Chinese government considering legalization of secret detentions

By: Jessica Ties
Impunity Watch, Asia

BEIJING, China – Beijing is proposing a change in the criminal code that would allow suspects to be detained in an undisclosed location for up to six months without notification being given to family members or lawyers.

Chinese political artist Ai Weiwei sparked international outcry after being secretly detained for 81 days (Photo Courtesy of MSNBC).
Chinese political artist Ai Weiwei sparked international outcry after being secretly detained for 81 days (Photo Courtesy of MSNBC).

The proposed changes would essentially codify the longstanding and much criticized practice of detaining individuals for extended periods of time in unknown locations and without giving loved ones or attorney’s notification of their whereabouts or the reason for their detention.

Chinese law currently allows a suspect to serve up to six months of house arrest without being formally charged. The proposed change in the law would substitute house arrest with detention at a secret location in cases involving national security, terrorism and bribery when the police believe that holding the suspect at home would put a burden on the investigation.

In China, national security crimes encompass subversion which is frequently used to detain dissidents. Under this scheme rights activists and political commentators will be especially susceptible to the new amendment which will first have to be approved by the National People’s Congress.

According to Legal Daily, an official Chinese newspaper, in which the proposed change in the law was announced, the location of the detention would not be a “regular detention center or police station.” It is also reported that prior to detaining an individual under the proposed amendment, the police would be required to obtain permission from either a prosecutor or a public security agency.

Nicholas Bequelin, Human Rights Watch Senior Asia Researcher, stated that the changes would be a “worrisome expansion of the power of the police” and would violate international laws which require a court decision before an individual can be deprived of their freedom.

Some rights activists suggest that China’s attempt to amend the law is a result of widespread criticism the country has received from Western nations for their treatment of dissidents and that Beijing hopes to alleviate the criticism by legalizing the practice of forced disappearances and thereby strengthening China’s argument that their actions are not illegal.

This new proposal is believed to be another result of the call made for a “Jasmine” revolution last February in which Chinese citizens called for an uprising against the government. In the wake of February’s call for revolution, the Chinese government has cracked down on dissident voices, rights activists and lawyers. Many of these individuals, most notably artist Ai Weiwei, were detained in secret locations without notification being given to their families.

For more information, please see:

Reuters – China Announces Plans to Boost Secret Detention Powers – 30 August 2011

Irish Times – Beijing Considering Move That Would Allow Secret Detentions – 29 August 2011

Los Angeles Times – China’s Plan for Secret Detentions Alarms Rights Activists – 28 August 2011

Radio Free Asia – China May Legalize Secret Detentions – 28 August 2011

AFP – China May Legalize Secret Detentions – 27 August 2011

Indian Parliament Accepts Hazare’s Demands

By: Greg Donaldson
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

NEW DEHLI, India – After fasting for twelve days Anna Hazare has been heard loud and clear by the country’s parliament.

Anna Hazare breaks his fast (Photo Courtesy of India Express)
Anna Hazare breaks his fast Sunday Morning (Photo Courtesy of India Express)

After an eight hour session on Saturday, both houses passed a resolution urging for the creation of an independent anticorruption agency to monitor government officials. 

Included in the resolution were three main demands that Hazare required. First, an anticorruption bill had to be passed during the current session of Parliament. Second, anticorruption agencies would also be created at the state level to monitor local officials. Hazare’s last substantial mandate was that a clear process be created for public grievances.

Despite this success, the day nearly ended in a stalemate. After being told the new resolution would be put to a “voice” vote, “Team Anna” received a communication from Parliament that it would make the group aware of the House consensus on the bill but that the resolution would not be voted on that day.

Team Anna immediately accused the government of betrayal and demanded that the resolution be passed by a vote.  Shortly thereafter, a motion was made to vote on the resolution. While a voice vote did not take place, the bill passed unanimously. “Thumping of the desk is akin to passing a motion by voice vote,” House Speaker Meira Kumar explained.

In celebration of the passage of the resolution, Team Anna invited supporters to attend Hazare’s breaking of his fast Sunday morning. Hazare shed over fifteen pounds during the course of his fast but doctors report that his health is stable.

Hazare broke his fast by drinking a glass of coconut juice given to him by a five year old girl.

While Saturday marked a historical day throughout India, many are skeptical about the government’s true intent, believing that they might attempt to drag their feet in passing the resolution into law.

Team Anna announced that it still does not trust the government and it will watch the parliament’s actions to ensure that their “morally binding commitment” is kept.

Many local political scientists do not see the government going against a resolution that it created. Yogendra Yadav explained if the government did go against the bill, the parliament’s legitimacy would plummet.

In the past the government has been accused of corruption but some of that criticism has shifted to Team Anna. Many call the organizations tactics dirty and “political blackmail.”

Congress spokesperson Rashid Alvi espressed that people have a right to protest but that threatening to fast until death in order to get your way is incorrect

Hazare’s supporters defend the actions taken noting that  if Hazare had not gone to such extreme measures the resolution would have never passed.

Team Anna has demanded a special session of parliament be called to pass the bill.

For more information, please see:

Times of India – Team Anna demands special session to pass Lokpal Bill – 29 August 2011

Express India – Has Anna Hazare really come out a winner? – 28 August 2011

India Today –Anna Hazare to break his fast today at 10am, govt accepts his key demands – 28 August 2011

Times of India – Anna Hazare wins, Parliament passes resolution on Lokpal Bill – 27 August 2011

New York Times – Anna Hazare Ends Hunger Strike as Indian Parliament Agrees to His Demands – 27 August 2011

Raids Continue in Syria as Assad’s Position Weakens

By Zach Waksman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria – The end of Ramadan brought more of the same to the Syrian people.  Over the past two days, security forces began a new series of raids intent on crushing dissent against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.  Tuesday morning, at least seven people were killed when security forces fired at protesters who had gathered outside of mosques following their morning prayers to mark the first day of the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday.  These latest crackdowns come in the face of continued international pressure.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad President performs the Eid Al-Fitr Prayer Tuesday morning.  At the same time, security forces fired on protesters as they finished the same prayer, killing at least seven.  (Photo courtesy of SANA)
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad President performs the Eid Al-Fitr Prayer Tuesday morning. At the same time, security forces fired on protesters as they gathered after finishing the same prayer, killing at least seven people. (Photo courtesy of SANA)

“They don’t want us to have any peaceful day,” Um Mohammad, a mother of two from Damascus, told the New York Times. “We are grieving this Id, and we were not going to celebrate, so they didn’t have to kill more people today,” she added, referring to the feast of Id al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan.

