Armed Gunmen Force Mexican Attorney’s Video Confession: Former Attorney General Implicated

By Erica Laster                                                                                                                   Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

CHIHUAHUA, Mexico – Armed gunmen kidnapped Mexican Attorney Mario Gonzalez after storming his office last week.  Less than two days later, a video surfaced in which his attackers, holding Gonzalez at gunpoint, force him to confess to a myriad of crimes, including supporting drug cartels, aiding in kidnappings and assisting the Juarez cartel in the murders of various politicians, journalists and attorneys

Mexican Attorney Held At Gunpoint: Forced to Confess Former Attorney Generals Ties To Drug Trafficking & High Profile Murders
Mexican Attorney Held At Gunpoint: Forced to Confess Former Attorney General’s Ties To Drug Trafficking & High Profile Murders

 Patricia Gonzalez, his sister and former attorney general, was also implicated in orchestrating many sensational murders linked to drug crimes.  Gonzalez stated that many “believe there are close ties between drug trafficking and government institutions.”  The video, she acknowledged, may only reinforce those beliefs.

As the video begins, armed gunmen in military uniforms level rifles at Mario Gonzalez’ head.  “”What group do you belong to?” “The group called La Linea or the Juarez Cartel.” “What is your job?” “I am the link to the prosecutor, my sister…”

In an interview with the Washington Post, Gonzalez indicated that she believes the off camera questioner to be “El Puma,” the leader of the Sinoa Cartel, a rival drug gang struggling for control in Mexico.  Gonzalez assumes he is a former police officer and on among many enemies she made while a prosecutor before retiring October 3, 2010.  “We fired 350 police and prosecutors.  I think there are clear elements that indicate that the state police are involved in my brother’s kidnapping.” 

Kidnapped attorney Gonzalez’s wife was contacted for a ransom of $500,000 shortly after the kidnapping.  However, officials inside of the investigation believe the ransom was an ill disguised attempt to thwart investigators from the real purpose of the kidnapping: destroying the reputation of prominent legal professionals.

While officials are continuing with the investigation, many cannot ignore Gonzale’s forced confessions to being complicit in the murder of the former chief of operations of Chihuahua and a veteran crime reporter for El Diario, Armando “Choco” Rodriguez in November of 2008.

Interior secretary Graciela Ortiz indicated that, ‘What’s important is that citizens can be sure the state will act objectively and impartially to apply the full weight of the law against anyone responsible for a crime, regardless if they are ex-officials or of the position that they held.”

For More Information Please Visit:

Daily Mail – Mexican drug gang video shows ex-politician’s kidnapped brother ‘confessing’ her crimes at gunpoint  27 October 2010

Washington Post Mexican Drug Cartel Forces Lawyer’s Video Confession – 30 October 2010

Justice In Mexico – Former State Attorney General Patricia Gonzalez Rodrigues accused of having ties to drug traffickers – 27 October 2010

Spain’s Civil War Crimes Come to Argentina’s Courts

By R. Renee Yaworsky
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

Hitler (L) and Franco (C) march during a 1935 meeting. (Photo courtesy of Life)
Hitler (L) and Franco (C) march during a 1940 meeting. (Photo courtesy of Life)

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina—Argentina may become the forum used to prosecute cases involving murder, torture, and kidnapping stemming from Spain’s Civil War (1936-1939).  Argentina may be able to prosecute these war criminals who are currently protected by diplomatic immunity.

Judge Maria Servini of Argentina has been working toward litigating under universal jurisdiction because Spain’s judicial system has been restricted by amnesty laws from filing these cases.  Universal jurisdiction has been previously used in Spain by Judge Baltasar Garzon, who prosecuted the Chilean General Augusto Pinochet in 1998.

Judge Servini asked Spain whether its own courts would investigate tens of thousands of cases of “torture, assassination, forced disappearances and the stealing of children.”  Her inquiry came after human rights defenders in Spain took their case to Argentina because Spain’s courts were unavailable to them.

The issue remains whether Argentina’s courts can litigate under the doctrine of universal jurisdiction.  Under that doctrine, states can have jurisdiction over those whose crimes were committed outside their borders if the crimes were against all and so severe that differences between legal systems cannot reduce responsibility.

