73 Dead in Jamaican Slum as Government Searches for Suspected Drug Trafficker

By Sovereign Hager
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

(Photo Courtesy of Reuters)
(Photo Courtesy of Reuters)

KINGSTON, Jamaica-Seventy-three people have reportedly been killed and five hundred arrested during Jamaican police efforts to capture Christopher “Dudus” Coke. Coke is a well known leader in the Kingston slums, who is wanted by the United States on drug trafficking charges. Authorities intend to extradite Coke to the United States.

Amnesty International called for a thorough investigation into the violence and deaths. The rights group recognized that while authorities have a responsibility to ensure order, the current extraordinary powers exerted by the Jamaican security forces could lead to human rights violations.

A state of emergency has been declared in parts of Kingston. Amnesty pointed out that even in officially declared states of emergency, international law requires Jamaica to guarantee the rights of those detained, including having their detention reviewed by an independent tribunal. Over five hundred people have been detained in the search for Coke. The circumstances of the seventy three deaths have not been explained by authorities.

The Jamaican prime minister, Bruch Golding has not yet visited his constituents in the affected area. Residents complain about arbitrary arrests and say that they do not feel safe. Coke and other slum leaders, known as “dons” are thought to occupy a void created by a lack of government services in Jamaica’s slums. There is already speculation that the government will not be able to occupy the void in authority after the dons are officially deposed.

Up to this point Jamaican slums have operated under an arrangement where politicians and dons share power. The dons provide security through extortion and control of the drug trade. They then channel some resources through the neighborhoods to build support for certain political leaders by ensuring the loyalty of their voters.

Coke is accused with trafficking cocaine and marijuana into the United States’ East Coast, allegedly causing “gangland” conflicts that have killed thousands. The government has asked at least ten other dons, like Coke to surrender in efforts to combat gang violence.

For more information, please see:

AFP-Drug Suspect Still in Jamaica: Police Chief-31 May 2010

NY Times-Jamaica Strains to Fill Void After Ejecting Gang Bosses-31 May 2010

Voice of America-Unrest Death Toll Reaches 73-31 May 2010

Rome Statute Review Conference to Challenge Negative Perceptions

By Celeste Little
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

KAMPALA, Uganda- Monday, May 31 begins a two week conference in Kampala, Uganda to review the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court hosted by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. The conference will be attended by representatives of state parties to the International Criminal Court (ICC), based in the Hague, the Netherlands. Fifteen hundred to two thousand delegates are expected to attend.

The Rome Statute is a treaty that established the International Criminal Court, its functions, jurisdiction, and structure in Rome, Italy on July 17, 1998 and was implemented on July 1, 2002. There are 110 states which are party to the statute and  there are 38 states which have signed and not ratified the treaty. The seven countries that voted against the treaty are Iraq, Israel, Libya, China, Qatar, the United States, and Yemen.

The ICC is defined by the Rome Statute, as a permanent tribunal to prosecute the most serious international crimes. The statute requires its own review, and in turn a review of the ICC, every seven years and the upcoming conference in Uganda is the first time since 2002 that the statute has been reviewed.

One of the two primary focuses of this year’s conference is to make changes to Article 125 of the statute, which deals with the crime of aggression, it’s definition, and the use of certain weapons to constitute war crimes. The second major focus is stocktaking, where non-governmental organizations and other key parties will discuss the impact of the Rome statute on four pertinent areas–the impact of the Rome Statute system on victims and their communities, cooperation, complementarity and peace and justice.

Currently, the ICC is prosecuting suspected war criminals in several situations. In the situation in Uganda, the top five members of the Lords Resistance are being prosecuted for war crimes. And in it’s prosecution of war criminals related to the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, one of the individuals being prosecuted is the alleged founder of the Union des Patriotes Congolais (UPC), Thomas Lubanga Dylo, who is being prosecuted for war crimes including “conscripting and enlisting children under the age of fifteen years and using them to participate actively in hostilities” according to the ICC arrest warrant.

