Syria Continues Suppression of Dissenters in Defiance of World Leaders

By Zach Waksman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria – The international community escalated its pressure on embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Thursday.  Numerous countries, including the United States, and the European Union issued statements calling for him to relinquish his post after his use of violence against protesters drew worldwide scorn.  But even in the face of such opposition, Syria continued its efforts to suppress opposition.  Armed forces opened fire on a demonstration in the southern Dara’a Province Friday; at least 18 were killed, including soldiers who refused to fire.

A tank roams the streets of a Syrian city. At least 2,000 people are believed to have been killed since March. (Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera)
A tank roams the streets of a Syrian city. At least 2,000 people are believed to have been killed since protests against Assad's regime began in March. (Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera)

This new insistence from world leaders comes on the heels of a United Nations report on Assad’s use of force against dissenters that was released on Thursday.  While the investigators were not allowed into the country, they were able to obtain witness accounts of incidents that have taken place in Syria since March of this year.  In addition to descriptions of individual events, the report takes note of the security forces’ modus operendi in crushing opposition to Assad’s government.  Though Syria has repeatedly called the protesters “terrorist armed groups” and similar phrases, the report indicates that participators in the rallies made a point of indicating that they were unarmed.  Despite this, the forces indiscriminately shot to kill civilians, including women and children.  Torture was also used.

U.S. President Barack Obama was one of several world leaders to issue a statement calling for Assad to resign.  “The future of Syria must be determined by its people, but President Bashar al-Assad is standing in their way. His calls for dialogue and reform have rung hollow while he is imprisoning, torturing, and slaughtering his own people,” Obama said.  “We have consistently said that President Assad must lead a democratic transition or get out of the way.  He has not led.  For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside.”

Obama also announced that he and the European Union had imposed new sanctions against the Syria, including the freezing of assets and a ban on importation of Syrian petroleum.

France, Germany and the United Kingdom issued a joint statement on the matter.  “We urge the Syrian regime to stop all violence immediately, to release all prisoners of conscience and to allow free access to the United Nations for an independent assessment of the situation,” their statement said.

Later Thursday, the UN announced that it would send a humanitarian team to Syria to investigate, having been promised full access.  The country’s UN ambassador and President Assad both promised that military operations had stopped.  But Friday, a new rally was snuffed out, as armed forces again fired at demonstrators.  Gunfire was reported in several provinces.  Today, CNN reported that the Syrian government took steps to clean up evidence of violence at one of the crackdown sites the humanitarian team was to visit.

SANA, Syria’s official news agency, issued a press release today that reiterated Assad’s stance that the Western world, with particular emphasis on the United States, was interfering in the country’s internal affairs.  The release, which cited several legal scholars within the country, considered these actions to be in violation of the UN charter.  With regards to President Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, it called these conspiratorial efforts to take control of Syria a “return to the colonial mentality to save themselves,” making reference to the two politicians’ declining approval ratings.

For more information, please see:

CNN — Source: Syria ‘whitewashing’ bloody crackdown before U.N. team arrives — 21 August 2011

SANA — Intellectuals and Jurists: Foreign Interference in Syria’s Affairs Disrupt Reform, Show Failure of Conspirators — 21 August 2011

Al Jazeera — UN report slams Syria’s use of force — 19 August 2011

New York Times — Syria Said to Fire on Protest in Defiance of Global Rebuke — 19 August 2011

BBC News — Syria unrest: UN to send humanitarian mission — 18 August 2011

BBC News — Syria unrest: World leaders call for Assad to step down — 18 August 2011

British Prime Minister’s Office — Joint UK, French and German statement on Syria — 18 August 2011

White House — President Obama’s statement calling for Syrian President Assad to step down — 18 August 2011

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights — Report of the Fact-Finding Mission on Syria pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution S-16/1 — 17 August 2011

Significant victory for Indigenous women in military rape cases in Mexico

By Brianne Yantz
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

MEXICO CITY, Mexico – For more than nine years, two indigenous women who were raped by soldiers in the southern state of Guerrero have been fighting for justice. Since Inés Fernández Ortega and Valentina Rosendo Cantú were raped in 2002, both women have been relentless in their pursuit, going so far as to challenge the Mexican authorities and its military.

Inés Fernández Ortega and Valentina Rosendo Cantú as the faces of a Tlachinollan Mountain Human Rights Center poster. (Photo Courtesy of Latin America Herald Tribune)

Ortega and Cantú, both Me’phaa Indians, were raped in separate incidents, but together sought to punish those responsible.

Earlier this month, the decision was made to prosecute the soldiers charged with the rape of both Ortega and Cantú in civilian court, an act hailed by Amnesty International as a “significant step for those seeking justice for human rights violations committed by the military in Mexico.”

According to Fox News, in August of 2010, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) ruled that the cases by tried in a civilian court. In a press conference last month, Cantú expressed her desire to see the IACHR’s decision upheld.

Finally, on August 12, a year after the IACHR decision was handed down, the Mexico’s Military Prosecutor’s Office declared that the cases would be tried in civilian court as it lacked jurisdiction in cases involving accusations of human rights violations.

This ruling comes after months of increasing pressure on the Mexican government to investigate the growing reports of abuse by Mexican soldiers. The decision is not only a win for Ortega and Cantú, but for Mexico as a whole. Symbolically, it demonstrates greater civilian control over the armed forces.

