Chinese children denied care after suffering from lead poisoning

By: Jessica Ties
Impunity Watch, Asia

BEIJING, China – Following the discovery of mass lead poisoning among children, Chinese officials are restricting access to available lead testing, altering test results, withholding test results and denying treatment to children who have suffered from exposure to excessive amounts of lead.  In addition, those who speak out about the lead poisoning problem are detained, intimidated and harassed by Chinese authorities.

Children infected with lead poisoning standing with their parents in a hospital in Anhui province (Photo Courtesy of Radio Free Asia).
Children infected with lead poisoning standing with their parents in a hospital in Anhui province (Photo Courtesy of Radio Free Asia).

While there is no official figure on the extent of the lead poisoning problem in China, reports by medical experts say that, in many regions, a majority of children have high levels of lead in their blood.

In the most recent case more than 26 adults and 103 children were sickened from tinfoil processing workshops. In the past two and a half years thousands of adults and children have been found to have toxic levels of lead exposure. In one village, Mengxi, 233 adults and 99 children were found to have seven times the amount of lead deemed safe by the Chinese government in their blood. This exposure is largely due to battery and metal factories located throughout the country.

Children are at a significantly higher risk of lead poisoning because their bodies take in up to half of what they encounter in the environment. Lead poisoning can cause children to suffer permanent intellectual, neurological and developmental disabilities.

The mother of a poisoned child stated, “the doctor told us all the children in this village have lead poisoning. Then they told us a few months later that all the children are healthy. They wouldn’t let us see the results from the tests though.”

Many parents have also stated that despite their children being diagnosed with severe lead poisoning, they were told by doctors to just have their child consume various types of food or drink milk. Joe Amon, health and human rights director at Human Rights Watch added that “children with dangerously high levels of lead in their blood are being refused treatment and returned home to contaminated houses in polluted villages.”

While China has expansive environmental policies, environmental protection officials generally do not have the influence required to compel local government officials to enforce the policies and face substantial resistance when  following the policies may hinder economic interests.

According to a report by Human Rights Watch, in villages that experience the highest levels of lead poisoning, affected children will need significant assistance to overcame the cognitive and physical impairments caused by lead poisoning.

For more information, please see:

Forbes – Report: China Hushing Up Lead Poisoning Epidemic – 15 June 2011

Fox News – China Downplays Risk to Children from Lead Poisoning, Report Says – 15 June 2011

Human Rights Watch – China: Children Poisoned by Lead and Denied Treatment – 15 June 2011

New York Times – Lead Poisoning in China: The hidden Scourge – 15 June 2011

Radio Free Asia – Lead-Poisoned Children ‘Neglected’ – 15 June 2011

Impunity Watch Symposium Keynote Senator Romeo Dallaire (2/5)

Impunity Watch Symposium Keynote Senator Romeo Dallaire (2/5) from Impunity Watch on Vimeo.

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

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

OTP Weekly Briefing Issues #91: Pre-Trial Chamber II Requests Observations On Desirability And Feasibility Of Holding Confirmation Hearing In Kenya – Prosecution And Public Counsel For Victims Oppose

OTP Weekly Briefing_9-14 June 2011 #91

Former Nazi Prison Guard, 90, Found Living in Britain

By Polly Johnson
Senior Desk Officer, Europe

FAREHAM, United Kingdom – A former prison guard at the Nazi-run Trawniki camp in southeast Poland, where thousands of Jews were murdered, was discovered this week living in a retirement community in Fareham.

Alexander Huryn, 90, is from Ukraine but has lived in the UK since 1948. Documents recently obtained by Holocaust researcher Dr. Stephen Ankier revealed that Huryn served as a guard at the concentration camp in 1944 and 1945.

Huryn has vehemently denied accusations of his participation in the Holocaust. “I absolutely never saw anyone get killed at the camp and I never killed anyone,” he told the Daily Echo, a British paper. Rather, Huryn said, the Nazi regime forced him into service, but his primary responsibility was to groom horses for Nazi officers.

His family sheltered Jews during World War II, according to Huryn. When the Nazi regime recruited him, he and his family feared they would lose their farm if Huryn did not comply. “I was sent because I was the eldest child. I had no choice. The Nazis took me away on a truck. I was very scared, I had no idea where I was going and definitely did not want to be there.” Huryn was 23 at the time.

