Ailing Tunisian TV Journalist Sentenced to Prison for Reporting Protests

By Alyxandra Stanczak
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

Fahem Boukadous Reporting - Image courtesy of Dublin City University Journalism Society
Fahem Boukadous Reporting – Image courtesy of Dublin City University Journalism Society

TUNIS, Tunisia –Fahem Boukadous, a television journalist for the Tunisian station Al-Hiwar al-Tunisi, was sentenced to four years in jail for reporting information which the government claims threatened public order. He was also convicted on charges that he belonged to a criminal organization. These charges were brought against Boukadous after he reported on violent labor protests caused by high unemployment rates, high costs of living, and corruption in Tunisia’s Gafsa mining region in 2008.

Boukadous, who has been hospitalized with severe asthma, was tried in absentia. Tunisian authorities reportedly tried to pressure hospital staff to release him so that he could be present for his trial.

He is the third Tunisian journalist to be sentenced to prison in less than ten months. The two other journalists imprisoned, Zouhair Makhlouf and Taoufik Ben Brik, were sentenced to three and six months in jail respectively.

The Tunisian government is considered to be relatively progressive on a variety of other social issues, such as women’s rights. However, the government still retains strict control over the media and maintains a strong police presence in the nation.

The lobbying group, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), has condemned the court’s decision, and has stated that Boukadous was being punished for “reporting the news.”  Additionally, CPJ’s Deputy Director Robert Mahoney called on “Tunisian authorities [to] halt their constant harassment of independent and critical journalists.”

Because of Boukadous’ health, he has been allowed to remain in the hospital pending the result of his appeal. The court, however, has refused to delay the appeal despite a doctor’s certificate explaining his respiratory problems and hospitalization.

Mohamed Abbou, his lawyer, said he feared that Boukadous could be arrested and taken from the hospital “at any moment.”

For more information, please see:

Associated Press – Court upholds sentence for Tunisian Journalist – 7 July 2010

BBC News – Tunisia to jail sick journalist Fahem Boukadous – 7 July 2010

CPJ – CPJ condemns prison term against Tunisian TV journalist – 6 July 2010

China Executes Senior Justice Official Wen Qiang

David L. Chaplin II
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China – Wen Qiang, 55, former director of the Chongqing Justice Bureau in the Chongqing region and highest ranking official also an ex-deputy police chief, was sentenced to death in April on massive corruption charges, for sponsoring and protecting five gangs as well as rape and taking bribes.

Chinese Highest Ranking Official Executed on Massive Corruption Charges
Chinese Highest Ranking Official Executed on Massive Corruption Charges

He was executed in Chongqing, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported on Wednesday.

Wen’s case was part of a huge operation that exposed illegal activities in Chongqing, a city of more than 30 million people, as well as highlighting China’s problem of rampant official corruption.

The crackdown resulted in more than 3,300 detentions and hundreds of prosecutions, including the trials of nearly 100 officials.  Several people have already reportedly been executed or sentenced to death in the trials.

Wen allegedly raped a number of women including film and music personalities, as well as having affairs with subordinates.

He was also found guilty of taking more than 12 million yuan ($2 million U.S.) in bribes and engaging in a range of corrupt activities.

At his trial in February, Wen admitted he took money from others on numerous occasions but said that no corruption was involved and much of it was for “birthday and New Year” greetings, according to state media.

Wen was tried with his wife, Zhou Xiaoya, and three former Chongqing police associates, all of whom received jail sentences of up to 20 years.

Last November, Wen’s sister-in-law Xie Caiping was sentenced to 18 years in prison on charges of running illegal gambling venues and drug dealing.

The crackdown is widely seen as a bid by Bo Xilai – who was appointed Communist Party secretary in Chongqing in 2007 – to move up in the national hierarchy via political maneuvering.

The corruption trials, covered extensively by Chinese media, have transfixed the nation and rallied Chongqing residents, who claim they are fed up with being bullied by their own local officials.

“Only capital punishment will serve him right. He deserves to be killed a thousand times,” one person commented online about Wen in February.

“The Wen Qiang case is only the tip of the iceberg,” another wrote. “If China wants more rapid development, there should be a purge to wipe out all the corrupted officials in Communist Party.”  Analysts said a harsh crackdown on corruption was vital to maintaining public faith in the Communist leadership.

For more information, please see:

CNN World – Ex-Chinese official executed for corruption – 7 July 2010

BBC – China rejects police official Wen Qiang death appeal – 21 May 2010

Al Jazeera English – China ‘executes’ justice official -7 July 2010

Australia proposes new policy for asylum seekers

By Polly Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

Australian PM Julia Gillard makes a policy announcement regarding asylum seekers. (Photo Courtesy of CBC News.)
Australian PM Julia Gillard makes a policy announcement regarding asylum seekers. (Photo Courtesy of CBC News.)

SYDNEY, Australia – In an effort to unveil a new refugee policy, Australia’s new leader has proposed a plan to develop a regional processing center in East Timor in order to curb public opposition to an influx of asylum seekers from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.

“In recent days I have discussed with [President] Ramos Horta of East Timor the possibility of establishing a regional processing center for the purpose of receiving and processing irregular entrance to the region,” Julia Gillard announced in her first policy speech since assuming her role as prime minister.

“A boat ride to Australia would just be a ticket back to the regional processing center,” Gillard added.

A hotly debated topic in Australia, illegal immigration has been dealt with in different ways by past leaders. Prime Minister John Howard set up detention centers in Papua New Guinea and Nauru. In 2007, Kevin Rudd supported a processing center at Australian-run Christmas Island, which can no longer cope with the number of people.

