Belgium Considers Burqa Ban

By Kenneth F. Hunt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

BRUSSELS, Belgium – This week one of Belgium’s two legislative bodies passed a bill that would ban burqas within the country.

The lower house of Belgium’s Parliament, the Chamber of Deputies, voted on Thursday April 29 to ban certain types of veils worn by Muslim women, most notably including burqas.  According to various media accounts, the vote was nearly unanimous (136 to 2) and enjoyed clear majorities from both major Belgian political parties.

Although the bill must still be passed by Belgium’s upper house, the Senate, Belgium is the closest of any European country to passing a ban on the Muslim headwear.  The Senate is expected to overwhelmingly approve the legislation in the coming weeks.  Media outlets predict the bill will be signed into law before the summer.

Other European lawmakers, most notably the French, have also considered a similar ban.  President Sarkozy has indicated France’s ban will come into effect before the fall.

Additionally, several countries, including the Netherlands, Denmark and Poland, have recently had elections that have included overwhelming victories for anti-Islamic parties and candidates.  No country in the European Union has yet, however, had such legislation signed into law.

Logistically, the Belgian legislation would ban any and all clothing or headwear that covers the face in part or in whole.

The penalty for women who wear the veil could range from 150 to 15,000 euros.  Any person who forces a women to wear a burqa can face up to a year in prison.  As in the case of France’s consideration of a burqa ban, criticism of the Belgian legislation has been swift and harsh.

Critics claim that on its face the ban would violates basic tenets of freedom of religion and expression.  They also allege that the law illegally targets only Muslims.

Amnesty International’s John Dalhuisen says that the law “violat[es] of a great many of Belgium’s international obligations”, including “the U.N. convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights.”

For more information, please see:

AL JAZEERA – Anger at Belgian face veil ban – 30 April 2010

EUR ACTIV NETWORK – Belgian lawmakers first in EU to outlaw burqa – 30 April 2010

EXPATICA – Content of the Belgian bill banning the burqa – 30 April 2010

VOICE OF AMERICA – Belgium’s Parliament Votes to Ban Veils – 29 April 2010

Hawaii Legislature Allows Same-Sex Civil Unions

By Stephen Kopko
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

HAWAII, United States- Yesterday, another state joined the ranks of those that recognize homosexual rights.  The Hawaii state legislature passed a bill that would allow for civil unions.  The legislation will go to the Governor for her approval or veto.

Hawaii has had a tradition in the homosexual rights debate.  In 1993, Hawaii became the first state to allow same-sex marriage after their Supreme Court found it was constitutional.  Nevertheless, the citizens of the state passed an amendment to their Constitution in 1998 that protected heterosexual marriage.  The amendment allowed the legislature to pass a law banning same-sex marriage.

Despite the constitutional amendment, House Bill 444 grants greater protections and rights to same-sex couples.  In essence, the legislation grants same-sex couples the same rights and benefits as heterosexual couples.  It also offers protections and benefits to unmarried heterosexual couples.

Previously, the legislation was approved by the Hawaii Senate by an eighteen to seven vote. Originally thought to be off the legislature’s agenda for this year’s session, House Majority Leader Bill Oshiro called the measure for debate yesterday afternoon.   Many supporters of same-sex unions believed the legislation to be dead.  In January State House leaders determined to indefinitely postpone action on the bill.  However, the legislation was passed in House by a thirty-one to twenty vote. Governor Linda Lindle has forty-five days to decide whether to sign the legislation into law or veto it.

Opponents of same-sex civil unions will pressure Governor Lindle to veto the legislation.  Writing to his congregation, Bishop Larry Silva stated; “We need you to mount a campaign to flood the governor’s office with requests to veto the bill.” Supporters of same-sex civil unions were surprised that the House voted for the legislation during this year’s session and were pleased with the outcome.

