Former Drug Lord Faces Prison For Murder

By Patrick Vanderpool
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

Former drug lord Don Mario in police custody (Colombia Reports)
Former drug lord Don Mario in police custody (Colombia Reports)

BOGOTA, Colombia – Former drug lord, Daniel Rendon Herrera, or “Don Mario,” was convicted Monday and sentenced to 17 years in prison for the murder of an attorney. Don Mario was convicted for aggravated homicide, kidnapping and conspiracy.

According to a judge in the central Colombian city of Villavicencio, “Don Mario” ordered the kidnapping and murder of attorney Jose Absalom Achury Florez. This occurred while Mario was the paramilitary leader of the drug gang “Los Urabeños.”

The attorney was kidnapped by paramilitary officers from the town of Granada, Meta, in May of 2003. He was found dead 11 days later in his car 10 miles from where he was kidnapped.

Late last month, Colombian officers dismantled Mario’s drug operation, capturing seven of its members in two northwestern provinces. Alleged gang leader Luis Eduardo Vargas, alias “Pipon,” who is accused of committing hundreds of crimes in the region and of smuggling drugs to the United States via Central America is one of the members said to be detained.

Mario has been in custody since April, 2009 and the Colombian Supreme Court in March denied a request for his extradition from the United States, which accused him of providing material support to a terrorist organization and of conspiring to import, manufacture, possess and distribute cocaine in the United States. More than 3,000 homicides and other crimes, including forced displacement and disappearance, have been attributed to the Mario’s gang.

For more information, please see:

Colombia Reports – “Don Mario” Sentenced to 17 Years in Jail – 18 January 2011

Colombia Reports- Authorities Dismantle “Don Mario’s” Gang – 31 December 2010

Latin American Herald Tribune – Colombia Busts Gang Linked to Notorious Drug Lord – 31 December 2010

UK Court Finds Bread & Breakfast Owners Discriminated Against Gay Couple

By Ricardo Zamora
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

PENZANCE, England – A Bristol County Court has ruled against two bed and breakfast owners for refusing to allow a gay couple to share a bed, holding that such a refusal constituted discrimination.  The Court awarded the couple 1,800 pounds (about $2,900) each in damages, reported Britain’s Equality and Human Rights Commission, which supported the gay couple’s claims.

Peter and Hazel Bull, the couple who own and run the bed and breakfast in Cornwall, England, insisted that they had a long-standing policy refusing to allow all unmarried couples to share a room due to their strict Christian beliefs.

Mrs. Bull offered support for their 24-year-old policy by stating that even her brother and his female partner were not allowed to share a room in the bed and breakfast due to her strict religious beliefs.

The Christian Legal Centre, legal counsel to the Bulls, said that “the Bulls made it clear that they did not hold any hostility towards homosexuals and applied their policy of ‘only giving double rooms to married couples’ regardless of sexual orientation.

But Judge Andre Rutherford ruled against the Bulls, holding that they discriminated against Martyn Hall and Steve Preddy on the ground of sexual orientation and in violation of British equality law.

After the judgment, the Bulls stated they are considering an appeal.  “We are obviously disappointed with the result,” they said.  “Our double-bed policy was based on our sincere beliefs about marriage, not hostility to anybody,” they added.

Judge Rutherford also made a point to announce that he believed the Bulls.  “I am quite satisfied as to the genuineness of [their] beliefs and it is, I have no doubt, one which others also hold,” he said.  The Judge, however, refused to accept the defense because the Bulls’ views are not “those accepted as normal by society at large.”

Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, a British gay-rights group, supported the ruling.  “You can’t turn away people from a hotel because they’re black or Jewish and in 2011 you shouldn’t be able to demean them by turning them away because they’re gay either,” he said.

For more information please see:

CNN – Christian B&B Owners Discriminated Against Gays, UK Court Finds – January 18, 2011

THE FREETHINKER – Judge Rules Against Christian Fundie B&B Owners Who Turned Away a Gay Couple – January 18, 2011

SKY NEWS – Gay Couple Win B&B Discrimination Case – January 18, 2011

Survivors of Brazil’s Worst Natural Disaster Struggle Without Government Aid

By R. Renee Yaworsky
Impunity Watch Reporter, South Americ

Mudslides have ravaged Brazil, killing over 600. (Photo courtesy of ABC)
Mudslides have ravaged Brazil, killing over 600. (Photo courtesy of ABC)

TERESOPOLIS, Brazil—More than 600 people are thought to be dead after severe floods and dangerous mudslides that occurred on January 13 in Brazil. Today, numerous survivors are struggling to endure without much-needed help from their government. At least 14,000 people are believed to be homeless after what is already being called the country’s worst natural disaster.

