North Korea Health Care Crisis: Starving Population

By David L. Chaplin II
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

HAMGYONG, North Korea – Human rights group calls on international community to help end regime’s ‘systematic neglect’ and prevent humanitarian disaster.  North Korea is failing to provide the most basic healthcare needs for its people, Amnesty International warns.  Barely functioning hospitals, poor hygiene and epidemics made worse by widespread malnutrition was revealed from human rights watch dog.  An investigation by the human rights watchdog found many people were also too poor to pay for treatment.

Many children in North Korea are at risk of serious malnourishment
Many children in North Korea are at risk of serious malnourishment

The state’s failure to feed its people has produced a generation where nearly 50% suffer from stunted growth, where the hungry eat poisonous plants and pig feed, amputations are conducted without anesthetic and doctors are paid in cigarettes.

“If you don’t have money you die,” said the woman, who left North Korea in 2008.

Pyongyang spends less than $1 (£0.65) per person on healthcare a year, less than any other country, according to World Health Organization figures cited in the report.

Amnesty’s report, The Crumbling State of Health Care in North Korea, is based on interviews with more than 40 North Korean health professionals, who left the country between 2004 and 2009.

“The government’s failure to provide basic education about using medication is especially worrying as North Korea fights a tuberculosis epidemic,” said Catherine Barber, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Asia Pacific.

Pyongyang says it provides free healthcare for its people, but witnesses told Amnesty they had to pay for all services for the past 20 years.

One 20-year-old woman from North Hamgyong province said: “People don’t bother going to the hospital if they don’t have money because everyone knows that you have to pay.  Poor hygiene at medical facilities and a dire lack of medicines were threatening the lives of many, Amnesty warned, with people routinely trading cigarettes, food and alcohol for treatment.

A 56-year-old woman told Amnesty that her appendix was removed without anaesthetic.  “The operation took about an hour and 10 minutes. I was screaming so much from the pain – I thought I was going to die.

North Korea faces critical food shortages following famine in the 1990s which killed up to one million people and relies on international aid.

A botched currency re-evaluation in 2009 almost doubled the price of rice overnight, and one non-governmental organization cited in the report said thousands of people starved to death in January and February this year in one province alone.

Politically the North finds itself isolated – it has withdrawn from international talks over its controversial nuclear programme.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Amnesty warns of healthcare crisis in North Korea – 15 July 2010

Business Week – North Korean Health System “Dire,” – 15 July 2010

Guardian.co.uk – North Korea facing health and food crisis – 15 July 2010

Colombian Military Has Violent Weekend Fighting FARC

Colombian Rebels (Photo Courtesy of Colombia Reports)
Colombian Rebels (Photo Courtesy of Colombia Reports)

By Patrick Vanderpool
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Colombia – According to Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, the Colombian military killed nine rebels in a fierce battle on Monday in the southern part of Caqueta, in the Amazonian region. 

Colombian officials stated that the Colombian Air Force and Joint Task Force OMEGA located a rebel camp run by Rodolfo Atanas and took action.  During the attack, Colombian armed forces seized a 60 mm mortar, guns and radio communication equipment.

This attack comes on the heels of another attack on a rebel camp on Sunday, which occurred in the central state of Tolima and claimed the lives of 12 rebels. 

In what proved to be a bloody day in Colombia’s constant fight against guerrilla groups, ten Colombian soldiers were also killed Sunday in a separate battle with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in the Arauca state in northeastern Colombia.  The FARC, Colombia’s largest rebel group, is said to have 8,000 fighters.

According to President Uribe’s website, a female rebel leader known as “Maryeri” was among those killed on Sunday.  Maryeri is said to be responsible for as many as 70 Colombian soldiers’ deaths spanning the past eight years.  Additionally, the rebel group targeted on Sunday is responsible for more than 30 attacks in the Tolima area over the past two years.

In Arauca state, Colombian soldiers approached members of the rebel group as the guerrillas were attempting to blow up an electric plant.  When the rebels spotted the Colombian military, a gun fight broke out, killing ten Colombian military officials.

The Colombian government has been battling the FARC, as well as other paramilitary rebel groups, since the mid-1960’s.  Many of these groups use the drug trade, as well as extortion, to finance their activities.  The FARC also routinely capture people and holds them hostage in exchange for ransom.  In March, the FARC released one hostage and in June, Colombian officials successfully rescued four additional hostages.

The FARC appears to be stepping up activities with the approach of the August 7 presidential inauguration of former Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santo.  The weekend’s clashes between Colombian security forces and rebels left a total of 31 people dead. However, it is being hailed as a significant blow to the FARC’s southern bloc.

For more information, please see:

CNN – Colombian Army Kills 12 FARC Rebels, president says – 12 June 2010

Colombia Reports – Army Kills 9 FARC guerrillas in Caqueta – 12 June 2010

Latin American Herald Tribune – Colombian Troops Kill 9 Rebels – 11 June 2010

Israeli Military Investigation Finds Missteps, but Killings Justified

by Warren Popp
Impuntiy Watch Reporter, Middle East

Israeli soldiers on board one of the overtaken flotilla ships. (Photo Courtesy of Al Jazeera)
Israeli soldiers onboard one of the overtaken flotilla ships. (Photo Courtesy of Al Jazeera)

TEL AVIV, Israel – An internal military investigation headed by Israel’s Major General, Giora Eiland, which was created to look into the deadly Gaza aid flotilla incident, recently completed its work. The deadly flotilla incident covered by the report occurred on May thirty-first when the Israel Defense Force (IDF) attempted to overtake a convoy of ships that was determined to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza to deliver humanitarian aid. The report found that the IDF faced violent resistance by armed activists, including being shot, stabbed, and beaten with metal objects. Activists claim that the IDF indiscriminately used live fire against activists as they boarded the ship, and that the IDF was the first to fire. The incident left several IDF soldiers seriously injured, nine activists dead, and dozens of other activists wounded. According to the IDF Spokesperson, “The [investigation] team was appointed by the Chief of the General Staff to examine the deployment towards the flotilla, the chosen course of action and other possible alternatives, advance preparations, and the operation’s implementation.”

The report concluded that the military made several mistakes in the preparation for the raid, including a failure to utilize all possible intelligence gathering methods (although the IDF claims there is no guarantee that a complete intelligence gathering effort would have created a full intelligence picture); a failure to plan for all possible contingencies, including both the general outcome that ensued and especially for the expected level of violence; and a failure to seek other technological alternatives for stopping vessels from reaching Gaza, although here the report emphasized that no country in the world, at least to their knowledge, has the ability to stop a vessel at sea in a non hostile manner.

