By Erica Laster                                                                                                                                    Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, United States – Nearly 400,000 classified military documents have been leaked via the whistleblower website Wikileaks on Friday, the largest security breach in U.S. military history.  Despite the Geneva conventions protocols, the reports indicate that  unwarranted attacks on unarmed Iraqi civilians have taken place over the last several years and that Iraqi military and police forces abuse of power is the main contributor to the mass killing of civilians, torture and prison abuse. 

Wikileaks Show Massive Civilian Death and Murder By Iraqi Forces as U.S. Turns A Blind Eye
Wikileaks Show Massive Civilian Death and Murder By Iraqi Forces as U.S. Turns A Blind Eye

An additional protocol to the Geneva Conventions on the protection of victims of international armed conflicts states that a person who ‘clearly expresses an intention to surrender’ is ‘hors de combat’ and therefore ‘shall not be made the object of attack,” notes German paper Der Spiegel.

Many of the documents also implicate Iran, detailing their role in supporting the war by supplying Iraqi militia with deadly roadside bombs and other lethal weapons.  According to the Times, Iran voluntarily trained Iraqi militia as snipers and the use of explosives.  The Times further reported that the Quds Forces of Iran urged extremists to kill Iraqi officials.

The International community is considering the imposition of war crimes against the perpetrators with the surfacing of the reports.  Soldiers and marines who have testified over the past several years regarding atrocities and war crimes in Iraq have largely been ignored. By the media which refuses to tell their stories and politicians who use “troops” to gain support from voters and to cynically promote their ‘patriotism’ despite ignoring veterans upon their return.  Despite the fact that the public remains largely ignorant and misinformed, soldiers, civilians and those courageous enough to speak now have 400,000 leaked, classified military documents to support their stories.

Disturbing recounts from veterans, current serviceman and the leaked report confirm that Iraqi citizens have been killed at an alarming rate.  One event involved an older couple speeding past a poorly marked checkpoint.  One soldier notes that “the guys got spooked and decided it was a possible threat, so they shot up the car. And they literally sat in the car for the next three days while we drove by them day after day.”  The couple was eventually buried by the townspeople and troops admitted to journalist Chris Hedges and Laila Al-Arian that these were common events.   

In December of 2006 alone, over 3,800 civilians were reported killed by Iraqis and sometimes, by U.S. forces at various checkpoints, from helicopters and during operations in the country.  One instance in which a U.S. Apache helicopter sustained fire from Iraqi forces is most revealing.  Upon their surrender, the U.S. pilots made a phone call to an attorney who informed them that enemies could not surrender to air units and the pilots opened fire, killing the Iraqis despite their surrender.  

The Pentagon denied all charges of abuse.  “We vetted every single one of the documents, word by word, page by page,’ U.S. Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told CNN, indicating that if there were any indication of war crimes “we would have investigated it a long time ago.’

The reports go onto indicate that orders were given to U.S. soldiers prohibiting the investigations of the torture of Iraqis.   The publication of the reports is the largest security breach in U.S. military history and the Pentagon widely criticized their release.  The release comes at a time when the Iraqi government is at its most vulnerable.  Under a 2009 bilateral contract, the U.S. lost the right to detain Iraqis in 2009, leaving Iraqi forces in charge. 

Iraq Body Count, a group based in Britain tracking civilian deaths found 15,000 previously unreported deaths, raising the count to over 122,000 civilian deaths since the start of the war. 

Photo Courtesy of the Huffington Post – For More Information Please Visit:

Raw Story – Spiegel: WikiLeaks Logs May Reveal War Crimes – 22 October 2010

Huffington Post – Before Wikileaks, Iraq War Vets Revealed War Crimes – 22 October 2010

India Talkies – Compelling Evidence of War Crimes In Leaked Iraq Documents – 23 October 2010

PushPi Live News – Compelling Evidence of War Crimes In Iraq: Wikileaks  – 23 October 2010

Journalist’s Murder May Be Linked to Drugs-for-Votes Scheme

By Patrick Vanderpool
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – Francisco Gomes de Medeiros, a Brazilian crime journalist, was gunned down in front of his home in northeastern Brazil.  The murder occurred last Monday and the police have since apprehended a man they believe to be responsible for the shooting.  Officials report that Gomes died instantly from five gunshot wounds.

Gomes, who routinely received death threats as a result of his criminal reporting,  recently claimed that political candidates were trading drugs for votes in Rio Grande do Norte.  Gomes declined to give specific political candidates’ names, and said that the cocaine-for-votes scheme was the work of people running for seats in the state legislature.

Only days after the arrest, police arrested João Francisco dos Santos, claiming that Santos committed the murder.  According to the police officials, Santos held a grudge against Gomes because Santos felt that Gomes’ coverage of a robbery that Santos had committed in 2007 convinced the judge to sentence him to eighteen months in jail instead of the seven months that Santos expected.