According to Amnesty International, Vidulfo Rosales, a human rights lawyer at Tlachinollan Mountain Human Rights Center in Guerrero, stated, “for us, this is a significant advance, as civil society has constantly fought for these cases to be transferred into the civilian justice system.” However, Rosales expressed concerns, particularly that the decision was limited in its reach. “We’re worried that there’s a margin for impunity, for those responsible to be exonerated.”

Others concerned with the future of human rights in Mexico shared similar worries. The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights expressed its opinion that “the decision by the Mexican government to transfer the two cases to civilian federal jurisdiction is a positive development, but bringing the perpetrators to justice and ensuring that future cases follow this precedent is crucial.”

While the decision to transfer the cases to civilian court have been commended by Amnesty International and other human rights organizations, there is still a long road ahead to ensure justice is served for Ortega, Cantú, and the countless number of other victims of military-related human rights abuses across Mexico.

For more information, please see:

Amnesty International – Indigenous Women Win First Step in Fight Over Military Rape Case in Mexico, Says Amnesty International – August 17, 2011

Latin American Herald Tribune – Mexican Army Hands Over Rights Cases to Civilian Prosecutors – August 17, 2011

RFK Center – MEXICO: NINE YEARS LATER, CASES OF INDIGENOUS WOMEN RAPED AND TORTURED BY SOLDIERS ARE TRANSFERRED OUT OF MILITARY JURISDICTION – August 17, 2011

Fox News – Mexican women raped by soldiers demand justice – July 29, 2011

Peaceful Land Rights Activists to Remain in Prison Following Court’s Decision to Uphold Sentences

By: Jessica Ties
Impunity Watch, Asia

HANOI, Vietnam – Four  Vietnamese land rights activists who were convicted of “attempting to overthrow the people’s administration” this past May have been ordered to remain in prison after a court refused to grant their appeals and upheld the sentences ranging from five to eight years.

A Vietnamese court has denied the appeals of four land rights activists convicted in May (Photo Courtesy of Human Rights Watch).
A Vietnamese court has denied the appeals of four land rights activists convicted in May (Photo Courtesy of Human Rights Watch).

The court decided not to reduce the eight year sentence of Tran Thu Thuy or the seven year sentence of Pham Van Thong but agreed to reduce the six year sentence of Pastor Duong Kim Khai by one year and the five year sentence of Cao Van Tinh by six months. Three other land rights activists were also imprisoned in May and each received two year sentences which they chose not to appeal.

Prior to their arrests, the activists had dedicated years to helping Vietnamese citizens fight against government confiscations of their land.

The activists were arrested in May after authorities alleged that the four individuals had anti-government documents in their possession that reportedly advocated for a multiple party system. Six of the seven activists arrested in May were also accused of being members of Viet Tan, an opposition group that is based in the United States and has been banned in Vietnam.

While the accusation of Viet Tan involvement was made against all seven activists, the organization confirmed that only three of the individuals arrested were members of Viet Tan and that an unspecified number of the defendants attended Viet Tan courses on non-violent struggle. Despite being considered a terrorist organization by the Vietnamese government, the United States has found no proof of terrorist activity being committed by Viet Tan.

During the May trial, one of the defense lawyers was removed from the courtroom and later disbarred on a recommendation made by court officials for “disrespecting the law” when he attempted to argue against the accusations made against the activists.

Viet Tan reports that the jailed activists have not only been denied visits from family members but were also denied access to their lawyer until one day before the appeal trial was to take place.

Following completion of their jail terms, three of the activists will also have to serve five years of house arrest and one of the activists will be required to serve four years.

The plight of the land rights activists comes on the heels of several other cases involving dissidents who have been jailed by the Vietnamese government for expressing pro-democracy views.  The wave of convictions against peaceful activists prompted Phil Robinson of Human Rights Watch to state that “…Vietnam’s leaders seem to think they can sign international human rights treaties with invisible ink.”

For more information, please see:

Businessweek – 4 Vietnam Land Rights Activists Appeal Sentences – 18 August 2011

Radio Free Asia – Court Upholds Activist Sentences – 18 August 2011

Voice of America – Appeal Opens for Vietnamese Pastor, Land Rights Activists– 18 August 2011

Human Rights Watch –Vietnam: Free Peaceful Land Rights Activists – 17 August 2011

Brazilian Judge known for strict stance against government corruption is Killed after sentencing former policemen

By Paula Buzzi
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America


RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – Fourth District Court of Sao Goncalo judge, Patricia Lourival Acioli, was murdered after being shot up to 21 times last Thursday outside her home by hooded gunmen only days after having delivered tough sentences to corrupt policemen.


Patricia Lourival Acioli was well known for her harsh sentences against corrupt police. (Photo Courtesy of Aljazeera)
Patricia Lourival Acioli was well known for her harsh sentences against corrupt police. (Photo Courtesy of Aljazeera)

According to witnesses, the gunmen were traveling on two motorbikes and shot at Acioli as she was arriving to her home in Niteroi. Acioli, 47, was a mother of three.


On Sunday, Rio de Janeiro investigators announced that, although 12 suspects have been named, finding the men responsible for her attack will be difficult due to her numerous adversaries who disagreed with her strong stance against government corruption.


In her 18-years as a judge, Acioli handed down approximately 60 sentences against policemen and former policemen which resulted in multiple death threats against her. Furthermore, Avioli’s name was also among the 12 listed in a handwritten death list issued by a recently arrested militia group.