If the legislation is signed into law, Hawaii will join California, Nevada, New Jersey, Washington, and Oregon as the sixth state to recognize same-sex civil unions.  Massachusetts, Vermont, Washington D.C., Iowa, Connecticut, and New Hampshire allow same-sex marriage.

For more information, please see:

CNN-Hawaii lawmakers pass civil unions bill-30 April 2010

MSNBC-Hawaii lawmakers OK civil unions, send bill to gov-30 April 2010

Honolulu Advertiser-Hawaii Legislature Oks historic civil unions bill; governor now must decide-29 April 2010

China Lifts Ban on HIV-Infected Foreigners

By Hyo-Jin Paik
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China – The twenty year old ban prohibiting foreign travelers with HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, and leprosy from entering China has been lifted.

The Chinese government lifted the ban on Tuesday.  The revision comes just days before the opening of the Shanghai World Expo.

China’s State Council said that several provisions in the Border Quarantine Law and the Law on Control of the Entry and Exit of Aliens, which were implemented in the 1980s, are being revised because the ban was imposed two decades ago with “limited knowledge about HIV/AIDS and other diseases.”  However, the Chinese authorities have now come to a conclusion that such ban had either limited or very small influence in controlling the spread of HIV/AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases in China.

UN Secretary General Bank Ki-moon praised China and President Hu Jintao for lifting the ban saying, “Punitive policies and practices only hamper the global AIDS response.”

The United States also welcomed China’s move.  U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “I commend China’s decision to lift its ban . . . China’s step . . . is supposed by current medical knowledge of HIV transmission and risk.”

Clinton added that the long-standing policy of prohibiting people with HIV from entering the country will also help reduce the stigma and discrimination around this global epidemic.

Those inside China also believe that Chinese government’s lifting of the ban is a step towards progress.  Medical professor at Qingdao University and an advocate for rights of people living with HIV (PLWHIV), Zhang Beichuan, said, “Previously, China viewed HIV/AIDS as an imported disease related to corrupted lifestyle.  But now the government handles it with public health perspective.”

He Tiantian, a Chinese woman in her 30s living with HIV also said, “This revision shows us a silver lining, because we have advocating for the rights of PLWHIV . . . now we know we didn’t do it in vain.”

Nevertheless, He added that it will “take time to end discrimination, but the change in the government’s stance will help change the public’s attitude . . . .”

According to the Health Ministry, the estimated number of those living with HIV in China was approximately 740,000 as of October 2009 and almost 50,000 Chinese have lost their lives to HIV/AIDS since the disease was first reported in 1985.
For more information, please see:

China Daily – China lifts entry ban on HIV/AIDS foreigners – 29 April 2010

RTT News – China Lifts Ban Imposed on HIV-Infected Foreign Travelers – 27 April 2010

Zee News – China lifts ban on entry of HIV individuals; US welcomes – 30 April 2010

Thai Protest Continues in Hospital Raid

By M.E. Dodge
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BANGKOK, Thailand – A major hospital evacuated patients and suspended operations, except emergency surgical procedures, after Red-Shirt, anti-government, protesters surged the hospital in search of security personnel they suspected were using the hospital as a lookout of their base.

  A “red shirt” anti-government protester is detained by Thai soldiers on a street near the residence of Thailand’s Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. Photograph courtesy of Time.

Hospital directors and administrators pleaded with the group not to enter, and after storming the building, and not finding police or military within, the group of protestors withdrew back to their nearby barricaded enclave.

Following the incident, Thailand’s Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, whom the protesters seek to overthrow, went on nationwide television to criticize Red Shirt actions, which he states are paralyzing areas of central Bangkok. In a press release, Vejjajiva stated, ”It’s not necessary for me to condemn (the hospital break-in) since Thai society and the world community have already done that,” and went on to say that the government would ”not allow any movements that pose threats to the public.”

In mid-April Thailand experienced a resurgence of turmoil as minority and majority interests clash. The ideological divergence created a standoff between street protesters, under the United Front for Democracy, against Dictatorship and the government of Abhisit Vejjajiva. The situation has left the country in a perpetual state of unrest. So far, there have been26 reported deaths and hundreds of people injured.