Although Santos has admitted to the shooting, police are not ruling out that the murder is connected to Gomes’ reports about the political drug trading scandal.

Emanuel Soares Carneiro, president of the Brazilian Association of Radio and Television Stations said in a statement, “[Gomes] is one more victim of the violence committed against journalists that seek to tell the truth to society.”

Gomes’ murder is just one of many in an ongoing battle between the media and Brazilian criminals who wish to silence the truth.  One day before Gomes was killed, three men broke into the home of the owner of a small newspaper in Sao Paulo state and shot and killed him.  Police were unable to identify any suspects in the shooting.

According to media watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists, 20 Brazilian journalists, most of whom exposed cases of corruption, have been murdered between 1994 and 2009.  Sidney Silva, who worked with Gomes at Radio Caico, believes that the murder is directly linked to Gomes’ journalistic work.  Silva described Gomes as “an excellent person and professional who will be missed.”

For more information, please see:

Radio-Info.com – A Radio Crime Reporter is Gunned Down in Brazil – 22 October 2010

Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas – Journalist’s Confessed Killer Arrested in NE Brazil – 21 October 2010

Latin American Herald Tribune – Journalist Slain in Brazil – 20 October 2010

The Washington Post – Crime Reporter Murdered on Northeastern Brazil – 20 October 2010

Ethiopia Accused of Using International Aid to Silence Opposition

By Daniel M. Austin
Impunity Watch Reporter,  Africa


Ethiopian government official at a food distribution center in Jijiga, Ethiopia (Photo Courtesy of Barry Malone, Reuters).
A government official monitoring supplies at a food distribution center in Jijiga, Ethiopia. (Photo Courtesy of Barry Malone, Reuters).


NAROBI, Kenya – The Ethiopian government is denying claims it used international aid as a weapon against opposition groups. A recently published report from the Human Rights Watch (HRW) finds the Ethiopian government withheld international aid, including food and micro-loan payments, from political opponents. HRW believes international aid was withheld to suppress opposition groups ahead of the country’s May 2010 election.

During these elections, the government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, won all but one of the 536 seats in Ethiopia’s parliament. This result stands in sharp contrast to the last election cycle in 2005, when 170 seats of parliament were captured by opposition groups. After the May elections, opposition groups took to the streets to protest. The government moved to crush these protests, ultimately killing over 200 people in the process.

In response, Ethiopia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs insists the HRW report is inaccurate. To substantiate their claim, the government points to an investigation carried out in January 2010 by the Development Assistant Group that investigated similar claims of corruption. This investigation found the distribution process of international aid was adequate, and the appropriate safeguards were in place to allow for equitable allocation of aid. The Ministry believes these accusations are an attempt to blackmail the Ethiopian government as part of HRW’s personal vendetta against them.

Human Rights Watch claims this report was based on an extensive six month investigation, which included interviews with over 200 people in 53 villages across three regions of Ethiopia. The findings across the nations were consistent; people had been denied aid or loans because they either supported an opposition party or had views that opposed the sitting government. Consequently, food, housing, fertilizer, seeds, and micro loans were denied to opposition group supporters. Furthermore, some sources claim that disagreeing with the ruling government can also limit admission into the country’s university and even the type of employment opportunities available.

Since Ethiopia is a strategic western ally in the troubled Horn of Africa, it has been receiving generous amounts of international aid. Specifically, the amount of international aid the government receives has doubled between 2004 and 2008. In 2008, Ethiopia received over $3 billion dollars (U.S.) from the international community.

For more information, please see:

BBC Africa — Ethiopia used aid to bribe voters – Human Rights Watch – 19 October 2010.

Ezega — Ethiopia Rejects Human Rights Watch Allegations – 20 October 2010.

AFP — Ethiopia using aid to suppress dissent: rights group – 19 October 2010.

Macon — Rights group: Ethiopia denying opposition aid – 19 October 2010.

The Globe and Mail — Ethiopia using Canadian aid as a political weapon, rights group says – 19 October 2010.

European Court Condemns Russia For Gay Pride Bans

By Christina Berger
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

STRASBOURG, France — The European Court of Human Rights ruled on Thursday that Russia unlawfully banned gay pride marches and picketing in Moscow in 2006, 2007, and 2008. The Court held that Russia violated Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees a right to freedom of peaceable assembly, and Article 14, which prohibits discrimination in the enjoyment of the rights set forth in the Convention.

The case was brought before the court by Nikolay Alekseyev, a gay rights activist. He organized several marches in Moscow in 2006, 2007, and 2008 to bring attention to the discrimination faced by gays and lesbians. Many gay pride events were denied official permission to demonstrate. Events that were carried on anyways were usually immediately disbanded and demonstrators were sometimes beaten by police.

