Fijian fugitive to launch pro-democracy campaign against military regime

By Brianne Yantz
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

SUVA, Fiji – Last month, Ratu Tevita Mara, a former senior Fijian military commander, fled his country and escaped to Tonga after being charged with plotting to overthrow the government. Shortly after his departure, Mara began accusing the Fijian government and its self-appointed Prime Minister, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, of greed, corruption, and violence against dissenters.

Former Senior Fijian Military Commander, Ratu Tevita Mara. (Photo Courtesy of Taimi Media Network).
Former Senior Fijian Military Commander, Ratu Tevita Mara. (Photo Courtesy of Taimi Media Network).

Although Mara had been hiding out in the capital city of Tonga for weeks, his accusations were publicly broadcasted through videos that he posted to the website, YouTube.  The Australian government permitted Mara to enter the country so that he could attend a pro-democracy forum in Queanbeyan, New South Wales.  This sparked outrage from the Fijian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, who indicated that by welcoming a Fijian fugitive, Australia risked heightening tensions between the two nations.

Regardless, Australia appears to be supporting Mara and his plans to launch a regional, pro-democracy campaign aimed at putting an end to Fiji’s military regime.  Thursday, Mara announced his campaign plan which includes a tour of multiple Pacific nations and New Zealand, as well as a trip to New York to lobby the United Nations.  In an interview with The Australian, Mara stated that his hopes were to “get a consolidated front together to campaign for a quick return to democratic governance in Fiji.”

The Fijian government that Mara seeks to challenge has been in power since 2006 and has yet to hold a single election.  Recently, Prime Minister Bainimarama publicly vowed that elections would be held in 2014, as requested by the Australian and New Zealand governments.  However, Mara and other dissenters believe he has no plans to keep that promise.

Rajesh Singh, who formerly served as Fiji’s Minister of Youth Affairs, shares Mara’s concerns.  Singh, who now lives in New Zealand, has also challenged the Australian and New Zealand governments to take action against the current Fijian government.  Singh believes the only way to ensure a return to democracy in Fiji might be from a change that is forced from the outside.  He told Radio New Zealand that “It’s us, the people outside of Fiji, that can speak their mind.”

Despite Mara’s platform for democracy, there is no word on whether New Zealand will welcome Mara on his tour. Nik Naidu, a member of the Auckland-based Coalition for Democracy in Fiji, said that Mara “was one of the worst types of officers in Fiji” and that he and his group do not want him in the country.  In addition, Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully stated that Mara is currently on a list of people banned from entering New Zealand.  Mara will have to be removed from the list or granted an exemption before he can bring his campaign to New Zealand.

For more information, please see:

The Fiji Times – Intervention concerns State – June 10, 2011

Radio New Zealand – Group opposes Fiji officer’s plan to visit NZ – June 10, 2011

The Australian – Former senior Fiji military commander Ratu Tevita Mara to campaign against Fiji in Australia – June 9, 2011

The Sydney Morning Herald – Fiji threatens Canberra for granting visa – June 9, 2011

The Sydney Morning Herald – Another voice calls for Fiji change – June 8, 2011

Jordan’s King Abdullah Promises New Reforms; Success Uncertain

by Zach Waksman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

AMMAN, Jordan – In a speech marking his twelfth year as the leader of Jordan, King Abdullah II announced today that he would be making new efforts at reforming the country’s government, which has long been plagued by corruption.  The promise comes on the heels of protests calling for democracy that have been ongoing for the months since last November’s Parliamentary election, which was boycotted by several opposition groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood.

This latest initiative began after Jordan’s National Dialogue Committee released its recommendations for political reform last Saturday.  The Committee, established in March, was asked to reach a consensus on numerous issues on that topic, some of which were raised by Abdullah himself.  Among the recommendations is the establishment of an independent panel of former judges to oversee elections.  The Committee also proposed a law on political parties to make them easier to form by reducing the number of people required to do so from 500 to 250.  Out of those founding members, the draft law would require at least 25 of them to be women.

