

“We are satisfied with this first stage of the re-installation of the independent electoral commission, which will now go back to work,” said opposition spokesman Alphonse Djedje Mady.

After the announcement, Alassene Ouattara, senior opposition leader,  told reporters that opposition groups had agreed to take the eleven seats reserved for them in the twenty-seven member cabinet.

At the heart of this dispute is the issue of voter registration.  The previous electoral commission head and member of the opposition Democratic Party of Ivory Coast (PDCI), Robert Mambe, was accused of fraudulently trying to add around 429,000 names to the electoral roll.  That decision delayed elections that were already over six years overdue, provoking a public outcry that led to violence in the streets and a handful of deaths.  Mambe has denied the allegations.

Even though the new head of the electoral commission, Youssouf Bakayoko, also comes from the PDCI, he will be forced to abandon all political activity.

This new government includes many of the same people involved in the previous government, and the independent electoral commission also remains much the same.

No new date has been set for the much anticipated elections, although officials hope they can be held sometime in April or May.

“If it means peace can come back to your country then I guess that’s good . . . . We’re really tired of all this,” said fruit seller Odette Brou.

For more information, please see:

AFP – I. Coast Opposition Agrees to Join Government – 26 February 2010

BBC – Ivory Coast Opposition to Join New Unity Government – 26 February 2010

Reuters – Ivory Coast Opposition to Join Govt., End Protests – 27 February 2010

Tensions Rise as Israel Puts Two Religious Sites in the West Bank on Heritage List

By Meredith Lee-Clark
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

JERUSALEM, Israel/West Bank – Clashes between Palestinian youths and Israeli forces entered their fourth day as Palestinians protested the naming of two West Bank sites on an Israeli heritage list.

The protests have centered around the West Bank city of Hebron, an ancient city that is home to the Cave of the Patriarchs, a site where both Jews and Muslims believe the prophet Abraham is buried. Palestinians have been particularly enraged by the what the new designation is intended to lead to—part of Israel’s $107 million (US) plan to rehabilitate the sites. Palestinians have characterized the move as reminiscent of a 1994 massacre in the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, when Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein entered the mosque and killed twenty-nine Palestinian worshipers.

“This is playing with dynamite. “The Israelis are perhaps not actually conscious of what they are doing,” said Qaid Abdul-Karim, a member of the PLO Central Committee, an executive committee that strongly influences Palestinian policymaking.

This latest escalation in Israeli-Palestinian tensions began at an Israeli cabinet meeting on February 21, when the cabinet released its latest list of heritage sites. Apparently almost as an afterthought, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu added two West Bank sites—the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, and the site known as Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem. Since the designations were announced, both Palestinians and international observers have worried that it would trigger a third intifada, or uprising.

“We will not be dragged to violence by the terrorism of the settlers, and the terrorism of the settlement project,” said Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister. “Our objection to this lies in the fact these sites are on Palestinian land that was occupied in 1967, precisely the lands upon which the independent Palestinian state will be established.”

The head of UNESCO also condemned the action, calling it “provocative.” UNESCO Chief Irina Bokova, who is responsible for maintaining international World Heritage sites, released a statement that “expressed her concern,” and maintained that “cultural heritage should serve as a means for dialogue.”

For more information, please see:

 Al Jazeera – Concerns Over Israel Heritage List – 27 February 2010

 The Guardian – Clashes as Israel Puts West Bank Religious Sites on Heritage List – 26 February 2010

Middle East Online – UNESCO Chief Concerned Over West Bank Holy Sites – 26 February 2010

New York Times – More Clashes Over Israeli Claim to Shrine – 25 February 2010

Christian Science Monitor – Tensions Spike After Israel Names Two West Bank Sites to National Heritage List – 24 February 2010

Congress Votes to Extend the Patriot Act

By Stephen Kopko

Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON D.C., United States– In the midst of its expiration date, Congress renewed the United States Patriot Act this week without the proposed changes that passed the House Judiciary Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee.  The Patriot Act was set to expire on Sunday.  It was originally passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bush after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Since its passage the Patriot Act has been a source of controversy between groups that support greater privacy protections and groups that contend it is an important tool in protecting the citizens of the United States.  In debates prior to passage of the legislation, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed greater privacy protections.  It limited the F.B.I.’s use of national security letters as well as provided greater scrutiny of law enforcement agencies when they examined individual’s library records.  The House Judiciary Committee passed similar provisions and also eliminated law enforcement authority to spy on the “lone wolf.”

Despite the greater privacy protections that were passed at the committee level, both the House and Senate voted to extend the Patriot Act for one year without the protections.  Three provisions that were a source of contention and dismay for privacy rights advocates were renewed.  Those provisions were the government’s ability to engage in court approved roving wiretaps, seizure property and assets, and the ability to spy on the “lone wolf.”  Under the “lone wolf” provision, the government is allowed to track non-United States citizens that are not formerly affiliated with a terrorist organization. 