Yuri Luzhkov, the Moscow mayor during the time in question, was vocal about his disapproval of homosexuals. He had been on record as calling homosexuals “satanic” and his determination to prevent gay pride marches was recorded on numerous occasions. The court noted this in its opinion, recognizing that the marches and events were banned not for public safety reasons, but rather for government officials’ disapproval of homosexuality.

The Court reasoned in its judgment opinion in Alekseyev v. Russia, “The Court further reiterates that it would be incompatible with the underlying values of the Convention if the exercise of Convention rights by a minority group were made conditional on its being accepted by the majority. Were this so, a minority group’s rights to freedom of religion, expression and assembly would become merely theoretical rather than practical and effective as required by the Convention.”

The Court ordered the Russian government to pay Alekseyev just over $40,000 in damages and legal fees. The European Court of Human Rights was established by the European Convention on Human Rights, of which Russia is a party, so this decision is binding on Russia.

For more information, please see:

AP — Court condemns Moscow gay pride bans — 21 October 2010

NYT — European Court Fines Russia for Blocking Gay Protests — 21 October 2010

BBC — European court fines Russia for banning gay parades — 21 October 2010

EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS — Alekseyev V. Russia, Judgment — 21 October 2010


By Erica Laster
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

MEXICO CITY, Mexico – Amid criticism from human rights groups and pressure from the International Community, Mexican President Felipe Calderon recently sent a proposal to the country’s Senate requesting a change in jurisdiction of civilian courts which would require that military troops be subject to prosecution in civilian courts for cases involving rape, torture and forced disappearances.

President Calderon seeks to satisfy Inter-American Court demands with his recent proposal to the countrys Senate. Photo courtesy of CNN.
President Calderon seeks to satisfy Inter-American Court demands with his recent proposal to the country's Senate. Photo courtesy of CNN.

Rights groups argue that the proposal is not sufficient to combat human rights abuses prevalent in the country.  The proposal seeks to not only address abuses, but the lack of transparency in military tribunal proceedings.

An April 2009 report by the Human Rights Watch organization entitled “Uniform Impunity: Mexico’s Misuse of Military Justice to Prosecute Abuses in Counternarcotics and Public Security Operations,” claimed that “Not one of the military investigations into these crimes has led to a conviction for even a single soldier on human rights violations,” further noting that “the only civilian investigation into any of these cases led to the conviction of four soldiers.”

Calderon’s proposed measure would make military officials liable for convictions resulting from prosecutions of alleged rape, torture and forced disappearances in civilian court. With at least 45,000 troops deployed to combat drug trafficking and the growing violence, International Human Rights Groups have expressed concern over Mexico’s failure to prosecute abuses and rights violations alleged by families of innocent bystanders killed during shootouts in the drug war.

In December of 2009, Amnesty International outlined military abuse cases, citing one case in which military officials detained 25 Tijuana police officers suspected of corruption.  The military troops allegedly placed the officer’s feet in water, applying shocks of electricity to their bodies and genitals.

Other civilians such as those in Ciudad Juarez have also complained that they have been the victims of warrantless searches in which troops dispatched to combat the drug trade steal goods and commit extrajudicial killings. Others indicate that the presence of military troops is comforting given the lack of public confidence in police as corruption is found throughout their forces.  Over 29,000 people have lost their lives in drug-related violence since President Calderon took office in December of 2006.

For More Information Please Visit:

LA Times – Mexico Seeks to Require Civilian Trials for Troops 19 October 2010

CNN – Mexican President wants Civilian Trials for Some Military Cases – 19 October 2010

CBS News – Rights Groups Rap Mexico Plan on Military Trials – 20 October 2010

Asylum Seeker Dies During Deportation

By Ricardo Zamora

Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

LONDON, England – Three men have been arrested in connection with the death of an Angolan national during a deportation.  Jimmy Mubenga, 46, died last week shortly after boarding a flight to his home country.  He was flying back subject to deportation orders after his application for asylum in the United Kingdom was denied.

Last Tuesday, Jimmy Mubenga, escorted by three G4S security guards, was put on British Airways flight 77 from Heathrow to Luanda, Angola.  G4S is an international organization specializing in sensitive security operations.  The U.K. contracts G4S to escort deportees to the Home Office.

Shortly after boarding his British Airways flight, a verbal outbreak prompted the guards to forcefully detain Mubenga in his seat. Several witnesses to the detention said that the three security guards who detained Mubenga complained about Mubenga’s breathing throughout the ordeal.

The Guardian reports that witnesses recalled Mubenga being handcuffed and sat between two guards at the rear of the aircraft.  At some point Mubenga began shouting and resisting his deportation and the guards restrained him in his seek despite his shouting “I can’t breathe” until losing consciousness.

