Sri Lankan asylum seekers detained in Indonesia, denied entry to New Zealand

By Brianne Yantz
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

WELLINGTON, New Zealand – Earlier this month the Indonesian Navy intercepted a boat containing over 85 Tamil Sri Lankan refugees bound for New Zealand.  Many were waving New Zealand flags or holding signs that read “Our future life is in New Zealand,” the New Zealand Herald reported.  However, the refugees were detained and New Zealand’s Prime Minister, John Key, publicly announced that the asylum seekers would not be permitted to enter the country.

Sri Lankan asylum seekers display signs after their boat was intercepted by the Indonesian Navy.  (Photo Courtesy of AP/ New Zealand Herald)
Sri Lankan asylum seekers display signs after their boat was intercepted by the Indonesian Navy. (Photo Courtesy of AP/ New Zealand Herald)

Key also noted that of the thousands of refugees that seek asylum in New Zealand only 750 a year are accepted. He firmly stated that New Zealand would not accept anyone who did not follow the normal channels.  Key stated that allowing the refugees into the country without going through the proper legal channels would promote smuggling.  As Key explained to The Telegraph, “if you are going to take this boat, there are just thousands and thousands of other boats which will come.”

Many have since criticized Key and accused him of exaggerating the issue.  To his critics, the probability of a mass influx of asylum seekers to New Zealand is not as likely or harmful as Key believes.

According to TamilNet, Keith Locke, the Green Party MP in New Zealand, stated “there is room in our country for more Sri Lankan asylum seekers.  In the last 3 years we have not even filled our 750 annual refugee quota.”  Locke further argued that Key’s mother was in fact an asylum seeker, fleeing Nazi Germany in 1939 for Britain.

TamilNet also reported that Tamil groups in New Zealand believe that Key’s stance is misguided; Key’s judgment has been clouded by poor advice and hostile propaganda from the Government of Sri Lanka.

The Tamil organizations pointed out that the Tamils in Sri Lanka are currently being suppressed by a military dictatorship and that the nation’s war crimes have received little to no international coverage.  Therefore, the lack of public sympathy for the refugees comes as no surprise.

Despite these criticisms, Key has maintained his stance on the issue and the refugees remain in Indonesian custody.

However, one major political figurehead, who is also the leader of the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) political party in Indonesia, has requested the refugees at least be set free.  According to MSN News, MDMK leader, Vaiko, reportedly wrote to Indonesia’s Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, arguing that the refugees were not illegal immigrants and “as per International Law, their right to seek asylum cannot be curtailed by Indonesian authorities.”

For more information, please see:

TamilNet – Prime Minister criticized in New Zealand’s parliament over Tamil refugees – July 16, 2011

MSN News – Vaiko wants PM to put pressure on Indonesia to release Tamils – July 14, 2011

New Zealand Herald – PM accused of overstating refugee issue – July 13, 2011

Radio New Zealand – PM criticised over stance on asylum seekers – July 12, 2011

The Telegraph – New Zealand shuts door on Sri Lankan asylum seekers – July 12, 2011

Thailand Waits on Election Commission

By: Greg Donaldson
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BANGKOK, Thailand – The Thai Election Commission has decided to hold off on certifying the newly elected prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, citing it needed to look into several legal matters regarding the election.  This act has many calling into question the intentions of the Election Commission.

Yingluck Shinawatra (Photo Courtesy of the Asia News Network)
Recently elected Yingluck Shinawatra. (Photo Courtesy of the Asia News Network)

In a historic election that had a voter turnout of seventy-four percent, Shinawatra and her party Pheu Thai (also called “red shirts”), won a projected 261 seats in Parliament, while the former prime minister’s party only took 162 seats according to the Election Commission. Other exit polls show Pheu Thai’s win to be even larger reports Reuters. However, the Election Commission has the ability to take away an elected candidate’s victory if it finds laws were broken during the election.

Much of the controversy that surrounds the elections revolves around the fact that the newly elected prime minister is the sister of former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Shinawatra was overthrown in a 2006 military operation. Since his overthrow, lower and upper class Thais have been sharply divided.

Thaksin has been barred from politics by the courts and currently lives in exile in Dubai to avoid prison sentences that he calls politically motivated. However, one of Yingluck Shinawatra’s slogans for her campaign was “Thaksin thinks, Pheu Thai acts”.

