Officials Fight to Delay Mexican Man’s Execution in Texas

By Brittney Hodnik
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, United States – Politicians, retired military figures, and lawyers have come together to protest the upcoming execution of Mexican citizen Humberto Leal Garcia in Texas.  Despite possible violations of Garcia’s rights under the Vienna Convention, Texas Governor Rick Perry is adamantly pushing forward.  Some argue that if Texas carries out this execution it will put Americans travelling abroad in serious danger.

Texas Governor Rick Perry plans to proceed with the execution despite protests from the President and other officials. (Photo Courtesy of The Guardian)
Texas Governor Rick Perry plans to proceed with the execution. (Photo Courtesy of The Guardian)

In 1994, prosecutors found Leal guilty of raping and murdering a 16-year-old girl in San Antonio, Texas and sentenced him to the death penalty shortly thereafter.  According to the New York Times, the United States never informed Mexican authorities of his arrest and denied him access to Mexican consular officials in direct contravention of the Vienna Convention.  Rather, Texas assigned unprepared and incompetent court-appointed lawyers to Leal’s case.

President Obama and former-President George W. Bush have both denounced Leal’s execution, suggesting that Texas is violating international law provisions.

In 2004, the International Court of Justice (“ICJ”) ruled that the United States must “review and reconsider” Leal’s case, along with the cases of multiple other Mexican inmates on death row in the U.S.  Texas refused to comply with the ICJ ruling, arguing that international law is not binding.  In 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. was obligated to comply with the judgment through Congressional action; presidential action alone was not enough.

Legislation regarding the matter was submitted in the Senate this month, but it may not pass in time to save Leal from his sentence.  Leal’s current lawyer, Sandra Babcock, spoke with the New York Times to explain the situation.  “He has a due process right to remain alive while Congress has a meaningful opportunity to consider and pass this legislation.”

The Guardian reports that top officials are worried about potential backlash from non-compliance.  They argue that failure to observe these international laws will put American nationals in serious danger if arrested abroad. 

John Bellinger, attorney and former legal adviser at the State Department for the Bush administration agrees.  “It’s not a favor that we do for foreigners who travel in the United States.  The United States is a party to this treaty because it protects Americans when we travel abroad.”

Victor Uribe, head of the legal section at the Mexican Embassy, told NPR that they have appealed to Governor Perry himself because as of now, he is the only one who can halt the execution; neither the President nor the ICJ hold any power at this point.

Governor Perry has yet to budge.  According to NPR, his staff has previously stated, “It is important to remember that these individuals are on death row for killing our citizens.”  Texas has shown no signs of waiver as Leal’s execution edges ever closer.

For more information, please visit:

The New York Times — Texas Is Pressed to Spare Mexican Citizen on Death Row — 27 June 2011

NPR — Planned Execution Puts Mexico, Texas At Odds — 15 June 2011

The Guardian — US Politicians and Lawyers Protest Against Death Penalty for Mexican Man — 7 June 2011

Fox News Latino — Mexican Rights Body Seeks Clemency for Man on Texas Death Row — 6 June 2011

deadly standoff continues at Venezuelan Prison

By Emilee Gaebler
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela – For the past two weeks, the Venezuelan National Guard has been in a standoff with the inmates of the Rodeo II prison.  Inmates gained control of the prison back on June 12 during an armed conflict between two prisoner gangs, vying for control of the prison.  The fighting between the rival gangs killed at least 29 and injured many others.

Soldiers oversee inmates of El Rodeo during an attempt to regain control.  (Photo Courtesy of BBC News)
Soldiers oversee inmates of El Rodeo during an attempt to regain control. (Photo Courtesy of BBC News)

Authorities state that an earlier raid of the Rodeo I prison resulted in the seizure of a number of weapons, drugs and cell phones.  During this raid two members of the police force and one inmate were killed.  The Rodeo II unit remains under siege.

Roughly 4,000 members of the National Guard were stationed at the Rodeo prison in Guatire, 50 kilometers east of Caracas.  Worried family members of prisoners have also gathered, some of them throwing stones at the soldiers.  In response, soldiers have fired tear gas at the crowd to try and disperse them.  Inside Rodeo II, there remain up to 1,200 inmates, with only 50 of them being a part of the resistance. 

The government announced that one member of the National Guard was killed and 19 others injured.  They do not know if any casualties have been suffered by the inmates.  However, a recently posted YouTube video, allegedly from within the prison, shows two white freezers being opened to reveal a dead body in each.  The narrator is heard saying “two of the compatriots who have died in the fight.”  As the video comes to an end, the sound of gunfire can be heard in the background.

An inmate, one of the 36 prisoners that the National Guard was able to rescue on Monday night, claims that the soldiers want to massacre everyone inside the prison.  He said that the soldiers killed several prisoners during the rescue mission. 

Text messages sent from inside the prison are pleas for the government to spare the lives of those not involved in the resistance.  Other messages describe the soldiers opening fire on prisoners who had come out into the courtyard, waving a white flag above their heads as a sign of surrender.       

The conditions of Venezuelan prisons have been a concern for human rights groups since 2008.  “In Venezuela, prisoners are often held in cruel, inhuman and degrading conditions and violence is endemic,” said Guadalupe Marengo, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Americas Division.  At the El Rodeo prison roughly 3,600 prisoners were imprisoned but the facilities were only built to contain 750 people.

