Prosecutors Clear Lead Investigator In Magnitsky Death, But Kremlin Ombudsman Calls For Prosecution

By Christina Berger
Special Features Editor

MOSCOW, Russia — Russian officials declared on Monday that the lead investigator in the case against Sergei Magnitsky was not guilty of any legal violations in connection with Magnitsky’s death while he was in police custody. The finding has been widely-criticized and a Kremlin official refuted the finding and urged prosecution over Magnitsky’s death.

Sergei Magnitsky was a lawyer working with Hermitage Capital Management Ltd. who had uncovered evidence of a $230 million tax fraud scheme committed in 2007 by Russian tax officials and Interior Ministry investigators, according to colleagues. Magnitsky was arrested himself for the $230 million tax fraud after accusing a handful of officials, including Oleg Silchenko the lead investigator in the case. Magnitsky spent almost a year in pre-trial detention and he died in jail in November 2009 as a result of a serious medical diagnosis made while in detention.

In response to international pressure, President Dmitry Medvedev has repeatedly promised a full investigation into Magnitsky’s death. On Monday, Russia’s Investigative Committee stated that prosecutors had found that Silchenko had not allowed any legal violations in the case of Magnitsky. The Interior Ministry, where Silchenko holds the rank of colonel after having been promoted since Magnitsky first accused officials of the tax fraud, declined to comment.

In response to the Investigative Committee’s findings, Valery Borschev, a member of a human rights panel set up by President Medvedev, urged that Silchenko be prosecuted for the “central role” he played in Magnitsky’s death. According to Borschev, Magnitsky had complained of acute abdominal pain, having been diagnosed with a serious pancreatic conduction while in police custody, and it was Silchenko who repeatedly refused to allow Magnitsky medical care including ultra-sounds and an operation.

Borschev said he visited the jail after Magnitsky’s death and he spoke with a doctor who claimed she had tried to transfer Magnitsky to a hospital several times but Silchenko interfered. “They asked to have him taken to the hospital to do an ultrasound examination, and Silchenko gave a definitive refusal,” Borshchev said. “That’s a clear violation of the criminal and professional code.”

Magnitsky documented the treatment he was receiving while in detention, telling of conditions some have labeled torture, as well as the denial of medical care. Some of these writings have been made public since Magnitsky’s death, and according to Borschev, Magnitsky implicated Silchenko as being responsible for denying medical care.

Borschev headed an independent commission ordered by the Kremlin to investigate the Magnitsky case. The preliminary results were released in April and found that the charges brought against Magnitsky had been fabricated and investigators he had accused of the tax fraud were improperly involved in his case. A full report will be submitted to President Medvedev this summer. According to Borschev, President Medvedev has the authority to order a new investigation as a result.

Despite calling for prosecution of Silchenko, Borschev acknowledged over the phone to the Moscow Times that “Silchenko has powerful figures backing him up.” So far no one has been held accountable for Magnitsky’s death, and in fact many of the officials implicated by Magnitsky have been rewarded, promoted, or living beyond their means. A series of videos have been produced by Russian Untouchables detailing this, and episode 1 can be viewed here, episode 2 viewed here, and episode 3 viewed here.

Hermitage CEO William Browder has been calling for the arrest and prosecution of 60 Russian officials connected to Magnitsky’s death. Browder, US-born and London-based, was the biggest foreign investor in Russia until his visa was revoked in 2005 by Russian officials citing national security reasons. It was in 2007 that, according to Hermitage, its Russian offices were raided by Interior Ministry officials and documents were seized that allowed those officials to re-register ownership of Hermitage’s Russian funds. This made it possible for Interior Ministry officials to claim $230 million in fraudulent tax rebates, and was what Magnitsky had uncovered and attempted to report before his arrest.

Many believed that Silchenko was the most likely target of prosecution in connection with the Magnitsky case, and it was viewed as a test of Russia’s law enforcement and judicial systems, especially given that President Medvedev has made fighting corruption and improving those systems a priority of his administration.

“The Russian government appears impervious to the damage to its credibility that this type of whitewash is doing,” Browder said. “It will take many years for the Russian justice system to recover any gloss of credibility after this public and corrupt miscarriage of justice.”

For more information, please see:

BLOOMBERG — Kremlin Ombudsman Urges Prosecution Over Hermitage Death — 31 May 2011

WSJ — Russia Exonerates Lead Investigator in Prison Death — 31 May 2011

MOSCOW TIMES — Prosecutors Support Magnitsky’s Accuser — 31 May 2011

NYT — Police Investigator Is Cleared in Death of Russian Awaiting Trial — 30 May 2011

NYT — After Russian Death, Inquiry Doors Open and Shut — 22 December 2010

Violence in Yemen Brings Civil War Worries

By Tyler Yates
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

SANAA, Yemen– Explosions and the sounds of gunfire have become an everyday occurrence in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa. Violent uprisings have the government struggling to battle opponents all over the country as fears of civil war begin to rise.