King Abdullah II of Jordan (Photo Courtesy of Al Arabiya)
"National consensus, public participation and a stage for reform, autonomous of any imposed monopoly, is the way to enhance reform - one where there is no need for appeasement nor capitulation to the conditions of any current, so long as we all agree on the substance of reform," said King Abdullah II in his speech to the Jordanian people. (Photo Courtesy of Al Arabiya)

Senate President Taher Masri, who chaired the 52-member Committee, considered the effort a success.  “Our mission is accomplished and the ball is in the court of the government to continue the reform process and translate the recommendations into action.”

In his address to the nation, Abdullah set out his vision for Jordan as a model constitutional monarchy.  He foresaw a clear separation of powers so that all parts of the government would be accountable to the nation.  “Elaborating on this vision, and on political reforms in particular,” he emphasized, “our guiding principles will emanate from the recommendations produced by consensus of the National Dialogue Committee…that reflect the aspirations of Jordanians…”  A key part of this initiative would be conduction of new elections to replace the current Parliament.

Despite the king’s lofty rhetoric, not all Jordanians are as optimistic about the possibility of success.  According to 28-year-old Ahamad Sami, a fruit salesman, this effort will be no more effective than the one that took place five years ago.  “It’s all lies,” Sami told the New York Times.  “The Parliament will not approve these recommendations, because it’s not in their own personal interest.”

That 2006 initiative, called the National Agenda, went nowhere due to lack of pressure from within the Parliament or from the public.  It was one of many reform efforts that Abdullah has made since taking the throne in 1999.  None of them have truly succeeded.

In the opinion of Marwan Muasher, the former Deputy Prime Minister of Jordan, Abdullah is part of the reason for this failure by not convincing society to follow his lead.  “All efforts to open up the political system have been thwarted by a resilient class of political elites and bureaucrats who feared that such efforts would be move the country away from a decades-old rentier system to a merit based one,” Muasher explained.  And whenever those people opposed Abdullah’s policies, he capitulated to them, thus undermining his own initiatives.

Whether this will happen again is unclear.  Every past effort came up short due to lack of support, but Abdullah is not backing down.  He seems to finally have the support he needs from inside the government.  “We have democrats and we have conservatives and people who believe that proceeding with these changes may undermine the authority of the state,” said Masri.  “Implementation is a process and it will be a tough road ahead.”

For more information, please see:

Petra — King Addresses Nation — 12 June 2011

Washington Post — Jordan’s king bows to popular demands for elected Cabinets, constitutional changes — 12 June 2011

New York Times — Jordan Tries to Remake Its Political Machinery — 8 June 2011

Al Arabiya — Failure of Jordanian reform offers roadmap for Arab leaders — 16 May 2011

U.N. CRITICIZES HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION IN SUDAN

By Tamara Alfred
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

KHARTOUM and ABYEI, Sudan — An independent United Nations expert on human rights issued a statement on Wednesday criticizing the human rights situation in Sudan that has arisen due to the political, military and humanitarian crises currently engulfing the country.

Children and women look on at the Mandela camp for displaced southern Sudanese, 30 kilometers south of Khartoum, on May 22.  (Photo Courtesy of CNN)
Children and women look on at the Mandela camp for displaced southern Sudanese (Photo Courtesy of CNN)

Fighting broke out in Abyei in mid-May when alleged southern Sudanese forces attacked a U.N. Mission, protected by the Sudanese army, resulting in the deaths of at least 22 soldiers.  The Sudanese army retaliated and took control of the town, expelling southern Sudanese units of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army.  The takeover was followed by extreme violence that led to the displacement of thousands of southern Sudanese.

“I visited Abyei and I am concerned not only of the destruction, massive displacement of the residents, and the attendant human rights crisis,” said Justice Mohamed Othman Chande during a news conference in Khartoum, “but also the future status and security of the residents of Abyei.  I received allegations of killings, rape and other forms of inhuman and degrading treatment during and subsequent to the attack.”

South Sudan officials estimate that more than 80,000 people fled during the attacks on Abyei.  Many fled to Wau, the capital of Western Bahr-el-Ghazal in South Sudan.  One woman told a reporter that she had journeyed for four days, without food or water, to escape the violence.  Another woman’s two-year-old son died of dehydration on the way.