Mubenga’s family has called witnesses to come forward with any other information which may assist in the investigation.

“If, as eye-witness report suggest, Mr. Mubenga was complaining of breathing difficulties, questions must be asked as to why help was not called for sooner,” Keith Vaz, chair of the Commons home affairs select committee, said.  “When removing people from the UK, human rights must be fully respected at all times,” he added.

Protests Erupt After Activist’s Murder

By R. Renee Yaworsky
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

Thousands protested in the streets.  (Photo courtesy of Buenos Aires Herald)
Thousands protested in the streets. (Photo courtesy of Buenos Aires Herald)

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina—Protests erupted nationwide in Argentina after the killing of a young activist.  Mariano Ferreyra, 23, was shot Wednesday while demonstrating with railway workers who demanded better pay and benefits.  At least two others were injured by gunfire, including a 57-year-old woman who is now suffering from a serious head wound.  The gunman is still unidentified.

President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has denied any government involvement in Ferreyra’s murder.  “Violence must be condemned by everybody,” she said at a rally at the Government House.  “We are all responsible.  I don’t want to live in an Argentina where people leave their houses armed with sticks and weapons.  I’m going to defend every demonstration, but not with sticks or guns.”

The President went on to criticize people who “believe that by repressing they show authority,” saying at another rally:  “Some were looking for a new death in Argentina; as they couldn’t achieve it in democracy, these kinds of violent groups appear.”

Opposition groups have denounced the government, accusing it of covering up the “union bureaucracy” they see as being responsible for Ferreyra’s death.

“Murder cannot be the response to a demand from workers,” Hugo Yasky, a union leader, said Thursday.

Although some members of the police force were present at the railway demonstration where Ferreyra died, no officers are currently under investigation.

On Thursday, widespread protests swept across the country as a backlash to Ferreyra’s death.  Protesters blocked roads and interrupted public transportation after a labor federation called a general strike.

Two airline companies in Argentina—LAN and Aerolineas Argentinas– are also protesting Ferreyra’s death.  Unionists from both airlines said they will stop operations from 12:00-2:00pm (for LAN) and 2:00-3:00pm (for Aerolineas Argentinas).  The protests are expected to increase flight delays.

For more information, please see:

Buenos Aires Herald-‘I don’t want to live in an Argentina where people leave their houses with sticks and guns,’ CFK-21October 2010

Latin American Herald Tribune-Union Member’s Killing Spurs General Strike in Argentina-21 October 2010

Momento24-Airline companies protesting because of the death of Mariano Ferreyra-21 October 2010

Monsters and Critics-Protests in Argentina after activist was killed-21 October 2010

1.3 Million Votes Corrupted in Afghan Elections

David L. Chaplin II
Impunity Watch, Asia

In what was a pivotal test for Afghanistan’s inexperienced democracy spell business as usual. Recent evidence of fraud has presented the questionably elected President Karzai with a stained reputation.

Turnout was 40% amid widespread fraud and voter intimidation
Turnout was 40% amid widespread fraud and voter intimidation

After the devastating announcement on Monday that the Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission released of ballot-box stuffing and bribery have tainted the vote.

Meanwhile, the UN-backed Afghan Electoral Complaints Commission is investigating more than 4,000 formal complaints.

Since then 1.3 million votes of the total of 5.6 million ballots have been cancelled out because of fraud.  That means about 23 percent of the total votes were tossed out, the election commission said Wednesday.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai pledged to cut corruption and increase transparency after he was re-elected in August 2009 election that was later deemed fraudulent by the United Nations and other vote-monitoring organizations.

More than 220 candidates are being investigated for fraud in the election, turnout for which was around 40%.

More than 2,500 candidates stood for 249 seats in the lower house of parliament, the Wolesi Jirga. Sixty-eight seats have been set aside for women.

The current parliament is stacked with former warlords and power brokers, and many of the candidates in September’s election have ties to Afghanistan’s old elite.

Final results are not expected before the end of the month once poll investigators finish their work.

“Turnout is around 5,600,000, the valid vote is 4,265,347, and the invalid vote is around 1, 300, 000,” Fazil Ahmad Manawi, head of the Independent Election Commission (IEC), said on Wednesday.

Deputy chief of election commission, Zekria Barikzai, cautioned that the number of votes thrown out was similar to the votes thrown out in the presidential election which cast Karzai the victor.  “In parliamentary election some of the powerful local people tried to influence the process,” Barikzai said.

Paul Wood, BBC News, said despite the throwing out of 1.3 million votes, there will probably be no rush by the international community to condemn the election.

Ultimately, the poll’s measure of success will be how it affects the stability of the country. There was widespread intimidation during the vote, with Taliban insurgents threatening people not to take part.

