Vietnamese man convicted for anti-government blog

By: Jessica Ties
Impunity Watch, Asia

HANOI, VietnamFrench-Vietnamese blogger, Professor Pham Minh Hoang, was convicted on national security charges and sentenced to serve three years in prison followed by three years of probation for posting anti-government statements to his blog.

Pham Minh Hoang was sentenced to three years in jail for anti-government blog (Photo Courtesy of Vietnam Network).
Pham Minh Hoang was sentenced to three years in jail for anti-government blog (Photo Courtesy of Vietnam Network).

Hoang was convicted after the presiding judge found that Hoang used his blog to post article’s that “blackened the image of the country.” The conviction comes not only as a result of Hoang posting 33 articles against the government but also because he is a current member of the Viet Tan group. Viet Tan, a U.S. based group that promotes democracy in Vietnam, is considered a terrorist organization by the Vietnamese government which has banned membership in the organization.

Professor Hoang asked the court for leniency and claimed that he was unaware that he was breaking the law when he wrote the articles and would not have written them if he had known “the stories could affect the prestige of the state…” Hoang also stated to the court, “my writings were not aimed at overthrowing anyone…I only pointed out the negative things in society, and I think the country needs to be more democratic.”

Hoang’s dual citizenship with France has caused the French foreign ministry to express serious concern at Hoang’s case and the charges that had been brought against him.

Political critics and activists have been forced to serve long prison sentences since the Vietnamese government began severely limiting freedom of expression in 2009. Activists for democracy have commonly found themselves charged with subversion and sentenced to serve up to 15 years in prison for asserting opinions that are considered offensive to the Vietnamese government.

For more information, please see:

Vietnam Network – Former Lecturer Sentenced for Activities Aimed at Overthrowing Gov’t – 11 August 2011

Amnesty International-Viet Nam Urged to Release Jailed Blogger – 10 August 2011

BBC – Vietnam Jails Dissident Blogger Pham Minh Hoang – 10 August 2011

Forbes – Vietnam Jails French-Vietnamese Teacher Over Blogs – 10 August 2011

Isolated Amazon indian tribe missing after armed drug traffickers attack guard posts

By Paula Buzzi
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America


BRASILIA, Brazil An isolated Indian tribe living in the Amazon Basin rainforest has gone missing and is feared to have been massacred by Peruvian drug traffickers after an attack earlier this week on the Brazilian guard station put in place to protect them.


Uncontacted Amazon tribe missing after attack
Uncontacted Amazon tribe missing after attack. (Photo Courtesy of Survival International)

The tribe was first introduced in February after Brazil’s Indian Affairs Department released aerial film and still images of the tribe members covered in red body paint.


Since the discovery of the tribe, the National Indian Foundation of Brazil has tried to protect them from outsiders by placing guard posts around their territory in western Brazil.


On Monday, however, the human rights group “Survival International” stated that Brazilian officials have found no trace of the tribe after a group of men armed with sub-machine guns ransacked the guard posts.


Brazilian officials fear a tragic fate for the tribe after finding a 44 pound package of cocaine in the tribe’s territory and a broken arrow inside one of the attacker’s backpacks.


According to members of Survival International, the attackers are believed to be Peruvian drug traffickers who most likely used the tribe’s land, which is only 12 miles from the Peruvian border, as an entry point into Brazil. Some members of Survival International believe the attackers could also have been investigating a clearing to grow the cocaine plant, Coca.


Since the attack, Jose Carlos Meirelles, the former head of the guard station, and other guards have reported seeing several groups of armed men traveling around the area. Despite the imminent danger, Meirelles and his guards plan to stay at the posts for the protection of the Indians.


In a statement earlier this week, the head of the government’s isolated Indians department, Carlos Travassos said: “this situation could be one of the biggest blows we have ever seen in the protection of uncontacted Indians in recent decades.”


The tribe is believed to be among roughly 68 other isolated civilizations that live in the Amazon today and have never been contacted by the outside world.


A police team has embarked on a hunt for the attackers and Survival International has stated they will take all possible measures to make sure a similar attack does not occur again.