“I had to just bury him and keep going with my other children,” said the woman.

In addition to the violence, Chande also criticized the lack of humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons in south Darfur, as well as the state of political freedoms.

“The state of emergency in Darfur continues to curtail fundamental rights and freedoms, [including] arbitrary arrests and prolonged detentions without judicial oversight,” said Chande.

U.N. peacekeepers have been stationed in Abyei since 2005 in an attempt to monitor the various peace agreements made in the warring nation.  However, earlier this week, Sudan’s envoy to the U.N., Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman, informed the U.N. Secretary-General than UNMIS would not be welcome once the country splits.

Southern Sudan is scheduled to become an independent nation on July 9, after 50 years of civil war between the Arab north and African south.  Abyei lies in a contested and fertile border region that both the north and south claim ownership over.  After the events in May, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir declared that “Abyei is northern Sudanese land.”

For more information, please see:

CNN – U.N. expert criticizes human rights situation in Sudan – 9 June 2011

The New York Times – North-South Clashes Break Out in a Center of Sudan Tensions – 6 June 2011

Slate – So Much for the Peaceful Division of Sudan – 1 June 2011

Foreign Policy – Terror in Abyei – 31 May 2011

Hundreds of Ugandan Women sold into slavery in Iraq by Ugandan Company

by Reta Raymond
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

KAMPALA, Uganda – Earlier this year, with the help of  the U.S. Army in Iraq, eleven Ugandan women escaped from domestic slavery and were repatriated by the International Organization for Migration. These women are now suing the firm that sold them, Uganda Veteran’s Development Limited (UVDL), the Attorney General, the Director of Public Prosecution, and the Inspector General of Police for failure to protect and failure to prosecute. One of the women plaintiffs, identified only as “W,” called and “informed [Inspector General of Police, Kale Kaihura] about our situation of slavery in Iraq and he promised to rescue us but did nothing to that effect.”

In 2008, UVDL promised these women jobs as secretaries, nurses, supermarket clerks to earn as much as $700 per month including allowances. But the women had to pay approximately $1000 for a visa, application,airplane ticket and medical examination. Women were flown to Baghdad in groups of a dozen, and delivered to Abu Sami, who took their passports and sold them as servants for $3500. Abu Sami “yelled at us that we were his slaves he had purchased us with his money and we would have to work as housemaids for the people who were waiting for us in his office,” states Y in her affidavit.

Y was forced to clean a Sheik’s mansion from 5:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. After six days, Y refused to work and the Sheik held her at gunpoint and “threatened to throw me in a well of petrol.” Y was returned to Abu Sami, who kept her in a dark room with others until she could be resold. “Abu Sami said I would stay in the room locked up for the period of my contract of 2 years without food,” stated Y.

Z was beaten, raped six times, and given a venereal disease by the man who bought her. She was hospitalized four times for stress and a heart attack. “I could not escape because the family had my passport and I had spent my little salary on hospital bills, telephone calls …  in spite of my sickness I continued to work,” stated Z.

In July of 2009 eight Ugandan women sold by UVDL were rescued by U.S. Marines in Iraq. One of the women, Rachel Malagala testified before Parliament that she “was held in a dark room with three other women some of whom complained that their Iraqi masters sexually harassed them.” Shortly thereafter, the Ministry of Labour revoked  UVDL’s license to export labor, but they were relicensed in December 2010.

For more information, please see:

The Observer – Ugandan Iraq ‘slaves’ sue state – 8 June, 2011

BBC – Ugandan women tricked into domestic slavery in Iraq – 31 March, 2011

All Africa – Uganda: U.S. Marines Rescue Eight Ugandan Slaves in Iraq – 11 July, 2009

Iran Human Rights Documentation Center Publishes Report on Rape in Iranian Prisons

Iran Human Rights Documentation Center Press Release
Originally Published 10 June 2011

NEW HAVEN, CONNECTICUT – In commemoration of the second anniversary of the post-election violence and crack-down on dissent orchestrated by the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC) today published a report on the use of rape as a method of torture by Iranian prison authorities. The report, Surviving Rape in Iran’s Prisons, may be found here.  The Persian version will be available next week.

