Violence Against Journalists Increases In Run-up to Rwandan Election

By Eric C. Sigmund
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

KIGALI, Rwanda-Political repression and instability are on the rise as the presidential elections in the Republic of Rwanda draw near.   Violent instability has received international attention after the shooting death of the independent journalist Jean-Leonard Rugamsbage on July twenty-forth.   Rugamsbage died instantly after being shot in the head and chest by assailants who were waiting outside of his house.

Umuvugizi Banned After Criticism of Rwandan Government
Umuvugizi Banned After Criticism of Rwandan Government

The murder of Rugamsbage is just the latest attack against journalist in Rwanda.  In February 2007, Jean-Bosco Gasasira, an editor for the independent Rwandan newspaper Umuvugizi’s narrowly survived an attack after speaking out about the harassment of journalists in Rwanda at a presidential news conference.  Now Human Rights Watch is leading an effort to bring attention to the current situation in Rwanda in order to clamp down on violence against journalists.  Africa director at Human Rights Watch, Rona Peligal, contends that in the run-up to the election “the government is lashing out to silence its opponents and critics.”

Critics of the government including Umuvugizi contend that the government is responsible for the death of Mr. Rugamsbage.   Mr. Gasasira, who recently fled to Uganda after publication of an article critical of the government caused discontent among army leadership, claims that the government maintains a campaign against journalists and is involved in this most recent attack.  Mr. Gasasira believes that the government sought to silence Mr. Rugamsbage for publishing an article linking the government with the failed assassination of Lt. Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa, a former high ranking leader of the Rwandan army.  International organizations are currently seeking an independent investigation into this most recent murder and into violence against journalists throughout Rwanda.

Paul Kagame, the current President of the Republic of Rwanda has denied allegations that his government is behind the murder of Mr. Rugamsbage.   President Kagame told Reuters that “[t]he government of Rwanda might have its disagreements with journalists, like other governments, but we do not kill them.”   The government had already taken action against Umuvugizi, suspending the publication and blocking its website alleging that it was merely a sensationalist newspaper.   The President also reported that he requested the initiation of an investigation into Mr. Rugamsbage death.   Two men have been arrested for Mr. Rugamsbage’s death.

The upcoming election is only the second election since the 1994 genocide.  Mr. Kagame is expected to be re-elected for another term.   International organizations have expressed concern that Mr. Kagame’s re-election would lead to further suppression of freedom of press in the country.

For more information please see;

Associated Press – Rwanda Denies Involvement in Journalist’s Death – 29 June, 2010

Huffington Post – Kagame’s Rwanda Attacking Journalists and Political Opponents – 27 June, 2010

Reuters – Rwanda Repression Rises Ahead of Poll – 27 June, 2010

Irish Times – Editor of Rwandan Paper Shot Dead – 26 June, 2010

New York Times – Rwandan Editor Who Accused Officials in Shooting Killed – 25 June, 2010

Bus Crash Kills 28 And Injures At Least 44

Previous Bus Accident In Bolivia (Photo Courtesy of www.topnews.in)
Previous Bus Accident In Bolivia (Photo Courtesy of www.topnews.in)

By Patrick Vanderpool
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

LA PAZ, Bolivia – At least 28 people were killed, and at least 44 were injured, when a passenger bus drove over the side of a ravine in Bolivia.  The injuries include one child being killed and 16 other children being injured.  According to police, the bus involved was carrying approximately 70 people and was traveling from Cochabamba, a central city, to the southwestern city of Potosi when it drive through a guard rail and fell 11 meters to the ground.

The accident occurred at 1:30 a.m. on Sunday in the Pongo, K’asa area.  Police commander Col. Hernan Trujillo stated that the bus’ brakes had failed causing the driver to lose control of the vehicle and plunge into the ravine.

Although Roberto Gandarillas, the bus driver, claimed that he alerted the passengers about the bus’ brake failure and told the passengers to move to the back of the bus, the precautions did not prevent the injuries.  When authorities arrived at the scene of the accident, Gandarillas attempted to flee; however, he was quickly obtained and arrested.  The Bolivian police immediately tested Gandarillas for alcohol, fearing that he may have been intoxicated, but the test results have not yet been returned.

Officials also fear that the bus may have been overloaded because the bus was only equipped to hold 45 passengers.  The bus’ passengers told local authorities that Gandrillas was speeding as the time of the accident.

This accident comes only days after a separate bus accident on the same highway claimed the lives of 13 people and injured 37 others.

Leticia Costa, a passenger on the bus who was injured, remembered that she was sleeping, but woke up “when passengers began screaming at the driver to stop.”  “He accelerated even more and in one of the turns we went off the side of the road and bus hurled over the side,” Costa said.

Accidents such as this are not uncommon on the Andean region and generally involve unregulated buses traveling too quickly on poorly maintained roads.

For more information, please see:

Big Pond News – Bolivia Bus Crash Kills At Least 25 – 29 June 2010

Hindustian Times – 13 Dead in Bolivia Bus Crash – 28 June 2010

Thaindian News – 28 Dead, 44 Hurt In Bolivia Bus Accident – 28 June 2010

Colombia: String of Murders and Threats Against Union Members Continues

By Ricardo Zamora
Impunity Watch Reporter, South AmericaBy Ricardo ZamoraBy Ricardo Zamora
By Ricardo Zamora
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Colombia – Colombian gunmen have claimed the life of yet another trade union member, the latest casualty in a string of murders attributed to conflicts between paramilitary and guerilla groups.