The Sudanese president, Omar Hassan Ahmad Al Bashir is being prosecuted for war crimes which amount genocide.  In the Central African Republic, the alleged president and commander-in-chief of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo, Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, is being prosecuted for war crimes which include murder, rape, torture, pillaging, and outrages upon personal dignity and crimes against humanity,  including murder, rape, and torture. Furthermore, the situation in Kenya was recently opened for investigation.

Critics have said that the ICC has only prosecuted crimes committed in Africa, which evidences that it is a primarily European court, targeting Africans. The ICC has considered this negative perception in choosing to hold the review conference in Uganda as well as the revue the conference would bring to the country.

The ICC is launching a YouTube series of videos which will cover the review conference, for those who are interested in further education regarding the discussions that will occur during these next two weeks.

For more information, please see:

Voice of America– Uganda Hosts Review of Rome Statute Conference— 30 May 2010

AFP-ICC Seeks More Teeth at Kampala Meet-29 May 2010

Daily Nation-Nation Meets in Kampala to Chart Future of Hague Court-29 May 2010

Four Police Officers Lynched in Bolivia

By R. Renee Yaworsky
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

POTOSI, Bolivia — In a public meeting, members of five indigenous communities in northern Potosi, Bolivia, admitted to lynching four police officers on Sunday.  Responding to accounts that the officers were tortured and killed, indigenous leaders described them as “thieves disguised as police.”  The leaders said they would not hand over the bodies until the police conduct an investigation into the alleged “murder” by police of several area residents that took place months ago.  They also accuse the police of stealing seven cars from their community and voted to retain the bodies until those cars are returned.

The BBC reported that Potosi Police Chief Orlando Avila said his officers could not enter the area because “there were sharp shooters stationed all along the highway” threatening to kill anyone trying to retrieve the bodies.  Avila estimated that about 10,000 people were mobilized to prevent authorities from entering.

Members of the indigenous clans accused the four hanged officers of charging between $200 and $1,000 to ignore the smuggling of cars from neighboring Chile.  At a local meeting on Wednesday, one indigenous leader announced, “Brothers, we did not kill police officers, we killed thieves disguised as police officers.”

The slain officers belonged to a unit responsible for tackling car theft in neighboring Oruro province.  They may have been in Potosi on a search to recover stolen vehicles.  Many indigenous residents believe the officers were in Potosi to extort car smugglers.  It is also possible that the indigenous members who killed them mistook them for criminals in a route commonly used by smugglers.

Avila said he wants to arrange a meeting with indigenous leaders to begin an investigation of the lynching.  Bolivia’s deputy minister for public safety, Gen. Miguel Vazquez, said that the government’s current priority is “to calm” the population in Uncia.

The indigenous communities of Aymara and Quechua Indians are called the Ayllus Guerreros, or Warrior Clans, because of a 200-year history of  bloody conflicts over land.  Each of the five clans has about 8,000 to 10,000 residents in the area where the officers were lynched.  Clashes among these groups have been blamed for about 10,000 deaths since 1830.  The most recent violence occurred nine years ago, resulting in 57 deaths.

For more information, please see:

Latin American Herald Tribune–Bolivian Indians: Lynched Men Were Thieves, Not Police–28 May 2010

BBC–Indigenous Group Lynches Four Policemen in Bolivia–27 May 2010

UPI–4 Police Officers Lynched in Bolivia–27 May 2010

Mosque Attacks: 80 Pakistani Worshippers Murdered

By David L. Chaplin II
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan –The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan says it warned of a possible attack, urging the government “to provide fool proof security to the Ahmadi community.”

Unknown gunmen have launched simultaneous raids on two mosques of the minority Ahmadi Islamic sect in Lahore, killing more than 80 people, Pakistani police say. The attackers fired guns and threw grenades at worshippers during Friday prayers. Three militants later blew themselves up with suicide vests. Pakistani forces have secured both buildings, but are still searching for militants who fled the scene.

At least 80 killed, more than 70 wounded in joint Mosque Attacks
At least 80 killed, more than 70 wounded in joint Mosque Attacks

Lahore has been the scene of a string of brazen attacks. It is unclear who carried out the attacks, but suspicion has fallen on the Pakistani Taliban, Ali Dayan Hassan of Human Rights Watch told the BBC. Mr Hassan said the worshippers were “easy targets” for militant Sunni groups who consider the Ahmadis to be infidels.

