Indian Government Ends Hunger Strike With Tear Gas

By Greg Donaldson
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

NEW DELHI, India – Indian police halted a hunger strike late Saturday evening in the capital city. The protest, led by yoga guru Swami Ramdev, only lasted fourteen hours as police moved in to break up the protest just after midnight. Police officers forcibly removed Ramdev and thousands of his supporters by firing tear gas shells. It is estimated that anywhere between thirty and seventy people were injured during the raid.

Supporters of the hunger strike were removed early Sunday morning
Hunger strike supporters were removed early Sunday morning (Photo Courtesy of the Associated Press)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The following day Ramdev appeared on national television stating that “the government wants to kill me.” Ramdev pledged to continue his hunger strikes elsewhere and to not be intimidated by the government. Ramdev has been classified as the “rock star of yoga.” Ramdev’s daily two-hour television show has been the most watched show in India since 2003 reports the Washington Post.

Responding to critics of the government crackdown, Prime Minister Manmohan Signh addressed the issue Monday explaining that the crackdown was “unfortunate but unavoidable.” The Delhi police said they decided to end the event since Ramdev only had a permit to conduct a yoga meditation session with 5,000 people, the crowd had risen to 50,000, and Ramdev was encouraging more people to come.

Sunday evening the Prime Minister continued his defense of the crackdown citing past “non-violent” protests that had later turned violent.  Rajan Bhagat, a police spokesman, explained that the confrontation did not begin until after the police ordered the protestors to go home, and then some protestors begin throwing bricks at officers which in turn led to the release of tear gas.

Kapil Sibal, a senior government official, released a letter that he said was written by Ramdev’s aide which promised to end the fast within twenty-four hours. Ramdev said he was forced to write the letter. Surendra Pai, a chemistry professor participating in the strike, said the government “is full of corrupt liars and they are trying to make Ramdev look bad.”The Supreme Court has asked the government for an explanation about their use of “brutal force” to disperse the Ramdev protest.

Ramdev and his supporters are calling for the Indian government to crackdown on those obtaining money illegally and then depositing it into secret back accounts outside of the country. This issue has haunted the government for the past year as several Indian citizens and government officials have been discovered as holding illegal earnings in foreign bank accounts.

Ramdev continues his protest two-hundred kilometers from the capital city in Haridwar.

For more information, please see:

The Hindu — After midnight swoop, battle line hardens — 6 June, 2011

The Times of India — PM defends crackdown on Ramdev, says there was no alternative — 6 June, 2011

New York Times — After Raid, Indian Guru’s Protest Stirs a Firestorm — 5 June, 2011

Washington Post — Fast led by yoga guru prompts India to weigh move against corruption — 4 June, 2011

Refugee advocates concerned over Australian plan for asylum seekers

By Brianne Yantz
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

CANBERRA, Australia – Human rights advocates are criticizing the Australian government for its proposed refugee “swap” with Malaysia. The plan, announced May 7, provides for 800 of Australia’s asylum seekers to be transferred to Malaysia for processing, and in return for Australia to accept 4,000 individuals from Malaysia whom the United Nations has certified as refugees.

 

Child Refugees in Malaysian Detention Center (Photo Courtesy of the Herald Sun)
Child Refugees in Malaysian Detention Center. (Photo Courtesy of the Herald Sun)

Supporters of the agreement argue that the purpose of the plan is to deter unlawful immigration, as thousands of people illegally enter Australia each year.  According to the New York Times, Australia’s Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, stated the agreement “will be a big blow to those who are involved in the evil trade of people smuggling.”

The two nations have extremely different standards for treatment of asylum seekers and refugees.  Critics of the plan have voiced concerns regarding the welfare of refugees who may be shipped to Malaysia under the agreement.  As a signatory of the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention, Australia has laws and procedures to protect and ensure civilized treatment of asylum seekers.  Conversely, Malaysia is not a signatory of the Refugee Convention, nor does it have any refugee laws or screening procedures.  Malaysia has also been known to detain asylum seekers under degrading and inhumane conditions.

Bill Frelick, Refugee Program Director at Human Rights Watch, voiced concern that “the Australia-Malaysia deal may encourage governments to shirk their obligations under the Refugee Convention by transferring asylum seekers to countries that have not ratified the convention.”  Appealing to Australia’s legal and ethical obligations, Frelick further stated, “Australia should not unload asylum seekers on a country known to be hostile to refugees.”

Opposition to the plan has grown stronger since it was announced that an undetermined number of unaccompanied children would be among the 800 sent to Malaysia.  Critics contend that sending children to a country that is known to aggressively mistreat refugees goes against the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, under which Australia is obliged to act in a child asylum seekers’ best interests.