The Thai news media have treated Ms. Yingluck as the presumptive prime minister.  The local newspaper Thai Rath stated on Wednesday the Election Commission “needs to clarify to the public why it is working so slowly.”

The paper further noted that “The role of the Election Commission in the recent election reeked like a bad odor,” and there were many suspicions about why the process was so jammed up.  The Bangkok Post explains that “only blatant cases of election fraud with strong evidence beyond reasonable doubt should bar anyone from initially entering public office.”

On Wednesday red-shirt leadership warned the Election Commission about their dissatisfaction over the delay in certification of newly elected members. Thida Thawornseth, chairwoman of the movement, called on the red shirts to “keep your batteries full and get ready for action in any situation.”

Thida described the Election Commission’s move as an attempt by the “ruling elite” to prevent the country emerging from its political crisis.” If the people’s interest is destroyed again, (the red-shirt movement) is ready to protect it,” she added.

The election results represent how sharply the country is divided into “red” and “blue” provinces. The blue areas, concentrated in Bangkok and southern Thailand support the departing government, while the reds support the Pheu Thai party whose members are generally poorer, less educated, and reside in the northern parts of the country.  More than half of the voters whose monthly income was less than $165 (USD) voted for Pheu Thai while less than a third voted for the Democrat Party.

For more information, please see:

Bangkok Post — Smooth Transition is Heart of Democracy – 15 July 2011

Asia News Network — Thailand’s red shirts warn of backlash if election body delays endorsement of Yingluck — 14 July 2011

Asia News Network — Thai election commission delays endorsement of Yingluck, partymates – 13 July 2011

New York Times — New Thai Government is Delayed by Legal Challenges — 13 July 2011

Time — Thai Election Board Delays Certifying Winners – 12 July 2011

Reuters – Thaksin party wins Thai election by a landslide — 3 July 2011

LBGT Groups Picket Russian Embassy in London

By Greg Hall
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe 

LONDON, England – Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals picketed the Russian Emabassy in London on July 1 urging Russia’s voting rights at the Council of Europe be suspended because of the country’s violations of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).  On October 21, 2010, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that banning gay pride events violated the right to freedom of assembly. It also ruled that Moscow authorities had unlawfully discriminated against activist Nikolay Aleksandrovich Alekseyev and the organizers of gay pride events on the basis of sexual orientation, and had subsequently denied them a remedy.

LGBT supporters protest outside the Russian Embassy in London (Photo Courtesy of Pink Paper).

The year after the court ruling, Moscow authorities banned the pride event.  Four different applications were made and all four of them were denied.  Eighteen people attempted to defy the ban and hold the event.  However, they were aggressively arrested and persecuted by homophobic groups and religious counter-protesters, just as has happened in the previous six years.

As a consequence of violating the ruling of the European Court on Human Rights, the picketers called for Russia’s voting rights in the Council of Europe to be suspended.  Five people were arrested for picketing a Russian Embassy in France when they went to deliver a petition signed by 14,000 people opposing Russia’s defiance.

Moscow’s Deputy Mayor told the event organizer, Nikolai Alekseyev, that his application to hold the event had been rejected due to the large numbers of objections it had received from members of the public.  However, Nicola Duckworth, Director of Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Programme, responded, “The Moscow City Authorities must overturn their decision to ban this year’s Moscow Gay Pride.  So-called public morality concerns can never be used to justify restrictions on the freedom of expression of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people”.

A poll released in June found that 61 percent of Russians oppose gay pride marches in Russia.  A year ago, 82 percent said that they disapproved.  Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said: “The arrest, mistreatment and detention of LGBT activists is illegal under Russia’s constitution, which guarantees the right to peaceful assembly.  It is alarming that this homophobic repression is taking place in Russia’s most liberal city, St Petersburg.  The Council of Europe must take disciplinary action against Russia over its further violation of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The Russian government must not be allowed to defy the ECHR with impunity.”