Shiite Muslims have borne the brunt of individual suicide bombings and targeted killings for years in Sunni-majority Pakistan, though Christians and Ahmadis have also faced violence. The long-standing sectarian violence in the country has been exacerbated by the rise of the Sunni extremist Taliban and al-Qaida movements.

Pakistan’s Geo TV channel said the Punjab province branch of the Pakistani Taliban had claimed responsibility; however, repeated attempts by the Associated Press to reach the group were not successful. The Pakistani Taliban are believed to have played a role in the failed car bomb attempt in New York City’s Times Square earlier this month.

Shahbaz Sharif, the chief minister of Punjab province where the attacks took place, had several remarks following the events, alluding to the fact that that they call themselves Muslims but believe that Muhammad was not the final prophet. This view contradicts a central Islamic belief. Ahmadis are reviled as heretics by mainstream Muslims for their belief that their sect’s founder was a savior foretold by the Quran, Islam’s holy book. The group has experienced years of state-sanctioned discrimination and occasional attacks by radical Sunni Muslims in Pakistan, but never before in such a large-scale, sophisticated fashion. The group, which is thought to number between 3 million and 4 million people in the country, endures “the most severe legal restrictions and officially sanctioned discrimination” among Pakistan’s religious minorities, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

For more information, please see:

CNN World – At least 80 killed in Lahore attacks – 28 May 2010

Al Jazeera English – Death in Pakistan mosques raids – 28 May 2010

The Huffington Post – Pakistan Mosque Attacks: At Least 80 Killed – 28 May 2010

Image Courtesy of Boston.com

Behind The Coal Mine Disaster In Russia

By Tristan Simoneau
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MEZHDURECHENSK, Russia – Two weeks ago, in western Siberia, twin methane explosions destroyed Russia’s largest coal mine.  At least 67 miners were killed and 23 are still missing.  The mine is owned by the Raspadskaya Coal Company, which is mainly controlled by the powerful steel giant Evraz, who owns a 40 percent stake in the Raspadskaya mine.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin addressing a commission  investigating the Raspadskaya coal mine disaster
Photo: Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin addressing a commission investigating the Raspadskaya coal mine disaster [Source: Christian Science Monitor]

It is still unclear how the methane was allowed to build to such dangerous levels despite the mine being equipped with modern sensors.  Government officials have said the explosions were likely a result of an enormous underground burst of gas, a so called “mystery of nature” as one expert described.  However, many Russian miners have offered another explanation for this disaster.  Mining companies often link workers’ pay to the amount of coal that is extracted.  It is possible that in order to increase their potential earnings, miners covered the methane sensors with wet rags.  Miners earn a base monthly salary of approximately $830 a month, which can rise to $1,164 if they meet their production quotas.

The deputy chairman of the Russian Coal Miners’ Trade Union stated that this policy motivated workers to block sensors which led to an explosion in 2007 that killed 110 at another site where Evraz owns a large stake.  In a commentary that ran in “The Moscow Times” on May 19th, political analyst Yulia Latynina wrote that “Evraz must pay Putin’s bureaucrats large bribes and kickbacks to stay in operation.  These ‘corruption taxes’ are built into production costs at Raspadskaya, which may translate into lower wages and thus the need for miners to circumvent safety regulations in order to earn bonuses.”

Most Russians learned about the mining accident from one of the three big nationwide TV channels which are either state-run or controlled by Kremlin-friendly business interests.  What many people were not made aware of was that on the night of May 15th, at least 300 miners and supporters in Mezhdurechensk, the Siberian mining town where the tragedy occurred, staged a protest.  A key railway line was blocked in the protest that called the response by the government uncaring and inadequate.  Raspadskaya miner Sergei Krasilnikov said the reason for this protest is that locals are bitter about the lack of coverage in the national media.  He stated that “the protests began precisely because there was no information about the accident and no one knew what was actually going on.”

