Al-Bashir Claims Limited Responsibility, Calls Ocampo a Liar

Al-Bashir Claims Limited Responsibility, Calls Ocampo a Liar

By Laura Hirahara
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan; Photo courtesy of the AFP
President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan; Photo courtesy of the AFP

In an interview today, Sudan’s president Omar al-Bashir claimed limited responsibility for the atrocities in his country while blaming the International Criminal Court (ICC), its chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo, “Western” states and cited the UN figures of death and displacement as exaggerated.  During the interview, al-Bashir said, “Of course, I am the president so I am responsible about everything happening in the country. . . .Everything happening, it is a responsibility.  But what happened in Darfur, first of all, it was a traditional conflict taking place from the colonial days.”  He said that his troops had not executed any attacks on the people in Darfur despite claims that his troops have committed ground and air strikes against thousands of civilians.

In addition, al-Bashir called Ocampo a liar who is using the ICC to promote his own political agenda.  “It is a political issue and double standards, because there are obvious crimes like Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan, but [they] did not find their way to the international criminal court. . .He [Ocampo] is now working on a big campaign to add more lies,” al-Bashir said during the interview.  Al-Bashir was the first head of state indicted by the court in March 2009 and has yet to be arrested.  Since Sudan is not a signatory member of the ICC, they have no obligation to turn him over to the court.

During the course of the interview, al-Bashir also said the UN had grossly exaggerated the numbers of those killed and displaced by the conflict in Sudan, specifically in Darfur.  The UN reports that in the last 8 years, 300,000 people have been killed in Darfur and another 2.7 million displaced.  Al-Bashir claims the numbers are 10,000 and 70,000 respectively.  Refuting al-Bashir’s claims, John Prendergast, co-founder of the anti-genocide organization Enough Project, stated, “In my eight trips to Darfur since 2003, the overwhelming evidence demonstrates that a government-sponsored counter-insurgency targeted non-Arab civilian populations by destroying their dwellings, their food stocks, their livestock, their water sources and anything else that would sustain life in Darfur.”

Al-Bashir also criticized the military intervention in Libya, saying “The resources of Libya like petrol make it important to other countries like France, Britain and Europe in general.”  He has stated that he will support the succession of South Sudan after this year’s referendum in which an overwhelming majority of southern Sudanese voted for it.  However, he has been accused most recently of funding southern generals who are organizing a rebellion against the coming split.  After accusing western countries of pushing for a regime change in Sudan for the last 20 years, he claimed they were trying to satisfy a personal vendetta against him.

In response to al-Bashir’s numerous claims, Louise Arbour, a former UN high commissioner for human rights and Hague war crimes prosecutor, said, “’The crimes committed against millions of civilians in Darfur cannot simply be shrugged off. If Bashir wants to argue that he was not responsible for the atrocities, he should go to The Hague and make his case there.”

For more information, please see;

BBCSudan’s Bashir Accepts ‘Responsibility for Darfur War21 April, 2011

Sydney Morning HeraldPresident Accepts Responsibility for Darfur Slaughter22 April, 2011

The IndependentSudan: President Concedes Blame for Genocide21 April, 2011

The TelegraphSudan’s President Accepts Responsibility for Darfur Conflict21 April, 2011

New Legislation Requires Syrians to Obtain Government Approval Before Demonstrating

By Eileen Gould
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

HOMS, Syria – Leaders in the international community have spoken out against the Syrian government and has called upon it put an end to the arbitrary arrest, detention, and torture of civilians.  U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the violence in Syria at a news conference today.

The most recent reports of violence among civilians are from the Syrian city of Homs.  However, journalists have not been allowed access to the city, which has made it difficult to determine what exactly is happening.  Activists have reported that more than twenty pro-democracy protestors have been shot and killed by military forces.

In Homs, demonstrators have been protesting since Monday, calling for the “downfall of the regime”.  Military forces were deployed and government officials ordered the protestors to disperse.  These demonstrations have continued, even though the government has ratified legislation that ended the state of emergency that has been in effect in Syria for the past forty-eight years.  The newly-elected cabinet also approved legislation that requires Syrians to obtain approval from the government before holding a demonstration.

Secretary of State Clinton has suggested that Syria allow “free movement and free access” and that it “stop the arbitrary arrest, detentions and torture of prisoners.”  The people of Syria have raised issue and seek lasting reform, which Clinton thinks the government needs to address.

In another city, Banias, where civilians were shot and killed last week, the chief of the security police was fired.  According to local residents, Amjad Abbas was observed beating a villager along with several other officers.

Reports indicate that more than two hundred people have been killed since the uprisings, inspired by Egypt and Tunisia, began over a month ago.  Various rights groups are seeking independent investigations into the acts of military forces during this time.

The state of emergency has been in effect since 1963, when the Baath Party performed a coup and seized power.  Security forces were allowed to suppress dissent because gatherings of more than five people were prohibited.  The new law which requires demonstrators to obtain permission did not clarify whether ending the state of emergency would create a less restrictive government.