For more information, please see:

International Times – Uncontacted Amazon Tribe ‘Massacred’ by Peruvian Drug Traffickers – 10 August 2011

CNN – Amazon tribe may have fallen victim to drug traffickers – 09 August 2011

MSNBC – Reclusive Amazon tribe missing after attack – 09 August 2011

Survival International – Guard post for uncontacted Indians over-run by “drug traffickers” – 08 August 2011

Belarus, Lithuania Rebuked for Arrest of Human Rights Activist

By Terance Walsh
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MINSK, Belarus – Belarusian authorities arrested a leading human rights activist last Thursday in Minsk on charges of tax evasion.

Ales Byalyatski, head of the Vyasna human rights organization, was arrested on August 4 on charges of serious tax evasion, after Lithuania provided Minsk with bank information. (Photo courtesy Radio Free Europe/Radio
Ales Belyatsky, head of the Vyasna human rights organization, was arrested on August 4 on charges of "serious tax evasion," after Lithuania provided Minsk with bank information. (Photo courtesy Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty)

The detainee, Ales Belyatsky, is the founder of the human rights group Vyasna. Belyatsky himself called the charges “punishment and retribution” for his efforts in defending human rights.  The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe labeled the arrest the “latest example of persecution.” If convicted, Belyatsky will face up to seven years in prison.

The charges arose from Belyatsky’s bank account in Lithuania, which Belyatsky uses to support his human rights work in Belarus.  The Belarusian government has refused to register all but one independent human rights group in the country.  If a group is denied official registration it cannot open a bank account in its name and cannot comply with Belarus’s financial regulations.

Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia director Hugh Williamson explained,  “In reality what the Belarus authorities are doing to civil society and Belyatsky in particular, amounts to entrapment.  First they push human rights defenders to work in the margins of the law, deny them capacity to function, then when they seek to continue to work in the only way they can, the authorities use criminal law, pretending that it has nothing to do with their human rights work. Any intelligent observer knows different.”

Belyatsky’s supporters have slammed Lithuania for its role in facilitating the arrest.  Lithuanian authorities handed Belyatsky’s financial information to Belarusian authorities upon request.  Opposition politician Alyaksandr Milinkevich decried, “The sudden betrayal of activists and human rights activists is, really, a betrayal on the part of the Lithuanian authorities. We need to look into it to make sure it does not happen again and that other countries don’t do similar things.  This could destroy our democratic society that has struggled for human rights for so many years.”

The arrest has drawn the ire of several nations.  The United States Embassy in Minsk branded the detention as “another unfortunate sign of Belarus’s self-isolation and further deviation from European standards and principles.”  Germany called for the release and labeled the arrest a “political abuse of criminal law.”

Opposition leaders in Belarus remain defiant in the face of Belyatsky’s arrest.  “We expected this and we were ready for it. Let them imprison us all. That’s all I can say — if they want Vyasna to stop working, let them imprison us all,” Vasnya lawyer Uladzimer Labkovich said. “If they don’t, then we will continue our work to the maximum because otherwise the biggest reproach we would get when Belyatsky gets out would be that we let the work lapse.”

Milinkevich called for a tougher stance against the Belarusian government.  “We need to make the decision to treat the Belarusian government like a dictatorship,” he said. “If we consider it a dictatorship, then democratic countries will not react to letters asking for information and they won’t react to letters demanding the extradition of people who are fighting for freedom.  How can they react as if Belarus were a country where people live in freedom and have free elections and are a part of the European community? No — this is a dictatorship.”

For more information please see:

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty — Belarusian Opposition Dismayed By Lithuania’s Aid In Activist’s Arrest — 10 August 2011

The Moscow Times — Belarussian Detained Over Cash — 8 August 2011

Human Rights Watch — Belarus: Leading Rights Defender Detained — 5 August 2011

Voice of America — Belarus Arrests Leading Human Rights Activist — 5 August 2011

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH IN DOUBLE CRITICISM OF SRI LANKAN GOVERNMENT

by Hibberd Kline
Impunity Watch, Asia

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka— Human Rights Watch (HRW) lambasted Sri Lanka’s government twice last week for failing to investigate and fully disclose details of atrocities by government forces during the country’s 26-year armed conflict, which ended in May of 2009.

Memorial for 17 aid workers slain while engaged in 2006 tsunami relief in an apparent mass extrajudicial execution. (Photograph Courtesy of Reuters).
Memorial for 17 aid workers slain while engaged in 2006 tsunami relief in an apparent mass extrajudicial execution. (Photograph Courtesy of Reuters).

