Bosnian Serb General Trial Begins in The Hague

By Kenneth F. Hunt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

THE HAGUE, Netherlands – The trial of a former Bosnian Serb General begins today, February 26, at the United Nation’s Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague.

Bosnian Serb General Zdravko Tolimir, who served as the assistant commander for intelligence and security of the Bosnian Serb Army, is alleged to have committed crimes against humanity, genocide, and war crimes. These charges stem from Mr. Tolimir’s role in the infamous 1995 Srebrenica massacre of thousands of Bosnian Muslims during the Bosnian War.

Specifically, according to the indictment, Mr. Tolimir orchestrated multiple mass murders between July and November 1995. During the Srebrenica massacre, Mr. Tolimir allegedly supervised a military unit that “summarily executed more than 1,700 Muslim men and boys at the Branjevo Military Farm and the Pilica Cultural Center.”

Mr. Tolimir is one of the highest ranking war crimes suspects to be brought to trial to date. At the time of his arrest in May 2007, he was the third-most-wanted Bosnian war crimes perpetrator at large.

Mr. Tolimir, who is representing himself pro se, stood trial today in front of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ITCY). Prosecutor Nelson Thayer told ITCY judges in opening statements that Mr. Tolimir “[chose] to forsake his duty to abide by the rules of war in pursuit of a mono-ethnic Serb state”.

As a pro se litigant, Mr. Tolimir will be held to the standards of a professional lawyer, after Judge Christoph Flugge warned him during a pretrial conference in February. At the same time, Mr. Tolimir may not be able to call witnesses in his own defense however.

The ITCY has indicted 161 persons for war crimes coming from the former Yugoslavia during the Bosnian War. Mr. Tomlimir’s trial is one of 40 that are still being heard, while 121 have been completed. The ITCY will end its activities in 2014.

As a pro se litigant, Mr. Tolimir will be held to the standards of a professional lawyer, after Judge Christoph Flugge warned him during a pretrial conference in February. At the same time, Mr. Tolimir may not be able to call witnesses in his own defense however.

For more information, please see:

EXPATICA – Bosnian Serb general goes on trial for genocide – 26 February 2010

RADIO FREE EUROPE – Former Bosnian Serb General Goes On Trial – 26 February 2010

UPI – Trial starts for ex-Bosnian Serb general – 26 February 2010

WASHINGTON POST – Genocide case opens against Bosnian Serb general – 26 February 2010

Asian Countries Not Doing Enough to Help North Korean Defectors

By Hyo-Jin Paik
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

SEOUL, South Korea – A report released by South Korea’s National Human Rights Commission detailed the plight of female North Korean refugees.  The report was compiled based on interviews and surveys of 274 defectors.

The report specifically discussed how female North Korean defectors suffer sexual violence and are trafficked to China or other countries. 

According to the study, many are abused in refugee camps in China, and about 20% of the female refugees bribed North Korean border guards with money or sex to cross the North Korea-China border.

One defector who lives in hiding in China said, “We were slaves, or worse than that, treated like animals.” 

Others described their lives in Southeast Asia where they lived under horrid conditions in detentions camps, for example, not being able to use the toilets after dark or “buying” a space where they can sit.

South Korea is also being criticized for its handling of North Korean defectors.  The chief criticism is that the South Korea’s policy on defectors is too fragmentary and does not provide substantive aid.

Although vocational training is offered, the programs center on low-paying work, such as cooking and nursing, despite the fact that many of the defectors have received higher education in North Korea. 

The South Korean government also has one-size-fits-all training programs which disregard personal difference of refugees. 

In addition, female defectors also suffer abuse from their South Korean husbands.  This is a matter that needs to be resolved as soon as possible considering that these women already suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder because of the horrible experiences they endured in order to escape, living with constant fear of repatriation or because of a sense of guilt they feel towards family they left behind in North Korea.

More than 16,000 North Koreans have crossed into South Korea since the end of the Korean War in 1953.  The annual number of defectors is on the rise, and the South Korean Unification Ministry expects the number to top 20,000 in 2010.