For More Information Please See:

Pride Source — LGBTs Picket Russian Embassy in London — 14 July 2011

Pink Paper — Five People Arrested Outside Russian Embassy in Paris — 11 July 2011

Pink Paper — Russian Police Arrest 14 People in Demonstration Row — 27 June 2011

Peter Tachel — Gay Activist Will Defy Ban — 25 May 2011

Amnesty International — Moscow Authorities Ban Gay Pride Event — 18 May 2011

UNHCR — Russia: European Court Rules Gay Pride Ban Unlawful — 21 October 2010


New Egyptian Government Takes Shape as Protests Continue

By Zach Waksman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt On Tuesday, the military announced that it was planning to adopt a “declaration of basic principles” that would oversee the drafting of a new Egyptian constitution.  But even as the ruling military council begins this process, public concerns remain over whether the revolution of January 25 has brought about the reforms it sought to achieve.

Despite this apparent show of good faith, thousands of protesters gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Friday, referred to as “The Friday of Final Warning,” to repeat the demands that spurred the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak.  This time, however, their anger was aimed at Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), and interim Prime Minister Essam Sharaf.  Once they finished their prayers, the dissidents chanted, “The Military Council is illegitimate” and “Down with Tantawi,” while also using poetry, song, caricature, and graffiti to express displeasure with the current regime.

As of Thursday, at least a dozen Tahrir protesters were in the midst of a hunger strike.  One of the strikers, Mohamed Fawzy, said that he would not accept treatment until the protesters’ demands have been met.  Those demands include the public trial of all officers who participated in killing protesters during the revolution and a public trial of the Mubarak family and other symbols of his regime.  They also want limits on the SCAF’s power and a purge of all government and state institutions, including banks and the media, of corrupt members of the previous regime.

To some, putting new people in power will not be enough.  Mohamed El-Baradei, a former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency who is running for president, opined that the government will have to change its policies.  “The revolution’s demands are clear.  We need an empowered government and a change of policies,” he wrote on his Twitter page.

Even after Tuesday’s announcement, the primary concern among the protesters is that the declaration will provide the military with a broad mission that could limit democracy in the name of preserving a secular state.  Tahani el-Gebali, a judge who is assisting in drafting the declaration, supports a broad role in the new government for the armed forces.  She believes that “[t]he military’s legacy gives it a special credibility.”  This credibility justifies its level of responsibility in protecting the new constitution’s legitimacy.  The military has traditionally had almost total autonomy in Egypt, including a budget that was not disclosed to the Parliament.

Ibrahim Dawrish, who helped create a new constitution that reduced the political role of Turkish armed forces, and who had taken on a broad mandate after a coup in 1980, told the New York Times that the SCAF seemed to be trying to imitate the Turkish model, which created political turmoil in Turkey for years.  “The constitution can’t be monopolized by one institution,” Dawrish said.  “It is Parliament that makes the constitution, not the other way around.”

Frustration appears to be growing within the military.  Even as anger towards them increases, the SCAF remains steadfast in its claim of being only a temporary regime.  Major General Mamdouh Shaheen, a council member, told a news conference that the military would remain in power until an elected government was in place, adding that the SCAF “does not want to stay in power.”

Whether that is true remains to be seen.  The final version of the declaration will provide some answers to that question, but will raise new questions as well.

For more information, please see:

Al-Masry Al-Youm – El-Baradei: Revolution wants policies, not people, changed – 17 July 2011

Ikhwanweb – As Protests Continue, Egyptians Determined to Fulfill Revolution’s Demands – 17 July 2011

New York Times – Egypt Military Moves to Cement a Muscular Role in Government – 16 July 2011

Daily News Egypt – Thousands in Tahrir on ‘Final Warning Friday’ – 15 July 2011

Al-Ahram Weekly – Must do better – 14 July 2011

Al-Ahram Weekly – Protesters’ demands –14 July 2011

Al-Ahram Weekly – Together we stand – 14 July 2011

Human Rights Watch Calls For United States To Investigate Bush, Other Top Officials For Torture

Originally published by Human Rights Watch
11 July 2011

(Washington, DC) – Overwhelming evidence of torture by the Bush administration obliges President Barack Obama to order a criminal investigation into allegations of detainee abuse authorized by former President George W. Bush and other senior officials, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The Obama administration has failed to meet US obligations under the Convention against Torture to investigate acts of torture and other ill-treatment of detainees, Human Rights Watch said.

The 107-page report, “Getting Away with Torture: The Bush Administration and Mistreatment of Detainees,” presents substantial information warranting criminal investigations of Bush and senior administration officials, including former Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and CIA Director George Tenet, for ordering practices such as “waterboarding,” the use of secret CIA prisons, and the transfer of detainees to countries where they were tortured.