Syria appears to be in a state of flux at this time.  Although raids have continued, reports have emerged to indicate that dozens of soldiers have deserted their posts to join the uprising against Assad.  In response to the defections, the country’s security forces surrounded Rastan, a town outside Homs, the country’s third largest city, early Monday morning.  According to a Rastan resident who called himself Raed during a telephone interview with Reuters, the defections began three months ago after tanks entered the town to crush street protests, reportedly killing dozens of civilians. Other defections took place Sunday, when several dozen soldiers disobeyed orders to fire on protesters in the Damascus suburb of Al Ghouta.  The targeted activists were attempting to march toward Damascus.  The recent defections may have been influenced by the recent fall of the Qaddafi regime in Libya.

But even as these recent shootings took place, the international community continues its responses. During Monday’s crackdowns, ambassadors to the United Nations Security Council met behind closed doors to discuss further action against Syria, including the possibility of a resolution or sanctions.  The European Union has also stopped making loans through its European Investment Bank.

Turkey, which borders Syria and has been a prime destination for refugees of the Assad regime, expressed concern about its neighbor’s efforts to beat back dissent.

“The only way out is to immediately silence arms and to listen to the people’s demands,” said Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “We have been watching the fate of those who did not chose this path in the past few months in Tunisia, in Egypt — and now in Libya — as a warning and with sadness.”

Even Iran, Syria’s closest ally, has called for Assad to listen to his people’s protests.  “The government should answer to the demands of its people, be it Syria, Yemen or other countries,” said Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran’s foreign minister, on Saturday. “The people of these nations have legitimate demands, and the governments should answer these demands as soon as possible.”

Despite Salehi’s statement, he also mentioned fear that the situation needed to be handled delicately.  He considered the possibility of regional chaos to be great.

Ironically, Assad also performed the traditional prayer in Damascus, accompanied by high officials within the Muslim religion, calling for peace within his country.  He used the occasion to reiterate his belief that Syria was reacting properly and was on a steady path to reform. In the meantime, the stability of the Assad regime may depend on the strength of its security force.  Protests have yet to reach the stronghold of Damascus, so security forces have been able to concentrate on the sites of protest, instead of protecting the cities from activists.

For more information, please see:

Al-Jazeera — Syrian protesters ‘killed’ after Eid prayers — 30 August 2011

BBC — Is Syria slipping out of the grasp of its rulers? — 30 August 2011

New York Times — Security Forces in Syria Fire on Worshipers as Ramadan Ends — 30 August 2011

SANA — President Bashar al-Assad Performs Eid Al-Fitr Prayer at President Hafez al-Assad Mosque — 30 August 2011

Al Bawaba — European Investment Bank stops loans to Syria — 29 August 2011

Al Bawaba — Syrian forces continue raids as Erdogan warns Assad — 29 August 2011

Al Jazeera — Syria forces surround town after ‘defections’ — 29 August 2011

New York Times — Amid Syrian Raids, Reports of Desertions — 29 August 2011

New York Times — Iran Calls on Syria to Recognize Citizens’ Demands — 27 August 2011

LANDMARK DEATH SENTENCE FOR SHOOTER OF UNARMED CIVILIAN

by Hibberd Kline
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — On August 12, a Pakistani anti-terrorism court sentenced Shahid Zafar, a member of the Sindh branch of the Pakistan Rangers paramilitary force, to death in what many have hailed as an unusual rebuke of Pakistan’s powerful security establishment.

Unarmed youth begs for mercy moments before being fatally shot. (Photograph Courtesy of Reuters).
Sarfaraz Shah moments before his death. (Photograph Courtesy of Reuters).

According to attorneys, the speedy trial for the 29 June killing of eighteen-year-old Sarfaraz Shah in Karachi marks the first time that a Pakistani civilian court has sentenced a serving member of the military to death.

The Rangers paramilitary group technically falls under the control of the civilian Ministry of the Interior. However, the Rangers are commonly considered to be a part of the armed forces.

Six other men, including five Rangers and a civilian, were charged with murder and terrorism and sentenced to life in prison.  Zafar was fined 200,000 rupees and the other individuals were each fined 100,000 rupees to be paid to the victim’s family.

The shooting was caught on video and was broadcast on Pakistani TV. Against the background of already widespread criticism of the Pakistani military establishment’s failure to detect the American commando raid that killed Osama Bin Laden, the shooting sparked a rare public outcry leading to the replacement of the Sindh police chief and the director-general of the Sindh branch of the Pakistan Rangers paramilitary force.

However, prosecution lawyer, Muhammad Khan Buriro, took care to distinguish the court case from an attack on the military; “I would like to say that it was the personal action of the soldiers involved, and not an act by the Rangers,” Buriro said.

Attorneys for the defense argued that Shah was shot after trying to rob someone and have vowed to appeal the court’s ruling.

Death sentences are rarely carried out in Pakistan.

The televised shooting of an unarmed man has also instigated criticism of Pakistan’s human rights record and of its government for what many see as its failure to reign in security forces.

Human rights groups say that the approximately 10,000 Rangers in Karachi are not sufficiently trained to keep order amongst civilians. Human Rights Watch (HRW) applauded the verdicts. HRW’s Pakistan director went even further to say that he hopes that the verdict will help to address “the impunity with which Pakistan’s trigger-happy security and paramilitary agencies perpetrate abuses.”

However, some believe that the military may be attempting to increase public accountability of its own accord following the US raid on Osama Bin Laden. Last week, a Pakistani naval official announced that three senior naval officers will face courts martial on charges of negligence relating to the US commando raid in May.