In an statement released August 1st , HRW decried a report recently released by the Ministry of Defense (MOD) casting the blame for  civilian deaths on Muslim militias and the defeated Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who sought independence for the island’s sizeable Tamil minority.

In the report, which was released under mounting pressure from foreign governments and NGOs, the Sri Lankan government conceded for the first time that its forces caused civilian deaths near the end of the conflict.

However, HRW stressed that the government did not take responsibility for laws-of-war violations, which it blamed squarely on LTTE, whose atrocities are detailed in the MOD report.

The report states that government forces “adher[ed] to a ‘Zero Civilian casualty’ policy,” but that “[i]t was impossible in a battle of this magnitude, against a ruthless opponent actively endangering civilians, for civilian casualties to be avoided.”

According to HRW, the report fails to address the “thousands of civilian casualties” inflicted by Sri Lankan forces’ frequent indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas” including hospitals. HRW stressed that these incidents were comprehensively detailed by the UN, the US State Department and various NGOs.

The second prong of HRW’s criticism of the Sri Lankan government last week came two days later on the eve of the fifth anniversary of the murder of 17 Sri Lankan aid workers, 16 ethnic Tamils and one Muslim, following a battle between LTTE and government forces.

HRW used the anniversary to highlight what it described as the government’s “broader lack of will to prosecute soldiers and police for rights abuses.”

HRW’s statement alleged that “[d]espite a backlog of cases of enforced disappearances and unlawful killings going back two decades that run to the tens of thousands, there have been only a small number of prosecutions.” The statement further alleged that past efforts to address human rights violations had failed to achieve significant results.

In a scathing accusation, HRW legal and policy director James Ross said that “[t]he Rajapaksa government is not just unwilling to uncover the truth, it appears afraid of the truth.”

Foreign governments and NGOs largely acknowledge that both LTTE and Sri Lankan government forces inflicted high numbers of civilian casualties and likely engaged in war crimes during the conflict.

In 2009, Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa pledged to address the need for accountability for international humanitarian and human rights law violations.

The Sri Lankan government denies that its forces are responsible for civilian deaths during the conflict.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Sri Lanka condemned over aid workers’ deaths – 3 August 2011

Human Rights Watch – Sri Lanka: No Justice in Massacre of Aid Workers – 3 August 2011

Voice of America – HRW Calls for Investigation of Sri Lankan Aid Workers Massacre – 3 August 2011

Daily Mirror – HRW criticises SL report – 2 August 2011

JURIST – Sri Lanka report on civil war ‘whitewashes’ military atrocities – 2 August 2011

Human Rights Watch – Sri Lanka: Official Report Whitewashes Military Abuses – 1 August 2011

IN SPREADING TOWARDS THE TURKISH BORDER, AL-ASSAD’S REGIME EXTENDS ITS DESTRUCTION AND DISREGARD FOR THE VALUE OF CIVILIAN LIVES

By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria–Deciding that expanding to Deir el-Zour was not satisfactory, the Syrian government ignored Turkish pressure to cease its activities and continued to pummel through towns further east. As recently as today, 11 August 2011, The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported that the Syrian army entered the town of Saraqeb in northwestern Idlib province, detaining as many as 100 individuals.

Damaged vehicles and buildings in Hama. (Photo Courtesy of BBC)
Damaged vehicles and buildings in Hama. (Photo Courtesy of BBC)

The Local Coordination Committees of Syria, activists whom help organize and catalog the protests, reported explosions and gunfire were heard after the army descended upon the area. A resident of Saraqeb who fled the area relayed these remarks to an Al-Jazeera correspondent.

“Around 14 tanks and armored vehicles entered Saraqeb this morning, accompanied by 50 buses, pick-ups and security cars. They started firing randomly and storming houses.”

On Wednesday 10 August 2011, SOHR reported that the government assault on civilians also had extended to the towns of Taftanaz and Sermin, when 12 tanks and armored vehicles entered both towns. During this expansion, SOHR reported that at least one woman was killed and 13 were injured.

Taftanaz and Sermin are located approximately 30 kilometers (18.64 miles) east from Syria’s border with Turkey. Saraqeb is located approximately 50 kilometers (31.07 miles) southeast of Turkey’s Iskenderun province.