Protests in Yemen lead to violence; Photo courtesy of the Christian Science Monitor
Protests in Yemen lead to violence. (Photo courtesy of the Christian Science Monitor)

The current violence stems from a recent broken promise made by president, Ali Abdullah Saleh.  Saleh promised last week to sign an agreement, mediated by the Gulf States, to step down as the president of Yemen.  On the day the agreement was to be signed Saleh instead refused, reigniting the unrest of his opposition.  In the days following well over 54 people were killed in the capital.

Following the initial unrest at Saleh’s broken promise, the violence has spread beyond the capital.  In the city of Zinjibar, located on Yemen’s southern coast, some 300 opposition fighters took control of the city last Sunday. In retaliation, the Yemeni military launched a jet attack, in an attempt to retake the city.

The identity of these particular opposition fighters is in question, with some alleging they are linked to al-Qaeda. The opposition Collective Forum disregards this rumor stating that Saleh uses “the spectre of al-Qaeda to frighten regional and international parties.”

The military jet attack resulted in the deaths of at least 30 individuals.  The attack, called “catastrophic” by Tareq al-Fadhli, a leading tribal member, left corpses in the streets, no water or electricity, and hospitals unable to provide aid.  Many of the city’s 20,000 inhabitants have already fled.

Elsewhere, in Taiz, soldiers opened fire on a protest camp killing at least 50 people.  There have also been reports of soldiers setting fire to protester’s tents, and shooting tear gas and water cannons into the crowd.

The situation appears to have boiled over when Yemeni security forces attempted to take Taiz’s “Freedom Square,” where anti-government demonstrations had been taking place for days. Members of the opposition called the event a “massacre,” condemning Saleh’s actions as “crimes against humanity.”

The Yemeni opposition appears to be lead by the Ahmar family, Saleh’s tribal rivals.  However, some of the youth protesters are hesitant of an Ahmar presidency.  They fear that such would not bring about the kind of change they want.  These youth protesters are practicing non-violence during the uprisings, condemning the violence that has already occurred.

Some military units and government officials abandoned Saleh when he began deadly crackdowns on anti-government protests in March.  As of yet there have been no major conflicts between Saleh’s security forces and a breakaway military unit.

For more information, please see:

Al-Jazeera — Fighting Raises Yemen civil war fears — 31 May 2010

BBC News — Yemen unrest: UN says 50 killed in Taiz since Sunday — 31 May 2010

Al-Jazeera — Yemen jets ‘bomb al-Qaeda-held city’ — 30 May 2010

New York Times — Yemeni Military Battles Opponents on Two Fronts — 30 May 2010

New York Times — Evasions by Leader Add Chaos in Yemen — 25 May 2010


Gay Rights Rally Banned, Dozens Arrested

By Christina Berger
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia — Over thirty people were arrested at a gay rights rally held in Moscow on Saturday after clashes broke out between gay  rights activists and opponents. The gay rights activists had applied for a permit to hold a demonstration, but were denied authorization amidst reports that Moscow officials have vowed to never permit gay rights demonstrations in the city.

Gay activists had gathered on Saturday in front of the Kremlin wall and city hall to demonstrate when groups of men showed up–some wearing fatigues and combat boots–to disrupt the rally. Violence soon broke out, and police arrested 18 gay activists and 14 anti-gay activists.

The gay rights activists had applied for official permission to hold the rally, and were issued a denial from Moscow authorities on May 17. This ended the hope many had that Moscow’s new mayor would be more tolerant of the gay community.  The gay rights activists had vowed to hold the rally anyways, continuing the pattern that has existed since around 2006 when the first demonstrations were held–and subsequently broken up by police after frequently ending in violence.

Human rights groups called on Moscow to retract the ban. “The Moscow City Authorities must overturn their decision to ban this year’s Moscow Gay Pride.  So-called public morality concerns can never be used to justify restrictions on the freedom of expression of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people,” said Nicola Duckworth, Director of Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Program. “The right response to such objections is not to cave in to their demands, but to ensure that those seeking to exercise their rights lawfully are able to do so in safety and in dignity.”

This latest incident in the struggle to publicly demonstrate in Moscow for gay rights comes not even a year after the European Court of Human Rights fined Russia for denying gay rights activists permission to demonstrate, which can be read about here. The court found that the denials violated the freedom of peaceable assembly guaranteed in the European Convention, as well as violated the prohibition discrimination in the enjoyment of rights also found in the Convention.

Despite this ruling, Moscow authorities have continued to routinely ban gay rights demonstrations, often citing complaints received from other groups such as religious groups or ultra-nationalists, or stating that allowing homosexuals to hold demonstrations would cause violent reactions from the community.

St. Petersburg, Russia’s second largest city, has recently begun practicing greater tolerance of gay community rallies and events. A St. Petersburg court found in October 2010 that banning a St. Petersburg Pride event was illegal. In May, gay rights activities held a demonstration in St. Petersburg which was authorizes by city officials and attended by more than 100 activists. It took place peacefully.

Nikolai Alexeyev, Head of Gay Russia and chief organizer of the Moscow Gay Pride Parade, told CNN, “We [in Moscow] have been asking for the last six years to gather. We are being deprived of a very simple right that is taken for granted in democratic countries.”

