US Imposes Sanctions Against Syrian Officials For Human Rights Violations

By Eileen Gould
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria – Syrians protested in cities and towns across Syria to stage a “Day of Rage” in opposition to the government’s crackdown on the opposition.  The United States imposed sanctions on officials responsible for human rights violations in Syria.  The new sanctions in the executive order signed by President Obama on Friday builds on the sanctions that were imposed on Syria beginning in 2004 and calls on the United Nations human rights officials to investigate Syria for violations of international law.

The order named Maher al-Assad, brother of President Bashar al-Assad and an army commander, as one of the parties responsible for the incidents in Daraa.  It also named Assad’s cousin, Atif Najib, who was the head of the Political Security Directorate for Daraa in March, when a large number of protesters were killed by security forces.

Another party named in the sanctions order is the Iranian Quds Force, as being involved in providing “material support to the Syrian government related to cracking down on unrest in Syria”.

According to human rights groups, at least twelve people were killed as security forces fired on protesters in two cities – Latakia, and Homs.  In Daraa, a southern town, shots fired on protesters allegedly caused some casualties.  The protesters gathered in the streets after leaving noontime prayer at the mosques.

In Homs, the protesters were shouting “leave, leave” to President Assad.  The protests began in March as a democratic movement but have recently turned into more of a rebellion.

In response to demonstrations that occurred a week ago, Syria sent tanks into Daraa.  Water, electricity and communications have been cut off there.  According to human rights groups, at least thirty-eight individuals have died, although that number may in fact be much higher.  On the other hand, state television reported that four army soldiers have been killed.  The government has depicted the demonstrations as a rebellion by armed Islamist extremists.

The UN Human Rights Council approved the United States’ statement condemning the violence in Syria.  China, Russia, and several African countries voted against this statement primarily because these nations oppose taking action similar to that which was done in Libya with Muammar Qaddafi.

For more information please see:
Christian Science Monitor – UN Council Issues Tepid Rebuke of Syria – 29 April 2011

Reuters – White House Calls on Syria Leader to Change Course – 29 April 2011

Washington Post – Syrian Troops Open Fire on Protesters; U.S. Imposes Sanctions – 29 April 29, 2011

U.S. Ambassador alleges that Qaddafi soldiers given Viagra and ordered to rape

By Polly Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

TRIPOLI, Libya – In a closed-door United Nations Security Council meeting on Thursday, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice raised the issue of Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi issuing Viagra to troops, a claim that was first reported by British tabloids.

One diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, noted that when Rice raised the issue in the meeting, no one responded.

The reports underscore Qaddafi’s campaign of sexual violence used to silence and terrorize communities that have supported rebels.

One diplomat said that Rice “spoke of reports of soldiers getting Viagra and raping [and] of Qaddafi’s soldiers targeting children, and other atrocities.” Some diplomats questioned Rice’s allegations, saying that she did not offer any proof of the allegations.

An April 24 article in the New York Times spoke of an electrician who fled Libya for Tunisia and who had heard rumors that “loyalist forces had orders to kill everyone in the city, and that soldiers had been given Viagra and explicit orders to rape.”

The British tabloids that broke the Viagra stories also spoke of children as young as eight who have been raped in front of their families.

Michael Mahrt, of Save the Children, said, “Children told us they have witnessed horrendous scenes. They described things happening to other children but they may have actually happened to them and they are just too upset to talk about it – it’s a coping mechanism.”

On the same day of the Security Council meeting, CBS News Correspondent Lara Logan, who suffered a brutal sexual assault in Cairo in February that lasted nearly forty minutes, returned to work and spoke for the first time of her attack, noting that when it comes to sexual violence in areas of armed conflict, victims have only their word.

In countries such as Libya and Egypt, rape is heavily stigmatized, and those who have been assaulted or raped often do not come forward.

Margot Wallstrom, the U.N. special representative on sexual violence during armed conflict, who was appointed last year by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, issued a statement last week highlighting that reports of rape in Libya have been “brutally silenced.”

It would constitute a war crime if it is true that Qaddafi’s troops are being encouraged by their commanders to engage in rape.

Libya is already under investigation by the International Criminal Court for Qaddafi and his regime’s suppression and crackdown of anti-government protesters.