For more information, please see:

Arab News – Death sentence for soldier in Karachi killing – 12 August 2011

BBC – Pakistani shooting film paramilitary sentenced to death – 12 August 2011

Guardian – Pakistani Ranger sentenced to death for killing unarmed civilian – 12 August 2011

Reuters – Pakistan court hands death penalty to soldier for civilian killing – 12 August 2011

48 Hour Strike in Chile Leads to Looting, Death and General Unrest

By Emilee Gaebler
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

SANTIAGO, Chile – A growing discontent has spread across Chile as citizens publicly demand reforms from a conservative government.  Last Tuesday, protestors called for a “paro nacional” (national strike) on Wednesday and Thursday.  Other administrations have confronted 24 hour strikes but this was the first 48 hour strike to occur in Chile since the days of Pinochet’s dictatorship.

A Chilean protestor waving the national flag is confronted by police.  (Photo Courtesy of CNN)
A Chilean protestor waves the national flag as he is confronted by police. (Photo Courtesy of CNN)

Union leaders for Chile’s labor union, The Unitary Central for Workers (CUT), who organized and publicized the strike stated, “[t]his will be the biggest national strike of the last decade.”  What began a few months ago, as students’ calling for educational reform, has now segued into a much larger protest against President Sebastian Piñera’s government in general.  Demands for equal and quality education across the nation, government position transitions, pension reforms, healthcare reforms and better labor laws are being made.

The strike began on Wednesday morning with a traditional “caceroleo” or pot-banging in the streets.  Citizens throughout Santiago stood outside their homes, banging pots as a show of support for the protests.  Burning barricades of tires were erected in many of the streets to stop transportation.  Police responded with tear gas and water cannons to dispel crowds of protestors.  Wednesday and Thursday nights saw spikes in violence, bringing looting of stores and gas stations across the city. 

On Friday morning, 16 year old Manuel Gutierrez died from a gunshot wound in the chest that he received during the 48 hour protest.  His brother blames the police and the local news reports that he claims the police fired shots into a crowd of protestors Thursday night.  Chilean police deny that they used firearms at any point during the conflict.

Chilean government ministers estimated the crowds of protestors at 50,000 and stated only 14% of citizens participated by not working.  Union leaders disputed this, saying the government is minimizing the truth.  They place the number of protestors at 600,000 and claim 80% of workers refused to work for those two days.  The Associated Press placed the number of citizens arrested nationwide at 1,400 and injuries at 200, including both citizens and police officers. 

Other protestors have taken to hunger strikes.  About 40 students in schools around Chile are striking in this manner.  One of them, Gloria Negrete was hospitalized and near death after 37 days of hunger striking in an effort to pressure the government into recognizing demands for educational reform. 

Workers at copper mines in Chile are also striking.  At BHP Billiton’s Escondida, the top producing copper mine in the world, workers just ended a two week strike that kept tensions high about maintaining the global supply of copper.  Workers were asking for a more equitable distribution of the profits from the recent copper boom. 

Although Chile’s economy is projected as expanding at 6.6% this year the general populace feels that they are not sharing in the benefits of this prosperity.  The current administration’s maintenance of a policy of fiscal austerity and private sector benefits has spurred this sentiment.  The strong disparities between the wealthy and economically challenged; combined with a middle class that is not expanding or able to move upwards, make reforms appealing.

Piñera’s current approval rating stands at just 26%, the lowest of any Chilean president since the country returned to democracy in 1990.  Since his election, just eighteen months ago, two major reshuffles of his cabinet have occurred.  Both were failed attempts to quell the growing unrest in the nation.

On Friday, Piñera finally made a move towards conciliation, “[a]fter more than three months in which we’ve seen violence and conflict flourish, now is the time for peace, the time for unity, the time for dialogue, the time for agreements.”  In order to foster discussion Piñera reached out to students, teachers, parents and professors; asking them to participate in education reform talk both at Congress and the Presidential Palace. 

Prior to this, Piñera has avoided any direct communications with protestors.  The change in his approach and attitude coincides with his 21-point education reform proposal being sent to Congress.  However, simply considering education reforms might not be sufficient at this point.  Protestor demands have morphed into a call not only for reforms in education but also reforms in healthcare and employment sectors.  As well, a more general call has come out of this movement for a more accessible democracy in Chile and an end to the top-down power structure that currently exists.

No final decision has been made by student protest leaders or union leaders as to how they will respond to Piñera’s overtures.  The Chilean House President and Chilean Senate President, which represent the left and right wing political parties have offered to sponsor talks but both Piñera and protestors remain cautious and neither has formally agreed to this mediation.

For more information, please see;

The Associated Press – Chile Leader Wants Talks; 1 Dead, 1,400 Arrests – 27 August 2011

CNN – 210 Arrested in Chilean Protests, Government Says – 26 August 2011

San Francisco Chronicle – Thousands in Chile Take to Streets Demand Change – 26 August 2011

The Financial Times Limited – Teen Shot in Chile Anti-Piñera Protest Dies – 25 August 2011

Reuters – Looting, Unrest as Chileans Strike Against Piñera  – 25 August 2011

MercoPress – Two-Day Strike Takes Off in Chile with Piñera Increasingly Debilitated – 24 August 2011

MSNBC – Clashes, Disruptions as Strike Begins in Chile – 24 August 2011

The Economist – We Want the World: A Trial of Strength Between Students and the Government – 13 August 2011

Cheney Stands by the Use of Waterboarding Tactics

By Brittney Hodnik
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, United States – Former Vice President Dick Cheney told the Associated Press this week that he has “no regrets” about waterboarding and the other harsh interrogation tactics used during his time in office.  After September 11, 2001, the government, specifically the CIA, used controversial waterboarding policies against “high value detainees” to extract important information.

Vice President Dick Cheney during his time in office. (Image Courtesy of The New York Times)
Vice President Dick Cheney during his time in office. (Image Courtesy of The New York Times)

Waterboarding is a highly criticized and widely debated technique used to obtain information from enemies or detainees.  The process involves pouring water over the mouth and nose of an immobile individual, simulating the feeling of drowning.  Along with profound psychological damage, waterboarding can cause lung damage, brain damage, dry drowning, and in extreme cases, death.

President Bush and his colleagues argued that this was not a form of torture, while many still believe that it is.  The CIA admitted to using waterboarding techniques post-September 11 attacks.  Since then, President Obama has banned the use of such tactics.