Security forces, in almost every recent instance of protestor violence and activity, have  been unable or unwilling to stop the Red Shirt forays, including that of the hospital breach. In commenting on the group’s actions, Weng Tojirakarn, a Red Shirt leader and medical doctor, issued a ”deep apology” for the raid staged by up to 100 protesters. He told reporters that is was, ”inappropriate, too much, and unreasonable.”

The nation also fears a backlash from another factious group, the Yellow Shirts, who, back in 2008, were responsible for closing Bangkok’s airports for one week. People in Thailand are worried they may also engage in the hostile unrest by further inflicting street violence.

Many believe that to bring these turbulent times to an end, ultimately, Thailand will have to find a way to have majority rule with the protection of minority rights. Some posit this may mean that the Prime Minister will need to make the country’s hierarchy less prohibitive of minority concerns.

 For more information, please see:

The GuardianCompromise is the only answer to the Thai crisis – 30 April 2010

The New York TimesThai Protesters Storm Hospital – 30 April 2010

Associated Press – Thai hospital evacuated after protesters storm it – 30 April 2010

PNG Faces Controversial Ombudsman Bill That May Induce Corruption

By Cindy Trinh
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea – People of Papua New Guinea (PNG) have signed a petition calling on Parliament to reject the proposed Ombudsman Commission Amendment Bill. They fear that the Bill will allow senior politicians in PNG to be free of investigation. The Governor of PNG’s National Capital District has offered to organize a meeting to discuss the controversial bill.

The PNG government’s draft of the Bill is designed by politicians to allow the Ombudsman Commission funds to be cut. People in PNG fear that this bill will prevent the Ombudsman’s Office from investigating senior politicians.

Under the proposed legislation, the Ombudsman Commission would not longer be able to refer politicians to the Leadership Tribunal, or prevent MPs from using Electoral Development Funds for anything by earmarked projects in their electorates.

PNG’s Media Council president, Joe Kanekane, reported that he was given the petition opposing the Bill. Kanekane, who is also the co-chair of the Community Coalition Against Corruption, also reported that the petition was signed by more than 500 people in Aiyura Valley, including representatives from Southern Highlands, Hela, Western Highlands, Jiwaka, Chimbu, and Eastern Highlands.

The petition was an unexpected outcome of a 3-day media literacy workshop that was conducted by the Media Council from April 14-16 for the Highlands region, which was attended by 40 participants.

The workshop included a forum on the awareness of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and PNG’s performance, which then attracted more than 500 people.

Media Council’s executive director, Nimo Walter Kama, who launched the workshop, stated: “None of the forum participants had any idea of what the MDGs were. They did not even know the targets that were supposed to be achieved and were concerned that 10 years had already gone without any real achievements.”

Kama further stated: “But most forum respondents recognized that the MDG targets of ending hunger and poverty, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowering women, reducing child deaths, improving maternal health, curbing HIV/AIDS, malaria and other preventable diseases, and ensuring environmental sustainability, would transform rural communities.”

Kama reported that during a question and answer session in the forum, a petition to Parliament was proposed to focus on key developmental issues. The petition focused on the concern that PNG, as a signatory to the MDGs, had downgraded their efforts to tackle on the developmental issues that PNG people face. There was a lot of enthusiasm to sign the petition.

In light of the strong advocacy for the petition, the Governor of PNG’s National Capital District, Powes Parkop, has offered to organize a meeting between NGOs and MP Moses Maladina to discuss the parliamentary bill.

Parkop reported that he wants to play the middle-man because he does not want to see a planned protest march against the bill to occur in Port Moresby. He fears of the potential destruction if protestors lose control.

However, Parkop’s fear of a march has already been in progress. A march is being planned by the Community Coalition Against Corruption. The NGO group is concerned over what they see as a move to weaken the Ombudsman’s powers.