Park, Sun-seong, the professor responsible for this study, said, “By revealing the scars left to the North Korean women who fled their country, we hope to shed light on their human rights issues….”
For more information, please see:

AFP – N.Korea women refugees suffer abuse: watchdog – 22 February 2010

The Korean Times – Female Defectors’ Plights – 23 February 2010

Yonhap News – Human rights abuses on NK defector women abound: report – 22 February 2010

Sunni Party Backs Off Threat to Boycott Iraq Election

By: Bobby Rajabi

Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq – On February 26 the National Dialogue Front, a prominent Sunni political party backed off previous threats to boycott Iraq’s coming parliamentary elections. The action took place after threats from rival parties to threaten to have the leader of the party charged with terrorism. Additionally, in a surprising move, twenty thousand former soldiers of Saddam Hussein were reinstated by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Saleh al-Mutlak, the party’s leader, claims that will no longer boycott the March 7 election because of the popular support received from their members. He said that “if Iraqiya (the coalition that the National Dialogue Front is a part of) doesn’t succeed, the whole of Iraq will be in chaos.” Mutlak explained that “(the party leadership) don’t want to be seen as the reason behind that chaos.”

Mutlak was the most prominent of hundreds of Sunni and secular candidates who were banned from running in the parliamentary elections. The individuals were banned for allegedly having ties to former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party. This determination was made by a commission composed of Shi’ites who are also participating in the election.

The executive director the commission, named the Justice and Accountability Commission, said that Mutlak will face criminal charges for funding and backing an armed group of former members of the Baath Party. Ali Falial al-Lami explained that the commission was in possession of confessions and they “were documented and endorsed  by members of the Iraqi judiciary, and the suspects who gave the confessions are still in custody”

Mutlak and other members of the National Dialogue Front have long accused the al-Maliki government of harassing and unfairly targeting the party. He claims that some of his bodyguards were arrested and tortured until they made false confessions regarding the party leader.

The Iraqi Prime Minister has also come under fire his decision to reinstate twenty thousand former army officers who served under Saddam Hussein. Mayson al-Damalogi, a spokesman for Iraqiya, explained the coalition’s skepticism. He said that “this is purely a means of trying to gain more votes.” The decision to reinstate the officers was confirmed by Ministry of Defense spokesman Mohammed al-Askari.

For more information, please see:

Washington Post – Sectarian Tensions Rise Before Iraq Elections – 26 February 2010

New York Times – Iraq to Rehire 20,000 Hussein-Era Army Officers – 25 February 2010

Reuters – Prominent Iraqi Sunni Ends Party’s Poll Boycott – 25 February 2010

Voice of America – Key Iraqi Sunni Politician Decides Not to Boycott – 25 February 2010

Rohingya Muslims Face Further Persecution

By Alok Bhatt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

COX’S BAZAAR, Bangladesh – The Rohingya ethnic minority, for unexplained reasons, has been enduring a significant crackdown in Bangladesh as of recent.  The Rohingya ethnic minority comprises one of the most persecuted peoples on the planet.

Human rights violations against the ethnic group began attracting international attention in the late 70’s.  In 1978, great friction between the Rohingya ethnic minority and the majority group in erupted into a Myanmar government military operation.  As a result of the government’s persistent deprivation of the Rohingyas’ human rights, the ethnic minority abruptly began fleeing the country into Bangladesh.  In the late 80’s, subsequent to the mass exodus out of Myanmar, newly established laws of citizenship officially rendered the Rohingya Muslims stateless.  The laws stripped the Rohingya’s right to a nationality.

The latest waves of discrimination against the Rohingya Muslims expose them to much violence and prejudice.  Both local residents and agents of the state have been driving the stateless Rohingyas out of their homes in the Cox’s Bazaar region of Bangladesh.  Among the approximately 220,000 Rohingyas currently residing in Bangladesh, those living outside of makeshift refugee camps may be subject to beatings and arrest.  Myanmar’s border security has also been reported to mistreat escapees headed to Bangladesh.

The current rise in actions depriving the rights of the Rohingya ethnic minority in Myanmar represents a reprise from many similar situations in the 90’s.  The U.N. intervened when the Myanmar government staunchly enforced citizenship laws which denied Rohingya Muslims their nationality, the right to travel, the right to marry, and other civil and political rights.

