By Polly Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
U.S. hikers held in Tehran visiting with their mothers for the first time in ten months. [Source: Al Jazeera]
TEHRAN, Iran — Following an emotional reunion in Tehran last week, the mothers of three hikers captured last July while hiking in northern Iraq’s Kurdistan region have returned home, after failing to win the hikers’ release.
The American trio, Shane Bauer, twenty seven, Sarah Shourd, thirty one, and Joshua Fattal, twenty seven, have been held at Tehran’s Evin prison for the past ten months after they unintentionally crossed over the Iran border during a hiking trip. They have not yet been publicly charged, but Iran has accused them of espionage.
The reunion was a carefully orchestrated event that took place at the Esteghlal Hotel in Tehran. Reporters at the news conference were instructed not to ask any questions. The hikers told of their time in prison, noting that they were well fed and well taken care of. Ms. Shourd expressed her loneliness, as she spends twenty three hours per day alone, while the other two prisoners share a room.
The mothers called for their children’s release as a “humanitarian gesture.” Added Cindy Hickey, Mr. Bauer’s mother, “It would be a good gesture for the world to see Iran doing.”
The mothers were permitted to visit with their children for ten hours over two days before leaving on Friday. The visit came after months of pressing Iranian authorities for visas. They have unsuccessfully attempted to initiate talks with Iranian officials, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called on Tehran to free the hikers, but Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said last December that the trio would stand trial.
The hikers’ imprisonment has exacerbated tensions between the United States and Iran. While Iran has hinted of releasing the prisoners in exchange for the release of Iranian prisoners, the U.S. State Department has rejected any such notion of a prisoner exchange.
The fate of the hikers remains to be seen. “We don’t understand why we’ve been kept here,” Ms. Shourd said. “We thought we’d be kept here for a matter of days, and it’s been nine and a half months. In my wildest dreams I never thought I would still be in prison.”
By Elizabeth A. Conger
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
Villagers watching and filming the lynching of Mohammed Muslem. [Source: AP]
KETERMEYA, Lebanon – Twelve men have been charged with murder after last month’s lynching of Mohammed Muslem, an Egyptian national living in the south-eastern Lebanese village of Ketermaya. Muslem was suspected in the quadruple-murder of an elderly couple and their two young granddaughters last month. The victims were the mother and father of local school teacher Rana Abu Merhi, as well as her two young daughters aged nine and seven.
Muslem, a village butcher, was a neighbor of the slain family. He had a prior criminal record and was a suspect in the rape of a thirteen year old girl in Ketermaya earlier this year.
He was arrested hours after the murder and confessed to the crime after spending the night in custody. The next morning, as a thousands of villagers gathered for the funeral of the slain family members, a police car carrying Muslem and six policemen passed the procession. The villagers overwhelmed the police car, dragged Muslem out of the car, and beat him.
The police were able to get Muslem back into the car and managed to take him to the local hospital. However, the the mob followed and dragged him back into the streets. Villagers say that the policemen disappeared after Muslem was dropped off at the hospital.
Muslem was stripped to his underwear and socks, paraded through the streets, and hoisted onto an electrical pole with a butcher’s hook.
The mob was eventually dispersed by Lebanese troops, who took away Muslem’s body when they arrived. The incident was filmed and footage of the lynching went online almost immediately, to the horror of many Lebanese citizens.
Muslem’s funeral in Egypt. His lynching resulted in outrage among Egyptians. [Source: AFP]
The lynching has called into question the efficacy of law and order in Lebanon, a country with a reputation as one of the most progressive and liberal countries in the Arab world. In particular, the decision of the police officers involved to take Muslem to the murder site during the funeral procession, and to leave him unguarded at the hospital, have been criticized. Questions also remain as to how the crowd was informed of Muslem’s confession.
One young resident of Ketermaya told the BBC that he thought the policemen brought Muslem back because they wanted justice as well. Outside of a Ketermaya shop hung with graphic photos of the murdered children a signed is displayed reading: “We would like to thank the authorities for allowing justice to take place.”
Omar Nashabe, law editor of the Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar and criminal justice expert, said:
“The police seem to have acted like a judge. Violation of the presumption of innocence is a continuous problem in Lebanon, but this is just one side of the Ketermaya incident.” Nashabe added: “They killed an innocent man, a man who was not proven guilty by a court of law, who never had an opportunity to defend himself.”
Justice Minister Ibrahim Najarr responded to criticism of the Lebanese government which emerged in response to the incident, saying “Justice in Lebanon exists. We have judges, we have tribunals, we have credibility.” Najarr also referred to the arrest of those who allegedly participated in the lynching as evidence of law and order in Lebanon.