Rain continues to fall on affected areas, making bad conditions even worse. According to the Associated Press, about 225 federal police officers are working to enforce order and fire departments have reported deploying 2,500 rescue workers. But the poor weather conditions have blocked roads and many areas are unreachable, leaving injured or isolated citizens without aid.

In some areas, the police officers do little more than stand and watch as survivors haul supplies to other neighborhoods in need. Sgt. Luciano Comin, dressed in a neat, clean uniform, said, “Our function here today is to avoid looting.”

Survivors like Wanderson Ferreira de Carvalho are trying everything in their power to stay alive and help others in need. He told the Associated Press that 23 of his family members had perished in the disasters, including his wife and 2-year-old son. Still in a state of shock, he worried about friends and neighbors who remain isolated because of flooded roads.

Carvalho, like other survivors, has been exhausting himself carrying supplies (food, water, blankets) long distances over flooded paths in hopes of saving other victims. “We have to help those who are alive,” he stressed. “There is no more help for those who are dead. I’ve cried a lot and sometimes my mind goes blank and I almost forget what happened. But we have to do what we must to help the living.”

Many residents have expressed doubt that the government will ever attempt to render any aid; they have depended instead on their own willpower and the kindess of friends and relatives. “It has been four days [since the disasters struck],” one survivor said. “The president has flown over, I saw on TV. Is it taking them this long to get organized?” Another citizen, who carried supplies for herself, her mother and infant daughter, accused, “Where is the government? What are they doing? This is shameful.”

President Dilma Rousseff has assigned $60 million in aid but only half of that amount will arrive in local accounts by Monday, six days after the disasters.

The mudslides struck a mountainous area 900 square miles in size, 40 miles north of Rio.

For more information, please see:

NY Times-Rain Hampers Search After Brazilian Mudslides-16 January 2011

AP-Brazil slide survivors left to fend on own-16 January 2011

Examiner-Stories of horror as flood survivors in Brazil without government aid-15 January, 2011

SADC Tribunal Orders Zimbabwe to Pay Torture Victims

By Laura Hirahara
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

SADC Tribunal in Windhoek, Namibia
SADC Tribunal in Windhoek, Namibia (Photo Courtesy of

WINDHOEK, Nimibia- The Southern African Development Community (SADC) Tribunal in Windhoek, Namibia has ruled against Zimbabwe and ordered them to pay compensation to torture victims who settled their cases against the country between 2003 and 2007.  The case was brought before the SADC in 2009 by 12 victims alleging Zimbabwe had refused to pay the judgments awarded them by Zimbabwe’s High Court, which total almost seventeen million US dollars.  The judgment, given by SADC Justice Arrirange Govindasamy Pillay, reads in part:

We hold, therefore…that the Respondent (government) is in breach of [. . .] the treaty in that it has acted in contravention of various fundamental human rights, namely the right to an effective remedy [and] the right to have access to an independent and impartial court or tribunal and the right to a fair hearing.

All the victims originally sued and were awarded damages after the High Court ruled that they had been victims of state sponsored violence and torture carried out by state agents.  The claims stem from election violence that occurred approximately eight years ago.  The injuries range from gun shot wounds to paralysis and beatings.  One victim, Kerina Gweshe, was awarded nearly one million US dollars after her and her husband were assaulted by soldiers in 2003.  In court documents from the original suit, Gweshe stated that soldiers broke into her home during the early morning hours, cut the telephone lines and beat Gweshe and others in her home.  During the course of the assault, Gweshe’s arm was broken when she raised it to defend against a soldier who was trying to hit her with a chair.  At one point, a soldier put the barrel of a gun in Gweshe’s mouth and demanded money.

The Zimbabwean government did not defend the case at the tribunal hearing, asserting that besides the tribunal being illegitimate, the State Liability Act protects the state and its assets from being attached to pay damages.  As part of his ruling, Justice Pillay stated that the “State Liability Act is a relic of the legal regime which was pre-constitutional and placed the state above the law.”  Even though Zimbabwe is a SADC treaty signatory, the current regime does not recognize its judicial power.  President Robert Mugabe and Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa have publicly called the rulings ‘null and void’ and Zimbabwe’s High Court has denied the authority of the Tribunal’s land reform rulings.  In a broadcast this week on SW Radio Africa, analyst Professor John Makumbe said the government’s actions are “a major threat to the cohesion of the region, because it makes the Tribunal superfluous. [. . .] I can’t see how any other member state will abide by the Tribunal if Zimbabwe disregards it and gets away with it.”

