ARMED MILITIAS CAUSING PROBLEMS FOR LEBANON

By Eric C. Sigmund
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BEIRUT, Lebanon – Armed militias engaged in an intense four-hour firefight in the streets of Beirut after a dispute arose over a parking space.  The fighting pitted Hezbollah, an Iranian backed governmental organization many consider to be a terrorist group, against a rival militia.  The fighting left 3 dead and 11 others wounded.  Civilians recall snipers running through the streets and rocket propelled grenades being shot around a Beirut neighborhood.  Ten people have since been arrested for their involvement in the clash.

A Lebanese Gunman Takes Position in the Streets of Beirut (Photo Courtesy of AFP)
A Lebanese Gunman Takes Position in the Streets of Beirut (Photo Courtesy of AFP)

This outbreak in violence however, is not an isolated incident and the recent rise in hostilities between armed militias in Lebanon has received international attention.   Earlier today the United Nations voted unanimously to extend the mandate of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), an international peacekeeping force in Lebanon, for at least another year.   UNIFIL currently operates approximately 12,000 troops in southern Lebanon.   Although UNIFIL’s primary mandate is to deter encroachment over the blue line between Israel and Lebanon, it recognizes that internal disputes within Lebanon may raise tensions between the two nations. 

Nadim Houry, the Beirut director at Human Rights Watch, told the Associated Press that many “people still in this country have RPGs in their homes.”  This fact allows street clashes to escalate quickly, threatening the lives of many civilians.  General Jean Kahwaji, in a statement to As-Safir, reports that the government will continue army operations in southern Beirut in order maintain peace.  General Kahwaji notes “what is important is that no one ignite a fire and then demand the army put it out.”  The Lebanese army has stepped up operations in Beirut in order to address fears surrounding the outbreak of another civil war in the country.

The Prime Minister of Lebanon, Saad Hariri, has also repeated his call for militias to disarm.  The United States has already temporarily suspend $100 million of military aid money to the Lebanese government to support its ill-equipped army in response to concerns that Mr. Hariri is not doing enough disarm militias in his nation.  The Prime Minister stated that he will continue to examine an additional “series of measures.”

It is unlikely however, that Mr. Hariri’s order will be heeded.   Hezbollah is not only the largest militia in Lebanon, obtaining both financial assistance and arms from Iran, but it also is a party of the Lebanese government and has veto power.   Even Prime Minister Hariri himself notes that his call for a “weapons free” Lebanon does not apply to Hezbollah.   Although there is wide popular support for Hariri’s attempts to disarm Lebanese militias, many still support Hezbollah and rely on services provided by the organization.   Until a more comprehensive security arrangement can be agreed upon, the nation will likely continue to be the victim of internal violence. 

For more information, please see;

Daily Star Lebanon – Higher Defense Council Vows to increase Security Measures – 1 Sept. 2010

Daily Star Lebanon – UNIFIL to Maintain Troop Numbers After Clashes in South – 1 Sept. 2010

Agence France Presse – 10 Held Over Beirut Clash as government Mulls Arms Control – 31 Aug. 2010

Associated Press – Armed Militias: A Quandary for Lebanon, U.S. – 31 Aug. 2010

Rwanda Threatens Withdrawal if U.N. Publishes Report

By Laura Hirahara
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

Rwanda U.N. Peacekeepers; Photo Courtesy of U.N.
Rwanda U.N. Peacekeepers; Photo Courtesy of U.N.

KIGALI, Rwanda- According to a statement made by Rwandan military spokesman, Jill Rutaremara, Rwanda has made preparations to withdraw thousands of peace-keeping troops from Sudan if the United Nations publishes its latest report on possible human rights violations in the region.  The report, from the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, details the killings of thousands of ethnic Hutus in the Congo by Rwanda and its allies during a ten year period starting in 1993.  Copies of this report, which leaked last week to several press agencies, identify Rwanda troops as taking part in crimes against humanity and genocide.  Rwanda’s government, led by President Paul Kagame, is hoping it has enough leverage to stop the report from being officially published, which it believes to be false.

The U.N. report claims that Tutsi-led Rwandan armies followed Hutu-refugees into Zaire (what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo) and killed them, including women, children and the elderly.  The report cites instances where Rwandan troops, along with the armed forces of their allies, promised repatriation to Hutu refugees only to kill them later.  The U.N. was prompted to start an investigation after a number of mass graves were discovered in 2005 in North Kivu, an eastern province in the Congo.  The authors of the report, who interviewed approximately 1,250 individuals and reviewed 1,500 documents, insist they are not trying to prove “individual criminal responsibility, but to expose the seriousness of the violations committed.”