He told BBC reporter Natalia Antelava that, “After such a savage crime people were angry. This could have happened in any country.”
Antelava asked Najarr: “When was the last time you heard of police delivering a murder suspect to an angry mob?”
Antelava reported that Najarr did not have a reply to the question.
Two policemen involved in the incident have received a ten-day suspension.
By Sovereign Hager
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
QUITO,Ecuador–A controversial water bill has led to unrest as indigenous communities in Ecuador protest what they view as an unconstitutional intrusions into their rights to water. Protests began several weeks ago when the Ecuadorian government released a new bill on water regulation. The initiative includes provisions of water for industries such as mining and agribusiness. Indigenous communities argue that this “privatization” will damage their small farms.
The bill has been postponed for several months and the head of Parliament, Fernando Cordero has proposed a “non-binding pre-legislative consultation” with Ecuador’s indigenous peoples. Indigenous communities make up forty percent on the population. This proposal led to temporary suspension of demonstrations and roadblocks that have been ongoing for the last two weeks in seven provinces.
Consultations with indigenous communities on the impact of industrial projects are required by the Ecuadorian constitution, which has been in effect since 2008. This was meant to align with the International Labor Organization’s Convention Concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, which requires prior, free and informed consent, and participation by indigenous peoples in the benefits generated by such projects.
Ecuador’s Constitutional Court confirmed that the consultation was mandatory under the constitution, however the incorporation of the results is not required. There are three indigenous associations opposed to the bill: the Ecuadorian Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities, the National Federation of PEasant, Indigenous and black Organizations, and the Federation of Evangelical Indigenous Peoples and Organizations of Ecuador. Native leaders demand that the results of the participation be binding.
Modifications proposed by indigenous groups include a mandated respect for the order of priorities for water use established by the new constitution. This provision establishes that water resources must go first to human consumption, then to irrigation for domestic food production, next to maintaining adequate levels of water in the ecosystems, and finally to non-food productive activities. The interpretation that water use in export-oriented industry is not contemplated in constitution is opposed by the Congress.
Indigenous communities accuse the government of trying to privatize water resources, which the constitution establishes are a national good for public use. Private companies are only allowed to administer supplies of water through government concessions. However, indigenous associations insist that the concession system should be replaced by a permit system which would be subject to discretionary renewal.
By Ahmad Shihadah
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
SA’NA, Yemen – Six Somali pirates, captured by Yemeni forces in April last year, were sentenced to death by a Yemen court on Tuesday. Six others were sentenced to 10 years imprisonment and together must pay $2 million compensation for hijacking an oil tanker.
Part of Tuesday’s ruling by a criminal court requires the convicted pirates to pay the company that owns the hijacked vessel, Masafi Aden, a sum of 2 million Yemen riyals ($9,200).
The Defense Ministry’s online newspaper said the court would require Masafi Aden to pay a certain portion of the reparations to the Yemeni victims’ families.
On April 26, 2009, they hijacked the Yemeni ship Qana, owned by Adan Refinery Company, near the coast of Yemen. Yemeni forces recaptured the ship and took 12 pirates prisoner, but two crew members were killed in the struggle.
Piracy is a major problem off the coast of Somalia, where gangs of pirates have hijacked dozens of ships in the past few years. International naval patrols have largely not been able to stop the attacks.
Furthermore, many captured pirates have been released because no country would prosecute them. Kenya has conducted some pirate trials but recently said its justice system is overburdened.
By Sovereign Hager
Managing Editor, Impunity Watch
THE HAGUE, Netherlands-The trial of Charles Taylor for war crimes, is being moved from an International Criminal Court (ICC) courtroom to the venue of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL). The move to the STL, also located in The Hague, was due to “increasing scheduling difficulties with ICC trials,” according to a statement by the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
The arrangement places all costs on the Special Court, as Mr. Taylor’s trial is still being conducted by thee Special Court. The trial was moved from Sierra Leone to the Netherlands in 2006 after fears that his presence was destabilizing to the region. He has been on trial since 2008 for crimes related to the ten year civil war in Sierra Leone.
The ICC, the word’s only independent, permanent tribunal for the crimes of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, has three trials running simultaneously. The STN was established by the UN in 2007 to try suspected killers of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri.
Bina Mansaray, Registrar of the Special Court said, “We appreciate the ICC’s cooperation and support for the use of their facilities over the past three years . . . the scheduling challenges are a sing of the ICC’s progress in implementing their own mandate. We wish them success in their work.”