“I don’t like what the Nazis did. I feel bad about what happened at Trawniki. It was terrible – but I had nothing to do with it.”

Huryn went as far to say that he had no idea what was happening inside the camps and only learned of the atrocities being committed after the war. Speaking to reporters at his home on June 13, Huryn said, “We were never given a rank, we were just soldiers. We were given a pre-historic gun, like an American Civil War rifle, and just five bullets.”

“I was asked to train horses for the German officers, even though I had no idea what to do. You didn’t dare argue. You just did whatever you were told. The German guards were not nice to me and I did not socialize with them. I never met Hitler or any other senior Nazis.”

Huryn and his wife now live in a bungalow in Fareham, where Huryn still earns a German Army pension of ten pounds a month. Their daughter, Sophie, who also lives in Fareham, said that her father “never really talked about it, but [ ] has always insisted that his family would have been shot. There were all sorts of victims of Adolf Hitler in all sorts of different ways.”

For more information, please see:

Daily Mail – Nazi concentration camp guard, living in Hampshire: “I was told to take the job, or die” – 14 June 2011

Daily Mirror – Hampshire OAP Alexander Huryn defends his past as a Nazi concentration camp guard – 14 June 2011

News From Poland – British pensioner revealed as former Nazi camp guard – 14 June 2011

This is Hampshire – Alexander Huryn tells Daily Echo: ‘I’ve done nothing wrong’ – 13 June 2011

Environmentalists Murdered in Brazil

By Emilee Gaebler
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – Three environmentalists were murdered in Brazil in the last few weeks.  On May 24, 2011, José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva and Maria do Espírito Santo da Silva, a husband and wife team, were shot and killed in the state of Pará.  The two were leaders of the National Council of Extractive Workers (CNS) which advocates for sustainable uses of the rainforest and protests illegal logging and deforestation.

Police watch the body of Jose Claudio Ribeiro da Silva (Photo Courtesy of Associated Press)
Police inspect the body of José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva (Photo Courtesy of Associated Press)

Just days later, on May 27, 2011, Adelino Ramos was gunned down in the state of Rondônia.  Ramos was the leader of the Movimento Camponês de Corumbiara (Corumbiara Peasant Movement), which advocates for sustainable land reform.

The assassinations came right as proposed modifications were being debated for Brazil’s Forest Code.  The Forest Code, a 1965 law, lays out stipulations for Brazilian landowners to maintain a certain percentage of native forest on their lands as a legally protected reserve.  The majority of landowners do not adhere to these stipulations.

The proposed changes to the Forest Code would grant amnesty to landowners who illegally deforested parts of their land, up until July of 2008.  It would also reduce the size of legal reserves that must be maintained.  In a very controversial decision, the Congress approved the changes, sending the modified bill on to the Senate who will now debate the issue.

The authorities in Brazil deny any link between the killings and the changes to the Forest Code.  Afonso Florence, the Minister of Agricultural Development, maintains that “[t]he debate has another dynamic.  There is no direct association”.

Despite this, the authorities have said that they will make environmentalist protection a priority.  An emergency meeting of the President’s cabinet produced the promises that those who receive death threats will receive state government protection as well as national armed guard protection, if necessary.

Other environmentalist group leaders are not convinced that these promises will make any difference.  As Leila Salazar-López; the Program Director for the group Amazon Watch, stated, “[t]here are over 200 unsolved murders in the Pará state alone involving Amazon activists”.  In the past 25 years, there have been 1,580 reported murders of activists in Brazil.  This resulted in only 91 trials and a mere 21 convictions.

All three of the murdered activists were victims of harassment and received death threats in the days prior to their killings.  Police reports show that nothing was removed from any of the bodies and José Silva’s ear was cut off.