For more information, please see:

New York Magazine – U.S. Ambassador Alleges Qaddafi Issuing Troops Viagra – 29 April 2011

AFP – Viagra allegations raised amid Libya divisions at UN – 28 April 2011

New York Times – CBS Reporter Recounts a ‘Merciless’ Assault – 28 April 2011

Reuters – U.S. says Gaddafi troops raping, issued Viagra: envoys – 28 April 2011

Daily Mail – Fuelled ‘by Viagra’, Gaddafi’s troops use rape as a weapon of war with children as young as EIGHT among the victims – 25 April 2011

New York Times – Berber Rebels in Libya’s West Face Long Odds Against Qaddafi – 24 April 2011

Impunity Watch Symposium Keynote Senator Romeo Dallaire (1/4)

On Friday April 8, 2011, the Impunity Watch Law Journal of Syracuse University College of Law hosted its annual symposium entitled, Humans as Commodities: Child Soldiers. The symposium addressed the use of child soldiers in armed conflict. It looked at the chilling realities facing child soldiers, the root causes of the phenomena, and explored the persistent human rights dilemma facing the international community.

In 2000, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict to ensure that States do not use individuals under eighteen years of age in combat, and to explicitly forbid non-state and guerrilla forces from recruiting anyone under eighteen for any purpose. Other provisions of international law have banned the use of soldiers under age fifteen since the 1970s. In spite of these and other international efforts, there are an estimated 250,000-300,000 child soldiers across the globe, actively fighting in at least thirty countries. Almost half of all armed organizations in the world use child soldiers and almost all of those soldiers see combat.

U.N. team arrives in Tripoli to investigate alleged human rights abuses

By Polly Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

TRIPOLI, Libya – A United Nations team appointed to investigate allegations of human rights abuses in Libya has arrived in Tripoli.

The team, selected by the United Nations Human Rights Council, will travel to prisons, hospitals, and certain regions where suspected human rights abuses have occurred to determine the scope of atrocities that took place in the wake of Moammar Qaddafi’s suppression of and violence against government protestors in February.

The U.N. recommended an inquiry into alleged abuses in Libya in February, when a resolution was unanimously adopted in a special session held in Geneva. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, urging the Libyan government to take action to hold perpetrators of abuses accountable, said at the time, “Although reports are still patchy and hard to verify, one thing is painfully clear; in brazen and continuing breach of international law, the crackdown in Libya of peaceful demonstrations is escalating alarmingly with reported mass killings, arbitrary arrests, detention and torture of protestors.”

The team is being led by Cherif Bassiouni, an Egyptian legal expert, who indicated that his team would engage the Libyan government to assist with the investigation. The government has said it will cooperate. Bassiouni said his team planned to ask the government about “the indiscriminate bombing of civilians and civilian areas, civilian casualties, torture and the use of mercenaries.” Bassiouni also intends to raise the issue of foreign journalists being held in Libya. He said he has even given the Libyan government “a list of all the foreign journalists who are in detention.”

In the last week, reports have emerged that Qaddafi’s forces are indiscriminately shelling the city of Misrata, and that three people in Misrata were killed by missiles.

In addition to the U.N., Western governments and some Arab states have accused Qaddafi of ordering his forces to kill hundreds of civilians who protested his four-decade rule.

Libyan officials have denied killing civilians, saying instead that they have been forced to act against al Qaeda sympathizers trying to seize control of the country.

In addition to Bassiouni, the other members of the team include Asma Khader, a Jordanian-Palestinian lawyer and human rights advocate, and Philippe Kirsch, a Canadian lawyer who was the International Criminal Court’s first president.

Khader said the team would look into sexual crimes, including the case of Libyan woman Eman al-Obaidi who became well known after accusing militiamen of gang-raping her.

The team is expected to present their findings in June.

In addition to this investigation, the UN Security Council has asked the International Criminal Court to investigate Libya on possible charges of war crimes.