According to Felipe Ettore, a leading investigator, the bullets used to shoot Acioli were ones typically found in the 45-caliber and 40-caliber pistols belonging to civil and military police as well as the Brazilian Armed Forces.


Patrick Wilcken, a Brazil Researcher at Amnesty International, views the killing of Avioli as a huge blow to the judicial system in Brazil. He urges Brazilian authorities to conduct a thorough investigation to bring those rose responsible to justice and provide more protection for those fighting against police corruption.


“Patrícia Acioli’s brutal killing exposes a deeply troubling situation where corruption and organized crime are controlling large areas of life in parts of Rio de Janeiro today,” Wilcken said.


In a statement earlier this week, Brazil Supreme Court President Cesar Peluso called the crimes against magistrates “barbaric” and “cowardly,” and demanded a quick investigation and the rigorous punishment of those responsible.


In recent years, off-duty police and firefighters have joined militias that have contributed to the expansion of drug gangs and organized crime in Rio de Janeiro.

Acioli’s neighbors have hung black protest banners around their neighborhood reading “Who Silenced the Voice of Justice?”

For more information, please see:


Amnesty International – Killing of Brazilian judge exposes police corruption – 16 August 2011

CNN – Brazilian judge known for tough sentences slain – 14 August 2011

Aljazeera – Hardline Brazil judge gunned down – 13 August 2011

BBC News – Brazil judge Patricia Acioli shot dead in Niteroi– 12 August 2011


India’s Anti-Corruption Bill Disappoints Many

By Greg Donaldson
Impunity Watch, Asia

NEW DEHLI, India – After many fierce political debates over government corruption, India officials introduced a bill to parliament on Thursday that would create an independent anti-corruption agency. However, many have described the bill as “toothless.” Anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare, who has led the most recent hunger strikes, called the bill a “cruel joke.”

Activists show their anger over the proposed anti-corruption bill (Photo Courtesy of The Times of India)
Activists show their anger over the proposed anti-corruption bill (Photo Courtesy of The Times of India)

The bill would create a powerful ombudsman with the authority to investigate accusations against government officials. The bill excludes the prime minister, members of parliament, and other officials from the jurisdiction of the ombudsman. Many critics of the bill have asked why the President of the United States and other high ranking officials throughout the world can be freely investigated, but the same cannot be said of Indian officials.

Anti-corruption activists have further complaints about the bill. In section fifty-six of the bill, legal assistance paid for by the government will be given to every government official tried before the ombudsman at the request of the accused. If the claims of the accuser are found to be false, then the accuser can be subject to a two to five year prison sentence and a fine of Rs 25,000 but which may extend to Rs 2 lakh.

Activist Arvind Kejriwal told the Times of India the bill was tilted in favor of the corrupt and against the whistleblowers. “The bill is heavily tilted against the whistleblower. There are various stages in the Lokpal’s (Ombudsman) process of inquiry where the accused is allowed to see documents or access records and get assistance that will work against the whistleblower. The accused can also go directly to court and file a complaint that allegations are false,” he said.

The bill also provides if the allegations are found to be false the accuser will have to compensate the accused official and pay for any legal expenses incurred by the official as a result of the accuser’s allegations.

Thousands have rallied to fight the weakness of the proposed bill. The Times of India launched an “Act Against Corruption” campaign a few weeks ago and it is estimated over 100,000 people have joined the campaign.

While India does have a dark history of government corruption, analysts worry that an all-powerful ombudsman, who is not accountable to anyone, could lead to legal chaos.

Anna Hazare has already announced he will begin a new hunger strike on August 16th hoping for a stronger bill that gives the ombudsman jurisdiction over the prime minister and other high ranking officials.

For more information, please see:

DNA — Lokpal Bill must echo people’s views: Justice Santosh Hegde – 6 August 2011

The Times of India — ‘Lokpal Bill tilted in favour of the corrupt — 5 August 2011

The Times of India — Over 1 lakh join Times Online campaign for strong Lokpal – 5 August 2010

BBC – Indian anti-corruption bill tabled in parliament – 4 August 2011

New York Times — Skepticism Over India’s Anticorruption Bill – 4 August 2011

UN TRIBUNAL IN LEBANON LIFTS CONFIDENTIALITY BAN ON HARIRI INDICTMENT

By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BEIRUT, Lebanon–In its investigation of the killing of former President Rafiq al-Hariri involving a car bomb in 2005, The Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) has removed confidentiality restrictions on an indictment issued against four individuals.

Photos of the four suspects. (Photo Courtesy of BBC)
Photos of the four suspects. (Photo Courtesy of BBC)


The four individuals are: Mustafa Amine Badreddine, Salim Jamil Ayyash, Hussein Hassan Oneissi, and Assad Hassan Sabra. All are members of Hezbollah.

The lift on the confidentiality restrictions means that details of the cases against these four men named as suspects by the tribunal in June 2011 and subject to arrest warrants can be revealed for the first time.

The focal point of the documents is a network of phones that were allegedly used by the suspects in coordinating and executing the attack that claimed the lives of 21 people.  The indictment contains details that an assassination team consisting of Ayyah and others positioned themselves in several different locations where they were able to observe and track Hariri’s movements. The team had done this on several occasions leading up to the attack.