For more information, please see;

Latin America Press – Moves Toward Deforestation – 2 June 2011

UPI – Brazil Acts to Protect Amazon Activists – 1 June 2011

The Rio Times – Killing of Amazon Activists Sparks Protection – 31 May 2011

Act for Climate Justice – Brazil: Environmentalists Murdered in the Amazon and Debate Over a New Forest Code: Impunity Must End – 28 May 2011

Huffington Post Green – Adelino Ramos Killed: Third Environmentalist Activist Murdered This Week in Brazil – 28 May 2011

MORE THAN 300,000 PEOPLE STILL DISPLACED IN IVORY COAST

By Tamara Alfred
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

ABIJAN, Ivory Coast – On Tuesday, the United Nations (UN) refugee agency reported that more than 300,000 people are still displaced from their homes as a result of ongoing violence two months after the political crisis that arose after the disputed November elections was solved.

People displaced by violence return to their villages in western Ivory Coast in April, but over 300,000 are still yet to return. (Photo Courtesy of CNN)
People displaced by violence return to their villages in western Ivory Coast in April, but over 300,000 are still yet to return. (Photo Courtesy of CNN)

The UN reported that most of the displaced are living in camps or with host families in the western part of the country.  Many of the displaced people were either victims of violence or witnessed other being slashed, burned or killed, according to Xavier Simon, the head of the Ivory Coast Doctors Without Borders.

“People tell us they can’t eat or sleep properly and that they suffer from anxiety and heart palpitations,” said Simon.  “Terrified of further violence or revenge attacks, many choose to remain in hiding or as refugees.”

According to Doctors Without Border, displaced people are at further risk because they are in areas with food shortages and threats of disease, all heightened by the rainy season.

At the height of the crisis, approximately 1 million people were displaced and hundreds killed.  The violence began when Laurent Gbagbo refused to cede power to the newly-elected president, Alassane Ouattara.  Both parties have been accused of atrocities in the violence.

“Many of the dead are buried in mass graves,” said Melissa Fleming, the U.N. refugee agency spokeswoman.  “Over 500 houses and a pharmacy were destroyed in five villages.  As estimated 17,000 people are displaced in that region, including an unknown number reportedly still hiding in the forest.”

On Wednesday, the head of the Human Rights Division of the UN Mission in Ivory Coast called for immediate and impartial investigations into reports of attacks by the armed forces.  On Thursday, the Ivorian government responded by announcing that it had formed a commission to investigate the crimes.

President Ouattara has repeatedly promised no mercy for human rights abusers regardless of their political party.  However, on Wednesday, Human Rights Watch released a statement saying that no one from Ouattara’s camp had yet to be arrested.  Those currently under investigation are all former officials of the government of Laurent Gbagbo.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a statement, “We need concerted action designed to break the cycle of impunity, bring perpetrators to justice and rehabilitate victims in their rights and dignity.”

More than 100,000 Ivorians are estimated to have sought refuge in Liberia.

For more information, please see:

Reuters AlertNet – Ivory Coast: Fear persists even after violence subsides – 17 June 2011

CNN – Ivory Coast announces commission to investigate post-election crimes – 16 June 2011

CNN – 300,000 still displaced in Ivory Coast – 14 June 2011

MILITARY COURT IN BAHRAIN PURSUES PHYSICIANS FOR GIVING TREATMENT TO PROTESTERS

By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

MANAMA, Bahrain–A special military court has begun trial of some 48 medical professionals, accused by the local government of supporting weeks of pro-democracy protests throughout the country. The Court of National Safety held its initial sessions in politically motivated cases against opposition members of parliament and a well-known defense lawyer. The proceedings took at Salmaniya Medical Complex, without notifying the lawyers or the families of those on trial.

Doctors and nurses holding a banner while marching from the Salmaniya Medical Complex, now at the center of the court proceedings (Photo Courtesy of CNN
A banner in front of the Salmaniya Medical Complex (Photo Courtesy of CNN)

Most of the convictions against the individuals on trial were charges such as “participating in unauthorized demonstrations and incitement of hatred against the regime.” These charges yielded prison sentences from one to five years. One of the lawyers for the doctors said they had been tortured, forced to confess, and denied access to counsel during the initial hearings. Bahraini officials denied any allegations of systematic torture and asserted that any incidents of abuse would be properly investigated and prosecuted.

Human Rights Watch reports that it is aware of at least 82 individuals for whom verdicts had been delivered in the Court of National Safety as of June 13, while several dozen more cases are pending. Out of the 82 cases, 77 were convicted on some charges and only five were completely acquitted. There is evidence that most of the charges are originating from hospital staff choosing to treat hundreds of wounded protesters. Bahraini officials have accused the doctors from stealing medicines from the hospitals and stockpiling arms to support the protesters.