“There are solid grounds to investigate Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Tenet for authorizing torture and war crimes,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “President Obama has treated torture as an unfortunate policy choice rather than a crime. His decision to end abusive interrogation practices will remain easily reversible unless the legal prohibition against torture is clearly reestablished.”

If the US government does not pursue credible criminal investigations, other countries should prosecute US officials involved in crimes against detainees in accordance with international law, Human Rights Watch said.

“The US has a legal obligation to investigate these crimes,” Roth said. “If the US doesn’t act on them, other countries should.”

In August 2009, US Attorney General Eric Holder appointed Assistant US Attorney John Durham to investigate detainee abuse but limited the probe to “unauthorized” acts. That meant the investigation could not cover acts of torture, such as waterboarding, and other ill-treatment authorized by Bush administration lawyers, even if the acts violated domestic and international law. On June 30, Holder accepted Durham’s recommendation to carry out full investigations of two deaths in CIA custody, reportedly from Iraq and Afghanistan. Human Rights Watch said that the narrow scope of Durham’s inquiry failed to address the systemic nature of the abuses.

“The US government’s pattern of abuse across several countries did not result from the acts of individuals who broke the rules,” Roth said. “It resulted from decisions made by senior US officials to bend, ignore, or cast the rules aside.”

In citing the four top-level Bush administration officials, Human Rights Watch said that:

  • President Bush publicly admitted that in two cases he approved the use of waterboarding, a form of mock execution involving near-drowning that the United States has long prosecuted as a type of torture. Bush also authorized the illegal CIA secret detention and renditions programs, under which detainees were held incommunicado and frequently transferred to countries such as Egypt and Syria where they were likely to be tortured;
  • Vice President Cheney was the driving force behind the establishment of illegal detention and interrogation policies, chairing key meetings at which specific CIA operations were discussed, including the waterboarding of one detainee, Abu Zubaydah, in 2002;
  • Defense Secretary Rumsfeld approved illegal interrogation methods and closely followed the interrogation of Mohamed al-Qahtani, who was subjected to a six-week regime of coercive interrogation at Guantanamo that cumulatively appears to have amounted to torture;
  • CIA Director Tenet authorized and oversaw the CIA’s use of waterboarding, stress positions, light and noise bombardment, sleep deprivation, and other abusive interrogation methods, as well as the CIA rendition program.

In media interviews, Bush has sought to justify his authorization of waterboarding on the ground that Justice Department lawyers said it was legal. While Bush should have recognized that waterboarding constituted torture without consulting a lawyer, there is also substantial information that senior administration officials, including Cheney, sought to influence the lawyers’ judgment, Human Rights Watch said.

“Senior Bush officials shouldn’t be able to shape and hand-pick legal advice and then hide behind it as if it were autonomously delivered,” Roth said.

Human Rights Watch said the criminal investigation should include an examination of the preparation of the Justice Department memos that were used to justify the unlawful treatment of detainees.

Human Rights Watch also said that victims of torture should receive fair and adequate compensation as required by the Convention against Torture. Both the Bush and Obama administrations have successfully kept courts from considering the merits of torture allegations in civil lawsuits by making broad use of legal doctrines such as state secrets and official immunity.

An independent, nonpartisan commission, along the lines of the 9-11 Commission, should be established to examine the actions of the executive branch, the CIA, the military, and Congress, with regard to Bush administration policies and practices that led to detainee abuse, Human Rights Watch said. Such a commission should make recommendations to ensure that the systematic abuses of the Bush administration are not repeated.

In February 2011, Bush cancelled a trip to Switzerland, where alleged victims of torture had intended to file a criminal complaint against him. An investigation implicating US officials in torture is under way in Spain. Documents made public by Wikileaks revealed that US pressure on Spanish authorities to drop the case has continued under the Obama administration.

Human Rights Watch said that the US government’s failure to investigate US officials for the torture and ill-treatment of detainees undermines US efforts to press for accountability for human rights violations abroad.

“The US is right to call for justice when serious international crimes are committed in places like Darfur, Libya, and Sri Lanka, but there should be no double standards,” Roth said. “When the US government shields its own officials from investigation and prosecution, it makes it easier for others to dismiss global efforts to bring violators of serious crimes to justice.”

