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

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