Violence Against Journalists Increases In Run-up to Rwandan Election

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
Previous Bus Accident In Bolivia (Photo Courtesy of

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
Chuneice Patterson (Courtesy of

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: – Refugee who fled war in Africa finds injury in a Syracuse jail – 7 June 2010 – Inmate died without proper medical care – 25 June 2010 – 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