Religion Becomes New Question as Islamists Join Tahrir Protests

By Zach Waksman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt The continued protests against Egypt’s ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) suddenly changed their tone on Friday.  Tens of thousands of Islamists flooded Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the center of the African kingdom’s continued push for democracy that has spanned past several weeks, and recited anthems calling for a country governed by Islamic Sharia law.

Islamic activists gathered in Cairos Tahrir Square Friday, many of whom waved signs or held banners such as the one shown here. (Photo Courtesy of Reuters)
Islamic activists gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square Friday, many of whom waved signs or held banners such as the one shown here. (Photo Courtesy of Reuters)

The impressive demonstration was the largest to take place since the revolution that ousted President Hosni Mubarak from power in February.  Originally advertised as a peaceful rally dubbed the “Friday of unity and closing ranks” that was meant to reiterate the revolution’s demands, it was instead dominated by Islamic groups, including fundamentalist Salafis and the more moderate Muslim Brotherhood, two of the demonstration’s organizers.  Some secular activists who attended claimed to have been silenced, leading twenty-eight secular organizations to withdraw from the square in protest to the event.  The famed April 6th group, one of the leading secular groups, denied that report.

After years of suppression by Mubarak, the demonstration marked a resurgence of religious organizations as a political force in Egypt.  The clearest sign of this development was the chants heard Friday, many of which played off of those said during prior demonstrations.  Instead of “Hold your head up high, you’re Egyptian,” nationality was replaced by religion, using “Muslim” as the final word in the slogan.  To participants, the rally was a signal of how efficiently Islamists could organize themselves.  “We’re showing today — to both the people and to the military leadership — that we’re the majority of the population,” Haithem Adli, a participant who held up a banner that read in part, “Together on the path to heaven,” told the New York Times.

“If democracy is the voice of the majority and we as Islamists are the majority, why do they want to impose on us the views of minorities — the liberals and the secularists?” asked Mahmoud Nadi, a student who built off of Adli’s comments. “That’s all I want to know.”

Among secular activists who witnessed the spectacle, reaction was mixed.  Some of them believed that the performance would have little overall effect.  One such activist, Mohammed Deraz, accepted the Islamists’ presence, but felt that they were only trying to capitalize on the momentum created by people like himself in starting and continuing the revolution.  “We made this revolution and we will continue,” he said.  “…[N]obody will steal my revolution. I made it by myself and I will continue to the end or I will die.  Give me liberty or give me [death], that’s what I’m doing.”  Another secular protester believed that this rally was a one-time event, and that the Islamists would leave the square and let the ongoing sit-in continue.

In the aftermath of the rally, top analysts believe that the demonstration was a show of power that could not be exceeded.  Emad Gad, a political analyst with the Ahram Center for Strategic and Political Studies, said that it “represent[ed] the full capacity of the Islamist forces[.]”  Additionally, the different groups would need to be treated differently, according to Rabab Al-Mahdi, a professor of political science at the American University in Cairo.  “There are different trends, the Salafis, former militant groups like the Gamaa Islamiya, the Muslim Brotherhood and they all have different ideas on how to conduct politics and what they mean by an Islamic state,” she said.

And because of how the event quickly became an Islamist demonstration, the overall impact for the organizers could be a negative one.  Such a result is already proving true.  The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party rejected the slogans vocalized on Friday.  Party Vice Chairman Essam al-Erian wrote on the Party’s website that it had previously rejected such demands and did so again after participants attempted to impose their views.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s role in Egypt’s transition to democracy appears to be critical.  But what that role is remains unclear, leading to continued speculation.

For more information, please see:

Agence France-Presse — Egypt rally not harbinger of Islamic state: analysts — 31 July 2011

Australian Broadcasting Corporation — The growing power of Egypt’s Islamists — 29 July 2011

Al-Masry Al-Youm — Freedom and Justice Party rejects Islamist slogans in Tahrir — 29 July 2011

New York Times — Islamists in Egypt Flood Square in Cairo in Show of Strength — 29 July 2011

Voice of America — Islamists Show Solidarity in Massive Egypt Rally — 29 July 2011

Al-Ahram Weekly — The Islamists are coming — 28 July 2011

China tightens Wi-Fi Regulations

By Greg Donaldson
Impunity Watch, Asia

BEIJING, China – New Chinese internet regulations will require bars, restaurants, and bookstores that offer internet access (Wi-Fi) throughout the country to install new web monitoring software reports the New York Times. The software, which costs approximately 3,100 (USD), allows security officials to access the identities of internet users in public places.