Many international human rights groups have expressed serious concern with hauling civilians in front of a military court, especially when wounded civilians are the catalyst of the investigation. David Michalski, of Medecins Sans Frontiers, shared these sentiments with an Al-Jazeera correspondent:

“The net effect of this, including the detention of the doctors and the medical personnel, the net effect for the patient is some patients are very fearful, and they don’t know where to go when sick and injured, [or] if they are injured in these protests. Medical personnel should be allowed to deliver treatment in an impartial manner.”

The preliminary sessions of the Court of National Safety against these individuals came just days after the Crown Prince, Shaikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, met with US President Barack Obama in Washington, DC, to garner support for a “national dialogue” with opposition forces.

Bahrain is host to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet and has called on its fellow Sunni-led Gulf neighbor Saudi Arabia to help disrupt the pro-democracy protests that began in March. The ruling royal family consists of Sunni Muslims while the majority of the nation is made up of Shiite Muslims. Its leaders have placed the onus for the protests on sectarianism and Iran’s involvement.

For more information, please see:

CNN-Rights group urges Bahrain to stop military tribunals-14 June 2011

Human Rights Watch-Bahrain: Stop Military Court of Travesty Justice-14 June 2011

Al-Jazeera-Bahrain medics on trial over protests-13 June 2011

The Guardian-Bahrain doctors deny stealing medicines or stockpiling arms-13 June 2011

New York Times-Bahrain-Doctors Seized in Crackdown Say They Were Tortured in Custody-13 June 2011

Peace Negotiations Watch

Originally sent to Peace Negotiations Watch Subscribers on June 8, 2011.

Thank you for your interest over the past years in Peace Negotiations Watch.  In order to provide better targeted information and more detailed coverage of individual countries and topics, PILPG has decided to move to a new format for our news updates, and to discontinue the publication of Peace Negotiations Watch.  In its place, interested parties can sign up for country-specific and topical news updates.  PILPG will be publishing the following weekly news updates:

Country-specific updates:
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Burma
Darfur
Egypt
Kenya
Kosovo
Libya
Nepal
Southern Cameroons
Southern Sudan
Tanzania
Uganda
Zimbabwe

Topical updates:
Piracy
Water Diplomacy

To sign up for specific news updates, please send an email to info@pilpg.org indicating the news updates that you are interested in receiving.

All the best,
PILPG

Peace Negotiations Watch is a weekly publication detailing current events relating to conflict and peace processes in selected countries.  It is prepared by the Public International Law & Policy Group (PILPG) and made possible by grants from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Ploughshares Fund.

Chinese Legislator Dies in Police Custody

By Greg Donaldson
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China – The death of a Chinese legislator, during his detention in police custody, has triggered mass protests throughout the Chinese province of Hubei. Ran Jianxin, a member of the local People’s Congress had been investigating accusations of corruptions in a city-backed land deal, but was arrested May 26th on bribery charges and died while in police custody on June 4th.  Mr. Ran’s family alleges that the bribery charges were fabricated in order to halt Jianxin’s corruption investigation.

Protests in Hubei (Photo Courtesy of BBC)
Protests in Hubei (Photo Courtesy of BBC)

Xinhua, China’s official news agency, quoted his cousin as saying that Mr. Ran’s body bore signs of an “unnatural death.” Ran’s body had multiple cuts and bruises. The New York Times released several photos online that allegedly show Mr. Ran’s corpse.

On Saturday 2,000 protestors stormed government headquarters in Lichuan to express their rage over the death of the legislator. Local authorities sent armed riot-police to disperse the crowd, but the protesters resisted. After fighting through the police, the crowd tore down the electric iron gate of the government compound according to the Epoch Times. Hundreds were injured as reports alleged that the  police beat the crowd with electric batons and protestors fought back with bottles and eggs. Eventually, officials sent armored vehicles which ended the riot.

Ms. Yuan of Lichuan City told Radio Free Asia (RFA) “the crowd demanded justice and demanded the murderers be captured.” Ms. He who works for a drug store told RFA that many protesters who were wounded and covered with blood came to her store to seek medical help.