Concerns run deep for the future safety of these children, particularly the young girls.  In Malaysia there is extensive documentation that unaccompanied females become victims of sexual violence and harassment.  Critics believe the proposed plan will likely subject women seeking asylum in Malaysia to such dangers.

Although the grievances aired have not yet halted negotiations, the United Nations has been highly critical of the proposed agreement and the Australian Senate recently passed a motion calling on the government to abandon the plan.

For more information, please see:

The Australian – Refugees live in a world of fear – June 4, 2011

AP – Australia criticized over child asylum seeker plan – June 2, 2011

BBC News – Australia will send children to Malaysia in asylum deal – June 2, 2011

New York Times – Asian Refugees’ Advocates Worry About Migrant Deal – June 2, 2011

Human Rights Watch – Australia: End Threat of Tawdry Refugee Trade – May 26, 2011

Protest Violence continues in Uganda

By Reta Raymond
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

Unarmed protesters on April 14 dodge bullets fired in Kasangati, just outside of Kampala. Photo courtesy of msnbc.com
Walk to Work Protesters near Kampala in April (Photo Courtesy of MSNBC)

NEBBI, Uganda- Protests were staged on Wednesday, June 1 during the swearing in of newly elected district chairperson Robert Okumu of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) in Nebbi, northwest of Kampala. Protesters in support of candidate Estom William Alenyo lit tires to block the Nebbi-Kampala road to interfere with the procession. Police dispelled crowds using tear gas and live ammunition, and the protesters fought back using stones. Protesters complain  that Okumu’s swearing in is premature because of an unresolved election petition of the recount results in the High Court. A protester told New Vision that “we cannot allow this, Okumu wants to use illegal means to lead us when he is not our choice.” Eighteen protesters were arrested and have been remanded to prison after having been denied bail. Two were injured during the protest.

Estom William Alenyo (Ind) was declared the winner of the election earlier this year, but after  Okumu sued Alenyo and the Electoral Commission, a recount was ordered and Okumu was declared the winner on May 30.

This protest is the most recent in a string of police brutality incidents related to civil unrest in Uganda since April. In the capital city of Kampala, the activist group, Activists for Change (A4C), organized the “Walk to Work” campaign.  Protesters walked from their homes to their offices to call attention to the high fuel and commodity prices. Security forces used tear gas, live ammunition and rubber bullets to disperse crowds of protesters.

One of the prominent faces of A4C’s campaign, Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) president Dr. Kizza Besigye, was arrested numerous times, was shot in the hand, and tear gassed at point blank,which blinded him temporarily. Besigye was confined to his home for most of May, except to leave the country to receive medical treatment for his injuries.  He told reporters “I have no idea what the conditions of my house arrest are… they didn’t say for how long.” The force’s use of live ammunition and other measures were used against bystanders and protesters alike, injuring three hundred and killing at least nine, including two children.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) called for a probe into human rights violations which took place during the Walk to Work campaign, citing nine indiscriminate killings and other gross violations. Additionally, on Wednesday the East African Law Society (EALS) filed a lawsuit against Uganda in the East African Court (EAC) of Justice in Tanzania for the human rights violations. Vice President of the EALS, Mr. Aggrey Mwamu, told reporters that “as the atrocities were committed in Uganda, neither the EAC secretary general nor any of the five members of the Community raised concern. They all kept quiet… this is against the EAC Treaty.”

For more information, please see;

Daily MonitorLive Bullets, Teargas as police battle Nebbi protesters 2 June, 2011

The New VisionNebbi LC5 sworn in amidst demo – 2 June 2011

All AfricaUganda: Nebbi Court Remands 18 Youth Over Protest – 3 June 2011

BBC Uganda’s Kizza Besigye ‘put under house arrest’ – 19 May 2011

Human Rights WatchUganda: Launch Independent Inquiry into Killings – 8 May 2011

Twelve Dead after Israeli Troops Fire on Border Protesters

by Zach Waksman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

Protesters gather near the Golan Heights checkpoint to commemorate Naksa Day
Pro-Palestinian protesters gather near the Golan Heights checkpoint to commemorate "Naksa Day" (Photo Courtesy of Al Jazeera)

MAJDAL SHAMS, Golan Heights, Israel — This morning’s protest rally along the fence that marks the border between Syria and Israel became a battlefield when Israeli forces assembled along the fence shot at the assembled protesters.

The protest was scheduled to mark the 44th anniversary of the Arab world’s defeat in the Six-Day War of 1967 against Israel, known as “Naksa Day” or the “Day of Defeat.”  In preparation for the protest, the Israeli military dug trenches and erected barbed wire at the border in an effort to stymie efforts to breach the borders.  Despite these efforts, troops opened fire when protesters attempted to breach the fences, despite several warnings to stop. Syrian state television reported that as many as twelve people were killed, with dozens more injured.

