Five Colombian Soldiers Charged With Murdering Civilians

By Patrick Vanderpool
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

Colombian Citizens Protest False Positive Killings (photo courtesy of http://ipsnews.net)
Colombian Citizens Protest False Positive Killings (photo courtesy of http://ipsnews.net)

BOGOTA, Colombia – Five soldiers, including an Army major and four former soldiers, were charged with murdering three farm laborers and presenting them as rebels killed in combat.  The murders, which occurred in 2002, are just a few of the approximately 2,000 that investigators have uncovered and pinned on Colombian Security Forces.

The murderous scandal, which is known as the “false positives” scandal, has been blamed on a system that offered soldiers and officers the hope of promotions and extra leave time for increasing body counts in the conflict with leftist guerrillas.

According to the Colombian Attorney General’s office, the current case occurred on Dec. 11, 2002, in a rural part of the municipality of Campamento, a northwestern province of Antioquia. On that day, troops under the command of then-Lt. Juan Carlos del Rio Crespo “removed from the cane field where they were going about their daily tasks laborers Alejandro Agudelo Agudelo, Angel Ramiro Agudelo and Gonzalo Agudelo Perez.”

The soldiers later reported that “the deaths of those people as casualties in combat with members of the 26th Front of the FARC,” according to the statement by the Attorney General’s office.  An investigation established that the laborers “were executed when they were totally defenseless” and that the troops planted guns next to their bodies to bolster their argument that the laborers were rebels.

Four of the charged men are currently being held in a military prison while authorities search for the fifth soldier. Since 2008, when the scandal first broke, 272 soldiers have been convicted and 58 have been absolved in similar cases.

For more information, please see:

Latin American Herald Tribune – Five Colombia Soldiers Charged with Murdering Civilians – 3 January 2011

Latin American News Dispatch – Colombian Major and Four Soldiers Accused in “False Positive” Murders – 3 January 2011

Miami Herald – Colombian Soldiers Accused of Killing 3 Civilians – 1 January 2011

Kenya Minister Kosgey Denies Graft Allegations and ICC Charges

By Laura Hirahara
Impunity Watch, Africa

Henry Kosgey Accused of Graft in Kenya (Photo Courtesy of Reuters)
Henry Kosgey Accused of Graft in Kenya (Photo Courtesy of Reuters)

NAIROBI, Kenya- Kenya’s Industrialization Minister Henry Kosgey, already under ICC indictment, stepped down from office today facing 12 counts of corruption and graft.  Most of these charges stem from the many vehicle exemptions he gave to individuals while in office.  Kenyan law dictates no vehicles over 8 years old are road-worthy and through these exemptions, many cars past the 8 year limit were given permits to operate.  Corruption and graft is a rampant problem in Kenya, a country ranked as the 20th most corrupt nation in the world by Transparency International.  Kosgey, who was arrested shortly after his resignation, has stated, “I wish to state that my actions in this matter are above reproach, because I have committed no wrongdoing,” adding that this was not a case of corruption “in the way that most people understand the term to mean.”

Despite his protestations of innocence, the Kenya Anti-Corruption Comission (KACC) is going forward with it’s prosecution of Kosgey.  In November, the KACC began questioning Kosgey in relation to his importation of older vehicles.  Kosgey’s arrest and subsequent bail come just one day after Kenya’s attorny general gave the KACC permission to prosecute Kosgey for abuses of office.  In an interview with CNN, Professor PLO Lumumba, head of the KACC, stated the importance of prosecuting corruption since it has become so ingrained in Kenyan society, affecting the basic survival of Kenyans and their access to services like medical care and education.  Said Kosgey,

[Y]ou cannot sustainably have a country where the policeman on the beat, the individual who visits the hospital, the young person who attends school, the business person who is seeking a permit, must pay certain undocumented monies as a condition to accessing those services.

Lumumba, in reference to Kosgey, went on in the interview to say that Kenya would not be extending special treatment to corrupt government officials at any level.

Kosgey is also facing charges from the ICC, along with 5 other Kenya cabinet members, related to the 2008 post election violence that left over 1,000 dead, three times as many injured and over 600,000 forcibly displaced.  He has vigourously denied the ICC charges as well but ICC Prosecutor Moreno Ocampo has named him as having the greatest share of responsibility.

For more information, please see;

Capital News- Kosgey Denies Graft Charges, Freed on Bail- 4 Jan., 2011

CNN- Crooked Top Officials Should Take Fall, Says Corruption Chief– 3 Jan., 2011

BBC- Kenyan Minister Facing Corruption Claims Resigns– 4 Jan., 2011

Russia Hands Down Two 14 Year Sentences Despite Due Process Violations

By Ricardo Zamora

Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

Former Yukos Oil company executives Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev have had their previous eight-year prison terms lengthened to fourteen year.  The new rulings, handed down by Moscow’s Khamovnichesky district court on December 30, 2010, indicate a politically motivated trial and showcase continuing corruption within the Russian judicial system, said Human Rights Watch.