Though Australia only receives a tiny fraction of the world’s asylum seekers, since 2007 more than four thousand asylum seekers, many of them Afghans and Sri Lankans, have made the dangerous voyage via Indonesia on rickety boats, fleeing war and persecution.

East Timor’s deputy prime minister, José Luis Guterres, says that the country’s government has told Australia that East Timor is not ready establish such a center, though the government will consider Gillard’s request and send an official response soon.

Added East Timor’s foreign minister Zacarias da Costa, “We are a new country. Of course our borders are not yet one hundred percent secure. We are still developing our policies and we’ve been working together with Australia to strengthen our own mechanisms.”

Australian opposition leader Tony Abbott has also announced measures to deal with asylum seekers, including prioritizing offshore refugee applicants and turning away incoming boats when possible.

Gillard also announced that the Australian government was lifting the suspension on processing claims for Sri Lankans after the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a report that the Sri Lankan refugee situation was improving.

For more information, please see:

Sydney Morning Herald – Labor’s Indian Ocean Solution – 7 July 2010

ABC News – East Timor ‘not ready’ for asylum centre – 6 July 2010

Al Jazeera – Australia plans new refugee policy – 6 July 2010

CBC News – Australia proposes East Timor refugee hub – 6 July 2010

New York Times – Australia Proposes Refugee Hub in East Timor – 6 July 2010

Sky News – PM Gillard Attempts To Calm Immigration Storm – 6 July 2010

Former Argentina Dictator Takes Responsibility For Rights Abuses

Former Dictator Jorge Rafael Videla (Photo Courtesy of momento24.com)
Former Dictator Jorge Rafael Videla (Photo Courtesy of momento24.com)

By Patrick Vanderpool
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina-Jorge Rafael Videla, a former Argentina dictator who helped to overthrow former President Isabel Martinez de Peron, is on trial for human rights abuses.  The abuses, which date from 1976-1983, include kidnapping and torture.  The trial comes shortly after another former Argentina dictator, Gen. Reynaldo Benito Bignone, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for very similar crimes.

Videla’s reign as dictator, often referred to as the “Dirty War,” was shroud with secret military prisons and torture centers.  It was not uncommon for Videla’s regime to capture leftist students, labor leaders or intellectuals and seclude them in one of these secret holding places.  Some estimate that as many as 30,000 leftists were abducted.

Just days into the trial, Videla, who has previously been found guilty of unrelated human rights abuses and sentenced to life in prison, took responsibility for the military’s actions under his watch.  Speaking to the court, Videla stated “I fully assume my military responsibilities for all the Argentine army’s actions during this internal war.”

Videla is one of about two dozen individuals who face charges stemming from human rights abuses during the “Dirty War” era.  Videla and his codefendants are specifically on trial for the murder of 31 political prisoners who were held captive and then shot to death when they tried to escape.

One attorney stated that there are significant differences between the previous cases against Videla and the present case.  The 31 political prisoners at the center of this case were jailed under the civilian government before Videla’s coup and were then murdered when Videla took power, before the prisoners had a chance to stand trial.

Miguel Ceballos, an attorney representing the victims, has a more personal connection to this trial than most: Ceballos’ father was killed under Videla’s watch.  Ceballos said, “when they came looking for my father at the prison, he knew he would be killed.  He said goodbye to his friends and left a photo of our family so they could tell us what had happened.”

Any added jail time from this trial would mean little to Videla because he is already serving a life sentence; however, a conviction would offer relief to the victim’s friends and family members.  Ceballos stated, “This trial has been a long time coming.  He is having the trial that he denied my father.”

For more information, please see:

Euro News – Former Argentine Dictator Speaks In Court – 6 July 2010

Philly.com – Argentine Ex-dictator Faces Human Rights Charges – 2 July 2010

CNN – Former Argentina Dictator To Go On Trial In Rights Abuse Case – 30 June 2010

Execution of Juvenile Offender Scheduled for Tomorrow in Iran

by Warren Popp
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

TEHRAN, Iran – On the fourth of July, Iranian authorities delivered a notice to the parents of Mohammad Reza Haddadi, informing them that they should plan their final visit to see their son because he is scheduled to be executed by hanging just three days later, on the seventh of July.

Mohammad Rexa Haddadi may be executed by hanging as ealy as tomorrow morning for a crime allegedly commited at age fifteen. (Photo Courtesy of Stop Child Executions)
Mohammad Rexa Haddadi may be executed by hanging as ealy as tomorrow morning for a crime allegedly commited at the age of fifteen. (Photo Courtesy of Stop Child Executions)

Haddadi was given a death sentence in January 2004 for the 2003 murder of a man who purportedly offered Haddadi and his co-defendants (all above the age of majority) a ride in his car. He reportedly confessed to the commission of the murder, but then retracted his confession during trial, claiming that he had confessed to the killing because his two co-defendants had offered his family money.

His co-defendants later withdrew their testimony, which had initially implicated him in the murder. In spite of these developments, a branch of the Iranian Supreme Court upheld his death sentence. The head of Iran’s Judiciary, Ayatollah Shahroudi, then reaffirmed this decision.

Haddadi was first scheduled to be executed in October 2008, but the execution was stayed by the Head of the Judiciary. His execution was stayed two more times, but only after his family, on each occasion, received notice that they should visit him one final time. The organization, Stop Child Executions, claims that Haddadi’s father  told reporters that Haddadi’s sister set herself on fire due to the anguish of knowing that her brother might be executed, and she is now crippled for life and in the hospital. His mother has also been seriously ill.