Further in the south of the county, rolling government crackdowns also victimized the central province of Homs. The town of Qusayr saw columns of tanks enter its borders and many activists reported that individuals were desperately trying to escape while communications with the city have been severed.

“Residents fled into the fields and all communications have been cut with the town.”

BBC reported that seven civilians were killed during the invasion, as Syrian security forces carried out mass arrests.

Syrian army units reportedly left central Hama today on 11 August 2011, as the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) conveyed these remarks on the situation.

“The military departed after restoring the security and stability to the city that have been through tough times due to the acts of killing, terrorizing, and sabotage that were done by the armed terrorists groups.”

The Local Coordination Committees of Syria reported that clusters of individuals were killed during a siege that lined up with last week’s start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. After evening prayers on Wednesday 10 August, opposition activists claimed that demonstrators poured into the streets in the southern part of the city. Also, activists claimed that security forces opened fire and killed two people.

Reports of this incident could not be confirmed.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Wednesday 10 August, Turkey’s envoy to Syria, Omer Onhon, journeyed to Hama and was able to confirm that the tanks and heavy weaponry had withdrawn from the city.

The international community continues its efforts to compel al-Assad’s regime to cease its actions. On Wednesday 10 August 2011, the UN Assistant Secretary-General Oscar Fernandez-Taranco briefed the 15 members of the Security Council behind closed doors about the situation. Last week, the UNSC called for an “immediate” halt to the violence, a call that apparently did not reach or did not matter to al-Assad.

Bashar Jaafari, Syria’s ambassador to the UN, said the sovereignty of his country must never be challenged.

“Our sovereignty is a red line that must not be crossed. We know our commitments, our obligations but at the same time we know what are our rights. And our rights do not stem from any political pressure. They stem from our own political will.”

The U.S Treasury Department, taking its own measures, on Wednesday 10 August announced a block of the mobile phone operator Syriatel, the Commercial Bank of Syria, and the Syrian Lebanese Commercial Bank. Also, it declared that Americans are “generally prohibited from engaging in commercial or financial transactions with the companies. It is expected that U.S. President Barack Obama will formally call for al-Assad to step down in the next few days.

Other countries such as Saudia Arabia, Bahrain, and Kuwait have recalled their ambassadors from Damascus.

The nation-wide crackdowns have claimed some 2,000 lives since the protests began in mid-March, according to various rights groups. But with the restriction on international journalists in Syria, these reports cannot be independently confirmed.

For more information, please see:

Al-Jazeera-Syrian forces ‘storm border town’-11 August 2011

BBC-Syrian security forces ‘kill seven in Homs province’-11 August 2011

CNN-Syrian forces push into Saraqib, death toll escalates, group says-11 August 2011

New York Times-Support for Assad Government Shows Signs of Weakening-10 August 2011

The Guardian-Obama to toughen stance on Syria with call for Assad’s departure-10 August 2011

White House Press Release: Presidential Study Directive on Mass Atrocities

The White House, Office of the Press Secretary
Press Release Originally Published 4 Aug 2011

PRESIDENTIAL STUDY DIRECTIVE/PSD-10

MEMORANDUM FOR

THE VICE PRESIDENT
THE SECRETARY OF STATE
THE SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY
THE SECRETARY OF DEFENSE
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
THE SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY
ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT AND CHIEF OF STAFF
DIRECTOR OF THE OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET
UNITED STATES TRADE REPRESENTATIVE
REPRESENTATIVE OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA TO THE UNITED NATIONS
ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT AND NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR
DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE
COUNSEL TO THE PRESIDENT
ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT FOR LEGISLATIVE AFFAIRS
DIRECTOR OF THE CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY
ADMINISTRATOR OF THE UNITED STATES AGENCY FOR INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF
CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, MILLENNIUM CHALLENGE CORPORATION
DIRECTOR OF THE PEACE CORPS
DEPUTY ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT AND NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR TO THE VICE PRESIDENT
DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY
DIRECTOR OF THE DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE AGENCY

SUBJECT: Creation of an Interagency Atrocities Prevention Board and Corresponding Interagency Review

Preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States.