Today marks the seventh celebration of International Day Against Homophobia, also known by the acronym IDAHO. The Day is an opportunity to “highlight positive aspects of homosexuality and celebrate the contributions of lesbians and gays to society,” and moves away from a ‘victimization’ philosophy.
IDAHO was established in 2003 by Fondation Émergence, along with numerous international partners. It adopted the slogan, “From Tolerance to Acceptance,” a more-than-subtle indication that tolerance is often linked to indifference, which highlights the importance of moving beyond mere tolerance into a more accepting and inclusive world.
Fondation Émergence also established the Fight Against Homophobia Award, which has been a way to recognized the contributions made by individuals or organizations “to combat the prejudice gays and lesbians are subject to,” and has “served to highlight not only openness toward gay and lesbian realities but also the successful work that enables society to accept these realities.” The award has been presented every year since 2003.
This year, the award will be given to Michel Tremblay, a Québec playwright and novelist.
Michel Tremblay’s contribution to the fight against homophobia is obvious”, explains Laurent McCutcheon, Fondation Émergence President. “His world-renowned works and his personal contribution have helped to educate the general population and make them more aware. Our society has experienced remarkable breakthroughs over the past thirty years and Michel Tremblay has been a significant catalyst in this evolution.”
One of the first Québec figures to come out, Tremblay’s emergence took a great deal of courage at the time. His recognition is “clearly related to his works,” which feature gay and lesbian characters in prominence.
Every year, IDAHO chooses an annual campaign highlighting a specific theme that affects LGBT people’s lives on a daily basis. This year, IDAHO chose “Speaking about Silence: Homophobia in the Sports World” as its theme. Its Declaration Against any Form of Discrimination in the Sports World states,
No form of discrimination is welcome in the sports world.
Being an athlete is not only about
reaching higher and higher physically.
It’s also about the values of justice, equality,
team unity, respect, and dignity.
Plus, it’s fighting any form of discrimination,
including discrimination based on sexual orientation.
That’s why I lend my support to
the International Day Against Homophobia.
Today, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) called for the elimination of discrimination based on sexual orientation, and for the respect of human rights.
“I urge all governments to take steps to eliminate stigma and discrimination faced by men who have sex with men, lesbians, and transgender populations,” said Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS.
UNAIDS hosted an event at its headquarters in Geneva today which included a screening of A Deadly Cycle. The video highlights the impact of homophobia in Jamaica. Translatina, a full-length documentary offering a realistic look into the challenges for transgendered people to access education, work, justice, and healthcare, among other things, in Latin America, was also screened.
Also planned were discussions with Executive Director of Sexual Minorities of Uganda, Frank Mugisha; Technical Director of Sexual Minorities, UNAIDS country office in India, and LGBT rights activist Ashok Row Kavi; and WHO HIV Director Dr. Gottlieb Hirnschall.
May 17 was chosen as the date for IDAHO because of its significance to the community; the World Health Organization (WHO) removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses on a May 17.
By Ahmad Shihadah
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
SA’NA, Yemen – Armed separatists ambushed a military convoy on a road in southern Yemen on Saturday, killing two soldier and wounding four, a security official told Reuters.
“Two security escorts were killed and another four were seriously wounded when they returned fire against the armed attackers,” an official of the Interior Ministry told the Xinhua News agency on condition of anonymity.
According to the official, the accident took place Saturday afternoon in al-Habilain town in the province of Lahj, as the official convoy was traveling from the southern port city Aden to Sanaa.
“The Deputy Prime Minister al-Alami survived unharmed and his convoy managed to continue its way to Sanaa,” said the official, adding “the four injured soldiers were rushed to a hospital in Sanaa.”
“Security forces are chasing the saboteurs,” the security official said. A defense ministry website denied reports that Rashad al-Alimi, deputy prime minister for security affairs, was traveling in the convoy.
Several soldiers, separatist gunmen and bystanders have been killed in the recent months’ escalating tension in the south.
The government, struggling to stabilize a fractious country in which central authority is often weak, faces international pressure to quell domestic conflicts in order to focus on fighting a resurgent al Qaeda.
By Ahmad Shihadah
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
SA’NA, Yemen – Al Qaeda’s Yemen wing has claimed a suicide attack on the British ambassador to Sanaa, accusing him of leading a war on Muslims in the Arabian peninsula on Britain’s behalf, a monitoring group said on Wednesday.