The plaintiffs will declare that Article 118 of Argentina’s Constitution supports universal jurisdiction.  The Article mentions a special law that can determine the venue to try crimes against the law of nations (ius gentium) that took place outside of the country’s borders.

US-based group Tamils Against Genocide stated that “Universal jurisdiction is a hard hurdle to cross, and progress of the above cases underscores that Argentinian laws support universal jurisdiction for egregious crimes.”

The three Spanish Civil War cases that have been filed in Argentina’s courts are the murders of Spanish citizens Severino Rivas, Elias Garcia Holgado, and Luis Garcia Holgado, and Argentine Vicente Garcia Holgado.  The cases could be expanded to include other murders and disappearances that Franco’s military committed between July 17, 1936 and June 15, 1977.  These dates represent the day before Franco’s revolution began against Spain’s government, and when Spain held its first elections after Franco’s death.

One lawyer working on these cases, Maximo Castex, told the Associated Press that because genocide and other human rights violations have been alleged, more cases involving Argentines whose relatives had been killed in Spain can be tacked on to the litigation.

For more information, please see:

Barcelona Reporter-War crimes Spain Argentine judge invokes universal justice to probe Spain’s Franco-era crimes-30 October 2010

TamilNet-Argentina: a possible forum to prosecute war criminals-29 October 2010

Casey Weekly Cranbourne-Judge may shed light on crimes of Franco-28 October 2010

Report Says Venezuela Most Corrupt Country In Western Hemisphere

By Patrick Vanderpool
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela – According to a report published by Transparency International, a global anti-corruption civil society organization, Venezuela is the most corrupt country in the Western Hemisphere, edging out Haiti for the top spot.

Transparency International publishes an annual Corruption Perceptions Index which measures the “unfairness of the public sector” of countries around the world.

In terms of the complete list, Venezuela was the 164th most corrupt country out of the 178 nations that were included.  The annual ranking measures the perceptions of public-sector corruption by aggregating 13 independent surveys.

The news for Venezuela comes on the heels of President Hugo Chavez’s most recent efforts to make Venezuela a completely Socialist country.  Recently, President Chavez announced that the government was taking over the local subsidiary of Owens-Illinois, a U.S.-based glass container manufacturer.  In recent history, Venezuela has nationalized key industries within the country, including the steel and oil industries.

Chavez’s rule as President has been marred with accusations of corrupt government action and human rights abuses.  In a recent election, the Chavez regime is accused of silencing independent media, intimidating voters, arresting dissidents, and gerrymandering electoral districts in order to stave off legitimate competition from other parties.

Under Chavez’s watch, crime and inflation have skyrocketed.  According to news reports, many Venezuelan citizens cannot gain access to the basic necessities that they need, such as food, unless they shop at a government-controlled market.  The country has also been stricken by water and electricity shortages, which have affected even the capital city.

The next Presidential election is set to be held in 2012 and many political analysts think that Venezuelan citizens are growing increasingly disenfranchised with the current political regime.  Although ousting Chavez will not be an easy task because he has essentially gained control of Venezuelan commerce and media, analysts think that it could be likely for other political factions to unite against the embattled leader.

For more information, please see:

Miami Herald – Hemisphere Loser: Venezuela – 27 October 2010

El Universal – Venezuela is Considered One of the World’s Most Corrupt Countries – 26 October 2010

New America – Corrupt Venezuela Election Still a Blow to Regime – 3 October 2010

Amnesty International Urges Italy To Respect Rights of Possible Asylum Seekers

By Christina Berger
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

CATANIA, Italy — Amnesty International called on Italian authorities on Friday to investigate the forcible return of 68 people to Egypt after they were intercepted near the coast of Sicily. Amnesty International is questioning whether the migrants were given the opportunity to apply for asylum and international protection.

Italian coast guard boats patrolling waters near Catania, Sicily intercepted the Egyptian fishing vessel on Tuesday. The boat was carrying about 130 migrants, who identified themselves as Palestinians. The authorities arrested seven suspected human traffickers when they boarded the fishing vessel, and the other people were taken to a sports facility in Catania. They were detained for 24 hours in order to facilitate identification and return arrangements, the Italian authorities said.

On Wednesday, 68 of the migrants were put on a plane to Cairo, Egypt because Italian authorities claimed they were illegal immigrants from Egypt and not Palestinians. Amnesty International is questioning how identifications were made and protection needs assessed, and whether these migrants were given appropriate information and opportunity to seek asylum in accordance with international refugee and human rights laws.