The 47-page indictment provides a timeline of Hariri’s movement up until 12:55 local time, “when a male suicide bomber detonated a large quantity of explosives concealed in the cargo area of a van, killing Hariri and 21 other victims and injuring a total of 231.”

Investigators on the case conceded that the evidence gathered is chiefly circumstantial because it is based on phone networks. Kamel Wazni, a political analyst in Beirut, admitted that the evidence released does not possess any real independent clout.

“This is based entirely on phone networks. This doesn’t prove those people are behind it. Hezbollah sees these claims as a fabrication, and there is no concrete evidence that links them to the assassination.”

The indictment also detailed how after the explosion rocked the nation, Oneissi and Sabra called Reuters and Al-Jazeera, informing Al-Jazeera on the location of a videotape placed in a tree near ESCWA in Beirut. The video aired on television and showed Ahmad Abu Adass, a man who claimed to be the suicide bomber on behalf of a fictitious extremist group.

It is further revealed that Ayyash and Badreddine are related to each other and also to Imad Mughniyeh, a member of Hezbollah who was assassinated in Syria during 2008. This revelation is the first official documentation to show a concrete connection between the suspects here and other members of Hezbollah.

Tribunal prosecutor Daniel Bellemare shared these sentiments concerning the details of the indictment.

“Oneissi and Sabra, in addition to being conspirators, prepared and delivered the false claim of responsibility video, which sought to blame the wrong people, in order to shield the conspirators from justice. This order will finally inform the public and the victims about the facts alleged in the indictment regarding the commission of the crime that led to charging the four accused.”

The STL, established in 2007, has had a rather polarizing effect on Lebanese politics. One school of thought believes the STL is pushing forward a plan to bring down Hezbollah and the other believes the court is the only institution that will be able to objectively rule on Hariri’s killing.

For more information, please see:

Ahram-UN-backed tribunal publishes Lebanon’s Hariri indictment-17 August 2011

Al-Jazeera-UN tribunal releases Hariri indictment-17 August 2011

BBC-Hezbollah suspects to be tried over Rafik Hariri-17 August 2011

The Telegraph-Lebanon indictment: Rafiq Hariri tracked for three months with elaborate phone network-17 August 2011

Justice For Hariri’s Killers Requires The World’s Support

By David M. Crane and Carla Del Ponte
Originally Published By The Washington Post, 16 August 2011

The past month has brought milestones but also new challenges to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. The tribunal recently released the names of four men wanted for the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri and 22 others in 2005.

The suspects are Mustafa Amine Badreddine, a senior figure in the Shiite militant group Hezbollah who is suspected of making the bomb that blew up the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983; Salim Ayyash; Assad Sabra; and Hassan Anise. The unsealing of the long-awaited indictments triggered a 30-day period during which the Lebanese government is required to serve arrest warrants, but Lebanese authorities informed the court last week that they are unable to arrest the four or serve the indictments. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has vowed to thwart the suspects’ arrest, and this opposition is no small threat. The previous Lebanese government, led by Saad Hariri, son of the slain prime minister, collapsed in January after Hezbollah ministers and their allies left the cabinet to protest the government’s support for the tribunal.

The special tribunal was established in 2007 by the U.N. Security Council at the request of Lebanon’s then-prime minister. The court is charged with rendering justice for the massive bombing that rocked the nation in February 2005. Although Lebanon is no stranger to extreme violence, Hariri’s assassination rekindled the tension between Lebanon’s various factions that had been seething just under the surface. Lebanon sought to recover by turning a corner from political violence to the rule of law. It established a tribunal based in Lebanese law, with judges from Lebanon and other countries, that operates with a U.N. mandate. Knowing how perilous this project would be, the government signed on to an internationally sanctioned court that could transcend taint or accusations of sectarian partiality.

As the tribunal’s president, the noted Italian jurist Antonio Cassese, pointed out in a column last month, Lebanon’s government has aimed “to uphold and to practice the principle of judicial accountability for those who grossly deviated from the rules of human decency” and “to entrench the notion that democracy cannot survive without the rule of law, justice and respect for fundamental human rights.”

This is the first time an international tribunal has been created to deal with an act of terrorism. Yet while the tribunal has novel aspects, the indictments present challenges that are all too familiar to us. We served as chief prosecutors of international tribunals established since the mid-1990s. We are intimately familiar with the challenges pointed up by the mere existence of such courts — and with the values at stake in achieving success. We have closely followed the tribunal’s work and challenges, and understand that, now more than ever, this tribunal will need the unwavering support of the international community.

International courts such as this tribunal have no capacity to arrest their suspects; they must rely on individual countries to do so. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, for example, would not have been able to deliver justice to survivors of “ethnic cleansing” and genocide if individual governments had not made concerted efforts to ensure that suspects were found, arrested and delivered to trial.

One of us served as chief prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, a tribunal that, like the Lebanon tribunal, is a blend of national and international elements. When the Sierra Leone court’s indictment of Liberia’s then-president, Charles Taylor, was unsealed in 2003, some predicted that step would derail peace negotiations. They were wrong: Although not its aim, the indictment of Taylor facilitated peace in war-torn Liberia and maintained peace in Sierra Leone. Earlier, the indictment of Radovan Karadzic by the tribunals for the former Yugoslavia was an essential precursor of the 1995 Dayton Agreement that silenced the guns in that region of Europe.