Despite efforts by various human rights groups, in all of Bangladesh, only 28,000 members of the Rohingya Muslim minority are currently residing in makeshift refugee camps.  These 28,000 are a part of a much larger body of about 220,000 unregistered Rohingya Muslims.  The fraction makes fightfully clear just how unwanted the Rohingya minority is in Myanmar.

700,000 Rohingya ethnic minorities currently reside in Bangladesh.  The Rohingya Muslims have significant linguistic, cultural, and religious discrepancies with the Buddhist majority of Myanmar.  None of the 700,000 Rohingyas are recognized as individuals under Myanmar’s law, and are subject to Myanmar’s systematic oppression.  While the repression of the Rohingyas continues to attract the criticism of the international community and human rights groups, their ultimate fate remains uncertain.

The Rohingya ethnic minority, for unexplained reasons, has been enduring a significant crackdown in Bangladesh as of recent.  The Rohingya ethnic minority comprises one of the most persecuted peoples on the planet.
Human rights violations against the ethnic group began attracting international attention in the late 70’s.  In 1978, great friction between the Rohingya ethnic minority and the majority group in erupted into a Myanmar government military operation.  As a result of the government’s persistent deprivation of the Rohingyas’ human rights, the ethnic minority abruptly began fleeing the country into Bangladesh.  In the late 80’s, subsequent to the mass exodus out of Myanmar, newly established laws of citizenship officially rendered the Rohingya Muslims stateless.  The laws stripped the Rohingya’s right to a nationality.
The latest waves of discrimination against the Rohingya Muslims expose them to much violence and prejudice.  Both local residents and agents of the state have been driving the stateless Rohingyas out of their homes in the Cox’s Bazaar region of Bangladesh.  Among the approximately 220,000 Rohingyas currently residing in Bangladesh, those living outside of makeshift refugee camps may be subject to beatings and arrest.  Myanmar’s border security has also been reported to mistreat escapees headed to Bangladesh.
The current rise in actions depriving the rights of the Rohingya ethnic minority in Myanmar represents a reprise from many similar situations in the 90’s.  The U.N. intervened when the Myanmar government staunchly enforced citizenship laws which denied Rohingya Muslims their nationality, the right to travel, the right to marry, and other civil and political rights.
Despite efforts by various human rights groups, in all of Bangladesh, only 28,000 members of the Rohingya Muslim minority are currently residing in makeshift refugee camps.  These 28,000 are a part of a much larger body of about 220,000 unregistered Rohingya Muslims.  The fraction makes fightfully clear just how unwanted the Rohingya minority is in Myanmar.
700,000 Rohingya ethnic minorities currently reside in Bangladesh.  The Rohingya Muslims have significant linguistic, cultural, and religious discrepancies with the Buddhist majority of Myanmar.  None of the 700,000 Rohingyas are recognized as individuals under Myanmar’s law, and are subject to Myanmar’s systematic oppression.  While the repression of the Rohingyas continues to attract the criticism of the international community and human rights groups, their ultimate fate remains uncertain.


Russian Neo-Nazi Members Sentenced For Ethnic Attacks

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia – Nine neo-Nazi gang members were sentenced yesterday by a Moscow city court for their role in a string of ethnicity-motivated killings.

The teen-aged defendants, sentenced to twenty-three years in prison for their role in five murders and one attempted murder, belong to an organization called ‘The White Wolves’.  The White Wolves were formed two years ago for the purpose of targeting non-ethnic Russians.  They have gained notoriety for publishing videos of their attacks on the internet.  According to Russian law enforcement authorities, the leader of the White Stripes is an eighteen year old Georgian named Alexi Dzhavakhashvili.

This organization is just one of a number of groups that have interwoven ultra-nationalist and racist ideologies and turned their focus to foreign ethnic groups within Russia.  Evidence presented at their trial demonstrated that they were responsible for eleven murders.  Their primary targets were migrant workers of central Asian ethnicity, as well as foreign students from various African and Asian countries.