In terms of the actions of the IDF commandos, the IDF spokesperson said the following in regards to the report: “The team determined that the Navy Commando soldiers operated properly, with professionalism, bravery and resourcefulness and that the commanders exhibited correct decision making. The report further determines that the use of live fire was justified and that the entire operation is estimable.” The report also found there were mistakes made “at quite a senior level” but did not recommend punishments for any of the officers involved in the May 31 raid.

Israel has rejected calls by the United Nations Secretary-General, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and other world leaders for an international investigation, and has claimed it will not cooperate with a Human Rights Council commission that is being set up to investigate the incident.

In addition to the mlitary investigation, Isreal has set up a panel, the Tirkel Committee, to investigate the incident, and  to decide whether the raid was in compliance with international law. This panel consists of three retired judges and two experts, and also includes two prominent foreign observers: David Trimble, a Northern Ireland politician, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate and the Canadian jurist, Ken Watkin. The Tirkel Committee has no power to summon anyone from the IDF except for General Ashkenazi. Prime Minister Netanyahu , Defense Minister Barak, and General Ashkenazi are all expected to testify before the panel publicly and under oath. Al Jazeera reported that Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli government, told Al Jazeera that, “Israel’s investigatory process, both civilian and military, meets the highest international standards,” and, “It’s standard operating procedure [to investigate] after any military operation, especially an operation that has human fatalities.”

The Turkish group that organized the humanitarian convoy, IHH, criticized the report, particularly the claim that the IDF  was justified in using live ammunition. The IHH maintains that the IDF commandos were responsible for starting the violence. Huseyin Oruc, a member of IHH’s board reportedly told Al Jazeera, “If you compare the passengers on the Mavi Marmara and the soldiers, even their equipment… you can understand how much balance there was between the two sides.”

Turkey, whose close diplomatic relationship with Israel have faced serious strains since the incident, including the withdrawal of the Turkish Ambassador to Israel, welcomed the internal investigation and report, but is still calling on Israel to agree to a full and impartial international investigation. All nine of the activists who were killed in the incident were Turkish, including one who was a dual United States-Turkish citizen. Turkey’s Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said that he welcomed the acknowledgement that “mistakes” were made, but believed that IDF commandos committed “a crime” and that an international investigation is warranted.

Crew members onboard the Libyan ship before its departure towards Gaza. (Photo Courtesy of Al Arabiya News channel)
Crew members onboard a Libyan ship before its departure towards Gaza. (Photo Courtesy of Al Arabiya News channel)

The report was issued during the same time that a humanitarian aid ship from Libya was heading for Gaza. The ship is carrying about fifteen activists, primarily from Libya, and a dozen crew members. The ship is associated with the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation (GICDF) led by the son of the Libyan leader, Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi. The foundation of GICDF said on its website that the boat’s goal was to deliver two-thousand tons of aid to Gaza. After threats by Israel to intercept the ship, including a disputed report that Israel issued an ultimatum to the Libyan vessel, the ship reportedly changed course on July thirteenth, and is now slowly heading towards Egypt (mechanical difficulties along with a reported dispute between the crew of the ship and the activists regarding the final destination make confirmation of this by news agencies difficult). The Egyptian government has offered to accept the ship at one of its ports in the Sinai Peninsula and then deliver the goods to Gaza. Youssef Sawani, the executive director of GICDF said, “We hope the Israelis will not ban the ship from entering the port of Gaza. If they decide to do so we have no means to object to that. This is a peaceful mission”

For more information, please see:

AFP – Israel PM to Testify Before Gaza Panel on Aug 9 – 13 July 2010

Al Jazeera – Gaza Aid Ship ‘Diverts’ to Egypt – 13 July 2010

Al Jazeera – Israel: Use of Live Fire Justified – 13 July 2010

Jerusalem Post – Conflicting Reports at Sea – 13 July 2010

Jerusalem Post – Turkey Welcomes Eiland Report But Still Wants Int’l Probe – 13 July 2010

N.Y. Times – Gaza-Bound Ship Diverts to Egypt, Averting Clash -13 July 2010

Israel Defense Force Blog – Maj. Gen. (Res.) Eiland Submits Conclusions of Military Examination Team Regarding Mavi Marmara, 12 July 2010– 12 July 2010

N.Y. Timess – Israeli Military Finds Flotilla Killings Justified – 12 July 2010

Al Arabiya News Channel – Gaza-Bound Aid Ship Sets Sail From Greece – 10 July 2010

ICC Charges Sudanese President with Genocide

ICC judges issued an arrest warrant charging al-Bashir with three counts of genocide: by killing, by causing mental and physical harm, and by deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about physical destruction. (Photo Courtesy of ABC)
ICC judges issued an arrest warrant charging al-Bashir with three counts of genocide: by killing, by causing mental and physical harm, and "by deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about physical destruction." (Photo Courtesy of ABC)

By Sovereign Hager
Managing Editor- News, Impunity Watch

THE HAGUE, Netherlands-The Pre-Trial Chamber I of the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a second arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmad Al Bashir. The chamber found reasonable grounds to believe Bashir responsible for three counts of genocide committed against the Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa ethnic groups.

The ICC issued its first arrest warrant against Bashir in March of 2009 and it continues to be in effect. The first arrest warrant is for five counts of crimes against humanity, including murder, extermination, forcible transfer, torture, and rape. It also included two counts for war crimes: intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population and pillaging.

The initial arrest warrant rejected the genocide charge, which the Prosecutor appealed on July of 2009. In February of 2010, the Appeals Chamber reversed the decision unanimously on the genocide charge due to an erroneous standard of proof. The Appeals Chamber then ordered the Pre-Trial Chamber to decide the genocide charge again based on a correct standard of proof – reasoable grounds.

The Pre-Trial Chamber I concluded that in fact there was reasonable grounds to believe that Bashir had the specific intent to destroy in part three ethnic groups.

In issueing the warrant, the Pre-Trial Chamber I seeks international co-operation in obtaining the surrender and arrest of Bashir for the charges on both the first and second arrest warrants. A request has been sent to the Sudanese authorities as well as to all State Parties to the Rome Statute, and the United Nations Security Counicl members that are not parties to the Rome Statute.

The United Nations Security Council referred the situation in Darfur to the ICC via resolution 1593, on March 31, 2005. Four cases are being heard under this resolution.

The Sudanese government criticised the ICC decision, calling it a “political decision” and stating that “Sudan does not pay attention to this political campaign and will respond to it with more economic achievements. Sudan’s minister of information called the indictment a “desperate attempt to create instability in Sudan in order to stop its development process.” Bashir refuses to recognize the ICC’s authority and refuses to stand trial.