The Kremlin may have control over through the TV networks but increasingly the youth of Russia are turning to the internet, making it possible to achieve more objective viewpoints on disasters such as the Raspadskaya tragedy.

For more information, please see:

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR – After Russian Coal Mine Disaster, Questions about TV Censorship – 25 May 2010

RADIO FREE EUROPE – Black Hole: Russian Mining Tragedy Stirs Old Questions of Class, Privilege – 22 May 2010

THE NEW YORK TIMES – Putin Suggests Human Error in Mine Disaster – 11 May 2010

Summer Camp in Gaza Destroyed by Extremists

By Dallas Steele,
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

The burnt remains of the summer camp (Photo Courtesy of CNN.com)
The burnt remains of the summer camp (Photo Courtesy of CNN.com)

GAZA CITY, Gaza – A children’s summer camp in Gaza was burned to the ground by a group of masked men on Sunday. The men broke in to the camp, tied and beat up a security guard, and burned the tents and plastic swimming pools that had been set up for the camp. While no one was injured by the fire, the summer camp, sponsored by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), was due to open mere hours before its destruction occurred.

A group of suspects was arrested by Hamas leaders in Gaza on Tuesday, but no group has yet claimed responsibility for the destruction of the camp. It is widely believed, however, that the attack was carried out by a band of Islamic extremists who are opposed to summer camps that allow boys and girls to mingle. John Ging, UNRWA’s Gaza director, has told reporters that the attack was committed by people with an “extremist mentality.”

The ruined summer camp is one of the largest of the several UNRWA camps across the occupied Palestinian territory. After destroying the camp, the masked militants left behind three bullets and a letter addressed to the United Nations warning them to stop sponsoring the summer camps.

Ging has reportedly remained defiant and vowed to not allow such acts to intimidate UNRWA. Furthermore, he pledged to not only continue all other camps in Gaza as planned, but to also repair the damaged camp.

The attack comes as a major loss for children in the area as nearly 250,000 campers are known to attend every summer. Additionally, many parents now fear for the safety of their children from similar attacks in the future.

It is speculated that the recent attack is another in a handful of attacks executed by small, radical groups looking to impose Islamic law in Gaza, something Hamas has yet to do since its takeover of the territory in June 2007.

For more information, please see:

CNN — Gaza summer camp burned, witnesses say — 23 May 2010

Al Jazeera — Gaza children’s camp destroyed — 23 May 2010

Yahoo! News — Hamas makes arrest over torching of UN summer camp — 25 May 2010

Bahrain Bans Al Jazeera

By Warren Popp
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

Al Jazeera faces indefinite ban in Bahrain (Source: Al Jazeera)
Al Jazeera faces an indefinite ban in Bahrain. (Source: Al Jazeera)

MANAMA, Bahrain — On May 18, Bahrain banned Qatari-based Al Jazeera from operating within Bahrain for an indefinite period of time, and barred a broadcast crew from traveling to Bahrain to interview former UN Climate Chief Yvo De Boer. According to the official Bahrain News Agency, the ban was imposed for “breaching the professional media norms and flouting the laws regulating the press and publishing.”

In response to the ban, Al Jazeera claims it was “surprised and puzzeled” by the decision. They also expressed regret that the decision was never officially conveyed to them, and said its editorial line and professional policy in reporting on the news and on issues has not changed. Al Jazeera reiterated that it continues to adhere to its motto, “Equal opportunity for opinions and counter opinions.”

It is still unclear what precipitated this sudden ban, especially given that Al Jazeera does not even have a bureau office in Bahrain. According to Tunisian journalist Habib Toumi, the Information Minister claimed the ban was imposed because Al Jazeera was deliberately attempting to harm Bahrain and that it was demonstrating a bias towards Israel. Claims of bias towards Israel have caused the banning of Al Jazeera’s broadcasts in several Arab countries in the past.

Israel also had a major clash with Al Jazeera last year, imposing sanctions on the broadcaster after Qatar closed the Israeli trade office in opposition to Israel’s military offensive in the Gaza Strip. Israel responded by calling the station a hostile entity and to sought to close its offices in Israel. However, Isreal’s High Court of Justice prevented this action, and instead chose chose to limit the network’s activity in Israel and Palestine.