Marengo urges the Venezuelan government to “promptly launch an independent investigation into what went wrong at El Rodeo, establishing responsibility for the high level of weapons in the prison, and ensure that similar incidents are not repeated in the future.”

Director of El Rodeo II, Luis Rafael Aranguren and Rubén José González Heredia, Vice-director of El Rodeo I have been arrested on allegations of illegally facilitating the movement of drugs and arms into the prison and corruption charges.

For more information, please see;

The Guardian – Venezuelan Prison Siege: El Rodeo Directors Arrested – 28 June 2011

Amnesty International – Deadly Clashes Highlight Need for Urgent Prison Reform in Venezuela – 22 June 2011

 CNN – Standoff is Latest in Venezuelan Prisons’ History of Problems – 21 June 2011

 The Guardian – Venezuelan Government Troops Continue Assault on Riot-Torn Prison – 21 June 2011

 International Business Times – Stand-Off Continues in a Venezuelan Prison – 20 June 2011

 BBC News – Venezuelan Forces Storm Prison ‘to Protect Lives’ – 17 June 2011

UPDATE – Iran in the News

Compiled by the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center
June 29, 2011

A History of United Nations Special Representatives and Rapporteurs in Iran

IHRDC released this chart that collects and documents UN Special Representative and Rapporteur activity in Iran since 1980. To read the history and UN reports click here.

Witness Statement of Mohammad Shams

IHRDC published a witness statement by Mohammad Shams, a young political opposition supporter, describing his arrest, detention and torture after he participated in demonstrations protesting the June 2009 presidential elections results. Read his witness statement here.

Persian Translation of the Rome Statute Continued

IHRDC posted its Persian translation of Parts 4, 5 and 6 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. The translation is available here.

Surviving Rape in Iran’s Prisons

IHRDC published this report that documents the ordeals of five former prisoners – two women and three men – who were raped, and witnessed and were threatened with rape while imprisoned in Iranian prisons. Read it here.

Civilians Suspects Arrested by Military in Uganda

By Reta Raymond
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

KAMPALA, Uganda – In the wake of the much publicized death of Col. Edison Muzoora, several Forum for Democratic Change (“FDC”) party officials have been arrested, some of them by the Ugandan military, the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (“UPDF”). Seven suspects have been detained for nearly two weeks, and on 27 June five were charged with treason, a civil offense under Section 23 of the Ugandan Penal Code Act.  FDC Secretary of Defence and Security Maj. (rtd) John Kazoora believes that “the government is becoming paranoid and they want to silence the opposition using these arrests. .. If [the detainees] have a case to answer [for] they should be produced in court.”

Mr. Mukaira is recovering at Mulago Hospital in Kampala after being arrested by the UPDF. (Photo courtesy of Daily Monitor)
Mukaira is recovering at Mulago Hospital. (Photo courtesy of Daily Monitor)

FDC Bushenyi District Chairperson William Mukaira, 83 was arrested on 19 June by the UPDF, but has not yet been charged. Mukaira was last reported to be at Mulago Hospital in Kampala where he is recovering from undisclosed health deterioration after being detained at an UPDF military detention facility.

Dr. Aggrey Byamaka, a pharmacist and FDC officer from Mbarara Municipality, was also arrested by the UPDF on 16 June, and was taken to the Second Division Army Barracks in Mbarara.  Byamaka’s wife, Doreen, asked the UPDF forces why he was arrested and where they were taking him. The officers told her to follow them in her car but she was turned away at the UPDF headquarters gate. Nine days later, Mrs. Byamaka still had not been able to find her husband. She told reporters, “I can’t rest, I can’t settle. Wherever he is rumored to be detained, I try to connect there, but I have not succeeded. We don’t know if he is dead or alive.”

Byamaka has not been charged yet, despite a court order issued Friday for the government to produce him on Monday, 27 June with the other suspects. Upon failing to produce Byamaka, State Attorney Susan Odongo reported to the court that “the Director of the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence has filed a return this morning stating that the applicant is in the custody of the police. We have been trying to receive instructions from the IGP and the director CID, but they were engaged in a meeting.”

Col. Muzoora deserted the UPDF in 2003, and fled to Rwanda where he served as an operations and field commander of the rebel group the People’s Redemption Army. On 27 May Muzoora’s body was left outside his Bushenyi home in Uganda, wrapped in white sheets, having been preserved for several weeks. “Our preliminary investigations reveal that Col Muzoora sneaked into Uganda on May 5, 2011 from a neigbouring country… After he entered the country, he went directly to the home of William Mukaira in Bushenyi,” stated Internal affairs minister, Hilary Onek. The prosecution believes that those charged were conspiring with Muzoora, among others to overthrow the government with a force of arms.

Daily Monitor – State slaps treason case on six suspects28 June, 2011.

Daily Monitor Muzoora’s death puts two on the spot – 25 June, 2011.

All AfricaUganda: Army, police deny they have Byamaka – 22 June, 2011.

The ObserverGovernment explains Col. Muzoora’s death – 22 June, 2011.

Daily Monitor Tension as FDC officials are arrested by military – 19 June, 2011.

Recent events indicate advancements in women’s rights

By Greg Hall
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

STOCKHOLM, Sweden – Two recent newsworthy events highlight the international efforts being made to further women’s rights and protect women from inequality and discrimination. First, Sunday marked the United Nations’ thirtieth year celebration of the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture, an annual day dedicated to paying respect to worldwide victims of torture. This week also marked one year since the opening of the Swedish school Egalia, a preschool aimed at promoting gender neutrality by eliminating common stereotypes.