Arrested in 2003 for tax evasion and fraud, both men were scheduled to be released in 2011 and were eligible for parole beginning in 2007. The new charges, including theft and embezzlement, were brought in February 2007 when both men approached parole eligibility on their original sentences.  The December 2010 ruling, however, moves back their release date until 2017.

“The sentence is a blow to the rule of law in Russia,” said Rachel Denber, acting Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.  “Everything about the charges and the trial indicates that the case against them is political.”

Amnesty International reports that several procedural violations were tolerated during the trials including defense lawyers being unable to cross-examine witnesses and defense witnesses prevented from taking the stand.  Additionally, authorities have pressured and harassed former colleagues to testify for the prosecution and the courts have failed to order the prosecution to disclose procedural irregularities which violated the defendants’ rights to prepare their cases.

Russia has a motive for retaliating against Khodorkovsky.  One of the young tycoons who amassed a fortune in the early 90s after the former Soviet Union’s collapse, he took a stand against Putin’s government, challenging state control over exports and funding opposition parties.  He became a thorn in Putin’s side and Putin, now only Russias prime minister, nevertheless remains Russia’s most powerful man.

“All evidence points to a pattern of political motives and interference having obstructed justice in this case,” said Nicoal Dockworth of Amnesty International.  “The Moscow City Court must overturn this unfair conviction to restore faith in the independence of Russia’s legal system,” she added.

Several human rights groups have urged Russian President Dmitri Medvedev to call on prosecutors to drop the charges, citing several flaws in the charges, concern over the court’s tolerance of serious procedural errors, and evidence suggesting the government intimidated, harassed, and beat several individuals connected to the case.  In response, Russia has accused those groups, the EU, and the US from trying to influence the outcome of the case and has warned the West to mind its own business.

Malaysia Sun – Irregularities and Obstruction of Justice Marred Khodorkovsky Trial Says Amnesty International – January 3, 2011

Human Rights Watch – Russia: Khodorkovsky Sentence Spotlights Unfair Trial – December 30, 2010

Reuters – Russia Accuses West of Meddling in Khodorkovsky Trial – December 28, 2010

UPDATE: Ivory Coast Post-Election Turmoil Continues

By Daniel M. Austin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

United Nations peacekeepers stationed outside the Gulf Hotel. (Photo Courtesy of All Voices).
UN peacekeepers outside the Gulf Hotel. (Photo Courtesy of All Voices).
ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast – The political crisis in Ivory Coast between Laurent Gbagbo, the former president, and Alassane Ouattara, the president-elect, continues as the international community becomes more actively involved. Representatives from the United Nations (UN), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union (AU), and several western nations have been participating either directly or indirectly since the disputed November 28 election. Western governments and international organizations have offered strong support for Mr. Ouattara while at the same time denouncing Mr. Gbagbo’s attempt to retain the presidency.

 

Since the election results have been released there have been threats of violence from both sides. Furthermore, both parties have stipulated deadlines for the other to give up power or to leave the country, yet, all of these deadlines have passed without any action.

In response to growing tension, a delegation representing the regional governments of western Africa called ECOWAS will meet with Mr. Gbagbo on Monday, January 3 to try and persuade him to step aside and allow Mr. Ouattara to assume the presidency.  The ECOWAS representatives include the presidents of Benin, Cape Verde, and Sierra Leone. Additionally, the Africa Union, an organization representing nearly every government on the African continent will also be taking part in the negotiations. The AU will be represented by Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

As this crisis continues to drag on, ECOWAS and other international organizations are growing more impatient with Mr. Gbagbo’s behavior and the threat to use military force has grown louder. Recently, the British government has pledged to support military operations if Mr. Gbagbo does not cede power peacefully.  Others including ECOWAS have also mentioned the use of military action against Mr. Gbagbo.  The former president has responded to these threats by demanding all foreign troops including the UN peacekeepers leave Ivory Coast.

Mr. Gbabgo still holds considerable power in Ivory Coast because he controls the nation’s security force. Alternatively, Mr. Ouattara’s control is limited to the Golf Hotel which is surrounded by 800 UN peacekeepers. Since the elections, threats have been made by Mr. Gbagbo’s government to storm the hotel. Although there have been several clashes between the peacekeepers and citizens loyal to the former president, an organized effort to storm the hotel has not materialized.

For more information, please see:

Democracy Dealt a Blow in Yemen as Constitutional Debate Begins

By Eric C. Sigmund
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

 SANA’A, Yemen – As debate over the latest amendments to Yemen’s constitution begin this week, the country’s parliament announced its support for amendments which would eliminate term limitations on the country’s presidency.  Although a formal vote on the amendment will not occur until later this year, the amendment represents a significant reversal of democratic freedom in Yemen.   Saturday’s symbolic preliminary vote was protested by some in the international community however, the amendment received support from 170 members of the President’s General People’s Congress (GPC) party. 