The Rwandan government is calling the report outrageous and unfounded.  Rwanda’s Justice Minister Tharcisse Karugarama said the report is “a stab in the back.”  An official statement from the capital in Kigali stated, “The report is a dangerous and irresponsible document that under the guise of human rights can only achieve instability in the Great Lakes [of Africa] region and undermine ongoing efforts to stabilize the region.”  Without addressing any of the specifics of the report, Rwanda is relying on the considerable contributions it’s made to the U.N. and Africa Union’s peacekeeping mission in Darfur to prevent the U.N. from releasing its report.  Currently, Rwanda has over 3,000 peacekeepers in Darfur and a Rwandan general leads the mission, which is made up of 21,800 peacekeepers total.

For more information, please see;

BBC- Rwanda Threatens UN Over DR Congo ‘Genocide’ Report– 28 August, 2010

AP- Rwanda: Plan Ready to Withdraw Peacekeeping Troops– 31 August, 2010

The NY Times- Rwanda Threatens to Pull Peacekeepers from Darfur– 31 August, 2010

The Washington Post- U.N. Says Rwandan Troops Carried Out Mass Killings in ’90’s– 29 August, 2010

Brazil’s President Approves Construction Of Dam That Threatens Devastation On Indigenous Peoples

By Patrick Vanderpool
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

Leader of Indigenous Tribe Voices Displeasure During Meeting of Commission of Human Rights of the Federal Senate in Brasilia (Photo Courtesy of The Washington Post)

 BRASILIA, Brazil – Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva recently signed a contract allowing the construction of a controversial dam to begin.  The Belo Monte mega dam, as it is being called, is set to be built on the Amazonian Xingu River.  President Lula championed the dam under the guise that it will be a victory for Brazil’s energy sector and the Brazilian government claims that the project will create 20,000 jobs.  Critics contend that, in all likelihood, the dam will devastate the area and cause the demise of the local government and indigenous peoples.

Walter Coronado Antunes, former Environment Secretary of São Paulo state, has called the dam “the worst engineering project in the history of hydroelectric dams in Brazil, and perhaps of any engineering project in the world,” in response to the many design flaws of the project.

The buildup to this move has been wrought with controversy and legal action from the area’s indigenous peoples and human rights groups.  The bidding process was interrupted three times by legal action by different groups, including the Brazilian Federal Public Prosecutors Office, who object to the dam.  Hundreds of Indians are currently protesting, joined by experts, human rights groups, environmental organizations, and Brazil’s Public Ministry, against the Belo Monte dam.

Set to be the world’s third largest hydroelectric dam, Belo Monte is projected to flood 154 square miles and will permanently dry up a 62-mile section of the Xingu River, leaving the indigenous communities along the banks without water transportation and the food provided by the river, according to International Rivers, a California-based NGO.  Initial numbers project that the dam will affect 50,000 peoples’ lives, including displacing at least 20,000 people from the region.

The indigenous peoples have warned that the creation of this dam could start a war between the Brazilian government and the local Indians.

Critics fear that this project sets a dangerous precedent and more dams will follow Belo Monte.  These critics also say that the power needed for Brazil’s economic growth could be greatly reduced by less invasive measures, including investing in energy saving techniques.

The dam is scheduled to begin operating in 2015.  It will generate enough power to supply 23 million homes in Brazil.

For more information, please see:

The Epoch Times – Brazilian Government Signs Huge Amazon Dam Project – 27 August 2010

Radio New Zealand News – Massive Hydro Electric Dam Approved For Brazil – 27 August 2010

Survival International – Brazilian President Signs Death Sentence for Amazonian River – 27 August 2010

Survival International – Serious Damage: Tribal Peoples and Large Dams Report – 2010

Facebook Hit Lists Spark Murder, Panic

By R. Renee Yaworsky
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

The teen hit lists were posted on Facebook, a popular social networking site.  Photo courtesy of Time.
The teen hit lists were posted on Facebook. Photo courtesy of Time.

PUERTO ASIS, Colombia—A small Colombian town has been gripped by panic after three teens who were named on online hit lists were murdered.  Many local families have reacted by moving out of the area or sending their children away to safety.

Three hit lists, containing 90 names, were posted on the social networking website Facebook.  Those named were youths, threatened with death if they did not leave the town Puerto Asis.  According to a local official, some of the names on the lists were nicknames only known and used within the youths’ group of friends.