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To download the report “Getting Away With Torture” or view other related materials, please visit the HRW page.

European Parliament Seeks Africa Legal Aid’s Counsel on EU Support for the ICC

AFLA – Making Human Rights a Reality – European Parliament Seeks Africa Legal Aid’s Counsel on EU Support f…

IHRDC Chart of Executions by the Islamic Republic of Iran

Originally published by the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center
July 12, 2011

IHRDC has compiled a chart that documents executions of people by the Islamic Republic of Iran beginning in December 2010. It includes numbers, names, prisons, charges, dates, and links to sources.

Executions in Iran 7-8-2011

Myanmar military forcing prisoners to act as human shields in military conflict

By: Jessica Ties
Impunity Watch, Asia

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar – Myanmar is facing criticism for their use of prisoners as tools of war. The Myanmar military has forced inmates to act as porters and human shields on the battle field while those who attempt escape face possible torture and execution.

Prisoners in Myanmar, dressed in blue, are forced to serve as porters for the Myanmar military (Photo Courtesy of Reuters).
Prisoners in Myanmar, dressed in blue, are forced to serve as porters for the Myanmar military (Photo Courtesy of Reuters).

Porters are forced to carry the military’s equipment through areas believed to be heavily populated with landmines and are also forced into the direct line of fire to prevent military forces from being hit by bullets.

In a statement by Human Rights Watch, former porters have “described witnessing or enduring summary executions, torture and beatings, being used as human shields to trip land mines or shield soldiers from fire, and being denied medical attention and adequate food and shelter.”

One escaped porter illustrated the experience by stating that he and other porters “were carrying food up to the camp and one porter stepped on a mine and lost his leg. The soldiers left him, he was screaming but no one helped.”

Karen Human Rights Group, which is based in Myanmar, and Human Rights Watch conducted interviews of former porters who had fled from the battlefield. These interviews are used in a report, titled “Dead Men Walking”, about the use of convict slave labor. According to the interviews, the inmates are chosen at random from prisons across the country. While some of those chosen have been convicted of serious offenses, others have committed only minor crimes such as brawling.

The use of inmates for acts of war has been a systematic practice in the country and dates back to as early as 1992. In January approximately 1,200 male prisoners were forced to serve as porters during two military operations which were carried out with the support of the army, the police and prison authorities.

For decades the Myanmar military has fought against various ethnic armies who are seeking autonomy. In addition, the report calls for an investigation into the military and the ethnic rebel groups for not only forcing civilians to become porters, but also for recruiting child soldiers and using landmines in conflict.

The use of porters has been ignored by the new civilian led government in Myanmar despite the call of inquiry that has been supported by 16 countries including the United States and Britain.

Human Rights Watch has stated the use of convict slave labor constitutes a war crime and is demanding that the United Nations launch an investigation into the use of prisoners in Myanmar.

For more information, please see:

AFP – Rights group slams Myanmar use of convict porters – 13 July 2011

Asian Correspondent – ‘Dead Men Walking’: Burma’s convict army porters – 13 July 2011

MSNBC – Rights group: Myanmar uses ‘convict slave labor’ – 13 July 2011

Reuters – Myanmar army turning prisoners into war zone porters: groups – 13 July 2011

“False Positive” Scandal Leads to Sentencing of Colombian Colonel

By Emilee Gaebler
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTÁ, Colombia –   The Colombian government has faced public international outcry since 2008 when what has been termed, the “false positives” scandal, first surfaced.  A false positive occurs when the army kills innocent civilians and passes them off as enemy guerilla combatants in order to falsely inflate their kill counts.  A number of recent convictions and indictments of army officials and soldiers are the most recent developments in the “false positives” scandal.

Colombian soldiers lining up bodies of rebel combatants.  (Photo Courtesy of Colombia Reports)
Colombian soldiers lining up bodies of rebel combatants. (Photo Courtesy of Colombia Reports)

On June 29, 2011, eight Colombian soldiers were sentenced for killing four innocent men in the province of Antioquia back in June of 2006.  The four farmers were pulled out of their homes by the soldiers, shot in the back and then the soldiers disguised the bodies by placing guerilla uniforms on them.   All eight soldiers were given 60 years in prison, the maximum sentence, for their participation in the “false positives” slayings.

