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

Kenya Refuses to Arrest Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir

By: Amnesty International
August 27, 2010

Amnesty International has criticized the Kenyan government for its failure to arrest Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir during his visit to the country to join celebrations ushering in Kenya’s new constitution, viewing the refusal to arrest President al-Bashir as an obstruction of justice for victims in Darfur.

The President of Sudan is the subject of an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur.

“Kenya has regrettably followed the example of Chad, which violated its obligations under international law by providing safe haven to President Bashir during his visit to the country last month,” said Michelle Kagari, Deputy Director in Amnesty’s Africa programme.

As Kenya has ratified the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, the national authorities are obliged to cooperate with the Court, including arresting persons it has charged.

Amnesty International regrets that African states – which led efforts to create the Court – last month undermined their commitment to international justice by renewing an African Union decision not to arrest President al-Bashir.

“We are calling on those 31 African states that have ratified the Rome Statute to support international justice and uphold efforts to deliver justice, in particular in countries like Sudan where victims have no prospect of justice before national courts.”

Amnesty International is calling on all members of the international community to ensure full accountability for international crimes committed in Sudan.

“Kenya’s failure to arrest President Bashir is a worrying indication of its unwillingness to cooperate with the International Criminal Court’s new investigations and future prosecution of crimes committed in Kenya during the post-election violence in 2007-2008,” said Michelle Kagari

“It is disturbing that the Kenyan government is celebrating a new constitution – the national centre-piece of the rule of law – while obstructing justice for victims of such serious human rights violations in a neighbouring country.”

Democratic Republic of Congo: Mass rape highlights failures in protection and justice

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL
PUBLIC STATEMENT

AI Index: AFR 62/009/2010
August 26 2010


Amnesty International is appalled at the latest reports of the mass rape and other sexual violence committed in the Walikale region of North Kivu between 30 July and 2 August.

According to the United Nations, more than 150 civilians in 13 villages were raped by members of armed groups, including the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR). Reports indicate that the rape was organized and systematic.

Amnesty International is calling for the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the United Nations to make every effort to provide the survivors, witnesses and their communities with immediate medical and psychological treatment. Evidence, including witness testimonies, should be gathered and preserved, in order to facilitate bringing the perpetrators to justice.

The attacks occurred only weeks after the United Nations Security Council adopted a new mandate for its Mission in the country to support the government in protecting civilians from violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses, including all forms of sexual and gender-based violence, and emphasizing that protection of civilians must be given priority over other tasks entrusted to the Mission.

Sexual and gender-based violence is widespread in eastern DRC and committed by all sides to the conflicts, including the government forces that the United Nations is supporting. Amnesty International believes that an immediate review of the failures of the government and the United Nations to protect civilians must be undertaken to address the horrors being inflicted on civilians and to prevent them from happening again.

Amnesty International also demands justice and full reparations for the survivors. A weak national justice system means that urgent efforts are needed to rebuild capacity at almost every level. In particular, special efforts must be undertaken to train national authorities in the effective investigation and prosecution of crimes of sexual violence and to remove obstacles for survivors seeking justice.

Rebuilding the rule of law must be seen as an essential element of longer term protection of civilians in the country. In the meantime, national and international justice solutions must be found to end the impunity that allows persons to plan and commit such crimes in the knowledge they will not be held to account.

Background

On 25 August, the Special Representative for Sexual Violence in Conflict Margot Wallström was put in charge of leading the UN’s response to the incident. Issues for discussion with the DRC government are expected to include Security Council’s outstanding request, in Resolution 1888 (2009) that the UN Secretary-General “deploy rapidly a team of experts to situations of particular concern with respect to sexual violence in armed conflict… with the consent of the host government,to assist national authorities to strengthen the rule of law”. This team of experts has not yet been deployed.

The UN Security Council is expected in November 2010 to debate developments relating to the “Protection of Civilians,” following its 10thanniversary debate on Resolution 1325 on “Women Peace and Security” at the end of October.

In May 2010, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 1925 (2010), authorizing the deployment of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) until 30 June 2011.

Australian makes last ditch appeal to avoid death by firing squad

By Polly Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

Rush has been in prison for more than five years on a heroin smuggling conviction..
Rush has been in prison for more than five years on a heroin smuggling conviction. (Photo Courtesy of ABC News).

DENPASAR, Indonesia – In a final attempt to avoid the death penalty, ‘Bali Nine’ drug mule Scott Rush made an emotional appeal to an Indonesian court on Thursday.