Haddadi is scheduled to die by hanging tomorrow for a crime he allegedly committed when he was only fifteen years old. His father claims he was even younger at the time—three months shy of his fifteenth birthday. Human Rights Watch says that Iran’s interpretation and use of Sharia law in its Civil Code defines the age of majority as puberty, which is defined as fifteen lunar years (fourteen and five months) for boys and nine lunar years (eight years and eight months) for girls. Judges are thus allowed to sentence children as adults beginning at these ages. While Haddadi’s execution may be legal under Iranian law, Iran is a party to two major international treaties that prohibit the execution of juvenile offenders when the crimes were committed when the alleged offenders were under eighteen years of age: These treaties are the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Other recent executions of minors include the tenth of June hanging of Mohammad Hassanzadeh, age seventeen, who was convicted of an alleged murder when he was only fourteen to fifteen-years-old, and the highly publicized execution last May of a twenty-three-year-old woman, Delara Darabi, who had allegedly committed a murder while she was seventeen years old. While Darabi had confessed to the murder, she retracted her confession, claiming that she made it after her nineteen year-old boyfriend told her that she could not be executed because she was a minor.

Tehran continues to maintain that the death penalty is an effective deterrent, which is carried out only after the completion of an exhaustive judicial process.

According to Human Rights Watch, Iran continues to be the World’s leader in the number of executions of juvenile offenders. Human Rights Watch claims that Iran executed at least four juvenile offenders in 2009, eight in 2008, and that human rights lawyers in Iran believe that more than a hundred juvenile offenders are currently on death row. Moreover, Iran is now only one of four other countries, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Pakistan, and Yemen, that are known to have executed juvenile offenders since 2005.

“Regardless of guilt or innocence, no one should be executed for a crime committed as a child,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The Iranian judiciary should show Haddadi mercy and abide by Iran’s international obligations banning executions for crimes committed by children.”

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – Iran: Rescind Execution Order of Juvenile Offender – 6 July 2010

Stop Child Executions – URGENT: Mohammad Reza Haddadi Scheduled for Execution in Over 24 Hours – 6 July 2010

Amnesty International – Document – Iran: Further Information: Juvenile Offender’s Execution Scheduled: Mohammad Reza Haddadi – 5 July 2010

Iran Human Rights – Another Minor “Offender” in Imminent Risk of Execution at the Sanandaj Prison – 18 June 2010

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty – Iran Executes Woman Convicted Of Crime as a Minor – 1 May 2009

French Parliament Begins Debate on Burqa Ban

By Yoohwan Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

PARIS, France – The French parliament begins their debate today on a controversial bill to ban full-face veils, such as the burqa and the niqab, worn by some Muslim women in public.  The proposed bill is the focus of the ongoing conflict between Islam and France’s secular system, which rigorously separates the church and the state.

France has the largest Muslim community in Europe, with an estimated five to six million Muslims residing in the nation.  The interior ministry estimates that the bill will only affect about 2,000 women who wear the burqa, which is a full-body cover that includes a mesh over the face, or the niqab, which is a full-face veil that has an opening for the eyes.  France already bans religious symbols and Muslim headscarves from being worn in schools.

The French Council of Ministers, who stated that veils that cover the face “cannot be tolerated in any public place,” approved the bill in May, and following their approval, the bill was sent to parliament.  A parliamentary vote is not expected until next week and if approved, the French Senate will vote on the bill in the fall.

Photo: France proposes a bill that will fine women who wear full-face veils. [Source: CNN]

The proposed bill will make it illegal for anyone to wear an “item of clothing that hides their face” in public, and will impose a fine of 150 euro ($190) and/or mandatory enrollment in a “citizenship course” as punishment.

Additionally, forcing a woman to wear a full-face veil will be punishable by a year in prison and/or a 15,000 euro ($19,000) fine.  The French government believes that forcing someone to wear a burqa or niqab is “a new form of enslavement that the republic cannot accept on its soil.”

French President Nicolas Sarkozy initiated the bill, and stated during his first state of the nation address that the full-face veil is “not welcome” in France, because it is “not a religious symbol, but a sign of subservience and debasement.”

Amnesty International urged lawmakers not to approve the bill back in May.  Amnesty International’s expert on discrimination in Europe, John Dalhuisen, stated that “a complete ban on the covering of the face would violate the rights of freedom of expression and religion of those women who wear the burqa or the niqab in public as an expression of their identity or beliefs.”  Additionally, the French Council of State warns that the ban would violate international human rights laws and the French constitution.

Those who support the ban argue that wearing garments that hide women’s faces violates France’s secular system and gender equality, while opponents say only a small minority of Muslim women wears a burqa or a niqab and the bill will restrict individual freedom.  Some opponents believe Sarkozy is utilizing this controversy as a way to distract attention from his political problems and low approval ratings.  Critics of the bill believe a ban of the burqa and the niqab could further strain relations with Muslim communities in France, and could increase tensions between France and Muslim nations.

If parliament and the Senate pass the bill and it is signed into law, it will be the first national ban in Europe on the burqa and the niqab.  Similarly, other European Union nations have initiated their bans on veils worn in public.  Belgium’s parliament passed a similar ban in April and Spain’s Senate approved a motion to ban the full-face veil in June.