Ms. Zhang told RFA that Ran worked hard for the well-being of civilians, and that people wished to seek justice for him. “A good official did many good things for his people, but was killed by officials from another area,” she said.

According to Hong Kong-based Apple Daily, several thousand Lichuan City residents gathered in front of the government offices on June 9, holding banners that read “Secretly Killed for Offending the Leaders.”

Li Jingsong, a lawyer, from Beijing, told RFA that detention centers in China are overseen by the Public Security Bureau, and hence there is a lack of effective monitoring and supervision. According to Li, Ran’s death again demonstrated that the legal rights of detainees in China’s detention centers are not protected.

“The main problem is that they have no regulations on management,” he said. “The detention centers and the public security system are too closely tied together.”

Two city officials have been detained in connection with Mr. Ran’s death, the Communist Party newspaper Global Times reported. Two others, a local prosecutor and a deputy director of the city’s Communist Party, have lost their jobs, according to Agence France-Presse.

For more information, please see:

Tibetan Review – Thousands clash with police in China over sympathetic bureaucrat’s custodial death – 13 June, 2011

BBC News – China unrest: 25 arrested after clashes with police – 12 June, 2011

The Epoch Times – Thousands Protest in China’s Hubei Province, After Official’s Suspicious Death – 12 June, 2011

New York Times – Chinese Street Vendor Dispute Expands into Violent Melee – 12 June, 2011

Azerbaijani City Renovations Bring Expropriations and Demolitions

by Tyler Yates
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAKU, Azerbaijan – A government led “beautification” project in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku, has resulted in forced evictions, house demolitions, and illegal expropriations.

A recently destroyed house in Central Baku (Photo courtesy of Human Rights Watch).
A recently destroyed house in Central Baku (Photo courtesy of Human Rights Watch).

The project was begun in 2009 to address what President Ilham Aliyev has called an “issue…of biggest concern to people,” the growing disrepair of the capital city and its suburbs.

The long-term plan began with the laying of roads and the building of new infrastructure.  Water and sanitation are to be improved, as are the condition of schools and cultural monuments.

Ilham Aliyev cited the renovations as a necessary step in familiarizing the rest of the world with Azerbaijan, and bettering their position internationally.

In the continuation of the project, the government has begun to expropriate and demolish the homes of many of its private citizens living in the city center.  Human Rights Watch puts the number of displaced homeowners and residents somewhere from in the hundreds to possibly the thousands, creating widespread violations of private property rights.

The “so-called ‘beautification’ project…isn’t just destroying homes in Baku, it’s destroying people’s lives,” said Jane Buchanan, Europe and Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch.  “The Azerbaijani authorities need to put an immediate halt to forced expropriations, evictions, and demolitions in Baku.”

On 13 June 2011 police were called to a building slated for demolition after the owners and tenants of the building painted a message on the interior walls: “This is private property and the destruction of this house violates the Constitution, and the European Convention on Human Rights.”

The house is owned by Leyla Yunus, a leading human rights defender in Azerbaijan, and it offices numerous human rights groups that provide crucial legal and other support to victims of human rights abuses in Azerbaijan.  Its destruction would be a huge blow to Azerbaijani human rights.

There have been reports from other Azerbaijani homeowners that demolition crews have begun demolishing some homes with the residents still inside.  Other residents have been forced out by police and detained only to come home to a pile of rubble with most of their possessions destroyed and valuables missing.

Compensation in many of the cases has been far below market value for property in Central Baku.  Authorities have designated a price of 1,500 manat (US $1,900) per square meter, regardless of the land’s use, age, or condition.  Independent appraisals have found the land to be worth around 4,000 manat (US $5,605) per square meter.  Compensation does not include the destruction of possessions.

There is no basis for the expropriations in Azerbaijani law, which guarantees the rights to private property, and allows expropriations only in limited cases with a court order.

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – Azerbaijan: Halt Illegal House Demolitions, Forced Evictions – 13 June 2011

Human Rights Watch – Open Letter to President Aliyev Regarding House Demolition and Expropriation – 13 June 2011

News.AZ – All social and economic issues to be settled in Baku suburb – 25 May 2011

News.AZ – President inspects development work in Baku villages – 20 May 2011

New Legislation May Threaten Free Speech, Expression in the U.S.