The attacks appear to be ideologically motivated to serve the group’s political objectives of forcing non-ethnic Russians out of the country.  In one assault, a immigrant from Kazakhstan was stabbed seventy-three times.  The assault was filmed, with one attacker shouting “Russia for the Russians”.

According to the Russian human rights group SOVA, approximately 60 people were killed and 300 injured in ethnicity-motivated attacks this past year.  Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia has seen an steady increase in membership and interest in neo-Nazi and nationalist groups.  The tactics of these nationalist groups include the targeted killings of human rights activists, bombings and arson.

The twenty-three year sentences handed down by the Moscow court were the maximum allowable prison terms for juvenile offenders.

For more information, please see:

AP – 9 Russian neo-Nazis Get Up to 23 Years in Prison – 25 February 2010

BBC – Neo-Nazi skinheads jailed in Russia for racist killings – 25 February 2010

RADIO FREE EUROPE – Russia Court Jails Nine For Ethnic Murder – 25 February 2010

REUTERS – Russian court jails 9 for ethnic murders – 25 February 2010

RIANOVOSTA – Russian White Wolves skinheads jailed for race-hate murders – 25 February 2010

Saudi Women to Argue Cases in Court

By Brandon Kaufman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia– Saudi Arabia may soon allow women lawyers to appear in court to argue cases for the first time.

Justice Minister Mohammed al-Essa said the law was part of King Abdullah’s plan to develop the legal system.  As one official suggested, the proposed new law may be issued “in the coming days.”

The proposed new law would allow women to appear in court on family related cases, including divorce and child custody ones.  Currently, female lawyers can only work behind the scenes in government and court offices.  Additionally, if the new legislation passes, Saudi women will be allowed to complete certain legal procedures without the presence of a witness.

Under a system of male guardianship currently in place, Saudi Arabian women are required to be kept separate from men they are not related to.  All women must be veiled to some degree in public.  They are not allowed to drive, and women under the age of 45 must receive permission from a male when they travel.  Opportunities for education and employment are subject to similar restrictions.  Recently however, measures have been taken to ease these and other constraints.

The plan to increase women’s access to courts comes after a Saudi reformer told American media that empowering women in Saudi Arabia is the key to spreading democracy throughout the Arab and Muslim world.

“Democratizing Saudi Arabia is the key to democratizing all Arabs and Muslims,” said Dr. Ali Alyami, the director of the Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia.  He added that “the best, easiest, cheapest and quickest way to achieve this formidable undertaking is to empower Saudi women…Empowering Saudi women will resonate through Arab and Muslim societies.”

For more information, please see:

BBC News- Saudi Women to be Allowed to Argue Cases in Court– 21 February 2010

Daily Times- Saudi Arabia to Allow Women Lawyers in Courts Soon– 21 February 2010

The Washington Post- New Saudi Law Would Allow Women Lawyers in Court– 20 February 2010

West Papuan Human Rights Lawyer Calls for Peaceful Solutions

By Cindy Trinh
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

MANOKWARI, West Papua – A prominent West Papuan human rights lawyer, Yan Christian Warinussy, plans to go on a speaking tour throughout Australia to promote the need for a peaceful solution to the problems in Indonesia’s troubled Papua region.

Warinussy, who won Canada’s John Humphrey Freedom Award in 2005 for his promotion of human rights and democracy, says that the situation in West Papua has been “left to deteriorate far too long.”

He says that the Special Autonomy status granted to Papua by Indonesia in 2001 has proven a failure. Not only that, the heavy militarization of the region has worsened the security situation.

Warinussy stressed the need for dialogue between Jakarta and Papuan representatives.

The need for dialogue became more apparent with the death of Kelly Kwalik, the West Papuan leader and advocate for human rights, on December 16, 2009. A press released from the Indonesian Human Rights Committee (IHRC) called for New Zealand’s support for dialogue in the wake of Kwalik’s death.

Since the death of Kwalik, the territory has experienced an outpouring of grief and anger within the Papuan community.

The IHRC called on Prime Minister John Key and Foreign Minister Murray McCully to support the calls for dialogue to avert further tension and violence in West Papua.