In his interview with NBC, former Vice President Cheney says that he stands by the use of waterboarding and would use it again if the situation arose.  “I would strongly support using it again if we had high value detainee and that was the only way we could get him to talk.”

Cheney’s recent schedule has been full of media appearances, promoting his new book, “In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir,” scheduled to hit bookstores Tuesday, August 30.  The book unleashes a fury of inside information from Cheney’s time in the White House with then President, George W. Bush.  Cheney admitted that the memoir will “have heads exploding all over Washington,” as reported in The Los Angeles Times.  The memoir will discuss Cheney’s health, the September 11 attacks, and his thoughts on George W. Bush, among other topics.

In addition to his support for waterboarding, Cheney admits to urging President Bush to bomb a nuclear plant in Syria, as reported by The New York Times.  He was the lone voice proposing the attack, citing the fact that “not a single hand went up around the room” when asked by President Bush who agreed with Vice President Cheney.

Overall, the book defends the Bush administration’s decision to use “tough interrogations” – refusing to classify such techniques as torture, according to The New York Times.  Cheney stands by the use of such techniques suggesting that the CIA extracted information that saved lives.

Cheney’s full interview with NBC Dateline will air Monday, August 29 at 10:00 p.m., Eastern Time, discussing his thoughts on waterboarding and other issues.

For more information, please visit:

The Atlantic — Powell: Cheney’s Book is Full of ‘Cheap Shots’ – 29 Aug. 2011

The Associated Press – Cheney ‘No Regrets’ About Waterboarding Suspects — 25 Aug. 2011

The Los Angeles Times — Dick Cheney Says Memoir Will Have “Heads Exploding” — 25 Aug. 2011

The New York Times — In Book, Cheney Says He Urged Bush to Bomb Syria Nuclear Site — 24 Aug. 2011

Russia Condemns Syria’s Human Rights Violations

By Greg Hall
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia – Russia was initially reluctant to intervene in the Syrian conflict because of the way in which the United Nations handled the Libya crisis.  In addition, Russia has been a long time ally of Syria.  However, on August 3, 2011, the Russian government joined the United Nations Security Council and condemned the widespread human rights violations committed by the Syrian government.  Russian President Dmitry Medvedev issued a statement to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, implying that a “sad fate” would await him if he does not implement reforms and make peace with the opposition.

Syrias President Bashar al-Assad (R) and Russias President Dmitry Medvedev review the honor guards at al-Shaaeb presidential palace in Damascus, Syria on May 10, 2010. (Photo courtesy of Reuters)
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad (R) and Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev review the honor guards at al-Shaaeb presidential palace in Damascus, Syria on May 10, 2010. (Photo courtesy of Reuters)

The Syrian people’s quest for dignity and liberty has been sustained and unflinching for the five months since the civil unrest began. They have no armed forces or organized militias, nor have the people received outside support to help their cause. An estimated two thousand people, including children, have been killed by their own government and more than ten thousand have been detained, many of them tortured, for peacefully demanding an end to repression. Tanks also are being deployed against civilians.

Russia’s statements demonstrate a perceived shift in Moscow’s position on the Syrian crackdown.  However, Russia and China were two of four countries out of thirty-seven countries in the United Nations Human Rights Council that were opposed in condemning the violence by Syrian authorities and dispatching a team to investigate the alleged human rights violations.

Russia stated that it generally opposed intervention into the affairs of other countries. Hillel Neuer, director of U.N. Watch, stated that “the world’s top human rights body shouldn’t be appeasing Syrian allies like Moscow and Beijing; the E.U. and the U.S. should make sure not to sacrifice moral clarity on the altar of consensus.”

Russia’s cooperation in the Syrian affair is necessary.  The United States, like other European governments, seeks consensus.  Either way, Russia will be closely watched by many in the Arab world as more and more Arab communities continue to demand greater freedoms.

For more information, please see:

Humans Rights Watch – Russia should help Syrians – 25 August 2011

CNS News – U.N. Human Rights Council Condemns Violence in Syria Without Support From China and Russia – 23 August 2011

KING OF BAHRAIN OFFERS PARDONS TO DETAINED PROTESTERS

By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

MANAMA, Bahrain–In a televised speech to his nation, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa made a pledge on Sunday 28 August to release protesters. The Bahrain government will dismiss charges against some people detained during a deadly government crackdown against pro-democracy demonstrators earlier this year.

Anti-government protesters in the capital of Manama.(Photo Courtesy of Al-Jazeera)
Anti-government protesters in the capital of Manama before their removal.(Photo Courtesy of Al-Jazeera)

The king gave this address as the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan comes to a close. This month has greatly contributed to the restoration of the unity and structure of the nation. The recalling of traditional exchanges, compassion, and brotherhood has peaked hope among the rift that exists in Bahrain between Sunni and Shia Muslims.

King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa’s pledge comes more than six months after his regime attempted to thwart the efforts of protest demonstrators in pursuit of holistic change for the nation.

“There are those who are charged with abusing us and senior officials in Bahrain, we today announce that we forgive them. Although I do not like t0 interfere in the course of justice, I would like to confirm that all cases of civilians will have their verdicts issued by a civil court.”

While this pledge by the leader of Bahrain appears generous, he made a point of not mentioning any concessions towards Bahrain’s Shia population. The Shia population holds a majority in Bahrain and helped head up the protests against the al-Khalifa’s regime as well as setting demands. Some of these key demands are the easing of the Sunni dynasty’s stranglehold on power, the process of policy formation, and hand picking government officials.

The Shia population makes up about 70 percent of the island nation’s 525,000 citizens. Despite the majority, widespread discrimination from a multitude of situations, such as exclusion from top political and security posts, is a concern for the Shia population. It is evident that the Shia’s current situation is a stem for discontent in Bahrain and that displeasure will stay the norm until the Shia believe that the discrimination gap has closed.

Human rights groups reported that at least 32 individuals have lost their lives since the protests against al-Khalifa’s regime began. After the government crackdown, thousands of demonstrators were forced from their jobs, an apparent punishment for supporting those against the regime. Students were dismissed from schools and universities.