Last week, union member, Nelson Camacho González, was gunned down by guerillas on motorbikes as he waited for the bus to go to work at 5:30am.  Nelson is the 31st trade union worker to be murdered this year in Colombia.  Despite government efforts to decrease paramilitary violence and harassment, this is just another instance indicating that those efforts are ineffective.

Indeed, since the murder, paramilitary groups have continued to send death threats to other human rights defenders and social activists – a sign that these armed groups are still a real threat against those who support the country’s laborers, especially the poor, against poor working conditions, facilities, and related workers’ benefits.  Human rights activists are therefore calling the Colombian government to take further action to curb such acts and have even appealed to the U.S. government to support Colombia’s Constitutional Court.

Paramilitary groups are no strangers to Colombia’s internal conflicts.  In fact, they play a crucial role in keeping those conflicts alive.  Throughout the country’s history these groups have, either alone or in collaboration with Colombian security forces, labeled human rights organizations, trade unions, and other social organizations as guerilla supporters.

Similarly, guerilla groups are weary of human rights activists who they fear support or merely concede to paramilitary groups.  Indeed, guerilla groups have, themselves, sent threats and have committed inhumane acts against activists considered to be siding with paramilitary groups

Thus, it is no surprise that this distrust and hatred between paramilitary and guerilla groups and their respective “supporters” has led to crimes against humanity committed against defenseless human rights organizations, trade unions, and other social organizations caught in the middle of the conflict.

Paramilitary groups view human rights organizations, trade unions, and other social organizations as barriers to achieving paramilitary and related governmental goals. Indeed, many members of such groups are victimized simply for union association.

Marco Romero of the Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement, addressed the Washington Office on Latin America earlier this month to raise awareness of targeted groups and activist groups.  He aimed to increase support for a U.S. Resolution supporting Colombia’s Constitutional Court.

For more information, please see:

Trade Unions North International – Yet More Death Threats Against Human Rights Organisations In South-West Colombia – 28 June 2010

Amnesty International – Colombia: Further Information: Trade Unionist Killed, Many More At Risk: Nelson Camacho González – 23 June 2010

Trade Unions North International – Yet Another Trade Unionist Murdered in Colombia – 21 June 2010

Latin America News Dispatch – WOLA Announces Second Death Threat From Colombian Paramilitaries For Working With Displaced Peoples – 18 June 2010

NY Civil Liberties Union Investigates Improper Medical Care at Syracuse County Jail

By Ali Sprott-Roen
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

(Photo courtesy of Michelle Gabel / The Post-Standard)
(Photo courtesy of Michelle Gabel / The Post-Standard)

NEW YORK, United States – Maparo Ramadhan, a refugee from Burundi, escaped persecution, torture and murderous officers in his home country, only to be victimized by guards at the Onondaga County Justice Center in Syracuse, NY.

Ramadhan was arrested on Dec. 27, 2008, but was not provided an interpreter that spoke his language, Kirundi.  So Ramadhan had no idea what the charges were or why deputies came to take other inmates out of his cell one by one – to take them to their court appearances . Remembering African authorities who often took inmates away to their death, Ramadhan sat down when deputies came for him. In response, 8-10 deputies were called to his cell to place in him in restraints, and in the process of doing so a guard broke the humerus bone in his upper arm so severely that it protruded from the skin, as evidenced by video of the incident.

However, despite Ramadhan sobbing in pain and concerns voiced from the guards, the jail house nurse looked at his arm and simply said that it was bruised and swollen and nothing else. Moreover, her report indicated three times that the injury was to the lower arm, rather than to the upper arm.

As a result of the incident and lack of medical attention, Ramadhan now has a metal plate and screws in his arm holding the bone in place and a foot long scar along his tricep from the surgery. He can no longer raise his arm above his head, lift anything heavier than five pounds, and is prevented from obtaining a job to support his family.

The New York Civil Liberties Union is looking into Ramadhan’s case and also investigating the death of a pregnant inmate last year.

After spending hours in agony begging for care, 21 year old Chuneice Patterson died from a ruptured ectopic pregnancy on November 11, 2009 at the Onondaga County Justice Center.

Chuneice Patterson (Courtesy of 9WSYR.com)
Chuneice Patterson (Courtesy of 9WSYR.com)

Because Patterson was vomiting and complaining that she didn’t feel well, a nurse was called twice but declined to check Patterson’s vital signs or follow proper protocol for examining a pregnant inmate on both occasions. Patterson then suffered through the night, during which time she pressed the emergency button saying she couldn’t breathe but an officer said it sounded like a fake asthma attack. In the morning, a deputy heard her moaning, but only responded by telling her to knock it off and to come get her breakfast tray. Shortly thereafter Patterson was found unresponsive in her cell and taken to University Hospital where she was pronounced dead after fourteen hours of agony.