For more information, please see;

Zimbabwe Independent- Zim Should Compensate Violence Victims–Tribunal– 13 Jan., 2011

ZimOnline- Landmark SADC Torture Ruling– 15 Jan., 2011

The Zimbabwean- SADC Court Says Zim Government Undermining Rule of Law– 15 Jan., 2011

Law and Justice Zimbabwe- 06-HH-028 Kerina Gweshe vs Minister Of Defence– 15 Sept., 2006


By Erica Laster                                                                                                                                  Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, United States – The mass deportation of Haitians from a number of countries has caused various human rights groups to take action.  Six Miami and Washington based human rights groups filed a petition to halt Haitian deportation by the United States with the Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Given the cholera epidemic and the civil unrest, human rights groups are attempting to stem the flow of Haitians back to the quake ravaged country.

Police take fingerprints of Haitians facing deportation.  Photo courtesy of Public Radio International.
Police take fingerprints of Haitians facing deportation. Photo courtesy of Public Radio International.

Over 350 Haitians have been placed in detention centers in the United States since the Administration announced their decision to resume deporting detainees back to Haiti.  While the Obama administration indicated that deportation would extend to Haitians who have finished serving time for violent crimes, other Haitian families are terrified at the implications and repercussions.

On the condition of anonymity, one father spoke about his families struggle to which led them to the United States.  Speaking in Creole, Fritz explained that his family traveled to the U.S. after the January earthquake to survive.

“We should not be having to look at families and telling them we don’t know what’s going to happen, we don’t know if they are going to be sent back to Haiti, we don’t know if they are going to be given work permits so they can support their families,” says Cheryl Little, immigration advocate of the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center. 

Amnesty International also took action against the Dominican Republic, urging the country to cease the deportation of Haitians which they argue would lead to grave human rights violations.

In the past week,  950 Haitians have been deported out of the country.  Javier Zuñiga, Amnesty International’s Senior Advisor believes “Haiti is still recovering from a devastating natural disaster. Instead of forcing people back to a desperate situation, the Dominican Republic and other countries should be stepping up their efforts to help Haiti and its people.”

Those facing deportation will be subject to harsh conditions and will likely be placed in detention centers upon their arrival.  48  Haitians placed in such centers have died in their holding cells.  Over tens of thousands of immigrants living and working in the United States are Haitians who do not have legal permission to remain in the country. 

While Haitians may apply for Temporary Protective Status (TPS), many have stopped applying despite the January 18 deadline.  Over 1 million Haitians still remain homeless and without proper sanitation in Haiti.

The Department of Homeland Security has refused to comment on the situation.

For More Information Please Visit:

Caribbean News Now – Rights Groups Petition U.S. To Stop Haitian Deportations – 15 January 2011

Amnesty International – Dominican Republic Must Stop Forcible Deportation of Haitians – 7 January 2011

Public Radio International – U.S. Resumes Haitian Deportation – 14 January 2011

EU Official Warns Ukraine About Politically Motivated Arrests

By Christina Berger
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

KIEV, Ukraine – A senior European Union official, Stephen Fuele, warned Ukraine on Tuesday not to use criminal law as a tool of political oppression.  This warning appears to be directly related to the pending criminal charges against former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, and other opposition leaders.

“In the 21st century, democratic authority cannot be sustained without an independent judiciary and media.  It is a question of moral leadership,” Fuele, EU enlargement commissioner, said after meeting with various Ukrainian government officials. “I would therefore like to recall the need to ensure that criminal law is not used for political ends and that the principles of a fair, impartial, and independent legal process are fully respected.”

The EU and Ukraine are negotiating an association agreement, including a free-trade zone.  Fuele was in the Ukraine on a fact-finding visit, his fourth in the last ten months, and had lunch with Tymoshenko, one of the leaders of Ukraine’s opposition.

Tymoshenko, who lost an election last year to President Viktor Yanukovich, has been charged with abuse of power or office that entailed serious consequences. She is accused of misusing 380 million euros allocated to Ukraine under the Kyoto Protocol while she was in office from 2004-2009.

Tymoshenko has denied the charges against her.  She claims that they are part of a political witch-hunt aimed at opposition leaders, including former Ukrainian Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko, who was arrested Dec. 26, 2010, and former First Deputy Justice Minister Yevhen Korniychuk, who was detained on Dec. 22, 2010 and is still in jail today.

Tymoshenko stated “Look, two leaders of opposition parties in parliament were arrested ahead of the New Year.  Is it a coincidence?  Lutsenko and Korniychuk [were arrested], and I, representing the third political party, am under house arrest.  It’s not a coincidence – it’s fear and confusion by the authorities.”