One of the injured, 16-year-old Mohammed Hasan, said, “We want on this occasion to remind America and the whole world that we have a right to return to our country.”  In commemorating the war, the rally was meant to bring the world’s eyes to the situation of an estimated half-million Palestinian refugees who lost their homes during Israel’s war of independence.  Also among the injured was Palestinian politician Mustafa Bargouthi, who told Al-Jazeera that the he was one of several people who were beaten by Israeli soldiers as the protesters peacefully approached the Golan Heights checkpoint.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu disagreed with Bargouthi’s assessment.  After last month’s protests resulted in hundreds of people breaking through a border fence and fighting with Israeli troop, he deployed thousands of troops to the borders as a deterrent. Netanyahu also instructed his troops to use restraint and decisiveness in facing down the protesters today. “Unfortunately, extremist forces around us are trying today to breach our borders and threaten our communities and our citizens.  We will not let them do that,” he said.

Since the shootings, the Israeli military has said that the Syrian government was behind today’s incident in an effort to distract the world from its own unrest.  Avital Leibovich, spokesman for the Israeli army, called the incident “an attempt to divert international attention from the bloodbath going on in Syria.”

Casualty counts are still unfinished.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera — Israeli forces fire at ‘Naksa’ Protesters — 5 June 2011

Arutz Sheva — IDF Digs Trenches to Stop Border Assaults — 5 June 2011

Atlanta Journal-Constitution — 12 dead as Israeli troops fire along Syrian border – 5 June 2011

Jerusalem Post — PM: We will protect borders with determination, restraint — 2 June 2011

Pakistani Intelligence Agency Suspected in Death of Journalist

By: Jessica Ties Impunity Watch, Asia ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistani journalist Sayed Saleem Shahzad was abducted in Islamabad Sunday night while driving from his home to a television station. On Tuesday, his body was discovered 155 miles outside of Islamabad and showed indications of torture.

Sayed Saleem Shahzad (photo courtsey of MSNBC)
Sayed Saleem Shahzad (Photo Courtesy of MSNBC)

A colleague of Shahzad, Zafar Mehmud Sheikh, described Shahzad as “an extremely critical writer” and stated that “his writings in Asia Times were not liked by many circles…he was always getting threats, direct life threats not from one side, from all sides.” Amnesty International is demanding that an investigation into the death of Shahzad include Pakistan’s security and intelligence agencies. Pakistan’s main intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), has issued a statement denying its involvement in the killing of Shahzad. The ISI is known for its support of Islamist militants and has been accused of detaining political activists for months or years without formally charging them. Speculation of the ISI’s involvement in the killing of Shahzad arises partially from an article in the Asia Times in which Shahzad wrote that Pakistan had freed a detained Afghan Taliban commander. According to an email sent by Shahzad to Human Rights Watch researcher Ali Dayan Hasan, he was summoned to the ISI office shortly after the article was published and was pressured to reveal his sources or retract his story. Shahzad refused to do either. In an email sent to a friend following the meeting at ISI headquarters, Shahzad stated that he was told by an official that a hit-list had been recovered from a recently arrested terrorist. The official then stated, “If I find your name in the list, I will certainly let you know.” While Shahzad interpreted the statement as a threat, the ISI maintains that the meeting “had nothing sinister about it” and that “it is part of the Wing’s mandate to remain in touch with the journalistic community…ISI also makes it a point to notify institutions and individuals alike of any threat warning received about them.” The ISI had reportedly delivered several warnings to Shahzad regarding his writings however, it is also possible that his death was the result of his writings provoking one of the various militant groups he was in contact with who felt that Shahzad had gained too much information. For more information, please see: Amnesty International –Pakistan must probe intelligence agencies as body of journalist is found – 31 May 2011 Associated Press of Pakistan – Salim Shahzad death source of concern for entire nation: ISI official – 1 June 2011 CNN – A Pakistani journalist is killed and many questions remain unanswered – 1 June 2011 MSNBC – Pakistan spy agency denies role in killing – 1 June 2011

ICC Will Try “Ocampo Six” for Post-Election Violence in Kenya

By Carolyn Abdenour
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

NAIROBI, Kenya – On Monday the International Criminal Court (ICC) ruled Kenya failed to prove it was investigating the six suspects responsible for provoking the 2008 post-election violence.  The Kenyan government moved to prosecute the suspects with governmental reforms and a new constitution.  Of the twenty-four attachments the Kenya government submitted to support their case, the ICC found only three attachments were relevant. 