We know what it means to face long odds and extraordinary defiance in the pursuit of international justice. We succeeded in beating those odds, with historic results, because the international community supported us and governments honored their obligations despite formidable pressures. The Special Tribunal for Lebanon deserves no less.

David M. Crane, a professor at Syracuse College of Law, is a former chief prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, a U.N.-sponsored international tribunal. Carla Del Ponte is a former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda.

Prosecutors seek two trials for Mladic

By Polly Johnson
Senior Desk Officer, Europe

Mladic, who has been referred to as the Butcher of Bosnia, has sought to delay his trial.
Mladic, who has been referred to as the "Butcher of Bosnia," has sought to delay his trial (Photo Courtesy of Reuters).

THE HAGUE, Netherlands – Prosecutors at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) have proposed splitting former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic’s trial into two parts, a move intended to ensure that a verdict is reached. Mladic was arrested earlier this year and is awaiting trial for his role in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in the Balkans, in which eight thousand Bosnian Muslim men and boys were massacred in Europe’s worst atrocity since World War II.

According to an assistant at ICTY’s prosecutor’s office, the first trial will address the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, while the second trial will address Mladic’s remaining crimes that occurred in Sarajevo and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Mladic, 69, was arrested on May 26 in Serbia after sixteen years on the run and in hiding. When he appeared in court in June, Mladic disputed the charges and became belligerent in the courtroom, calling the charges against him “obnoxious.”

Mladic has been accused of deliberately delaying the trial, by both complaining of his health and by refusing to accept a court-appointed lawyer. When he first appeared in court, he told the judge that he was “gravely ill.”

Some fear that Mladic’s tactics will delay the trial indefinitely, just as Slobodan Milosevic’s trial was delayed. Milosevic, the former president of Yugoslavia, died in custody while awaiting trial.  Serge Brammertz, lead prosecutor at ICTY, said that splitting Mladic’s trial in two would minimize the possibility of his trial ending up like Milosevic’s. Prosecutors said that the first trial, dealing with Srebrenica, could be presented in one year.

Prosecutors filed the motion to split the trial in two on Tuesday. “Trying the Srebrenica indictment first will maximize the likelihood of completing a trial and having a judgment issued,” part of the court filing read.

Facing charges of war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity, Mladic could face life in prison if he is found guilty.

For more information, please see:

Deutsche Welle – UN prosecutor may fast-track war crimes trial for Mladic – 17 August 2011

International Business Times – Ratko Mladic Trial Update: Prosecutors Want Two War Crimes Cases – 17 August 2011

Reuters – Prosecutors seek two war crimes trials against Mladic – 17 August 2011

Sydney Morning Herald – UN prosecutor wants separate Mladic trials – 17 August 2011

Australia To Send Asylum Seekers to Malaysia and Papua New Guinea

By Brittney Hodnik
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

CANBERRA, Australia – The High Court in Australia has recently halted a program known as “The Malaysia Plan.”  The Australian government signed the Malaysia Plan in May to send asylum seekers – more commonly known as “boat people” – to Malaysia to be reviewed and processed.  The government hopes it will deter asylum seekers from going to Australia and overwhelming the already inundated system.  Now, Australia has reached an agreement with Papua New Guinea as well.

Over 6,500 asylum seekers sought refuge in Australia in 2010. (Image Courtesy of The Daily Telegraph)
Over 6,500 asylum seekers sought refuge in Australia in 2010. (Image Courtesy of The Daily Telegraph)

As of August 16th, 800 asylum seekers will be sent to Malaysia as “test cases” for the new program.  Historically, Malaysia has not treated refugees kindly, but claims it has “made a significant conceptual shift about its treatment of asylum seekers,” according to The Sydney Morning Herald.

But Anna Burke, a Labor MP from Victoria disagrees.  She believes that sending these refugees to a third country is worrisome.  “I’m very concerned that we can’t really guarantee the safety of the individuals, the 800 who will be sent there,” Burke told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

According to UPI, Australia has been pushing for Papua New Guinea to sign an agreement similar to the Malaysia Plan.  Under both plans, Australia pays for the opening of the centers and the other expenses that come along with receiving and processing the boat people.

Questions concerning human rights issues are still being debated.  Australian government officials believe that the new policy will deter future boat people from seeking asylum in Australia, knowing that they will be sent to the more dilapidated countries of Malaysia or Papua New Guinea.  The Australian Human Rights Commission is especially concerned about the minors who are facing deportation.  As reported by UPI, 50 minors are in the middle of the situation, including a 16-year-old unaccompanied boy.

Yet another reason why Australian officials are leaning toward this policy is to adjust to the recent influx of asylum cases flooding the system.  In November 2010, the High Court extended the right of judicial review to asylum seekers on Christmas Island, as reported by The Australian.  By processing many of the refugees in outside countries, hopes are that the system will face less pressure.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Australian citizens are largely opposed to the new policies even though both political parties are promoting them.  More than 50% of Australian citizens believe that asylum seekers should land and be processed in Australia rather than a third country.  Of the 50% of citizens who feel refugees should remain in Australia, 55% believe that they should be held in detention while 41% believe they should be allowed to live in the community.

According to UPI, Australia’s Department of Immigration reported that 134 boats carrying 6,535 people arrived in 2010.  Australian officials are continuing to work toward an effective agreement.