U.S. officials have also recently warned the current Ukrainian government against politically motivated prosecutions.  “We have raised with the Ukrainian government our concern that while corruption should be pursued, prosecution should not be selective or politically motivated,” the US embassy in Kiev said in a statement.  “In that context, we also raised our concern that when, with few exceptions, the only senior officials being targeted are connected with the previous government, it gives the appearance of selective prosecution of political opponents.”

For more information, please see:

NEWSWEEK – ‘I’m Not Going to Leave My Country’ – 17 Jan. 2011

INTERFAX – Tymoshenko summoned to PGO at 1200 on Monday – 15 Jan. 2011

GLOBAL POST – Yulia Tymoshenko, under fire and fired up – 15 Jan. 2011

INTERFAX – Court leaves former first deputy justice minister Korniychuk in custody – 13 Jan. 2011

NEW YORK TIMES – Ukraine: Government Warned About Political Arrests – 11 Jan. 2011

DEUTSCHE PRESS-AGENTUR – EU official warns Ukraine on political repression, media crackdown – 11 Jan. 2011

UKRAINIAN NEWS – EU Hopes Ukraine Not To Apply Criminal Law For Political Purposes – 11 Jan. 2011

AFP – US alarmed by detention of Ukraine ex-officials: embassy – 30 Dec. 2010

BLOOMBERG – U.S. Concerned Over Ukraine’s Prosecution of Former Officials – 30 Dec. 2010

RFE/RL – Former Ukraine Interior Minister Rejects Charges Against Him – 27 Dec. 2010

As President Flees, Tunisia Descends Into Chaos

By Daniel M. Austin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

Protesters and Security Forces Battle in Tunisia. (Photo courtesy of Pa Photos).
Protesters and Security Forces Battle in Tunisia. (Photo courtesy of Pa Photos).

TUNIS, Tunisia– By Saturday morning, the ousted President of Tunisia,  Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali had safely landed in the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah. Even with the President’s departure, violent clashes between government security forces and protesters continue to take place in cities throughout Tunisia.

President Ben Ali had been the ruler of Tunisia for the past 23 years but ceded power after weeks of unrest culminating with an enormous rally in Tunis, the capital of Tunisia. The President was officially removed from power on January 14 and subsequently fled the country. News of President Ben Ali’s departure spread quickly and protesters flooded the streets to celebrate.

The power to run the government of Tunisia was transferred from Mr. Ben Ali to the Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi. However, Mr. Ghannouchi held the interim presidency for only a couple of days as mob rule set in. Responding to continuing violence, the Constitutional Council dumped Mr. Ghannouchi and installed the speaker of the lower house of parliament, Mr.  Foued Mebazaa as the interim President until elections can be held later this year. The Constitutional Council claims that elections for a new President will be held in six to seven months.

The political unrest that swept President Ben Ali out of power began several weeks ago. The unrest was punctuated by a university graduate, Mohamed Bouazizi, who set himself on fire in front of a government building on December 28, 2010. He was protesting working conditions and high unemployment in Tunisia. Since this incident there have been numerous demonstrations calling for the government to fix the high level of unemployment. The Tunisian government has met these acts of civil disobedience with a mix of political maneuvers, including the sacking of an interior minister along with tighter security measures. In at least one incident, security forces fired on protesters using live ammunition. Clashes between protesters and security forces have left dozens dead or injured.

In response to the worsening political situation, security forces have stepped up patrols and instituted a curfew throughout the country. The strong showing of force is an attempt to rein in the looting and violence that is occurring.   

For more information, please see:

 Al Jazeera — Tunisia situation volatile – 16 January 2011

 BBC Africa — Tunisia: Many dead in jail unrest after Ben Ali exit – 15 January 2011

CNN International – What’s going on in Tunisia? – 16 January 2011

Reuters — Tunisia tries to form coalition, shooting on streets – 15 January 2011

Venezuela Demands Removal Of Colombian Soap Opera With Dog Named “Little Hugo”

By Patrick Vanderpool
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuela’s government is urging a television station to stop airing a Colombian soap opera featuring a character named “Venezuela” who has a tiny dog named “Little Hugo.”  Venezuela’s National Telecommunications Commission issued a statement Thursday condemning “Chepe Fortuna,” a Colombian soap opera, for its alleged “degrading treatment of Venezuela.”

The Commission is urging the station to “immediately stop airing” the program.  According to the Commissions statement, “[the soap opera] intends to underestimate the intelligence of viewers by presenting two characters identified as sisters, Colombia and Venezuela, where the latter is repeatedly characterized as associated with criminal activities.”