“I wish to say to you, my parents, my family, and the community, how sorry I am for the crime that I have committed and the pain that I have caused,” Rush told Denpasar’s District Court on Thursday.

Rush was nineteen years old when he was arrested at Denpasar airport with more than a kilogram of heroin strapped to his body. He was convicted of attempting to smuggle more than eight kilograms of heroin from Bali into Australia. Originally sentenced to life in prison, Indonesia’s Supreme Court unexpectedly increased his penalty to death.

Rush’s parents flew from Brisbane to Indonesia last week to be there for the appeal.

“It’s been extremely stressful for him to have this death penalty on his head,” Lee Rush, Scott’s father said. “We just tend to get on with life on a day-to-day basis, but I know we struggle with it as well, as parents.”

At his appeal on Thursday, Rush, dressed in a white collared shirt and adorned with a crucifix necklace, read out his statement in court, not shying away from his fear of death.

“I often wake up having nightmares. I often think about the firing squad and how long it will take me to die,” Rush said. He said that he has had a long time to think, having already spent five and a half years in Bali’s Kerobokan Prison, two of which were spent in the prison’s death tower.

“I pray that I may be given a chance to show my remorse and to give back to the community in a practical way. I would like to be an ambassador against drugs. I am a living example of how drugs can destroy lives and do cause family and friends so much unnecessary pain and distress,” Rush added.

His legal team has argued that he played a minor role as a courier and was not the mastermind of the operation, relying on letters from former Australian Federal Police (AFP) commissioner Mick Keelty, who said that Rush was just a courier and not an organizer. Rush’s lawyers said that Keelty’s letters were not considered at Rush’s trial.

If this final appeal fails, Rush’s last chance will be to seek clemency from Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who is notorious for showing no mercy to drug smugglers.

For more information, please see:

ABC News – Scott Rush in final death sentence appeal – 26 August 2010

Sky News – Rush’s final appeal resumes – 26 August 2010

Sydney Morning Herald – Drug mule Scott Rush pleads for his life – 26 August 2010

Sydney Morning Herald – Scott Rush’s final appeal to resume – 25 August 2010

ABC News – Bali Nine smuggler’s parents fly out for appeal – 9 August 2010

HUMANITARIAN CRISIS WORSENS AS SOMALIA RAMPS UP COUNTER-TERRORISM EFFORTS

By Eric C. Sigmund
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

MOGADISHU, Somalia – Violence continued in Somalia for the third straight day today as the government combats insurgent forces throughout the country.  Fighting erupted in Mogadishu after the Islamic insurgent group al-Shabab, an al-Qaeda sponsored radical Islamic organization, successfully carried out a number of suicide bombing attacks against civilian populations and government forces in the country’s capital.  The Somali government, supported by African Union troops, has engaged in an intensive campaign to push al-Shabab out of its strongholds and to maintain control of the capital.

80 Civilians Injured and Hundreds Displaced as Somali Government Combats al-Shabab Insurgents (Photo Courtesy of AP)
80 Civilians Injured and Hundreds Displaced as Somali Government Combats al-Shabab Insurgents (Photo Courtesy of AP)

The fighting however, threatens to aggravate the dire humanitarian situation already facing Somalia.  Although 25 percent fewer Somalis require international assistance compared to only six months ago, millions of citizens remain vulnerable and the fighting in Mogadishu may cause the government to divert resources away from the citizenry in order to fight terrorism.  According to the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization in Somalia, over 35,000 children throughout the country remain malnourished and 90 percent of those children live within the conflict zone which has engulfed south-central Somalia.  The United States also reduced funding for the U.N. World Food Program in Somalia because of fears that money was going to fund al-Shabab.

A scarcity of resources is not the only concern for Somalis who reside within the conflict ridden territories of Somalia.  Civilians are also targets of al-Shabab suicide attacks.  On Tuesday, more than 30 people were killed when a suicide bomber detonated in a hotel.  Al-Shabab has also declared an “all-out war against AMISOM forces.” 

Al-Shabab however, is not the only blameworthy party in this conflict.  Somalis are also being killed in the government’s operations against the insurgent organization.  Amnesty International told reporters Wednesday that the government’s use of indiscriminate weapons, such as mortars, in densely populated areas has contributed to the civilian death toll.   Benedicte Goderiaux, an Amnesty International researcher in Somalia, criticized the government saying “[w]hen you have one party to the conflict which is committing abuses and violations of international law, that doesn’t justify the other side from also committing violations of international law.”  Ms. Goderiaux warns that the government must respect international law even while pursuing its counter attack strategy. 