The Bahraini ban may also have been the result of Al Jazeera’s recent programs on poverty and the treatment of Asian laborers, which are purportedly sensitive matters in Bahrain. Other observers believe that it is simply a reflection of persistent tensions between Bahrain and Qatar since the settlement of a dispute over the Hawar Islands in 2001.

In the statement announcing the ban, Bahrain’s Culture and Information Ministry said, “The decision to freeze the activities of the office will be maintained until the ministry and the channel agree on a memorandum of understanding protecting the rights of both sides on the basis of reciprocity in exercising press and media work in both countries.”

According to Gulf Daily News, Bahrain Journalists Association deputy chairman Faisal Abdulla Shaikh said that he believes it is in everyone’s best interests that the dispute be resolved immediately. Watchdog groups such as the Committee to Protect Journalists have also condemned the decision. Reporters Without Borders stated its concern regarding the ban, and they “urge the culture and information ministry to rescind this decision.”

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Bahrain Blocks Al Jazeera Team – 19 May 2010

Bahrain New Agency – Bahrain-based Al Jazeera Office Temporarily Frozen s Age – 18 May 2010

Gulf Daily News – Call to Resolve Al Jazeera Row – 25 May 2010

GlobalVoices – Bahrain: Why was Al Jazeera’s Office Shut Down? – 19 May 2010

Guardian News – Bahrain Suspends Al-Jazeera Operations and Bars TV Crew – 19 May 2010

Haaretz.com – Bahrain Suspends Al-Jazeera for ‘Flouting Press Laws’ – 19 May 2010

Habib Toumi – Bahrain Defends Decision to Freeze Al Jazeera’s Activities as Reporters Without Borders Urges Manama to Reconsider its Move – 20 May 2010

Innocent People or Armed Insurgents? Night Raids in Afghanistan

By David L. Chaplin II
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

NANGARHAR, Afghanistan – Investigation into questionable night raids continues as the death toll rises over the past week.  The US military has been conducting night raids on several targeted villages in Afghanistan. These raids are night efforts to catch and put a stop to the villages harboring Al-Queda operatives.  Night raids or “sneak attacks” by US troops have been demonized by casualties’ bereaved families, for they are often premised on faulty evidence.

Night rights increase tension between US/NATO forces and Afghan civilians
Night rights increase tension between US/NATO forces and Afghan civilians

The grieving families claim that innocent civilians are being killed under mistaken identity. The US military does not agree.  After nine civilians were killed this week, the US launched criminal investigations.

Col. Wayne Shanks says they had concrete intelligence that a Taliban sub-commander was in the housing compound at the time and was planning an imminent attack on a US base. “It was an urgent need for us to go in and stop the attack to prevent casualties on our side but also innocent casualties,” he said.

Resident Ehassamudion Kushkaki told CNN the U.S. military did not announce their arrival at 1a.m. local time while everyone was sleeping, so two of the nine killed were shooting, thinking they were being attacked by thieves.  The U.S. military insists it announced its arrival and says all of those killed were shooting at the forces.

‘”No charges have been preferred at this time; however, one soldier has been placed in pre-trial confinement,” the military said in a statement”.  The soldier confined also faces illegal drug use, assault and conspiracy claims.

Miles away in London, Fatima Ayud has been campaigning for night raids to stop and offering help to affected families.  Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, has sought to minimize the use of night raids, noting past public anger.  Ayud says it’s not enough after, herself being a victim after a raid attack targeted her extended family.

Nasrutullah Arsala, head of Nangarhar provincial council, tells CNN, “There’s no doubt that when these cases happen, the people rise up and the gap between the government and people widens.”  This form of impunity thwarts American efforts and energizes the Taliban resistance.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera English- US opens Afghan deaths probe – 20 May 2010

CNN World – Civilians or fighters? Debate lingers over deaths at housing compound – 25 May 2010

The Huffington Post – US Investigating Afgahan Civilian Deaths – 20 May 2010

Image Courtesy of Army Times

War Crimes Prosecution Watch – Volume 5 – Issue 4 – May 24, 2010

For a link to the e-newsletter, please visit War Crimes Prosecution Watch.