Genocide is considered the gravest crime in international law, requiring proof of an intent to wipe out “in whole or in part” a racial, religious, or ethnic group. ICC Prosecutor, Moreno-Ocampo accused Bahir of keeping 2.5 million refugees from specific ethnic groups in Darfur in camps “under genocide conditions, like a gigantic Auschwitz.”

For more information, please see:

Open Democracy-The Omar al-Bashir Indictment: the ICC and the Darfur Crisis-15 July 2010

International Criminal Court-Trial Chamber Issues a Second Warrant of Arrest Against Omar Al Bashir for Counts of Genocide-12 July, 2010

Rueters-Omar Bashir Indicted for Genocide-12 July, 2010

Gilad Shalit update: Israeli PM Netanyahu meets with captured soldier’s parents

By Polly Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

Gilad Shalits parents meet with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu. (Photo Courtesy of BBC.)
Gilad Shalit's parents meet with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu. (Photo Courtesy of Ha'aretz.)

JERUSALEM, Israel – Last Friday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara held an hour-long meeting with the parents of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Noam and Aviva Shalit reached Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem following a twelve-day march, in an effort to secure their son’s release. Gilad, now twenty-three years old, was captured in June 2006 by Palestinian militants and has been held in Gaza by Hamas militants who have demanded the release of as many as one thousand Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit’s release.

Shalit’s family set up a protest tent at the culmination of the protest march, vowing to demonstrate outside the weekly cabinet meetings until their son is released. Over the weekend, visitors streamed in and out of the tent, in a showing of support for the family.

Following the meeting with Netanyahu, Noam Shalit said that there was no new news, but also indicated that the family did not have high hopes prior to their meeting with Netanyahu.

“We have received no news yet that might calm us or change the situation. We’ll remain in the tent as planned; there is no change. We’ll stay here until Gilad returns,” Noam said.

Netanyahu, who recently returned from a trip to the United States, told the couple that the issue of their son’s release was one of the topics discussed with U.S. President Barack Obama and other senior officials in Washington.

“It’s not just the tens of thousands of marchers who support you, but all the citizens of the state of Israel,” Netanyahu told the Shalits. “There are also millions of people abroad who are with you, as are my wife and myself.”

Palestinian news agency Ma’an reported on Sunday that Netanyahu asked former U.S. president Bill Clinton to help mediate the release of Shalit. Netanyahu met with Clinton during his trip to Washington, where he proposed that Clinton visit Gaza to negotiate with senior Hamas officials.

Netanyahu has said that Israel will release one thousand Palestinian prisoners, though not all the ones that Hamas wants. Some that might be released are serving multiple life sentences for their roles in organizing suicide bombings.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Netanyahu meets Shalit’s parents – 9 July 2010

Ha’aretz – Shalit family to protest outside weekly cabinet meetings – 11 July 2010

Ha’aretz – Report: Netanyahu asks Bill Clinton to mediate Shalit release – 11 July 2010

The Media Line – Public Support for the Release of Gilad Shalit Continues after Five Years – 12 July 2010

Colombia’s New President To Face Questions Regarding Involvement In Civilian Deaths

By Ricardo Zamora
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Colombia – President-elect, former defense minister Juan Manuel Santos, may be taking the high office in August, replacing the popular Alvaro Uribe, as the UN vows to investigate Santos’ and Uribe’s involvement in many civilian deaths.
 
Santos, as defense minister in the Uribe administration from 2006–2009, was in charge of the Colombian military during the height of its alleged “false positives” policy of murdering civilians. Army units allegedly killed civilians to give a false representation of combat fatalities during armed encounters against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
 
One of Santos’ primary responsibilities included leading Uribe’s mission to rid Colombia of the FARC in an effort to restore peace and security. The mission was a success insofar as it forced FARC out of urban areas and into the jungles, reducing the number of kidnapping and killings in the cities.  Colombia praised Uribe for his efforts and many even consider him “the man who saved Colombia.”
 
However, many families of missing individuals notified human rights organizations with concerns over the reasons for their disappearance and alleged that military gains over FARC were being boosted by what became known as “false positive” killings of innocent civilians.
 
Investigations following those allegations resulted in the removal of the chief of the Colombian military and 27 other officers. Santos, however, kept his post and maintains that the killings were not ordered by the government but acts committed by individual soldiers.

UN investigators openly challenge Santos’ account and believe that while the Colombian government has taken steps to prevent such killings, over 98% of the deaths remain unpunished.
 
The UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings, Philip Alston, wrote in a report presented to the UN Human Rights Council last month that “[t]here have been too many killings of a similar nature to characterize them as isolated incidents carried out by individual rogue soldiers or units, or bad apples. Soldiers simply knew that they could get away with murder, he added.
 
Uribe, taking a slightly different approach than Santos has argued that the use of all necessary force to combat FARC was worth it.  He claims that the ends justified the means.
 
Human rights and UN officials are apprehensive about Santos’ ascent to the Presidency. Having been the head of Uribe’s FARC offensive in the past, he is likely to continue on the same course and time will only tell if the unjustified killings continue, and whether those responsible for past killings are brought to justice.

For more information, please see:

Guardian.Co.UK – Juan Manuel Santos Wins Colombia Presidential Election – 21 June 2010

BBC – Challenges Ahead For Colombia’s President-elect Santos – 21 June 2010

Deutsche Welle – Colombia’s New President Faces Awkward Questions – 12 June 2010

East Timor’s parliament rejects Australia’s proposal to build an asylum-seeker center

By Joseph Juhn
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

SYDNEY, Australia – East Timor’s parliament has unanimously passed a resolution to reject Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s proposal to establish an offshore asylum seeker detention centre on the country.

Prior to the passage of the resolution, Ms Julia Gillard has said she hopes to cooperate with other nations in the region to establish a processing center for asylum seekers, with the possibility of setting up one in East Timor.

The Prime Minister has backed away from suggestions the centre would be located in East Timor. As it turns out, she had only discussed the plan in a phone conversation with East Timor’s president, Jose Ramos-Horta.

President Jose Ramos-Horta acknowledged that he had discussed with Ms Gillard the “possibility” of hosting a processing centre. He further stated, however, that the purpose of any centre in Timor would be to process asylum-seekers who were in danger on the high seas and had not found safety in another country. Also, he specified that it should be the UN, not Australia or Timor that should administer any holding facility in East Timor.

The resolution comes after the parliament in Dili last week formally condemned Ms Gillard’s idea as unworkable. East Timor’s Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao last week allowed his own party to join in a unanimous condemnation of the plan in parliament.

Ms Gillard has currently refused to set a date for the rollout of any policy.