Major Orlando Arturo Cespedes Escalona was indicted just a week later on July 5, 2011 for the murder of 11 innocent civilians in Sucre.  Back in the summer of 2007, the 11 farmers were offered $426 in order to do some work on a farm but when they showed up they were murdered.  The 11 deaths were falsely reported months later as guerilla fighters who were killed in a skirmish.

Escalona’s commander Colonel Luis Fernando Borja was sentenced to 20 years in prison for his participation in the 11 murders in Sucre.  Borja admitted that in 2007 two men were enticed by soldiers from his unit offering paid work opportunities and then killed.  Borja is the most senior official sentenced so far in this scandal which has been linked to almost 1,500 members of the military.

The “false positives” scandal evolved out the body bag culture of the Colombian army where soldiers are rewarded with extra pay, days off and promotions when they kill a high number of rebel combatants.  Currently, there are over 1,400 cases of “false positive” murders being investigated in Colombia. 

For more information please see:

BBC News – Colombian Colonel Sentenced for Faking Civilian Murders – 14 July 2011

BBC News – Colombians Soldiers Jailed for “False Positive” Killings – 6 July 2011

Colombia Reports – 8 Soldiers Convicted of “False Positive” Murders Receive Maximum Sentence – 6 July 2011

Colombia Reports – Army Major Indicted for “False Positive” Killings – 5 July 2011

Colombia Reports – Seven Colombian Military Members Sentenced for “False Positives” – 30 June 2011

ESTONIAN HOSTAGES IN LEBANON LIVE TO TASTE FREEDOM AGAIN

by Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BEIRUT, Lebanon–Seven Estonian cyclists who were abducted on 23 March 2011 in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley have been released, according to the Estonian foreign ministry. All seven men are in their 30s and entered Lebanon from Syria on a bicycle tour.

A map of Lebanon. (Photo Courtesy of BBC)
A map of Lebanon. (Photo Courtesy of BBC)

Security sources reported that on 23 March 2011, the seven men were cycling in Lebanon’s Easter Valley when masked gunmen in a black Mercedes and two white vans with no license plates kidnapped the foreigners on a road between Zahle, a predominantly Christian town, and Kfar Zabed, a town with a healthy Sunni-Christian mix.

Kfar Zabed is located some 10 kilometers (approximately 6.21 miles) southeast of Zahle and five kilometers (approximately 3.11 miles) from Lebanon’s border with Syria. The Bekaa Valley is notorious for engaging in unlawful activities including kidnappings.

A group known as Haraket Al-Nahda Wal-Islah (Movement for Renewal and Reform) claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and demanded an undisclosed ransom. This group was previously unheard of according to Lebanese security officials.

The case to recover the seven cyclists had been covered in mystery for months, although several individuals were arrested in Lebanon in connection with the kidnapping. Lebanese Interior officials confirmed that 9 people implicated in the abduction had been arrested, including Lebanese suspects and those of other nationalities.

The Estonians were shown asking for help on video three times: 20 April, 20 May, and 8 July. The first two videos were posted on the Internet while the third video was sent to the relatives of the hostages. The seven men were seen calling on the leaders of Lebanon, Saudia Arabia, Jordan, and France for assistance. None of the videos released made political demands, although it has not been made public whether a ransom was actually paid to ensure the release of the hostages.

Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet shared these sentiments followed the release of the seven cyclists;  “The main thing now is for our seven fellow countrymen to get home to their families and loved ones as quickly as possible.”

The cyclists were freed in the town of Arsal. As Estonia lacks diplomatic representation in Lebanon, the cyclists were taken directly to the French embassy in the capital, Beirut. French diplomats have already begun to work on an official release for the hostages.

Lebanese Interior Minister Marwan Charbel expressed that “Our sole priority right now is to ensure that they arrive at the embassy safe and found, and then we will hear whatever details they have.”

Although relatively prominent before, the kidnapping of Westerners in Lebanon has become less common since the end of the civil war in 1990.