Children play in the garden of Egalia (Photo courtesy of NY Times).
Children play in the garden of Egalia, a progressive Swedish preschool. (Photo courtesy of New York Times).

The UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture celebrated its thirtieth anniversary on Sunday. Last year, at Denmark’s request, the UN designated June 26 as International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.  Torture against women in particular has been an important focus.  Certain forms of gender-specific violence perpetrated by state actors, as well as by private individuals or organizations, amount to torture, and it is now recognized that gender-specific violence falls within the definition of torture in the Convention against Torture.

One country has promoted women’s rights for decades.  A preschool in Sweden, Egalia, takes human rights and equality to a new level.  The school proclaims to be totally gender neutral, and teaches gender equality by eliminating common socialization that occurs in ordinary schools.  For example, the school staff refers to the children as friends instead of boys and girls.  The colors of the toys are also gender neutral.  Even the dolls are anatomically correct. The school refers to a person whose gender is not known as a “hen” instead of a him or her. School officials believe that such behavior will help eradicate stereotypes that lead to future gender inequality.

Critics of the school’s program are wary. Jay Belsky, a child psychologist at the University of California, Davis, said he’s not aware of any other school like Egalia, and he questioned its mission.

“The kind of things that boys like to do – run around and turn sticks into swords – will soon be disapproved of,” he said. “So gender neutrality at its worst is emasculating maleness.”  Despite opinions such as Belsky’s, the school boasts a long waiting list for admission.

Such events as the thirtieth anniversary of the International Day in support of torture victims and the one-year anniversary of the opening of the innovative Egalia highlight a long road ahead for women’s rights. But, at the least, it is clear that efforts are being made to reduce discrimination and ill treatment based on gender.

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Education Associates – International Day of Support of Victims of Torture – 26 June 2011

New York Times – No ‘him’ of ‘her’; Preschool Fights Gender Bias – 26 June 2011

UN – International Day of Support of Victims of Torture – 26 June 2011

OAS readmits Honduras after Zelaya returns, but human rights concerns remain

By Brianne Yantz
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – Earlier this month the Organization of American States voted to readmit Honduras after President Porfirio Lobo agreed to former President Manuel Zelaya’s return from exile. Honduras was suspended from the OAS in 2009 after Zelaya was ousted by the Honduran military in a coup d’état.

Zelayas supporters gather in Tegucigalpa to welcome his return (Photo Courtesy of the NY Post).
Zelaya’s supporters gather in Tegucigalpa to listen to his speech 3 months after ouster. (Photo Courtesy of the NY Post).

At the time of his removal Zelaya had been campaigning for constitutional reform, which his opponents alleged were in efforts to extend his presidency. The Honduran constitution bans leaders from serving more than one term in office and the speculation that Zelaya desired to run for a second term served as the pre-text for his removal.

Despite the reasons behind Zelaya’s removal, many believe the nation is worse off than it was two years ago. According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, more than 4,000 cases of human rights violations were documented between June 2009 and December 2010.  Human rights activists, journalists, and the government’s political adversaries have been among those suffering violent abuse and repression at the hands of the Honduran military and police.

Honduras is currently one of the world’s most violent nations.  The homicide rate is four times higher than that of Mexico, with 67 per 100,000 people murdered each year. In the past year alone around 40 community leaders, many of which were Zelaya supporters, were killed.

Since his election to office last year, President Lobo has made multiple public statements calling for and promoting peaceful resolution but the violence has continued.  Although some see Zelaya’s return to Honduras as a step towards achieving peace, many believe the on-going human rights violations that have endured for the past two years are far from over.

These beliefs are not without merit. The Cartagena Accord, the diplomatic agreement that paved the way for Zelaya’s return, mandated that the assassins, torturers and rapists of the Honduran regimes of the past two years be immune from criminal prosecution. According to a Workers Word report, Committee of Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared in Honduras representative Bertha Oliva criticized the agreement, stating, “We do not see any indications of how and when those responsible for the crimes against humanity committed during and after the coup will be punished.”

Oliva is one of many who are skeptical of conditions of Zelaya’s return and if his presence will help rid Honduras of despair. Many believe the that Zelaya was allowed to return so that Honduras would be readmitted to the OAS, an action more than 20 human rights organizations had opposed because it effectively legitimized the government that rose to power after the coup.

Zelaya’s return is a return to political normalization; however, there is still no guarantee that his return and the return of Honduras to the OAS will restore civil rights and freedoms to the people of Honduras.

For more information, please see:

 

Workers Word – Zelaya returns to Honduras – June 9, 2011

LA Times – Fixing Honduras – June 7, 2011

Reporters Without Borders – Concern about future of civil liberties, human rights after OAS readmits Honduras – June 7, 2011

The Miami Herald – Hollow victory – June 5, 2011

Latin American Press – End of the crisis? – June 2, 2011

BBC News – OAS lifts Honduras suspension after Zelaya agreement – June 1, 2011

 

FARC forcing recruitment of indigenous child soldiers

By Emilee Gaebler
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

 BOGOTÁ, Colombia – Fighting with the rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC) recently occurred in the southwestern Cauca region.  On June 4, 2011 army reports from a skirmish with the guerilla fighters revealed that FARC is still actively recruiting child soldiers. 

adolescent FARC soldiers (Photo Courtesy of Latin American Studies Organization)
Adolescent are actively recruited by FARC. (Photo Courtesy of Latin American Studies Organization)

 Three members from FARC forces were arrested after the skirmish, two of them were minors.  The three arrested all confirmed that FARC has been active in recruiting children from the indigenous populations in the Huila, Cauca and Valle de Cauca regions.  The two child soldiers stated that in the past two months, roughly 15 children between the ages of 12 and 15 years old have been forcefully recruited.