Our security is affected when masses of civilians are slaughtered, refugees flow across borders, and murderers wreak havoc on regional stability and livelihoods.  America’s reputation suffers, and our ability to bring about change is constrained, when we are perceived as idle in the face of mass atrocities and genocide.  Unfortunately, history has taught us that our pursuit of a world where states do not systematically slaughter civilians will not come to fruition without concerted and coordinated effort.

Governmental engagement on atrocities and genocide too often arrives too late, when opportunities for prevention or low-cost, low-risk action have been missed.  By the time these issues have commanded the attention of senior policy makers, the menu of options has shrunk considerably and the costs of action have risen.

In the face of a potential mass atrocity, our options are never limited to either sending in the military or standing by and doing nothing.  The actions that can be taken are many    they range from economic to diplomatic interventions, and from non combat military actions to outright intervention.  But ensuring that the full range of options is available requires a level of governmental organization that matches the methodical organization characteristic of mass killings.

Sixty six years since the Holocaust and 17 years after Rwanda, the United States still lacks a comprehensive policy framework and a corresponding interagency mechanism for preventing and responding to mass atrocities and genocide.  This has left us ill prepared to engage early, proactively, and decisively to prevent threats from evolving into large scale civilian atrocities.

Accordingly, I hereby direct the establishment of an interagency Atrocities Prevention Board within 120 days from the date of this Presidential Study Directive.  The primary purpose of the Atrocities Prevention Board shall be to coordinate a whole of government approach to preventing mass atrocities and genocide.  By institutionalizing the coordination of atrocity prevention, we can ensure:  (1) that our national security apparatus recognizes and is responsive to early indicators of potential atrocities; (2) that departments and agencies develop and implement comprehensive atrocity prevention and response strategies in a manner that allows “red flags” and dissent to be raised to decision makers; (3) that we increase the capacity and develop doctrine for our foreign service, armed services, development professionals, and other actors to engage in the full spectrum of smart prevention activities; and (4) that we are optimally positioned to work with our allies in order to ensure that the burdens of atrocity prevention and response are appropriately shared.

To this end, I direct the National Security Advisor to lead a focused interagency study to develop and recommend the membership, mandate, structure, operational protocols, authorities, and support necessary for the Atrocities Prevention Board to coordinate and develop atrocity prevention and response policy.  Specifically, the interagency review shall identify:

operational protocols necessary for the Atrocities Prevention Board to coordinate and institutionalize the Federal Government’s efforts to prevent and respond to potential atrocities and genocide, including but not limited to:  identifying (standing and ex officio) members of the Atrocities Prevention Board; defining the scope of the Atrocity Prevention Board’s mandate and the means by which it will ensure that the full range of options and debate is presented to senior-level decision makers; identifying triggers for the development of atrocity prevention strategies; identifying any specific authority the Atrocities Prevention Board or its members should have with respect to alerting the President to a potential genocide or atrocity;
how the Intelligence Community and other relevant Government agencies can best support the Atrocities Prevention Board’s mission, including but not limited to:  examining the multiplicity of existing early warning assessments in order to recommend how these efforts can be better coordinated and/or consolidated, support the work of the Atrocities Prevention Board, and drive the development of atrocity prevention strategies and policies; examining options for improving intelligence and open source assessments of the potential for genocide and mass atrocities; and examining protocols for safely declassifying and/or sharing intelligence when needed to galvanize regional actors, allies, or relevant institutions to respond to an atrocity or genocide; and
steps toward creating a comprehensive policy framework for preventing mass atrocities, including but not limited to:  conducting an inventory of existing tools and authorities across the Government that can be drawn upon to prevent atrocities; identifying new tools or capabilities that may be required; identifying how we can better support and train our foreign and armed services, development professionals, and build the capacity of key regional allies and partners, in order to be better prepared to prevent and respond to mass atrocities or genocide.
In answering these questions, the interagency review shall consider the recommendations of relevant bipartisan and expert studies, including the recommendations of the bipartisan Genocide Prevention Task Force, co-chaired by former Secretaries Madeleine K. Albright and William Cohen.

I direct the National Security Advisor, through the National Security Staff’s Director for War Crimes and Atrocities, to oversee and direct the interagency review, which shall include representatives from the following:

Office of the Vice President
Department of State
Department of the Treasury
Department of Defense
Department of Justice
Department of Homeland Security
United States Mission to the United Nations
Office of the Director of National Intelligence
Central Intelligence Agency
United States Agency for International Development
Joint Chiefs of Staff
Peace Corps
National Security Agency
Defense Intelligence Agency

Executive departments and agencies shall be responsive to all requests from the National Security Advisor-led interagency review committee for information, analysis, and assistance.