The ICC also wanted to protect witnesses involved in the cases and ensure the right witnesses are called to testify.  Records did not indicate Kenya has questioned relevant witnesses.  Furthermore, Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo asserted campaigns in Kenya promote a “climate of fear”, which intimidates witnesses.  He stated “They are pursuing regional and political campaigns to stop the case.  Not only is this sending the wrong signal, but it is also promoting a growing climate of fear that is intimidating potential witnesses and ultimately undermining national and international investigations”.  Last year, the ICC warned the Kenyan government it would request arrest warrants for and identify anyone intimidating witnesses, including family members.  Mr. Mutula Kilonzo, a liaison of Kenya to the ICC, responded “I am surprised, because that is not true.  I am not aware of any attempt to create fear.  If anything, we are working round the clock to make sure the country goes through healing in preparation for next year’s elections.”

The charges against the “Ocampo Six”, named after Chief Prosecutor Ocampo, stemmed from demonstrations and riots that became violent following the December 2008 election.  Over 1,300 people died in the fighting, and hundreds of thousands were displaced as a result them.  This violence placed Kenya on the brink of civil war after supporters of current president Mr. Mwai Kibaki were accused of rigging the election.

Once the violence quelled, the two candidates agreed to share power.  Mr. Kibaki remained president, and Mr. Railia Odinga became the prime minister.  The men agreed to hold the parties responsible for the violence in Kenya’s courts or the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, The Netherlands.

In April, the Ocampo Six appeared before the ICC.  Three suspects supported Mr. Kibaki: Uhuru Kenyatta (deputy prime minister and finance minister and son of Kenya’s founding president), Francis Muthaura (head of civil service and cabinet secretary), and Hussein Ali (police chief during the violence).  The other three suspects supported Mr. Odinga: William Ruto (former minister of higher education), Henry Kosgey (former minister of industrialization and chairman of Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement), and Joshua Arap Sang (reporter and executive of radio station Kass FM).

In September, the ICC will hold hearings for the confirmation of charges for the Ocampo Six.  If found guilty for their roles in the 2008 post-election violence, the defendants face life sentences.

For more information, please see:
BBC – ICC rejects Kenya bid to halt election violence probe – 30 May 2011
Daily Nation – Judges reject Kenya bid to save suspects – 30 May 2011
Reuters – Kenya government loses bid to stop Hague trials – 30 May 2011
Voice of America – Kenya denies undermining International Criminal Court – 30 May 2011

Police Arrested in Mexico for Suspected Involvement with Zetas drug Cartel

by Paula Buzzi
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

Police suspected of protecting Zetas drug cartel (Photo courtesy of Fox News)

PACHUCA, Mexico – 25 drug cartel members, including a police chief, two commanding officers and seven agents were arrested this week in central Mexico for suspected ties to the notorious Zetas drug cartel. Hidalgo Mexico officials stated that several of the authorities arrested have admitted to helping the Zetas.

The Zetas gang is a drug-trafficking organization in Mexico that is suspected of forcefully recruiting young migrants to battle the Gulf Cartel for control of territory and power. Those who refuse to fight are often killed or beaten.

The arrests began on Sunday in Hidalgo state after state officers were attacked while patrolling the town of Huejutla, said Martin Vivar, spokesman for the Hidalgo state attorney general’s office. After the attack, six alleged drug traffickers were arrested and admitted to have operated in the area with the aid and protection of local police.

Concerns over police corruption have constantly plagued the Mexican police system and have frustrated efforts to control drug trafficking– allowing drug gangs to carry out their violent crimes without repercussion.

On 21 May, gang members opened fire on the Café Iguana in downtown Monterrey. A squad of eight policemen rushed to the scene but only stood by and watched as gang members began loading dead bodies in the back of a truck. The officers involved are now being investigated but only one has been arrested.

In September 2009, 124 municipal, state and federal level police officers were detained in Hidalgo after being suspected of collaborating with the Zetas.

Low salaries, an absence of resources and threats from the cartels are the most cited reasons for police complicity and overall corruption in police ranks.

“Our police do not have anything to lose,” said Jorge Domene Zambrano, executive director of the Office of Public Security for the state of Nuevo Leon, which includes Monterrey. “That’s why they are very easy to be kept by the bad guys.”

Javier Trevino Cantum, the state’s secretary general, acknowledges the problem and states that feuding off drug gangs is going to be a major challenge. The government is planning on revamping laws that will make it easier to go after drug gangs and targeting poor neighborhoods with social programs to help fend off recruitment by cartels.

