Arrested Rwandan war crimes leader may face rape charges

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