For more information, please see:

ABC News, East Timor MPs reject asylum centre proposal, 12 July 2010

The Australian, East Timor’s parliament rejects Gillard plan for regional asylum-seeker centre, 12 July 2010

Sky News, East Timor rejects asylum seeker centre, 12 July 2010

Bangladesh Charges 824: Aftermath Post Blood Bath A Year Ago

David L. Chaplin II
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

DHAKA, Bangladesh – Police in Bangladesh have charged 824 people for the massacre of 74 senior military officers during a mutiny by border guards in February last year.   All suspects could face the death penalty if found guilty.

 Prosecutors say the border guards rebelled over low wages and poor treatment
Prosecutors say the border guards rebelled over low wages and poor treatment

Seventy-four people, including 57 senior army officers, were killed during the siege of a military base in Dhaka, the capital, in an uprising that briefly threatened the government of Sheikh Hasina, the prime minister.

Prosecutors announced the charges on Monday and the trials against the mutiny’s ringleaders and participants are expected to take at least one year to complete in Bangladesh’s civil courts.

“We have charged 824 people with murder, conspiracy, aiding and abetting murder, looting military weapons and arson,” Mosharraf Hossain Kazal, the state prosecutor, said.

Rebelling soldiers were allegedly angry about their superiors’ refusal to increase their pay and improve working conditions.

“They mowed their officers down in cold blood, using semi-automatic weapons and rifles they’d looted from the barracks,” Akhand, the police investigator, said of  mutineers who took control of BDR headquarters on February 25, 2009.

The violence has spread nationwide and Bangladesh appeared to be on the brink of civil war.

The case will be handled by Bangladesh’s civil courts in what will be the largest trial in the country’s history.

In parallel prosecutions, some 3,500 soldiers who had joined the rebellion are being tried in military courts on lesser charges.

At least 200 guards have already been convicted by the tribunals with jail sentences ranging from four months to seven years.

The mutiny erupted at the BDR headquarters in Dhaka and lasted 33 hours, during which officers were killed and their bodies dumped in sewers and shallow graves.

“A senior officer was taken to the roof of a four-storey building and thrown to the ground. The dead bodies of a few officers were set on fire.”

The mutiny took place just two months after the country returned to civilian rule under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

She had originally offered an amnesty to some mutineers but this was rescinded when the extent and nature of the bloodshed became clear.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Bangladesh charges 824 people over deadly mutiny – 12 July 2010

Al Jazeera English – More charged over Bangladesh mutiny  – 12 July 2010

Radio Netherlands Worldwide – Bangladesh charges 824 for deadly munity murders – 12 July 2010

Thousands Gather to Commemorate the 15th Anniversary of Srebrenica Massacre

By Yoohwan Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

Photo: Relatives gathered to mourn the deaths of their husbands and sons, victims of the 1995 Srebrenica Massacre. [Source:  AP]

SREBRENICA, Bosnia-Herzegovina – On Sunday, July 11, more than 50,000 people gathered for a ceremony at the Potocari cemetery near Srebrenica, Bosnia-Herzegovina to commemorate the 15th anniversary of one of the worst atrocities in Europe, when Bosnian Serb paramilitaries executed nearly 8,000 Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) men and boys.

Relatives of the victims, religious leaders, and foreign dignitaries were among those who gathered at the Centre Potocari, the official Srebrenica Massacre Memorial where 3,749 victims are already buried.  The 64 minute memorial ceremony included the burial of 775 recently identified victims, who were laid in coffins draped in green cloth and were carried by relatives for at least a mile.

The Srebrenica Massacre Memorial was built in 2003 across the road from the former U.N. military base where about 30,000 Bosniaks gathered in 1995 to seek refuge during the Serbian-Bosnian conflict.  On July 11, 1995, a few days after the fall of Srebrenica to Bosnian Serb troops, Bosnian-Serb General Ratko Mladic led forces that overran the UN-protected enclave, and separated out Bosniak men and boys.

The men and boys were taken away, shot, and buried in mass graves during the course of five days.  Several months following the massacre, the Serb troops excavated the original mass graves and reburied the victims in over 70 other sites in an attempt to cover up any evidence of war crimes.

The Srebrenica Massacre is the only episode of Bosnia’s 1992-1995 war that has been ruled as genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Court of Justice.

In 2009, the European Parliament declared the massacre “the biggest war crime in Europe since the end of World War II” and “a symbol of the international community’s impotence to intervene and protect civilians.”

July 11 is now marked all across Europe as a day of commemoration in honor of the victims, and all Western Balkan countries, except for Bosnia, have adopted resolutions that condemn the massacre.

Several foreign officials addressed the crowd on Sunday and spoke against the atrocity that occurred 15 years ago.  “We have a sacred duty to remember the cruelty that occurred here and to prevent such atrocities from happening again,” stated Charles L. English, U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia, during Sunday’s ceremony.  “We have responsibility to future generations all over the globe to agree that we must refuse to be bystanders to evil whenever and wherever it occurs.  We must be prepared to stand up for human dignity.”

The U.S. delegation also read a statement from President Obama, in which President Obama calls on all governments to “redouble their efforts” to find and prosecute those responsible for the massacre, particularly key suspect Ratko Mladic.

President Obama stated, “Justice must include a full accounting of the crimes that occurred, full identification and return of all those who were lost, and prosecution and punishment of those who carried out the genocide.  This includes Ratko Mladic, who presided over the killings and remains at large.”

On June 16, the family of Ratko Mladic filed a motion in a Serbian court to officially declare Mladic dead.  The family asserts that they have not seen him in seven years and that Mladic was seriously ill when he disappeared 15 years ago.

Despite the motion, Serbian authorities say they will continue to search for Mladic, who is not only responsible for the Srebrenica Massacre, but also for the 44 month siege of Sarajevo that left 10,000 people dead.  Mladic still remains a fugitive and is believed to be hiding in Serbia.

For more information, please see:

CNN – World Leaders Mark 15th Anniversary of Srebrenica Massacre – 12 July 2010

AFP – Obama Urges Mladic Capture on Srebrenica Anniversary – 11 July 2010

AP – 775 Coffins: Bosnia Marks 1995 Srebrenica Massacre – 11 July 2010

BALKAN INVESTIGATE REPORTING NETWORK – Thousands Converge on Srebrenica to Commemorate Massacre Anniversary – 11 July 2010

RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY – Srebrenica Massacre Remembered on 15th Anniversary – 11 July 2010

VOICE OF AMERICA – Thousands Mourn Srebrenica Massacre Victims, Criticize UN – 11 July 2010

VOICE OF AMERICA – Mladic’s Family Asks Serbian Court to Declare Him Dead – 16 June 2010

Fraud Delays Guinea’s First Democratic Run-Off Election

by Laura Hirahara
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa Desk

Voted Counted in Guinea Capital Conakry; Image courtesy of Luc Gnago/Reuters
Votes Counted in Guinea Capital Conakry; Image courtesy of Luc Gnago/Reuters

Conakry, Guinea– The next stage of Guinea’s presidential election, originally scheduled to take place July 18th, has been postponed amid allegations and confirmed instances of voter fraud with no new date set.  The first round of voting on July 27th, in which 77 percent of registered Guinea voters took part, occurred without violence.  However, since the results were announced by Guinea’s Supreme Court, many of the 24 candidates that did not make the run-off have made official complaints of voter fraud.  The electoral commission charged with investigating voting irregularities has confirmed “many cases of fraud,” in addition to the claims being made.

