Tunisia Joins International Criminal Court

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