While the new law is viewed as a positive sign, the U.S. State Department stated that it’s up to the Syrian people to ensure that it is sufficient and that real change happens.

For more information please see:
Reuters – Clinton Says Syria Must Stop Detention, Torture – 20 April 2011

Reuters – Protest Erupts in Syria’s Homs Despite New Law – 20 April 2011

The Christian Science Monitor – End of Emergency Rule in Syria Unlikely to Quell Protests or Stop Arrests – 20 April 2011

Second Russian Official Speaks Out About Pressure On Judge During Trial

By Christina Berger
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia — A former Russian court official said in an interview on Friday that the judge in charge of last year’s high profile trial of Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky openly admitted the verdict would be dictated to him by others. This was the second official associated with the case to speak out about pressure put on the judge during the trial.

Igor Kravchenko, who was an administrator at the Moscow court until he was let go for allowing Khodorkovsky’s lawyers to bring a jar of crude oil into the courtroom as part of testimony, was interviewed by a Russian independent newspaper. In the interview, published on Friday, Kravchenko claims that Judge Viktor Danilkin admitted that he was not the one really in charge of Khodorkovsky’s fate. Kravchenko said in the interview, “[a]bout the process this is what [Judge Danilkin] said: ‘In principle, I don’t decide this. Whatever they say, that’s what will be.”

Judge Danilkin has said this is not true, and a Moscow courts spokeswoman has reassured Russian news media that Judge Danilkin wrote the verdict himself and urged reporters not to “suck news out of your finger, but analyze the process on the basis of facts and data which were presented in the trial.”

But Kravchenko is not the first Russian court official to make such claims. Natalya Vasilyeva, a former assistant to Judge Danilkin and court spokeswoman, gave an interview in February 2010 claiming that Judge Danilkin was forced to hand out a guilty verdict. Vasilyeva said in a TV interview, “Danilkin began to write the verdict. I suspect that what was in that verdict did not suit his higher ups, and therefore he received another verdict, which he had to read.” Kravchenko has said that what Vasilyeva said is true and only what most people involved the case already knew.

Khodorkovsky was already serving an eight year sentence on similar charges when the trial with Judge Danilkin took place. Many in the international community viewed the original sentence for tax fraud, handed down in 2005, as punishment for challenging then-President Vladimir Putin, and for his intent to sell energy assets to US companies. It was in light of his approaching release that government officials charged Khodorkovsky with embezzlement last year.

Khodorkovsky was held for months last year in pre-trial detention, despite legislation recently passed and aimed at keeping people accused of economic crimes free until trial. Russia’s Supreme Court actually ruled on appeal that the pre-trial detention was illegal, but it has no practical effect since Khodorkovsky is already serving the second sentence handed down by Judge Danilkin.

Khodorkovsky’s lawyer suggested the ruling was a superficial way to demonstrate reforms in Russia are working. “The situation is so crazy and so lacking in practical consequences that it was possible [for the court] to completely painlessly demonstrate that sometimes in Russia, even in this case, there are reasonable rulings,” he said.

As a result of the second trial, Khodorkovsky will be in prison until 2017, Judge Danilkin having sentenced him to six years for multibillion-dollar theft and money-laundering. During the trial Judge Danilkin was often called to Moscow City Court for meetings and demands of senior officials, according to Kravchenko. He also claimed that when senior officials were pleased with the judge, their approval was shown through bonuses for Danilkin and his employees, and when the senior officials weren’t happy with the judge, then his budget shrank.

Fore more information, please see:

MOSCOW TIMES — 2nd Court Official Sees Yukos Pressure — 18 April 2011

AP — Ex-Khodorkovsky court official criticizes judge — 15 April 2011

NY TIMES — Bosses Pressed Russian Judge, Official Says — 15 April 2011

Bhutanese Refugees Have Renewed Hope In Returning Home

David L. Chaplin II
Impunity Watch, Asia

KATHMANDU, Nepal – After nine years of waiting, Bhutanese refugees by the thousands are still living in miserable conditions in Nepal, India, and elsewhere. They have survived this long with hope of being able to return to their homeland. Their hopes have been reignited, as on Saturday Bhutan’s Prime Minister Lyonchhen Jigmi Y Thinley said they would have to prove again that they were bona fide Bhutan citizens, but the conversation alone is progress.

Some 108,000 Bhutanese of Nepali-origin were forced to flee the country after Druk Government stripped them of their citizenship and forcefully evicted them from Bhutan in a manner of ethnic cleansing.

Prime Minister made these unfortunate remarks after talks with Nepal’s Prime Minister Jhala Nath Khanal due to regional as well as bilateral concerns and issues.

Over 105,000 Bhutanese refugees waste away in closed camps within Nepal since their eviction in the 1990s and almost 30,000 more living in India  and all over the world including Syracuse, New York. These refugees remain yet hopeful, as Thinley agreed to resume talks to allow them their return home.

The issue of repatriation for Bhutanese refugees has continued to be a foreign relations concern since their forced displacement.