But al-Khalifa’s regime has seemingly attempted to make visible strides to try and repair the damage. The University of Bahrain and the Bahrain Training Institute have allowed some 340 students back while several employees were allowed back to work by their employers. But several large companies have dragged their feet to incorporate the reinstatement process.

In addition to dismissing all charges, King al-Khalifa implored all individuals who had been mistreated in custody to file a formal complaint. He confirmed that the law grants them compensation.

“Bahrain has a law that allows victims of ill-treatment to ask for compensation. The decision to setup independent fact-finding commission is the best indication of our full commitment to knowing the whole truth and to giving people their rights.”

“There are those who were arrested, and investigations proved that they were the victims of individual behavior and were ill-treated in custody. This is not tolerated by God and we do not condone it. The recent period was painful to all of us. Although we live in one country, some have forgotten the inevitability of co-existence. Therefore, we should not abandon our belief in having the same and common future, and should not lose trust in each other as brother, colleagues, and citizens.”

Bahraini security forces, bolstered by Saudi led troops from around the Gulf, demolished protests earlier this year in March after allowing demonstrators to camp out in central Manama for about thirty days.

The protests in Bahrain are sort of viewed differently by the international community than the rest of the Arab Spring. The crackdown on protests was heavily criticized by the US but the rest of the international community did not show the same level of support as it has done for protests in other countries. The West has traditionally blamed Iran for instigating the protests in an effort to cause dissent within Bahrain. But the Shia majority within the country has harshly denied this claim.

In July, Bahrain officials opened reconciliation talks with Shia leader in an effort to assuage the anxiety and hear the Shia party’s demands. But unsatisfied with the progress, the Shia party walked out and threatened to bring further protests.

Perhaps some of this dissatisfaction comes from the continued turmoil of the 20 doctors and nurses arrested earlier this year for treating demonstrators from protests. These doctors and nurses were also accused of stockpiling medical supplies and weapons. On 28 August, a special security court resumed the trial for these 20 doctors. The court adjourned the trial until 07 September, when it will begin hearing defense witnesses.

The 20 doctors and nurses in this situation are among at least 45 medical personnel whom face charges stemming from the anti-government protests. Various human rights groups have heavily scrutinized Bahrain’s usage of a special security court for this manner.

For more information, please see:

Al-Jazeera-Bahrain king pardons some protesters-28 August 2011

Associated Press-Bahrain’s king pardoning some protesters-28 August 2011

CNN-‘Arab Spring’ becoming the Arab Year?-25 August 2011

Gulf News-Bahrain king calls for more tolerance-28 August 2011

Human Rights First-Bahrain Government Makes U-turn on Military Courts-22 August 2011

Impunity Watch-Military Court in Bahrain Pursues Physicians For Giving Treatment to Protesters-16 June 2011

Human Rights Watch-Bahrain: Stop Military Court Travesty of Justice-14 June 2011

The Guardian-Bahrain doctors deny stealing medicines or stockpiling arms-13 June 2011

Evidence of Mass Killings Comes as Hunt for Qaddafi Continues

By Tyler Yates
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

TRIPOLI, Libya — Rebel forces making sweeps around Tripoli to clear out the last of Qaddafi’s forces have found a warehouse containing the charred remains of a large number of prisoners who were killed and burned.

The site was located near the southern Tripoli headquarters of the Khamis Brigade, Libya’s most notorious military unit.  Residents who lived near the warehouse say they heard shooting and explosions on Tuesday evening.  Due to the continued fighting no one was able to investigate until Saturday when residents and rebel forces discovered the remains of at least 53 people.

In addition to the news of the horrific find, Libyan rebels are also concerned over the fate of thousands of other prisoners, who had been held in Tripoli by the Qaddafi regime. Rebel military spokesman Colonel Ahmed Omar Bani said almost 50,000 people arrested in recent months are still unaccounted for.

It is believed that prisoners of the Qaddafi regime were kept in underground bunkers, which were subsequently abandoned during the rebel push into Tripoli.  Human rights groups have noted evidence of human remains near prisons, but the rebels have yet to accuse anyone of killing the prisoners.

Specifically, Human Rights Watch has documented evidence of at least 17 detainees who were killed in a makeshift prison in Tripoli around August 21. “Torture was rife in Qaddafi’s prisons but to execute detainees days before they would have been freed is a sickening low in the government’s behavior,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The evidence we have been able to gather so far strongly suggests that Gaddafi government forces went on a spate of arbitrary killing as Tripoli was falling.”

Despite the hesitation from the rebel forces to label the missing prisoners as dead they are still attempting to get information on them.  “Between 10,000 and 11,000 prisoners have been freed up until now…so where are the others?” asked Colonel Bani.  Rebel forces are attempting to gather intelligence in hopes of finding clarifying information.  Bani further noted that it would be “catastrophic” if the prisoners had been killed.

This harrowing news, which likely adds evidence for any future war crimes prosecution against the Qaddafi regime, was announced simultaneously with an admittance from the rebels that they have no real leads on where Qaddafi might be hiding.  Rumors place him everywhere from Tripoli to his hometown of Sirte.

An offer was made over the weekend by a spokesperson for Qaddafi to open talks with the rebel government.  It was flatly denied, and described by observers as “delusional.”  The rebel government identifies Qaddafi as a war criminal, and has expressed their desire to put him on trial for war crimes upon his arrest.

For more information, please see:

BBC News — Libya rebels fear for Gaddafi’s prisoners — 28 Aug. 2011

Human Rights Watch — Libya: Gaddafi Forces Suspected of Executing Detainees — 28 Aug 2011

Daily Mail — Libya: Inside Gaddafi’s torture chamber: The bloodstained cells inside a former primary school used to brutalise his enemies — 27 Aug. 2011

Sky News — “Mass Killing” Evidence Found in Libya — 27 Aug. 2011

The Telegraph — Human slaughterhouse discovered in Tripoli — 27 Aug. 2011

No Plans to Evacuate NYC Prisoners before Deadly Hurricane Strikes

by Warren Popp
Impunity Watch Editor-in-Chief

NEW YORK, NY – According to several news outlets, the New York City Department of Corrections does not have an evacuation plan for the approximately 12,000 prisoners held at Rikers Island, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg clearly stated at a news conference on Friday that “We are not evacuating Rikers Island.”