Although the government reports progress in its fight against al-Shabab, civilians have borne the brunt of the fighting in Somalia.  Over 80 people have been killed and hundreds displaced in the last three days of fighting.

For more information, please see:

CBS News – Third Day of Fighting in Somalia’s Capital Kills 8 – 25 Aug. 2010

IC Publications Africa – Fresh Mogadishu Gunfight Kills Six Civilians – 25 Aug. 2010

Voice of America – Civilians Bearing Brunt of Somali Conflict – 25 Aug. 2010

Voice of America – Rain Eases Somalia’s Humanitarian Crisis – 23 Aug. 2010

Venezuela, Deadlier Than Iraq

By Patrick Vanderpool
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
 

Venezuelan Man who was Stabbed in the Eye During a Violent Outbreak (Photo Courtesy of www.sulekha.com)
Venezuelan Man who was Stabbed in the Eye During a Violent Outbreak (Photo Courtesy of www.sulekha.com)

 CARACAS, Venezuela – What has been viewed as an ongoing joke has officially become a grave reality.  It is almost unfathomable to think about, but there are places on earth more dangerous than an active war zone.  While the world is focused on the US war in Iraq because of the never-ending news cycles recounting the number of fatalities in any given given day, little attention is paid to a country that experiences even greater violence, Venezuela.

Venezuela has roughly the same population as Iraq, but experienced nearly four times the number of murders in 2009.  According to 2009 statistics, there were 4,644 civilian casualties in Iraq.  Although violence in Venezuela does not receive the amount of media coverage as Iraq receives, Venezuela’s more than 16,000 murders in 2009 dwarfs Iraqi casualties.

These alarming numbers are not a new phenomenon in a country that has experienced a surge in violence since President Hugo Chavez took office in 1999.  According to the Venezuelan Violence Observatory, it is estimated that there have been 118,541 homicides in Venezuela in the past decade.  The Venezuelan government has stopped releasing homicide statistics, but has not disputed the figures presented by VVO.

Wealthier Venezuelan citizens have resorted to hiding their homes behind walls and hiring foreign security personnel to advise them on how to avoid kidnappings and killings.  Unfortunately, every Venezuelan cannot afford such precautions and protection.

While the government has all but ignored the high crime rate, a recent photograph printed in El Nacional, a Venezuelan newspaper, depicting a dozen homicide victims strewn about the city’s largest morgue, has brought the issue to the forefront of Venezuela’s social conscience.  Although the photograph was exceptionally graphic, the most startling news may be that the bodies in the photograph were accumulated after only a two-day stretch.

While the photograph was a stark reminder to those living in the midst of this violence on a daily basis, the Venezuelan government attempted to quietly sweep it under the rug.  Almost immediately, a court ordered the paper to cease publishing the gory photograph and all others like it.  The prohibition has done little to quiet a public outcry that is concerned with why the government sits back in quiet acquiescence and lets the violence continue.

Teodoro Petkoff, the editor of another Venezuelan newspaper, sarcastically stated, “Forget the hundreds of children who die from stray bullets, or the kids who go through the horror of seeing their parents or older siblings killed before their eyes,” in response to the court’s order.

Venezuela’s capital city of Caracas has a murder rate of 200 victims for every 100,000 inhabitants, making it one of the deadliest cities in the Americas.  Other heavily populated South American capital cities, including Bogotá, Colombia and São Paulo, Brazil, have significantly lower murder rates at 22.7 victims per 100,000 inhabitants and 14 victims per 100,000 inhabitants respectively.

Scholars are confounded by the dramatic increase in violence over the last decade.  Some scholars attribute the violence to Venezuela’s shrinking economy.  As the income gap between the rich and the poor broadens, feelings of resentment increase.  In addition to the disenfranchised feelings, Venezuela is littered with illegal firearms.

Along with the income gap widening, Venezuela has the highest inflation rate in the hemisphere.  The inflation rate, coupled with low law enforcement salaries, has caused some law enforcement officials to turn to supplementing their incomes with criminal activity.

Other experts attribute the rise in violence to President Chavez himself.  Throughout the Chavez regime, the judicial system has become increasingly politicized and aligns itself with President Chavez’ political ideals.

To add insult to injury, more than 90 percent of Venezuelan murders go unsolved.  While some of the country’s most brutal killings remain open, the courts seem to tirelessly pursue individuals who are critical of President Chavez.