For more information, please see:

ALJAZEERA  – France Set to Debate Veil Ban – 6 July 2010

CNN – French Parliament Debates Burqa Ban – 6 July 2010

FRANCE 24 – Parliament to Debate Bill to Ban the Burqa – 6 July 2010

REUTERS  – French Parliament to Vote on Proposed Veil Ban – 5 July 2010

Iranian Mother of Two Sentenced to Stoning Death for Adultery Conviction – Sentence Could be Carried out at any Time

By Elizabeth A. Conger
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East Desk
 

Photo: Selekineh, / Photo Courtesy of The Daily News
Photo: Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, the forty three-year-old mother of two who has been sentenced to death by stoning. (Photo Courtesy of The Daily Mail)

TABRIZ, IranA forty three-year-old Iranian woman faces a sentence of death by stoning unless an international campaign, launched by her children, is successful in persuading Iranian authorities to overturn her conviction or commute her sentence.

In May 2006 Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani was convicted of conducting an “illicit relationship outside marriage.” This conviction resulted in a sentence of ninety-nine lashes, which was carried out in 2006.

Sakineh’s case was later reopened when a court in Tabriz suspected her of murdering her husband. Although she was acquitted of the murder charges, the court reopened and reviewed the adultery case, and handed down the stoning sentence on the basis of a “judge’s knowledge.” This legal loophole in Iran allows judges to hand down subjective rulings where they do no have sufficient conclusive evidence.

Sakineh’s children, son Sajad, twenty-two, and daughter Farideh, seventeen, assert that their mother has been unjustly accused, and has already received punishment for a crime which she did not commit. Sajad said:

“She’s innocent, she’s been there for five years doing nothing . . . Imagining her, bound inside a deep hole in the ground, stoned to death, has been a nightmare for me and my sister all these years.”

When Sakineh received ninety-nine lashes in 2006, Sajad was present in the punishment room. “They lashed her just in front of my eyes, this has been carved in my mind since then.”

Sakineh was forced to confess after the lashings. She later retracted her confession, and has claimed no wrongdoing.

The sentence, which emanates from Iranian sharia law, calls for women to be buried up to their neck, and men to be buried up to their waist. Those attending the execution are then called upon to throw stones at the convicted person. The stones used in the execution are selected to be large enough to cause the convicted person pain, but not so large that she would be killed immediately. If the convicted person manages to wrestle free, her death sentence will then be commuted.

 Sakineh’s lawyer, Mohammed Mostafaei, who is an acclaimed Iranian lawyer, wrote a public letter regarding her conviction shortly after her stoning sentence was announced a few months ago. He said:

“This is an absolutely illegal sentence . . . Two of five judges who investigated Sakineh’s case in Tabriz prison concluded that there’s no forensic evidence of adultery.  He added: “According to the law, death sentence and especially stoning, needs explicit evidences and witnesses while in her case, surprisingly, the judge’s knowledge was considered enough.”

Mostafaei also believes that a language barrier prevented Sakineh from fully understanding the court proceedings, as she is of Azerbaijani descent and speaks Turkish, while court proceedings in Iran are conducted in Farsi.

Sakineh’s children have received aid from human rights activist Mina Ahadi, who is based in Germany. Ahadi helped to launch the international campaign to free Sakineh last week. She said that shortly after the campaign was launched, she received phone calls from the families of two other women who are also being held in Tabriz prison. These two women, Azar Bagheri, aged nineteen, and Marian Ghorbanzadeh, aged twenty five, have also been sentenced to death by stoning under adultery convictions.

Ahadi told The Guardian: “Azar was arrested when she was just fifteen.  They couldn’t punish her before she became eighteen years old according to the law, so they waited until now . . . and want to stone her to death.  Ahadi also reports that Azar has been subjected to mock stoning in preparation for the real execution, with partial burial in the ground.

Ahadi stated that she is currently aware of twelve other women in Iran who are sentenced to death by stoning, but estimates that the figure is closer to forty or fifty.

As for Sakineh’s sentence, Ahadi said, “Legally it’s all over … it’s a done deal. Sakineh can be stoned at any minute … That is why we have decided to start a very broad, international public movement. Only that can help.”

She added, “Stoning to death is not simply just a judicial punishment, it’s a political means in the hand of the Iranian regime to threaten people. It has more function than just a simple punishment for them.”

Stoning sentences were widely carried out after the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. However, in recent years, Iran has sought to reduce the number of stoning sentences due to the international embarrassment involved, and most people are now executed by hanging.  Nonetheless, stoning sentences are still handed down each year – overwhelmingly to women.

Iranian activists have repeatedly spoken out against stoning saying that it is not prescribed in the Koran.

According to Amnesty International, Iran executed 388 people last year, which is more than any other country except China.  Over 100 people have already been executed in Iran this year. 

For more information, please see:

CNN Human rights activist tries to stop death by stoning for Iranian woman – 6 July 2010

 UPI – Children fight for woman facing stoning – 3 July 2010

The Daily Mail – ‘Help us save our mother’: Pleas from the children of ‘adulterous’ Iranian woman who faces death by stoning – 2 July 2010

The Guardian – Campaign for Iranian woman facing death by stoning – 2 July 2010

Guatemala: Corruption Within Judiciary Threatens Fight Against Impunity

By Ricardo Zamora
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America Desk

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala – The International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), set up as a joint venture panel between Guatemala and the United Nations to prosecute corrupt officials, could be in jeopardy. The last few weeks reveal that not even the well-intentioned are completely free from political pressures. Escalating pressures within the panel have led its chief, Carlos Castresana, to resign and have resulted in the removal from office of the attorney general, Conrado Reyes.

Problems began in May when the then-new attorney general, Reyes, began to remove prosecutors and investigators working with the CICIG. On June 7, Castresana objected to Reyes’ actions, asserting that Reyes was tied to organized crime — assertions which Reyes denies. Nevertheless, Castresana resigned immediately.