Yemeni President Saleh and Ruling Parliamentary Party Pushing to End Presidential Term Limits
Yemeni President Saleh and Ruling Parliamentary Party Pushing to End Presidential Term Limits - Photo Courtesy of Top News

Yemen’s current electoral rules limit the amount of time one may serve as President to two consecutive terms.   The proposed amendment would eliminate this restriction but would reduce the President’s term from seven years to five. Current President Ali Abdullah Saleh is currently serving his second term as the country’s President until its expiration in 2013.  Should the amendment pass, President Saleh may be able to rule for life. 

The amendments come at a time when the government is fighting a bloody campaign against al-Qaeda cells within the country.  Some leaders within the GPC have used the conflict to justify ending presidential term limits.  Sultan al-Barakani, head of the GPC stated that “stability of the country necessitates that he [President Saleh] should stay in power.”  President Salah, a long time  U.S. ally, has been given political and material support by the U.S. in its fight against al-Qaeda, but the proposed amendments threaten to cool relations between the two countries.    

Supporters of the constitutional amendments responded to calls by the United States and others to delay the vote, calling these demands foreign interference with Yemen’s sovereignty.   Proponents also highlight the progressive benefits of the reforms which would increase parliamentary seats for women.  Critics of the amendments however, fear that eliminating presidential term limits might increase tensions between the ruling party, minority parties and militant groups in the country.   Ali Acshal, a member of the Islamist Al-Islah (Reform) Party warned that the amendment “will result in a complete break between the north and south and will destroy any hope of partnership.” Ali Abed Rabbo al-Qadi, a prominent leader in parliament noted that “[i]f the ruling party goes ahead with these amendments…it will cause disorder in the country and open it up to foreign interference.”  Despite these warnings, officials of the President’s ruling GPC party expressed their commitment to pushing the constitutional reforms through parliament.  A finalized version of the proposed amendments will be ready within 60 days.

For more information, please see:

Global Arab Network – Yemen Rejects US Demand to Delay Constitutional Amendments – Jan. 2, 2011

Agence France Presse – Yemen Adopts Principle of Constitutional Amendment – Jan. 1, 2011

Bloomberg – Saleh Gains Preliminary Yemeni Approval to End Term Limits – Jan. 1, 2011

CNN World – Yemen Begins Debating Constitutional Reforms – Jan. 1, 2011

Notorious Drug Lord Drowns During Escape

By R. Renee Yaworsky
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

El Cuchillo was one of the most wanted drug lords in Colombia.  (Photo courtesy of BBC)
"El Cuchillo" was one of the most wanted drug lords in Colombia. (Photo courtesy of BBC)

BOGOTA, Colombia—On Wednesday, Colombian officials confirmed the death of an infamous drug lord who had a 2.5 million dollar bounty on his head.  He has been described as responsible for 3,000 deaths and smuggling illegal drugs across the U.S. border.

The 40-year-old Pedro Oliverio Guerrero was nicknamed “The Knife” or “El Cuchillo” and was among the most wanted criminals in Colombia.  He was at first believed to have been killed in a police operation.  Now it has been revealed that he drowned in a river as he was attempting to escape from the invading police forces.

On December 24, about 300 police commandos and 23 police aircrafts stormed Guerrero’s secret compound (codenamed “Diamond”) in a rural town called Puerto Alvira.  The town is located in Meta province, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) southeast of Bogota.

Thirty-four of Guerrero’s associates were occupying the compound at the time and two police officers were wounded in the raid.  Government forces captured seven of Guerrero’s comrades but were unable to find Guerrero himself at first.  Late Tuesday, his body finally surfaced, but with no evidence of any injuries from the Christmas Eve clash.

General Carlos Mena from the judicial police explained:  “Cuchillo was drunk, and when he noticed our helicopters hovering over the house where he was celebrating Christmas he escaped with two of his bodyguards.  [Then he] jumped in the river, which is four metres deep, but due to the weight of his weapons, his communications equipment, and his boots, he sank.”  Mena has surmised that plants in the river dragged him down and that he may have even suffered a heart attack during the escape.

Guerrero has been blamed for at least 3,000 deaths connected to a time when he led a division of the paramilitary group called the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC).  Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has called the drug lord’s demise “the most powerful blow we have delivered to the narco-paramilitary gangs.”

Authorities found two pistols and a knife on Guerrero’s body, testaments to the violent life he led.  “That knife is a silent witness to at least 3,000 killings, ordered or executed, by this Colombian criminal who has finally fallen,” President Santos reported during Wednesday’s press conference.  “The killer of killers has fallen.”

For more information, please see:

Herald Sun-Colombian drug lord drowned-30 December 2010

Hispanically Speaking News-Colombian Drug Lord “el Cuchillo” is Confirmed Dead-30 December 2010

AP-Brutal drug lord dies in clashes in Colombia-29 December 2010