Bernardo Álvarez Herrera, the Venezuelan Ambassador to the United States, wrote an open letter to the New York Times claiming that the Venezuelan government is undertaking initiatives, including creating a national security force and funding a training program for law enforcement officials, to end some of the violence.  Herrera claims that stories highlighting the high murder rates understate the Venezuelan government’s efforts to solve the violence problem.  Human rights advocates are not impressed and say that the measures are too timid.

For more information, please see:

Island Crisis – Venezuelan Ambassador to U.S. Writes Open Letter to New York Times – 24 August 2010

New American – Murder Out of Control in Venezuela – 24 August 2010

New York Times – Venezuela, More Deadly than Iraq, Wonders Why – 22 August 2010

Tens of Thousands Flee Embattled City in Yemen, Dozens Killed

By Warren Popp
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

As government forces surround the city and crackdown on militant forces, it is still difficult for news sources to verify government claims. (Photo Courtesy of Al Jazeera)
As government forces surround the city and crackdown on militant forces, it is still difficult for news sources to verify government claims. (Photo Courtesy of Al Jazeera)

ADEN, Yemen – Upwards of 80,000 people have reportedly fled the southern Yemeni city of Loder. The massive displaced has been caused by the government alleged battle with al Qaeda-linked militants there. The government has reported that at least thirty-three people have been killed, including eleven soldiers, three civilians, and nineteen militants with alleged links to al Qaeda. Witnesses in Loder reportedly said that the fighting intensified after Sunday night, following the expiration of an ultimatum to militants to surrender.

A security official told the AFP that Yemeni forces have recently been able to enter the city and impose control over most of it, claiming that al Qaeda elements have since fled.

Al Jazeera reports that it is difficult to independently verify reports coming out of Loder, including government claims that only gunmen are left in the embattled city, because the city is surrounded by troops.

Southern Yemen was independent from the north from 1967 until its unification with the north in 1990. There have since been efforts in south Yemen to regain independence, including a failed succession bid in 1994. According to the Examiner, Southern Yemenis began protesting three years ago in an effort to obtain equal rights, triggered by escalating state violence and arbitrary arrests. The current coalition of groups, the Southern Movement, which has a range of demands from economic and social improvements to full independence for the region, is allegedly leading the present opposition, including calls for independence. The Examiner reports that nearly seventy percent of southerners are now in favor of succeeding from the north.

Southern Yemen is also believed to have become a haven for the al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen, the al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the ranks of which have allegedly been filled in part by foreign fights from states such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Yemeni authorities claim that they killed AQAP’s second-in-command in Loder, along with eighteen other militants linked to AQAP.

Some opposition forces, including the prominent exiled south Yemeni leader, Ali Salem al-Baid, condemned the government’s “massacres” in the south, claiming, “The military campaign in Loder is aimed against our people’s resistance in the south,” and that the government’s claim that it is fighting al Qaeda is “an attempt to cover up the massacres committed against our people.”

Al Jazeera says that the separatist movement the government has been battling in the South may be related to the current siege. They cite Mohammed Al-Qadhi, a Sana’a-based journalist with The National newspaper, as saying, “The government is trying to use al-Qaeda as a pretext to attack movement activists who are pushing for independence for the south,” he said.

The Yemeni government fully stands by its position that it is battling elements of AQAP in Loder. The Yemeni army reportedly uncovered a large stash of weapons, including rockets and anti-tank weapons hidden in homes in the area, and the Yemeni Defence Ministry stated on its website that “Outlaw separatist elements” collaborated with al Qaeda in the clashes in Loder.

For more information, please see:

AFP – Yemeni Army Regaining Control of Southern City – 24 August 2010

Al Jazeera – Thousands Flee South Yemen City – 24 August 2010

United Press International – AQAP Leader Killed in Yemen – 24 August 2010

Examiner – Yemen Bombs Southern Town and Blames Al Qaeda, Dozens Dead and Wounded – 21 August 2010

Fatal Shootout Erupts at Military Base

By R. Renee Yaworsky
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela—Two officers were shot and killed on a Venezuelan military base after a soldier opened fire with an assault rifle.  Six other soldiers were injured in the following shootout .

The gunfire erupted early Saturday on the Fort Tiuna military base, located in the capital city of Caracas.  The base is the largest in the country and houses the headquarters of the Defense Ministry.  The gunman fled from the base after firing a Russian AK-103 assault rifle.