For more information, please see:

CNN Latin America — Mexican police chief, officers charged with helping cartels —2 June 2011

El Universal — Encarcelan a 124 policías de Hidalgo ligados a Zetas —14 Sept 2009

The Globe And Mail — Police turn blind eye to Monterrey drug cartels — 27 May 2011

Univision Noticias — Detuvieron a 25 presuntos ‘Zetas’, diez policías entre ellos — 1 June 2011

Mladic to make first court appearance on Friday

By Polly Johnson
Senior Desk Officer, Europe

THE HAGUE, Netherlands – After a Serbian court rejected his appeal for extradition, Ratko Mladic, the former commander of the Bosnian Serb army, will appear before The Hague on Friday to face charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

Mladic will also answer questions about his health.  Despite being deemed by judges in Belgrade, Serbia to be physically and mentally fit for trial, Mladic’s lawyer, Milos Saljic, said he had proof that Mladic, 69, had and was treated for lymph node cancer in 2009. However, tests administered while he has been at The Hague show that he does not have cancer. Saljic also said that Mladic’s memory was shaky.

Mladic was captured last week in Serbia, where he had been hiding out and on the run for sixteen years.  He was responsible for the massacre of thousands of Bosnian Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995, among other atrocities committed in the nineties.

On Tuesday, Mladic arrived at the high-security Scheveningen prison, near The Hague, where he spent the night in isolation and received his medical checkup the next day.

Relief spread throughout Europe upon news of Mladic’s capture, and marks a major milestone for international justice. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has sentenced other top generals from the Balkans. Radovan Karadzic, Mladic’s wartime boss, has been at Scheveningen for three years and is awaiting trial. Many of the other Scheveningen defendants from the Balkans were once associates of Mladic and are facing similar charges relating to atrocities.

Though there has been talk of possibly joining Mladic and Karadzic’s trials, no official decision has been made.

For now, all focus is on Mladic. “His arrest confirms that no one can have impunity for the crimes they’ve committed,” said ICTY prosecutor Serge Brammertz.

The time that has elapsed since Mladic’s atrocities “is a long time to wait for justice,” Brammertz said. “It is a long time to know that someone responsible for their trauma is walking free. We understand why the victims have been impatient for their day and we recognize their courage.”

For more information, please see:

CNN – Mladic to appear at war crimes tribunal on Friday – 1 June 2011

New York Times – Mladic to Appear Friday Before Hague Court – 1 June 2011

The Hague Justice Portal – Former Bosnian Serb General, Ratko Mladic, now in ICTY custody awaiting trial for war crimes – 1 June 2011

Human Rights Watch – In Mladic Arrest, a Reminder of How Far International Justice Has Come – 31 May 2011

NIGERIAN POLICE RAID “BABY FACTORY” AND FIND 32 TEENAGE GIRLS

by Tamara Alfred

Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

LAGOS, Nigeria —  On Saturday, May 28, in the southeast city of Aba, Nigerian police took into custody 32 young women and a doctor during a raid on The Cross Foundation, believed to be a so-called “baby factory.”  The girls, aged between 15 and 17 years old and usually poor or desperate teenagers with unplanned pregnancies, were reportedly being kept locked up and forced to get pregnant.  There are reports that some had come to the clinic believing it was an adoption agency.  Upon selling their babies to the doctor, the newborns were then resold for illegal adoption or to be used for ritual witchcraft.

The girls would sell their babies to the head of the clinic, who would then resell the newborns for anywhere between 100,000 naira ($640) to one million naira ($6,400).  According to the BBC, male babies were more prized and sold for a higher price.  After the sale of the newborns, the girls were given approximately $170 by the clinic owner.

Buying or selling of babies is illegal in Nigeria and can carry a 14-year jail sentence.  The proprietor of The Cross Foundation, Dr. Hyacinth Orikara, is currently being questioned and is likely to face charges of child abuse and human trafficking.  Dr. Orikara is currently denying all charges, saying it was only a foundation to help teenagers with unwanted pregnancies.  The young women will either be charged or handed over to the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons for further investigation.

Human trafficking is ranked the third most common crime in Nigeria behind economic fraud and drug trafficking.  The United Nations estimates that at least 10 children are sold across the country each day.  Some children are bought for use as labor in plantations, mines, or factories, while others are sold into prostitution.  Others are used in witchcraft rituals believed to bring riches to families.  Many are also sold in illegal adoptions.

“We have so many cases going on in court right now,” Ijeoma Okoronkwo, the regional head of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, told AFP.  “There is a problem of illicit adoption and people not knowing the right way to adopt children.”

A few news agencies reported that some young children were also found at the clinic.  It was not known if they were related to the girls.

For more information, please see:

Reuters – Nigeria police break suspected baby-trafficking ring – 2 June 2011

CNN – Nigerian police free 30 girls in alleged ‘baby industry’ – 2 June 2011

BBC News – Nigeria ‘baby farm’ girls rescued by Abia state police – 1 June 2011

Global Post – Nigeria: “baby factory” raided, 32 pregnant girls rescued – 2 June 2011

AFP – Nigerian ‘baby factory’ raided, 32 teenage girls freed – 1 June 2011

Human Trafficking on the Rise: Smuggling ring uncovered in Mexico City as 12 officers are arrested in Arizona

By Brittney Hodnik
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

MEXICO CITY, Mexico – The recent arrests of twelve law enforcement officers in the state of Arizona illustrates the disturbing human trafficking epidemic.  Three of the officers allegedly conspired to smuggle and transport drugs and humans.  This “new slavery” continues south of the border, as Mexico City police recently freed 62 victims from a forced prostitution ring – many of whom were trafficked from almost 300 miles away.