The message on Facebook read in part:  “Please, as a family, urge them to leave town in less than three days, otherwise we will be obligated to realize acts such as those of August 15.”

On August 15, Diego Jaramillo, 16, and Eibart Ruiz, 17, were shot and killed while riding a motorcycle between Puerto Asis and Puerto Caicedo; soon afterward, the first hit list was posted online containing their names.

Five days later, Norbey Alexander Vargas, 19, was murdered in Puerto Asis after his name was included in one of the ominous lists.

Although officials at first believed the lists to be a prank, they have now launched an investigation aided by Internet experts.  The Facebook page has been blocked.

Puerto Asis is a small town of 70,000 people, located in the remote jungles of southern Colombia near Ecuador.  The names on the Facebook hit lists indicated that most if not all of the youths mentioned were from Puerto Asis.

Colombia is a country at war with various militant anti-government groups and violent gangs.  The infamous FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) group and a dangerous gang called Los Rastrojos have ties in the area.

Internet hit lists are new to Colombia, but similar threats have been signed and publicly displayed by right-wing paramilitaries, naming alleged “drug addicts and prostitutes.”  In 2005, the paramilitaries were demobilized and splintered off into numerous criminal gangs.

It is believed that criminal gangs in Colombia consist of 4,000 to 9,000 members and operate in 24 of the country’s 32 states.

The Colombian ombudsman Volmar Ortiz issued an alert, indicating that the Los Rastrojos gang may be responsible for the recent murders and hit list intimidation.  Ortiz’s warning said the gang “executes violent acts, spawning community conflicts, imposing their will, intimidating and dispensing punishment against those culturally and socially stigmatized.”

For more information, please see:

LA Times-COLOMBIA: Deaths of 3 teens feed fear over Facebook threats-26 August 2010

Time-Colombia’s Facebook Hit List: Drug Gangs 2.0-26 August 2010

ABC News-Facebook Death List: 3 Colombian Teens Killed-25 August 2010

‘Child Witches’ Abused and Killed in Nigeria

By Laura Hirahara

Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

Children protesting their abuse; photo courtesy of Children of Nigeria
Children protesting their abuse; photo courtesy of Children of Nigeria

AKWA IBOM, Nigeria- In several states of Nigeria, children accused by church leaders of being witches are tortured and abandoned by their communities, to either die or be trafficked out of the country.  While the belief in witchcraft has been a centuries old tradition in Nigeria, a majority of the abuse of ‘child witches’ has been occurring for the last 10 years.  In most cases, the leader of a make-shift church will identify a child as a witch and promise the parents that he will ‘deliver’ the child.  Deliverance includes torturing a child until they confess and can cost anywhere from $300- $2,000.  The torture itself ranges from acid baths to burnings to beatings and can result in death.

Often, the pastor will claim the child cannot be delivered and needs to be cast out.   If they are not killed they are abandoned and many found by children’s rights groups bear serious wounds and scars from their ordeals.  One such group, led by Sam Ikpe-Itauma, works to educate Nigerians about the realities of both their beliefs and the exploitive scams many of the pastors are operating.  Mr. Ikpe-Itauma’s Child’s Rights & Rehabilitation Network includes a shelter for 200 abandoned children who were branded witches in their communities.

One child currently living at the shelter, Godwin, says after his mother died his church pastor told the family it was Godwin’s fault.  Godwin was beaten until he confessed to killing his mother through witchcraft.  Afterwards, he was forced to sleep with his mother’s corpse every night for three weeks until Mr. Ikpe-Itauma found him and brought him to the shelter.

Several organizations have charged the Nigerian government to stop the abuse of child witches.  This particular type of child abuse has been made illegal by the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child (of which Nigeria is a member) and Nigeria’s Child Rights Act passed by most states.  Despite identifying the abuse, those in local government believe programs like Mr. Ikpe-Itauma are frauds, meant to make money and smear the reputation of the country.  The Information Commissioner of Nigeria’s Akwa Ibom state, Aniekan Umanah, stated “There may be problems yes but it’s been blown out of proportion and people are capitalizing, on what ordinarily may be a social problem[… w]e will not allow the image of our state to be smeared.”  Several arrests have been made and the government has promised to provide more regulation on church organizations but so far, there have been no prosecutions.

For more information, please see;

CNN- Children Abused, Killed as Witches in Nigeria– 27 August, 2010

The Zimdiaspora- Nigeria’s Child Witch Hunt; Children Accused and Abused– 15 August, 2010

Gather- Nigerian Children Accused of Witchcraft are Cast Out of Society– 25 August, 2010