“All people rescued at sea must be given the opportunity to seek asylum and to have their claims assessed in a fair and satisfactory asylum-determination procedure,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia. “There are concerns that in this case none of the individuals, included the 68 deported, was given such an opportunity.”

According to Amnesty International, organizations such as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration, Save the Children, and the Italian Red Cross were repeatedly denied access to the migrants. This is believed to be the first time since 2005 that an official request from the UNHCR was denied in Italy.

For years, thousand of migrants from Africa attempted crossing the Mediterranean Sea to reach Italy, but that number has been drastically reduced since Italy and Libya made a deal in 2008 requiring migrants intercepted in international waters to be returned to Libya. Human rights groups argue that this deal violates the rights of asylum seekers. Amnesty International has broadly urged Italian authorities to stop mass summary expulsion of foreign nationals in order to conform with international laws and standards aimed at protecting the rights of asylum seekers.

For more information, please see:

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL — Italy Urged To Stop Mass Expulsions — 29 October 2010

AFP — 128 immigrants intercepted off Sicily in Egyptian fishing vessel –27 October 2010

DEUTSCHE PRESSE-AGENTUR — Italian coast guard intercepts 128 migrants — 26 October 2010

Human Rights Abuses Continue in Colombia

By R. Renee Yaworsky
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

Bloodshed continues in Colombia.  (Photo courtesy of Colombia Reports)
Bloodshed continues in Colombia. (Photo courtesy of Colombia Reports)

BOGOTA, Colombia—Despite recent victories over the country’s most powerful rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Colombia remains a nation plagued by violence and human rights abuses.

Last month, Colombians rejoiced after learning that armed forces killed a high-ranking FARC commander, “Mono Jojoy.”  President Juan Manuel Santos, who took office on August 7 of this year, announced, “This is the beginning of the end for the FARC.”

But military wins have come at a high cost in Colombia.  Colombian armed forces have become increasingly infamous for frequent, and often unreported, human rights abuses with impunity.  Concerned human rights organizations have discovered evidence of torture, rape, looting, displacements and restricted freedom of movement against innocent civilians.  About 2,300 extrajudicial executions have also been uncovered.

Many believe that the government’s tunnel-vision focus on the FARC has allowed military abuses to go unchecked, while allowing other, smaller rebel paramilitary groups to run rampant.  It is even thought that many Colombian troops work with illegal groups to engage in drug trafficking and human rights violations.

A Colombian soldier has recently been accused of sexually abusing a 13-year-old girl on October 2 of this year near a site where three children were murdered this month.  The soldier had disappeared from his military camp when both the sexual abuse and murders had taken place; he also fits the description of the offender given by the abused girl.  Incidents such as these remain alarmingly commonplace.

Colombia has admitted for the first time that 50,000 of its citizens have been “forcibly disappeared.”  The Colombian Commission of Jurists reported that the vast majority of those who vanished were activists who were kidnapped and killed by government soldiers or right-wing paramilitaries.

On Thursday, human rights groups issued a report announcing that over 22 activists were killed in the first 75 days of President Santos’ presidency.  The report, a 21-page document, explores the details behind several activists’ deaths, including indigenous leaders, a human rights worker, trade unionists, and community educators.  These murders only represent “registered cases,” and many other similar cases are believed to exist.

Maria Paulina Riveros, the director of human rights in the Ministry of Interior and Justice, vowed to investigate the murders “immediately,” and said, “Obviously we recognize that there continue to be very serious threats against human rights defenders; we say that progress is about to open the way to relevant consultation.”

For more information, please see:

Tribune Magazine-Finally, Colombia admits that 50,000 have ‘disappeared’-29 October 2010

Colombia Reports-Army faces further child abuse accusations-29 October 2010

Colombia Reports-22 activists killed in Santos’ first 75 days-29 October 2010

Miami Herald-A fleeting chance to end the war-29 October 2010

Kosovo Continues to Allow Re-Admission of Deportees Despite Concerns of Human Rights Abuse

By Ricardo Zamora

Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

Several human rights groups are urging European countries to halt the deportation of displaced Roma and other minorities into Kosovo where they face discrimination and human rights violations.