Image courtesy of CNN International
Suspects arrested in Mexico City. Image courtesy of CNN International

Last week, a study performed by Mexico’s Human Rights Commission showed that human trafficking numbers in Mexico City may be worse than anyone anticipated.  CNN reports that in the last year, only3 convictions resulted out of a mere 40 investigations conducted for human trafficking by the police.  10,000 women are reportedly victims each year.  According to Eva Reyes, investigation coordinator and a partner in the study, the issue is not so much the number of victims, but rather the lack of investigation by Mexican authorities.  “The authorities are not investigating, nor are they asking witnesses,” Reyes stated.

The Human Rights Commission report  indicated that because these women “are not achieving access to judicial resources . . . the large majority of these incidents remain in impunity.”  As of 2003, human trafficking was not illegal in Mexico, but authorities used immigration and organized crime statutes to prosecute wrongdoers.  The United States has lent minimal assistance to help curb the trafficking.

Last Monday, Mexico City police freed 62 females from forced prostitution; one of which was only 13 years old.  According to Hispanically Speaking News, authorities have detained seven people – five men and two women ranging in age from 19 to 62 – for their connection to the crime.

Traffickers kidnap and coerce their victims into the human trafficking ring, often from cities far away from the capital.  As reported by CNN, one victim claims two men approached her in Oaxaca and offered her a “more comfortable life,” so she went with them.  Oaxaca is about 288 miles away from Mexico City which has become the hub of human trafficking in Mexico.   Coercion is the most common tactic used by traffickers to recruit victims.  Many traffickers go largely unnoticed because of the overwhelming population of the city – about 21 million people.

The practice continues to happen because the authorities have not made it a priority.  The stigma attached to prostitution overshadows the “victim” connotation.  The victims are “seen as people who are doing it freely [and] that is the first obstacle to justice,” said Reyes.  The arrests in Arizona will hopefully bring attention to the atrocity of human trafficking and its prevalence in both Mexico and the United States today. 

For more information, please see:

CNN International — Study Finds ‘Alarming’ Human Trafficking Figures in Mexico’s Capital — 27 May 2011

CNN Justice — Documents Detail Accusations Against Arpaio’s Employees After Sting — 27 May 2011

Hispanically Speaking News — 62 Victims of Forced Prostitution in Mexico City Rescued by Police — 26 May 2011

Wide Angle — Dying to Leave — 25 September 2003

Former Prosecutors, State Department War Crimes Officials Affirm Satellite Sentinel Project Findings of Apparent War Crimes in Abyei

Satellite Sentinel Project Press Release
Originally Published June 1, 2011

WASHINGTON – A bipartisan group of former civilian and military officials has affirmed the Satellite Sentinel Project’s (SSP) analysis of visual evidence that the Government of Sudan allegedly committed war crimes during its occupation of the disputed region of Abyei.

The officials include two former US State Department Ambassadors-at-Large for War Crimes, David Scheffer and Pierre Prosper; David Crane, the former Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone; and Michael Newton, the former Senior Advisor to the US Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes.

SSP issued a report on May 29, which documented visual evidence of war crimes by the Government of Sudan in Abyei. The project has conveyed this evidence to the UN Security Council and to the International Criminal Court. The Government of Sudan has stated that the Satellite Sentinel Project has no evidence of war crimes.

Statements in Support of SSP’s Findings

David Scheffer, former US State Department Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes:

“The evidence derived from SSP satellite imagery of the assault on and destruction of much of Abyei town reveals actions that appear to violate the principles of military necessity, proportionality, and distinction – primary pillars of the laws of war. The armed clashes between SPLM/A troops and SAF troops in mid-May, about which further reporting contradicts the account of the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Sudan, would not justify this type of military action by SAF troops against Abyei or its civilian population. Furthermore, the presence of tens of thousands of civilians in Abyei and the apparently systematic actions of SAF forces to assault those civilians, destroy their homes and food storage areas, and finally route them from the town constitutes violations, at a minimum, of critical protective provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 and the Second Additional Protocol of 1977, both of which bind the Government of Sudan and its military forces as a state party. They may also constitute crimes against humanity given the magnitude and apparent systematic character of destruction and forced displacement of civilians in Abyei. The SSP satellite imagery provides critical ‘eyes-on’ evidence of illegal military conduct that merits further investigation. There may come a point where the U.N. Security Council will need to consider expanding its original 2005 referral of the Darfur situation to the International Criminal Court to such actions in central Sudan, particularly if the Sudanese authorities do not punish those military and civilian leaders responsible for these atrocity crimes and if further violations of the laws of war and international humanitarian law continue. If Sudan President Omar Hassan Amad al Bashir, who has been indicted for atrocity crimes in Darfur by the International Criminal Court, is responsible for the assault on Abyei, that fact alone would provide an excellent basis on which to consider expanding the Court’s jurisdiction.”