The alleged shooter has been identified as Jeffersson Jose Trujillo Vasquez.  The attorney general’s office reports that the soldier began shooting after arguing with one of his superiors during the changing of the guard.  That officer, Captain Miguel Angel Rosales, who was 33 years old, was shot in the head and died.

After killing Rosales, Vasquez allegedly entered an arms depot and shot Lt. Alfredo Ruiz.  Ruiz, who was 25, was fatally injured by the attack.

The gunfight that followed between Vasquez and others at the base resulted in six wounded soldiers: three women and three men of various ranks.

Although the suspect’s abandoned car has been found in a slum, police and troops have yet to capture him.

Military officials have yet to publicly react to the incident.

Fort Tiuna was recently the scene of a separate shooting.  Last week, a Hong Kong athlete at the women’s baseball World Cup was struck and wounded by an apparent stray bullet.  Her team pulled out of the Cup.  Though it is still unclear whether that bullet originated from the military base, the tournament was moved from Fort Tiuna to Maracay, west of Caracas.

Although Caracas has a reputation for being one of the most dangerous cities in Latin America, Fort Tiuna has been considered relatively safe.  This reputation has been reinforced by the fact that President Hugo Chavez often visits the officers’ mess at night.  The vice-president owns a residence on the military compound, and foreign delegations are frequently hosted there.

For more information, please see:

AP-2 shot dead at Venezuela military base; 6 wounded-21 August 2010

AFP-Soldier kills two officers, wounds six at Venezuelan base-21 August 2010

BBC-Venezuelan soldier kills two officers ‘after dispute’-21 August 2010

Mexico Supreme Court Upholds Gay Adoption Rights

By Ricardo Zamora
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

MEXICO CITY, Mexico – Mexico’s Supreme Court upheld a law granting same-sex couples in Mexico City the right to adopt children earlier this week. The decision comes a week after the Court upheld the constitutionality of same-sex marriage, and after Argentina legalized gay marriage and adoption in July.

Juliana Cano Nieto, researcher in the LGBT rights program at Human Rights Watch, said that “the Supreme Court’s ruling confirms that the state cannot withhold any legal rights on the grounds of a person’s sexual orientation and gender identity.” This decision will “have resonance for courts throughout the continent for protecting the basic human rights of LGBT people,” she added.

The decision is a response to a challenge from the Attorney General’s office. The Attorney General contended that the law “breached the concept of family and the best interest of the child guaranteed in the constitution by allowing LGBT couples to adopt.”

The Court dismissed the Attorney General’s interpretation of the law, explaining that the law is not restricted to families formed by a male and female. In its opinion, the Court cited E.B. v. France, a European Court of Human Rights case which held that a single lesbian woman could not be denied the right to adopt a child due to her sexual orientation. The ECJ also noted that same-sex couples should have the same rights to adopt as traditional couples in order to fully guarantee equality and avoid discrimination. Finally, it made clear that the “best interest” of the child is to “have a loving family, regardless of the sexes of the family members.”

“Today, institutionalized homophobia has been buried,” said Jaime Lopez Vela, an LBGT group leader. He added that they were happy because “now we have the same rights and responsibilities of any other married couple.”

Justice Arturo Saldivar, voting with the 9-2 majority, reiterated that “the preferences of the parents do not determine a child’s sexual orientation… that is a discriminatory argument.” “It’s not a question of sexuality that determines whether a person is qualified or not to adopt,” Justice Margarita Luna added.

The Catholic Church strongly disagrees with the Supreme Court’s judgment and is seeking to impeach the justices voting with the 9-2 majority.

According to Human Rights Watch, Mexico is now the 11th country in the world to provide LGBT people equal access to marriage, along with the Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and Argentina.

For more information, please see:

The Christian Science Monitor – Mexico Court Upholds Gay Adoption Law. Is Mexico More Tolerant Than US? – 17 August 2010

Huffington Post – Mexico Gay Adoption Law Upheld By Supreme Court – 16 August 2010

Human Rights Watch – Mexico: Landmark Adoption Ruling for Same-Sex Couples – 16 August 2010

Brazil Bans Political Satire Ahead of Presidential Election

By Patrick Vanderpool
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – Brazilian comedians are prohibited from publicly making fun of candidates ahead of the upcoming presidential election.  The law, which could last until the runoff election at the end of October, has been dubbed the “anti-joke law.”  Specifically, the law forbids television and radio programs from “using trickery, montages or other features of audio or video in any way to degrade or ridicule a candidate, party or coalition.”