The interagency review shall be completed within 100 days, so that the Atrocities Prevention Board can commence its work within 120 days from the date of this Presidential Study Directive.

BARACK OBAMA

President Obama Signs Proclamation, Creates ‘Atrocities Prevention Board’

By Brittney Hodnik
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, United States – In an effort to curb future human rights violations, President Obama signed a proclamation that will bar human rights violators from entering the United States.  Further, Obama will establish an Atrocities Prevention Board as an early warning system for future human rights violations.

President Obama plans to work proactively with U.S. allies to prevent human rights abuses. (Image courtesy of ThirdAge.com)
President Obama plans to work proactively with U.S. allies to prevent human rights abuses. (Image courtesy of ThirdAge.com)

The Atrocities Prevention Board will be comprised of officials from the White House, the State Department, the Pentagon, and other agencies, according to The New York Times.  The Board will work with U.S. allies in order to prevent atrocities as soon as there is potential for abuse.  According to a fact sheet released by the White House, the new tactics aim to strengthen the United States’ ability to prevent mass atrocities.

In addition to establishing the Atrocities Prevention Board, President Obama issued a proclamation that “explicitly bars entry into the United States of persons who organize or participate in war crimes, crimes against humanity, and serious violations of human rights,” according to the fact sheet distributed by the White House.  While the United States already prevents some human rights violators from entering the country, this new tactic will fill in some of the gaps.

The major reason President Obama wanted to create this board, according to The New York Times, is to avoid a situation where the president only has two options: either intervene militarily or do nothing at all.

This proclamation comes sixty-six years after the Holocaust, and seventeen years after the Rwandan genocide.  President Obama stated, “[T]he United States still lacks a comprehensive policy framework and a corresponding interagency mechanism for preventing a responding to mass atrocities and genocide,” as reported by United Press International (“UPI”).

The new initiative comes in the middle of a worsening situation in Syria, where the government has taken a violent stand against pro-democracy protestors, according to The New York Times.  Additionally, there are worries about ethnic cleansing in Sudan.  As of now, the U.S. is imposing economic sanctions on Syria, but many are calling for harsher punishment.

Although the new initiative may not change how and when Washington addresses issues of genocide, Tom Malinowski, the Washington director at Human Rights Watch, says that “[the new] directives should help to overcome the bureaucratic resistance and indifference that often delays steps that might prevent such catastrophes in the first place,” as reported by ThirdAge.com.

The White House announced that with the new directive, “we will be able to more effectively shame those who are organizing such conduct,” according to UPI.  The United States needs to stand up for humanitarian law and avoid becoming a safe haven for human rights abusers.

The Atrocities Prevention Board will be set up within 120 days from Thursday, August 4.

For more information, please visit:

ThirdAge.com — Human Rights Watch Welcomes Atrocities Initiative — 8 Aug. 2011

UPI.com — Obama Creates Atrocities Prevention Board — 4 Aug. 2011

WhiteHouse.gov — FACT SHEET: President Obama Directs New Steps to Prevent Mass Atrocities and Impose Consequences on Serious Human Rights Violators — 4 Aug. 2011

The New York Times — Obama Takes Steps to Help Avert Atrocities — 3 Aug. 2011

UN Report Illustrates Iraq Human Rights Abuses

By Tyler Yates
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAGHDAD, IRAQ — The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) released a report on Monday that highlighted a fragile plague of human rights abuses in Iraq.

The report details how armed violence has become an everyday part of life for a large number of Iraqis, with minorities (especially members of the LGBT community), women, and children suffering disproportionately.   Torture and other matters of impunity are also rampant throughout the Middle Eastern state.

Iraqis walk through a decimated liquor store after a car bombing (Photo courtesy of CNN).
Iraqis walk through a decimated liquor store after a car bombing (Photo courtesy of CNN).

According to UN and Iraqi government estimates, approximately 3,000 civilians were killed by violence in 2010.  Armed insurgents and terrorist groups were the main culprits behind these attacks.  The majority of the targeted civilians have been religious leaders, journalists, and medical and education professionals.