The state commission representative reviewing the case said the nurse “provided grossly and flagrantly negligent and incompetent nursing care to inmate Patterson in that she completely misinterpreted and minimized the significance of pain and vomiting at this juncture.” Typically most nurses in the same situation would err on the side of caution and get a physician to do an examination. An ectopic pregnancy can be diagnosed in as little as five to ten minutes, allowing the patient to receive emergency surgery in time to save her life.

Patterson is the second inmate to die from an ectopic pregnancy in the last 14 years. Like Patterson’s death, the previous death of Lucinda Batts was the result of the failure of nurses and doctors at the jail to provide proper medical care.

The New York Civil Liberties Union has been investigating the cases of Ramadhan and Patterson, as well as others, for more than a year. The director of the Syracuse chapter of the NYCLU claims that “The information we’ve been gathering indicates the possibility of a pattern that’s very disturbing.”

For more information, please see:

Syracuse.com – Refugee who fled war in Africa finds injury in a Syracuse jail – 7 June 2010

9wsyr.com – Inmate died without proper medical care – 25 June 2010

Syracuse.com – Pregnant inmate died after hours of agony in Syracuse jail –  16 May 2010

Parents of captured Israeli soldier march to obtain his release

By Polly Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

Protesters joined Shalits parents to press for his release. [Photo Courtesy of The Observer.]
Protesters joined Shalit's parents to press for his release. (Photo Courtesy of The Observer.)

JERUSALEM, Israel – The parents of Staff Sgt. Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who has been held captive in Gaza for the past four years, began a twelve-day march on Sunday from their home to Jerusalem, where they plan to camp out in front of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official residence until the Israeli government wins Shalit’s release.

“We won’t wait any longer in our home,” said Noam Shalit, Gilad’s father, at the start of the march, which drew approximately two thousand supporters, including dozens of local celebrities. Hundreds of the supporters waved Israeli flags and carried signs, many of which read, “Gilad Shalit, we’re waiting at home for you.”

Shalit was captured in a cross-border dispute in June 2006 by Palestinian militants, and has been held in Gaza by Hamas militants who are demanding the release of as many as one thousand Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit’s release. Several prisoner swap deals between Israel and Hamas have failed in the past.

An Israeli poll indicated that seventy-five percent of Israelis would support the release of Palestinian prisoners, some of them convicted killers, in exchange for Shalit’s release.

Shalit has not been allowed any contact with the outside world nor with the International Red Cross. Apart from one audio tape and a video tape released by Hamas in October 2009 as a proof of life, the details of Shalit’s physical condition remain unknown. He was nineteen years old when he was captured.

Palestinians and Israelis alike are vested in the prospect of a prisoner exchange. Many Palestinians have relatives who are currently jailed in Israeli prisons. And in Israel, where military service is compulsory for most Jews and where most people have a family member or relative who serves in the military, the fate of Shalit resonates deeply.

Israel’s restriction of goods into and out of Gaza began shortly after Shalit’s capture in 2006 in an effort to pressure Hamas to release him. Later, a full blockade was imposed, but was eased after the recent deadly Israeli raid on the aid flotilla. The Shalits fear that the easing of the blockade has shown that the government is abandoning their son.

Negotiations for Shalit’s release have occurred through German and Egyptian mediators, since Israel does not deal directly with Hamas, considered by Israel to be a terrorist organization.

For now, Noam and Aviva Shalit will wait. “We don’t see any alternative after four years of government failure to obtain the release of my son,” Noam told England’s Observer, adding, “there have been many, many failures, but it’s time to put public pressure on the government.”

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Israeli soldier’s family urges swap – 27 June 2010

BBC – Captive Israeli soldier Shalit’s parents begin march – 27 June 2010

CNN – Captured Israeli soldier’s family marches to bring about release – 27 June 2010

Los Angeles Times – Family of captured Israeli soldier launches march to Jerusalem to press for his release – 27 June 2010

Observer – Israeli protesters press Binyamin Netanyahu to help free abducted soldier Gilad Shalit – 27 June 2010

New York Times – Family of Captured Israeli Soldier Press for Deal – 27 June 2010

European Court of Human Rights Says Same Sex Marriage is Not a Universal Right

By Yoohwan Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

Photo: All EU member states do not allow same sex marriages. [Source: Justout.com]

STRASBOURG, France – On June 24 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that European nations are not legally obliged to allow and recognize same sex marriages.

An Austrian couple, Hörst Schalk and Johann Kopf, brought a case against Austria in 2004 after the couple sought a marriage permit in Vienna in 2002.  Austrian law only recognizes marriages between a man and a woman, and the country refused to give the gay couple a marriage license.

Schalk and Kopf battled through the Austrian court system with no success.  After the constitutional court of Austria upheld the lower courts’ decision to refuse their permit, the couple brought their case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.  They claimed that the Austrian courts’ ruling violated their right to marriage under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Following Article 9 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, the seven judges of the European court held that the Austrian couple is not guaranteed a right to marriage.  Each European country should decide their individual laws and how far they wish to recognize the legal status of same sex marriages.