Slated to face each other in the run-off election are candidates Cellou Dalein Diallo, who garnered 40 percent of the first round vote, and opposition leader Alpha Conde,  who came in second with 21 percent.  Guinea’s election rules state that a second round is needed if no candidate wins at least 50 percent of the vote.  With the delay, observers are afraid the election may not take place before August 1st, which falls in the middle of the rainy season.  Due to the rains effect on the roads in Guinea, the logistics of a second round of voting at this time could create difficulty for voting and vote collecting.

This last Wednesday, US President Barack Obama offered praise for Guinea’s peaceful first round of elections.  In his statement, Obama spoke about the upcoming election saying, “They can continue to count on the support of the United States as they move forward.”

For more information, please see:

The Seattle Times–Guinea Presidential Runoff Delayed–9 July, 2010

AFP–Guinea Presidential Run-Off Election Postponed–9 July, 2010

BBC–Guinea’s Presidential Run-Off Delayed Over Fraud Claims–9 July, 2010

Deadly Prison Fire Kills Twelve, Injures Eight

By R. Renee Yaworsky
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

Police carry a body bag out of Rocha Prison.  Photo courtesy of Press TV.
Police carry a body bag out of Rocha Prison. Photo courtesy of Press TV.

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay—A prison fire killed twelve people and injured eight early Thursday morning in Uruguay.  Three of the victims are in critical condition.  The deadly fire is considered one of the worst prison tragedies in the country.

According to a report by the Ultimas Noticias newspaper, the blaze began in Rocha Prison around 3:30 a.m. in Wing No. 2.  Mattresses, blankets, and wooden beds were quickly engulfed in flames, and gave off toxic smoke that damaged victims’ lungs.

“We’ve practically ruled out the possibility that this was an intentional blaze,” Deputy Police Chief Celso Sosa told the Buenos Aires Herald.  “Initial information tells us it may have been started by a short-circuit or by a piece of clothing catching fire on one of the heaters.”

Rocha Prison was designed to hold 60 inmates, but 120 are packed inside its walls.  Prison Commissioner Alvaro Garce told The Associated Press that such overcrowding is typical of Uruguay’s 28 prisons.

On Tuesday, President Mujica lamented poor prison conditions, stating, “Clearly, the growth of the prison population in recent years has caused overcrowding that goes against human rights.  How can we speak of rehabilitation if we have all kinds of inmates housed together and the better part of our prisons have become places where people are piled up?”

Mujica is no stranger to Uruguay’s prisons.  He was once a leftist guerrilla who escaped twice from prison during the country’s dictatorship.  Mujica wants to increase the military’s role in prisons and plans to send 600 troops to guard and regulate prison security.

An investigation will look into complaints that prison officials were slow to react to the fire.  The father of one victim blames the officials for the disaster, citing their “negligence.”  Ruben Cardoso, the father of a prisoner named Fernando, told CNN, “When the fire broke out, they delayed too much in opening the door.  If they had opened the first two locks, all the prisoners would have gotten out.”  When Cardoso last saw him, Fernando expressed fears about living in the prison.

Lethal fires are common in Uruguay’s overcrowded prisons.  Last August, five inmates perished as a result of a similar disaster, and two were killed in a different incident last December.  The UN has pressured the government to increase safety in the country’s prisons.

Interior Minister Eduardo Bonomi admitted that Uruguay’s prisons are in a “critical situation” and noted that the government had previously considered an emergency law to improve conditions in facilities.

The Uruguayan government is debating whether to build nine new detention centers, renovate jails, and hire 1,500 new employees to work inside the nation’s prisons.

For more information, please see:

CNN-Uruguay officials to investigate deadly prison fire-9 July 2010

Press TV-Uruguay prison fire kills twelve-9 July 2010

AP-12 inmates die in Uruguay prison fire-8 July 2010

Belgian Cardinal Interviewed By Authorities Sex Abuse Investigation

By Tristan Simoneau
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

Cardinal Godfried Danneels.  Image courtesy of the Catholic News AgencyBRUSSELS, Belgium – As part of a government probe into allegations of child abuse by priests, Belgian police questioned Cardinal Godfried Danneels for about ten hours on Tuesday over whether he knew of sexual abuse in the church and failed to stop it.  Several men and boys have alleged that they had told Danneels about the abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests but that their complaints had fallen on deaf ears.  Danneels, a 77 year old cardinal, led the Catholic Church in Belgium until his retirement  last year.  The Agence France Presse reported that a retired priest has accused him of sheltering abusive priests during his tenure from 1979 to 2009.

According to a spokesman for the Belgian prosecutor’s office, the cardinal was “named in at least 50 files as being aware of the abuse cases.”  Danneels has not responded to the accusations in public and has yet to be charged with any crime.  During police questioning, the cardinal was confronted by Dr. Peter Adriaenssens, a psychiatrist who formerly headed a commission probing hundreds of reported cases of clerical child abuse.  Dr. Adrianenssens stated that Cardinal Danneels is in a state of shock and “is surprised that such serious facts are being linked to him.”

The church commission monitoring complaints of sexual abuse was disbanded last week after police seized all of its files and the computer of its chairman, Peter Adriaenssens.  It was also reported that Belgian authorities drilled into the tomb of a former Belgian Cardinal and inserted tiny cameras to find out if any files had been hidden there.  Lawyers for Cardinal Danneels have questioned the legality of the raid.  These raids comes in the aftermath of another recent blemish on the Belgian Catholic Church following the resignation of Bishop Roger Vanheluwe earlier this year after he admitted to the sexual abuse of a boy.

The Belgian Prosecutor’s Office is currently investigating death threats against witnesses involved in the clergy child abuse cases.  Jean Marc Meillure, a spokesman for the public prosecutor’s office, stated that threats had been made against people who gave authorities information or made a complaint.

This case mirrors similar sexual abuse allegations faced by the Catholic Church in Germany, Belgium, Ireland, Austria, the Netherlands and the United States.