The report also notes many “silent” human rights violations.  “Widespread poverty, economic stagnation, lack of opportunities, environmental degradation, and an absence of basic services…affect large sectors of the population,” it says.

Political rights, such as the freedom of expression and the right to assembly, have slightly improved from previous years, but still have many challenges.

There are significant problems with Iraq’s system of law, especially with respect to due process and fair trial rights.  Defendants are frequently unaware of the charges being brought against them, have no access to lawyers, and are held longer than legally allowed without trial.  The condition of detention centers has improved, but there is still a large overemphasis on using confessions to convict, which has led to an ideal environment for torture.

Women’s rights issues continue to hover on the human rights radar with instances of domestic violence, trafficking, genital mutilation, and honor crimes continually being reported.

The battle to end impunity for those who commit human rights abuses “remains a serious challenge in Iraq.  Perpetrators of crimes committed over many years continue to be unaccountable.”

The report concludes by giving some suggestions for fixing the current abuses, including placing a limit on the arresting powers of the police, putting a moratorium on the death penalty, and creating and enforcing laws designed to protect individual rights.

The Iraqi response to the current state of its human rights record has been mainly aimed at the UN, and what they call its “limited role” in the involvement of the difficult nation-building process that is currently on going in Iraq.  The hope is that a stronger presence in Iraq by the UN would lead to greater successes in nation building, specifically in the area of human rights.

Iraq has been closely scrutinized for its human rights record for years.  In June, the UN special representative to Iraq urged, yet so far unsuccessfully,  the government to ratify the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.  It appears that while there have been many advances made towards recognizing human rights violations the government is still facing many obstacles.

For more information, please see:

AFP — UN calls situation in Iraq ‘fragile’ — 8 Aug 2011

Aswat al-Iraq — UN should play greater role — 8 Aug 2011

CNN — Significant human rights issues noted in U.N. report on Iraq — 8 Aug 2011

Examiner — UN: Iraq plagued with numerous human rights violations — 8 Aug 2011

Jurist — Iraq human rights abuses continue: UN report — 8 Aug 2011

United Nations — Human rights in Iraq remain fragile amid armed violence, torture, and impunity — 8 Aug 2011

Four Guatemalan Soldiers Guilty of Massacre Sentenced to 6,060 Years in Prison

by Emilee Gaebler
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala – Four soldiers, who committed a massacre in 1982 in the town of Las Dos Erres, have recently been sentenced.  A Guatemalan court found all four guilty and each man was sentenced to 30 years in prison for each victim murdered.  The court placed the number of victims at 201 and additionally sentenced each of the four men to 30 years in prison, for crimes against humanity, sending each man to jail for 6,060 years. 

The four soldiers at the sentencing.  (Photo Courtesy of BBC News)
The four soldiers at the sentencing. (Photo Courtesy of BBC News)

The four ex-soldiers, Manuel Pop Sun, Reyes Collin Gualip, Daniel Martínez Hernandez and Carlos Carías, were all members of an elite military force named the Kaibiles.  The men entered the town of Las Dos Erres in December of 1982 and over three days they questioned and killed men, women, children and the elderly of the village.  Victim’s bodies show evidence of torture and many of the women were raped.  Bodies of some victims were tossed down a village well.

The Kaibiles forces at the time were working to maintain the military rule of General Efraín Ríos Montt, in the face of many insurgent factions.  The village of Los Dos Erres was suspected of supporting and harboring left-wing guerillas.  Despite the court placing the number of victims at 201, local survivors and family members of victims claim that the true number killed is over 250. 

Back in 2001, then-President Alfonso Portillo acknowledged the government’s role in the massacre and awarded the families of victims a fund of $1.8 million.  Then in 2003, the Guatemalan government created the National Compensation Program (PNR) as a response to the 200,000 civilian deaths that occurred during the 36 year internal conflict.  Budget for the PNR stands at $40 million and the administration is working to resolve more than 98,000 complaints that have been filed.

The sentencing handed down on 3 August was the first effort by Guatemalan authorities to do more than set up monetary funding and to actually hold those responsible accountable for their actions.  Human rights groups applaud the effort as a solid first step but indicate that further action is needed. 

Sebastian Elgueta, a researcher for Amnesty International’s Central America division stated, “Although this ruling is a step forward in the fight against impunity in Guatemala, soldiers did not commit these crimes on their own initiative, and the authorities must bring to justice those all the way up the chain of command who planned and ordered the crimes.”