The renewal of the Act without greater privacy protections comes after the shooting at Fort Hood and the attempted Christmas Day bombing.  Many members of Congress believed that its renewal without greater privacy protections was needed in the wake of those incidents.  However, not all members of Congress believe that greater privacy protections would weaken law enforcements ability to track and prevent terrorist acts.  They believed the protections are needed after the alleged abuses by Bush Administration.  According to Representative Jane Harman; “While I strongly support using the most robust tools possible to go after terrorists, Congress must revise and narrow, not extend, Bush-era policies.”

Congress renewed the Patriot Act as the United States Supreme Court heard oral argument on a provision of the Act that made it a crime to provide “material support” to terrorist organizations.  The Court will examine whether the provision violates the free speech and freedom of association protections of the Constitution.

For more information, please see:

Washington Post-Congress extends Patriot Act, no new protections-25 February 2010

MSNBC-Senate votes to extend Patriot Act-24 February 2010

Christian Science Monitor-Supreme Court: Does part of Patriot Act violate citizens’ rights-22 February 2010

Guesthouses Used by Foreigners Hit In Taliban Attack

By Michael E. Sanchez
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

KABUL, Afghanistan- Explosions and gunfire in the center of the Afghan capital have left at least 17 people dead, officials say.

The attack took place in an area of hotels and guesthouses which are popular with foreigners.  Up to nine Indians, a Frenchman and an Italian were killed.  Three gunman and two policeman died in a gun battle that lasted several hours.  The Taliban said they were behind the attack.

Afghan president Hamid Karzai condemned the violence. India called it “barbaric”.  The attack comes as NATO and Afghan forces continue Operation Moshtarak to tackle the Taliban in Helmand province.

Martin Patience of the BBC in Kabul says the first blast on Friday happened close to the Kabul City Center shopping area and the Safi Landmark Hotel.  The Park Residence Hotel, popular with foreigners, was also close to the main blast.

SM Krishna, India’s Foreign Minister said up to nine Indians were dead, including government officials.  The Minister said :” These barbaric attacks are a matter of deep concern and are clearly aimed against the people of India and the people of Afghanistan…”These are the handiwork of those who are desperate to undermine the friendship between India and Afghanistan.”

At least 30 people are reported to have been injured in the attacks.  Condemning the attacks, NATO’s Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen saying in a statement: “Those who committed them made it clear, in their choice of targets that their aim is to reverse the progress that Afghans are making,”

Two smaller explosions were reported following the main blast and security forces fought with gunman for several hours after sealing off the area.  Sirens blared across the city and announcements warned people to stay indoors.  Areas around diplomatic missions and government ministries were closed to traffic.

Operation Moshtark continues in Helmand in the south, whose aim is to drive the Taliban from the areas around Nad Ali and Marjah.

Friday’s attack is also the Taliban’s first major raid since the arrest of key leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in Pakistan this month.  He was said to be the second in command and to have run the Taliban’s leadership council and controlled their finances.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Afghanistan Captial Kabul Hit by Suicide Attack– 26 February 2010

SCPR.ORG- Taliban Claims Responsibility for Kabul Attacks– 26 February 2010

The New York Times- Guesthouses Used By Foreigners In Kabul Hit in Deadly Attacks-26 February

UNDP Expert Says Pacific Countries Must Overcome Issues of Marginalization and Inequality

By Cindy Trinh
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

SUVA, Fiji – A conflict resolution expert for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Tracy Vienings, says Pacific countries have to put more effort into overcoming issues of marginalization and inequality.

She says that the issues of marginalization and inequality are often at the root of conflict and more effort needs to go into connecting peace building with development.

A UNDP meeting in Suva, Fiji resulted in the implementation of project called the Strengthening Capacities for Peace and Development, and involved various Pacific governments, NGOs, and regional agencies.

The Strengthening Capacities for Peace and Development project includes immediate capacity building support. The project aims at establishing programs to facilitate needs-based planning and monitoring, and to support reconciliation activities in the Pacific region.

The project aims to bring together regional organizations, government and civil society actors to share experiences, discuss the difficult issues, and begin to strengthen leadership and capacities for peace in the Pacific.

One part of the project’s goals is to introduce a core group of Pacific peace builders. This is a workshop that hopes to answer questions regarding the meaning of peace, the linkages between peace, conflict, and development, and how human rights can be addressed through peace building projects.

The core group of peace builders will be drawn from selected countries in the Pacific.

Vienings stated that: “Through this project we are targeting a core group of peace builders, generally middle level staff in civil society organizations, governments and intergovernmental organizations. Those participating in this programme will also benefit from a small grants mechanism to fund peace projects of those participating in the initiative.”

Although this project has triggered discussions about positive changes in the Pacific region, Vienings believes that governments and civil society have struggled to take action. She urges the Pacific countries to put more effort into overcoming the issues and take action.

She stated: “The reason that [the Pacific countries] don’t [take action] is because they are politicized issues and are very difficult. They require long term solutions but governments and civil society are not necessarily addressing them at the moment.”

For more information, please see:
Pacific Islands News Association – Core Group of Pacific Peace Builders to Get Introduction Training Soon – 26 February 2010

Radio New Zealand International – More effort needed to solve root causes of conflict in Pacific – UNDP expert – 25 February 2010

United National Development Programme – Asia-Pacific Development Information Programme: Strengthening Capacities for the Relief, Rehabilitation and Reconciliation Framework