Aeriel view of Rikers Island (Photo Courtesy of Julia Robertson, AP).
Aeriel view of Rikers Island (Photo Courtesy of Julia Robertson, AP).

These revelations have revived stories of prisoners that were not evacuated when hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana in 2005.  Solitary Watch quoted the following excerpt from an American Civil Liberties Union Report:

[A] culture of neglect was evident in the days before Katrina, when the sheriff declared that the prisoners would remain “where they belong,” despite the mayor’s decision to declare the city’s first-ever mandatory evacuation. OPP even accepted prisoners, including juveniles as young as 10, from other facilities to ride out the storm.

As floodwaters rose in the OPP buildings, power was lost, and entire buildings were plunged into darkness. Deputies left their posts wholesale, leaving behind prisoners in locked cells, some standing in sewage-tainted water up to their chests…

Prisoners went days without food, water and ventilation, and deputies admit that they received no emergency training and were entirely unaware of any evacuation plan. Even some prison guards were left locked in at their posts to fend for themselves, unable to provide assistance to prisoners in need.

Further heightening the level of concern and indignation amongst critics, the prisoners housed at Rikers Island include juveniles, a large number of mentally ill persons, and even pre-trial detainees, with the latter group not convicted of any crimes. Also adding to the concerns is that more that three-fourths of the island is built on a landfill, which is believed to be more vulnerable to natural disasters.

The Office of the Mayor has responded to criticisms by asserting that the prisoners safety is not being compromised, and that no part of Rikers Island is in Zone A (the mandatory evacuation area). The Wall Street Journal quotes the Mayor’s spokesman as saying, “[w]e are focused on the areas where real dangers exist.” However, Rikers Island is reportedly one of the only islands in the area that is not listed in any of the areas zoned for evacuation.

The Office of the Mayor reasoned that the prisoners do not need to be evacuated because the island, like other islands in New York City, does not actually touch the Atlantic Ocean.  The Mayor’s spokesperson was also quoted as saying that the jail is able to sustain itself and is “prepared to operate and care for inmates in extended emergency conditions,” with a full staff to remain on the island.

These words of reassurance have done little to satisfy those concerned about the plight of the Rikers Island prisoners.  The Executive Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights said that “[i]t is appalling that the City administration is abandoning the men and women at Rikers even after the lessons of hurricane Katrina.”  He called on the Mayor to “take appropriate action immediately to protect the life and safety of everyone confined at Rikers Island and all vulnerable corrections facilities in New York City. Their lives should not be treated as less valuable than those of other New Yorkers.”

For more information, please see:

Center for Constitutional Rights – CCR Says NYC Must Act Immediately to Protect Prisoners at Rikers Island from Hurricane Irene – 27 August 2011

Mother Jones – Rikers Island Prisoners Left Behind to Face Irene – 27 August 2011

New York Magazine – No Evacuation for Rikers Island [Updated] – 27 August 2011

Wall Street Journal – No Evacuation Planned at Rikers Island – 27 August 2011

Solitary Watch – Locked Up and Left Behind: Hurricane Irene and the Prisoners on New York’s Rikers Island – 26 August 2011

Pre-Trial Hearing for Accused War Crimes Criminal, Ratko Mladic

By Alexandra Halsey-Storch
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

Mladic was arrested in May of this year, and is awaiting trial at the Hague (Photo Courtesy of MSNBC).
Mladic was arrested in May of this year, and is awaiting trial at the Hague (Photo Courtesy of MSNBC).

THE HAGUE, Netherlands–On Thursday, notorious genocide suspect and former commander of the Serbian Army, Ratko Mladic appeared at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal of Yugoslavia (ICTY) for a pre-trial hearing at The Hague. He wore a gray suit, crème colored shirt and “sober black tie.” Lead defense attorney Branko Lukic, to whom Mladic left most of the talking, accompanied him.

At his arraignment in July, Mladic was thrown out of court after shouting at the judges.  Pursuant to international law, A plea of not guilty was entered on his behalf by the presiding judges.

On May 26, after 16 years of hiding, Mladic—one of the United Nation’s most wanted fugitives—was found north of Belgrade in the small farming town of Lazarevo.  Officials arrested him after receiving a tip. He was thereafter indicted on 11 counts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity that were committed during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war.  He has been incarcerated at The Hague prison. Should he be found guilty, Mladic faces life in prison.

At the hearing, presiding Judge Alphons Orie explained that the purpose of the hearing was to set deadlines for pre-trial procedures.  He expressed concern over the inevitably long length of the trial and Mladic’s purported bad health, and asked when prosecutors would be ready to turn over evidence to the defense that could demonstrate Mladic’s innocence.

While the pre-trial hearing on Thursday was largely procedural, at controversy was Mladic’s health and its potential effect on the trial; however, due to privacy rules, the conversation was conducted without the media being present, in a closed session.

What is known is that the defense attorney argued that Mladic, whose poor health has been a persistent issue since his arrest, might be too ill to stand trial.

When Mladic appeared in court on May 27, his questioning was postponed to the following day as a result of illness. Furthermore, according to the defense, Mladic was committed last week to a hospital in The Hague for a hernia operation; however, the court claimed that to the contrary, Mladic had not left the detention center.

In response to Mladic’s poor health, the prosecution proposed in a motion that the trial be set up into two phases.  First, the prosecution would try Mladic as the mastermind behind the worst genocide since World War II: the death of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in July of 1995, who were “mowed down” with their “hands behind their backs” by the Serbian Army.  The prosecution said that sufficient evidence for this atrocity could be collected within a year as ICTY had already collected relevant evidence from the preceding trials of Mladic’s subordinates and Radovan Karadzic.

The prosecution further proposed that once a decision had been entered for the first crime, Mladic would be tried in a following trial for the remaining crimes, foremost, the three and a half year siege of Sarajevo where 10,000 people died, including 1,500 children.

Lukic responded that this procedure would not be conducive to the defense’s argument; however, he has until August 31 to respond in greater detail to the motion before the judge makes a ruling.