In a report released today, Human Rights Watch reports that deportees face numerous hardships upon return to Kosovo including lack of proper healthcare, difficulties in integrating into society, and a lack of education for their children.  The deportees also have difficulty obtaining identity documents, employment, and social welfare services.

While now independent despite Belgrade’s claim of sovereignty over it, Kosovo is plagued by poverty, unemployment, and crime.  Hostility among ethnic groups creates an environment with a high potential for violence.

“Europe is sending Kosovo’s most vulnerable people back to discrimination, exclusion, poverty, and displacement,” said Wanda Troszczynska-van Genderen, Western Balkans researcher at Human Rights Watch.  “If Europe’s leaders are serious about improving the plight of Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptians, they should suspend the deportations to Kosovo and ensure adequate support to those who have already been sent back.”

The report notes that over 50,000 minorities have been deported back into Kosovo since 1999 and expresses concerns over a significant rise in that number.  The report explicitly voices concerns over some 12,000 people facing deportation in Germany alone.

But a recent policy shift on deportations to Kosovo by the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where almost 40% of the refugees are living, suggests that reform is possible.  A September decree issued by the state’s Interior Ministry recognized the need for special protection of these minority groups, requires individual screenings prior to deportation, and recommends not deporting school-age children.  While decree does not completely disallow deportations, Human Rights Watch says that it is a positive step toward reform and gives hope to many of the 12,000 people currently at risk of deportation.

Nevertheless, concern stems from the Kosovo government who, seeking international recognition and under pressure from Europe, has signed readmission agreements with Germany, Belgium, France, Switzerland and Norway.

“These agreements, and the absence of screening by Kosovo prior to (return) open the door to ever greater numbers of deportations, create a real risk of human rights abuse, and escalate crisis conditions for deportees, their families, and the broader Kosovo community,” the Human Rights Watch report warned.

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – Kosovo: Europe Returning Roma to Face Hardship – October 28, 2010

The Star – Roma Forced Back To Dire Poverty, Deprivation – October 28, 2010

WAZ – Human Rights Watch Denounces Roma Deportations to Kosovo – October 28, 2010

China’s Human Rights Lawyer Gao Zhisheng Missing Again

David L. Chaplin II
Impunity Watch, Asia

BEIJING, China – “President Obama, as the father of two girls yourself, please ask President Hu Jintao of China to tell this daughter where her father is…If the Chinese government has murdered my father, I beg President Obama to ask President Hu to let us bury him.” These are the desperate words from the daughter of China’s leading Human Rights attorney, whose profession has become another example of how China silences critics.

Human Rights attorney has become a case of chinese politics
Human Rights lawyer becomes a case of chinese politics

As the Wall Street Journal reports, Mr. Gao hasn’t had the privilege of courts and jails but has simply disappeared, without any official word on the circumstances of what his family and most observers believe to be his detention by the government.

In 2009, in the article “Dark Night, Dark Hood and Kidnapping by Dark Mafia,” which was published on the Internet, Gao Zhisheng described the atrocious torture inflicted on him by police during his imprisonment in 2007, including cruel beatings, shocking his gentiles with electric batons, damaging his eyes by blowing cigarette smoke into them for hours, inserting toothpicks into his penis, etc. Gao’s exposé shocked the international community. (Epoch Times)

The teenage daughter, Grace Geng, one of China’s most respected human rights advocates has pleaded to President Barack Obama for help finding answers to questions few can answer.

Grace Geng, her mother and brother finally fled China with her mother last year, and are now living in the United States.

In an open letter to the president, saying her father had been tortured and she too had been beaten by police and barred from going to school, 17 year-old Grace, wrote a letter published by the Wall Street Journal with the words: “Six months ago last week the Chinese government kidnapped my father. He was abducted for exercising his right to freedom of speech.”

In what has been five years of tracked oppression by the hands of the world’s leading economy, Gao Zhisheng, since: 2005: authorities have closed down Gao Zhisheng’s law practice; Dec 2006: Convicted of subversion and sentenced to house arrest; Sept 2007: Says he was tortured during a period of detention; Jan 2009: Disappears; last seen accompanied by security officials; Mar 2010: Reappeared for a month before disappearing again.