War Crimes Prosecution Watch is a bi-weekly e-newsletter that compiles official documents and articles from major news sources detailing and analyzing salient issues pertaining to the investigation and prosecution of war crimes throughout the world.

Universal Jurisdiction

Central African Republic & Uganda
Democratic Republic of the Congo (ICC)

International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda
Special Court for Sierra Leone

European Court of Human Rights
Court of Bosnia & Herzegovina, War Crimes Chamber
International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia
Special Tribunal for Lebanon

United States

Colombian President Allegedly Knew Of Death Squad

By Patrick Vanderpool
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America


Southern Colombian Paramilitary Group (Photo Courtesy of Justiceforcolombia.org)
Southern Colombian Paramilitary Group (Photo Courtesy of justiceforcolombia.org)

BOGOTA, Colombia – According to a retired Colombian police major, President Alvaro Uribe’s younger brother, Santiago Uribe, commanded a death squad in the early 1990s that killed nearly fifty people, including petty thieves, suspected guerillas, and their sympathizers. Santiago Uribe allegedly led the right-wing group from the Uribe family’s cattle ranch in the Antioquia state municipality.

Although there is little evidence to support the allegations, the ex-officer, Major Juan Carlos Meneses, stated that Santiago Uribe claimed that Alvaro Uribe, a senator at the time, was aware of the illegal militia.  When recently asked about his knowledge of the death squad after the report was first published in the Washington Post, Alvaro Uribe’s stated “I don’t read international newspapers.”

These accusations are coming shortly before the highly contested May 30 presidential election involving Alvaro Uribe’s former defense minister, Juan Carlos Santos.  Alvaro Uribe’s interior minister, Fabio Valencia, has suggested that Meneses’ comments are politically motivated to discredit Santos’ candidacy; a claim which Meneses denies.

Meneses claims that he attended meetings with Santiago Uribe where the group would decide who would be killed.  Additionally, Meneses claimed that Santiago Uribe paid him approximately $700 monthly for a four month period so that Meneses would allow the death squad to operate in the area where Meneses was the top law enforcement officer.  Meneses claims to have personally witnessed at least fifteen men armed with semi-automatic firearms participating in obstacle course training on the Uribe family ranch.

Alvaro Uribe was elected Colombia’s President in 2002 and has since been given significant financial assistance from the U.S. to defeat leftist rebels in the country.  While president, Alvaro Uribe has been criticized by international humanitarian groups for suspected human rights violations.  These violations include Colombian soldiers allegedly murdering more than 1,000 citizens under the guise that they were rebels.

Colombian law enforcement officials have investigated the death squad claims on at least two occasions and have not discovered enough evidence to prosecute Alvaro Uribe; however, Meneses’ claims may be enough to reopen the case.  Meneses claims that he and his family have been forced to leave Colombia and seek asylum in Venezuela after receiving written and telephoned death threats because of the accusations against Santiago and Alvaro Uribe.

Santiago Uribe has been unavailable for comment; however, he denied the allegations in a previous interview with the Washington Post.

For more information, please see:

CBS News – Ex-cop Claims Uribe’s Brother Led Death Squad –  24 May 2010

Time –Ex-cop: Alvaro Uribe’s Brother Led Death Squad24 May 2010

Colombia Reports – Uribe’s brother led paramilitary death squad – 23 May 2010

Peacekeepers Pulling Out of Chad

By Eric C. Sigmund
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

Blue Helmets Pulling Out Soon
Blue helmets pulling out soon (Photo Courtesy of AP)

N’DJAMENA, ChadThe United Nations Security Counsel on Tuesday authorized the gradual withdrawal of U.N. peacekeepers in Chad and the Central African Republic.  

The pullout comes at a time when hundreds of thousands of Sudanese refugees have flooded the two nations as a result of the war in Darfur.  Despite a number of successful nation building endeavors, the U.N. will withdrawal the 3,300 troops stationed in Chad and the Central African Republic by the end of the year.