The court stated that marriage has “deep rooted social and cultural connotations which may differ largely from one society to another.”  Each nation should implement their own policy and the “court reiterates that it must not rush to substitute its own judgment in place of that of the national authorities, who are best placed to access and respond to the needs of society.”

Some countries, like Sweden and the Netherlands are socially liberal, while other ones are more religious and conservative, such as Poland.  Six out of European Union’s 27 member states have legalized same sex marriages.

Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, Portugal, Norway, and Spain are the six nations that allow gay marriages.  In addition, there are about a dozen other nations, such as Britain, Germany, France, and (since January 2010) Austria, which currently recognize legal partnerships that carry the same legal status as marriage.

Despite the lack of an EU-wide law, the European Court of Human Rights did acknowledge “an emerging European consensus” that same sex marriages should have legal recognition in Europe.  Furthermore, the court found that gay couples are entitled to protection under charter definitions of family life.

Although Austria does not recognize same sex marriages, the country passed a Registered Partnership Act in January 2010.  This Act permits a registered partnership between gay couples, but differs from a legal marriage under the Austrian law.  A same sex couple is restricted in having a choice of name, adopting children, and using artificial insemination.

For more information, please see:

AP – Court: Same-sex Marriage is Not Universal Right – 25 June 2010

BBC NEWS – European Human Rights Court Rejects Gay Marriage Bid – 25 June 2010

IRISH TIMES – Same-sex Marriage Ban Upheld by Court – 25 June 2010

Over 160 Arrested in a Violent Opposition Strike in Bangladesh

By David L. Chaplin II
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

DHAKA, Bangladesh – Dozens of political activists have been arrested in Bangladesh after the main opposition parties called for a dawn-to-dusk general strike across the country.  The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), led by Khaleda Zia, the former prime minister, said the strike on Sunday was in protest against misrule by the government.

Walid Hossain, a police spokesman, said at least 12,000 officers had been deployed in Dhaka to prevent violence as the shutdown of transportation and businesses brought much of the capital and the country to a standstill.  Hossain said around 200 opposition activists were arrested in a precautionary crackdown, many of whom were picked up for torching and damaging vehicles on Saturday night.

 

Over 100 opposition activists were arrested in a police crackdown in the run-up to the strike
Over 100 opposition activists were arrested in a police crackdown in the run-up to the strike

Sahara Khatun, the interior minister, gave warning that the government would prevent violence and lawlessness by all means.

Among those held were at least five leaders of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).  Officers said they provoked the strikers to damage public property.

Security forces used tear gas and batons in some areas to break up unruly demonstrations, Police Commissioner A.K.M Shahidul Hoque told CNN by phone from Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital.  About 18 officers were injured when protesters pelted them with stones, he said.

But Hoque claimed the 12-hour shutdown had little impact on attendance in government offices.  In addition, rail, river and air traffic was normal, although private long-route transport mostly stayed off the road, he said.

In Dhaka, between 1,000 and 1,500 activists held demonstrations in small groups, Hoque said.  The largest protest in the city numbered about 300 strikers, he added.

Bangladesh television said activists of the ruling Awami League party clashed with opposition supporters near a university in Dhaka where witnesses said a legislator and 10 others were injured as police used batons to halt street marches.

Public transport and most businesses remained closed across the country.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who leads the Bangladesh Awami League, said on Saturday: “The BNP and its stooges are out to frustrate democracy and create anarchy.”

Most Bangladeshis have observed a general strike called by the opposition.  Such general strikes are a regular part of political life in Bangladesh.  Many people treat them as holidays but others avoid going to work in case opposition supporters attack them, he adds.

For more information, please see:

CNN World – More than 160 arrested in violent Bangladesh strike – 27 June 2010

Al-Jazerra English – Bangladesh hit by general strike – 27 June 2010

BBC – Bangladesh opposition stages general strike – 27 June 2010

Nkurunziza Sole Candidate in Upcoming Burundi Elections

By Laura Hirahara
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

Bujumbura, BurundiPierre Nkunrunziza, incumbent president of Burundi. Observers are concerned that Burundi’s elections scheduled for Monday will throw the country back into violence just 5 years after a civil war that lasted 12 years and claimed an estimated 300,000 lives.  Currently, incumbent president Pierre Nkurunziza is the only candidate in the upcoming presidential race and as such is poised to win.  All opposing candidates have withdrawn from the race alleging election fraud at the local level in spite of requests from the international community for them to rejoin.  Among the candidates who have dropped out is Agathon Rwasa who is rumored to be in hiding in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Rwasa is the former rebel leader of the National Liberation Forces which surrendered last year, five years after the other warring groups agreed to create a power sharing government.

African Union head, Jean Ping, issued a statement urging those in Burundi who would protest the elections to use only legal means to do so.  “He is appealing urgently to all the political actors to refrain from any action likely to lead Burundi back to the horrors of the past and that could jeopardise the political and democratic progress of the past few years,” the statement continued.