 Child soldiers are sometimes used in armed combat but more commonly, they act as FARC’s transporters for explosives, rations and anti-personnel mines.  Recent decisive moves by the Colombian army resulted in the death and capture of many FARC fighters.  The army believes this has led to a need for replacements and thus prompted the surge in forced child soldier recruitment. 

The two child soldiers were placed in the care of the state and officials urged indigenous communities to report these recruitments to authorities.  In an effort to relieve fear of reprisal, authorities stated that indigenous communities should not fear condemnation by the state. 

 Indigenous groups have asked for a more concerted and swift response from the government to eradicate this widespread practice.  Aída Quilcué, the leader of the Cauca Regional Indigenous Council, stated; “[w]e have cases of minors from 8 years of age to 15 who have been forcefully recruited by the FARC.  We are asking for the government’s help so this situation stops.  We are tired of seeing women raped, tortured, children dead and children obligated to join the FARC’s ranks.”

 For more information, please see;

 Child Rights Information Network – Colombia: ‘FARC Are Recruiting Indigenous Children’ – 9 June 2011

 Latin America Press – FARC Recruiting Indigenous Minors – 9 June 2011

 Colombia Reports – FARC Are Recruiting Indigenous Children – 4 June 2011

 Ejército Nacional – Las FARC Estarían Reclutando Menores en Cabildos Indígenas – 4 June 2011

Former Head of Armed Forces in Guatemala Arrested, Charged with Genocide

By Brittney Hodnik
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala – Guatemalan officials have detained Hector Mario Lopez Fuentes, a retired general and former head of the armed forces in Guatemala.  He allegedly played a pivotal role in a number of massacres that occurred during the Guatemalan Civil War.  Many hope the arrest will provide closure for thousands of families across the country.

Relatives of civil war victims try to identify remains (Photo Courtesy of BBC News)
Relatives of civil war victims try to identify remains. (Photo Courtesy of BBC News)

Between 1960 and 1996, Guatemala underwent a violent civil war in which security forces killed an estimated 200,000 people.  The large majority of victims were indigenous Mayan Indians and other innocent civilians.  Mario Minera, a rights activist told the Associated Press “this opens the possibility that there could be justice for hundreds of families” and possibly an explanation.

General Fuentes, now 81 years old, faces charges of genocide and forced disappearance – a crime in which the victim has never been found.  Additionally, human rights groups are accusing him of crimes against humanity generally.

As reported by BBC News, Guatemala’s office of public prosecutions claims that Fuentes is the driving force behind the killings of more than 300 landless Mayan civilians in 1982 and 1983.  While the security forces are to blame for the majority of the actual killings and disappearances, Fuentes stands accused of orchestrating it all.

According to Amnesty International, Fuentes held the title of military Chief of Staff – the third highest-ranking official in the country – under then-President, General José Efrain Ríos Montt.  Montt is currently awaiting criminal prosecution himself.  As of now, he enjoys immunity from prosecution while serving a term as a Congressman.  Montt told a local radio station, “it was a time of war, of guerrilla wars,” and is reportedly willing to face justice for his actions in the early 1980s.

International Business Times reports that Fuentes is the highest-ranking former government official so far to be charged with such crimes related to the civil war.

Sebastian Elgueta, Central America Researcher at Amnesty International, described the arrest as a “major step toward justice for the hundreds of thousands of victims of grave human rights abuses. . . ”  Elgueta believes that in order for justice to prevail, authorities should punish not only the soldiers, but also the masterminds behind these atrocities.

Guatemalan authorities have arrested other former military and police officials in recent months for their involvement in human rights abuses.  “But,” said Elgueta, “most of those who planned and carried out the worst abuses are still at large and must be brought to justice.”

For more information, please see:

 Amnesty International – Guatemala Arrests Former General for Genocide – 20 June 2011

BBC News – Guatemala: Ex-Armed Forces Chief Lopez Fuentes Arrested – 18 June 2011

International Business Times – Former Guatemalan Army Chief Arrested for War Crimes – 18 June 2011

The Sacramento Bee – Guatemala Arrests Ex-General in 1980s Killings – 17 June 2011

Gaddafi Arrest Warrant Issued by ICC

By Tyler Yates
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued arrest warrants today for Muammar Gaddafi, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, and Abdullah al-Senussi for crimes against humanity that allegedly occurred across Libya from 15 February 2011 until at least 28 February 2011.

Muammar Gaddafi (Photo Courtesy of ABC News).
Muammar Gaddafi (Photo Courtesy of ABC News).

Specifically, the three are charged for the implementation of state policy to deter and quell, by any means, including by deadly force, demonstrations against the Gaddafi regime. Libyan Security Forces, under Gaddafi’s command, attacked, killed or injured as well as arrested and imprisoned hundreds of civilians and alleged dissidents throughout Libya during the time in question.