A soon-to-be monitored cafe patron uses the internet (Photo Courtesy of the New York Times)
A soon-to-be monitored cafe patron uses the internet (Photo Courtesy of the New York Times)

The software will also give officials the ability to know what the internet user is viewing. Business owners who fail to abide by the new regulations may be subject to a 23,000 dollar fine and the lost of their business license.

China already has some of the strictest internet regulations in the world. When the Apple “iphone” was first released in China, Wi-Fi capabilities had to be disabled in order to be legally sold in the country. Since then Apple has modified its products to meet the specifications set forth by the government reports the Wall Street Journal.

Last year, the government blocked more than one million websites from viewers. While many of the websites were pornographic, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube were also blocked reports the New York Times.

Although the new regulations do not directly decrease the availability of the internet to Chinese citizens, many people are concerned. “From the point of view of the common people, this policy is unfair,” said Wang Bo, the owner of L’Infusion, a cafe that features crepes, waffles, and Wi-Fi. Wang Fang, 28, an advertising sales agent explained “To be honest, I can get internet at home or at work, but it’s nice to just sit in a comfortable place and surf the Web.”

Business owners who rely on Wi-Fi to attract customers are concerned about the costs associated with the new regulations. A manager of a local café called Kubrick told the New York Times that it unplugged its router earlier in the month to avoid paying for the software. However, the manager explained that the loss of Wi-Fi has led to a thirty percent decrease in business because people do not have a reason to come anymore.

Another bookstore owner told the New York Times she unplugged her router because she refuses to play a role in the government monitoring what citizens view on the internet. Ray Heng, the owner of a Mexican restaurant, told the New York Times that he feels the government should foot the bill for the new software if it is so concerned about monitoring the internet.

The Dongcheng Public Security Bureau has not commented on the new regulations, but according to its publicly issued circular, the measure is designed to frustrate criminals who use the Internet to “conduct blackmail, traffic goods, gamble, propagate damaging information and spread computer viruses” reports the New York Times.

China has vigorously defended its position on internet regulations in the past. In fact, China has responded to U.S. criticisms over internet monitoring by stating the U.S. acts in the exact same manner under the Patriot Act.

For more information, please see:

Sydney Morning Herald — Officials in China to monitor public Wi-Fi use – 28 July 2011

New York Times — China Steps Up Web Monitoring, Driving Many Wi-Fi Users Away – 25 July 2011

Wall Street Journal — Apple Eyes Bigger Slice of Chinese Market – 19 July 2011

BBC — China tightens internet censorship control — 4 May 2011

China Daily — Google’s excuse about censorship unacceptable, netizens say – 22 March 2010

Former soldiers on trial for civil war massacre in Guatemala

By Brianne Yantz
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala – The trial of four former Guatemalan soldiers accused of killing more than 220 people during the country’s civil war began earlier this week.  Particularly, the four men are accused of being a part of a counter-insurgency unit that carried out a massacre in the village of Las Dos Erres in 1982.

The four soldiers - Daniel Martinez, Carlos Carias, Manuel Pop and Reyes Collin - in court during their trial, in Guatemala City, on July 26.  (Photo Courtesy of CNN/AFP)
Former soldiers - Daniel Martinez, Carlos Carias, Manuel Pop and Reyes Collin - in court during their trial, in Guatemala City, on July 26. (Photo Courtesy of CNN/AFP)

All four soldiers have pled not guilty.

The soldiers on trial – Carlos Antonio Carias, Manuel Pop, Reyes Collin and Daniel Martinez – were part of the Guatemalan Special Forces, known as the Kaibiles, during the civil war. Under the order of then military ruler General Efrain Rios Montt, a unit of the Kaibiles carried out the massacre in Las Dos Erres. It is alleged that the four soldiers on trial were a part of that unit.

According to BBC News, Los Dos Erres was targeted in December of 1982 because the military suspected the villagers were supporting or harboring left-wing guerrillas.

“Over a period of three days, the Kaibiles interrogated and then killed the inhabitants, including children, women and the elderly,” BBC News reported.  “Many inhabitants were raped and beaten before they were shot or bludgeoned to death.”

The civil war between Guatemala’s right-wing military government and its left-wing rebels finally ended in 1996, after 36 years. At least 200,000 people had either “disappeared” or been killed; most of the victims were members of the indigenous Mayan population.