For more information, please visit:

The Daily Telegraph — First 800 Asylum Seekers Will Test Compassion Level — 16 Aug. 2011

The Sydney Morning Herald — Voters Reject Refugee Plans of Both Parties — 16 Aug. 2011

The Australian — Asylum Case Overloading Legal System — 15 Aug. 2011

UPI — Papua New Guinea in Aussie Refugee Deal — 15 Aug. 2011

Mubarak Trial Poses Legitimacy Questions

By Tyler Yates
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt — On August 3, in what has been called a defining moment of the Arab Spring, Hosni Mubarak, the former president of Egypt, was placed on trial for charges of financial corruption and for ordering the shooting of unarmed protesters.

The sight of Mubarak being tried is certainly a welcome, if not nearly unbelievable, image for the Middle East and world alike, but some doubt the forthcoming results.  Most Egyptians believe that Mubarak is guilty without question, however the case that has been brought against him has been called weak by many including some independent analysts.

Mubarak in his trial cage (Photo courtesy of the New Yorker).
Mubarak in his trial cage (Photo courtesy of the New Yorker).

As it stands today, the prosecutors have yet to present the court enough concrete evidence to convict Mubarak, and thus far, he has been tried separately from his minister of Interior (who directed the killings) and the police officers (who actually committed the violence).  This could lead to an issue of scapegoating the offenses.

Further, many feel that the prosecution made a mistake by rushing the case into court to dispel public outcries.  There simply was not enough time to put together a solid case with the type of evidence necessary to convict.

Others in the country feel the entire trial is illegitimate, and possibly a violation of the principles of basic human rights.  They see the imagery of Mubarak in a cage as nothing more than proof of a show trial, being for the benefit of the people with a verdict having already been decided.

A big issue with the trial is the lack of credibility of the prosecution.  Most of the prosecutors were appointed by Mubarak himself, and are part of the regime the trial is attempting to vanquish.

Still, regardless of the trial’s outcome, many feel that it is important that it is happening at all.   They see the trial as proof that no matter what happens in the future Egypt will never be the way it used to be.  This is the start of something brand new.

One thing all sides appear to be concerned with is the issue of justice.   It is only the order of the issue’s importance that differs.  As international law scholar and United Nations human rights export Richard Falk said:

“We have to question whether the procedural side of justice is or really can be the most important part of justice in a revolutionary or post-revolutionary situation, where other considerations may be equally or more important. It’s part of the liberal imagination to focus on procedural justice, often at the expense of substantive justice. In the Mubarak case, there is substantive justice inherent in bringing him to trial given his notorious public record of abuse and oppression, which necessarily makes the outcome a foregone conclusion.”

Mubarak’s trial is playing a big role on the international scene.  It may set the stage for the future actions of other threatened dictators like Qaddafi and Assad, who may now think twice before negotiating with the popular uprisings seeking their removal.  No matter the outcome this trial will usher in something different, and there is no going back.

For more information, please see:

The Nation — Mubarak behind bars: Human rights and justice — 16 Aug 2011

Ahram Online — The tables have turned: Human rights lawyer once jailed by Mubarak gets his chance to press the pharaoh in court — 15 Aug 2011

Al Jazeera — Mubarak behind bars: Human rights and justice — 15 Aug 2011

The Telegraph — Hosni Mubarak trial: swift justice v human rights — 15 Aug 2011

PRESS RELEASE REGARDING “CHOIZIL” CASE (SOMALI PIRATES)

Originally published 12 August 2011

Today the district court of Rotterdam in the Netherlands passed judgement on the case of five Somali men suspected of committing piracy. The court handed down prison sentences ranging from four and a half to seven years.

The indictments against the five suspects included, among other things, the charge that they were all involved in the hijacking of the South African sailing yacht “Choizil”. All suspects were arrested in the Gulf of Aden by a Dutch naval vessel in November 2010. Soon thereafter they were transferred to the Netherlands in order to stand trial.

Three of the five suspects were found guilty of piracy. Enacting on their premeditated plan of hijacking ships by force, they headed out on the open seas whilst navigating a couple of small boats. They were heavily armed, carrying machine guns and bazookas. Because of their timely arrest by the Dutch navy, this group of pirates had not yet hijacked any ship. Their alleged involvement in the violent capture of the Choizil could not be proven. All of the suspects were arrested two weeks after the hijacking of the Choizil, making the burden of proof more challenging for the prosecution in this matter. However, two of the five pirates could be linked directly to the hijacking of the Choizil and were thusly convicted and sentenced.

In its judgement the court has noted that pirates often use extreme violence, leading to tremendous suffering among the crew members whom they take hostage in order to collect ransom moneys. The court has emphasized that piracy in the Gulf of Aden has turned into a significant threat for all ships that frequent that region. The free and unfettered transport of cargo, resources and fuels can no longer be guaranteed. Global economic consequences can no longer be ruled out.

The court has also reflected on the particularly harsh circumstances in Somalia. Armed conflicts are a daily occurrence. Currently, the region is being hit by one of the worst cases of famine in decades. All five suspects have described to the court as to how these circumstances have also impacted their own lives. However, the court has ruled that none of those circumstances, no matter how grave, can and may be accepted as any justification for committing acts of piracy.

In considering the penalty, the court has held that the professional manner in which the piracy was organized is an aggravating circumstance. The court has considered that detention for all five suspects will for them be more demanding than detention for a random person who is arrested in the Netherlands. This mitigating circumstance has only led to a minimal reduction in the penalty. The court explained that it was, after all, the suspects’ own behaviour which led them to being arrested abroad and subsequently detained in the Netherlands.