The ICC’s decision to issue the warrants comes after a unanimous adoption of Resolution 1970 by the United Nations Security Council on 26 February 2011.  The resolution, which referred the situation in Libya to the ICC Prosecutor, stressed the need to hold accountable those responsible for the brutal attacks against the Libyan citizens.  It decided “the Libyan authorities shall cooperate fully with and provide any necessary assistance to the Court and the Prosecutor pursuant to the resolution.”  The Security Council also urged all States and concerned regional and international organizations to cooperate fully with the ICC.

The ICC Prosecutor undertook a preliminary investigation, and it was concluded on 3 March 2011 that the crimes committed in Libya fell within the ICC’s jurisdiction, and that further investigation into the matter was necessary.  On 16 May 2011 the ICC Prosecutor requested the issuance of the three warrants that were finally approved today by Pre-Trial Chamber I of the ICC.

The ICC issued the warrants because it believes there is sufficient evidence that the men did commit the crimes in question, and that their arrest is necessary to ensure their appearance before the court; to stop them from obstructing and endangering the Court’s investigations; and to prevent them from continuing to commit crimes within the ICC’s jurisdiction.

Rebels in Eastern Libya welcomed news of the warrants. Mustafa Abdel Jalil, head of the opposition’s Interim Transitional National Council, said the warrants will further their efforts to end Gaddafi’s more than 40-year rule.

The ICC has no police force of its own so it up to national authorities to make arrests on its behalf.  Resolution 1970 requires Libya to cooperate with the ICC and the opposition’s Interim Transitional National Council has promised as much to the ICC Prosecutor.

Human Rights Watch points out that the ICC’s work on bringing to justice those who commit crimes against humanity in Libya is distinct from any other military or diplomatic initiatives currently taking place, and that it would be a mistake to conflate them or identify the ICC as anything other than an independent body.

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch — Libya: Warrants Send Strong Message to Abusive Leaders — 27 June 2011

International Criminal Court — Pre-Trial Chamber I issues three warrants of arrest for Muammar Gaddafi, Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi and Abdulla Al-Senussi – 27 June 2011

New York Times — Hague Court Issues War Crimes Warrant for Qaddafi — 27 June 2011

Voice of America — Eastern Libyans Welcome ICC Charges Against Gaddafi — 27 June 2011

FOUR AFRICAN COUNTRIES TOP THE LIST OF FAILED STATES

By Tamara Alfred
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

In an index of failed states compiled by Fund for Peace and released by Foreign Policy this week, Somalia has topped the list for the fourth year in a row, followed by Chad, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In Somalia, out of a population of nearly 10 million, as many as three million are thought to be in need of humanitarian assistance.  Another two million have been uprooted in the nation’s conflict with Islamist insurgents who have pledged their allegiance to al Qaeda.  According to the United Nations, the country has not had a fully-functioning national government since 1991.

Demonstrators in Mogadishu protesting the United Nations mission in the country.  (Photo Courtesy of Getty Images.)
Demonstrators in Mogadishu. (Photo Courtesy of Getty Images)

J.J. Messner, a Fund for Peace senior associate, told CNN that just because a country is high on the list does not necessarily mean it is a failed state, but that it is facing enormous social, economic and political pressures.

“Bur for many countries, very little is, sadly, changing,” Messner said.  “We see that for many countries there is very little improvement.”

Coming in second on the list was Chad.  Only 23% of Chadians in urban areas have access to clean water and that number is even lower in rural areas due to a lack of sanitation facilities in the country.  Life expectancy is at a mere 49 years of age.  Most of the government’s money, despite being fairly wealthy from oil discoveries, goes to the purchase of arms to ward off rebel groups.

Sudan, ranked third, and its troubles have been well-documented.  Violence has spread recently from Darfur to Abyei and Southern Kordofan as the nation prepares to separate into two.  According to Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, more than 360,000 people have been displaced in Sudan in the last six months, adding to the already 2.7 million forced from their homes since fighting began in Darfur in 2003.

The Democratic Republic of Congo came in fourth on the list.  Often referred to as the “Rape Capital of the World,” the UN approximates that 200,000 women have been raped there since armed conflict between various militias began in the late 1990s.  In the eastern part of the country it is still commonplace for soldiers to use sexual violence against innocent villagers.  The nation will face a big test in November when it holds a presidential election nearly a decade after its civil war officially ended.

The criteria used in ranking the states included mounting demographic pressures, mass movement of refugees or internally-displaced persons, vengeance-seeking group grievance, chronic and sustained human flight and uneven economic development.  Additional criteria included legitimacy of the state, violations of human rights and rule of law and progressive deterioration of public services.

Three other African nations rounded out the top ten: Zimbabwe (#6), Central Africa Republic (#8) and Cote d’Ivoire (#10).  Only three non-African nations made the top ten: Haiti (#5), Afghanistan (#7) and Iraq (#9).

For more information, please see:

Afrique en ligne – African nations top 2011 Failed States Index list – 23 June 2011

Foreign Policy – The Hall of Shame – 22 June 2011

CNN – Somalia is again at top of failed states list – 21 June 2011

Foreign Policy – Postcards from Hell, 2011 – 20 June 2011

CNN – Despite rallies supporting him, Somali PM steps down – 19 June 2011

Tunisia Joins International Criminal Court

by Zach Waksman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

NEW YORK, New York, United States – Tunisia joined the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Friday, handing its instruments of accession to the Rome Statute, which governs the organization, to Ban-Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations.  Its accession makes the small African nation the 116th country, but the first from North Africa and only the fourth member of the League of Arab States, to do so.

