By Erica Laster                                                                                                                       Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

NEW YORK, United States – U.N. officials have been actively discussing the complete abolition of nuclear weapons.   “They all understand that nuclear weapons make us less safe, not more,” said U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at an exhibit and presentation by the Mayors of Peace at U.N. headquarters in New York last Thursday.  In the wake of the meltdown of Japanese nuclear plants following the tsunami, human rights groups have called for an end to the sale, use and production of nuclear weapons across the World.

U.S. & Russia sign Nuclear Arms Treaty (April 2010). Photo courtesy of
U.S. & Russia sign Nuclear Arms Treaty (April 2010). Photo courtesy of

Mayors of Peace began working alongside the United Nations in 1991 to confront the difficult task of nuclear weapon bans.  It now operates in 150 countries and over 4,500 cities in the International community. 

Accompanied by survivors of the Atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, Ban Ki-moon indicated the necessity of nuclear disarmament.

Just one day before, the Simons Foundation and the International Association of Lawyers against Nuclear Arms (IALANA) released the Vancouver Declaration which declared that nuclear weapons are “incompatible” with international humanitarian law.  Further, as weapons of mass destruction, they are universally prohibited in warfare. 

Specifically, the harm inflicted on civilians from nuclear heat and radiation has been widely discussed and argued in the community as a violation of international law by experts and public diplomacy officials.

The declaration’s signers cite the International Court of Justice’s advisory opinion of 1996, arguing that “It cannot be lawful to continue indefinitely to possess weapons which are unlawful to use or threaten to use, are already banned for most states, and are subject to an obligation of elimination.”  This obligation to eliminate nuclear arsenals stems directly from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation (NPT) of 1970.  According to the NPT, states possessing weapons agreed to disarm and destroy their supply of weapons and those not in possession agreed not to acquire them.

93 percent of the world’s stockpile of nuclear weapons are possessed by the United States and Russia.  The remaining nuclear powers include China, France, Israel, Britain, India and Pakistan.

Many have derailed, prolonged and completely ignored their agreement to disarm and reduce their nuclear stockpiles.  Some, such as Dr. Jennifer Simons, Simons Foundation President, believe that “the possession of nuclear weapons should be an international crime.”

Despite a recent US-Russia Arms Treaty approved by the Barack Obama administration which confirms the countries intent to disarm, the United States is still allowed to keep 3,500 weapons after the year 2020.  John Burroughs of the Lawyer’s Committee on Nuclear Policy is hopeful that despite the long haul, the peace movement will help crystallize and garner support for the abolition of nuclear weapons. 

For More Information Please Visit:

IPS – Public Momentum Builds Against Nukes – 25 March 2011

Mayors For Peace – Powerful earthquake, huge tsunami and nuclear accident in Japan – 11 March 2010

NY Times – Nuclear Weapons – 22 December 2010

Saudi Arabia Outlaws Protests

By Eric C. Sigmund
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – Islamic scholars in Saudi Arabia issued a fatwa, a religious edict, Tuesday, forbidding protests in the country.  The edict declares that anti-government demonstrations are punishable as un-Islamic.  The Saudi government reports that it will print and additional 1.5 million copies of the edict, to add to the 500,000 already printed, to distribute to citizens.

The fatwa, issued by Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul-Aziz Al al-Sheikh, the most prominent religious official in the country, urges citizens to “have a united front….under its wise and legitimate leadership.”  Despite the government’s quick endorsement of the edict, not all Islamic scholars support a ban on free expression.   Sheikh Gamal Qotb, the former head of the Al-Azhar fatwa committee, the highest religious institution in the Sunni world, expressed that the edict was a “big mistake,” noting that protest helps to promote peace and check tyranny.

While countries throughout the region continue to experience massive popular uprisings, Saudi Arabia has been largely immune from pro-democracy resistance.  The government quickly reacted to attempts by opponents to stage mass protests on March 11 by increasing the street presence of its police forces.   Heightened security patrols and strong rhetoric from the Saudi leaderships has thus far allowed the government to suppress and deter civilian protests. 