Similar to Warinussy, the IHRC stressed the need for mediated dialogue between Papuan representatives and Jakarta.

However, not much change has happened since the IHRC made its press release public, and Warinussy fears that the human rights situation in Papua continues to deteriorate even more.

He stated: “The human rights situation in West Papua is not good until now. The Special Autonomy, we cannot use that to solve the problem. We need to make peaceful dialogue between Indonesia and Papua – to think again, to plan again, to make sure.”

For more information, please see:
Solomon Star – West Papuan rights lawyer calls for peaceful dialogue with Jakarta – 25 February 2010

Radio New Zealand International – West Papuan rights lawyer calls for peaceful dialogue with Jakarta – 25 February 2010

Scoop Independent News – West Papua: Dialogue Needed Between NZ and Jakarta – 24 December 2009

Colombia’s Indigenous Indians at Risk

By Ryan C. Kossler                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Colombia – Amnesty International reports that the indigenous population of Colombia is at risk of disappearing.  Increasing abuses and a lack of government protection has forced thousands of indigenous Indians to flee their homes.  Amnesty International credits this influx in dispersion of nearly 1.4 million Indians to the changing nature of the four decade conflict between the military, leftist rebels, armed gangs, and drug traffickers.

Since the Colombian military increased its offensive against the rebels, the conflict has moved away from the urban centers where the conflicts originally occurred, and more toward remote rural and jungle areas where many indigenous groups live in designated reservations.  The shift in the fighting has increased the indigenous groups’ exposure to attack by armed groups who operate on their lands.  Marcelo Pollack of Amnesty International said, “part of the reason for the increase in human rights violations is to do with the way the conflict in Colombia has changed.  The conflict has been pushed to the margins, to rural areas where many indigenous peoples live.”

According the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), 114 indigenous people were killed last year.  This is a forty percent increase as compared to 2008 figures.  ONIC estimates that armed groups have killed more than 1,400 indigenous Colombians over the last decade.  Right wing paramilitary groups, drug gangs, and Colombia’s security forces have all been accused of committing human rights violations against indigenous tribes such as kidnappings and sexual abuse of women.

Colombia is home to one of the world’s largest displaced population, at an estimated 3.2 million internally displaced people.  According to the U.N., although indigenous groups make up around 3.4 percent of Colombia’s population, they account for seven percent of the country’s total displaced population.  The U.N. estimates that nearly 20,000 indigenous people were uprooted in Colombia last year.  The most recent threat contributing to displacement of indigenous people has been the danger of rebels kidnapping children to fight in their dwindling ranks.

For more information, please see:

Amnesty International – Indigenous Peoples in Colombia, Facts and Figures – 23 February 2010

Colombia Reports – Amnesty International is too Critical – 23 February 2010

Reuters – Colombia’s Indians Face Worsening Human Rights Situation – 23 February 2010

Canada Appoints New President to Rights and Democracy

By William Miller

Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

OTTAWA, Canada – Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Lawrence Cannon, announced that he would be nominating Gerald Latulippe for president of Rights and Democracy, a government-funded human rights organization. Latulippe will replace Remy Beauregard who died of a heart attack at age 66 last month.

Latulippe is a former Cabinet Minister who was in Parliament during the 1980’s. He currently works in Haiti for the Democratic National Institute, a group dedicated to promoting democracy around the world.

Latulippe will take over as President of Rights and Democracy during a period of heavy turmoil. Members of the group have accused the current administration of overloading the board with conservative members in order to promote issues relating to the Middle East and Israel. The sharp divide has compelled former Presidents of the organization to call for the resignation of some senior board members.

Lawrence Cannon expressed his full confidence in Latulippe to lead Rights and Democracy at a press conference on Monday, February 22. “I fully believe that Mr. Latulippe is the ideal candidate to return Rights and Democracy to the promotion of Canadian values of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law,” said Cannon.

Latulippe’s appointment stands in stark contrast to recent officials appointed to Rights and democracy. The current administration has typically appointed conservative members to serve on the board. In contrast, Latulippe was a member of the liberal party during his tenure in parliament.