Parkop responded by stating that while some of the proposed amendments should be changed, some provisions do have merit, and thus the bill should be scrutinized properly.

Students from the University of Papua New Guinea sign the petition calling on Parliament to reject the proposed amendment
Students from the University of Papua New Guinea sign the petition calling on Parliament to reject the proposed amendment

For more information, please see:
Radio New Zealand International – Governor of PNG capital offers to organize dialogue over controversial Ombudsman bill – 29 April 2010

Pacific Islands Media Association (Pima Nius) – Media Council receives petition opposing Ombudsman fund-cutting bill – 27 April 2010

Pacific.Scoop – Media Council receives petition opposing Ombudsman fund-cutting bill – 27 April 2010

Omar Khadr Boycotts Second Day of Hearings

By William Miller
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba – Canadian Citizen Omar Khadr was not present for the second day of hearings to decide if any of the evidence against him should be suppressed. Khadr who was just fifteen when he was arrested in Afghanistan is to be tried for war crimes in a military tribunal. He decided to boycott the proceedings because military officials required him to wear sensory deprivation equipment while he was being transported from the jail to the court house.

Omar Khadr at age 15 when he was captured and at age 22 (PHOTO: Miami Herald)
Omar Khadr at age 15 when he was captured and at age 22 (PHOTO: Miami Herald)

Khadr was born in Canada to Al Qaeda supporters. He was taken to Afghanistan when he was just ten. During his time in Afghanistan he stayed in Al Qaeda camps and assisted in building road side bombs.

Khadr was just fifteen years old when he was arrested by U.S. Forces in Afghanistan for allegedly throwing a grenade that killed a United States medic. Prosecution witness FBI agent Robert Fuller testified to an account of the incident he says Khadr gave him when he was sixteen.

“He said one of the Afghan locals was running toward their compound yelling, ‘The Americans are coming. At that time he remembers (they gathered) up personal effects — the video camera and some film — placed them into duffel bags and then (tried) to exit the compound, where they engaged U.S. forces.”

Fuller further testified that Khadr told him how he watched as the three men he exited the compound with were gunned down by U.S. Forces. Fuller then said Khadr told him he “then he retrieved a grenade, threw the grenade over the compound wall, and then said he passed out.” Khadr presumably passed out from injuries he incurred during the conflict.

Fuller said he never read Khadr his rights during the interview but defended this position saying it was FBI policy not to and that the conversations were not coercive.

Khadr refused to appear at his hearing on Thursday, April 29 after guards required him to wear earmuffs and goggles during transport which were designed to block out his sight and hearing. Although he had complained of an eye problem earlier in the day this was not why he refused the to wear them. He said that the goggles and earmuffs were humiliating.

Khadr’s lawyer, Barry Coburn said this was the first time he was forced to wear such equipment. Coburn said Khadr had only been required to wear them until he was secured in a windowless transport in the past but guards had forced him to wear them for the entire trip as an unnecessary form of punishment.

Military Judge Col. Patrick Parrish originally held that Khadr had knowingly and voluntarily waived his right to appear and started the proceedings without him. After a short recess however he returned and said no one had ever advised Khadr of his right to appear and the consequences of not doing so. He ordered Khadr to be forcibly brought to the courthouse to be advised of his rights unless his defense attorney could persuade him to do so voluntarily.

The hearing Khadr has boycotted is being held to determine if confessions given by Khadr should be suppressed because they were elicited through torture. Khadr has been interrogated more than 100 times during his imprisonment. The defense also seeks to suppress a video tape of Khadr participating in the building of a roadside bomb.

Khadr who is now twenty-three has spent more than a third of his life in prison. If he is convicted he could be sentenced to life. Khadr’s attorneys say that they will appeal any decision to allow Khadr’s confessions to be used as evidence. The case has inflamed many activists who believe Khadr should be considered a child soldier and rehabilitated and sent back home to Canada.