In the late 1990s, following the end of the war, an investigation was launched into the massacre in Las Dos Erres, but the case dragged on for years in Guatemalan courts.

Finally, in 2009 the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered Guatemala to investigate the massacre and to prosecute those who carried out the killings.

According to CNN, the state-run AGN news agency reported that early in the trial, survivors took the stand and testified about the disappearance of their families.

Petronila Lopez Mendez testified about the loss of her husband and two teenage sons during the massacre. As CNN recalled from the AGN report, Mendez also accused one solider, Carias, of withholding information about the whereabouts of her family in the aftermath of the incident. According to her testimony, she paid Carias money in exchange for her family, but they never reappeared.

As the trial of the four soldiers continues, several other suspects remain at large.

One other soldier suspected of involvement in the 1982 massacre – Pedro Pimentel Rios -was deported from the United States earlier this month. His trial date has not been set.

For more information, please see:

The Tico Times – Guatemala massacre trial begins – July 29, 2011

CNN – Guatemalan massacre trial underway – July 28, 2011

RTT News – Trial Of Former Guatemalan Soldiers Over Civil War Massacre Begins – July 25, 2011

BBC News – Guatemala Las Dos Erres civil war massacre trial begins – July 25, 2011

Light Sentences for Those Responsible for the Murder of Three Minority Sect Members in Indonesia

By: Jessica Ties
Impunity Watch, Asia

JAKARTA, Indonesia – Twelve Indonesians who played a role in a mob attack that killed three members of a minority Muslim sect were sentenced to serve light sentences ranging from three to six months.

Indonesia is under fire for the light sentences given to those responsible for murdering three members of a minority Islamist sect (Photo Courtesy of CNN).
Indonesia is under fire for the light sentences given to those responsible for murdering three members of a minority Islamic sect (Photo Courtesy of CNN).

The attack occurred on February 6 when a mob of people armed with knives and stones attacked about 25 Ahmadiyah members. The attack was caused by the mob’s opposition to the presence of the sect, which many Muslims consider to be heretical in their beliefs, and they demanded that they end their activities.

During the trial of the twelve attackers, victims of the attack were not permitted to testify against their attackers. One victim, Ahmad, expressed his anger by stating, “Seeing their sadistic behavior toward us, chopping up bodies, kicking, hitting and stabbing us. Some of them (victims) were even burned. We didn’t get call. They only called defense witnesses.”

Video footage of the attack showed a crowed of approximately 1,500 people attacking a handful of members of Ahmadiyah with clubs, rocks and machetes. Attackers were also seen stabbing and beating the bodies of the dead as they lay in the street. The video also revealed the presence of police officers who refused to take any action against the attackers as they beat and mutilated Ahmadis.

While various charges were brought against the attackers, none of them were charged with murder and while the most serious crime that the attackers were charged with allowed a maximum penalty of nine years, the prosecutors only demanded a maximum sentence of seven months.

One of the attackers, Dani bin Misra,  who was caught on video smashing in the skull of one of the victims with a rock was sentenced to only three months in jail for public incitement, destruction of property and an attack that led to death.

Another attacker, Idris bin Mahdani only received a five and a half month sentence for illegal possession of a sharp weapon and involvement in the attack despite the fact that he was the individual who led the mob to the home where the followers of the sect were gathering.

While Indonesia has generally been regarded as a religiously tolerant nation, in recent years extremists have become increasingly vocal in their views.

The Indonesian government issued a ministerial decree in 2008 that prohibited the sect from spreading its beliefs. This decree has led to attacks on sect followers by individuals who take the law into their own hands.

Human Rights Watch has called on Indonesia to revoke the 2008 decree and has called the light sentences given to the twelve attackers a “setback for religious freedom in Indonesia.”

For more information, please see:

The Jakarta Post – Muhammadiyah Chairman ‘Hurt’ by Cikeusik Punishment – 29 July 2011

MSNBC – No Justice for Victims of Islamic Sect Attack – 29 July 2011

CNN – Indonesia Under Fire for Light Sentences in Islamic Sect Attack – 28 July 2011

The New York Times – Rights Advocates Criticize Light Sentences in Sectarian Killings in Indonesia – 28 July 2011

Canada Releases Names and Profiles of Suspected War Criminals

By Brittney Hodnik
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

OTTAWA, Canada – Over the weekend, the Canadian government released the names and photos of thirty suspected war criminals allegedly living in Canada.  Many fear that the recent announcement will pave the way for xenophobia and vigilantism, according to The Montreal Gazette.  On the other hand, Minister of Immigration, Jason Kenney believes that releasing the names is a good thing, as two of the men have already been arrested.