Allegations of rape and sexual violence of political prisoners began to emerge after the Islamic Republic of Iran was established in 1979 and have continued, to varying degrees, to the present. However, not surprisingly, there is no reliable estimate of the number of prisoners raped in the Islamic Republic’s prisons. The reasons are simple:  few rape victims are willing to speak about their experiences due to (1) government pressure and acquiescence, and (2) social stigma. Iranian authorities have and continue to acquiesce to rapes of prisoners by guards and interrogators who use rape to crush detainees’ spirit, inflict humiliation, discourage their dissent, force them to confess to crimes, and ultimately to intimidate them and others – all in violation of international human rights and Iranian law.

This report documents the ordeals of five former prisoners – two women and three men. They span the almost 30 years of the Islamic Republic’s existence. Four witnesses were raped; one was threatened with rape and saw rape victims. All were traumatized and some considered suicide.

IHRDC is a nonprofit organization based in New Haven, Connecticut whose goal is to encourage an informed dialogue among scholars and the general public in both Iran and abroad.  The human rights reports and a database of documents relating to human rights in Iran are available to the public for research and educational purposes on the Center’s website.  www.iranhrdc.org.

For further information, please contact:
Renee C. Redman, Esq.
Executive Director
Iran Human Rights Documentation Center
Tel: (203) 772-2218 Ext. 215,
Email: rredman@iranhrdc.org

New WCRO Report Examines Expediting Proceedings at the International Criminal Court

War Crimes Research Office Announcement
Originally Published 9 June 2011

Washington, DC June 9, 2011 —The War Crimes Research Office (WCRO) launched a new report on the International Criminal Court (ICC) yesterday at the Colombian Embassy in The Netherlands, at an event co-hosted by the Group of Friends of the ICC.  The report, Expediting Proceedings at the International Criminal Court, examines means of avoiding delays in proceedings before the ICC.

In its less than one decade of existence, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has achieved a great deal, opening formal investigations into six situations involving some of the most serious atrocities seen since the birth of the Court in 2002 and commencing cases against a number of the individuals believed to bear the greatest responsibility for those atrocities. However, nearly ten years after coming into being, the ICC has yet to complete a single trial, raising concerns among States Parties to the Rome Statute and others regarding the effective functioning of the Court.  Hence, while recognizing that the ICC is still a relatively young institution faced with a variety of novel substantive and procedural challenges, the aim of this report is to identify areas of unnecessary delays in proceedings currently before the Court that are likely to arise again, and suggest ways in which such delays may be avoided in the future.

The report is the fourteenth in the WCRO’s ICC Legal Analysis and Education Project, an initiative aimed at producing public, impartial, legal analyses of critical issues raised by the ICC’s early decisions. The ICC Legal Analysis and Education Project benefits from the insights of an Advisory Committee comprised of the following experts in international criminal law:

–        Judge Mary McGowan Davis, former Acting New York State Supreme Court Judge and Board Member of the International Judicial Academy and the American Association for the International Commission of Jurists;

–        Justice Unity Dow, Commissioner of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), member of the ICJ’s Executive Committee and former judge of the Botswana High Court;

–        Siri Frigaard, Chief Public Prosecutor for the Norwegian National Authority for Prosecution of Organized and Other Serious Crimes and former Deputy General Prosecutor for Serious Crimes in East Timor;

–        Justice Richard Goldstone, former Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and Rwanda (ICTR); and

–        Chief Justice Phillip Rapoza of the Massachusetts Appeals Court and former Chief International Judge serving as Coordinator of the Special Panels for Serious Crimes in East Timor.

—-

For a hard copy of the report or more information, contact the War Crimes Research Office at warcrimes@wcl.american.edu, or +1 (202) 274-4067. The reports are also available online at http://www.wcl.american.edu/warcrimes/icc/icc_reports.cfm.

Man Sentenced To One Year In Labor Camp For Blog

By: Jessica Ties
Impunity Watch, Asia

BEIJING, China – In February China launched a campaign against dissent that has resulted in the detention of those criticizing the Chinese government without giving the accused a trial.