For more information please see:

CATHOLIC NEWS AGENCY – Cardinal Danneels interviewed by Belgian authorities in sex abuse investigation – 7 July 2010

REUTERS – Belgian ex-archbishop questioned over abuse cases – 6 July 2010

CNN – Belgian cardinal quizzed for 10 hours over abuse allegations – 6 July 2010

BBC – Belgian child sex abuse police probe death threats – 4 July 2010

Peace Negotiations Watch, 09 July 2010



Friday, July 9, 2010
Volume IX, Number 24

In this issue:

CONFLICT UPDATES

Afghanistan
Democratic Republic of Congo
Kenya
Kyrgyzstan
Morocco
Nepal
Somaliland
Sudan: Darfur
Sudan: Southern Sudan
Tanzania
Thailand
Uganda

Zimbabwe

Afghanistan

Pak Ready to Support Any Afghan-led Peace Initiative: Qureshi

TheIndian, June 30, 2010

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi stated that peace initiatives by the Afghan government will receive the Pakistani government’s support.  Qureshi also stated that Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai presented an internationally- and Pakistani supported reconciliation and restorative peace plan in London earlier in 2010.

Taliban Rule out Negotiations with NATO

BBC, July 1, 2010

After June being the deadliest month on record for North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces, the Afghan Taliban stated that they will not participate in talks with NATO or other foreign forces.  In the statement given by Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahedd, they also claim success in the conflict, which they say is indicated by General McCrystal’s replacement in the United States (US) forces by General Petraeus.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Secretary-General Inaugurates New Phase of UN Mission in DR Congo

UN, July 1, 2010

On July 1 the United Nations (UN) drew down 2,000 UN peacekeeping troops from 19,815, a move authorized by a UN Security Council resolution.  The mission, now named the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO), will remain in the Democratic Republic of Congo until June 30, 2011.

Kenya

Kenya Referendum Case Aborts

Capital News, June 28, 2010

Justice Violet Mavisi of the Interim Independent Constitutional Dispute Resolution Court has given government lawyers ten days to respond to a lawsuit on the constitutional review process brought by Kenyans for Justice and Development.  The group has asked the court to decide on seventy-five issues arising from the review process, including alleged bias in the civic education program and the Interim Independent Electoral Commission’s (IIEC) decision to not provide a multiple question referendum on the proposed constitution.

Fresh Rules to Prevent Chaos at Referendum

Daily Nation, July 3, 2010

The IIEC announced new regulations to prevent violence during the referendum for the new constitution.  One of the regulations will allow only a few designated personnel to enter the tallying centers. Another regulation allows the Commission to direct activities at the voting centers and kick out anyone who impedes the voting process within the vicinity of the centers.

Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan Swears in Caretaker President

Associated Press, July 3, 2010

The new “caretaker president” of Kyrgyzstan, Roza Otunbayeva, was sworn in July 3 for a term of one and a half years, lasting through 2011.  Implementation of the new constitution, which creates a more European-style parliamentary system, will be a primary responsibility of Otunbayeva’s.  In addition, Otunbayeva will be responsible for resolving the remaining ethnic tensions after June’s clashes and riots between Kyrgyzstan’s Kyrgyz majority and Uzbek minority. Otunbayeva served as Kyrgyz ambassador to the US and Britain, and was a leader of the 2005 Tulip Revolution.

Morocco

UN Envoy Holds Consultations on Western Sahara

UN, July 2, 2010

The UN Envoy for Western Sahara Christopher Ross has met with France, Spain, and Britain’s governments and plans to meet with US and Russian governments, as member nations of the Group of Friends.  These consultations consist of discussions on ways to further negotiations in order to achieve an accepted settlement.  So far the Group of Friends’ nations concur that all are willing to work with the Envoy and that the conflict requires additional work and focus, for example on confidence-building measures.

Nepal

Nepal PM Quits Amid Pressure from Maoists

Times of India, June 30, 2010

Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal resigned in the midst of increasing pressure from many parties, including his own.  Mr. Nepal said he hoped his resignation would lead to political resolution and consensus in order to finalize the peace process and draft a new constitution. In his televised address, Mr. Nepal blamed the failure of his government to declare a new constitution on the former guerillas and the Maoists’ five-month siege on the Constituent Assembly (CA).  Mr. Nepal noted that his government still held majority support in the CA, recalling successful achievements and initiatives under his tenure.

President Gives Parties a Week’s Deadline

Kathmandu Post, July 1, 2010

President Dr. Ram Baran Yadav told the parties in Parliament that they must elect a new prime minister and council of ministers by consensus by July 7.  If the parties miss the deadline, Dr. Yadhav will write to the CA asking it to elect a majority government.  According to the Interim Constitution, if the parties cannot agree on a candidate, a new prime minister will be elected on the basis of parliamentary majority.

Fight for Next Nepal PM Begins

Telegraph Nepal, July 1, 2010

Ram Chandra Poudel, Vice President of the Nepali Congress (NC), hopes for a government under the leadership of his party.  Poudel supports his candidacy with the fact that both the Unified Maoists and the Marxist Leninists have already led governments after the election of the CA.  On the other hand, Dr. Babu Ram Bhattarai, Vice President of the Maoists’ Party, said it was only natural for there to be a Maoist prime minister because the President is from the NC and the Chairman of the CA is from the Unified Marxist Leninist (UML). Meanwhile the UML insists on its chairman, Jhal Nath Khanal, as prime minister.

Somaliland

International Observers Judge the Elections to have been Fair

Washington Post, June 28, 2010

Michael Walls, the spokesman for a group of international observers, told the press that despite some irregularities including inconsistent coverage of the candidates and questionable use of public resources, the campaign and polls were peaceful and democratic.

New Somaliland President Sets Sights on Corruption

IRIN, July 2, 2010

Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud “Siilanyo”, leader of the opposition Kulmiye “Peace, Unity and Development Party”, has been elected president of Somaliland with 49.59 percent of over 530,000 votes cast, and will be inaugurated next month.  Once a minister under former Somalian President Siyad Barre, he later became leader of the armed Somali National Movement before serving in the government of Somaliland and then forming the Kulmiye party.  Among his stated priorities are limiting the number of ministerial posts in the government of Somaliland, abolishing unconstitutional emergency laws, and releasing prisoners unlawfully imprisoned under those laws.

New President of Somaliland Fights for Recognition

The New York Times, July 3, 2010

Newly-elected President Ahmed Mohamud Silaanyo vowed to vigorously campaign for international recognition of Somaliland’s high developing democracy.  He was elected for a five year term, stating that his government will focus on “development and rehabilitation of public services.”  He has asked Somalia to resolve many of its problems, and reached out to Ethiopia as a partner.  His election marks the second democratic transfer of power since 1991, when Somaliland split from Somalia.