Liberals have criticized the move saying it will only bring more turbulence by pitting a liberal director against a predominantly conservative board. “Our view is that the Conservative government started this process of chaos by appointing a board of governors that basically waged war on the organization it was charged to look after,” said liberal leader Michael Ignatieff.

For more information, please see:

Winnipeg Free Press – Feds Install New Head to Besieged Rights Group – 23 February 2010

CBC – Rights & Democracy: How Much has Changed? – 22 February 2010

National Post – Human Rights Group Choice Disputed – 23 February 2010

Congress Questions Military Leaders on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

By Stephen Kopko

Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON D.C., United States – Last month, President Obama called for congressional leaders to repeal the United States military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in his State of the Union address. The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law bars homosexual soldiers from serving openly while they are in the military. Since then, congressional leaders have worked quickly in examining whether and how the law should be repealed. Both the Senate Armed Services Committee and the House Armed Services Committee conducted hearings to assess the views of top military leaders on the repeal of the law.

The U.S. top military leaders are in agreement that the policy should be reexamined. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, in a congressional hearing early in February, believed that Congress should act slowly to determine whether and when the law be repealed. Secretary Gates stated that it would take a Pentagon up to a year to study how a repeal of the law would affect the military. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, favors the repeal. He stated “allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military would be the right thing to do.” Admiral Mullen was troubled by the policy because it requires soldiers “to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.”

Other top military officials believe that Secretary Gates’ stance on the issue is the correct way to examine the repeal of the law. Army Chief of Staff, General George Casey, agreed with Gates’ belief that the repeal of the law should be examined carefully and deliberately. While being questioned by the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, General Casey stated a major concern congressional leaders need to consider in repealing the law. General Casey believed Congress should assess how the repeal of the law would affect the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan and the success of the operations in those nations. General Norman Schwartz, the Air Force Chief of Staff, echoed General Casey’s concern in front of the House Armed Services Committee. He stated; “This is not the time to perturb the force that is, at the moment, stretched by demands in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere without careful deliberation. Also, Commandant of the Marine Corps, Marine General James Conway, agreed that the law should be examined slowly and that any decision on repeal be based upon the United States’ ability to fight wars.

As congressional leaders move forward they will take into strong consideration the views expressed by the United States top military leaders. They will have to balance the careful study of the repeal expressed by Secretary Gates and a majority of the leaders of the different branches of the military with President Obama’s hope of repealing the law within the year. All of the leaders of the different branches of the military did state they would follow and implement any decision made by Congress.

For more information, please see:

Los Angeles Times – Military chiefs voice concern over ending ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ – 24 February 2010

Miami Herlad – Top Marine softens stance on ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ – 24 February 2010

NY Times – 2 Generals Wary About Repealing Gay Policy – 23 February 2010

Nicaragua Faces Widespread Hunger Due to Drought

By Brenda Lopez Romero
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

MANAGUA, Nicaragua – The drought zones of Mozonte and Macuelizo have at least fifty percent of their population without basic drinking water needs met. They must travel over eight kilometers to find usable water.

There are expectations for worse conditions to come. Monseñor Bernardo Hombach, Bishops of the Diócesis de Granada, is concerned with widespread hunger due to the drought. Hombach said many people had not picked their harvest. He stated “at the moment the impact is not felt because some people have small reserves.” The zone of Chinandega is starting to see the hunger issue.

The mayor of Mozonte called the World Food Program to obtain food for 520 families in the affected zone. The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry is implementing a program of food for work for about 652 families affected. In March, the families are to work in conservation and reforesting.

Government officials say there are doing the best they can to alleviate problems.

For more information, please see:

La Prensa – Poblados sin agua ni comida – 23 February 2010

La Prensa – Se agudiza la hambruna en el Norte – 22 February 2010

Niger Under New Rule

By Kylie M Tsudama

Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

NIAMEY, Niger – Supreme Council for Restoration of Democracy (CSRD) leader Major Salou Djibo has been named as the head of state and government during the country’s transitional period.

“The highest authority designing and directing national policy is headed by a president who exercises the functions of the head of state and government,” said a statement made by the CSRD.