The United Nations and the ICC were pleased with the decision to join the ICC, commending the government.  “This significant step is particularly important in light of the fundamental changes that have occurred in Tunisia this year,” Secretary-General Ban told the assembled press.

Due to government repression of protests regarding political freedom and unemployment, the population revolted against longtime President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.  In January this year, he fled the country as strikes and demonstrations, nicknamed the “Jasmine Revolution,” moved into the capital city of Tunis.  At the time, Errachad Majidi, a researcher for Paul Cézanne University, wondered whether the revolt’s success would create a domino effect in the Arab world.  In a January 26, 2011 editorial for Afrik.com, he considered Tunisia’s situation to be unique compared to the rest of the Arab world because it was one of the more literate countries in the region.  He believed this to be a potential reason for “the high level of political consciousness among the youth; the determined and peaceful nature of the revolt; and both its organization and decentralization, facilitated by the use of Internet social networks.”

“Tunisia’s accession to the Rome Statute is also a testament of the profound changes brought about by the ‘Arab Spring,’ which started in Tunisia,” said Ambassador Christian Wenaweser, President of the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute in a statement to the press.  Within weeks of President Ben Ali’s overthrow, similar protests in Egypt met with equal success.  Several other protests of this nature have also taken place over the past few months.

Despite this apparent domino effect, Majidi remained skeptical.  “Finally, for a domino effect to work, the Tunisian revolt must lead to real political change: a change that is not guaranteed,” he wrote.  So far, that change appears to be happening, shortly after Ben Ali fled, the government, led by an organization of parties, associations, unions, and intellectuals, was changed into a more democratic assembly, with new elections scheduled for July 24.

Arab and Muslim states have generally not trusted the ICC, fearing that it is a political tool wielded by Western nations.  Tunisia’s accession may mark a small shift in that sentiment.  Reuters reported that Egypt, one of the countries who staged a successful revolution of its own, is also considering acceding to the Rome Statute and joining the ICC.

The Statute will have jurisdiction over Tunisia starting on September 1.

For more information, please see:

International Criminal Court — Tunisia becomes the 116th State to join the ICC’s governing treaty, the Rome Statute — 24 June 2011

International Criminal Court — Statement by H.E. Ambassador Christian Wenaweser, President of the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court — 24 June 2011

MSNBC — Tunisia joins international war crimes court — 24 June 2011

UN News Service — Tunisia becomes first North African nation to Join International Criminal Court — 24 June 2011

allAfrica.com — Africa: Tunisian Revolution Did Not Come Out of Nowhere — 26 May 2011

Afrik-news.com — A domino effect in the Arab world after Tunisia? — 26 January 2011

Sri Lanka Struggling for Solutions

By Greg Donaldson
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – Three days after the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) accused the Sri Lankan government of breaking up a party meeting, Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa declined to appear before a United States district court to answer for war crimes that he allegedly committed. The thirty million dollar claim was filed by a US-based Tamil lobby firm for the supposed killing of three members of the island’s ethnic Tamil minority by government troops.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa (Photo courtesy of the Associated Press)
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa (Photo courtesy of the Associated Press)

The complaint alleges six violations of the US Torture Victims Protection Act. The plaintiffs claim that as commander-in-chief over the military, the president is responsible for torture and killings that occur during war when civilians victims exist. Justice Ministry Secretary Suhada Gamlath told AFP “under our laws, the president has immunity.” A member of the External Affairs Ministry told the Sydney Morning Herald that the courts actions were designed to embarrass the President and his government, and it would not be responded to.

The TNA said Friday morning army troops stormed into a party meeting Thursday evening and chased away supporters. The purpose of the meeting according to TNA was to discuss the upcoming local government elections scheduled for July 23rd. “Despite our security guards telling them that we are members of parliament, around thirty military personnel in their uniforms attacked with batons,” E. Saravanabawan, a Jaffna district Tamil legislator told Reuters. A statement released by TNA stated “several soldiers in full uniform, carrying automatic weapons and long poles in their hands, rushed into the hall and started assaulting the people, about thirty of them were led by an officer who wore a t-shirt and army fatigue trousers and boots.”

The TNA statement further explained that when the military arrived M.A. Sumanthiran, a TNA legislator, spoke to an officer who appeared to hold the rank of a major. The officer told the lawmaker that the meeting did not have police permission and could not continue. Sumanthiran then attempted to explain to the officer that the meeting did not require any police permission because it was an internal party meeting, and even if it did require police permission, it would be a matter for TNA and the police to resolve together, not the military. Soldiers then marched into the hall and ended the meeting.

The day after the purported attack, military spokesman Major General Ubaya Medawela said he was unaware of any military involvement in the incident but added that police had begun an investigation. On Monday, Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse ordered the Jaffna Army Commander, Major General Mahinda Hathurusinghe, to conduct an extensive investigation of the military attack on TNA. Rajapaske, who is the president’s brother, ordered Hathurusinghe to immediately arrest the culprits, reported the state-run Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation. Hathurusinghe met with TNA legislators about the issue and explained that the military has no intension to disrupt the peace in the area.

This incident highlights the issues the Sri Lankan government face following a twenty-six year civil war between the government and the Tamil Tigers. The conflict ended in May of 2009 when the government defeated the rebels who fought for a separate state in the north. The government offensive that ended the war has been described as ruthless, as more than 100,000 people were killed throughout the war, and both sides have accused the other of committing war crimes. The government is now under heavy pressure from the United Nations to set up an independent investigation into crimes committed during the war.