The next pre-trial hearing is set for October 6.

For more information, please see:

The New York Times — Serbian Says Jailed Mladic Will Face War Crimes Trial — 27 May 2011

CNN.com — Mladic back in court after Croatia suspect pleads not guilty — 25 August 2011

Expatica.com — Court gives Mladic lawyers week to decide on split trial — 25 August 2011

Monsters and Critics — Mladic back in ICTY courtroom for procedural hearing — 25 August 2011

The Washington Post — Former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic back in court for pretrial hearing — 25 August 2011

Radio Netherlands Worldwide  — Mladic: 2 pre-trial plans? — 27 August 2011

Children with Disabilities denied education in Nepal

By: Jessica Ties
Impunity Watch, Asia

KATHMANDU, Nepal – A report by Human Rights Watch expressed concern that children living with disabilities in Nepal are denied access to education.

Sixteen-year-old student, Amman, is forced to crawl up the steps to reach his classroom each day (Photo Courtesy of Human Rights Watch).
Sixteen-year-old student, Amman, is forced to crawl up the steps to reach his classroom each day (Photo Courtesy of Human Rights Watch).

Contributing to this concern is the inaccessibility of school structures, lack of instructors who are properly trained to accommodate children with disabilities and neighborhood schools denying admission to disabled children.

These factors result disproportionately in low school attendance and high dropout rates for disabled children when compared to children who do not suffer from a disability. According to Education Ministry officials, disabled students comprise a significant number of the almost 330,000 students who are not in school despite being school aged.

Shantha Rau Barriga of Human Rights Watch reports, “[t]ens of thousands of children with disabilities in Nepal are being shut out from or neglected by the school system.” Barriga also states that these failures exist despite a national policy of inclusive schools.

According to the Human Rights Watch report, “Futures Stolen: Barriers to Education for Children with Disabilities in Nepal” which is based on 97 interviews, more than half the interviewed families of disabled children stated that their children had been denied admission to schools and many of the parents were not even made aware that their children had the right to an education.

The inability of parents to enroll their children in schools has prompted some parents to state that they have “…no choice but to lock their children with disability in a room or tie them to a post” according to the report.

One parent reported to Human Rights Watch that she would be unable to care for her other child and manage the household  if she had to constantly care for her disabled child and therefore locks him in a room, only letting him out one or two times a day to see the sun.

The problem facing Nepal’s disabled children also extends to those who manage to attend school.  Classes are often segregated and the classes offered to disabled students are generally inferior to classes attended by children who are not disabled.

In one case, Nepal’s failure to take into account differences in learning ability caused a fifteen year old boy to spend three years in Class one, three years in Class two and then one year in Class three. Despite the time spent in school, the student reports that he still does not know the alphabet and only passed because teachers began to take exams for him.

The inaccessible structure of schools also contribute to the difficulties disabled children face. One student interviewed by Human Rights Watch, a sixteen year old named Amman, reported that he is forced to crawl to his classroom because the school entrance has steps that he is unable to access any other way and no other entrance to the school. He is also unable to use the restroom without assistance and because staff is unwilling to help him, another student must either run home to get his mother or he must wait until the end of the school day.

The extent of the problem is unknown because there is no reliable data about the number of children who have a disability but it is estimated that between .45 percent and 1.63 percent of Nepal’s child population is living with at least one disability.

These failures come despite Nepal’s ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on March 1, 2008.

For more information, please see:

Hindustan Times – Right to Equality, but Only on Paper– 27 August 2011

Nepali Times – Educating Children with Disabilities – 26 August 2011

Daiji World – Nepal’s Hellen Kellers, Stephen Hawkings Await Their Rights – 24 August 2011

The Himalayan Times – Disabled Kids Denied School Admission – 24 August 2011

Human Rights Watch – Nepal: Separate and Unequal Education – 24 August 2011

United Nations – Convection Optional Protocol Signatures and Ratifications– 1 March 2008

Human Rights Watch Report Documents Worker Abuse in South Africa’s Wine Industry

By Carolyn Abdenour
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – Human Rights Watch (“HRW”) issued Ripe with Abuse: Human Rights Conditions in South Africa’s Fruit and Wine Industries, a 96-page report, describing unsafe working conditions for workers on vineyards that produce internationally renowned wines in South Africa. Based on 260 interviews with farm workers and owners, government officials, civil society members, lawyers, union officials, and industry representatives, the report encourages the government to respect labor laws.  Wine and fruit farms are valuable economic contributors to South Africa, the seventh-largest wine producer in the world.

Report document abuse of South Africas vineyard workers.  (Photo Coutesy of BBC)
Report document abuse of South Africa's vineyard workers. (Photo Coutesy of BBC)

The report states, “Workers also often have no access to drinking water, hand washing facilities, or toilets as required by labour regulations.” However, industry group Wines of South Africa (“WOSA”) believes the report is misleading and challenges the report’s accuracy.  WOSA feels the report undermines efforts to redress past wrongs and improve workers’ working and living conditions.  However, WOSA said they would investigate the study.

Su Birch, chief executive of WOSA, commented, “Ironically, [the report] could also jeopardise the jobs of the very people it claims to be championing.” Emphasizing workers compete with South Africa’s strong currency, face a global economic downturn, and lack of government support global competitors receive, she added “[WOSA] call[s] on government to partner the wine industry in accelerating reform and in rooting out problems.”

HRW reported although some farms comply or exceed the law regarding worker’s condition, the vineyard community lacks sufficient investigators to monitor worker’s conditions.

Although South Africa has strict labor laws, these farm workers are some of the lowest paid workers in the country with women receiving lower wages than men do.

Furthermore, a majority of the workers are casual or seasonal workers who are unaware of their rights.  These workers face difficulty joining labor groups to learn about their rights.  Many workers were victims of illegal evictions that the government did not criminally investigate.  According to the HRW report, workers are also subject to inadequate housing, and Kaitlin Cordes of HRW recalls speaking “to a worker who has been living in a pig stall with his family for more than 10 years.”

Daniel Bekele, Africa director at HRW, encourages consumers “not to boycott South African products, because that could be disastrous for farmworkers” but rather urges retailers to push suppliers to amend workers’ conditions.