Minister of Immigration, Jason Kenney responding to questions from the House of Commons. (Image Courtesy of The Canadian Press)
Minister of Immigration, Jason Kenney responding to questions from the House of Commons. (Image Courtesy of The Canadian Press)

As reported by The Canadian Press, 42-year-old Arshad Muhammad was arrested in Toronto when a police officer recognized him.  He is allegedly linked to an Islamic organization in Pakistan.  Additionally, 44-year-old Cristobal Gonzalez-Ramirez was arrested in Alberta.  He allegedly has ties to a special army unit in his homeland of Honduras.

According to the public safety minister’s office, Canada says that this is a “pilot project.”  Mike Patton, spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews thinks that the project is working.  He said, “Clearly it’s been excellent thus far,” as reported by The Toronto Sun.

On the other hand, many groups feel that releasing the names and photos unfairly labels people who have never even been tried in a court of law.

Nathalie Des Rosiers, general counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (“CCLA”) said that this list is both alarmist and misleading, as reported by The Montreal Gazette.  The profiles on the war criminals do not tell the public what the men are suspected of, causing many to overreact, imagining the worst crimes against humanity when some may have been messengers or drivers.

Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, also with the CCLA, finds the list very worrisome.  “I see this as a very worrying and increasing trend of fanning the flames of racism, of xenophobia, of anti-immigrant sentiment by trying to create associations between immigrants and refugees and all these other terrible things,” according to The Toronto Sun.

Canada has often been criticized for their somewhat lackadaisical policies on immigration.  The Obama administration wants stricter enforcement of immigration laws and more cooperation between Ottawa and Washington.  Marshall Drukarsh, immigration attorney, is skeptical of this “more Americanized attitude” on immigration.

Kenney says that dozens of tips have come in since the government posted the list.  If this ‘project’ goes well, Canada will continue to release names of other suspected war criminals allegedly living in Canada.

For more information, please visit:

The Toronto Sun — Going Public With War Criminals ID’s a ‘Pilot Project’ — 25 July 2011

CTV News (The Canadian Press) — Kenney Credits Suspected War Criminal List for Quick Arrests — 24 July 2011

The Toronto Sun — War Criminal Nabbed in Toronto — 23 July 2011

The Montreal Gazette — Feds Say 30 Men Suspected of ‘War Crimes’ Are Living In Canada — 22 July 2011

The Wall Street Journal — Canada Says 30 Immigrants Suspected of War Crimes — 22 July 2011

OTP Weekly Briefing Issue #97: International Community Discusses Efforts To Address Threat Posed By LRA; Prosecution Appeals Judges’ Decision On The Conditions For A Former OTP Lawyer To Join Defence Team

OTP Weekly Briefing_20-25 July 2011 #97

THE SITUATION IN SYRIA CONTINUES TO DETERIORATE, BUT NOT THE RESOLVE OF ITS ACTIVISTS

By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria–The volatile situation in Syria has shown absolutely no signs of cooling down, as at least 11 individuals have been killed when military forces backed by tanks stormed a small town of Kanaker near the capital of Damascus.

Protesters in the streets of Damascus. (Photo Courtesy of Reuters)
Protesters in the streets of Damascus. (Photo Courtesy of Reuters)

The Syrian Observatory, based in Britain, reported that four tanks and a bulldozer entered Kanaker on 27 July 2011, while 14 other tanks surrounded the town. The raid on the city took place after electricity and phones lines were cut off in the area. This activity is merely the latest swing in the crackdown on protests against President Bashar al-Assad. Residents threw stones and set fire to tires of vehicles in an attempt to stall the advance of troops.

Rami Adubl-Rahman, a correspondent for the Syrian Observatory, reported this recollection of the raid to CNN:

“At 3AM Wednesday, Syrian security forces and army soldiers stormed Kanaker amid heavy gunfire. Some residents threw rocks at the tanks and burned their tires as many chanted ‘Allah is the Greatest’ in the west part of the town where seven tanks took positions there.”

Kanaker is located 30 kilometers (approximately 18.64 miles) southwest of Damascus.