Although the peacekeepers have played a significant role in protecting civilians and refugees, Idriss Déby, President of Chad, has consistently criticized the United Nations’ role in the country.  Despite protest from a number of diplomats and international organizations, the United Nations contends that it has no authority to maintain a presence in a country without its permission.

The unanimous decision was supported by Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon who recommended the withdrawal in a report earlier this week.  Mr. Moon contends that the decision will make the governments of Chad and Central African Republic responsible for the protection of its citizens and will facilitate development.  Critics of the decision however, embrace a more pessimistic view.  Representatives for Amnesty International stated that the decision is “premature and dangerous” as the region remains volatile and susceptible to violent unrest.

The safety and wellbeing of the 450,000 refugees currently living in Chad is just one concern of critics.  The U.N. office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that nearly two million people are dealing with food shortages as a result of drought in the region.  Others worry that the withdrawal will create a power vacuum, opening the unstable countries to bandits and rebels.

Despite the troop withdrawal, the U.N. has vowed to continue to support the development of Chad and the Central African Republic by contributing humanitarian aid and political support.  During the remaining months, the peacekeepers will continue to secure the resettlement of Sudanese refugees and elevate tensions.

For more information, please see:

Associated Press –UN Agrees to Pull UN Peacekeeping Force from Chad – 25 May 2010

Twenty-one Miners Killed in Gas Blast at Colliery in Southwest China

By Kwangmin Ahn
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China — Twenty-one miners were killed in a gas blast at a colliery in southwest China on Thursday.

There were thirty-one miners underground at the time of the blast.  Ten workers escaped to safety and all miners known to have been in the pit were accounted for, but search and rescue work was continuing in case there were other unregistered miners working at the time of the blast.

The cause of the explosion is still under investigation.  The mine is a small colliery run by a local township government with an annual production capacity of about 150,000 tons.

China’s vast coal mining industry is notoriously accident-prone.  Although safety conditions have improved in the last several years, China’s mining industry is by far the world’s deadliest, with accidents and blasts killing more than 2,600 coal miners last year due mainly to lax regulation, corruption, and inefficiency.

The rash of deadly mine accidents caused by poor safety standards and supervision has been traced to China’s rush for commodities to fuel its growing economy.

In March, a flood at the vast, unfinished Wangjialing mine in the northern province of Shanxi left 153 workers trapped underground, but 115 were recovered alive in a rare rescue success for the industry. The head of China’s work safety watchdog said last month that the flood “could completely have been avoided.”  The agency said managers had ignored water leaks noted by workers in the days leading up to the disaster.  A landslide of sludge triggered by the collapse of a mine dam buried a village in Xiangfen county, Shanxi province, on September 8, 2008.

Accidents are particularly common in China’s coal sector. Safety concerns are widely ignored as China tries to satisfy surging demand for the fuel — the source of about seventy percent of the country’s energy.

Recent developments in other mining cases include criminal sentencing.  On Friday, a Chinese court sentenced two policemen to up to five years in jail for taking bribes from the owner of an iron mine, where an accident killed 277 people two years ago. The Fangshan District People’s Court in Beijing sentenced Han Chunxi, 39, the former county police chief, to five years in prison for taking $5,859 in bribes from the mine owner. The court found that he had ordered his subordinates to stop inspections of the mine and abetted the use of mining explosives.

The flood in Shanxi was seen as embarrassing for the government, which has touted a reform program partly aimed at improving safety and shutting dangerous mines.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Blast rips through China coal mine – 14 May 2010

AFP – China coal mine gas blast kills 21– 13 May 2010

Two U.S. Tourists Kidnapped Yemen

By Ahmad Shihadah
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

SA’NA, Yemen – Two American tourists have been kidnapped by armed tribesmen near Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, officials say.

Their Yemeni driver, who was also seized, later reportedly made a call to the AFP news agency, saying the attackers were demanding the release of a jailed fellow tribesman.