Chinese blogger Fang Hong was detained on April 24 and sentenced to serve one year in a Chongqing re-education labor camp for using a blog to mock the chief of Chongqing’s Communist party, Bo Xilai, despite his removal of the blog post following the orders of web censors.

Hong’s blog arose from Chongqing’s prosecution of a lawyer, Mr. Li, who defended a man being prosecuted for perjury. Mr. Li was himself charged after his former client testified that he had encouraged him to make false torture allegations. However, many believe that Mr. Li was framed by the government for opposing the campaign of Bo Xilai. Mr. Li was convicted and sentenced to two and a half years in prison.

The April 21 blog, which was posted to the Chinese social network Tencent, accused Bo Xilai of having excessive influence over Chongqing’s court system by comparing the case made against Mr. Li to excrement that Bo Xilai had delivered to Mr. Li who then returned it to Bo Xilai. The post then used Bo Xilai’s name in a sexual pun.

According to Fang Hong’s son, Fang Di, government discomfort with the blog post began to manifest when his father was told to go to the police station, his home was placed under surveillance and his electricity and gas were turned off.  A post on a human rights website states that Fang Di vanished Tuesday after he had notified his lawyer that he was at the public security police office.

Over the past year, Bo Xilai has become known for promoting a campaign to revive Maoism by reviving Mao-era songs and instigating a violent crackdown on corruption which has been opposed by many who believe such a revival to be dangerous. Last month, following the detention of Fang Hong, China set up a command center dedicated to controlling the information that can be found on the internet which has left many fearful that internet regulation will soon become even more severe.

Rights lawyer Ma Gangquan stated in an interview that “Education through labor itself is illegal because the practice has already been annulled by law. But currently, the punishment is still used by police…”

For more information, please see:

New York Times – Scatological Mockery of Chinese Official Brings Swift Penalty – 8 June 2011

Bloomberg – Chinese Blogger Jailed for a Year After Writing About Party Chief, FT Says – 7 June 2011

Financial Times – Dissent Lands Chinese Blogger in Labour Camp – 7 June 2011

Radio Free Asia – Netizen ‘Re-educated’ for Online Rant – 6 June 2011

OPPOSITION PARTIES IN YEMEN BATTLE WHILE THE CIVILIAN POPULATION HANGS IN THE BALANCE

by Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

ZINJIBAR, Yemen–Only days after President Ali Abdullah Saleh left his country after being injured in an attack on his compound, opposition forces in Yemen have ramped up their offensive in an effort to see real change happen. High government officials in Yemen routinely blame the violence on al-Qaeda operatives on such attacks. President Saleh is currently in Saudia Arabia, recovering from burns over 40% of his body and a collapsed lung, according to a U.S. government official briefed on the situation.

In the major city of Zinjibar, reports have surfaced that both government troops and opposition fighters lost their lives during overnight clashes. The government’s troops moved into the city in an attempt to recover control of it, as major sections of the city have been held by opposition gunmen since late May.

The head of the tribal council in Taiz, Sheikh Hammoud Saeed Al-Mikhlafi, relayed this message to an AFP news agency correspondent via telephone:

“We the tribes, in support to the oppressed and in retaliation against the illegitimate government have deployed around government installations, which we now control in order to protect from thugs.”

In the country’s capital Sanaa, approximately 4,000 protesters gathered in front of Vice President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s residence, calling for President Saleh to create a transitional council to allow a new government to be born. A young activist named Omar al-Qudsi relayed this sentiment to a Reuters’ correspondent:

“We will remain in front of the residence of the vice president for 24 hours to pressure him for the formation of a transitional council. The era of Saleh has ended.”

The developing situation in Yemen has become a concern for Western powers due to its geographical location, its oil shipping lanes, and its oil-giant neighbor, Saudi Arabia. If the chaos in the country continues, al-Qaeda operatives could benefit the most from the freedom of movement. As recent as 9 June 2011, the US has launched airstrikes against designated al-Qaeda targets in Yemen to disrupt their efforts to gain from the ongoing turmoil.

Zinjibar was once home to approximately 50,000 residents. But as a result of the continual clashes, it is reported now to resemble a ghost town. The continual clashes of the Saleh regime and its opposition are coming at the expense of its residents, the very people that the government is supposed to protect. One can only wonder where this large number of displaced individuals has gone and if they are able to find access to basic resources, such as food and water.