The Syrian National Organization for Human Rights reported that military intelligence agents arrested some 300 individuals in Kanaker and took them away in 11 buses. Ammar Qurabi, a key opposition figure, leads this group.

The restriction on international journalists in Syria has made it increasingly difficult to verify the accuracy of reports given by the various human rights groups active in the country.

This recent crackdown appeared to come as a result of two organizations in France threatening to file legal complaints against President al-Assad and other members of the ruling Baath party. The two organizations, Sherpa and Transparency International France, said on 26 July 2011 that they wish the French government to make all of its findings public. They are primarily concerned with discovering if al-Assad and members of his party own any assets in France.

“The object is get an investigation open that would then identify assets that they may own in France either in their own name or through intermediaries and then to freeze them so they are not transferred to uncooperative jurisdictions.”

According to various human rights groups, more than 1,600 civilians have lost their lives and some 20,000 others imprisoned by Syrian security forces in the countrywide crackdown on the protests since March.

But these numbers are not lowering the spirits of the activists and protesters in the least. Moaz Al Sibaai, the coordinator for the Syrian activists’ network, reported to CNN that the opposition is always working to find ways to improve its work. He specifically highlighted improving communication with the media, developing secure telecommunications that cannot be hacked or tracked, and teaching how to lobby against the regime by documenting human rights violations.

“The harsher the regime is with its crackdown, the more creative we become in finding ways to cover the revolution.”

For more information, please see:

Al-Jazeera-Syrian troops in ‘deadly crackdown’-27 July 2011

BBC-Syrian forces kill eight in Kanaker raid: rights groups-27 July 2011

CNN-Activists: 8 slain in Syrian protest-27 July 2011

The Guardian-Syrian protesters ‘forcibly disappeared’ at rate of one every hour, say activists-28 July 2011

U.S. DENIES AID TO MALAWI AFTER VIOLENCE ERUPTS AT PROTESTS

By Tamara Alfred
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

The United States announced Tuesday that it is withholding some of its assistance to Malawi after claims that the government used force against protesters during demonstrations last week.

After months of growing economic struggles, Malawi erupted into protests last week.  Rioters took to the streets nationwide July 20 to protest the perceived mismanagement of the national economy and an impending fuel shortage.  The protesters also stormed the offices of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party in Mzuzu and demanded that the president step down.  Various sources report that between 12 and 19 people were killed and dozens injured.

Men carry the coffin of a protester shot dead during demonstrations in Lilongwe, Malawi on July 22.  (Photo Courtesy of CNN.)
Men carry the coffin of a protester shot dead during demonstrations in Lilongwe, Malawi on July 22. (Photo Courtesy of CNN.)

The U.S. government agency providing development aid to countries, including Malawi, that show a commitment to good governance, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), announced it was halting $350 million in operations going to Malawi.  The announcement follows the State Department’s statement condemning the Malawi government’s use of force against demonstrators and urging restraint by both sides.  MCC’s move also echoes the United Kingdom’s suspension of aid to the country as of July 14 on the grounds that the government had suppressed demonstrations and intimidated civic groups.

Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world and its president, Bingu wa Mutharika, 77, a former World Bank economist, had been widely credited with successful efforts to reduce hunger.  However, human rights activists have begun to criticize his increasingly authoritarian tendencies, reminiscent of Hastings Kamuzu Banda, the dictator who ruled the country for 40 years until 1994.

Sheila Herrling, a senior U.S. official, said Tuesday that the MCC was “deeply disturbed” by accusations that the police had fired live rounds on unarmed people and by claims that press coverage of the two-day demonstrations had been suppressed.

President Mutharika has rejected accusations that the police force under his command used excessive force against demonstrators and blamed the violence on his political opponents and the civic leaders who organized the protests.  His spokesman, Hetherwick Ntaba, said the police had to deal with looters, vandals and rioters.  Peaceful demonstrators were protected, not harmed, he said.

The government’s critics, however, say they are afraid.  Undule Mwakasungula, who organized the protests, said he had gone into hiding since the president named him as one to blame.

“We are being hunted so we can’t expose ourselves,” he told The New York Times.  “We’re a target of ruling party agents.”

The president has sworn in official statements to “smoke out” anyone who opposes him.  In a recent public statement to the Associated Press, Mutharika said that the protest leaders are “thugs and sons of Satan.”

The decision by both the U.S. and the United Kingdom will seriously injure the Malawi government’s budget, as almost of half of the annual budget of $2 billion comes from international donors.