Accompanied by Beijing lawyers Teng Biao and Li Heping, Gao Zhisheng’s eldest brother Gao Zhiyi recently reported the case to Xiaoguan Police Station in Beijing’s Chaoyang District, but police refused to register the case or take a written statement. (BBC)

In an interview with Sound of Hope Radio Network, Li Heping said that communist authorities often illegally torture petitioners, political dissidents, and rights defenders. Citizens are arrested for seeking redress of grievances. Lawyers who defend them are also implicated and persecuted.

Mr. Gao’s circumstance alongside Liu Xiaobo’s, the jailed academic awarded the Nobel Peace Prize months ago, are patterns of the Chinese Communist Party’s increasing persecution of human rights defenders in China.

Li Heping worries that the Chinese people cannot do anything about the communist state’s illegal practices. “Another way to put it is that this is the regime’s scoundrel way. What can you do about it?” 

For more information, please see:

Wall Street Journal – Again, Where Is Gao Zhisheng? – 28 October 2010

BBC – Daughter pleads for missing China lawyer Gao Zhisheng – 28 October 2010

The Epoch Times – Beijing Police Refuse to Register Gao Zhisheng’s Missing Case – 24 October 2010

PNG Police Kills Underage Detainee

By Joseph Juhn
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea – A Papua New Guinea (PNG)policeman shot a 15 year old boy who had been held in police custody. The police was arrested immediately and was charged for willful murder.

The Post Courier newspaper reports Micah Anaiwe, provincial police commander, as saying, the policeman is alleged to have gone into a cell and shot the underage suspect many times. The teenager was in police custody after he stabbed a supermarket manager during a robbery in the Oro province town.

According to reports, the the policeman was under the influence and had allegedly been drinking with owners of the supermarket before the shooting took place.

This is the second time a shooting by a police officer of a suspect in custody has happened in the province.
Just last month, a suspect arrested by two police officers was taken to a nearby stream and shot.

Superintendent Dominic Kakas says PNG’s Police Commissioner, Gary Baki, takes such matters very seriously and investigation will be underway.

“We’ve done our level best to try and win back public confidence. He’s taken on a number of initiatives to also improve policing and so on and this sort of like sets back a lot of positive developments that have taken place.”

Beginning of this year, there has been an investigation by the United Nation that there is a high incidence of police brutality and torture at PNG police cells, and the government was urged to address the issue and improve the situation.

For more information, please see:

Radio New Zealand – PNG Police Commissioner concerned at shooting in custody – 27 October 2010

Radio New Zealand – PNG policeman arrested following fatal shooting of jailed child – 27 October 2010

Radio Australia – PNG Policeman kills detainee in cell – 26 October 2010

Vietnamese Bloggers Held Indefinitely for Government Critiques

David L. Chaplin II
Impunity Watch, Asia

HANOI, Vietnam – In South Vietnam, the police arrested two bloggers in a new crackdown on public criticism against the state. The government’s politically motivated prosecutions of independent bloggers and critics of the government violates their rights guaranteed under international law and spotlights the country’s poor human rights record, Human Rights Watch said.

The current governing Communist Party is planning to hold its five-year congress in January, when party leaders will be selected in a secretive election process and will map the country’s course for the next five years. The “pre-Party Congress crackdown” have heightened their scrutiny and government critics are being targeted.

“The Vietnam government is shameless in constructing charges and rationales to keep peaceful critics like Dieu Cay behind bars,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. ”

It was the latest in a series of rights violations against politically-oriented bloggers, Human Rights watchdogs said.

“In a country where the state controls all traditional media outlets, independent bloggers have emerged as important sources of news, information, and social commentary,” Robertson said. “The government should embrace the key role that independent bloggers are playing in society instead of harassing and imprisoning them.”

“They’re just making it up as they go along,” he said.

“The Vietnam government is shameless in constructing charges and rationales to keep peaceful critics like Dieu Cay behind bars,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. ”

Authorities submitted an unofficial statement saying Dieu Cay, the name for a traditional pipe, was being investigated under Penal Code Article 88, which covers “propaganda against the state”.

Dieu Cay is the founder of an independent group called the Club of Free Journalists. The tax charges were widely viewed as a pretext to muzzle his criticism of the government and its policy toward China. On October 18th, police in Ho Chi Minh City also arrested Phan Thanh Hai, another member of the group. Two other members, Ta Phong Tan and Uyen Vu, both bloggers, were placed under intrusive police surveillance at their homes. Police also briefly detained a democracy activist, Do Nam Hai, on October 19 according to the New York based Human Rights watch dogs.