Many observers had hoped that the parliamentary elections would show the Afghan government’s commitment to reforming its corrupt bureaucracy.

“These elections will do little to alter Afghanistan’s system of patronage politics, and will certainly not alter the balance of power,” a Western official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said.

The official said the parliamentary poll represented “politics as usual, just as corrupt and just as violent as last year”.

It is an outcome that NATO and the international community can live with and so these elections will no doubt be judged a success, said Wood.

Afghanistan lacks political parties and parliamentary blocs form according to ethnic or geographical alliances.

Despite weak parties, powerful patronage networks, and entrenched corruption, the Wolesi Jirga (lower house of parliament) acts as a check on the power of President Hamid Karzai.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera English –Afghan officials cancel 1.3m votes – 20 October 2010

BBC – Afghanistan rules 1.3m paralimentary votes are invalid – 20 October 2010

CNN World – More than 20 percent of vote thrown out in Afghan election – 20 October 2010

Media Freedom Suffers in Tajikistan

By Eric C. Sigmund
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan – The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Europe’s primary human rights body criticized the government of Tajikistan on Monday for its mistreatment of independent media in the country.  OSCE representatives announced that the government has failed to comply with its media freedom commitments by “blocking websites, preventing newspapers from printing and launching tax or prosecutorial inspections” against media providers. 

In a statement to the Tajik government, the OSCE urged the government to re-open foreign and internet media sources.  At least three major regional news websites have been shut down since September 29th.  Internet providers were ordered to block certain websites after the Tajik government issued a directive demanding that restrictions be imposed on those media providers which the government deemed to contribute to unrest in the country.  The Tajik government is currently conducting an intense counter-terrorism offensive against Islamic militants in the country.  One internet provided commented “[w]e are trying to objectively report on the unrest in the east but clearly some officials do not like this. “

The OSCE further noted that government pressure has also resulted in the censor of printing houses, several of which have been forced to stop printing independent newspapers.  Although these organizations report that technical failures are to blame for their decision to stop printing certain papers, the OSCE remains unconvinced and believes that the government used threats of tax inspections to coerce printing houses into submission. 

Representatives from the OSCE stressed the importance of free and open media and encouraged the government to “reverse the ongoing deterioration of the media freedom situation in Tajikistan.”  Tajik authorities however, have denied any wrongdoing and argued that national legislation does not prevent the regulation of internet media.  “As for newspaper” stated a government representative “no newspapers were shut down, while the suspension of some of them is due to purely technical problems.”  Despite international pressure, the government remains unpersuaded by the OSCE’s concerns and may take additional steps to censure and regulate media as it continues its fight against militant forces in Tajikistan.    

For more information, please see:

Moscow Times – Tajiks Urged to Stop Attacks on Free Media – 20 Oct. 2010

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty – OSCE Warns Media Pluralism in Tajikistan in Danger – 18 Oct. 2010

Reuters Africa – OSCE Urges Tajikistan to Stop Attacks on Free Media – 18 Oct. 2010

Agence France Presse – Tajikistan Blocks Internet sites Amid Unrest – 11 Oct. 2010

Tibetan students protest Language policy by government

Tibetan students marched against government policy to use Chinese language in class (Photo courtesy of Free Tibet)

By Joseph Juhn
Impunity Watch Report, Asia

BEIJING, China – More than 1,000 Tibetan students marched to protest against unconfirmed government policies to mandate the exclusive use of Chinese language in classes.

The peaceful rally took place in and around Tongren, known as Rebkong in Tibetan, where it has recently witnessed widespread anti-government rioting in the spring of 2008. At the time, scores were arrested and a crackdown waged against Buddhist monasteries, capturing the world’s attention before the Summer Olympics in Beijing that year.

Some monks were to be seen amongst protestors on Tuesday, who, alongside students, shouted “equality of ethnic groups” and “freedom of language,” according to the International Campaign for Tibet. Free Tibet, the London based campaign group, and U.S.-funded broadcaster Radio Free Asia estimated the total number of participants at anywhere from 1,000 to 7,000.

Students from half a dozen schools gathered and marched together, chanting slogans against unconfirmed plans to supplant the use of Tibetans.

One of the teachers who also participated in the march said police did not intervene and students were not penalized by school administrators for partaking in the march.

“The students marched peacefully. Their only demand was for continued use of their mother tongue,” he said.

Although ethnic “Han” Chinese consists of more than 95 percent of Chinese population, there are currently 55 ethnic minority groups officially recognized by the government. Tibetans are one of them. Language, among other things, has been an emotional and complicated issue in Tibetan and other ethnic minority areas under Chinese rule.

While the government defends these policies by saying they aim to spur economic growth in the largely poor areas and better integration, many Tibetans fear the development of their areas and the migration of majority Han Chinese to them could destroy their traditional culture and ethnic identity.