For more information, please see:

CNN – U.S. suspends some aid to Malawi over violence – 27 July 2011

The New York Times – U.S. Freezes Grant to Malawi Over Handling of Protests – 26 July 2011

Time – From Malawi to Senegal, Signs of a Sub-Saharan ‘Arab Spring’ – 26 July 2011

U.S. imposes visa blacklist for officials involved in death of Russian lawyer

By Greg Hall
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia – The U.S. State Department has put certain Russian officials involved in the death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky on a visa blacklist.  At the same time, Moscow has threatened to back out of cooperating with the U.S. in connection with other nations, such as Iran and North Korea, if the Senate goes forward with a plan to impose human rights sanctions on Russia.

A handout file photo provided in November 2010 by Hermitage Capital Management and taken in Moscow on Dec. 29, 2006, shows Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky (Photo courtesy of The Washington Post).

Russia responded by stating that the United States cannot expect Russia to join in international sanctions with them while at the same time being sanctioned by the United States.  In addition, Russia threatens to end cooperation in allowing transit through their country to Afghanistan by the United States.

Despite possible threats to what the Obama administration calls the “reset” in U.S.-Russia relations and the implications for U.S. interests, supporters of the Senate proposal that has provoked the threats of retaliation say it is the right thing to do.  “The reset has brought about improvement in relations,” said former State Department official and Executive Director of Freedom House David Kramer, “but at the end of the day we’re still dealing with the same Russia, which shows no respect for human rights, no accountability and no respect for rule of law.”

The alleged human rights violation took place in 2009 when Magnitsky accused police and tax officials of a $230 million tax fraud. He was quickly arrested and charged with the crime. Magnitsky died in prison after being denied medical care for apparent pancreatitis and likely being badly beaten in his final hours.

Russia’s Investigative Committee said this month it has opened criminal probes against the doctor and deputy head of the Butyrskaya prison in Moscow where Magnitsky had been held for several months.  But the top officials cited as being at fault in the report of the council which advises President Dmitry Medvedev on rights issues have not been prosecuted.

The European Parliament, Canada and the Netherlands are also working on possible sanctions against Russia for the human rights violation.

Some sixty Russians are accused of involvement in the incident.  However, the number of people whose visas were blacklisted by the United States is not high.  In May, Senators Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) introduced the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act.  The act would freeze assets as well as visas.  Though named for Magnitsky, it would apply to other future and past cases.

For more information, please see:

AFP – US visa blacklist after Russian lawyer’s death: report – 26 July 2011

The Washington Post – U.S. puts Russian officials on visa blacklist – 25 July 2011

The Library of Congress – Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act – 19 May 2011

Journalist and Directors of Newspaper Jailed and fined in President Rafael Correa Libel Case

By Paula Buzzi
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

QUITO, Ecuador – Directors and a former opinion editor of El Universo newspaper were sentenced to three years in prison on Thursday and are required to pay a $40 million dollar fine for an opinion article calling President Rafael Correa a dictator.

Libel case pits Ecuadors president against newspaper. (Photo Courtesy of CNN News).
Libel case pits Ecuador's president against newspaper. (Photo Courtesy of CNN News)

The article, which was published in February, accused President Correa of ordering his supporters to open fire at a hospital last September where he was being held hostage by the opposition party. President Correa called the negative press “baseless” and sued the newspaper for libel.

The day after the court ruling, El Universo published a quote from author Ayn Rand on a nearly blank front cover reading: “When you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice, you may know that your society is doomed.”

According to the former opinion editor, Emilio Palacio, the lawsuit was meant to serve as an example to other journalists of the consequences that result from publishing anything critical of the Ecuadorian government. Palacio also believes the lawsuit was motivated by financial gain since he believes the award money will go straight into President Correa´s pockets.

Jose Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director for Human Rights Watch, shared in El Universo´s outrage, stating that the decision constitutes a “major setback for free speech in Ecuador.” Reporters Without Borders, a France-based media watchdog, also accused the decision of being a contradiction to the freedom of expression laws set in place by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Alembert Vera, President Correa’s attorney, however, refuted the accusations and said the motivation behind the lawsuit was simply a “defense of honor” and that all the award money would go straight to the Yasuni-ITT environmental project. He plans to appeal the decision and seek the full $80 million dollars in damages he initially sought.