Brazilian internet services are not licensed by the government and therefore the ban does not cover internet material, but the material could still be judged by the Brazilian courts.

The law was a product of Brazil’s 1964-1985 dictatorship and specifically prohibits satire about political candidates in the three months preceding and election.  Violating the law is punishable by a fine of up to $112,000 and a broadcast license suspension.

Brazilian performers are not taking the ban lying down and plan to fight the prohibition.  There is public outcry that the law violates freedom of speech and several groups have planned protests in Rio de Janeiro, and other cities, on Sunday.  The groups claim that the ban on speech is a stain on the democratic country’s international reputation.

Marcelo Tas, a comedian-turned-reporter and the host of a weekly television comedy show that targets politicians, asked “[d]o you know of any other democracy in the world with rules like this?”  Tas also stated that people would have to look at classic comedian Monty Python’s material to find a bigger joke than the “anti-joke law.”

Proponents of the law claim that the law’s true purpose is to ensure that all candidates are portrayed in an even light so as not to skew voting.  According to backers, the ban on satire encourages candor because candidates will not fear widespread political jokes.

Tas, on the other hand, uses President Obama’s popularity leading up to the 2008 presidential election as a prime example of the benefit of satirical programming.  According to Tas, candidates, including Barack Obama, benefit from showing a more humane and personal side of themselves that generally shines through when one is confronted with a critical opinion.

On Deadline – Satirists (seriously) protest Brazil’s Political Anti-joking Law Ahead of Election – 17 August 2010

Press Association – Satire banned from Brazil election – 17 August 2010

Telegraph – Satire banned in Brazil ahead of presidential election – 17 August 2010

Former Israeli soldier dismisses outrage over Facebook photos

By Polly Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

Photos posted to Abergils Facebook page have sparked outrage. (Photo Courtesy of Al Jazeera.)
Photos posted to Abergil's Facebook page have sparked anger and condemnation. (Photo Courtesy of Al Jazeera.)

JERUSALEM, Israel – A former Israeli soldier who posted photos of herself posing with blindfolded Palestinian prisoners to her Facebook account is defending her actions.

Eden Abergil, twenty-six years old, claims that she did nothing wrong and was surprised at the controversy surrounding the pictures.

The pictures show Abergil posing in provocative positions near the blindfolded prisoners. They were part of an album she posted entitled, “Army – the best time of my life.” The pictures were discovered by a blogger who circulated them around the Internet. The images prompted comments from many users, and her Facebook account quickly became blocked to outside users.

In one of the photos, in which Abergil is shown smiling in front of blindfolded prisoners, a friend of hers posted about the photo, “That looks really sexy for you.” Abergil posted a response – “I wonder if he is on Facebook too – I’ll have to tag him in the photo,” referring to one of the prisoners in the background.

Abergil says that she did not intend to make a political statement or spark such outrage. In an interview with Israeli Army Radio, Abergil claimed that the images had no “political significance.”

“There was no violence in the pictures, there was no disrespect,” she said. “I did it out of excitement, to remember the experience.”

Yet both Palestinian and Israeli groups have attacked her actions. The incident highlights a pattern of claims of alleged abuse of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel.

“This shows the mentality of the occupier, to be proud of humiliating Palestinians,” Ghassan Khatib, Palestinian Authority spokesman, told the Associated Press. “All aspects of occupation are humiliating. We call on the international organisations, starting with the UN, to work hard to end the occupation, because it is the source of humiliation for Palestinians and a source of corruption for the Israelis,” Khatib said.

The Israeli army has attempted to distance itself from the controversy. IDF spokesman Barak Raz said that the pictures did not “reflect the spirit of the IDF, our ethical standard to which we all aspire.”

Because Abergil was discharged from the army last year, future legal action is still unclear.

Yet Jawad Amawi, director of legal affairs for the Palestinian government’s prisoners ministry, told CNN, “She did this act while she was in military service, so in retrospect the Israeli occupation is responsible for her acts. This is a breach of international law, clearly a breach of human rights.”

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Storm over Israeli ‘abuse’ photos – 17 August 2010

BBC – Israeli woman soldier denies Facebook photos wrongdoing – 17 August 2010

CNN – Israeli in Facebook incident dismisses criticism – 17 August 2010

Haaretz – ‘Facebook photos of soldiers posing with bound Palestinians are the norm’ – 17 August 2010

New York Times – Ex-Israeli Soldier’s Photos Condemned – 16 August 2010