For more information please see:

Al-Masry Al-Youm- Al-Azhar Scholar Criticizes Saudi Edict Banning Protests – Mar. 30, 2011

People’s Daily Online – Saudi Arabia Prints 1.5 Million Copies of Anti-Protest Edict –Mar. 30, 2011

Reuters Africa – Saudi Prints 1.5 Million Copies of Anti-Demo Edict – Mar. 29, 2011

Colombian Politicians Accused In Journalist’s 2002 Murder

By Patrick Vanderpool
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

Orlando Sierra Hernandez, deputy editor and columnist for La Patria newspaper, was murdered in 2002 (photo courtesy of Committee to Protect Journalists)
Orlando Sierra Hernandez, deputy editor and columnist for La Patria newspaper, was murdered in 2002 (photo courtesy of Committee to Protect Journalists)

BOGOTA, Colombia – Francisco Ferney Tapasco and Dixon Ferney Tapasco, father and son politicians, will be charged with the planning of the 2002 murder of Orlando Sierra Hernandez, a Colombian journalist, according to the Colombian Attorney General’s Office. Sierra Hernandez was the assistant editor of La Patria newspaper; he was gunned down in January 2002 outside the newspaper’s offices in Manizales.

According to the prosecution, several key witnesses have linked Ferney Tapasco, the former director of the Liberals in the Caldas department, and Dixon Tapasco, his ex-congressman son  with the murder. The murder came shortly after Sierra Hernandez published allegations of corruption against the father and son.

Luis Fernando Soto Zapata, the confessed shooter, was sentenced to 29 years in prison, but was subsequently released after only six years on good behavior. The early release spurred large-scale protests by journalists across Colombia. Zapata ultimately was killed in a June 2008 gunfight with police in the southwestern city of Cali.

Francisco Ferney Tapasco is already serving jail time in connection with an investigation of his alleged ties to a violent right-wing rebel group in Colombia. His son is also previously served a seven-year prison sentence for paramilitary links, but left prison earlier this month.

The arrests of these politicians support the fears initially expressed by the Colombian journalistic community that the murder was politically motivated. Sierra Hernandez had been outspoken against what he perceived as corrupt politicians for years prior to his murder. In face, he the journalist was assigned bodyguards following death threats that he had received in 1998.

For more information, please see:

Colombia Reports –Liberal Party Politicians Indicted for Journalist Murder – 29 March 2011

Latin American Herald Tribune –Colombia Politicians Accused of Journalist’s Murder – 29 March 2011

Committee to Protect Journalists – Journalist Killed: Colombia – February 2002

35 Years Later, British Apologize For Schoolgirl Killing

Majella O’Hare was 12 years old when she was shot twice in the back by a British army soldier in 1976. Photograph courtesy of Pacemaker.
Majella O’Hare was 12 years old when she was shot twice in the back by a British army soldier in 1976. Photograph courtesy of Pacemaker.

By Christina Berger
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

BELFAST, Northern Ireland — The British government has issued a formal apology to the family of a schoolgirl who was killed by the British army in Northern Ireland in 1976. The apology, coming almost 35 years after the incident, has acknowledged that the version of what happened as told by the solider involved is “unlikely.”

Majella O’Hare, a 12-year-old Catholic girl, was walking with school friends to church in county Armagh during the summer of 1976 when she was struck in the back by two bullets. Her father, who was the school caretaker, witnessed the shooting. Majella died in a helicopter on the way to the hospital.

The paratrooper who fired the shots, Private Michael Williams, claimed that he had fired the shots in response to an IRA sniper hiding in the bushes. The RUC conducted an initial investigation, and found that Williams was not returning fire at a gunman. The RUC recommended Williams be charged with manslaughter and prosecuted. Williams was prosecuted but he was acquitted by a senior Belfast judge.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland’s Historical Enquiries Team (HET) has been conducting investigations into more than 3,000 unsolved killings, many of which took place during the Troubles. The HET reinvestigated Majella O’Hare’s case and concluded that there was never any evidence to suggest there had been an IRA gunman present. Last summer, the HET’s director urged the army to apologize for killing Majella. This was in addition to campaigning for a formal apology which British Irish Rights Watch, a civil liberties group, has done for years.