For more information, please see:

Boston Globe-AP sources: US planes hit Yemeni militants-09 June 2011

Bloomberg-Yemen Opposition Seeks Formal Declaration That Saleh is No Longer President-08 June 2011

CNN-Witnesses: Tribal fighters take over major city in Yemen-08 June 2011

Al-Jazeera-Yemen opposition offer for talks rebuffed-07 June 2010

BBC Yemen-30 dead in Zanjibar and ‘clashes’ in Taiz-07 June 2010

Reuters-Yemen’s Saleh injuries believed more serious-07 June 2011

Update: Mladic makes first court appearance; threatens hunger strike

By Greg Hall
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

I do not want to hear a single letter or sentence of that indictment read out to me, Ratko Mladic said during his first court appearance last Friday. (Photo Courtesy of The Guardian).
"I do not want to hear a single letter or sentence of that indictment read out to me," Ratko Mladic said during his first court appearance last Friday. (Photo Courtesy of The Guardian).

THE HAGUE, Netherlands – Former Serbian commander Ratko Mladic appeared before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to enter a plea last Friday. The once feared warrior and general is now long gone, replaced by an ill, elderly man. Yet, upon hearing the charges against him, Mladic gawked at the judge and answered the judge’s questions with contempt, claiming the allegations were “obnoxious” and “monstrous.” Mladic seemed more concerned with his health then with the allegations set before him.

Mladic was handed over to the tribunal to face charges for the worst war crimes and atrocities since World War II. After his capture, he attempted to avoid extradition, contending that he was not mentally or physically fit to stand trial. Serbian judges rejected his appeal and ordered the extradition to The Hague as soon as possible.

Mladic was indicted by the tribunal sixteen years ago for his role in the 43-month siege of the Bosnian capital and the massacre of over 8,000 Muslim men and boys during the 1992-95 Bosnian war.

“Mladic was the highest-ranking Bosnian Serb military leader during the wars in Bosnia. He is charged with responsibility for the role that he and his military forces played in the violent criminal campaigns that swept across Bosnia and Herzegovina,” chief prosecutor for ICTY Serge Brammertz said.

Mladic was captured after sixteen years of being on the run. Milos Saljic , Mladic’s attorney, visited Mladic in prison and reported that Mladic was “crying and very emotional” after a farewell visit from Mladic’s wife and sister last week.

After being captured, Mladic expressed that he should have just killed himself before being subjected to the authorities. Now, Mladic is threatening a hunger strike where he will refuse to take his medication and the food delivered to him unless he gets “adequate medical care, a lawyer, and allow his family to visit him.” Mladic was moved from a hospital prison to a cell. It is believed that Mladic is so sick that he may not live to see the start of his trial.

Mladic’s arrest and prosecution indicate a major step in the international effort to end impunity. After sixteen years of being on the run, the authorities caught up to him. It took a long time but it sent a message that the international community will not tolerate impunity, even if it takes sixteen years to get justice.

For more information, please see:

RIA Novosti – Mladic Threatens Hunger Strike if Rights not Observed – 6 June 2011

New Vision – Ratko Mladic and the End of Impunity – 5 June 2011

New York Times – Mladic Refuses to Enter Plea at War Crimes Tribunal – 3 June 2011

The Times of India – Mladic Must Face War Crimes Charges: Prosecutor – 1 June 2011

Taiwan News – Mladic Appeal on UN Court Extradition Rejected – 31 May, 2011

Venezuelan Inmates take prison employees hostage for the second time in two months

By Emilee Gaebler
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela – Inmates in Venezuelan prisons have taken prison officials hostage on two separate occasions in the last two months.  On April 27, 2011, at the El Rodeo prison, 22 employee hostages were taken.  State officials said that the hostages were taken by the inmates to protest an alleged tuberculosis outbreak.

Soldiers guarding the prison in Caracas, Venezuela, where inmates took 15 officials hostage. (Photo Courtesy of MSNBC).

The hostile take-over ended eight days later when the prison director and 21 prison employees were released.  Officials agreed to the inmate’s demands to screen all incoming patients and dismiss one health official within the prison.