Vietnam bans opposition political parties and independent media require all associations, religious groups and trade unions to come under government control.

The 17th summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which begins on October 28th in Hanoi, provides an excellent opportunity for ASEAN heads of state and other governments to raise concerns about the persecution of government critics, Human Rights Watch said.

Dieu Cay, charged with tax evasion was sentenced to a 30 month jail sentence after inspiring people to protest at the Olympic torch ceremonies in Ho Chi Minh City shortly before Beijing Olympics. Cay criticized China’s policies in Tibet and Vietnam’s handling of the disputed Spratly islands in the South China Sea.

For more imformation, please see:

Human Rights Watch –Vietnam: Free Peaceful Bloggers and Government Critics – 22 October 2010

Qatar Tribune – Vietnam blogger’s jail-term ends, but yet to be freed – 26 October 2010 

GMA News – Vietnam arrests 2 bloggers over anti-govt remarks – 26 October 2010

Guyana Sugar Workers Strike For Higher Wages

By Patrick Vanderpool
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

Sugar Workers in Guyana (photo courtesy of csmenetwork.com)
Sugar Workers in Guyana (photo courtesy of csmenetwork.com)

 GEORGETOWN, Guyana – Thousands of workers in the sugar industry recently carried out a strike on the Guyana Sugar Corporation, the largest sugar producing company in the country.  The workers are protesting unfair wages and calling for a 15 percent pay increase.

With hopes of producing 264,000 tons of sugar by the end of the crop, the state run Guyana Sugar Corporation said that the one-day strike would not result in an actual loss of production but would reduce the number of available production days of dry-weather to plough the fields. 

Although the Guyana Sugar Corporation seems unwilling to accommodate the demands for the pay increase demanded by the workers, Paul Bhim, the Company’s Chief Executive Officer, stated that “[t]he crop is still in an early stage because we are so far behind and as we go towards completing the crop, we’ll have more of an idea of what we could actually offer the workers in terms of a wage increase.”

In a statement released to the public, the Guyana Agricultural and General workers Union said it will not apologize for calling for the strike even though the sugar company is underperforming.

It is traditional for the sugar corporation to indicate whether there will be pay raises every year during the month of October.  However, the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union claims that the strike is in response to the sugar company’s silence on the issue.

The Guyana Sugar Corporation claims that it has been holding talks with the union regarding the pay issue and the need for the workers to improve their attendance, which averages 57 percent attendance for working days.

Guyana is the Caribbean’s leading sugar producer and one of a handful of countries in the region that continues to export sugar to the United States and Europe.

In an interview with demerarawaves.com, Bihm indicated that the striking workers would lose one day’s pay for their actions.

For more information, please see:

Caricom News Network – Sugar Workers on Strike for Higher Wages – 19 October 2010

Caribbean News Now – Thousands of Sugar Workers Strike in Guyana – 19 October 2010

Bloomberg Businessweek – Guyana Sugar Workers Launch 1-day Strike – 18 October 2010

Nation News – Guyana Sugar Workers on Strike – 18 October 2010

Arranged Marriage Has 3 and 5-Year-Olds Engaged in Syria

By Eric C. Sigmund
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria – Two children in Syria, a boy of five-years-old and a girl of three, became engaged last week after being forced into the relationship through an arranged marriage. The children’s parents contend that both children consented to the engagement and that they love each other.  Although the parents of the children say that there will be no formalization of the marriage for at least a decade, the issue of arranged marriages has again received international attention. 

Khalid, 5, and Hala, 3 Engaged to be Married (Photo Courtesy of New York Daily News)
Khalid, 5, and Hala, 3 Engaged to be Married (Photo Courtesy of New York Daily News)

The boy’s father reported that he vowed to have his son, Khalid, engaged by the age of five and claims that his son fell in love with the girl, Hala, on a family trip.  He explained that after their encounter, both children suffered from “loneliness” when they were apart.  After returning home, Khalid refused to return to his day care center unless Hala attended with him reported the boy’s father.  Khalid’s parents note that their son’s new fiancé felt similar symptoms and that upon discussing the matter with Hala’s parents, agreed that the children should be engaged.