SITE Intelligence Group said in a news release that Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for the attack in a communique released on jihadist forums Tuesday.
The British envoy survived the April 26 attempt on his life, carried out by a suicide bomber who targeted his convoy in Sanaa in an attack Yemen said bore the hallmarks of al Qaeda. The bomber was killed and three people were wounded.
The attack on came four months after the Yemen-based branch of al-Qaeda tried to blow up a U.S. airliner with 278 passengers as it approached Detroit.
John Brennan, President Barack Obama’s assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism, said on Jan. 3 that there were probably several hundred al-Qaeda members in Yemen and that the U.S. was concerned they may be training other operatives for attacks in the U.S. and elsewhere.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter and holder of one-fifth of global reserves, also faces a threat from al- Qaeda militants based across the border with Yemen. In August, the group attempted to assassinate a top Saudi internal security official, Prince Muhammad bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz.
Yemen is the poorest Arab country, and the government expects oil reserves that fund 70 percent of the budget to run out over the next decade.
The U.K. hosted an aid conference in January for Yemen that promised further assistance if the government carries out political and economic improvements that would allow better use of foreign donations.
In the statement, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula vilified Britain for convening the London conference, SITE said.
By Kenneth F. Hunt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe
LONDON, United Kingdom – In a report published on Friday May 14, Human Rights Watch criticized the United Kingdom’s treatment of terrorists and pressed for the new coalition government to undertake a judicial inquiry to uncover the truth about such abusive practices and officially break from past policies of torture and rendition.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said that such an inquiry and break from past policies is necessary to meet the UK’s domestic and international legal obligations and restore the UK’s reputation as a champion of human rights in the global community.
Just last week, the Tories and Liberal Democrats took power by forming a coalition in the United Kingdom, ending over a decade of Labor Party rule. Both parties ran on promises to end abusive counter-terrorism tactics, including kidnapping and torturing terrorist suspects, including several UK nationals.
Despite these promises, many believe that the new government will continue to allow M15 and M16 to work with overseas intelligence agencies to facilitate torture and illegal rendition for those alleged of terrorist activities.
The London director of Human Rights Watch, Tom Porteous, pressed the new government to end the impunity by “mak[ing] clean break with the previous government’s abusive approach to counterterrorism.”
Equally importantly, Mr. Porteous said a judicial inquiry to uncover the illegal techniques used by M15 and M16 during Labor rule would “strengthen the UK’s role in bringing to justice those responsible for international crimes at home and abroad.”
The inquiry, according to the Human Rights Watch report, should focus on identifying the members of the Labor Party government who specifically authorized torture and other illegal actions taken against terrorist suspects. The inquiry would also ideally uncover those M15 and M16 officers who tortured after being authorized by government officials.
While the new government has made public statements indicating its willingness to undertaken an inquiry into the actions, Tories and Liberal Democrats are extremely unlikely to prosecute M15 and M16 officers that undertook actions that government lawyers had deemed legal under UK law.
BELGRADE, Serbia – Serbia announced today that it has unearthed a mass grave of Albanians killed in Kosovo during that region’s independence war in 1998.
The grave was found in the southern Serbian town of Raska during the early stages of construction on a new parking lot and building. Based on the conditions of the ground where the grave was found, it is likely that the bodies were moved to their current location from another spot inside of Kosovo. The grave was initially found as a result of efforts by the European Union Rule of Law Mission In Kosovo.
Bruno Vekaric, the Serbian Deputy War Crimes prosecutor, indicated that an investigation would be opened in the new grave site. Vekaric estimated that there were somewhere between 150 and 350 bodies. “Serbia is for the first time openly facing its bad past.”
Another prosecutor, Vladimir Vukecevic, also noted the importance the pending investigation held for Serbia in coming to terms with its role in the Kosovo war. “This is more proof that Serbia does not shy away from its dark past and is ready to bring to justice all those who have committed crimes.”
Initial conclusions from investigators indicated that the persons found in this grave, mostly ethnic Albanians, were killed by Serbian soldiers during the war. Slobodan Milosevic was President of Yugoslavia at the time of the killings.
The Raska location is not the first mass grave that can be traced to victims of the Kosovo war. Five others were found in recent years, two in Kosovo and three inside of Serbia.
Courtesy of Enough: The Project to End Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity
With Sudan’s voting period now over, and preliminary assessments on the conduct of elections out from the U.S., and international and domestic observers, many policy questions still remain. The White House statement released Tuesday, found here, was certainly more forthright than prior equivocations on what the administration expected of the exercise, but fell short of issuing any final judgment on the process.