HRW stated, “Greater coordination within the government; more robust monitoring, resource allocation, and transparency; and clarity on responsibility for the millions of farm workers and dwellers in South Africa would go a long way towards ameliorating the intolerable abuses that they suffer.”

For further information, please see,
BBC South Africa wine grown by ‘abused’ workers23 Aug 2011
Harpers South African vineyards accused of human rights abuses23 Aug 2011
Mail & GuardianFruit of a poisoned vine23 Aug 2011
Reuters Africa HRW alleges abuses in S. African wine industry23 Aug 2011

Former Ivory Coast President and Wife Charged with Economic Crimes

By Carolyn Abdenour
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast – On Friday, 19 August, the Ivorian government charged former President Laurent Gbagbo, 66, and his wife Simone Gbagbo, 62, with economic crimes including aggravated theft, damage to the national economy, misappropriation of public funds, and looting.  Under current President Alassane Ouattara’s administration, officials arrested the couple in April after the five-month post-election dispute.  This violence displaced 500,000 people and killed 3,000 people.

Former President Laurent Gbagbo charged with economic crimes.  (Photo Courtesy of The Australian)
Former President Laurent Gbagbo charged with economic crimes. (Photo Courtesy of The Australian)

Since their arrest on 11 April 2011, the coupled lived under house arrest in separate cities in the northern part of the country.  However, public prosecutor Koffi Kouadio Simplice reported officials charged and took Simone Gbagbo into custody on Tuesday before they charged Laurent Gbagbo on Thursday.  Officials will transfer Simone Gbagbo to a prison in Odienné, the city where she lived under house arrest.  Laurent Gbagbo will continue living under house arrest in Korhogo.  This is the first time the Ivorian government stated the legal status of the couple since their arrest.

The BBC reports Laurent Gbagbo’s charges relate to his use of millions of dollars of state funds from the central bank while he attempted to retain power after the election.  During the post-election struggle, the former president forcefully obtained control of the central bank’s local headquarters in addition to nationalizing foreign private banks.

Since the Ivorian government is only charging Laurent Gbagbo with economic crimes, the International Criminal Court (“ICC”) will be able to investigate the post-election violence if the judges accept Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo request.  Prosecutor Ocampo has stated he also wants to investigate alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes that occurred during the post-election violence.

Mr. Kouadio stated the Ivorian justice system prefers the ICC prosecute the violence crimes.  Mr. Bruno Koné, spokesman for the Ivorian government, stated the country “is not yet equipped to judge those kind of crimes”.

Previously, officials arrested and charged dozens of people who served under Laurent Gbagbo, including his son.  Since the Ivorian government did not charge the couple for their crimes until now, human rights groups criticized the government for not charging them until months after their arrest.  The United Nations also stated both political sides engaged in war crimes and crimes against humanity.  Although President Ouattara enforces that participants in the violence on both political sides will face justice, he has not charged a member of his group for participating in the violence.

For further information, please see:

NationGbagbo and wife charged with economic crimes19 Aug 2011
The Australian Ex-Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo charged with ‘economic crimes’19 Aug 2011
BBC – Ivory Coast conflict: Gbagbos face economic charges18 Aug 2011
Forbes Ivory Coast’s ex-president charged with theft18 Aug 2011

State of Emergency Helps Deter Drug Violence in Trinidad & Tobago

By Brittney Hodnik
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad and Tobago – Trinidad and Tobago has declared a “limited” state of emergency in order to combat the drug-related violence occurring there.  The capital city, Port of Prince – along with other hotspots – is under a 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew.  Authorities are enforcing the curfew in an effort to curb a recent increase in murders.  Last weekend alone, there were 11 homicides, bringing the total for the year up to 264; surprisingly this number is lower than at the same point last year.

A policeman approaches a vehicle for questioning after curfew hours in Trinidad and Tobago.  (Image Courtesy of The Guardian)
A policeman approaches a vehicle for questioning after curfew hours in Trinidad and Tobago. (Image Courtesy of The Guardian)

Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar attributes the recent murders to a large seizure of cocaine.  Trinidad seized $22 million of cocaine two weeks ago, supposedly setting off the string of murders and violence, reports The New York Times.  Many fear that drug gangs are using Trinidad as a shipping point for South American cocaine heading to places such as Europe and the United States. 

Persad-Bissessar and her national security advisors aim to bring the offenders to “swift justice,” according to CNN International.  The imposition of the curfew is mainly to preserve the safety of the law-abiding citizens and tourists.  As reported by The Guardian, Persad-Bissessar says that the response must “halt the current spike in gang activity and crime in general in the shortest possible time.”

Under a state of emergency, the Emergency Powers Regulations take force, giving the police much broader power.  Many civil rights are temporarily denied, including seizure of weapons, arrests without a warrant, and even warrantless searches of vehicles and homes.  Along with the police, 5,000 military personnel are on hand to aid in the restoration of peace, reported The New York Times

Trinidad’s citizens accept the policy because they know that it is for the public good.  Although it is an inconvenience, the state of emergency will limit unnecessary death and injury.  “I feel very safe for the first time in a long while,” Dolarlchan Hanomansingh, a teacher in Trinidad told The New York Times.

So far, the measures have eased the violence and led to the arrest of 58 gang leaders, according to The New York Times.  Trinidad and Tobago’s Newsday reports that Trinidad officials arrested 121 people in a 14-hour span.  However, opposition party leader, Keith Rowley sees the state of emergency as a sign of desperation.

The country’s state of emergency will remain in effect until at least September 6, and may be extended with the approval of Parliament.

For more information, please visit:

About.com — Port of Spain, Trinidad Under Curfew — 25 Aug. 2011

The Guardian — 100 Held in Trinidad and Tobago’s State of Emergency — 25 Aug. 2011

Trinidad and Tobago’s Newsday — Curfew Stops Drug Trafficking Ring — 25 Aug. 2011

The New York Times — Trinidad and Tobago Declares Emergency Over Drug Crimes — 24 Aug. 2011

CNN International — Authorities Impose Curfews on Trinidad and Tobago — 22 Aug. 2011