Despite Ping’s plea, almost forty grenade attacks have occurred in the past two weeks alone.  The worst of these, a grenade attack at a bar that injured twenty people, took place in Kayanza in northern Burundi.  Another grenade attack in Muramvya left one child injured.  In addition, numerous political offices across the country have been set on fire.  While suspects are in custody, the tension created by the local elections is only serving to escalate acts of violence throughout Burundi.  Defence Minister Germain Niyoyankana acknowledged the increase in grenade attacks following the opposition’s rejection of the local election results saying, “The situation is still under control . . .[but t]he same Burundians who were responsible for the crisis we went through are still around. They may still have they same mindset.”

For more information please see:

American Free Press, AU concerned about Burundi poll, 25 June, 2010

American Free Press, 21 hurt in new Burundi grenade attacks: police, 19 June, 2010

BBC News, African Union warns Burundi politicians ahead of vote, 25 June, 2010

BBC News, Burundi mystery over ex-rebel chief Rwasa’s whereabouts, 24 June, 2010

Ecuador Summit for Diversity Protested by Indigenous Group

By R. Renee Yaworsky
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

OTAVALO, Ecuador—New goals for social justice and diversity have been set in Ecuador.  A declaration to promote indigenous rights was signed by Latin American leaders at a summit in Otavalo.  The hope is that culturally diverse and environmentally responsible societies will be defended and encouraged.  Efforts were focused on integration and recognition of black and indigenous cultures.

The 10th Summit of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) concluded Friday.  About 300 government delegates and representatives from ALBA discussed “plurinational states” and efforts to avoid use of history that “remains written from the European or the Anglo-Saxon point of view.”  Another concern was to ensure that “countries have environmental policies to protect ecosystems.”

The text of the Declaration of Otavalo illustrates the commitment of ALBA member states to fight against racism, xenophobia and intolerance.  It also includes plans to construct an alternative model of economic sovereignty and promotes the concept of a multinational state.  The document has items on climate change and a promotion of a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth within the framework of the United Nations.  Among those signing the final document were the presidents of Ecuador, Venezuela and Bolivia and the vice-president of Cuba.

The Declaration of Otavalo promises that “the State will guarantee social participation and a fair and equitable distribution of benefits and the management, administration and exploitation of non-renewable natural resources.”

Outside the summit’s venue, Ecuador’s main indigenous organization protested.  Members angrily complained that their views were not being represented.  Indigenous leaders had attempted to enter the summit but were blocked by police.  The leaders had wanted to hand a written statement to Bolivia’s President Morales, who is an indigenous Aymara.

The organization, Conaie (the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador), had been an important ally to Ecuador’s President Correa during elections.  Along with other indigenous organizations, Conaie represents about 40% of the country’s population.

The relationship between Correa and Conaie has been strained lately because of concerns over mining, oil development and water rights.  Conaie accuses the president of backing a mining law that would allow foreign companies to open mines on their ancestral territories.  They would like Correa to give indigenous communities in the Andes mountains and Amazon rainforest more control over their own affairs.

The presidents of Ecuador, Venezuela, and Bolivia ended the summit with a call for indigenous unity.

For more information, please see:

BBC-Protests challenge Ecuador indigenous summit-26 June 2010

Radio Cadena Agramonet-The ALBA Summit: New Goals of Social Justice-26 June 2010

El Universal-Chavez, Morales and Correa close 10th ALBA summit-25 June 2010

Beating Death of Young Man Illuminates Culture of Police Impunity in Egypt, Sparks Public Uproar

By Dallas Steele
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

[Warning: Graphic photo at the end of the article.]

ALEXANDRIA, Egypt– Twenty-eight-year-old Khaled Said was forcibly dragged from an internet café and savagely beaten to death by two plainclothes police officers in broad daylight. Although Khaled’s death occurred on June 6, 2010, public prosecutors have not yet summoned for interrogation any of the key players involved in the incident, including the two plainclothes officers involved in the death.  The lack of accountability by investigators, and allegations that Khaled was intentionally murdered by the police have sparked a wave of demonstrations across Alexandria.

One of the nine witnesses that came forward as witnesses to the beating, Haitham Misbah, the son of the internet café owner, told investigators how the plainclothes officers did not ask Khaled any questions before they began to beat him. Misbah described how the officers continually smashed Khaled’s head against a marble wall and iron wrought fence before he fell to the ground and was continually kicked long after he stopped moving. Numerous witnesses say Khaled’s last words were, “I am dying. I am going to die.” Allegedly, the plainclothes officers replied:“You’re already dead.”

Misbah said that when he attempted to intervene, the officers told him to stay out and threatened to shut down the café. Other witnesses have only recently come forward for fear of reprisal from law enforcement authorities in the area.

The initial investigation by the local prosecutor concluded that Khaled died of asphyxiation after swallowing a packet of drugs when he saw the plainclothes officers approaching him. The investigation into Khaled’s death reportedly failed to gather any evidence from the scene of the crime or interview any witnesses. The two plainclothes officers allegedly responsible for Khaled’s death remain on active duty and have yet to be questioned by the prosecutor. Furthermore, reports have emerged that the officers responsible for Khaled’s death returned to the area of the incident days later and threatened people not to cause trouble for them.

After public protest over the incompetence of the first inquisition, a second, higher-level investigation was conducted. The forensic medical investigation in the second inquest also said that the cause of Khaled’s death was asphyxiation. However, the second medical report also stated that Khaled suffered numerous injuries from the beatings and concluded that there was “nothing to prevent the injuries from having occurred as a result of beating during the arrest of the victim.”