Enough’s John Prendergast and Omer Ismail recently sat down with Jimmy Mulla of Voices for Sudan for an engaging policy discussion over the implications of U.S. policy toward Sudan’s elections and how the Obama administration should proceed. Sudan’s election, the three policy experts emphasized, was not just a means to an end, but an important exercise unto itself, one that was meant to empower the Sudanese people with deciding who would govern their country:
Some in the international community argue that taking the deeply flawed elections in stride paves the way for a smoother southern referendum on self-determination next year. By permitting Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party its victory, the NCP will be less inclined to meddle with South Sudan’s milestone vote next January, so the quid pro quo argument goes. Prendergast, Ismail, and Mulla disagree: http://www.enoughproject.org/blogs/implications-us-policy-toward-sudan-elections
BANGKOK, Thailand – The red-shirt political rallies against Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajajiva ongoing in central Bangkok over the past couple months attained new peaks of violence recently. An explosion and subsequent gunshots were heard ringing throughout the the protesters’ camp out zone, killing at least one protester. Thailand military troops invaded the vicinity after the red-shirts failed to adhere to a threat asserting that if they did not cease their rallying, essential utilities such as water and electricity for the region of the camp would be terminated. However, after the Thai government decided against fulfilling their warning for fear of the ramifications for surrounding, non-occupied areas.
Witnesses among the red-shirts claimed that droves of troops started moving into their camp after the explosions and gunshots began. There were also reports of numerous casualties and a severe head injury incurred by former General Khattiya Sawasdipol after receiving a bullet during an interview. The ex-General may have been a specified target, as Sawasdipol has been a vocal red-shirt protester and has even advocated more radical means of expressing discontent with the current governmental regime. Sawasdipol is also notorious for representing a polarizing figure within the red-shirt protesters themselves. Sawasdipol has often articulated his belief that the less radical red-shirts are an inadequate arm of their cause, alienating many of his own previous supporters and deterring others from joining his own, more extreme rally.
Following the initial strike against the red-shirt protesters, military forces have been creating an armed barricade surrounding the camp with army tanks and other armaments. Although no further violence seems to have occurred since the initial incident, tensions in the center of the capital city have increased as the government proliferates its presence. Moreover, although the government did not cut off services in the protesters’ camp area as declared, lighting in particular parts of the city have been cut off. The lack of electricity running through the streets has cast a great darkness over the streets, further pushing the red-shirts into a corner and perpetuating animosities.
The Thai government claims that the military barricade around the red-shirt camp is meant to allow innocent protesters to leave, but not let anyone else into the camp. However, the imposition still creates an overall deterrence for a peaceable situation that makes the goal of tranquility difficult to reach.
KUNDUZ, Afghanistan – Female students in Kabul and the Kunduz province of Afghanistan recently began falling ill and hospitalized after what is now being suspected as a poison attack. Victims were admitted to the hospital after manifesting symptoms such as vomiting and blinking in and out of consciousness. The exact number of affected girls has not yet been confirmed, but female students continue to enter hospitals demonstrating similar symptoms. Although the illness contracted from the apparent poison attacks does not seem severe and the inflicted girls are being released from the hospital after only a few days, these attacks do have grave implications concerning the state of Afghanistan and the manner in which anti-government forces are willing to illustrate their beliefs.
Young students reported seeing their classmates suddenly begin to vomit and pass out on the floors after catching a strange odor in the hallways of their schools. Some reported that the teachers pardoned the small as nothing to worry about. However, the girls themselves took initiative to alert the police after witnessing their classmates fall ill and collapse.
The poison attacks have been considered a terror tactic to express the idea that females should have no right to education. The purpose of the attacks seem to be to scare the families of the students and refuse to send them to school because of the constant present dangers. This terror tactic also has the effect of suggesting that even places of education which house young girls are not safe from the subjugation of those who oppose the Afghan government and its collaboration with other governments.
The Taliban has explicitly denied responsibility for the poison attacks on the students. Authorities themselves do not seem to know as of yet whether or not the destructive actions signify a poison gas attack or food poisoning. However, this instance represents one of a continual chain of similar attacks on girls schools over the past couple years, taking place in numerous areas of Afghanistan. One particularly notorious trend of strikes occurred in Kandahar two years ago, in which male motorbike riders drove by students and splashed their faces with acid. The attacks on females students have caused many schools to close down. Also, as a condition of the Taliban rule from 1996-2001, education for women was legally prohibited.