With international support behind them, El Universo´s lawyers are also appealing the decision, claiming that they were denied the ability to present evidence to support their case.

For more information, please see:

CNN – Ecuadorian paper reacts to libel ruling with nearly-empty front page – 22 July 2011

Univision – Ecuador libel case, jailing, draws worldwide criticism – 21 July 2011

The Wall Street Journal – Ecuador President Correa Wins Lawsuit Against El Universo Newspaper – 20 July 2011

CNN – Libel case pits Ecuador’s president against newspaper – 19 July 2011

No end to extrajudicial killings in the Philippines

By Brianne Yantz
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

MANILA, Philippines – On July 18, Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a report entitled, “‘No Justice Just Adds to the Pain’: Killings, Disappearances, and Impunity in the Philippines.” According to HRW’s accompanying press release, the report concludes that the Philippine government has failed “to investigate and prosecute extrajudicial killings” since President Benigno Aquino III took office on June 30, 2010.

President Benigno Aquino III addresses a large crowd of students and government officials during the celebration for his first year in office. (Photo Courtesy of AP)
President Benigno Aquino III addresses a large crowd of students and government officials during the celebration for his first year in office. (Photo Courtesy of AP)

Such inaction has further fueled the military abuses that have taken place across the Philippines for the past decade, the 98-page report alleges. To support this claim, HRW presents strong evidence of military involvement in the seven killings and three enforced disappearances of leftist activists that have taken place during the Aquino administration.

Prior to his election, Aquino had campaigned against the violence that plagued the Philippines and pledged to bring it to an end. As Ishaan Tharoor, a blogger for TIME, reported “the culture of impunity and rank injustice that seemed to permeate some of the country’s state institutions were things Aquino vowed to stamp out.”

Yet, Tharoor has been highly critical of Aquino, stating that he “has made slow progress forging a dent in that ‘endemic’ corruption” as “court cases against known corrupt officials of the previous Arroyo administration have been only sparsely lodged.”

Tharoor further noted that the HRW report “adds to the chorus of criticism.”

The HRW report, however, presents the most overwhelming evidence of Aquino’s inaction.  It details over 80 interviews, conducted across 11 provinces, with victims of abuses, their family members, witnesses, and police and military officials.

In one account from the report, Mary Dejos recalls finding the bodies of her husband and son after they were killed on February 27, 2011 in Davao del Sur province. Her husband Roderick “was lying with open wounds on his chest and neck” and her son, Rudyric, had “bullet wounds on his back with exit wounds on his upper chest.”

Dejos’ account is one of many, all of which indicate that Aquino has broken his promise to the people. Elaine Pearson, the deputy Asia director at HRW, illustrated how nothing has changed under the Aquino regime. According to Pearson, “activists are being gunned down in the street, while implicated soldiers walk free.”

Pearson went on to comment, “the Philippines can only bring an end to these horrific abuses if it is clear that anyone who orders or commits them will be jailed and their military careers will be over.”

For more information, please see:

The Philippine Star – Phl still fails to address extra judicial killings – July 21, 2011

BBC News – Philippines extrajudicial killings continue, says HRW – July 19, 2011

TIME – Extrajudicial Murders Are a Blot on Noynoy Aquino’s Year in Power in the Philippines – July 19, 2011

Human Rights Watch – Philippines: New Killings as Impunity Reigns – July 18, 2011

Yemeni Conflict Causes Rise in Child Soldier Recruitment

By Tyler Yates
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

SANA’A Yemen — The rise in violence in Yemen, ignited by the protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh, has led to a subsequent rise in the recruitment of child soldiers.

Yemeni Child Soldiers (Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera).
Yemeni Child Soldiers (Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera).

Currently, there are three main military units fighting each other throughout Yemen, the pro-government Republican Guards and Central Security, and the pro-opposition First Armored Division.  Each group has increased its efforts to recruit children into their ranks as tensions within the conflict flare.

The exact number of child soldiers currently engaged in the conflict is unknown due to reluctance by the military units to release such statistics, but it has been estimated to be in the thousands.

The United Nations estimates that 20 percent of the rebel fighters and 15 percent of the government affiliated militia are children. In its annual report, the UN added these groups to its “list of shame,” 57 groups around the world that recruit children to fight in armed conflicts, or do other war time harm to their youth populations.

Human Rights Watch has previously noted the presence of numerous soldiers under the age of 18 fighting in the Yemeni conflict, with some as young as 14.  Many of these child soldiers have already served for two years.