Arranged marriages are common in the region and often involve negotiations for the exchanged of goods or favors for a promise to marry.  Khalid’s father told Gulf News that he will “bear the education expenses of both the children till they graduate.”

Both families are facing growing criticism from within and outside of the country.  Articles in numerous Syrian newspapers and online discussion forums expressed their disapproval of the engagement.  “How can these idiotic and clearly blind parents not see that they are merely encouraging the destruction of their children’s childhoods?” comments one woman on an online forum.  But Forward Magazine, a Syrian magazine written in English, notes that Syrian marriages are traditionally arranged at an early age.  Typically, when a boy reaches puberty, his mother will search for a suitable female, usually younger than their son, to be his wife explains the magazine.  Despite the prevalence and custom of arranged marriages in Syria however, the ages of Khalid and Hala makes this case very unique. 

The United Nations has recommended that nations set a minimum age for marriage at 18 for both men and women, warning that child marriages often reinforce poverty and low education.  A number of international human rights agreements protect children from underage marriages however, enforcement of these agreements is often lax especially when a society’s customs and beliefs are implicated.

Khalid’s father notes that it is possible that the children may change their minds when they are older but failed to comment on whether the engagement could be broken off.  “We know that Khalid or Hala might change their mind in the future” states Khalid’s father “but what we do know at this stage is that they are very happy and talk to each other everyday.” Khalid is waiting until he is 15 to marry Hala.

For more information, please see:

CBS News – Syrian Boy, 5, Engaged to Girlfriend, 3 – 25 Oct. 2010

Huffington Post – Syrian Boy, 5, Proposes to 3-Year-Old Girlfriend – 25 Oct. 2010

New York Daily News – Boy, 5, Engaged to Girl, 3, in Arranged Marriage in Syria – 25 Oct. 2010

Gulf News – Five-Year-Old Khalid Pops the Question to Hala, Three – 21 Oct. 2010

Oil-rich Nigeria’s Lack of Sanitation Contributing to Cholera Outbreak

Child treated for cholera at a rural clinic in Nigeria- Photo Courtesy of AP
Child treated for cholera at a rural clinic in Nigeria- Photo Courtesy of AP

By Laura Hirahara
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa
LAGOS, Nigeria – In Nigeria, a country that earns billions as one of Africa’s biggest oil exporters, half the country, approximately seventy-five million, lack access to clean water and proper sanitation facilities or services.  In the country’s rural population, two-thirds of Nigerians do not have access to clean water.  When rains are heavy and flooding occurs, which happened this year, raw sewage drains down hill in the villages, contaminating ground well water sources.  Nigeria’s rural populations also suffer from poorly staffed hospitals and clinics.  All of these factors have contributed to a recent cholera outbreak that has spread to several Nigerian states and into bordering countries.

Since January of this year, 1,555 people have died in Nigeria from cholera out of over 38,000 reported cases.  Women and children account for about eighty percent of these deaths.  Paula Fedeski, spokeswoman for UNICEF in Nigeria, told Reuters, “The rains this year have been very severe . . . [The cholera outbreak]  is considerably worse this year.”  UNICEF believes the outbreak originated in Nigeria and then spread to its bordering nations of Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Benin, a country of particular concern since the floods earlier this year that have contributed to the deadliness of this outbreak covered about two-thirds of Benin.

Cholera is a water born disease marked by symptoms of abdominal pain, leg cramping, severe diarrhea and vomiting.  Death can occur within hours as the result of severe dehydration and shock if left untreated.  Outbreaks occur when a water source becomes contaminated, usually from the feces of an infected individual.  The floods this year in Nigeria and the surrounding region have only compounded the sanitation and drainage problems present throughout so much of the country.

Local officials have been working to remedy the situation.  Working in their communities, officials have chlorinated water supplies including rural wells and are providing education on the causes of cholera.  Many hope that this, coupled with the coming dry season, will lessen the severity of the outbreak soon.  For the time being, the outbreak is being labeled as the worst since the 1991 outbreak that killed over 7,500 people in Nigeria alone.