The junta staged a coup last week.  The transitional president has unveiled plans to draw up a new constitution that will be put to a referendum.  Authorities have also promised to create a body to draft new electoral laws.

Last week’s coup ousted President Mamadou Tandja.  The CSRD announcement came as the United States called for a peaceful and early transition in from military to civilian rule in the West African country.

“The United States continues to call (for) Niger’s speedy return to democracy and the rule of law, as well as prompt, fair and transparent elections,” State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said.  “We will obviously work closely with our international partners and do everything we can to see democracy returned to Niger as rapidly as possible.”

Over the weekend, junta leaders met with United Nations (UN), African Union (AU), and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) envoys.  The CSRD convinced the UN, AU, and ECOWAS envoys of their plan to give power over to civilian rulers as soon as a new constitution is agreed upon.

No timeframe, however, has been given.

Tensions mounted as Tandja tried to maintain his presidency longer than the constitution allows.  He has been in office since December 1999.

“The political party is very keen to return power to civilians and transition to an all-inclusive democracy,” said UN Special Representative for West Africa Said Djinnit.  “This transition began with the occurrence of the coup and the expiration of the constitution and implementation of a new constitution.”

Representatives from the AU, ECOWAS, and CSRD met Sunday to push for a quick resolution to the conflict.

“The mission of this meeting is to assure this coup is the last,” said Djinnit.  “No coup can be tolerated.”

A “constitutional committee” and a court will be set up to replace the dissolved constitutional and supreme courts.

Meanwhile, Tandja and his prime minister are being held under house arrest at a villa attached to the presidential palace.

For more information, please see:

AFP – Niger Junta Names Interim President, Plans New Constitution – 22 February 2010

CNN – U.S. Urges Speedy Return to Democracy in Niger – 22 February 2010

Reuters – Niger’s Junta Wins Popularity, Says Little Yet – 22 February 2010

VOA – Former Ruling Party Condemns Niger Coup – 22 February 2010

UN Pressures Albania to Allow Independent Inquiry Into Organ Harvesting

By Kenneth F. Hunt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

TIRANA, Albania – A United Nations special expert has accused Albania of stalling an investigation into illicit organ harvesting of ethnic Serbs. The allegations of exploitation of Serbs stem from events in Kosovo during the 1998-1999 Kosovo War. As such, the UN and other international bodies are pressuring the country to comply with a full investigation.

UN Special Rapporetuer, Philip Alston, after a personal seven day trip to Tirana, has accused the government of stifling an investigation into the abduction, killing, and organ harvesting of some 300 ethnic Serbs during the War.

Mr. Alston said that Albanian officials believe that outside investigation of these allegations are “politically motivated and absolutely without any foundation.” As a result independent inquiries have not resulted in “meaningful co-operation [by] the government of Albania.”

Serbia initially launched an investigation in March 2008 after Carla del Ponte, the former UN War Crimes Chief Prosecutor, published a book called The Hunt.

In the book Ms. del Ponte alleged that hundreds of Serbs were kidnapped, taken to the notorious “yellow house” in the town of Burrel in northern Albania, where the victims had their organs extracted by Kosovo Albanian militants. The organs were then sold to foreign traffickers and clinics.

In writing the book, del Ponte was summarizinga search of the “yellow house” by UN investigators, which turned up  “pieces of gauze, a used syringe and two plastic IV bags encrusted with mud and empty bottles of medicine, some of which was of a muscle relaxant often used in surgical operations.”

Despite new pressures from the UN, Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha has summarily dismissed the allegations as “fictitious”. Mr. Berisha also insists that the matter has already been properly investigated by Albania after Serbia and the European Union launched investigations in 2008.

If Albania continues to refuse to cooperate, Mr. Alston said the United Nations will take further action. In the mean time, the Council of Europe, EULEX, and Serbia’s war crimes prosecutor are all currently investigating the allegations.