For more information, please see:

Globe and Mail – Khadr Absent from Day Two of Hearings – 29 April 2010

Vancouver Sun – Khadr Boycotts Proceedings at Guantanamo Bay – 29 April 2010

Washington Post – Military Tribunal Opens Hearing on Guantanamo Detainee Omar Khadr – 29 April 2010

Australian Human Rights Framework Focuses on Education Initiatives

By Eileen Gould
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

CANBERRA, Australia – The Australian Government has refused to incorporate human rights into the law, an action which has been criticized by the ACT Human Rights Commissioner.

A recommendation suggested that the administration of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd adopt a law, allowing judges to review Australia’s laws, practices, and policies for human rights compliance.

Instead, Julia Gillard, Minister for Education, and Robert McClelland, Attorney General, announced the Government’s initiative to educate Australians and ensure their access to information about human rights.

According to Mr. McClelland, “[e]nhancing [Australia’s] efforts to improve human rights education is critical as too many Australians are not informed about what human rights are or how they are currently protected.”

Among the education initiatives included in the framework is a provision for “greater support for human rights education across the country, including primary and secondary schools” and “investing $2 million for the development and delivery of community education and engagement programs to promote a greater understanding of human rights by non-governmental organizations (NGOs)”.

The Federal Government plans to invest a total of $12 million for human right education, including the establishment of the framework for human rights, and also includes the formation of a new Parliament committee on this issue. However, the Government refuses to set up a Bill of Rights as part of this framework, contrary to recommendations made by an expert panel.

This decision, according to Human Rights Commissioner Dr. Helen Watchirs, goes against Australia’s wishes.  A national consultation process revealed that approximately 29,000 submissions out of 35,000 favored a Human Rights Act.  The research revealed that Australians supported human rights education rather than a human rights charter, yet there is no doubt Australians would support a human rights act.

Based on the experiences of two provinces, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory, both of which have implemented Human Rights Acts, advocates claim that a national Act would be beneficial, as it would promote a more accountable government, address poverty, and improve public services.

This new Human Rights Framework will be reviewed in 2014.

For more information please see:

Sydney Morning Herald – A charter of rights is divisive? The vast majority think not – 23 April 2010

ABC – Human Rights Framework: icing without the cake – 22 April 2010

ABC News – Govt ‘ignoring’ Australian’s wishes on human rights – 22 April 2010

Govmonitor – Australia Outlines Education Initiatives to Enhance Human Rights – 22 April 2010

Suspension of Due Process in Paraguay Criticized

By Sovereign Hager
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

Photo Courtesy of MERCO Press
Photo Courtesy of MERCO Press

ASUNCION, Paraguay- On Sunday, April 25, 2020, Paraguay’s president signed a bill into law declaring a state of emergency in five of Paraguay’s seventeen provinces. The bill includes a thirty day suspension of constitutional due process guarantees, with an aim to grant the military greater power to combat the Paraguayan People’s Army (PPA). The PPA, an armed leftist group is allegedly responsible for murders, including four police officers.

The bill affects the norther provinces of Concepcion, San Pedro, Amambay, Presidente Hayes and Alto Paraguay and permits officers to arrest any suspected members of the PPA, without warrants. Additionally, there is a ban on public gatherings and protests along with increased controls on the circulation of vehicles on highways and local roads.

The PPA established itself as an armed group after taking responsibility for the September 2004 murder of Cecilia Cubas, a daughter of a former president. Her body was discovered in 2005 after she died in captivity. The group is thought to have roughly one hundred members that operate in remote, inaccessible forested areas, with little access to technology.

Controversy over the bill took center stage when the Vice President Federico Franco declared that the objective of the emergency law is not the elimination of the PPA. It is unclear what Franco was referring to, however, rights groups are also voicing opposition. The Paraguayan Human Rights Coordinating Group (CODEHUPY) stated that the threshold for a state emergency to be declared has not been reached. Specifically, they highlighted the fact that Paraguay is neither involved in an international armed conflict nor facing a situation that could endanger any state institutions in the five affected provinces. CODEHUPY, speaking with IPS, attributed the current situation to “criminals acting outside the law who should be apprehended, charged, and sentenced under the regular legal system.”