For more information, please see:

Al-Jazeera-Kidnapped Estonians freed in Lebanon-14 July 2011

BBC-Seven Estonian hostages freed in Lebanon-14 July 2011

CNN-Army:Estonian cyclists abducted in Lebanon are released-14 July 2011

Reuters-Estonia confirms kidnapped men released in Lebanon-14 July 2011

Eritrean Footballers Seek Asylum in Tanzania after Tournament

By Carolyn Abdenour
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania – Thirteen members of the Eritrean Red Sea FC football team are seeking political asylum after losing a semi-final championship game of a regional tournament sponsored by the Council for East and Central Africa Football Associations in Tanzania on Saturday.  Of the twenty-six members of the team, only half arrived at Mwalimu Nyerere International Airport to depart from Tanzania.  The remaining players are attempting to escape a repressive government, national military service, and poverty under the regime of the Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki.

Eritrean striker during a Kagame Castle Cup game at the National Stadium in Dar es Salaam.  (Photo Courtesy of The Citizen)
Eritrean striker during a Kagame Castle Cup game at the National Stadium in Dar es Salaam. (Photo Courtesy of The Citizen)

Tanzania Football Federation Secretary General Angetile Osiah reported that the returning Eritrean football players attempted to stamp the passports of their missing team members at the airport’s immigration checkpoint.  Ms. Oshiah stated that law enforcement authorities were notified about the missing players for investigation.

Isaac Nantanga, spokesperson for Tanzania’s ministry of Home Affairs reported “[t]he 13 Eritrean footballers went directly to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) offices in Dar es Saleem and sought protection as refugees.”  Nantanga noted that authorities were unable to arrest the defecting players since they had received international protection.

Since Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993, the government has repressed the population; prohibiting political opposition, an independent media, and freedom of worship.  President Afewerki also keeps the country in a constant state of insecurity, preventing international mediators from deciding a common border between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Eritrean youth are forced to serve decades in the army or low-wage government positions and face extreme challenges gaining exit visas.  The Guardian has reported that “the [youths’] situation seems so hopeless that the only option is to make perilous journeys on foot to Ethiopia or Sudan, and onwards.”

Eritrean football players have previously absconded four times different times.  Most recently, twelve members of the Eritrean football team disappeared in 2009 after completing a regional football tournament in Kenya.  These players received asylum in Australia to continue their football careers.

While the defection of Eritrean football players may create international headlines, the emigration of Eritrean citizens to surrounding countries is nothing new.   Human rights reports indicate that thousands of Eritrean citizens flee from “the most repressed African nation” annually.  Although Eritrea has a population of only five million persons, it has one of the largest ratios of asylum seekers in the world.  Playing sports has often been used as a method for Eritrean citizens to dodge military conscription and leave the country.  However, to prevent sports related defections, the Eritrean government charges each traveling athlete a $6,700 deposit which the government returns only upon their arrival home.

Although the players are currently being held by Tanzanian authorities for questioning, Mr. Nantanga  stressed that the “interviews are in line with Tanzanian and international laws and the objective is to establish reasons for the applicants to seek asylum in the country.”

For more information, please see:
BBCEritrean Red Sea FC footballers seek Tanzania asylum12 July 2011
Global PostEritrean footballers go missing (again)12 July 2011
The CitizenEritrean team players now seek TZ asylum12 July 2011
The GuardianEritrean footballers go missing in Tanzania after tournament – 12 July 2011
SomaliNet ForumsEritrean Football Players Missing in Tanzania12 July 2011

Second Brazilian official resigns this month after accusations of corruption

By Paula Buzzi
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

SÃO PAULO, Brazil — The transportation minister of Brazil, Alfredo Nascimento, resigned on Wednesday after corruption allegations appeared in the Brazilian news magazine, Veja, earlier that week. According to Veja, Nascimento used his position of power to solicit bribes and transfer payments from federal infrastructure contracts to his own political party.

Alfredo Nascimento denies any wrongdoing. (Photo Courtesy of BBC News).
Alfredo Nascimento denies any wrongdoing. (Photo Courtesy of BBC News).

O Globo, another Brazilian newspaper, also accused Nascimento of using his ties to enrich his son’s construction company which suspiciously grew in wealth from $38,500 to $32 million in only five years. O Globo attributed the rapid growth to contracts the company had reached with public entities, including a contract in particular which was directly tied to his father’s Transportation Ministry.

Nascimento, however, denies the accusations and remains that he has not done anything illegal. Nascimento stated that he hopes to clarify everything on Tuesday when he appears in front of the Senate.  In the meantime, he states that he will remain cooperative with the Attorney General’s investigation, allowing investigators access to all his personal financial data.