On May 20, 2011, at the Caracas prison, the prison director and 14 other employees were taken hostage for over a day as a protest against prisoner mistreatment.  The hostage situation began when inmates physically clashed with the National Guard as they were taken to court.

Caracas inmates demanded that their rights be respected and that certain administrative officials be dismissed.  No dismissals resulted; however, state officials agreed to investigate alleged incidents of prisoner abuse and to more closely monitor prison employees.

A recent investigation into the San Antonio prison on Margarita Island has revealed a bizarre situation.  Inmates of the prison are not incarcerated in the traditional sense.  Here, the prisoners have taken control.  Children of inmates swim in a prison pool, wives and girlfriends visit regularly and satellite TV is provided.  Prisoners mingle freely with each other and with visitors.  Not only are they permitted to bet on cock fights, but prisoners openly engage in the sale and use of drugs and firearms.

An incarcerated drug trafficker, Teófilo Rodriguez, referred to as “El Conejo” (The Rabbit) is in control of the prison.  He uses other inmates as personal body guards to enforce his power via intimidation and beatings of other prisoners with baseball bats.  The prison warden is there simply to decide who is permitted in.  Guards search visitors on the way in but not on the way out.  Thus, the prison, filled with convicted drug felons, has become a haven for violence and drug trafficking.

For decades, Venezuela has been unsuccessful in tackling the challenges facing its prison system.  Overcrowding, inmate gang disputes and prison official corruption are just the beginning.  Research done by human rights groups reported that last year, 476 prisoners were killed during their incarceration.  This is roughly 1% of the Venezuelan prisoner population.

For more information, please see;

The New York Times – Where prisoners can do anything, except leave – 3 June 2011

MSNBC – Inmates free 15 hostages at Venezuela prison – 21 May 2011

Times Union – Inmates free 15 hostages at Venezuela prison – 21 May 2011

ABC News – 22 hostages held at Venezuelan prison – 29 April 2011

Documentary Focuses on Rape in Côte d’Ivoire During Civil War

by Carolyn Abdenour
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

ABIDJAN, Côte d’Ivoire – In a new documentary, Le Crime Invisible The Invisible Crime“, Etelle Higonnet and Raynald Lellouche depict the sexual violence that occurred between 2002 and 2007 during the civil war in Côte d’Ivoire.  The film was released in French on May 18, 2011, and its English premier will take place in the upcoming months.

Adele, victim of rape, with her child and sisters.  (Photo courtesy of AfricaMix).
Adele, victim of rape, with her child and sisters. (Photo Courtesy of AfricaMix).

As tensions in Côte d’Ivoire rise after Laurent Gvbagbo’s capture in April 2011, this film has become increasingly relevant.  After the 2010 election, violence sparked, and women were the first victims of the dispute between the Alassane Ouattara, the UN-certified winner, and Gbagbo, who refused to leave power.

Rape is commonly used as a weapon of war in conflicts around the world.  During the civil war in Côte d’Ivoire, estimates show that one in ten women were raped.  Throughout the five year conflict, tens of thousands of women became victims of rape regardless of economic status, religious belief, or ethnic affiliation.  Author Isabelle Hanne observes after the rape, the women struggle with a cruel punishment: “for the rape and pain, just loneliness, a child born of rape, a husband who denies.”  She continues “because they are denied justice and care, locked in their trauma, these women are also invisible”.

Twelve female journalists worked on The Invisible Crime to give voices to the victims of rape: Aline, Marianne, Aminata, Helen and Rose.  After being raped by the rebels in front of her parents, Aline fled to Liberia.  Marianne feared contracting HIV after she was a sex slave by her torturers.  Africamix, Le Monde Newspaper’s Africa blog, commented: “[the women] all chose to speak on camera, openly, despite the shame, pain, fear.  Compared to other countries such as Guatemala, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Iraq, where sexual violence is used in wartime, the response to the sexual violence in Côte d’Ivoire is alarmingly silent.  The journalists worked on this documentary to highlight the need for information and respect for human life.