The entire incident has caused a public uproar in Egypt, and has resulted in various demonstrations. Certain individuals protesting Khaled’s death and the two inquests are claiming that Khaled was targeted for trying to expose official corruption in the area. Others are claiming that Khaled’s death is direct evidence that Egypt’s emergency law, created thirty years ago following President Sadat’s assassination by an Islamic militant, has created a culture of police impunity in Egypt.

Khaled Said apparently died of asphyxiation
Photographs of Khaled Said from the Facebook group organized to protest his death. (Photo Courtesy of Facebook)

For more information, please see:

BBC – Mohamed ElBaradei leads Egypt ‘police death’ protest – 25 June 2010

CNN – Demonstrators in Egypt rail against brutality, man’s death – 25 June 2010

Human Rights Watch – Egypt: Prosecute Police in Beating Death – 24 June 2010

Swedish Oil Company Accused Of Crimes Against Humanity

By Tristan Simoneau
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

Swedens Minister for Foreign Affairs Carl Bildt, who left Lundins board of directors in 2006, is the focus of accusations.  Photo courtesy of The Christian Science Monitor
Photo: Swedens Minister for Foreign Affairs Carl Bildt, who left Lundins board of directors in 2006, is the focus of accusations. Source: Christian Science Monitor
STOCKHOLM, Sweden – Sweden’s public prosecutor, Magnus Evling, opened a criminal investigation on June 21st after a report was published alleging possible complicity in atrocities in Sudan by Swedish firm Lundin Petroleum.

The report stated that Lundin Petroleum may have been complicit in “war crimes and crimes against humanity.”  According to Mr. Evling, “the purpose of the inquiry is to investigate whether there are individuals with ties to Sweden who are suspected of involvement in crime.”  Carl Bildt, who left Lundin’s board of directors in 2006 to become Sweden’s minister of foreign affairs, is currently the focus of accusations.  This case raises questions about international obligations of corporations to safeguard human rights in conflict zones.

The investigation into the alleged activity, which occurred between 1997 and 2003, is the product of a report by the European Coalition on Oil in Sudan(ECOS), a group of 50 European NGOs.  ECOS claims that the problems began in 1997 when Lundin Consortium signed a 1997 agreement with Sudan’s government for the exploitation of oil in an area where the government lacked “full control.”

ECOS claims that the civilian population was forcibly displaced and victimized during the government’s efforts to secure the oil fields.  It is estimated that 12,000 people died and 160,000 were forcibly displaced through the efforts of the Sudanese government. According to Said Mahmoudi, professor of International Law at Stockholm University, “there is evidence that Lundin knew about what was happening, and they just closed their eyes simply because it was a question of millions and millions of dollars.”  Lundin Petroleum denies any violation of international law.

One of the goals of ECOS in producing the report is the creation of effective “limits for companies working in these types of conflict areas with regimes that are committing human rights violations.”  ECOS Coordinator Egbert Wesselink stated that “in some parts of the world, many companies are effectively working in a legal void because there is no functioning legal system.”  ECOS suggests that a possible remedy for this would be the enforcement of national laws by corporations’ home countries.  Mr. Wesselink noted that enforcement mechanisms are already in place, citing the Rome Statute and the International Criminal Court, but the idea “has to be transferred to corporations and the people leading them.”

Concerning  Sudanese victims, there is precedent from the Bosnian conflict, where an international commission was set up to compensate victims.  Furthermore, the Sudanese Constitution states that signatories to oil agreements are responsible for providing compensation.  Even if compensation is provided at some point, it is likely that fair allocation of will be logistically impossible.


For more information, please see:

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR – Swedish oil company under scrutiny after Sudan war crimes report – 22 June 2010

REUTERS – Prosecutor probes Swedish link in Sudan crimes – 21 June 2010

STOCKHOLM NEWS – Oil company accused of war crimes – 6 June 2010

Police Open Fire on protesters In Kashmir

By David L. Chaplin II
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

KASHMIR, India – “We want freedom” was the resonating chant as protests in Kashmir turned deadly when troops open fired on hundreds of demonstrators on Sunday, killing one person and wounding at least five.

A defiant protester shouts slogans in Jammu on Monday
A defiant protester shouts slogans in Jammu on Monday

Hundreds of people took to the streets, throwing rocks at security forces and surrounding an armored vehicle belonging to paramilitary soldiers, in a protest against the death of Mohammed Rafiq Bangroo, a 25-year-old who died Saturday after being beaten by troops in an earlier demonstration last week.  After the demonstrators tried to light a bunker on fire, the officers fired as an act of self defense, authorities say.

“We exercised maximum restraint.  Our soldiers opened fire only in self-defense after the protesters tried to torch the bunker,” Prabhakar Tripathi, spokesman for the Central Reserve Police Force, told the AP.  Tensions in the Muslim-majority region have been running high since local police accused the military of killing three civilians in April, and officials now say they are clamping down by enforcing a tight curfew and other restrictions.