The town’s schools use Mandarin and Tibetan alongside each other, and many teachers said there has not been official orders to switch entirely to Chinese. However, they said there are rumors and unconfirmed reports of a planned change in policy, which authorities never clarified.

“The Chinese are enforcing reforms which remind me of the Cultural Revolution,” another teacher said.

“This reform is not only a threat to our mother tongue, but is in direct violation of the Chinese constitution, which is meant to protect our rights.”

For more information, please see:

The New York Times – China: Tibetan Students March To Protest Education Policies – 21 October 2010

BBC News – Tibetan students in China protest over language policy – 20 October 2010

Kansas City – Tibetan students protest use of Chinese in classes – 20 October 2010

Arrested Rwandan war crimes leader may face rape charges

By Polly Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

Callixte Mbarushimana was arrested last week in Paris and may face rape charges in addition to the charges for war crimes and crimes against humanity. (Photo Courtesy of Human Rights Watch).
Callixte Mbarushimana was arrested last week in Paris and may face rape charges in addition to the charges for war crimes and crimes against humanity. (Photo Courtesy of Human Rights Watch).

PARIS, France – Bringing sixteen years of impunity to an end, Rwandan war criminal Callixte Mbarushimana was arrested last week in Paris and has been charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity. Alleged to have directed more than ten thousand rapes in Kivu in 2009, the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutors are seeking to add rape to the list of charges.

His arrest came after the ICC issued a sealed arrest warrant in late September and with the help of French authorities. He faces five counts of crimes against humanity (murder, torture, rape, inhumane acts and persecution) and six counts of war crimes (attacks against the civilian population, destruction of property, murder, torture, rape and inhumane treatment).

Mbarushimana, 47, was a key player in the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and had been living in Paris as the leader-in-exile of the Rwandan Hutu rebel group.

His arrest followed the arrests of FDLR president Ignace Murwanashyaka and his deputy Straton Musoni late last year in Germany. Both are detained and awaiting trial.

The FDLR was established by former guerrillas accused of genocide in the 1994 ethnic slaughter in Rwanda. The group moved to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and initiated attacks on Rwanda aimed at ousting the government.

Along with the Mai-Mai militia, the FDLR was responsible for the wave of mass rapes that took place in the Walikale region of DRC in late July and early August. A prominent leader of the Mai-Mai militia group was arrested earlier this month for his role in those rapes.

“The arrest of Callixte Mbarushimana sends a strong signal to abusive commanders in Congo and elsewhere that the ICC is at work investigating their crimes and that they will not go unpunished,” said Anneke Van Woudenberg, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, in an e-mail to Bloomberg News.

In August, Mbarushimana issued a statement from Paris, where he has been living openly despite being on a United Nations sanctions list, denying that the FDLR was involved in the commission of the wave of mass rapes.

ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said that one of Mbarushimana’s roles was to “cover up the crimes.”

No date has been set for Mbarushimana to be transferred to The Hague. But his arrest is a significant step.

Moreno-Ocampo called the arrest “a crucial step in efforts to prosecute the massive sexual crimes” that have taken place in the DRC, where more than fifteen thousand cases of sexual violence were reported in 2009 alone.

For more information, please see:

Radio Netherlands – End of the FDLR in Europe? – 20 October 2010

AFP – Rwandan war crimes suspect may face Congo rape counts – 19 October 2010

Independent – Rwandan rebel leader Callixte Mbarushimana is charged – 12 October 2010

World Affairs Blog Network – A Win Against Impunity: Callixte Mbarushimana Arrested in Paris – 12 October 2010

Bloomberg – Congo War Crime Suspect Callixte Mbarushimana Arrested in Paris, ICC Says – 11 October 2010

Kurdish Defendants Denied Rights at Trial

By Eric C. Sigmund
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

ANKARA, Turkey – Kurdish-Turkish relations have grown tense since Monday’s court decision to prohibit Kurdish suspects the ability to respond to prosecutor’s questions in their native language during trial. The ruling comes after a plea by 150 Kurdish detainees currently standing trial for their alleged links to a guerilla terrorist organization within Turkey, to defend themselves in Kurdish.  The suspects asked the court to allow them to respond to questions in Kurdish as an expression of their identity.  The court refused their request fearing such an allowance would grant rights not afforded Kurds in Turkey.

Hundreds of protestors come out to support Kurdish suspects (Photo courtesy of BBC News)
Hundreds of protestors come out to support Kurdish suspects (Photo courtesy of BBC News)

This decision highlights the social and political tensions underlying the Kurdish-Turkish relationship in the country.  Since 1984, Kurdish guerilla groups have killed tens of thousands of Turkish citizens as they seek autonomy from Turkey.  The Turkish government has been relatively successful in suppressing the guerilla fighters, strengthening its resolve to punish rebel fighters and supporters, as well as, the government’s methods of subordinating and managing the Kurdish population.