Less than one week later, the Guatemalan high court removed Reyes from office, albeit on the basis that the procedures followed by President Alvaro Colom in selecting Reyes for office had not followed the law. As it turned out, both positions are crucial for the CICIG to work but were both empty.

The UN provided some hope for the project by quickly appointing Francisco Dall’Anese of Costa Rica as the new director of the Panel. Mr. Dall’Anese, as attorney general in Costa Rica, led corruption investigations of two former presidents.

Many Guatemalans believe that the commission is the only bulwark against entrenched power. For this reason, the government remains worried as it continues to struggle to find a replacement attorney general and is concerned as to who will ultimately be picked. The CICIG is clearly having an impact against corruption but the internal strife shows how vulnerable it, itself, is to the same.

Guatemalans believe that no place or person in Guatemala is safe from entrenched power. Two years ago when Vinicio Gomez, the Guatemalan Interior Minister, began investigating drug trafficking, he started receiving death threats. A short time later, his helicopter crashed, killing him. Alba Trejo, Gomez’s widow, has appealed to the CICIG to hear his case. Although in an unofficial capacity, Mr. Castresana nevertheless attended the news conference to support Ms. Trejo and to support Mr. Gomez’s case.

Several similar deaths and killing await investigation but any enquiries remain in limbo as the CICIC muscles its way back onto its feet. Its casework includes other cases of government corruption going back years in Guatemala’s history.

Several former officials, from Defense Ministry officials to ex-President Alfonso Portillo, are accused of embezzlement. Others, such as former police chiefs, are in jail facing drug-related charges whilst still another is charged with running and extortion and hit squad.

Castresana reported that in 2009, only 230 of 6,451 killings were resolved. The fight against impunity in Guatemala remains an enormous job for the CICIG and people like Carlos Castresana.

Nineth Montenegro, an influential congresswoman, stated that “we have a police force that is penetrated… a prosecutor general’s office that is penetrated [and] a president who appears not to see anything.” She added, “In Guatemala, we never know who we are talking to. I have to believe in someone, and I believe in him, in Carlos.”

For more information, please see:

New York Times – Political Struggle Strains Guatemala’s Justice System – 3 July 2010

Americas Quarterly – New CICIG Commissioner Selected in Guatemala – 2 July 2010

Guatemala Times – Carlos Castresana, UN Commissioner Against Impunity in Guatemala Resigns – 8 June 2010

‘Illegal’ Israeli Demolition/Development in East Jerusalem Approved

by Warren Popp
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

If the Committees plan gets final approval, twenty-two Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem will be demolished. (Photo Courtesy of Palestine Monitor)
If the Committee's plan gets final approval, twenty-two Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem will be demolished. (Photo Courtesy of Palestine Monitor)

JERUSALEM, Israel – Last week, the Jerusalem Planning and Building Committee approved an initiative by the mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, to create an Israeli archaeological park in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan. The plan has come under both national and international scrutiny because it calls for the demolition of approximately twenty-two Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem. Another sixty-six buildings constructed in the neighborhood without Israeli permission will be legalized under the plan.

In this and past cases where Palestinian homes have been demolished, Israel has maintained that it is simply enforcing the law by destroying illegally built homes and other buildings. However, many of the buildings have gone up without a permit because it is reportedly very difficult for Palestinians to acquire permits, and very few building permits have ever been issued to Palestinians in East Jerusalem.

When Barkat formally submitted the latest version of the development plan, his spokesman said: “Now, after fine-tuning the plan and seeking more cooperation with the residents as far as their needs and improving the quality of their lives, the municipality is ready to submit the plans for the first stage of approval.” However, Jerusalem city hall had reportedly refused to hold talks with the neighborhood’s Palestinian residents over alternative proposals.

The announcement by the Committee came just a day after Israel announced that it will be loosening restriction of aid into Gaza, likely as part of an effort to repair its international standing after the international criticism in response to the Israeli raid of a boat convoy heading to the Gaza strip on 31 May, which resulted in the deaths of nine activists and the injury of dozens more. The latest announcement by the Committee was criticized by Defense Minister Ehud Barak as “bad timing” and poor “common sense.” It was also criticized by the Israeli President, Shimon Peres.

The same development plan had been considered earlier in the year, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, under pressure from both the United States—who was attempting to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks—and from increased international pressure regarding its settlement plans in East Jerusalem in general, persuaded Barkat to put the project on hold in March.

While the plan has been approved by the Committee, Israeli officials are stressing that the final process requires the approval of the Interior Ministry, a process that is likely to take several months, and that the plan could still be blocked by the government.

Barkat has defended the development plan, along with other claims of broader housing discrimination against Arabs—especially Palestinians. The Jerusalem Post quotes his spokesman as stating, “Mayor Barkat is moving forward with a master plan for Jerusalem that calls for an additional 50,000 new housing units over the next 20 years to fit the needs of the growing population. Arab residents are approximately one-third of the population of Jerusalem, and as such, we expect a third of those new housing units to be for Arab residents in their neighborhoods.” The spokesman further stated, “In addition, this week’s Municipal Planning and Construction Committee has 41 items on the agenda for approval, 18 of which are plans by Arab residents of Jerusalem for new apartments and construction in Arab neighborhoods.” The Jerusalem Post also reports that the municipality claims it does not keep records of how many local Arab building permits his office has approved since taking office in December 2008.

UN Secretary General, Ban-Ki Moon, publicly stated that the housing development plan is illegal under international law, and the European Union also recently stated its belief that the development plan is illegal. Richard Falk, the Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights on Palestinian territories occupied since 1967 (working in an unpaid and independent capacity), believes, “These actions, if carried out, would violate international law, with certain actions potentially amounting to war crimes under international humanitarian law.”