A large number of Bhutanese refugees continue to live in seven camps within eastern Nepal, and have done so for over 18 years.

The two leaders held discussions regarding the bilateral relations and upcoming summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), Thinley told reporters after the meeting. Bhutan is the current chair of the SAARC.

Thinley also said that consensus has been forged to hold dialogues which further strengthen the five-decade long relationship between the two countries.

In a separate interview the Prime Minister Jhala Nath Khanal’s foreign affairs advisor Milan Tuladhar also said consensus was forged regarding the issue of Bhutanese refugees’ repatriation through dialogues.

Ministerial Joint Committee talks have been delayed since 2003 with Nepal to resolve the lingering Bhutanese refugee problem, reports Kosh R. Koirala of the Asian Tribune.

“The date for the talks will be settled through diplomatic channels,” said Prime Minister Jhala Nath Khanal’s foreign affairs advisor Milan Tuladhar.

Frustration has risen as the Bhutanese side had not shown any interests to resume talks after an angry mob of refugees tried to manhandle the Bhutanese members of the Joint Verification Team (JVT) on December 22, 2003 reports Koirala, Asian Tribune.

Prime Minister Khanal´s request comes at a time when a significant number of Bhutanese refugees have opted for repatriation with full dignity.

Although the government has maintained that it wants to respect the rights of those wishing to return to their homeland over 44,000 refugees have already left for third country settlement in eight countries, a program spearheaded by the United States.

For more information, please see:

The Times of India – Bhutan dashes refugees’ home-coming dreams – 16 April 2011

Xinhua News (China) – Nepal, Bhutan agree to resolve refugees issue through dialogue – 15 April 2011

Asian Tribune – Bhutan agrees to resume bilateral talks to resolve refugee problem –  16 April 2011

South Asian News Agency – Bhutan resumes talks on refugees – 16 April 2011

Update: France’s Controversial Face Veil Ban Takes Effect

By Christina Berger
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

PARIS, France–A controversial ban on full-face veils recently took effect in France. The law banning the veils in public was passed last fall amidst criticism that it violates freedom of expression and freedom of religion values, as well as takes away women’s right choose for themselves. The law imposes a fine of 150 euros for women violating the law, and fine of 30,000 errors for any men who force their wives to wear a full-face veil.

Human rights groups such as Amnesty International have argued that France’s burqa ban violates European human rights law. John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s expert on discrimination in Europe, responded when the ban was first passed by the French government, “[a] complete ban on the covering of the face would violate the rights to freedom of expression and religion of those women who wear the burqa or the niqab as an expression of their identity or beliefs.”

Police in France imposed the fine on the first day the law took effect. Two women wearing the full-face veil were arrested in Paris for an unauthorized protest of the new law. In a unique approach, Rachid Nekkaz, an activist with the group Hands Off My Constitution, wore a mask while carrying a check for the 150-euro fine on the day the law went into effect lat week. According to CCN, Nekkaz’s group auctioned one of his homes to raise the money needed to pay the fines of any woman arrested for wearing the forbidden veils.

Some critics of the law have complained that in addition to possible human rights violations, the full-face veil ban affects only a tiny population. An estimated 2,000 or less women wear the full-face veils in a country with a Muslim population of 3.5 million. Jonathan Laurence, an associate professor of political science at Boston College and the author of an upcoming book, “The Emancipation of Europe’s Muslims” says that the law is “an unnecessary confrontation…[t]his is not an epidemic.”

The Open Society Foundations recently published a report, Unveiling the Truth: Why 32 Women Wear the Full-Face Veil in France, which is aimed at dispelling some of the myths and misrepresentations found in the debate over the veil ban in France. The report examines the the decision of the 32 women who choose to wear the veil, their experiences in public, and how they feel about the legislation. The report details the verbal and even physical abuse they’ve been subjected to as a result of the debate surrounding the veil banning, as well as being accused of “shaming” the entire Muslim community and “dirtying the religion.”

The French Constitutional Council has stated that the law does not prevent the free exercise of religion and thus conforms to the constitution. The ban enjoys the support of the majority of the French people. A Washington think-tank conducted a survey and found the ban had drawn the widest support in France where 82% of people polled approved the ban, versus for example the US where 2/3 of Americans polled opposed a ban.

When the ban was first passed, Amnesty International spoke out about letting majority public opinion restrict human rights. “As a general rule, the rights to freedom of religion and expression entail that all people should be free to choose what – and what not – to wear. These rights cannot be restricted simply because some – even a majority – find a form of dress objectionable or offensive.”

For more information, please see:

GUARDIAN — France’s false ‘battle of the veil’ — 18 April 2011

HUFFINGTON POST — French Burqa Ban Sets a Dangerous Precedent — 14 April 2011

CNN — 2 arrested as France’s ban on burqas, niqabs takes effect — 12 April 2011

BBC — France issues first fine for woman in Islamic veil — 12 April 2011

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL — France votes to ban full-face veils — 13 July 2010