The legal jurisdiction of the court was not challenged in these proceedings. In a previous case regarding Somali pirates, this court had already decided that such legal jurisdiction exists (LNJ BM8116). The Netherlands has vested so-called universal jurisdiction in its Criminal Code whenever piracy is involved. This is in accordance with international treaties.

Note to the press: two of the five verdicts (coded LJN BR4930 and LJN BR4931) are published on the website of the Dutch Judiciary www.rechtspraak.nl

New Alliances, Tensions Develop in Middle East as Iraq Offers Support to Syria

By Zach Waksman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq – Even as the United States and much of the Arab world condemn President Bashar al-Assad’s use of violence in cracking down on dissidents, Syria retains a small cadre of backers.  Since late July, Iran has been vocal in its support for the embattled Middle Eastern nation.  Thursday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki spoke out in favor of more peaceful means of action by the demonstrators, blaming the protesters for the present situation.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki voiced his support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad Thursday. (Photo courtesy of the Iraqi Prime Minister's Office)

Iran and Syria have been longtime allies in the Middle East.  On July 24, Iran’s First Vice President, Mohammad Reza Rahimi said that his country would stand strongly alongside Syria during a meeting with Syrian Oil Minister Sufian Allaw.  Rahimi declared Iran and Syria to be “…two inseparable countries and allies,” adding that “…Iran will stand by its friend under all conditions.”

Since then, both countries have strengthened their rhetoric, particularly against the United States and the Western world.  This has been especially noticeable over the past week.  On August 7, Hamed Hassan, the Syrian Ambassador to Tehran, said that he considered the present state of his country to be the result of a foreign conspiracy.

“Americans are pushing for hegemony over the region and the disintegration of regional governments is in line with the interest of the Zionist regime,” Hassan told a press roundtable on Syrian unrest at the Iran Cultural and Press Institute (ICPI).  “Syria does not pay heed to foreign hegemony and the Zionist policies in the region.”

Three days later, senior Iranian lawmaker Alaeddin Boroujerdi accused the United States of doing the same thing.  “Having lost Egypt [following the Egyptian revolution], the US is now targeting Syria,” Boroujerdi said during a meeting with Arab League Secretary-General Nabil al-Arabi.  “The US aims to defeat the resistance in order to achieve its objectives and the [objectives of the] Zionist regime [of Israel]. [Therefore] Syria must be helped to end the unrest in the country.”

Unlike Iran, Iraq has not historically been an ally of Syria’s.  When sectarian violence was rampant in Iraq following the American invasion of 2003, Syria was blamed for not doing enough to keep militants and suicide bombers out of the country.  The shift in relations began with Maliki’s rise to power in Iraq, which was due in large part to support from Iran, who urged Assad to support him.  Maliki has since won a second term as Prime Minister.

“Maliki is very reliant on Iran for his power and Iran is backing Syria all the way,” Joost Hiltermann, the International Crisis Group’s deputy program director for the Middle East, told the New York Times.  “The Iranians and the Syrians were all critical to bringing him to power a year ago and keeping him in power so he finds himself in a difficult position.”

Since then, Iraq and Syria have been working to strengthen their relations.  On July 25, the three countries signed an agreement to build a pipeline that would supply Iranian natural gas to Iraq and Syria.  The project is expected to cost an estimated $10 billion over the next three to five years.

But within Iraq, the alliance has reignited sectarian divides in Iraq and jeopardizes the government’s recently restored functionality.  Maliki’s Shiite regime claims that the Syrian protesters were Al Qaeda operatives, who would be in position to use the country as a base to launch attacks if Assad were to fall.  Within the Sunni-dominated Iraqiya bloc of the Iraqi government, the assessment is very different.

“What is happening in Syria is not because of a terrorist group, as some say, that is not accurate,” said Jaber al-Jabri, a member of the Iraquiya. “There are whole towns rising up to demonstrate against the regime. We call on the Syrian government to listen to the people’s demands and to stop violence against their people.”

The new alliance between Iraq and Syria also creates a potentially dangerous situation for Israel.  According to Hossein Ebrahimi, the deputy chairman of the Majlis (Iranian Parliament) Committee on National Security and Foreign Policy, the Jewish state is now bordered by at least three countries (Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria) that are presently in a state of revolution.  “The Zionist regime is collapsing,” he said.

For more information, please see:

New York Times — Iraqi Leader Backs Syria, With a Nudge From Iran — 12 August 2011

PressTV — Iran MP urges Pro-Syria front against US — 11 August 2011

PressTV — Defend Syria from US meddling: Iran MP — 10 August 2011

Iran Daily — Syria Envoy Blames Foreign Powers for Turmoil — 8 August 2011

Iran Daily — Iran, Iraq, Syria Sign Gas Deal — 26 July 2011

Iran Daily — Rahimi Voices Support for Assad’s Syria — 26 July 2011

PressTV — Iran Vows Support for Syria — 24 July 2011

No immunity for Rumsfeld in suit regarding tortured U.S. citizens

By Brianne Yantz
Impunity Watch Reporter,  North America

CHICAGO, United States – Two American citizens can sue former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for torture, the Seventh Circuit Court ruled on Monday.  The two men pursuing the lawsuit, Donald Vance and Nathan Ertel, allege that U.S. Forces tortured them for months after suspicions of illegal activity arose against their employer, a private Iraqi company called Shield Group Security.