The United States State Department of State criticized the development plan, stating that it undermined trust between parties, and also increased the risk of violence. With Israeli police and Palestinian youth clashing last Sunday in response to the development plan, it appears that the US concerns were not unfounded. The rising tensions between the parties since the Committee’s announcement resulted in the Palestinian youth throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at police in the same neighborhood where the homes would be demolished, causing minor injuries to six police officers who were hit with stones.

The recent arrest by Israeli police of a Hamas member of parliament for refusing orders that expelled him from Jerusalem also threatens to further escalate tensions in East Jerusalem. Richard Falk cited the four men’s case as part of “a larger, extremely worrying pattern of Israeli efforts to drive Palestinians out of East Jerusalem – [which is] illegal under international law”.

For more information, please see:

Jerusalem Post – An Open City? – 2 July, 2010

Al Jazeera – Israel Arrests Hamas MP – 30 June 2010

Voice of America News – EU Says Israel East Jerusalem Housing Plan Illegal – 30 June 2010

UN News Centre – Demolitions, New Settlements in East Jerusalem Could Amount to War Crimes – UN Expert – 29 June 2010

N.Y. Times – Palestinians and Police Collide in East Jerusalem – 27 June 2010

Haaretz – Reining in Barkat – 25 June, 2010

BBC – UN Chief Says East Jerusalem Demolition Plan ‘illegal’ – 24 June 2010

Sydney Morning Herald – Jerusalem Housing Plans Jeopardise Peace Talks – 24 June 2010

Al Arabiya News Channel – Israel Revives East Jerusalem Housing Plan – 21 June 2010

8 Killed and 9 Wounded in Nightclub Massacre

By R. Renee Yaworsky
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

MEDELLIN, Colombia—Eight people were killed and nine were injured in a massacre in north Colombia.  The attack happened early Friday morning when gunmen opened fire in a nightclub and then fled on motorbikes.  Among the deceased victims was one American, who was a dual U.S.-Colombian citizen.

Two heavily armed men entered a nightclub called “Barubar” in Envigado, part of Medellin’s metropolitan area, around 2 in the morning.  The men fired indiscriminately toward some tables and then escaped while survivors tended to the victims.  Two police agents who had been patrolling the area and responded to the commotion were injured in the attack.

Machine gun and other high-powered gun shells were discovered at the scene.  Secretary of Antioguia, Andres Julian Rendon, said that these types of weapons are commonly used by drug-related gangs.  None of the victims have been linked to a history of gang association, but police are searching for a man who left the scene and may have been the gunmen’s target.

Oscar Naranjo, Colombian National Police Director, said the attack may have been motivated by a turf war between two local drug kingpins known as Sebastian and Valenciano.  In April, the U.S. offered a $5 million reward for information leading to Valenciano’s capture.  The kingpin allegedly moved over $25 million in drug money from the U.S. to Mexico.

Naranjo announced a 200 million peso ($106,000) reward for information leading to the arrest of those responsible for the nightclub violence.  Authorities plan to increase security around Medellin and combat the local drug trade by creating a special inter-agency group.  Naranjo arrived in the area with a team of 20 criminal investigation experts, 400 extra police officers and 200 members of the elite urban control force called FUCUR.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe condemned the acts of the hitmen and said, “The criminal phenomena of narcotrafficking continues with a great capacity to inflict damage.”

Deadly drug-related violence has been on the increase recently in Medellin, which is fast becoming one of the most dangerous cities in Colombia.  This year’s first trimester has seen 503 drug-related deaths, which is up 54.8 percent since last year.

Although production has been decreasing, Colombia currently remains the world’s largest cocaine producer.

For more information, please see:

Wire Update-At least 8 killed, 5 injured, including one American, in Colombian nightclub shooting-3 July 2010

Colombia Reports-$100,000 reward for information on Antioquia massacre-2 July 2010

CNN International-American among 8 killed in Colombia bar attack, police say-2 July 2010

AFP-At least seven dead in Colombian discotheque attack-2 July 2010

HONDURAN HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES CONTINUE IN WAKE OF COUP

By Erica Laster
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America
 

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – Honduras continues to suffer from political unrest and polarization in the wake of the military coup this past January. The country continues to receive threats to citizens’ freedom of expression.  In the past three months, seven journalists have been killed. The government forced censorship on a variety of journalists, closing several media outlets inside of the country.  Judges, opposition leaders and human rights activists have also suffered intimidation and threats from unknown sources. 

Judges opposed to the coup were subject to disciplinary proceedings and charges as well as arbitrary transfers.  Many who were members of Judges for Democracy, an organization promoting fairness and transparency, were among those targeted.  Four more were fired on June 1, 2010 for criticizing the coup d’état, demonstrating the serious threat to the justice system.

Honduran Military Police Stop Protests, Killing Ten Last June
Honduran Military Police Stop Protesters, Killing Ten Last June

Mass arrests, beatings and tortures plagued the country of Honduras after the election of current President Porfirio Lobo in November.  President Lobo’s rise to power spurred a military backed coup by officers who ousted former President Manuel Zelaya at gunpoint in January.  Hundreds opposed to the election of the new, conservative President protested in the streets.  Security forces beat protesters, widely misusing tear gas and other control equipment.  While many of the protesters were only detained, ten people were killed amidst the unrest.  Despite the Honduran attorney general’s office charging three military chiefs for ousting Zelaya at gunpoint, both police and military officials responsible for the violence against the community have yet to be brought to justice.