For more information, please see:

AP — More than 30 arrested at Moscow gay rights demos — 28 May 2011

RFE/RL — Clashes, Arrests As Gay-Rights Activists Rally In Moscow Despite Ban — 28 May 2011

NYT — Threats and Arrests at a Gay Rights Rally in Moscow — 28 May 2011

CNN — Dozens arrested in Moscow gay rights parade clashes — 28 May 2011

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL — Moscow authorities ban gay pride event — 18 May 2011

RFE/RL — Activists Vow To Defy Moscow Gay-Parade Ban — 18 May 2011

War Crimes Prosecution Watch: Breaking News

War Crimes Prosecution Watch is prepared by the International Justice Practice of the Public International Law & Policy Group and the Frederick K. Cox International Law Center of Case Western Reserve University School of Law.

Ratko Mladic arrested in Serbia
BBC News
May 26, 2011

Fugitive Bosnian Serb war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic has been arrested in Serbia after 16 years on the run.

Gen Mladic, 69, was found in a village in northern Serbia where had been living under an assumed name.

He faces charges over the massacre of at least 7,500 Bosnian Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica in 1995.

Serbian President Boris Tadic said the process to extradite the former Bosnian Serb army chief to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague was under way.

Following the arrest of Radovan Karadzic in 2008, Gen Mladic became the most prominent Bosnian war crimes suspect at large.

Serbia had been under intense international pressure to arrest him.

The detention, President Tadic said, brought the country and the region closer to reconciliation, and opened the doors to European Union membership. Mr Tadic also rejected criticism that Serbia had been reluctant to seize Gen Mladic.

“We have been co-operating with the Hague tribunal fully from the beginning of the mandate of this government,” he said.

Serbian media initially reported that Gen Mladic was already on his way to the UN tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague.

But Serbian prosecutors later said the procedure to extradite him might take a week.

A spokeswoman for families of Srebrenica victims, Hajra Catic, told AFP news agency: “After 16 years of waiting, for us, the victims’ families, this is a relief.”

‘Village stake-out’

Gen Mladic is due to appear before a Serbian judge later on Thursday.

He was seized in the province of Vojvodina in the early hours of Thursday, Serbian Justice Minister Slobodan Homan told the BBC.

Serbian security sources told AFP news agency that three special units had descended on a house in the village of Lazarevo, about 80km (50 miles) north of Belgrade.

The house was owned by a relative of Gen Mladic and had been under surveillance for the past two weeks, one of the sources added.

Gen Mladic was reportedly using the assumed name Milorad Komodic.

The Belgrade broadcaster B-92 radio said he was not in disguise – unlike Mr Karadzic, who had a long beard and a ponytail when he was captured in Belgrade three years ago.

UN war crimes chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz welcomed the arrest, saying: “Today’s events show that people responsible for grave violations of international humanitarian law can no longer count on impunity.”

Mr Brammertz said UN prosecutors thanked the Serbian authorities for “meeting their obligations towards the tribunal and towards justice”.

Gen Mladic was indicted by the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague in 1995 for genocide over the killings that July at Srebrenica – the worst single atrocity in Europe since World War II – and other alleged crimes.

Having lived freely in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, he disappeared after the arrest of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in 2001.

Speculation mounted that Gen Mladic would eventually be arrested when Mr Karadzic was captured in Belgrade in July 2008.

In a message from his UN cell in the Hague, Mr Karadzic said he was sorry Gen Mladic has been arrested.

The Bosnian Serb leader added that he wanted to work with him “to bring out the truth” about the Bosnian war, in a message relayed to the Associated Press by his lawyer.

In other reaction:

  • US deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said the US was “delighted”
  • UK Foreign Secretary William Hague hailed the arrest was a “historic moment”
  • Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said it finally offered “a chance for justice to be done”
  • French President Nicolas Sarkozy said it was “a very courageous decision by the Serbian presidency”
  • Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said Serbia’s EU prospects were “now brighter than ever”

War Crimes Prosecution Watch is a bi-weekly e-newsletter that compiles official documents and articles from major news sources detailing and analyzing salient issues pertaining to the investigation and prosecution of war crimes throughout the world. For more information about War Crimes Prosecution Watch, please contact warcrimeswatch@pilpg.org.

War Crimes Prosecution Watch, Vol. 6, Issue 4

War Crimes Prosecution Watch is prepared by the International Justice Practice of the Public International Law & Policy Group and the Frederick K. Cox International Law Center of Case Western Reserve University School of Law.

INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT

Central African Republic & Uganda

Darfur, Sudan

Kenya

Libya

AFRICA

International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda

Special Court for Sierra Leone

EUROPE

European Court of Human Rights

Court of Bosnia & Herzegovina, War Crimes Chamber

International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

Domestic Prosecutions In The Former Yugoslavia

War Crimes Prosecution Watch is a bi-weekly e-newsletter that compiles official documents and articles from major news sources detailing and analyzing salient issues pertaining to the investigation and prosecution of war crimes throughout the world. For more information about War Crimes Prosecution Watch, please contact warcrimeswatch@pilpg.org.