Yemeni law does require that individuals be 18 to enlist, but recruiters find ways around this.  The use of forged identification cards is rampant.

“Two months ago, my 14-year-old cousin got an ID card showing he is 18 and he joined the Republican Guards,” Hamid al-Ghurbani, a high school teacher in Sana’a told the Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN). “Last week, I saw him carrying a gun.”

The Yemeni Ministry of Defense admits that it is aware of the problem, but notes that the IDs are “the only reliable document for determining the age of an applicant.”  Most child soldiers have the permission of their parents to join the military, and in some cases the parents are even complicit in the forging of the IDs.  The families are in dire need of the extra income.

A few weeks ago the UN unanimously adopted a resolution against the recruitment of child soldiers. The signatories “call upon member states concerned to take decisive and immediate action against persistent perpetrators of violations and abuses committed against children in situations of armed conflict, and further call upon them to bring to justice those responsible for such violations.”

The challenge, while admirable, is daunting.  Approximately 300,000 children are being used as child soldiers with the numbers constantly in flux do to ever changing conflicts.  Once a child soldier turns 18 they are no longer identified as such.  Their years spent as a child soldier become invisible.

For more information, please see:

Middle East Online — Yemen conflict generates more child soldiers — 22 July 2011

IRIN — Yemen: Conflict generating more child soldiers — 20 July 2011

World Tribune — Unthinkable horror: The targeting of children in 21st century warfare — 19 July 2011

The Times of India — UN adopts resolution against recruiting child soldiers — 13 July 2011

Human Rights Watch — Yemen:  Stop using Children in Armed Forces — 14 April 2011

Favela Poor Forced Out Of Homes For World Cup and Olympics in Brazil

By Emilee Gaebler
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BRASILIA, Brazil– Preparations for hosting the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics are in full swing.  As the Brazilian government works hard to improve the infrastructures of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro thousands are being forced out of their homes.

Berenice Maria das Neves evicted from her home
Berenice Maria das Neves evicted from her home. (Photo Courtesy of BBC News)

The communities that are bearing the brunt of these “urbanization” projects are Brazil’s poorest, the favelas.  In Rio de Janeiro, those living in the favelas in the Zona Norte (North Zone) and Zona Oueste (West Zone) are being relocated to make way for new roadways and new buildings.

Berenice Maria das Neves, a resident of one of the favelas leveled in Rio de Janeiro was forced out in late May.  She received a summons in the mail to appear at City Hall and once there was told her house had been condemned.  She was given a check for 8,000 reais (US $5000) as compensation and her home was a pile of rubble before she even returned from City Hall. 

She now faces the challenge of finding a new home, which will be quite the challenge as, “[w]hat use is 8,000 reais?  I’d need at least four times as much to find a house to buy” she says.

Carlos Nuzman, the chairman for the Rio Olympics organizing committee, points to the rehousing programs to justify these forced evictions.  The three programs; “Vila Nova Chocolatão,” “Growth Acceleration Program” and “Minha Casa, Minha Vida” center on the development of housing projects for low income families in the suburbs of the cities but the projects are far from the city center.  Those who do take up residence are forced to live 30 miles or more from where they work.

Human rights groups, monitoring the forced evictions in the favelas, are concerned.  Many express worries that this process is simply a ruse; that Brazil is using the World Cup and Olympics as an excuse to push the poor out of the city centers and free-up land for developers to make profits off of. 

A local councilor, Eliomar Coelho, said, “[t]his is a clear example of how the government treats the poor.  A big opportunity has been missed.  Instead of being better off as a result of the boom, these people will end up worse off.  It’s a complete violation of their human rights.”

Also disturbing, is the growing number of reports that the militia has taken advantage of the relocation situation.  These reports indicate that the militia is forcing newly relocated families out of their low-income houses and then putting the houses up for sale.

 

For more information, please see;

Global Issues –Brazil: More Community Input Needed In Relocation of Favelas – 5 July 2011

Prospect Journal of International Affairs at UCSD – Human Rights Abuses in Brazil’s Favelas in Preparation for World Cup and Olympics: Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo – July 2011

BBC News – Rio Olympics: Favela Poor Evicted as City Spruced Up – 30 June 2011

The Rio Times – Minha Casa, Minha Vida Phase Two – 21 June 2011

The Rio Times – Favelas Moved for World Cup and Olympics – 10 May 2011