By Brittney Hodnik
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, United States – The controversial Supreme Court ruling in Snyder v. Phelps has sparked new legislation dealing with free speech.  Fourteen states are now seeking to pass a bill that would extend the “buffer zones” and “quiet time” associated with military funerals.  Although the Supreme Court has deemed these limitations constitutional, many are skeptical that the bill will severely limit free speech and expression in the United States.

Westboro Baptist Church members protest with unsettling signs (image courtesy of CNN.com)
Westboro Baptist Church members protest with unsettling signs (image courtesy of CNN.com)

As reported by RecordNet.com, Westboro Baptist Church made headlines with its divisive protests at military funerals in 1998.  In 2006, the church protested the funeral of Marine, Matthew Snyder, believing his death signaled the consequence of God’s wrath towards homosexual tolerance in the United States.  Westboro Baptist is infamous for their hate-filled signs including: “God hates fags” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.”

In early March, the Supreme Court ruled in an 8-1 decision that Westboro’s message was protected speech under the First Amendment.  According to The Washington Post, the American public has mixed reactions.  A poll from the AP, GfK and the National Constitution Center shows that 70% of Americans agree that free speech rights are fundamental and require protection “even if they take [deeply offensive] positions.”

However, many states are now passing bills that put stricter limitations on military funeral protests.  According to Patch.com, Senate Bill 888 in California would make it a misdemeanor to picket a military funeral, unless protestors are at least 1,000 feet from the funeral and located on public property.  Also, the “quiet time” would be extended to a period one hour before and after the funeral.

There are mixed feelings about the new restrictions.  Cornell law professor, Steven Shiffrin made his concerns clear in his interview with USA Today.  “To me, this turns First Amendment values upside down.”  Shiffrin goes on to say that these new laws are vulnerable because of their application to military funerals and not all funerals.

Legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Oregon, Andrea Meyer agrees with Shiffrin.  “The proposal violates the state’s guarantee of free expression,” she shared with USA Today. 

On the other hand, there are also people supporting the proposed legislation, arguing that families should not have to tolerate hateful protests.  State Senator Ted Lieu sponsored California’s proposed bill, which passed in the state Senate by an overwhelming 36-1 vote yesterday.  He terms the Snyder ruling a “stupid decision.”

More and more states are passing these restrictive bills, but, according to RecordNet, “free speech rights almost always must trump hurt feelings and the pain it can cause in a free society.”

For more information, please see:

ManhattanBeachPatch.com — State Measure Would Restrict Funeral Protests – 6 June 2011

Recordnet.com — The Right to be Left Alone— 6 June 2011

USAToday.com — States Look to Guarantee Civility at Military Funerals — 3 June 2011

The Washington Post — Westboro Baptist Church Wins Supreme Court Case for Right to Protest Military Funerals — 3 March 2011

CROATIA’S COOPERATION IN PROSECUTING WAR CRIMINALS PAYS OFF

By Greg Hall
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

LONDON, England – After six years, Croatia has finally satisfied the requirements to be admitted into the European Union. Croatia’s bid was slowed by its past failures to cooperate fully in the prosecution of war criminals.

Former ministry official Tomislav Mercep was arrested last week and charged with war crimes against Serbs during the 1990s. Croatias human rights record has been an impediment to accession into the European Union. (Photo Courtesy of RadioFree Europe).
Mercep was arrested last week for war crimes against the Serbs during the 1990s. (Photo Courtesy of RadioFree Europe).

The president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, said he was proposing completion of negotiations with Croatia, signifying that it had met the European Union’s requirements in a total of thirty-five policy areas. “This paves the way for Croatia to join the EU as the 28th member state as of 1 July 2013.” EU leaders are expected to approve accession at a summit on June 23-24.

Croatian people would have sought membership in the European Union much earlier than now.  However, before Croatia could begin its bid, it needed approval from then chief prosecutor for the United Nations Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.  Thus, from the beginning, proceedings from The Hague had a direct impact on Croatia’s accession to the European Union.