CODEHUPY further remarked that if the armed group, they allege contains around ten individuals justifies a state of emergency, then there is a problem with the incapacity of the country’s security agencies. Similarly, a trade union federation, Central Nacional de Trabajadores, pledged to act swiftly in the event there are any violations of the public freedoms established by the constitution.

For more information, please see:

AFP-Paraguay Suspends Rights in Crackdown on Rebel Group-25 April 2010

BBC-Paraguay Suspends Rights in Crackdown on Rebels-24 April 2010

IPS-Paraguay:Controversy Over Troop Deployment-28 April 2010

US Intends to Transfer non-Afghan Bagram Detainees

By Alok Bhatt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BAGRAM, Afghanistan – Representatives of the US military recently divulged its designs to remove and re-locate non-Afghan prisoners presently detained in Bagram Air Base.  Bagram Air Base signifies the United States’ controversial detention facility outside the capital  city of Kabul.  Since 2001, the US military has utilized Bagram Air Base to hold suspected enemy combatants, persons classified as terrorists, and other alleged malefactors.  Numerous human rights issues have been invoked since the transformation of the Air Base into a prison.  Among the most significant international law violations charged are the torture of Bagram inmates and the indiscriminate abduction and subsequent captivity of persons with unconfirmed combatant status from countries surrounding Afghanistan.

Vice-Admiral Robert Harward of Joint Task Force 435, overseer of detainees and operations concerning their imprisonment, stated that Bagram contains only a small number of non-Afghan detainees.  There are supposedly only approximately thirty to sixty foreign nationals held in Bagram.  The US military has also claimed that it is currently coordinating with the native countries of the non-Afghan detainees.  These negotiations aim to deliver non-Afghan inmates back to the legal structures of their respective home nations.

The decision to  release all non-Afghan detainees is said to have formed from Afghanistan’s requests, for they did not desire to manage persons from other states when the Afghan government assumed control of the prison.  Prior to the recent decision to ultimately relinquish control of Bagram to Afghanistan, the US military had sole rule over its operations.  However, by the end of 2010, the US military hopes to transfer the responsibility of running the prison to the Afghan government.  While Afghanistan will possess control of the institution,the US military will retain some minimal involvement.

In late 2009, the US military announced myriad reforms pertinent to the management of the Bagram Air Base.  Following the completion of expansion and renovation of the prison, it was announced that greater transparency and regard for rights would be implemented into its system.  The Afghan government will be charged with fulfilling these promises, particularly as they regard the non-Afghan nationals.  Although negotiations to transfer foreign nationals have gone underway, the ultimate fate of non-Afghan detainees, as a general matter, remains to be determined.

For more information, please see:

Al-Jazeera – US to ‘transfer Bagram detainees’ – 27 April 2010

Common Dreams – US to “transfer Bagram detainees’… – 28  April 2010

NPR – Rights Groups Descry U.S. Stand on Bagram Detainees – 15 September 2009

Russia Publishes Katyn Massacre Archives Online

By Elizabeth A. Conger
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia – Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has ordered the online publication of the once-secret files pertaining the 1940 massacre of roughly 22,0o0 members of the Polish elite by Soviet forces.  The files, labeled “Packet No. 1”, had previously only been available to researchers.  The move is part of a campaign by Moscow to warm relations with Poland, and is seen as another step towards Russian acknowledgment of Soviet-era atrocities.

Medvedev told reporters in Copenhagen: “I think this is our duty . . . Let everyone see what was done, who made the decisions . . . all the signatures are there.”