Other members of the government of Sri Lanka are also under investigation. Dr. Palitha Kohona, a dual citizen of Sri Lanka and Australia, who served as foreign secretary during the war and is now Sri Lanka’s ambassador to the United Nations, has been accused of engineering the surrender of key rebel leaders under white flags only to have them shot by troops, reports the Sydney Morning Herald. Dr. Kohona proclaimed his innocence explaining that he never had any military authority especially in dealing with the surrender of terrorists. A petition against Dr. Kohona has been received by the International Criminal Court.

Many northern TNA lawmakers have complained about the continued poor treatment of minority Tamils and continue to plead with the government to find a solution to the problem. In response to Thursday evening’s incident Keerthi Tennakoon, spokesman for Campaign for Free and Fair Election, a non-government organization which monitors polls in the island nation stated, “This proves that there is no environment for people in the north to exercise their political rights freely. There is a semi-military administration in north.” The Sri Lankan government has said that it is doing its best to restore the country to its pre-war state and the current military ruling will be dissolved.

The next round of talks to find a solution to the country’s social problems are scheduled for June 23rd. The Sinhala Sunday newspaper The Divaina quoted government sources saying the government’s proposed plan is to give more power to the Tamils.

For more information, please see:

MSN News — Sri Lanka govt orders probe into ”army attack” on Tamil party — 21 June 2011

AFP — Sri Lanka president rejects US court summons – 20 June 2011

Sydney Morning Herald – War crimes summons against Sri Lanka President – 20 June 2011

Colombo Page — Sri Lanka’s major Tamil constituent wants the government to propose a solution for the ethnic problem – 18 June 2011

AFP — Sri Lanka Tamil MPs ‘beaten up by troops’ – 17 June 2011

Channel Six News — Sri Lankan Tamil party accuses army of attacking its election meeting – 17 June 2011

IBN Live — Lankan army storm Tamil party meeting: TNA — 17 June 2011

Reuters — Sri Lanka Tamil party says military attacked its poll campaign — 17 June 2011

New Russian Opposition Party Denied Registration, Effectively Barred From Election

By Christina Berger
Special Features Editor

MOSCOW, Russia — Russia’s Ministry of Justice refused to approve the registration application of a new political party founded by prominent opposition members. This refusal will effectively bar the party from participating in the upcoming Duma (Russian assembly) elections in December and presidential elections in March 2012.

Russian federal law requires that a political party must have at least 45,000 members and regional departments in at least half of Russia’s 83 constituent units in order to be registered. The new liberal political party, the People’s Freedom Party (known as PARNAS), which was founded by Russian opposition leaders, including former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov and former deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov, “for a Russia free from abuse and corruption,” claims 53 regional offices and 46,000 members.

The Ministry of Justice claimed they denied the application to register PARNAS because the submitted charter does not comply with federal law on political parties, mainly the regulation that charters must provide a stipulation for the rotation of heads of the governing body. The Ministry also said that the party’s required 45,000 signatures contained violations because some of the party members were dead, underage, or not legal residents of the region where they signed. Additionally, the Ministry said they received written statements from citizens disavowing their signatures as members of PARNAS or denying they attended the PARNAS general meeting.

PARNAS leadership claimed that the charter was identical to standard charters, and that they had the requisite eligible 45,000 members. Also, Kasyanov and others have reported that some people who joined the party, which held its founding Congress in December 2010, were summoned by police officers and questioned about joining the opposition party, as well as whether they realized they could lose their job or their children would lose the opportunity to study at university. Nemstov stated that he wasn’t surprised because Russia’s ruling party is “deadly afraid” of the opposition and their elections “are nothing but a farce.”

President Dimitri Medvedev recently pledged to increase political competition in Russia , and if the PARNAS registration application was the first test of that pledge, many feel it was a failure.

Kremlin critics claim that authorities often use technicalities to deny registration to opposition parties. Leaders outside of Russia have also found this decision troubling. U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said in a statement, “[the U.S. is] troubled by reports of pressure from authorities in the regions designed to intimidate PARNAS (the party’s) supporters, prompting them to resign positions or disavow their signatures on required lists.”

A spokesperson for the European Union’s foreign-policy chief also expressed concern at the denial, saying “[t]he difficulties faced by political parties in registering for elections effectively constrain political competition in Russia, reduce the choice available to its electorate, and show that there are real obstacles to political pluralism in the country.”

Lyudmila Alekseeva, the chair of Russia’s oldest human rights organization The Moscow Helsinki Group, said, “If there was some hope for a fair election, now it’s gone.”

For more information, please see:

MSNBC — New Russian opposition party barred from election — 22 June 2011

CNN — Russia refuses to register liberal party; U.S. ‘disappointed’ — 22 June 2011

BBC — Russia rejects new opposition party registration — 22 June 2011

Russia Today — Opposition party denied registration for accepting dead members — 22 June 2011

RFE/RL — Russian Opposition Party Denied Registration — 22 June 2011

Ethiopians Unsettled by Increase in Food Prices

By Carolyn Abdenour
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia – Earlier this month, the Ethiopian government removed price controls that have been in place since January of this year. The price controls were initially implemented to stabilize the price of food staples such as meat, bread, and cooking oils. Now that the controls have been removed, food prices are soaring, and many Ethiopians feel the government’s actions are causing turmoil.