For Croatians, this was not an easy accomplishment.  Many Croatians viewed previous military leaders and politicians as heroes because they fought for their country, despite the allegations against them .

General Ante Gotovina was arrested in 2005 for crimes against humanity and sentenced to twenty-four years in prison for his involvement in the country’s war for independence.  Gotovina’s extradition and conviction lessened Croatian support for joining the European Union from 53 percent to 44 percent.  Currently, Croatian support is up to 50 percent but expected to increase with Pope Benedict’s recent show of support.

Croatia recently indicted another former senior interior ministry official on Thursday, Tomislav Mercep, who has been charged with war crimes against Serb civilians at the beginning of the country’s independence war.

Though not all Croatians support accession, Croatia will likely be better off complying with the EU’s admission standards. Finland, like Croatia, had its doubts when it first joined. Finland’s approval rate of being part of the EU is now over 70%.

Croatia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Domagoj Milosevic, believes that joining the EU will significantly help the economy.  Other Croatians believe membership is a natural fit as they see themselves as part of “Western civilization.”

The international community supports Croatia’s accession. British Prime Minister David Cameron, said it was a “historic day.’’

“Croatia, in my view, belongs in the European Union,’’ he said.

For more information, please see:

Pakistan Observer – Croatia Charges Former War Criminal With War Crimes – 10 June 2011

New York Times – Croatia Given Conditional Approval to Join EU in 2013– 10 June 2011

Deutsche Welle – Between Apathy and Euphoria: Croatia’s Path to the EU – 10 June 2011

BBC – Croatia Cleared for EU Membership in 2013 – 10 June 2011

Former mayor of Tijuana´s arrest may have been politically motivated

By Paula Buzzi
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

MEXICO CITY, Mexico Former mayor of Tijuana, Jorge Hank Rhon, was formally charged on Wednesday by Federal Prosecutors in Mexico with possession of prohibited weapons.  According to military officials, 88 firearms and between 8,000 and 9,000 ammunition rounds were seized in the raid of Hank’s vast compound in Tijuana.  Most of the guns were limited by law to use solely by the armed forces.

Former Tijuana mayor charged in weapons case (Photo courtesy of The Washington Post) Former Tijuana mayor charged in weapons case. (Photo courtesy of The Washington Post).

Hank’s attorneys have suggested that the confiscated weapons were properly licensed and legitimate methods to protect the former mayor’s business interests. They also stated that some of the weapons are thought to have been planted.

From 2004 to 2007, Hank served as the mayor of Tijuana. He is currently one of the country’s wealthiest men, having inherited his father’s fortune. His father, Carlos Hank Gonzalez, formerly served as the governor of Mexico and a powerbroker of the then ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

Hank’s position as a major figure within the PRI, the now opposition party in Mexico, has led to allegations by its members that his arrest was a politically motivated move orchestrated by the conservative National Action Party, or PAN. PAN is currently President Calderon’s party and is far behind PRI in the early polls for the 2012 elections.

Hank’s arrest sparked a whirlwind of protests in Tijuana last week. Dressed in red and yelling “Viva Hank,” thousands of his supporters gathered demanding Hank’s release. One large banner read “The anonymous tip came from Los Pinos,” referring to President Calderon’s residence.

Calderon officials denied any involvement.

“There is no witch hunt, of course not. Every case is supported by evidence,” stated Mexico’s attorney general, Marisela Morales.

Columnist Martin Moreno was in support of Hank’s arrest. “Let’s not confuse ourselves, Jorge Hank Rhon … represents the PRI and is the emblem of the abuses, corruption and decadence of PRI-ism,” he wrote in his column in the Daily Excelsior.

Pablo Salazar Mendiguchia, former governor of Chiapas, joins Hank Rohn among politicians facing criminal charges. Mendiguchia was arrested in Cancun on Tuesday on charges of stealing $9 million from public funds before leaving office in 2006.

For more information, please see:

Los Angeles Times World —Raid puts Mexican casino mogul in sympathetic light —12 June 2011

BBC News —Ex-Tijuana mayor Hank Rhon on weapon charges—8 June 2011

Los Angeles Times — Mexico authorities return former mayor to Tijuana to face arms charges —8 June 2011

The Washington Post —Former Tijuana mayor charged in weapons case —8 June 2011