Even the Central American Integration System and the Organisation of American States (OAS) has criticized the government.  OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza reported the organization would not discuss Honduras’ reinsertion into the regional body until December. Among the problems cited were the need for investigation rights violations and the allowal of former President Zelaya’s return to the country.  In response to accusations of indifference, the government created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in April, but has failed to begin investigating human rights violations, rapes and murders.   

Amnesty International recently blasted the Honduran government for failing to address human rights abuses resulting from the coup.  Amnesty International reports that their Americas deputy director, Guadalupe Marengo said that President Lobo “needs to show he is serious about ending the climate of repression and insecurity in Honduras – otherwise the future of the stability of the country will remain in jeopardy.”

Photo Courtesy Of Opednews.com

For More Information Please See:

Amnesty International Charges Honduras Failing to Tackle Coup Rights Abuses – 29 June 2010

Honduras: One Hundred Days’ Lobbying For International Recognition – 7 May 2010

Honduras Charges Military – 7 January 2010

50 Dead: Pakistan’s Holiest Shrine turned Murder Scene

David L. Chaplin II
Impunity Watch Reporter; Asia

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – The death toll climbed to 50 on Friday after a pair of suicide bombers detonated their explosive vests at one of Pakistan’s holiest shrines, police said.  Police are on high alert in Pakistan as demands grow for a tougher crackdown on armed religious groups in the central Punjab province after bombers targeted a popular Muslim shrine.

Sufi shrine of Data Darbar mosque, Lahore Pakistan where thousands visit daily
Sufi shrine of Data Darbar mosque, Lahore Pakistan where thousands visit daily

The targeted shrine was that of an 11th century Sufi saint, Ali bin Usman, commonly known as Data Ganj Bakhsh Hajveri, who traveled throughout the region spreading Islam with a message of peace and love.  His shrine is the most revered and popular of Sufi shrines in the nation.

More than 200 people were injured in the blasts outside the Data Darbar, a famous Sufi shrine complex.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan expressed alarm over the attacks and called on both the government and Muslim clerics to stand up to extremism.

Security has been tightened at Sufi shrines across the country, but many Pakistanis, already frustrated by a troubled economy and crippling power cuts, are calling for the resignation of Punjab government officials.

About 2,000 people, some armed, staged protests in Lahore on Friday, shouting “Down with Shahbaz Sharif”, the chief minister of Punjab

“This sickening poison of extremism will be driven out of our nation and we will not be cowed,” said Farahnaz Ispahani, a spokeswoman for President Asif Ali Zardari, in a text message to CNN.

“Peaceful worshippers have once again been targeted by those who want to destroy the fabric of this great country.  We will not forgive or forget and we will get justice for all Pakistanis murdered in cold blood — be they Muslim, Christian, Ahmadi or of any other faith.”

Talat Masood, a defence analyst and former Pakistan military officer, said Taliban-linked groups are exploiting the uncertainty over the government’s response to such attacks.

“At the moment there is lukewarm support from the people, and the people have no confidence in the government and their governance,” he told Al Jazeera on Friday.

“America is killing Muslims in Afghanistan and in our tribal areas, and militants are attacking Pakistan to express anger against the government for supporting America,” explained Zahid Umar, 25, a frequent visitor to the Lahore shrine.

For more information, please see: 

Al Jazeera English – Pakistan on alert after shrine raid – 2 July 2010

CNN World – Explosions at famous shrine in Pakistan kill dozens – 2 July 2010

The Huffington Post – Pakistanis Blame U.S. After Shrine Suicide Attack Kills 42 – 2 July 2010

Burned Girl A Symbol Of Discrimination Facing Gypsies In Europe

By Tristan Simonu
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

Photo: Natalka, the three year old victim of the arson attack. [Source: White Watch]

VITKOV, Czech Republic – Natalka Kudrikova is a three year old girl recovering from severe burns she suffered last year after a Molotov cocktail was thrown through the window of her family home in Vitkov.

Natalka is from the Roma or gypsy minority, and police believe that the alleged arson attack could have been racially motivated.  Inside of the home was a Roma family of eight, several of whom were injured by the fire.  Natalka lost 80% of her skin, three fingers, and has spent months in an induced coma following the attack.  After 14 major surgeries she is still recuperating and cannot walk without support. Her 27 year old mother also suffered 2nd and 3rd degree burns to 30% of her body.

In May, the four young men accused of attacking Natalka were charged with racially motivated attempted murder.  Under cross examination, two of the men admitted to attending anti-Roma demonstrations organized by right wing extremists.  A photo of one of the men walking next to the leader of the far-right Workers’ Party was recently published by an anti-fascist website.  The leader of the now banned Workers’ Party, Tomas Vandas, denies any involvement in the incident.

It is reported that the extreme-right seem to have a new confidence about them holding regular marches through Czech towns.  In regions with high unemployment and poor social conditions the rise of extremism is popular with unemployed young men.  In fear of persecution, hundreds of Romanies are now emigrating and many have been granted asylum in Canada.

According to a 2005 UNICEF report, 84% of Roma in Bulgaria, 88 % in Romania, and 91% in Hungary live below the poverty line.  In many European nations Roma have limited access to jobs and education and often live in squalid conditions without basic public services.  In eastern Slovakia the village of Ostrovany spent $16,000 to build a wall separating the Roma from their ‘white’ neighbors, because of fears of “alleged Roma crime.”  In Hungary over the last two years, nine Roma have been killed in unprovoked night time attacks according to the European Roma Rights Center.   Last month in Italy several Roma camps were torched.  According to Claudio Cordone, Amnesty International’s interim Secretary General, “EU leaders must adopt a concrete plan of action to address the human rights abuses faced by Romani communities.  They must speak up against racist attacks and hate speech and provide concrete measures to end discrimination in access to housing, education, health, and employment.”