Miguel Angel Baquero, the producer and script writer for the show, said that Venezuelan officials are taking things too seriously. “Here we are not underestimating anybody,” Baquero said. “This is humor. Making comedy is the most difficult thing to do, and to do it in a simple style that can successfully cross borders is even harder.”

The Commission presented clips of the soap opera which show the character named Venezuela calling out for her dog, Little Hugo, and claiming that “without Little Hugo, Venezuela will be free.” The Commission claims that such content “promoted political and racial intolerance, xenophobia and incitement of crime.”

This is not the first time that this particular television station has come under fire. In 2009, it was  ordered to stop showing episodes of the US cartoon Family Guy, over its apparent endorsement of the use of marijuana. In 2008, the channel was forced to broadcast public service films as a punishment after it broadcast episodes of The Simpsons,  a cartoon that the authorities consider inappropriate for children, during a morning time slot.

President Hugo Chavez maintains tight control over the media in Venezuela, causing many opposition groups to accuse him of trying prevent coverage of political discontent.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Venezuela Anger at “Mocking” Colombia Soap Opera – 15 January 2011

CNN – Venezuela Slams Soap Opera Featuring Dog Named “Little Hugo” – 15 January 2011

Colombia Reports – Venezuela Demands Soap Opera to be Taken off the Air because of “Little Hugo” – 15 January 2011

Wall Street Journal – Venezuela Urges Removal of Colombian TV Show for Insults – 14 January 2011

Rising Food Prices Spur Protests in Middle East & Africa

By Eric C. Sigmund
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

AMMAN, Jordan – In what was heralded as “a day of rage,” over 5000 Jordanians staged protests against the government for increases in food prices and unemployment.  While police were successful in containing the protests, the demonstrations highlight the rising levels of resentment against the government blamed for the country’s declining standards of living and economic stagnation.  The protests occurred in five cities and were the latest in a series of demonstrations within the region opposing rising food prices.  The protests remained peaceful and no arrests have been reported. 

Even before the protests broke out, the Jordanian government had dedicated over £141m to subsidize the cost of bread.  Some of this money has also been infused into the economy to spur job creation.   While the government’s efforts have proven helpful in cushioning the impact of the current economic situation, those who are worse off have felt little relief.  Poverty and unemployment continue to be difficult challenges for the leadership in Amman, and may be exacerbated by continued economic decline.  Current poverty levels continue to hover around 25 percent in the desert regions of the country and Amman, the country’s capital, continues to be the most expensive city in the Arab world. The country’s budget deficit reach a record high in 2009 standing at $2billion or 9 percent of Jordan’s GDP. 

The protests in Jordan were just one of many in recent weeks which sought to bring attention to the rising price of food in the Middle East and Africa.   Some protests in Tunisia and Algeria turned violent.  The protests in Jordan mark the growing dissatisfaction with the population of the government’s economic policy. The latest figures published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization reported a 25% increase in the price of many of the most fundamental foodstuffs since last year, including; bread, cereals, cooking oils, meat and dairy products.  One protest banner warned of the effects of a resentful and hungry population reading “Jordan is not one for the rich.  Bread is a red line.  Beware of our starvation and fury.”  While these protests were conducted in a peaceful manner, it may only be a matter of time before the government is faced with a more tumultuous scenario.

For more information, please see:

Guardian – Jordanians Protests against Soaring Food Prices – Jan. 15, 2011

Agence France Presse – Jordanians Protest Living Conditions, Blame Govt – Jan. 14, 2011

Reuters Africa – Hundreds Protest Over High Prices in south Jordan – Jan. 14, 2011

The Press Association – Jordanians Protest at Rising Prices – Jan. 14, 2011

Hungarian Media Law Threatens Freedom of Expression

By Ricardo Zamora
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

BRUSSELS, Belgium – A new Hungarian media law, which would apply to news organizations from other EU nations, is raising concerns among EU member states regarding limitations on the freedom of expression.  Human Rights Watch reports that EU member states are calling on the European Commission to urge Hungary to address these censorship concerns and implement the law consistently with relevant EU values and legislation

Human Rights Watch has reported that the new legislation, which came into effect on January 1, 2011 as Hungary took over the EU presidency, creates a new media authority with the right to impose fines on media outlets for “imbalanced news coverage,” material it considers insulting to “the majority.”  The law also allows the authority to compel journalists to reveal sources on issues related to national security.

According to Human Rights Watch, the law undermines media freedom, is incompatible with Hungary’s human rights obligations and is part of a troubling trend of removing checks and balances, including a November 2010 restriction on the power of the constitutional court to review budget laws.