For more information, please see:

BBC – UN says Albania ‘stalling’ Serb human organs inquiry – 23 February 2010

NEW YORK TIMES – U.N. Sleuth Calls on Albania to Allow Organ Inquiry – 23 February 2010

RADIO SRBIJA – UN: Tirana should be open to independent investigation – 23 February 2010

Afghan Tribal Leader Killed By Blast

By Michael E. Sanchez
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

KABUL, Aghanistan– A suicide bomber has killed an influential Afghan tribal chief in eastern Nangarhar province, officials say.  In addition 14 other people were killed.

During the Afghan civil war in the 1990s, Mohammad Haji Zaman was a powerful mujahideen warlord.  He led tribal forces in the Tora Bora region during the 2001 US-led Afghan invasion but is suspected of allowing al-Qaeda head Osama bin Laden to flee.  No one has claimed responsibility for the attack.  Mohammad Haji Zaman, also known as Haji Zaman Gamsurek, was addressing a gathering of refugees in the Khogyani district of Nangarhar when the blast went off.

Police official Col Abdul Ghafour told the AFP news agency the suicide bomber set off his explosives after approaching a group of tribal elders at the gathering.  The attack in the eastern province of Nangargar occurred when provincial authorities were distributing land titles to poor people in the Dashte Chimtala area.  General Ayoub Salangi, the provincial police chief, said  “The attack killed 15 people and around 15 others were injured.”

Mohammad Haji Zaman has been living in the north-western Pakistani city of Peshawar, only recently returning to Afghanistan.

The wounded in Monday’s attack included Abdul Rahman Shams, the chief of the refugee department in the province.  It was not known who was the prime target of the attack.  Taliban spokesman were not immediately available for comment.  Also in the eastern region, NATO said Monday that their forces killed four insurgents and injured five others after the militants attacked their joint patrol with Afghan forces in Taqab district of north-eastern province of Kapisa.

There were no casualties among the combined forces on Monday;s firefight, the alliance said in a statement.

Chris Morris of the BBC says that Nangarhar is a province that, under the guidance of local tribal leaders, had become more peaceful in recent months.  But it is on the border with Pakistan, an important target for militants wishing to smuggle arms.

For more information, please see:

BBC News- Suicide Blast Kills Afghan Tribal Chief in Nangarhar– 22 February 2010

M&C News- Suicide Attack Kills 15 Afghans including Tribal Leader-22 February 2010

ABC News- Tribal Elders Killed In Suicide Blast-23 February 2010


Children Killed in Yemen War

By Brandon Kaufman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

SANAA, Yemen – According to a report issued by UNICEF and the Yemen children’s rights organization SEYAJ, 187 children have been killed in the war in Northern Yemen since August.

Monday’s report placed the blame for the children’s deaths on government-backed militias fighting the Shia Huthis in northern Yemen.  The report also suggested that the Yemeni Shiite rebels and the pro-government militia were using child soldiers in the conflict.

According to the report, of the 187 who have died, seventy-one percent have been killed in the fighting while the remaining casualties resulted from lack of food or medical services.

The most recent conflict in what has been an ongoing six-year battle began on August 11 when the rebel Huthis and government forces began fighting.  At the time, government forces launched an all-out offensive aimed at crushing the uprising.  On November 4, Saudi Arabia joined the fighting after rebel forces were accused of killing a border guard and said to have been occupying two villages inside Saudi territory.

The UNICEF report also noted that there was child soldiers on both sides of the conflict.  Estimates suggest that there were approximately 400 child soldiers fighting alongside the Huthis, while the pro-government militia had just fewer than 300 children fighting on their side.

In addition to the children that have died, the report also stated that over 70,000 children have been displaced in the northern cities of Sadaa and Amran.  Furthermore, it is believed that over ninety percent of children in the conflict zone were unable to receive basic education services due to the fighting. Of the 701 schools in Saada Governorate, seventeen were destroyed in the fighting and another sixteen had been taken over by one or other of the warring parties. Most of the remaining schools are now deserted.

Despite a ceasefire that was reached on February 11, reports of sporadic clashes have been commonplace.

For more information, please see:

Reuters- YEMEN: Children Hit Hardest by Northern Conflict– 23 February 2010

Gulf News- 187 Children Killed in Yemen’s War with Rebels– 22 February 2010

News 24- 187 Children Killed in Yemen– 22 February 2010