For more information, please see:

CNN WORLD – Burned girl a symbol of Roma hate and hope – 25 June 2010

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL – Europe must break cycle of discrimination facing Roma – 7 April 2010

CZECH RADIO – Police hunt for attackers as two-year-old Roma girl severely burned in alleged arson – 20 April 2009

REUTERS – FACTBOX: Facing discrimination: Roma around Europe – 30 July 2008

Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon March for Basic Rights

By Alyxandra Stanczak
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BEIRUT, Lebanon– More than 6,000 Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon protested for basic rights this weekend. The protesters gathered in Beirut and marched to the United Nations headquarters. Approximately ten percent of Lebanon’s population, or 400,000 people, is composed of Palestinian refugees. They are a marginalized group in Lebanon, often experiencing employment discrimination and insufficient public, social, education, and medical services.

Palestinian refugee camp, Nahr el-Bared, near Tripoli. Image courtesy of Fox News.
Palestinian refugee camp, Nahr el-Bared, near Tripoli. Image courtesy of Fox News.

Earlier this week, Palestinian ambassador to Lebanon, Abdullah Abdullah, urged Lebanese officials to grant basic rights to Palestinian refugees within the country at this politically crucial time. Prime Minister Sa’ad Hariri has stated that while the Lebanese government has “social, ethical, and humanitarian duties” toward the refugees it could no longer ignore, the Lebanese government would not permit the naturalization of Palestinians refugees as Lebanese citizens.

Lebanon’s parliament has drafted a law that is due for floor debate within the next few weeks that will address the issues facing Palestinians within Lebanon.  Specifically, the law would legalize basic worker’s rights, such as medical care and end-of-service pay. Additionally, the law would give Palestinians the right to own a residential apartment. Though this law has support, it is expected to be fiercely debated on the floor due to sectarian concerns.

Offices in the Lebanese government are divided proportionally, with political appointments reserved for people affiliated with specific religious communities. The outdated proportion of political seats is based off the last census, which was taken in 1932. The lack of a recent census has resulted in three of the eighteen different religious sects claiming to have an absolute majority. Political power is not only divided among sectarian lines within Islam, but roughly thirty-five-percent of the Lebanese population identifies itself as Christian.

If political rights are designated to Palestinian refugees, who are generally Sunni Muslim, the Sunni sect would likely attain a higher proportion in the government. This shift in power could ultimately undermine the political influence of other religious communities.

Most of the approximately 400,000 Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon reside in twelve camps under deplorable living conditions. Palestinian refugees, who are forbidden to work in certain professions under Lebanese Law, such as medicine, law, engineering, and architecture, remain mired in a cycle of unemployment and poverty.

Furthermore, these camps, which are not secured by the Lebanese Army, are often an attractive hideout for extremists and fugitives.

For more information, please see:

AFP – Palestinian diplomat urges Lebanese unity on refugee rights – 29 June 2010

Al Jazeera – Refugees march for Lebanon rights – 27 June 2010

Daily Star – Hariri calls for national unity on granting rights to Palestinians – 30 June 2010

Voice of America – Palestinians in Beirut hope for more rights – 29 June 2010

‘Trigger Happy Police’ – Kashmir’s War on its own People

By David L. Chaplin II
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

KASHMIR, India – The killings of civilian protesters, most of them teenagers, have angered many in the valley.  One newspaper headline described 2010 as the “year of teenage killings” in Kashmir. 

Even the pro-India People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has accused the government of declaring war on its own people, our correspondent reports.

Kasmir and Jammu Police holding assault rifels
Kasmir and Jammu Police holding assault rifles.

Hundreds of thousands of troops are based in Kashmir to fight a two-decade insurgency against Indian rule.

The three deaths on Tuesday mean that there have been 10 civilian deaths at the hands of the security forces this month in Indian-administered Kashmir.

The protests have been some of the biggest in two years.  The latest violence began with the death of a schoolboy on June 11.

“When incidents like this happen, when innocents get killed, people get provoked,” Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the leader of the Separatist Hurriyet Conference, told Al Jazeera.

Local people and the state government have blamed most of those deaths on the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).

They say that in many cases the CRPF – who have been described by the state government as “trigger happy” – fired on unarmed protesters.

On Tuesday the army said it killed five militants who were trying to cross the Line of Control which divides Indian- and Pakistani-administered Kashmir.  The army said that three soldiers also died in the gunbattle on Monday night and Sunday afternoon in the Nowgam area.

Shops, schools and colleges in the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley are shut on the fourth day of the curfew, the BBC’s Altaf Hussain in Srinagar reports.  The strike has been called in protest at the recent killing of unarmed civilians by police and paramilitary troops.  Five towns – Sopore, Anantnag, Mattan, Kulgam and Koimoh – and some areas of Srinagar have been placed under curfew.

Nearly 20 civilians died in clashes with security forces in Indian-administered Kashmir in June.  Many of the deaths have been blamed on the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).

On Wednesday Chief Minister Omar Abdullah defended the security forces, saying they could not be expected constantly to show restraint when they were so often pelted with stones.

Anti-India sentiment runs deep in Muslim-majority Kashmir, over which India and Pakistan both claim sovereignty and have fought two wars.

The authorities have re-imposed a curfew in the northern town of Sopore, where protesters clashed with the police until late on Monday night.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Civilians killed in renewed Kashmir violence – 29 June 2010

Al Jazeera English – Deadly clashes continue in Kashmir – 29 June 2010

CNN World – 4 dead, 5 wounded in Kashmir fighting – 25 June 2010