Despite a decline in violence in Kashmir in recent years, there are fears that militants are trying to regroup in the region.  Hundreds of thousands of Indian troops are based in Kashmir to fight a two decade-old insurgency against Indian rule.

A senior Indian army officer has been killed in a gun battle with separatist militants in Indian-administered Kashmir.  Colonel Neeraj Sood was “leading his troops” when he was gunned down by militants in Lolab area, the army said.  He was the highest ranking officer to be killed by militants in Kashmir in 2010.

It is not clear whether the militants have suffered any casualties in the clashes.

Many know this re-birth of violence comes at the worst time, Al Jazeera’s Prerna Suri reports from Srinagar, said: “The violence couldn’t have come at a worse time for the people of Kashmir.  It’s peak tourist season and families live entirely on tourism.  They say if violence spreads, the only ones to suffer will be them.”

The demonstration swelled after the shots were fired, when hundreds more people poured into the streets, chanting “Indian forces leave Kashmir”.

Anti-India sentiment runs deep in Muslim-majority Kashmir.  Opposition groups have been fighting since 1989 for the Himalayan region’s independence from India or its merger with neighboring Pakistan.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera English – Police on Kashmir protestors – 20 June 2010

BBC news – Indian army officer killed in Kashmir clash – 23 June 2010

The Huffington Post – Kashmir Police Open Fire On Protesters – 21 June 2010

Syria Refuses to Release Journalist and Imprisons Activist/Lawyer

By Warren Popp
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

 

Syria continues to imprison journalists and activists who criticize the government. (Photo Courtesy of Global Voices)
Syria continues to imprison journalists and activists who criticize the government. (Photo Courtesy of Global Voices)

DAMASCUS, Syria – On 16 June, Syrian journalist, Ali al-Abdallah, completed a two and half year prison sentence for “disseminating false information with the aim of harming the state,” for “membership of a secret organisation designed to destabilise the state,” and “inciting ethnic and racial tension.” He was sentenced, along with eleven others, for charges based on their calls for a radical shift in Syrian relations with Lebanon, as demonstrated by their support of the Damascus Declaration, a movement that is calling for peaceful and democratic change in Syria (Al-Abdullah had been elected to the secretariat of the Damascus Declaration Movement shortly before his arrest). However, shortly after he was set to be released, he was informed that new charges were being brought against him, and that he would therefore not be released.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, the latest charges accuse al-Abdallah of  “disseminating false information with the aim of harming the state and weakening national feelings,” and with “taking actions, producing writings or speeches not sanctioned by the government that would expose Syria to the danger of hostility, or harm its relationship with a foreign country, or expose Syrians to retaliation against them or their property.” These charges stem from an article al-Abdallah wrote about three months ago, while he was imprisoned in Syria, that was critical of Syria’s ties with Iran, and criticized the religious form of government advocated by Iranian Shiite leaders.

Calls both condemning the detention and calling for the release of al-Abdallah have come from numerous human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

On 23 June 2010, the prominent lawyer and head of the Syrian Organisation for Human Rights, Muhannad al-Hassani, was sentenced to a three year prison term under the same laws that were used to convict al-Abdallah and many other journalists and activists. Al-Hassani has represented numerous journalists and activists charged with crimes similar to that of al-Abdallah. According to Amnesty International, Al-Hassani had recently drawn public attention to both unfair trials of political prisoners before the Supreme State Security Court, and to a death that may have been caused by torture and ill treatment while in detention; he has allegedly held meetings with officials from foreign embassies to discuss human rights issues; and he has undertaken efforts to repeal the very law that was used to convict him. He is also the winner of the 2010 Martin Ennals Award, which recognizes the work of human rights defenders

The arrest and conviction has been condemned by numerous human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, Freedom House, Reporters Without Borders, the Syrian Human Rights League, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the Syrian League for the Defence of Human Rights, and the National Organisation of Human Rights in Syria.

The arrest of al-Abdullah, al-Hassani, and other critics of the government are reportedly part of a broader campaign against political opponents that has intensified over the past two years. While several of the other people detained for being part of the Damascus Declaration Movement have recently been released, there are many other journalists and activists who are currently detained in Syria. Riad Seif, a well-known opposition figure who is ill with cancer, continues to be imprisoned despite calls by Western leaders to release him. In addition, the office of the Syrian Centre for Media and Free Expression was closed and placed under seal in September 2009.

Reporters Without Borders notes that Syria was ranked 165th out of 179 countries in their 2009 press freedom index, and that President Bashar Al-Assad is on their Internet Enemies list, as well as their list of “Predators of Press Freedom.”

For more information, please see:

AFP – Syria Jails Award-Winning Lawyer: Rights Group – 23 June 2010.