Pierre Prosper, former US State Department Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes:

“The images of destruction are horrifyingly similar to what we have seen too many times in the past in Sudan. The Government of Sudan is clearly engaged in a continued pattern of systematic atrocities and violations despite the North-South agreement. The imagery provided by the Satellite Sentinel Project contains evidence of actions by Sudan Armed Forces that may well constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity. It is time for the United States and international community to put into place a serious and concerted action plan to end the abuses in Sudan once and for all.”

David Crane, former Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone:

“Governments who unleash their armed forces against civilians in an intentional military operation to kill, disrupt and destroy for whatever purpose are committing violations of international criminal law. At a certain time in our past such actions, though reprehensible, were largely left unaccounted for. A great deal of the 20th Century is replete with examples of such, but no more. Through political, legal, and practical advances, such governments can no longer justify, explain away, or be absolved of action which are war crimes and crimes against humanity. With the advance of modern technology, particularly those technologies that were once unavailable to nongovernmental organizations, and the proliferation of social media, these governments can no longer sweep such actions “under the rug”. To put it more bluntly, they “cannot get away with it”. As a former international Chief Prosecutor, such work done by the Enough Project and Harvard, shows credible evidence of international crimes, actionable crimes which the world cannot, must not ignore. The tragedy of Abyei Town reflects all that is wrong with the regime of Sudan and those who rule there. The bright red thread of international criminal law is politics. It is time for politicians and diplomats to act to stop the killing, the rapes, the horror that is Sudan.”

Michael Newton, former Senior Advisor to the US Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes:

“The Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP) has provided irrefutable and nearly immediate evidence of the new wave of crimes committed against the civilian population in and around Abyei town. The Bashir government has taken a page from its Darfur playbook by waging war once again on civilians and their property. No government or international organization can plausibly plead ignorance or misinformation in the face of the photographic evidence available online and in the SSP report. There is no conceivable basis under the laws and customs of war for the deliberate razing of civilian homes and the theft or destruction of supplies provided by the generosity of other governments to help the population with its urgent requirements. The Security Council should exercise its Chapter VII authority to immediately mandate an independent team of international experts that can assess the scope of the crimes committed in Abyei and preserve the testimony of witnesses before they can be silenced by the Government of Sudan. The Bashir regime needs to be clearly reminded that the right of collective self defense permits other nations to respond to the pleas for assistance from a newly independent Government of Southern Sudan. By logical extension, the ongoing International Criminal Court investigation into events in Darfur should expand to encompass crimes committed in Abyei as well. It is clear to me that Abyei belongs in a newly formed Southern Sudan. The population should be allowed to freely determine its own future even in the face of regime tanks that continue to trample across Abyei because of the deliberate destruction of Abyei town. The war criminals in Khartoum should have no remaining pretense of moral authority in support of efforts to forcibly hold onto Abyei. Moreover, any influx of ‘settlers’ from the north should be seen as culprits complicit in the crimes of the regime rather than peaceful civilians building a community.”

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About the Satellite Sentinel Project

The Satellite Sentinel Project combines satellite imagery analysis and field reports with Google’s Map Maker to deter the resumption of full-scale war between North and South Sudan. Not On Our Watch provided seed money to launch the Satellite Sentinel Project. The Enough Project contributes field reports and policy analysis, and, together with Not On Our Watch and our Sudan Now partners, pressures policymakers by urging the public to act. UNOSAT analyzes satellite images and collaborates with Google and Trellon to design the web platform. Harvard Humanitarian Initiative provides research and leads the collection, human rights analysis, and corroboration of on-the-ground reports that contextualizes the imagery. DigitalGlobe provides satellite imagery and additional analysis.

PROTESTERS IN SYRIA STRUGGLE TO HAVE THEIR VOICES HEARD

By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DERAA, Syria– In furtherance of the trend calling for freedom across the Middle East, protesters in Syria are doing whatever they can to make their voices heard. In Syria, the voices cry for the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad. The recent eruption of distaste with the government galvanized after revelations that Syrian authorities had apparently tortured and murdered a 13 year-old boy last month near the protest hub of Deraa.