Responding to criticism stemming from Monday’s court decision, the government claimed that it has been working with the Kurdish minority to grant them more cultural rights, such as the ability to broadcast Kurdish television programs.  The government however, has been hesitant to engage in meaningful dialogue with the Kurdish population over a wider range of social rights.  In particular, the government continues to reject demands by Kurds to include education in Kurdish in state schools.  The government has defended these moves by claiming that such an expansion of rights and liberties could divide the country along ethnic lines. 

Gultan Kisanak, deputy head of the Peace and Democracy Party noted the importance of this trial, stating“[t]his trial will tell us a lot about whether this country wants to improve its democracy and whether it has any intention to solve the Kurdish problem through peaceful means.”   A senior Kurdish rebel commander threatened to end the most recent cease-fire agreement with the government at the end of the month if the government does not take steps to bolster Kurdish rights.  The commander, Murat Karayilan, told a British newspaper that “[w]e will wait another 15 days.  If something positive develops, we will extend the unilateral case-fire.  If there are no concrete steps, we will evaluate developments and do what we have to do to defend ourselves.”

Although there have been a number of skirmishes between Kurdish and Turkish forces since the August cease-fire, there is a growing concern that a resumption of full armed conflict may be imminent.  Observers contend that the government is preparing an intensive campaign to eradicate Kurdish rebel forces throughout the country.  Mr. Karayilan acknowledges that such an initiative may be in the final planning stages but remains firm that “[i]f attacks are carried out, all the Kurdish people will be part of the defense strategy.”   15 days may now be the only thing that stands in the way of a brutal conflict in Turkey.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Turkish Court Rejects Kurdish Hearing Plea – 19 Oct. 2010

Canadian Press – Turkish Court Refuses to Allow Kurdish Suspects to Defend Themselves in Kurdish Language – 19 Oct. 2010

The Independent – Kurdish Rebels Tell Turkey: Keep Your Promises or Cease-fire is Over – 19 Oct. 2010

Reuters – Turk Court Rejects to Use Kurdish in Trial – 19 Oct. 2010

Crackdown Forces Some Chilean Miners Out Of Work

By Patrick Vanderpool
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America  

Rescuse workers gather outside of Chilean mine (Photo courtesy of Herald Sun)
Rescue workers gather outside of Chilean mine (Photo courtesy of Herald Sun)

TIERRA AMARILLA, Chile – With the world’s attention focused directly on the 33 rescued Chilean miners over the last couple of weeks, Chilean President Sebastian Piñera has vowed to strengthen health and safety standards for miners in the future. 

Although miraculous, the rescue, and scrutiny that came along with it, has proven devastating to many mine workers.  New, strengthened regulations will undoubtedly cause mines to shut down for periods of time, and for some, permanently, putting many Chileans out of work in one of the country’s largest industries.

Northern Chilean mines are home to a vast amount of valuable copper, spurring investment to uncover the untapped resources.  Mining accounts for 40 percent of the state’s revenue and employs 170,000 people, about 10,000 of them just in the smaller mines in northern Chile.

The government crackdown on mining has closed dozens of mines or restricted operations until tunnels can be made safe, escape shafts can be dug and ventilation can be improved.  Piñera said he would triple the budget of mine safety agency Sernageomin, whose top regulators he fired after the collapse in San Jose but which had only three inspectors to oversee hundreds of mines in northern Chile.

Fernando Rivadeneira, a 45-year veteran miner, whose father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were also miners, stated “[t]his is all paralyzed now,” pointing to the small mine he owns and where he works.

Like the rest of the general public, the miners recognize the need and importance of a safer work environment in the mines.  However, they face unemployment as the only alternative because up to this point, the government has not offered any aid to those who will be forced out of work.

An inspection in September determined that Rivadeneira needed to reinforce tunnels in the mine that he operates, which means lining them with wooden timbers and industrial netting to capture falling rocks.  Rivadeneira, who is being forced out of a job himself, has also lost several workers on his crew due to the closing.

Rivadeneira said, “They are right about it, [b]ut I cannot just go work at something else. I am 62 and no one is going to give me a job.”  Nobody will argue that improved safety is a negative thing for the mining industry.  However, there are unintended consequences that cannot be ignored.

Although Chile has some of the toughest regulations in the region leading to a drop in mining accidents and fatalities, 31 miners have died this year, and government regulators admit that only a fraction of mining operations are ever inspected.