The apology, signed by secretary of defense Liam Fox, was hand-delivered to Majella’s 88-year-old mother by the Northern Ireland secretary. The letter read in part: “I apologise for Majella’s death and offer you my heartfelt sympathy…both the initial investigation by the RUC and the more recent review have concluded that it was unlikely that there was a gunman in the area when the soldier involved opened fire and struck Majella, as he claimed. The soldier’s actions resulted in the loss of a young and innocent life, causing sorrow and anguish for those who knew and loved Majella. On behalf of the army and the government I am profoundly sorry that this tragic incident should have happened.”

This was only the second apology to ever be issued by the British government for army conduct during Northern Ireland’s Troubles. Last summer, a general apology was issued in response to a report that rejected the army’s defense for what happened on Bloody Sunday in 1972, when 13 Catholic demonstrators were killed. Groups like British Irish Rights Watch hope that this signals a change in the attitude of politicians and military figures, and in the future they might be more willing to acknowledge that what happened in certain cases was wrong.

Majella’s family has welcomed the apology, though they’ve noted it’s been a long time coming. “It’s good to get this apology,” Majella’s brother Michael said. “It’s not going to bring Majella back but at least it will set the record straight for history.”

For more information, please see:

IRISH TIMES — Apology but no new criminal case over 1976 shooting of girl in North — 29 March 2011

AP — British apologize for ’76 killing of Catholic girl — 28 March 2011

GUARDIAN — Ministry of Defence says sorry for killing of Majella O’Hare — 28 March 2011

Civil War Looms in Jordan after Fierce Clashes between Civilians and Government

By Eric C. Sigmund
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

AMMAN, Jordan – Civil unrest in Jordan continues to rise as protesters, unsatisfied with government concessions, become more emboldened, spurring violate clashes between protesters and government supporters.  Saturday’s clashes were the bloodiest yet in the country, leaving 2 protesters dead and 160 injured.  Concerned that Jordan is edging closer to civil war, King Abdullah II called for national unity and announced that the government “is going ahead with political and economic reforms, strongly and enthusiastically.”

Protesters Remain Strong Three Months Later Despite Crackdowns (Photo Courtesy of The Medial Line)
Protesters Remain Strong Three Months Later Despite Crackdowns (Photo Courtesy of The Medial Line)

Pro-reform protest continued to remain resilient three months after their initial outbreak despite security crackdowns from government supporters and police forces.  While the King has expressed his commitment to address the concerns of discontent citizens, some of his proposed reforms face significant opposition from Parliament.   In particular, the Jordanian Parliament has been unwilling to limit the King’s power, claiming that a diminution of the King’s constitutional authority represents a “threat to Jordan’s survival.”  Commenting on Saturday’s deadly clashes, Parliamentary leaders announced that it will “make sure [the King] remains powerful to preserve the Jordanian identity and the constitution” and warned that “political blackmail is rejected.”  

Parliament’s statements however, have not been well received by government critics and have led some political analysts to issue their own warnings about the heightened possibility of civil war.  One commentator noted that “there is a sense that the situation may explode at any moment.”   While King Abdullah has already taken some steps to calm popular discontent, such as raising pensions and reshuffling his Cabinet, these reforms have largely been rejected as half-hearted reforms which do not address protester’s core demands.  Until all their demands are met, citizens will continue to clog the streets and pursue reform notes one protester.   Given Parliaments resistance to further constitutional reforms, the prospects for peaceful reform may be dwindling in Jordan. 

For more information please see:

The Media Line – Jordan Teetering on Civil War, Local Analysts Say – Mar. 28, 2011

Agence France Presse – Jordan King Urges Unity After Unrest – Mar. 27, 2011

Al-Jazeera – Jordan’s King Calls for National Unity – Mar. 27, 2011