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. (Photo Courtesy of AP/BBC NEWS)
Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. (Photo Courtesy of AP/BBC News)

Court records revealed that in 2005 Vance and Ertel had begun to suspect that their employer was bribing Iraqi officials and that some employees were engaging in illegal weapons trafficking. Shortly thereafter the two men became FBI informants. In April of 2006, however, Shield Group Security confiscated their credentials and they were left trapped in the Red Zone of war-ravaged Iraq.

After calling their government contacts, Vance and Ertel were assured that U.S. Forces would rescue them. Instead, the two men were arrested and thrown in confinement. According the Herald Sun, the two allege that while detained they were subjected “to violence, sleep deprivation and extremes in light and sound.”

It was further reported by the Chicagoist that the two men were “often deprived of food and water, walled, denied medical care and subject to various forms of psychological torture.”

Vance and Ertel were eventually released; the two men were dropped off at an airport in Baghdad. They were never charged or designated as security risks. They later decided to sue Rumsfeld as well as other unnamed U.S. officials.

Immediately Rumsfeld sought to dismiss the case, arguing he “had immunity for actions taken while working as defense secretary, and that U.S. citizens [could not] sue for violations of their rights that occurred in war zone,” BBC News reported.

However, according to BBC News, the Seventh Circuit reasoned Rumsfeld did not have immunity because the “plaintiffs [had] alleged sufficient facts to show that Secretary Rumsfeld personally established the relevant policies that caused the alleged violations of their constitutional rights during detention.”

The Seventh Circuit’s 2-1 decision affirmed the ruling of the lower district court, which also found that Rumsfeld lacked immunity.

In an interview quoted by the Herald Sun, Vance’s lawyer, Michael Kanovitz, said of the Court’s decision, “it’s important because what the court does here is it affirms the very basis of constitutional doctrine.” He further commented that absolute discretion should not be given to the executive branch.

Meanwhile, Rumsfeld’s lawyer, David Rivkin, quickly denounced the ruling, arguing “it saps the effectiveness of the military, puts American soldiers at risk, and shackles federal officials who have a constitutional duty to protect America,” Courthouse News Service reported.

Although whether Rumsfeld will be found accountable remains to be seen, the Seventh Circuit’s decision comes a week after a district judge in Washington ruled that a former American military contractor, who also alleges he was tortured in Iraq, could sue the former defense secretary.

For more information, please see:

Chicagoist – Court Rules Citizens Allowed to Sue Rumsfeld for Torture – August 10, 2011

Courthouse News Service – U.S. Citizens Can Sue Rumsfeld for Torture – August 9, 2011

Herald Sun – Donald Rumsfeld can be held liable for alleged torture, court rules – August 9, 2011

Wall Street Journal – Donald Rumsfeld Faces Another Torture Lawsuit – August 9, 2011

BBC News – ‘Tortured’ US citizens allowed to sue Donald Rumsfeld – August 8, 2011

Kyrgtyzstan police torture victim dies two days after release

By: Jessica Ties
Impunity Watch, Asia

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan – Osmonjon Khalmurzaev, an ethnic Uzbek, died two days after his release from police custody during which time he was allegedly tortured in an attempt to extort money in exchange for his release.

Following June 2010 violence, pictured above, ethnic Uzbeks have been the victims of violence and extortion at the hands of police in Kyrgyzstan (Photo Courtesy of The Telegraph).
Following June 2010 interethnic violence, pictured above, ethnic Uzbek's have been the victims of violence and extortion at the hands of police in Kyrgyzstan (Photo Courtesy of The Telegraph).

According to the victim’s wife, Zulhomor, Khalmurzaev was taken from his home by three police officers dressed as civilians. The police officer’s did not show an arrest warrant and failed to tell his wife where Khalmurzaev would be taken.

After being returned home, Khalmurzaev told his wife that after arriving at the police station the police officers put a gas mask on him and beat him until he lost consciousness.

After regaining consciousness, he was told by the police that he would be framed as a participant in a violent ethnic clash that occurred last June unless he paid them 6,000 dollars. After the police agreed to accept only 680 dollars and the money was paid he was released to his wife and told that they would harm his family if he informed anybody of what had happened. Two days after his release he was taken to a hospital where he died.

A preliminary conclusion by a forensic expert stated that Khalmurzaev died as a result of a broken sternum that had caused one of his organs to rupture. Despite this finding, none of the policemen who had detained Khalmurzaev have been questioned or suspended from their work although local authorities have opened an investigation.

The attack at the Sanpa factory was part of an ethnic clash that took place last June. As a result of the clash more that 400 people were killed and many Uzbek neighborhoods were ruined. The Uzbek’s have been forbidden to rebuild their communities and have also become the victims of detention, torture and extortion at the hands of police who rarely face prosecution.

Human Rights Watch has recently documented six other cases in which police attempt to extort money from victims by threatening to frame the victim for a crime.

For more information, please see:

Eurasia Net – Kyrgyzstan Police Beat Another Uzbek to Death – 12 August 2011

The Telegraph – Human Rights Group Accuses Kyrgyz Police of Abuses Against Ethnic Uzbeks – 12 August 2011

Human rights watch – Kyrgyzstan: A Death Follows Police Torture – 11 August 2011