Protesters hold up a picture of Hamza al-Khatib (Photo courtesy of BBC)
Protesters hold up a picture of Hamza al-Khatib (Photo courtesy of BBC)

Human rights groups have estimated that more than 1,000 people have been killed in Syria since the protests began in March. But the bruised and mangled body of Hamza al-Khateeb has served as a new lightning rod for the masses of Syria. After family relatives had received the body, wounds were found consistent with those of electric shock devices and cable whippings as well as bullet wounds. On 28 May, hundreds of protesters chose to ignore the perpetual military siege of Deraa. One protester relayed this message to an Al-Jezerra correspondent:

“It was the people of Deraa who started this revolution and the people of Deraa will not stop. Despite their anger, people are still insisting on facing this barbarianism with peaceful protests. Despite the tears in our eyes, we are facing them with smiles on our faces, because we know we are right.”

But the death of al-Khateeb created a real rise in the protesting. On 29 May, Syrian forces killed two people and wounded many more in the central towns of Rastan and Talbisa. Tanks backed these military forces as they moved through the two cities, searching houses for protesters in an attempt to quell the outbreaks. Residents of both towns said that basic utilities such as water and electricity were cut early Sunday morning as the troops, tanks, and helicopters moved in.

Rastan, a town known for its agricultural prosperity, is located on the main northern highway leading from Damascus to Aleppo. Talbisa is located near the major city of Homs.

The European Union has announced sanctions against Syria on 23 May. US President Barack Obama said in his speech on the Middle East earlier this month that al-Assad needed to cease the killing and lead a peaceful route to democracy or “get out of the way.” President al-Assad had promised changes in response to the protests much like changes that have occurred in Tunisia and Egypt. But to date, the Syrian population has seen no more than the 45 year-old ruler lift emergency laws while still banning all opposition and political freedoms since 1963.

For more information, please see:

BBC  Syria: Restive town ‘surrounded’ by tanks 29 May 2011

Bloomberg  Syrian Death Mount After Army Helicopter Attacks; Eight Killed in Homs 29 May 2011

The Jerusalem Post  At least 8 killed as Syrian protesters defy gov’t crackdown 29 May 2011

Reuters  Eleven killed in wider Syria military push: lawyer 29 May 2011

American Arrested In Thailand For Blog Post

By Greg Donaldson
Impunity Watch, Asia

BANGKOK, Thailand — Lerpong Wichaicommart, an American citizen, was arrested last Tuesday for defaming the Thai King through the use of his blog. Wichaicommart, who also goes by “Joe Gordon,” is accused of posting a link to the book “The King Never Smiles,” written by American journalist Paul M. Handley and published by Yale University Press. The book, which is banned in Thailand, takes a critical look at the actions of King Bhumibol during his reign.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Photo Courtesy of BBC News)
King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Photo Courtesy of BBC News)

Furthermore, in an interview with the New York Times, Tharit Pengdit, the director of Thailand’s Department of Special Investigation, said “He violated the law by writing articles and posted them on a website.”

Wichaicommart has been charged with lèse majesté, inciting unrest and disobedience of the law in public, and disseminating computer data which threatens national security. Lèse majesté prohibits anyone from defaming, insulting or threatening the king, queen, or crown prince. The debate about the recent aggressive enforcement of the law is expected to heat up this summer as parliamentary elections take place July 3.

Over twenty Department of Special Investigation officers arrested Wichaicommart at his house in Nakhon Ratchasima, confiscated his desktop computer and mobile phone, and transferred him to department headquarters in Bangkok for interrogation. Wichaicommart’s friends brought a land deed worth over 1.7 million baht as bail to release Wichaicommart but the court denied bail, citing that this was a serious case concerning national security, and that the accused might tamper with evidence reported the Thai-language prachatai.com news website.

Prior to his arrest, Wichaicommart taught English to children. Wichaicommart was born in Thailand but settled in Colorado more than thirty years ago. Wichaicommart never planned on returning to Thailand he said, but chose to come back to his hometown to receive treatment for an illness after the death of his wife.

BBC’s Rachel Harvey said free speech advocates claim the law is being misused to silence legitimate debate. Charges have also been brought against a Thai academic who has publically called for the reform of monarchy, and a prominent opposition politician who is a leader of the anti-government “red shirt” movement. A BBC correspondent said that approximately 2,000 web addresses are being blocked by state censors for containing links or references deemed offensive to the monarchy.

While the U.S. Embassy is still gathering information on the charges, an official from the embassy visited Wichaicommart in prison and told him the embassy will try to help him as much as possible.

For more information, please see:

BBC Asia-Pacific — Thailand arrests US citizen for ‘insult to monarchy’ 27 May, 2011

New York Times — American Arrested for Insulting Thai King 27 May, 2011

Asian Correspondent — American arrested in Thailand for posting link on blog [updated] 27 May, 2011

Prachatai — A Thai with American citizenship arrested for lèse majesté and denied bail 27 May, 2011