Photo: German soldiers unearthing a mass grave at Katyn in 1943. / Source: Times Online
Photo: German soldiers unearthing a mass grave at Katyn in 1943. / Source: Times Online

The April 1940 killings, which transpired largely in the Katyn forests near Smolensk, Russia, were carried out by Soviet secret police acting upon Stalin’s orders.  Those killed in the massacre included members of the Polish elite, such as officers, politicians and artists.  The men were shot in the back of the head and dumped into mass graves.  Along with the remains of the Polish prisoners of war are mingled the remains of roughly 10,000 Soviet citizens shot in the Stalinist purges of the 1930s.

The Soviets had blamed the massacre on Nazi Germany for decades before acknowledging responsibility in 1990.  Documents confirming the Soviet’s role were declassified by former Russian President Boris Yeltsin in 1992.

Despite Russian acknowledgment that the the Soviet Union was behind the massacre, there remained lingering speculation that the massacre was, in fact, an act of the Nazis.  According to the WSJ, a poll taken in March revealed that more Russians blamed the massacre on the Germans than the Soviets.

Since historians have already had access to the files for nearly twenty years, the decision to publish the documents on the state archive website is seen largely as a symbolic gesture.

In response to the online publication of the documents, Polish ministry spokesman Piotr Paszkowski told the BBC: “It’s yet another symbolic step testifying to the fact that we are witnessing an obvious change in the Russian attitude and handling of the Katyn issue.”

There has been an ease in tension between Poland and Russia recently, and early this month leaders from both states marked the seventieth anniversary of the massacre together in a joint ceremony attended by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk.

Former Polish President, Lech Kaczynski, was killed in a plane crash on the way to another event marking the massacre.  The way in which Russian officials handled the aftermath of the crash has been well received in Poland.

Russian state archive chief, Andrei Artyzov, said: “We on the Russian side are showing absolute openness in telling what happened in Katyn and other places with Polish prisoners of war. . . All the basic documents about these events have been published.”

The Russian state, however, still possesses confidential files regarding a Russian investigation into the massacre which began in the 1990s. Russian human rights activists have pressed the government to make these files public as well.

Atyzov also stated that Russian and Polish investigators should work jointly to research the victims to “restore truth to every last surname and to find all those who were shot and killed at Katyn and other places.”

One of the documents that will be published online is a letter addressed to Stalin and dated March 5, 1940 from the then-head of the Soviet secret police, [known as the NKVD], Lavrenty Beria. In the letter, Beria recommends the execution of the Polish prisoners of war and the concealment of their remains.  Beria described the prisoners as “steadfast, incorrigible enemies of Soviet Power” and stated that “each of them is just waiting for liberation so as to actively join the struggle against Soviet Power.”

The letter also shows Stalin’s signature in blue pencil, with the comment: “In favor.”

For more information, please see:

BBC – Russia publishes Katyn massacre archives – 28 April 2010

RIA Novosti – Russia to reveal Katyn documents to end speculation – 28 April 2010

Times Online – Russia releases secret papers on Katyn massacre signed by Stalin – 28 April 2010

Wall Street Journal – Moscow Releases Katyn Documents – 28 February 2010

Hunger Crisis In Yemen Escalates

By Ahmad Shihadah
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

SA’NA, Yemen – The UN World Food Program (WFP), facing huge budget shortfalls, is being forced to reduce rations for over 250,000 Yemenis who have been displaced by the conflict in the northern part of the country.

On 28 April the Government of Yemen – represented by H.E. Minister Ahmed Al-Kohlani, Minister of Parliament Affairs and Head of Executive Unit for IDPs – and the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) – represented by Gian Carlo Cirri, Country Director –will be holding a press conference. The aim is to appeal for urgent support to allow WFP and key partners including Islamic Relief Yemen – represented by Khalid Almulad, Country Director – to maintain life-saving monthly food support to more than 250,000 persons displaced by the Sa’ada conflict. These families are entirely dependent on food assistance for survival.