“As holder of the EU presidency, Hungary should embody the EU’s principles and values,” said Lotte Leicht, EU director at Human Rights Watch.  “But when it comes to human rights, Hungary is moving in the wrong direction,” he added.

Neelie Kroes, Digital Agenda Commissioner and European Commission vice-president, has pledged to ensure that EU law is implemented fully and has assured that the European Commission would not make any compromises with Hungary.  Kroes also voiced her intent to involve Fundamental Rights Commissioner Viviane Reding in respect to Article 7 of the Lisbon treaty if Hungary fails to make the media legislation compatible with EU law.

Kroes also raised concerns over an unprecedented registration regime applying to bloggers and internet media.  Also of concern is that Hungary has opened a new blogging platform which has only been used by officials.

But Kroe remains optimistic.  “I am fully confident that Hungary, being a democratic country, will take all the necessary steps to ensure that the new Media Law is implemented in full respect of the European values on media freedom and relevant EU legislation,” she said.

Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orban, has agreed to amend the law if the European Commission demands changes.

For more information, please see:

EXPATICA – European Broadcasters Concern Over Hungary Media Law – January 14, 2011

EUBUSINESS – EU Sees ‘Problem’ With Hungary Media Law – January 11, 2011

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH– Hungary – Media Law Endangers Press Freedom – January 7, 2011

Al-Qaida Claims Responsibility for Kidnapping in Niger

By Daniel M. Austin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

Restaurant where Frenchmen were kidnapped in Niamey, Niger. (Photo courtesy of Guardian).
Restaurant where Frenchmen were kidnapped in Niamey, Niger. (Photo courtesy of Guardian).

NIAMEY, Niger -On Thursday, a spokesman for al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, claimed responsibility for the abduction of two French nationals from a restaurant in Niamey, Niger’s capital.  The abduction, which occurred on January 7, ended when French Special Forces and Niger security personnel assaulted a convoy of vehicles containing the hostages. The hostages, along with several others were killed in the struggle. French government officials have not determined if the hostages were killed by the kidnappers before the firefight began or during the skirmish itself.

The two Frenchmen, Antoine de Leocour and Vincent Delory were forcibly removed from the eatery after two white pick-up trucks pulled up and the kidnappers stormed the restaurant. The two vehicles then left the Niger capital and began heading north towards the Mali-Niger border. It is believed that the convoy was headed to a region in southern Mali where AQIM has several hidden base camps. As the vehicles were reaching the border Niger security forces caught up to the kidnappers. The initial assault was conducted by Niger security forces and then French Special Forces arrived by helicopter and began shelling the vehicles from the air. According to the French government, the convoy’s movement was being monitored by French spy planes and Niger military personnel as it traveled towards the Mali border.

The firefight left both hostages dead along with four kidnappers and two men dressed in Niger military uniforms. It remains unclear if the two men wearing the military uniforms were killed in a friendly fire incident or were working with AQIM to help the kidnappers escape. Among the hostages, one was shot in the face at close range while the other died from burns, possibly when a gasoline storage tank exploded after being hit by a bullet from the French military.

Along with this incident, AQIM has claimed responsibility for kidnapping several other foreigners in the Sahel region. The Sahel region is an area that includes parts of Niger, Mali, Mauritania and Algeria. Authorities believe that AQIM has kidnapped and is holding five French citizens, a Togolese and a Madagascan in northern Mali. These individuals were kidnapped in September 2010 from Arlit, a uranium mining town in northern Niger.

For more information, please see:

AFP — One French Niger hostage burnt, other shot — 13 January 2011

AP — Report: al-Qaida claims Niger kidnapping — 13 January 2011

BBC Africa — Al-Qaeda claims responsibility for Niger kidnappings — 13 January 2011

The Telegraph — Al Qaeda claims kidnap of French hostages in Niger – 13 January 2011

Indonesian Soldiers charged over Papua torture tried

The video uploaded on Youtube last October where Indonesian solders tortured Papuan civilians. (Photo courtesy of the Jakarta Times)

By Joseph Juhn
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia, Oceania

JAYAPURA, Papua – Three Indonesian soldiers who were accused of torturing two Papuan men were brought before a military court in Papua province on Thursday.

In October 2010, these soldiers featured in a 10-minute video in which they poke a burning stick to the genitals of unarmed bound Papuans and threatened to kill another with a knife. The video was uploaded onto Youtube by human rights activists and it immediately created an international furor.

The incident occurred earlier last year near Gurage village in Papua where Indonesian troops often violently clashes with poorly armed separatist rebels from the indigenous Melanesian majority.