Nascimento is the second minister of President Dilma Rousseff’s cabinet to quit this month.  Antonio Palocci, Rousseff’s chief of staff, resigned earlier this month after questions arose over his rapidly increasing wealth.  Palocci also denied any wrongdoing.

President Rousseff’s reaction to these recent scandals has taken both criticism and praise from the public.  Some people are beginning to question her ability to handle her own coalition. Others, however, are praising her willingness to question her own ministers’ spending and believe the departure of the corrupt officials will give her administration a much needed fresh start.

Reports show that both Nascimento and Palocci served in the same post under Rousseff’s predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula de Silva. Lula’s administration, albeit successful in stimulating the Brazilian economy, was constantly under scrutiny for apparent corruption within the administration.

David Fleischer, a political science professor at Brasilia University, is satisfied with Rousseff’s stance against corruption. “She is gradually reducing the number of Lulalistas that he imposed on her,” he says. “She is branding her own government rather than making this a third term for Lula.”

For more information, please see:

NY Times – 2nd Brazilian Official Quits in Graft Case, Giving New Leader a Chance to Clean House – 9 July 2011

BBC News – Brazil’s transport minister quits in corruption scandal – 7 July 2011

International Business Times – Brazil’s Transport Minister Quits Amidst Corruption Probe – 7 July 2011

National Turk – Brazilian President Aims Fire at Corruption – 4 July 2011

Rally for electoral reforms in Malaysia results in mass arrests

By Brianne Yantz
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – More than 1,400 protestors were arrested this past Saturday during a rally for electoral reforms.  According to the Malaysian Insider, an estimated 50,000 people gathered in the streets of the capital city to take part in the ‘illegal’ protest.  Yet many doubt the accuracy of that approximation; BBC News reported that the number of protestors was actually closer to 10,000.  Nevertheless, many rally organizers believe the campaign was a success.

Police handcuffing protestors at the election reform rally in Kuala Lumpur  (Photo Courtesy of CNN).
Police handcuffing protestors at the election reform rally in Kuala Lumpur. (Photo Courtesy of CNN).

The event was organized by the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections, also known as Bersih 2.0, which means “clean” in Malay.  It is compromised of 62 nongovernmental organizations.

Despite tensions between Bersih 2.0 and the Malaysian government, the New York Times reported that Prime Minister Najib Razak stated the rally could take place if it was held in a stadium rather than on the streets. Coalition organizers agreed to those terms after meeting with the Malaysian king, Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin, on Tuesday.

However, authorities then said that Bersih could not proceed without a police permit. Under Malaysian law, the government will not grant permits to organizations which have been declared illegal.  One week before the rally, the government declared Bersih illegal for failure to register and for purporting to cause public disorder.

Angered by the government’s actions, Bersih announced that the rally would go forward. As a result, police arrested over 200 activists in the days leading up to the protest. Furthermore, a court order barred 91 demonstrators, including various opposition leaders, from entering the capital on Saturday and roadblocks were set up to prevent protestors from accessing the stadium where the rally was set to take place.

Although the city was on a 24-hour lockdown, thousands of protesters managed to slip through the security net early Saturday afternoon. As the crowds began marching down the streets towards the stadium, riot police began volleying tear gas into the masses. Those gathered around the city’s main bus station were hosed down by water cannons.

Ultimately, Bersih organizers were unable to hand over a memorandum that calls for the creation of a royal commission to look into electoral reform. Still, the rally was deemed a success.

The Malaysian Insider reported that one Bersih leader and national laureate, Datuk A. Samad, stated, “I have never seen all the races in Malaysia so united for one cause before.”

In 2007, a similar attempt was made to hold a rally for clean elections.  BBC News reported that as a result, supporters of electoral reform had “won an unprecedented number of seats in the last general election.”

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Malaysia: Police fire tear gas at banned rally – July 9, 2011

CNN – Mass arrests as Malaysia police and protesters clash – July 9, 2011

The Malaysia Insider – Bersih says 50,000 protested, declares rally ‘great success’– July 9, 2011

NY Times – Hundreds of Protesters Held in Malaysia – July 9, 2011

Sydney Morning Herald – Malaysia police arrest 1400 protesters – July 9, 2011

NY Times – Malaysian Opposition Digs In – July 7, 2011