The US said the kidnapping of the US nationals – a man and a woman – was “not believed to be terrorism related”. Yemen’s tribes frequently kidnap people to gain leverage in rows with Sa’na.

The Americans were seized by armed men in the Bani Mansour district 70km (45 miles) west of the capital, their driver told AFP. The driver, who identified himself as Ali al-Arashi, said the kidnappers were “calling for the release of a fellow tribesman held by authorities in Sa’na.”

This is the latest kidnapping before this took place last week when two Chinese workers were taken in the Shawba governorate in the South of Yemen, then released two days later.

There has been unfortunately a bit of a side business in what are called ‘tourist kidnappings’ where, for whatever reason, a certain tribe has a particular grievance with the Yemeni government and uses the presence of foreigners for leverage,” he said.

More than 200 foreigners have been kidnapped in recent years; most are released unharmed. Two Chinese oil workers were freed this month after being kidnapped in the south-east of the country. In another region, however, a German married couple, their infant son and a British man are still missing after being kidnapped almost a year ago.

Last week the family’s two young daughters were located in a disputed border region by the Saudi Arabian armed forces.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Two American Tourists Kidnapped By Tribesman In Yemen – 24 May 2010

The New York Times – Two Americans Kidnapped In Yemen – 24 May 2010

AP – Gunmen Kidnap 2 American Tourists In Yemen – 24 May 2010

Raids Against Rights Activists and Opposition Continue Throughout Belarus

By Yoohwan Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MINSK, Belarus – Nationwide raids against human rights and opposition activists continue throughout Belarus as police and state officials searched offices and homes in Minsk, Hrodna, Brest, and Homel.  The raids are a part of President Alexander Lukashenko’s ongoing crackdown against rights activists, opposition organizations, and independent news media.  Many organizations have reported that the police have detained several members, and have confiscated office equipment and published materials during these raids.

Police raid activists offices in Belarus.  [Source: Charter 97]Photo: Police raid activist’s offices in Belarus. [Source: Charter 97]

The Belarusian Helsinki Committee, an independent rights group, said that Belarusian authorities detained several dozen opposition activists beginning on Tuesday, May 18.  Most of the detained activists were released after questioning, but some activists have been arrested.  Those arrested have been accused of spreading false information, under Article 250 of the Criminal Code of Belarus.

Vladimir Nekliaev, a proclaimed opponent of the upcoming presidential election and the leader of the Speak the Truth opposition group, was arrested on charges of spreading false information.  State officials searched Speak the Truth’s offices and its members’ homes for two consecutive days – May 18 and May 19.

The organization’s founder, Uladzimir Nyaklyayew, recently announced he may run against incumbent Lukashenko in the upcoming presidential election, which will be held either at the end of this year or the beginning of 2011.  According to Nyaklyayew, the organization’s goal is to “prompt Belarusian society to realize the real state of affairs in the country where there is little room for truth but where there are a lot of lies.”

Andrei Dmitriyev, an activist of the opposition United Civil Party, and Sergei Voznyak, the editor of the opposition newspaper Tovarishch were also both arrested after police raided their offices.  They were charged with spreading false information.

Following reports of the arrests, European Union officials expressed serious concern.  “We are very concerned about the news.  We’ll ask for explanations,” said Maja Kocijancic, a spokeswoman for the EU’s policy chief.

In a statement made by European Parliament President, Jerzy Buzek, he urged for democratic reform in Belarus.  “I call on the Belarus authorities to stop immediately all repression and intimidation of civil society groups and to get back on the way to democratization.”

The Interior Ministry of Belarus has declined to comment.

For more information, please see:

RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY – Nationwide Raids Against Belarusian Rights Activists Continue – 20 May 2010

EARTH TIMES – EU ‘very concerned’ about Belarus opposition crackdown – 19 May 2010

WINNIPEG FREE PRESS – 2 opposition activists, journalist arrested in Belarus – 19 May 2010

WORLD BULLETIN – Belarus police detains opposition journalist, activist – 19 May 2010

CHARTER 97 – Wreaking havoc in oppositionists’ flats all over Belarus: computers and leaflets confiscated – 18 May 2010