The charge against the soldiers has been subject to doubts, however, as military prosecutors have charged the men with insubordination, which carries a maximum penalty of 30 months in prison.

“Before they were sent to their post, their commander instructed them not to commit any acts of physical or emotional violence against civilians. But they were disobedient,” said the lead prosecutor, Maj. Soemantri. 

On the question of whether the soldiers should be charged with the more serious offense of assault under the civilian Criminal Code, Mr. Soemantri said he and other prosecutors had been unable to obtain the necessary physical evidence and statements from the victims.

“We need physical evidence like medical examinations and witness testimonies, that is what we failed to get,” he said. 

“We only have the video to rely on as evidence.” 

Human rights activists say, however, the video is clear evidence of human rights abuse and that the three soldiers should face Indonesia’s Human Rights Tribunal. In addition, members of the Papuan Customary Council were able to meet with Kiwo, one of the victims in the video who had gone into hiding, and recorded his testimony. 

In the testimony, Kiwo said he had been tortured for more than 48 hours, was repeatedly beaten, suffocated and burned with cigarettes. He said his toes were crushed with pliers and that soldiers rubbed chili paste, detergent and salt into his open wounds. 

Despite these ample evidence of inhumane torture, defendants claim that they believed the victims were members of the Free Papua Movement (OPM) because Kiwo was wearing a type of blue necklace commonly worn by OPM members.

Many are coming together to condemn this trial.

Haris Azhar, chairman of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), is one of them. 

“This trial is biased, unreliable and offers no protection for the victims,” he said. 

Mr. Azhar added that the National Commission on Human Rights should declare the incident a gross human rights violation, take over the investigation and push for the military chief to move the prosecution to the civilian courts.

Another joining this condemnation is Rafendi Djamin, Indonesia’s representative to the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, who claims the government needed to hand out harsher punishments to stop such violations in the future. 

The Military Tribunal Law is not enough of a deterrent and should be revised, he said. Most of the articles in the law treat infringements by soldiers as disciplinary violations, he added. 

The closed-door trial is scheduled to resume on Monday. 

For more information, please see:

ABC News – Torture accused soldiers front Papua tribunal – 5 November 2010

The Jakarta Times – Military Court Tries Soldiers Accused of Papua Torture – 14 January 2011

Radio New Zealand – Three Indonsians charged over Papua torture – 14 January 2011

Abuse against Migrant Workers Takes Center Stage in Saudi Arabia…Again

By Eric C. Sigmund
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – A Saudi court on Sunday issued a three year prison sentence to a female employer of an Indonesian maid.  Reports indicate that the ruling may be the first time in the country’s history that a punishment has been handed down to a Saudi citizen for abusing a migrant worker.  The employer was found guilty under a new law issued by the Kingdom to fight human trafficking.   Observers contend that Sunday’s ruling is a small step in the right direction for a country which continues to face international pressure to secure rights and protections for migrant workers. 

Indonesian Migrant Worker Beaten by Saudi Employer (Photo Courtesy of The Telegraph)
Indonesian Migrant Worker Beaten by Saudi Employer (Photo Courtesy of The Telegraph)

The maid, 23, suffered internal bleeding and broken bones after she was severely beaten and burned by her employer.   This latest case of abuse against migrant workers has sparked international condemnation for a problem which has been prevalent in the Middle East in recent months.  Migrant workers continue to be subjected to poor treatment, abuse, arrest and deportations throughout the region.  A comprehensive report published by Human Rights Watch last year found that migrant workers who suffer abuse at the hands of their employers are likely to suffer emotional trauma and substantial psychological effects.   The report indicates that such abuse may also contribute to forced labor and human trafficking. 

While the ruling appears to be a small win for rights activists, both sides are appealing the ruling.  Indonesian officials have declared the sentence to be unsatisfactory.  Didi Wahyudi, the head of citizen protection services at the Indonesian Consulate in Jeddah stated that “[t]he punishment is not strict enough, it’s a very light punishment.” Other’s however, appear to embrace the ruling with an optimistic view towards the future.  The Saudi daily newspaper, Arab News, reported that the case “may become something of a watershed.”  The government in Riyadh has kept its distance in the controversy, failing to comment about the court’s decision.  Although the Saudi government is unlikely to announce any significant change in its policies towards migrant workers in the near future, Sunday’s ruling may be a starting point to guaranteeing greater rights and legal protections for migrant workers in Saudi Arabia.