Sudan: Darfur

Sudanese President Vows to End Darfur Conflict through Peaceful Negotiations, or Force the Rebels to Stop Fighting

Xinhua, June 30, 2010

In a nationally-broadcast address from Port Sudan, President Omar al-Bashir vowed that he would end the Darfur conflict this year, either through peaceful negotiations or through force.  “There will be no third option.  He who wants peace is welcomed and he who rejects reconciliation, we will teach him a lesson and bring him by force,” al-Bashir said.  He reiterated that Doha would remain the only site for negotiations with Darfur’s armed groups.

Libyan Envoy to Darfur Talks Leaves Doha after Stirring up Troubles

Sudan Tribune, July 1, 2010

The Libyan government ordered Mohamed Garsallah, the Libyan envoy to the Darfur peace talks in Doha, to return home after causing trouble with rebel groups that he had helped to unite.  Qatari officials and Darfur rebels claimed that Garsallah was trying to influence the Liberation and Justice Movement decisions and encouraging some rebels to leave the venue of the peace talks.

Doha Talks Parties Discuss Disputed Issue Over Lands

Sudanese Media Center, July 4, 2010

Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), specialized experts, co-mediation representatives, and Justice and Liberation Movement (JLM) have begun to participate in Doha talks that opened debates over land and natural resources.  JLM wealth sharing dossier, Hashim Hamad, has stated that participants have already agreed to form a mechanism to follow up on wealth-sharing implementation.

Sudan: Southern Sudan

Sudan Parliament Appoints Commission to Prepare for Referendum

VOA, June 29, 2010

The Sudanese Parliament in Khartoum has unanimously approved a nine-member commission to oversee preparations for the upcoming referendum.  The Referendum Commission will be led by Mohammed Ibrahim Khalil, the current Sudanese Foreign Minister and former Speaker of Parliament.  The Commission will now work until January to register voters ahead of the referendum.

UN Ready to Assist With Referendum

ReliefWeb, June 30, 2010

The United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) is working closely with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLM) and the National Congress Party (NCP) on the types of assistance UNMIS will offer for the referendum.  UNMIS is preparing to establish county-level offices and train 16,000 Southern Sudan Police Service  officers.  Additionally, UNMIS continues to work on demining and the UN Mine Action Office has designated 9.5 million square meters for the resettlement of 5,000 displaced persons, according to David Gressly, the UN Regional Coordinator for Southern Sudan.

SPLM & NCP Hold Preliminary Meeting on Post-Referendum Issues

Sudan Tribune, July 4, 2010

Top SPLM officials and the NCP held preliminary meetings ahead of negotiations that are to start this week.  The first round meetings focused largely on procedural issues and the ground rules for the full scale negotiations.  While the parties agreed at the meeting to have talks conducted without “foreign interferences”, upcoming negotiations are to be sponsored by the African Union (AU) and Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).

Tanzania

Government Delays Review Mechanism

The Citizen, July 4, 2010

Implementation of the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), a self-auditing process geared towards good governance and democracy, has been delayed due to lack of funding.  The Government has rejected outside funding due to fears of pressure from external sources.  Although over $600,000 has been set aside, Said Amour Arfi, a Mpanda Central Member of Parliament (MP), argues that this funding is insufficient.

Police on Top of Abuse List

The Citizen, July 5, 2010

The Commission for Human Rights and Good Governance (CHRAGG) reported that the police force is the largest government perpetrator in human rights violations.  Of the 25,753 complaints filed with CHRAGG, 80% of the complaints concerned the police force.  As a result, the Ethics Secretariat is implementing an ethics, accountability, and transparency project geared towards improving good governance.

Thailand

Resentment Bubbles in Thai Countryside

Financial Times, June 28, 2010

Although the violent protests have ended in Thailand, feelings of deep disappointment and resentment are still present in the rural population.  The five-point reconciliation plan presented by the government fails to sway many Thais, and has been criticized for the marked lack of opposition input.  Meanwhile, the state of emergency remains in force in most of Thailand, and numerous protesters are still incarcerated and some are charged with terrorism, creating uncertainty about who will take over the leadership of the protest movement.

Thailand’s Charter Rewrite Framework Expected in October

Xinhua, June 30, 2010

Thailand’s constitutional review committee expects to finish a framework for constitutional amendments this October.  The three sub-committees will meet every week, and will consider the Parliamentary Panel on National Reconciliation’s recommendations on six points to amend the constitution.  Topics for amendment include the dissolution of a political party for electoral fraud, the political structure and justice process, the promotion of public involvement and understanding, and the process of becoming an MP and Senator.

Security for Thai PM Stepped Up Amid Assassination Warning

Xinhua, July 1, 2010

Prime Minster Abhisit Vejjajiva and other key government officials have been warned that they are targets of assassination plans.  The acting National Police Chief informed Abhisit and others that there are reports of a plan to assassinate them, and ordered security forces to implement extra measures for their protection.  The other targets include Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban and the judges who will rule on a dissolution case against the Democrat Party.

Uganda

Field Dispatch: Disturbing Developments in the Hunt for Kony

Enough Project, June 29, 2010

Although reports are not yet confirmed, various news sources have noted that the Ugandan army may have lost more troops in its pursuit of Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lords’ Resistance Army (LRA), in the Central African Republic (CAR) than has been previously acknowledged by the Government of Uganda.  The exact number of Ugandan troops killed, and whether outside groups were involved, remains uncertain.  However, the Enough Project suggests that these deaths indicate that the capacity of the Ugandan forces to apprehend Kony is insufficient, and must be supplemented by further international assistance.

Uganda on Heightened Alert After Deadly Rebel Attack in Congo

Voice of America, June 30, 2010

Following the Allied Democratic Force’s (ADF) recent attack in eastern Congo, about 50 km from Uganda’s border, the Ugandan military has deployed its reserves and it is monitoring the ADF’s activities.  The ADF has not attacked within Uganda since 2007 and may now be trying to gather more resources to reengage in Uganda.  The ADF is a rebel group that began operations in 1996 and claims to be fighting on behalf of Muslims who have been marginalized by the Ugandan government.  Some military leaders have suggested that the ADF launched its attack to generate fear before Uganda’s February presidential election.

Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration of Ex-Combatants in Conflict Affected Northern Uganda

Peace and Conflict Monitor, July 1, 2010

In a recent paper, the University for Peace and Conflict (UPC) has highlighted the central importance of disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) of ex-combatants in Northern Uganda for ensuring stability in the region.  The paper reports that the Ugandan government has made great strides by implementing the Amnesty Act in 2000, among other reintegration measures, allowing over 19,000 Ugandans to receive reintegration aid.  However, the UPC also acknowledges the challenged facing Northern Uganda such as sexual and gender-based violence as well as the difficulties of coordinating and monitoring the implementation of the Amnesty Act.

Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe Ministers Accused of Obstructing Justice

Reuters, July 2, 2010

Minister of State for Presidential Affairs Didymus Mutasa and Home Affairs Minister Theresa Makone have been accused by Zimbabwe police of obstructing justice after their visits to two police stations in an attempt to secure the release of three men who allegedly pressured a white businessman to surrender part of his company to them.  Makone serves as head of the national police.  It is not yet determined whether the two ministers will officially be charged.

KP Punishing Ordinary People: Biti

New Zimbabwe, July 2, 2010

Zimbabwe’s finance minister has said that by refusing to lift a ban on diamond from the Marange fields, the Kimberly Process (KP) is punishing ordinary Zimbabweans.  This comes after the KP meeting in Israel failed to reach a consensus on lifting the ban, even though KP’s monitor said that minimum requirements for trade have been met.

EU Demands More Reforms

New Zimbabwe, July 3, 2010

After a meeting between the European Union (EU) High Commissioner for Development and a Zimbabwean ministerial delegation, the European Union has said that it will resume aid to Zimbabwe, but only if the country makes concrete progress in political reforms.

Iran: International Outcry Prompts Stay of Woman’s Stoning Execution

hasha
Photo: Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani. Photo Courtesy of AP.

By Elizabeth A. Conger
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

TEHRAN, Iran – After an outpouring of international condemnation, Iranian authorities have announced that Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, an Iranian woman convicted of adultery, will not be executed by stoning. It is not yet clear whether her death sentence has been lifted entirely, and there is speculation that Ms. Ashtiani will be hanged instead.

Mohammed Mostafaei, Ms. Ashtiani’s attorney, told The Times: “This is a positive development but nothing is clear yet . . . “There have been cases in Iran of stonings being changed to hangings.”

Ahmad Fatemi of the International Committee against Stoning and Execution, an organization that has campagined for Ms. Ashtiani’s release, said: “It’s a tactical retreat . . . they never expected this kind of pressure, so they want to buy time.”

News of the stay of her execution comes after an international campaign to prevent her death received extensive international media coverage in the past week.

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a forty three-year-old mother of two, has been in prison in Tabriz since 2006. She was sentenced and received ninety-nine lashes in May of 2006 for an “illicit relationship” outside of marriage.

In September of 2o06 another court reopened her adultery case amid allegations that she was involved in the murder of her husband.  She was cleared of all charges implicating her in the murder, but the second judge sentenced her again on the adultery charges – this time to death by stoning. The penalty was handed down on the basis of “judge’s knowledge.” This is a legal loophole that allows for subjective judicial rulings where no conclusive evidence is present.

Although Ms. Ashtiani retracted a confession which she was forced to make under duress, she was still found guilty.

Under Iran’s version of sharia law, sex before marriage is punishable by 100 lashes, while adultery carries a penalty of death by stoning. Convicted persons, who are almost entirely women, are buried up to their necks and stoned. If the convicted person can pull free from the pit during the stoning, the sentence will be commuted.  Men, who are only buried to their waists, are more likely to escape.

Photo: An execution by stoning which occurred after the Iranian Revolution. Photo Courtesy of Amnesty International.
Photo: An execution by stoning which occurred after the Iranian Revolution. Photo Courtesy of Amnesty International.

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague told BBC that the sentence of stoning was a “medieval punishment.” He added: “If the punishment is carried out, it will disgust and appal the watching world.” 

For more information, please see:

BBC – Iran woman escapes stoning death for adultery – 9 July 2010

CNN – Iran denying woman will be executed by stoning – 9 July 2010

MailOnline –  Iran backs down: World fury forces Tehran to spare ‘adulterous’ mother from being stoned – but will they hang her instead? – 9 July 2010

 The Guardian – Iran halts woman’s death by stoning – 8 July 2010
 

Cuba Set To Release 52 Political Prisoners

By Erica Laster                                                                                                                        Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

Havana, Cuba – Amid growing international criticism, Cuba has agreed to free fifty two political prisoners of conscience. This would mark the most political prisoners released since Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1998 which freed 101 among a group of 300 Cuban prisoners. 22 of the prisoners being released were arrested and sentenced in the infamous Black Spring crackdown of 2003.

Cuban Opposition activist Guillermo Farinas stands with the help of his doctor in Cuba
Cuban Opposition activist Guillermo Farinas stands with the help of his doctor in Cuba

Despite acting in non-violent protests, 75 were arrested in the crackdown under Cuban legislation that criminalized political dissent.

The release comes at a time when Cuba may be seeking to reset strained relations with the United States and Europe. Both have publicly condemned Cuba’s track record on human rights violations over more than a decade. President Fidel Castro agreed to release the prisoners after discussions with Cubans Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez, the Roman Catholic Archbishop, Cardinal Jaime Ortega and Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos.

The political prisoners are set to be exiled in Spain, an agreement reached with Foreign Minister Moratinos to ensure their acceptance of the exiles. The release comes with deep reservations in the international community as many view the exile of the prisoners to Spain as conditional freedom and a continued restriction of their rights. “Forcing them to leave the country would be yet another attempt to suppress freedom of expression and movement in Cuba,” says Susan Lee, Americas Programme Director at Amnesty International. She further indicated that “These men have been imprisoned since 2003 simply for peacefully expressing their political beliefs and should be released unconditionally now.”

The deal follows protests by a number of the prisoners currently being held in Havana. One, Orlando Zapata recently died on February 22, 2010 after an 11 week hunger strike in which he attempted to gain the freedom of himself and his colleagues. Another, Guillermo Farinas went on a hunger strike after Mr. Zapata’s death, refusing to accept an offer of asylum from the Spanish government. Mr. Farinas strike has lasted a total of 134 days and doctors this week indicated that he was near death. His hunger strike in an attempt to force the release of 25 ill political prisoners will end he indicated, only with their release.

Cuban authorities continue to deny the existence of the repressionist regime, saying “nobody has ever been punished for merely expressing a difference of opinion or point of view, even when these have been contrary to those of the authorities.” While authorities consistently attempt to deflect pressure in the international spotlight, Amnesty International authorities have called for the prompt and fair trials of all remaining political prisoners. The 52 are scheduled to be released over the next 3 to 4 months.

Photo Courtesy of the Wall Street Journal

For More Information Please See:

Amnesty International Cuba urged to immediately release all prisoners of conscience   8 July 2010

English Pen Cuba: 52 prisoners to be freed  8 July 2010

Wall Street Journal Cuba to Free 52 Political Prisoners 8 July 2010