WFP has received less than 30% of the funding it requires in order to maintain vital food and nutrition activities to displaced families and can no longer maintain its assistance. In order to make the increasingly limited quantities of food last longer, WFP will be required to reduce rations to 50% of the planned May basket. This means that rather than receiving 2,100 kcal per person per day – which is the minimum amount of food required for a healthy life – families will receive only some 1,050 kcal per person per day. Before September, WFP will have to suspend activities entirely, including nutrition support to 50,000 children under 5 years of age.

The WFP said it needs more than 77 million dollars to overcome the shortfall in its 2010 funding and continue operations in Yemen.

In order to make the increasingly limited quantities of food last longer in the meantime, the WFP said it would reduce rations to 50 per cent of the planned May basket. These ration cuts “will lead to a humanitarian catastrophe,” the UN agency predicted.

A WFP document obtained yesterday reads, “Reducing rations is not the solution, but rather a last resort.  We have serious concerns about the impact that ration reductions will have on the nutrition and health status of families as they rely entirely on this assistance for survival.  At this point we have no other option but to reduce rations in order to make the limited food quantities we have last longer until we get additional support…”

The dire funding situation is not limited to the IDP operation alone. Overall in 2010 WFP is facing a shortfall of 75% of its requirements, meaning that more than US$ 77 million are required or the agency will be forced to suspend operations in Yemen. As a result, more than 3.4 million persons overall will not receive the food and nutrition support they require, including malnourished mothers and children, families who are unable to meet their food needs, school girls, Somali refugees, and IDPs.

For more information, please see:

NewsFlash – Hunger Crisis Escalates In Yemen, U.S. Needs To Show Leadership – 28 April 2010

Examiner – World Food Programme Appeals For Support To Stop Hunger Crisis In Yemen – 28 April 2010

Earth Time – UN Warns Of Humanitarian ‘Catastrophe’ In Yemen Amid Funds Shortage – 28 April 2010

Iranian Opposition Calls for Protest on Election Anniversary

By Bobby Rajabi

Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

TEHRAN, Iran – On April 27, Iran’s main opposition leaders called for protests to take place on the anniversary of the disputed June 12, 2009 presidential election. Opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi came to the decision after a April 27 meeting, according to Karroubi’s website. The Sahamnews website reported that the leaders “insisted on staging a demonstration on June 12…and called on all reformist groups, organisations and parties to send their requests for this to the interior ministry.”

The meeting between Karroubi and Mousavi was called to discuss the current situation in the Islamic Republic with respect to government activity. The two opposition leaders came to the conclusion that “the government’s performance was negative in all fields –political and economic.” The two also spoke of their opposition to the government’s imprisonment of reformists and corruption by the Iranian vice president. Mousavi said that “these acts are anti-Islamic, I truly don’t understand how they will answer to God.”

As a result of this assessment, the two men called for “the pubic’s participation in peaceful demonstrations on the anniversary of the presidential election.” The two urged opposition groups and political parties to send requests asking for permission to march on the anniversary to the Islamic Republic’s Interior ministry. The Interior Ministry has repeatedly denied such requests in the past.

The election marked the re-election of incumbent Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who defeated both Mousavi and Karroubi. Immediately after the election came claims of voter fraud and accusations of vote-rigging. What followed were protests in streets of the Islamic Republic’s major cities. Security forces cracked down on protesters. Dozens of protesters were killed and hundreds were rounded up and arrested. Those who were put on trial, including journalists and human rights advocates, received stiff sentences for their involvement.

The last major protest against the Islamic Republic’s government came in December where eight protesters were killed. Hard line government authorities have branded those involved in the protest movement as being involved with a sedition perpetrated by Iran’s enemies. These enemies allegedly include the United States and the United Kingdom.

For more information, please see:

AFP – Iran’s Opposition Plan Protests on Poll Anniversary – 27 April 2010

New York Times – Iran: Opposition Calls for Protests – 27 April 2010

Voice of America – Iran Opposition Leaders Call for Election Anniversary Rallies – 27 April 2010

Washington Post – Iran Opposition Urges Vote Anniversary Rally: Website – 27 April 2010