For more information, please see:

BNO News – Indonesia to Appeal Sentence in Saudi Arabia Tortured Migrant Worker Case – Jan. 13, 2011

Adnkronos International – Non-govt Groups Fundraise to Repatriate Migrants Stranded in Saudi Arabia – Jan. 12, 2011

CNN World – Woman Gets Three Years for Abusing Indonesian Maid – Jan. 12, 2011

People’s Daily Online – Indonesia Files Appeal on Tortured Migrant Worker Case in Saudi Arabia – Jan. 12, 2011

Environmental Suit Against Chevron Continues in Ecuador

By R. Renee Yaworsky
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

QUITO, Ecuador—Locked in a lawsuit over their allegedly environmentally unsound oil practices, Chevron Corp. has now turned up the heat against their legal opponents.  Chevron has subpoenaed and published numerous documents privately exchanged between members of the plaintiffs’ legal team.  The documents include emails and letters, and even a diary.  Also released are cut scenes from a documentary about the case.

Outtakes being used from the documentary “Crude” include a scene of plaintiffs’ attorney Steven Donziger saying that Ecuadoran judges respond better to fear than the law.  Donziger goes on to say that any judge ruling against the plaintiffs might not be killed by angry Ecuadorans, but “[the judge will think] he will be [killed] . . . which is just as good.”

Although Chevron thinks that their line of documents and film scenes add up to fraud and misconduct by the plaintiffs’ legal team, the team’s spokesperson explained:  “The comments were all born out of a frustration with Chevron’s efforts to undermine the trial in Ecuador.  The real fraud in this case is Chevron’s intentional contamination of the rain forest and its efforts, now on display in the United States, to cover it up.”

In 2003, a class action lawsuit was brought against Texaco, which was acquired by Chevron in 2001.  The lawsuit was brought in Ecuador by claimants alleging that the company contaminated the land where it was performing oil operations.  The claimants believed that the environmental pollution increased cancer rates and other medical issues in those who lived in the area.  After judicial inspections of the region, an independent expert in 2008 recommended that the court demand Chevron pay $27 billion as compensation for their activities.

The initial judge in the case recused himself after allegations were made about judicial misconduct; the current judge has intimated that a verdict may be expected sometime this year.

This present chapter in the lawsuit is preceded by a history dating back to a similar lawsuit filed against Texaco in 1993.  Texaco drilled for oil in an Ecuadoran rain forest from 1964 until 1992, unloading a petroleum and water mix into pits near the oil wells.

For more information, please see:

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre-Case profile: Texaco/Chevron lawsuits (re Ecuador)-12 January 2011

Westlaw News & Insight-Film outtakes steal stage in Chevron Ecuador case-11 January 2011

San Francisco Chronicle-Chevron tries to use foe’s words against them-29 December 2010

Update: Congolese Soldiers Charged and Arrested for New Year’s Day Mass Rape

By Laura Hirahara
Impunity Watch, Africa

Congolese Soldiers (Photo Courtesy of

KINSHASA, DR Congo- Government soldiers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) have been accused of the New Year’s Day mass rape in Fizi of over a dozen women.  The coordinated attack also left many more injured and included the looting and burning of several town homes and businesses.  A spokesperson for the military, Vianney Kazarama, has confirmed that eight soldiers have been arrested in connection with the attack.  Meanwhile, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has stated that thirty-six individuals were treated for rape at the Fizi hospital and the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) clinic in Fizi.  U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said that among the suspects in custody, all are government soldiers and at least one is a ranking officer.
Rape as a weapon of war has been prevalent in DR Congo and under-reporting makes it difficult to track.  Of the almost 16,000 cases of war rape reported in 2008, 65% of those were children, most of them girls.  Unmarried women who are raped face being ostracized in their communities and are seen as undesirable for marriage.  Married women who are raped are routinely abandoned or divorced by their husbands.
This attack highlights a pattern of rape and looting by soldiers in DR Congo.  Last month, a Congolese military commander was ‘blacklisted’ by a U.N. Security Council committee for orchestrating mass rapes in the eastern regions of the country.  Several months prior, during the summer, hundreds were raped by Rwandan Hutu rebel forces and the Congolese troops who were fighting them.  Nicholas Kristoff, New York Times Reporter on human rights violations in Africa and Asia, has said of the human rights violations occurring in DR Congo, “…no humanitarian crisis generates so little attention per million corpses, or such a pathetic international response.”

For more information, please see;

AFPDRCongo Troops Blamed For Rapes, Looting in Sud-Kivu12 Jan., 2011

Reuters Africa- Congo Soldiers Held Over Alleged Rapes, Looting- U.N.– 12 Jan., 2011 Rape.  Re-rape.  Gang Rape.  But, Really, Who Cares?– 12 Jan., 2011