For more information, please see;

UK Guardian- Cholera Kills More Than 1,500 in Nigeria– 26 October, 2010

The Canadian Press- Cholera Deaths in Nigeria Rise to More Tan 1,500 as Disease Threatens Flooded Benin– 25 October, 2010

CNN- Cholera Kills 1,555 in Nigera, Says U.N.– 26 October, 2010

US: Khadr Sentencing Should Reflect Juvenile Status

Human Rights Watch

NEW YORK, New York, United States – The military commission sentencing jury at Guantanamo should fully take into account Omar Khadr’s status as a former child soldier captured when he was 15, Human Rights Watch said today. According to media reports, Khadr accepted a plea deal on October 25, 2010, to purported war crimes and other charges, making the US the first Western nation since World War II to convict someone for acts committed as a child in a war crimes tribunal.

“The US treatment of Omar Khadr has been at odds with international standards on juvenile justice and child soldiers from the very beginning,” said Jo Becker, children’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “As the military jurors consider sentencing this week, they need to take Khadr’s status as a child offender into account.”

Khadr, a Canadian citizen, has already spent more than eight years in US military custody. The terms of the plea deal have not yet been made public. Khadr was facing life in prison on the charges against him, which included murder and attempted murder in violation of the laws of war, conspiracy, providing material support for terrorism, and spying.

A sentencing hearing, which is scheduled to begin on October 26, 2010, will still take place, and a lesser sentence could be imposed. During the hearing, prosecutors plan to put forward 10 sentencing witnesses and the defense four. A military jury of seven will listen to sentencing evidence and then decide upon a sentence, which will be imposed if it less than that reached by the plea agreement.

“The US government’s failure to taken into account Khadr’s age should not persist at his sentencing,” Becker said. “The US Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized that adolescents lack the experience, perspective, and judgment of adults and should be treated differently.”

Khadr, now 24, was prosecuted for the killing of US Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer. Speer was killed on July 27, 2002, after US forces entered a compound in Afghanistan where Khadr and others were located and a firefight ensued. Prosecutors alleged that during the firefight, Khadr threw the grenade that killed Speer and wounded others. Khadr was also seriously wounded in the firefight with two bullet wounds in his chest.

After Khadr was captured, he was taken to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. While there he was forced into painful stress positions, threatened with rape, hooded, and confronted with barking dogs. The government’s own witnesses confirmed some of this treatment when they testified that Khadr was interrogated while strapped down on a stretcher just 12 hours after sustaining his life-threatening injuries. They also testified he was threatened with rape if he did not cooperate.

In October 2002, Khadr was transferred to Guantanamo where the abuse continued. He told his lawyers that he was shackled in painful positions, told he would be sent to Egypt, Syria, or Jordan for torture, and used as a “human mop” after he urinated on the floor during one interrogation session.

He was deprived of all access to legal counsel until November 2004, more than two years after he was first detained. At some point during his interrogations, Khadr confessed to throwing the grenade that killed Speer, although up until today he had recanted that confession on the basis that it was coerced.

While child offenders may be prosecuted for war crimes, the US has failed throughout Khadr’s detention to afford him the protections provided to children under international law. Under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (Optional Protocol), which the United States ratified in 2002, the US is obligated to recognize the special situation of children who have been recruited or used in armed conflict.

The Optional Protocol requires the rehabilitation of former child soldiers within a state party’s jurisdiction, mandating that states provide “all appropriate assistance for their physical and psychological recovery and their social reintegration.” Under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which the US is a signatory, governments should ensure that the imprisonment of a child offender “shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.”

“The recruitment and use of child soldiers is regarded as a serious human rights abuse and international standards for dealing with former child soldiers emphasize rehabilitation, not punitive approaches,” Becker said.

Andrea Prasow, senior counterterrorism counsel at Human Rights Watch, is currently in Guantanamo Bay and will be monitoring the sentencing proceedings.

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on Guantanamo, please visit:
http://www.hrw.org/en/category/topic/counterterrorism

For more information, please contact:
In Guantanamo Bay, Andrea Prasow (English): prasowa@hrw.org; follow tweets at http://twitter.com/andreaprasow
In New York, Jo Becker (English): +1-212-216-1236; or +1-914-263-9643(mobile); or beckerj@hrw.org
In New York, Joanne Mariner (English): +1-212-216-1218; or +1-917-647-4588 (mobile); or marinej@hrw.org
In New York, Laura Pitter (English): +1-212- 216-1897; or +1-917-450-4361 (mobile); or pitterl@hrw.org