For more information, please see:

BBC – UN team to start probe of human rights abuses – 27 April 2011

Reuters – U.N. investigators in Libya to probe rights abuses – 27 April 2011

Reuters – UN rights investigators to start probe in Libya – 8 April 2011

UN News Centre – UN rights council recommends suspending Libya, orders inquiry into abuses – 25 February 2011

[LA Times] Manning and Mohammed Cases: Tilting the Scales of Justice

Courtesy of the Los Angeles Times

Manning and Mohammed cases: Tilting the scales of justice

President Obama and Atty. Gen. Holder are improperly putting pressure on those who will judge the Bradley Manning and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed cases.

By Morris Davis

April 27, 2011

“Command influence is the mortal enemy of military justice.”

Robinson O. Everett, former chief judge of what is now the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, wrote those powerful words in 1986. They underscore the importance of banning the power inherent in command from military courtrooms. Congress wrote such a ban into the Uniform Code of Military Justice more than 60 year ago, recognizing that true justice requires the unbiased application of the law to the facts on scales that are not tipped by the fingers of extrajudicial forces.

Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, who is accused of leaking a trove of documents to WikiLeaks, faces serious court-martial charges, including aiding the enemy. If convicted, Manning could spend the rest of his life behind bars. Under one of the most fundamental of all rights, he is presumed innocent until legal and competent evidence overcomes that presumption beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Now a video is circulating of President Obama, the commander in chief of the armed forces, in conversation at a California fundraiser last week. “He broke the law,” Obama says of Manning. No need to secure a courtroom or endure a protracted trial; the commander in chief rendered his extrajudicial verdict. And military justice meets its mortal enemy once again.

In 1949, Gerald Ford, then a congressman from Michigan, described his firsthand experience with command influence when he served as a Navy officer in World War II. He said: “Too often a court-martial board does not determine the guilt or innocence of the accused.” Instead, he recalled military jurors retiring to the deliberation room to ponder, “What does the Old Man [the commander] want us to do?”

When the jurors retire to the deliberation room at the Manning court-martial, they will not have to speculate on the answer; arguably the most important “Old Man” of them all has spoken, and he said Manning is guilty.

The military commissions that will try the Guantanamo detainees are not governed by the Uniform Code of Military Justice; they are governed instead by rules set down in the Military Commissions Act. I was the chief prosecutor at Guantanamo in 2006 when Congress began work on the law. I met with Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who led the effort, and I told them that senior government officials were trying to meddle in the commissions, particularly after Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and other “high-value detainees” were transferred to Guantanamo from CIA sites. After five years of failed effort and not a single trial completed, and with skepticism about the fairness of the commissions growing, we needed to preserve the integrity of the project with statutory protection similar to the prohibition on command influence in courts-martial. The senators agreed, and language I drafted was included in the Military Commissions Act.

The behavior of this administration gives an inkling of why it was necessary. In November 2009, Obama defended his decision to prosecute Mohammed in federal court (a decision he subsequently abandoned), saying no one would question it “when [Mohammed is] convicted and when the death penalty is applied to him.” Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. made similar remarks, telling the Senate Judiciary Committee: “Failure is not an option. These are cases that have to be won. I don’t expect that we will have a contrary result.”

All participants in the military commissions are accountable to the commander in chief. Many, in addition to their status as uniformed military reserve officers, are career employees of the Department of Justice. When the attorney general says that only a guilty verdict is acceptable, and the commander in chief endorses the death penalty for an accused who has not been convicted, they undermine confidence in justice by injecting the appearance of undue influence.

Will the attorneys and the judges exercise independent professional judgment, or will independence bend to the express will of their superiors? Will the officers on the board at Mohammed’s military commission deliberate over the law and evidence, or will they just do what the administration expects them to do? Will we be able to tell now that the administration has made its position public?

Pandering, hubris and contempt for “quaint” legal principles are as unacceptable in the current administration as they were in the last. It is the notorious cases with unsympathetic defendants such as Manning and Mohammed where America’s example speaks loudest. These trials will say as much about us as it does about them.

When the judicial process becomes a stage for political theater — when justice appears to be scripted rather than blind — we have lost sight of the values we purport to be fighting to defend.

Morris Davis is a retired Air Force colonel. He was chief prosecutor for the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay from 2005 to 2007. He is the executive director of the Crimes of War Project in Washington.

Copyright © 2011, Los Angeles Times

http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-davis-guilty-20110427,0,3736847.story