The United Nations Security Council passed a resolution on June 19, 2008, that declared rape constitutes a war crime.  In 2007, China, Russia, and South Africa each blocked a similar resolution.  Higonnet comments on their stance by saying: “These three countries have justified their position by citing the risk of further inflaming the region. But how to make peace without justice and transparency? I would like the media coverage of [The Invisible Crime] UN to publish this report, but also to investigate the sponsors of these rapes.”

In order for the film to be suitable for a wide audience, more severe and violent accounts were removed.  The film is also in French for the viewing of Côte d’Ivoirians and residents of francophone countries.  Finally, Higonnet adds “We must break the silence and confront the political elites, legal, media to this reality.”

For more information, please see:
Sencontinent – Documentary – 10 Years of “Invisible Crime”, these women raped in Côte d’Ivoire – 19 May 2011
Liberation – “The Invisible Crime”, a blindness Ivorian – 18 May 2011
Newen Content – “The Invisible Crime”, May 18, 8:40pm on Planet (CAPA) – 18 May 2011
AfricaMix – Ivorian women victims of “crimes invisible” unpunished – 17 May 2011
Foreign Policy Blogs – War Crimes Against Women and Children – 21 June 2008

War Crimes Prosecution Watch, Vol. 6, Issue 5

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

INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT

Central African Republic & Uganda

Democratic Republic of the Congo

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Bahraini Protests Return as Martial Law Lifts

By Tyler Yates
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

MANAMA, Bahrain – Bahrain’s ‘Arab Spring’ appears to be ready to become an Arab Summer as protests have resumed in the small Middle Eastern gulf country.  The renewed fervor comes just a week after Bahrain lifted martial law, which it began imposing in March after initial protests in February.

Bahraini protesters march for more rights (photo courtesy of the L.A. Times)
Bahraini protesters march for more rights (Photo Courtesy of the L.A. Times).

The passage of martial law came just days after Saudi and United Arab Emirates forces moved into Bahrain to quash the pro-democracy movement, resulting in at least 30 deaths.  In the months following the law’s passage hundreds of members of the opposition, as well as many doctors and nurses, who treated injured protesters, have been arrested.

In recent weeks, the government has been targeting women for arrest.  For Gulf Arab culture, there are few things more humiliating to a family than having a female family member detained.  Analysts in the region say this is the first time a government has targeted the opposition by arresting women.

Nabeel Rajab, the vice president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, sees the lifting of martial law as an insincere gesture.  “The lifting [of the] state of emergency…was more to attract the Formula One…which was going to act as an indicator if Bahrain has come to normal or not,” he said.

The 2011 Bahrain Grand Prix, one of the Formula One Championship races, was scheduled to be held on 13 March, but was canceled due to the protests.  The race has been rescheduled for 30 October.

Bahrain’s hopes for normalcy appear to be premature, as hours after martial law was lifted, protesters again took to the streets. Bahraini troops have responded aggressively. There are reports of the usage of tear gas, rubber bullets, and sound guns against the protesters.

Bahrain has a majority Shi’ite population, but is ruled by a Sunni family headed by King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa.  The protests come from the disenfranchised Shi’ite population who want democratic reforms leading to more rights.

The protest organizers are calling for the protests to continue until their demands are met.  One Facebook post urges people to gather in main streets and squares to show the imminence and importance of the movement.

Tensions between the Sunni and Shi’ite have been especially heated lately, and repercussions of the Bahrain protests have reverberated in Iran and Saudi Arabia.  With Iran supporting the Shi’ite majority and the Saudi’s supporting the Sunni leadership, the situation in Bahrain is on its way to becoming a proxy war between the two Middle Eastern powers.

For more information, please see:

Jerusalem Post — Gulf becomes fault line for Sunni-Shi’ite Tensions — 7 June 2011

NPR — Women The Latest Target of Bahrain’s Crackdown — 7 June 2011

Al Jazeera — Bahrain police target ‘Shia processions’ — 6 June 2011

BBC News — Bahrain protests: Trial opens for 47 doctors and nurses — 6 June 2011

Al Jazeera — Security forces attack Bahraini protesters — 2 June 2011

Washington Post — Bahrain lifts emergency law — 1 June 2011