Residents of the Horn of Africa desperately needing food rations.  (Photo courtesy of BBC).
Residents of the Horn of Africa desperately needing food rations. (Photo courtesy of BBC).

During the six months the price controls were in place, the government did not observe significant changes in the price of food. However, since they were lifted, the meat market has collapsed, with the price of meat increasing $2 per kilogram in the last few weeks.

Other goods’ prices have increased similarly. Chickpea flour was $0.65 per kilogram and is now $1.60 per kilogram. Coffee, Ethiopia’s most important crop, is now too expensive for most of its citizens to purchase. An Ethiopian taxi driver reported “[My] family can no longer honor a basic Ethiopian courtesy by serving [coffee] to guests”.

The Ethiopian government blames these increasing food prices on the international market. However, the International Monetary Fund (“IMF”) counters the government’s claim by asserting that the government is over-borrowing and printing too much currency, explaining in May that Ethiopia’s money supply has expanded by 35 percent. The IMF claims this increased money supply is causing the spiraling food prices.

To combat the rising food prices, Ethiopians are boycotting meat and have created a text message campaign to voice their concerns. A local meat seller said “the campaign has affected [my] customer base but [I] can’t afford to reduce prices”. He further explained that under the price controls, he made a marginal profit. Once the price controls were lifted, he had to double his prices to remain in business.

Complicating the issue further, the government has sold land to Saudi Arabia and China for rice production. The government maintains that the land they sold to foreign investors is not being effectively used, and its sale will help Ethiopian communities. Hailemariam Desalegn, Ethiopia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, made assurances that only three percent of the arable land was being sold to other countries for food production, that the land is low-land that farmers do not want to plow, and that it is malaria ridden. However, BBC reported “local people used the land for agriculture, hunting and for gathering fruit in times of famine.”

In response to the increased food prices, Murray State University economist and native Ethiopian Seid Hassa said “the measure was taken without any careful study about the causes of rampant inflation, and the ruling party took the measures to distract public anger and potential unrest”.

For more information, please see:
EzegaEthiopia: Government Lifts Price Caps, Food Prices Zoom – 22 June 2011
Washington PostEthiopia food prices spike after govt lifts price caps, making food unaffordable for many – 21 June 2011
Bloomberg Ethiopian Annual Inflation Rate Increased to 34.7% in May on Food Prices – 13 June 2011
BBC Ethiopia weighs benefits of foreign ‘land grabs’ – 10 June 2011

Chinese activist released from prison amidst suspicion of unlawful detention

By: Jessica Ties
Impunity Watch, Asia

BEIJING, China – Chinese artist and critic Ai Weiwei, who is well-known for his frequent condemnation of the Chinese Communist Party, was detained on April 3 after being seized by police at the Beijing airport while attempting to board a plane to Hong Kong. After his arrest, he was taken to a Beijing police “safehouse” on allegations of committing “economic crimes”. Four of his associates were also detained.

Ai Weiwei was detained for 80 days despite never being formally charged with a crime (Photo Courtesy of New York Times).
Ai Weiwei was detained for 80 days despite never being formally charged with a crime (Photo Courtesy of The New York Times).

Following his arrest, information began to surface that Mr. Ai had been arrested for tax evasion after a company controlled by him, Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd., was believed to have evaded taxes and destroyed accounting documents. Reportedly, Mr. Ai was released only after he confessed to the crimes and repeatedly assured officials that he would repay the back taxes.

The Wall Street Journal described this case as “…no ordinary tax case but a politically motivated investigation designed to silence an increasingly popular critic”. Mr. Ai was not formally arrested, indicted, charged, convicted or sentenced for any crime before being detained for 80 days.

Prior to his detention, Mr. Ai was known for frequently utilizing Twitter and other public mediums to express his views on the Chinese government. After arriving home; however, Ai Weiwei gave a brief statement to reporters outside of his home explaining that he could not talk about the incident and to understand his inability to comment due to the conditions of his parole. As another requirement of his parole, Mr. Ai is required to remain in Beijing for one year unless he is given special permission from the government to leave and must report to police whenever he is asked.

The release of Mr. Ai has prompted increased internet censorship in an attempt to conceal any information about the popular critics arrest and detention. For example, a strictly censored Chinese blog, Sina Weibo, has banned words with any relation to Mr. Ai such as “release”, “the fat guy” and “AWW”.

While Mr. Ai’s cousin was released on Thursday, the other three associates remain unaccounted for. Mr. Ai is just a single activist in over 130 that have been detained in a government crackdown on dissent that began in February as a reaction to the government’s fear that uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa would influence revolution in China. Amnesty International is asking that the Chinese government’s decision to release Ai Weiwei not “diminish the international outcry about other activists detained…”

For more information, please see:

China Digital Times – Ai Weiwei Released on Bail; Xu Zhiyong Reportedly Detained – 24 June 2011

The Independent – Ai Weiwei Cousin Freed but Associates Still Missing – 24 June 2011

CNN – Ai Weiwei’s Release Accentuated by Web Censorship, Terse State-Media – 23 June 2011

NY Times – Now Free, a Chinese Dissident Muzzles Himself –  23 June 2011

Wall Street Journal –   China’s Shame Over Ai Weiwei – 23 June 2011

Amnesty International – Chinese Government Attempts to Deflect Criticism With Ai Weiwei Release – 22 June 2011