Amnesty International – Syrian Human Rights Leader Jailed for Three Years – 23 June 2010

BBC – Syria Jails Leading Rights Lawyer – 23 June 2010

Committee to Protect Journalists – Syria Detains Journalist Beyond Sentence – 21 June 2010

Human Rights Watch – Syria: Political Detainee, Sentence Ended, Held on New Charges – 19 June 2010

International Free Expression Exchange – Authorities Refuse to Release Journalist on Completion of Sentence – 18 June 2010

Kaleej Times (U.A.E.) – Syrian Political Prisoner Re-Arrested on Release – 18 June 2010

Radio Netherlands Worldwide – Syrian Political Prisoner Re-Arrested on Release – 18 June 2010

Syrian Human Rights Committee – Detainee Ali al-Abdullah Transferred to SSSC Before Completion of His Sentence – 4 April, 2010

UN Urges Venezuela To Cancel Arrest Warrant For Television Executive

Guillermo Zuloaga Arrested Earlier This Year (Photo Courtesy of Caribbean Net News)
Guillermo Zuloaga Arrested Earlier This Year (Photo Courtesy of Caribbean Net News)

By Patrick Vanderpool
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela – Late last week, Venezuelan officials urged Interpol to arrest Guillermo Zuloaga, president of Globovision.  Globovision is the only Venezuelan television station still openly critical of President Hugo Chavez.  The Venezuelan Government is accusing Zuloaga of illegally storing vehicles with the intent to sell them.

Zuloaga and his son, also named Guillermo, are reported to have left the country and claim that the charges are false.  Rather, the Zuloagas claim that they are being persecuted for political purposes.  The elder Zuloaga owns a car dealership and has stated that the vehicles belong to the business.

Recently, Frank La Rue, a United Nations independent human rights expert, urged Venezuelan authorities to withdraw the warrant against Zuloagas.  La Rue echoed the sentiments of many other human rights activists when he expressed fear that the warrants are a means for the ruling government to silence political decent.  La Rue also expressed fears that the warrant illustrates a broader deterioration of expressive freedom in the country.

La Rue’s message was clear when he stated that “no Government in the world has the right to silence critics or those who oppose the State with criminal proceedings.”

The recent warrants against Zuloagas are not the only acts of intimidation committed against Globovision employees at the hands of the Chavez government.  Starting in 2001, Globovision employees have been privy to threats and harassment because they have freely exercised their expressive rights.  In 2008, the harassment and intimidation led the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to order measures to protect its employees.

The United States has also intervened in the situation out of fear that the warrants are politically motivated.  State Department spokesman Philip Crowley stated that the U.S. is “very concerned” with the warrants and that the warrants are “the latest example of the government of Venezuela’s continuing assault on the freedom of the press.”

Venezuela is a party to Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which guarantees fundamental freedom of expression.  Although the country is bound by the terms of article, the Chavez government has done little to uphold the article’s principles.

Although Le Rue has requested a meeting with the Venezuelan government to fully assess the country’s freedom of expression standards, the request remains unanswered.

For more information, please see:

CNN – Venezuela Asks Interpol To Arrest Openly Critical TV Station’s Owner – 18 June 2010

 UN News Centre – UN Expert Urges Venezuela To Cancel Arrest Warrant Against TV Executive – 17 June 2010

Yahoo News – US Concerned By Arrest Warrant For TV Network Owner in Venezuela – 14 June 2010

Update: Israel Eases Gaza Blockade, Allows Building Supplies into Region

By Alyxandra Stanczak
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

JERUSALEM, Israel – In response to discussion and comments about the Gaza embargo led by British Middle East envoy Tony Blair, and U.S. special envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu testified in the foreign affairs and defense committees of the Knesset, Israel’s legislative branch, that the Gaza blockade should restrict fewer critical items. Netanyahu’s testimony came after Arab League prime minister Amr Moussa’s trip to Gaza this past week to meet with Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh.

Building materials and other critical items can now enter Gaza. Photo courtesy of the New York Times.
Building materials and other critical items can now enter Gaza. / Photo courtesy of the New York Times.

Netanyahu indicated last week that he supported increasing the amount and type of items that would no longer be subject to Israel’s blockade of Gaza. The former rules governing Israel’s blockade required all items entering Gaza be on an “allowed items” list. This rule was amended so that items not explicitly on a “banned items” list could be imported into Gaza.

Significantly,  building materials can now be shipped into Gaza.  The region’s infrastructure underwent intense damage during the 2008-09 three week Gaza War.  Roughly five percent of Gaza’s commercial and government buildings were destroyed, resulting in the loss of 189 buildings, including eleven factories and eight warehouses.  Furthermore, 6268 homes are estimated to have been damaged or destroyed during the war. These buildings have, largely, remained unrepaired since 2009 due to the difficulty in attaining necessary repair materials. As a result of the damage to these dwellings and the lack of available material to repair them, it is estimated that roughly 20,000 Gazanas have remained displaced after the war.

The Knesset’s decision to allow building materials into Gaza is the first stage in the process of  rebuilding infrastructure in the war-torn region.  Schools, hospitals, government buildings, and other critical institutions that were severely damaged, hope to begin rebuilding as soon as the materials become available in Gaza.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Israel to loosen Gaza blockade – 21 June 2010

BBC – Israel outlines changes to Gaza blockade – 21 June 2010

Ha’aretz – Decision to ease Gaza seige weakens Hamas –  21 June 2010

Reuters – U.N. agency calls for full lifting of Gaza blockade – 21 June 2010

United Nations Development Programme – Gaza – One Year After Report – 24 May 2010

Human Rights Watch – Israel: Investigate Unlawful Destruction in the Gaza War – 13 May 2010