For more information, please see:

Washington Post – Government crackdown after mine collapse leaves other Chilean miners feeling left out in the cold – 16 October 2010

Bloomberg – Pinera Vows to Improve Chile Mine Safety After Rescue – 14 October 2010

CBC News – Chilean mine safety under scrutiny – 14 October 2010

Macedonia Questioned For Possible Role In CIA Rendition Case

By Christina Berger
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

STRASBOURG, France – The European Court of Human Rights recently communicated a case to the Macedonian government, asking it to answer questions regarding the 2003 CIA rendition of Khaled el-Masri.  This is the first time the Court has asked a country to answer for its possible role in the CIA-led extraordinary rendition program.

In December 2003, el-Masri, a German citizen, was traveling by bus from his home in Germany to Macedonia.  His passport was confiscated at the border and he was detained, before being taken away by armed officers in plain clothes.  El-Masri was allegedly held in Macedonia for 23 days before being flown to a prison in Kabul, Afghanistan, where he claims he suffered abuse.  He was later flown to Albania and released on the side of the road.  Macedonia has denied any role in the abduction of el-Masri.

El-Masri’s case was brought before the European Court by the Open Society Justice Intiative, after el-Masri failed to have his case heard in US courts.

“With this case, the European court has gone beyond the US judiciary in responding to the torture and abuse associated with unlawful rendition,” said James Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative.  “Khaled el-Masri has endured a terrible ordeal, and he has a right to justice and public acknowledgement of his mistreatment.”  Goldston further noted the importance of the case making it to this step, as only ten percent of cases brought before the court make it that far.

The CIA has denied rendering el-Masri.  However, according to the Open Society Justice Initiative, el-Masri was flown from Macedonia to Afghanistan via Baghdad on an aircraft that has been identified in other rendition cases.

Germany and Spain are conducting their own investigations into el-Masri’s abduction, and the Polish, Lithuanian, and British governments are currently being investigated over their possible roles in the CIA extraordinary rendition program.

For more information, please see:

ACLU – European Court Will Review Macedonia’s Role In Extraordinary Rendition – 14 October 2010

GUARDIAN – Macedonia called to account over extraordinary rendition case – 14 October 2010

OPEN SOCIETY JUSTICE INITIATIVE – Top European Court Demands Answers on CIA Rendition – 14 October 2010

New Anti-Racism Law Sparks Controversy in Bolivia

By R. Renee Yaworsky
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

Newspapers Thursday were blank except for the message: There is no democracy without freedom of expression. (Photo courtesy of LA Times)
"There is no democracy without freedom of expression." (Photo courtesy of LA Times)

LA PAZ, Bolivia—Protests have continued against a controversial new law in Bolivia.  Members of the press and others fear that the “Law Against Racism and All Forms of Discrimination” will hamper their freedom of expression; supporters of the law herald it as a step toward equality.

The two disputed articles of the new legislation—Articles 16 and 23—make it illegal for journalists to publish or broadcast anything that could be construed as discriminatory.  The law also holds members of the press responsible for statements uttered by third parties.

Opponents of the law say they are concerned that the government will use the regulation’s language to eliminate voices of opposition.

During a protest in Santa Cruz last week, demonstrators wearing muzzles held signs reflecting sentiments such as, “democracy is dead,” “don’t muzzle our children’s future,” and “life is nothing if liberty is lost.”  A journalist tied a microphone to a noose and labeled it, “The PRESS-R.I.P.”  Many have dubbed the law “la ley mordaza,” which means “the muzzle law.”

The law’s proponents see things differently.  “The bill protects and guarantees equal treatment for all people,” Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera said.  “We have to combat a culture of racism. . . .  Do not forget that until four years ago the indigenous were discriminated against and abused, handicapped in their social and economic presence with racist epithets and attacks.”

An article by Workers World commended the law as a “triumph for the working class and oppressed,” and “for Bolivia’s majority Indigenous population and for the Afro-Bolivian community as well, both of which have suffered 500 years of oppression.”

There doesn’t seem to be an immediate end to the controversy.  Journalists are presently trying to collect a million signatures to overturn Article 16 and modify Article 23.

The Bolivian Bishops’ Conference released a statement which reaffirmed the “commitment to any initiative that leads to the removal of racism and discrimination,” but expressed worry over the “imminent risk associated with the recent approval and promulgation of that law, in regards to the exercise of the principles and fundamental rights of individuals and institutions.”

For more information, please see:

Committee to Protect Journalists-In Bolivia, anti-discrimination law raises concerns-18 October 2010

Workers World-New Bolivian law guarantees equality-15 October 2010

Andean Information Network-Conflict and Consensus:  The Anti-Racism and Discrimination Law in Bolivia; Part I:Content and Justification of the Legislation-15 October 2010

Fides-America/Bolivia:  Church promotes dialogue between journalists and government on anti-racism law-14 October 2010

CNN-Protests Continue in Bolivia Over Controversial Racism Law-14 October 2010