 

For more information, please see;

The Guatemala Times – Amnesty International: Guatemalan Former Soldiers Sentenced to 6,060 Years for Massacre – 4 August 2011

Jurist Legal News and Research – Guatemala Court Sentences Ex-Soldiers to Over 6,000 Years in Prison – 3 August 2011

Los Angeles Times – Human Rights Advocates Applaud Sentences in Guatemala Massacre – 3 August 2011

BBC News – Guatemala Dos Erres Massacre Soldiers Sentenced – 2 August 2011

Reuters News – Guatemala Sentences Four in Landmark Civil War Trial – 2 August 2011

Syria Defies U.N. Condemnation, Continues Attacks on Civilians

By Zach Waksman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DEIR EL-ZOUR, Syria –The Syrian government launched new attacks against civilians today, continuing a siege on the eastern city of Deir el-Zour that had been ongoing for over a week.  At least 52 people have been killed so far.  The attacks come just days after the United Nations condemned the Middle Eastern country’s shocking strikes against protesters in Hama.

The Hama campaign, which killed an estimated 76 people last Sunday, drew international scorn.  Since then, anti-government protests have begun in coincidence with the beginning of Ramadan, a holy month on the Muslim calendar.  During this time, in an effort to prevent such sentiment from growing into a revolution, the government has placed Hama and Deir el-Zour under siege.  Today’s attack is an escalation of the siege; power and phone lines have reportedly been cut.

According to one activist in Deir el Zour who spoke anonymously to the Washington Post, “Humanitarian conditions in the city are very bad because it has been under siege for nine days.  There is lack of medicine, baby formula, food and gasoline. The city is totally paralyzed.”

This action took place despite widespread disapproval from multiple sources.  Wednesday, the United Nations Security Council issued a unanimous presidential statement that “condemned the widespread violations of human rights and the use of force against civilians by the Syrian authorities.”  Today, the Arab League joined the many who spoke out against the actions taken by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, calling for a national dialogue.

Human Rights Watch, an independent organization that observed the situation, considered the resolution a sign of isolation by the Syrian government.  “The Security Council’s unanimous statement shows that Syria can no longer count on even its close allies to support its crackdown on peaceful protesters,” said Peggy Hicks, the organization’s global advocacy director. “President Bashar Assad needs to listen to the council’s strong message, and end the attacks by his security forces in Hama and across the country.”

Yesterday, Assad spoke to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon by telephone.  Ban was concerned about the mounting violence and civilian casualties.  During the talk, he called for an immediate end to the attacks.

In response to the condemnation, Assad defended the sieges by saying that the country was making progress and that the government had an obligation to deal with dissenters.  “Syria is on the path to reforms,” he said, quoted by state news agency SANA. “To deal with outlaws who cut off roads, seal towns and terrorise residents is a duty of the state which must defend security and protect the lives of civilians.”  As an example of such “outlaws,” SANA reported that earlier this morning, an armed terrorist group ambushed and fired on a military convoy.  An officer and two soldiers were “martyred” as a result.

The next message for Assad will be delivered Tuesday, when Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu will meet with Syrian officials to discuss his present concerns.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera — Syrian army launches fresh assaults — 7 August 2011

SANA — Officer, Two Soldiers Martyred in Ambush Set by Armed Terrorist Group East of al-Rastan — 7 August 2011

Washington Post — Syrian troops intensify crackdown on eastern city, activists say at least 52 killed — 7 August 2011

CNN — Ban calls for an end to use of force on Syrian civilians — 6 August 2011

Human Rights Watch — UN: Syria Should Heed Council’s Call to End Attacks — 4 August 2011

Impunity Watch — Syrian death toll sparks condemnation and foretells future violence — 2 August 2011

GCR2P Welcomes the US Government’s Announcement on Mass Atrocity Prevention

Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
4 Aug 2011

The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect welcomes today’s announcement by the White House of a presidential directive on preventing atrocities. The decision of the Obama Administration to establish an inter-agency Atrocity Prevention Board is an important step that reflects the commitment of the government and the people of the United States to strengthen capacities to halt genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and ethnic cleansing. This decision is an important step in putting the responsibility to protect into practice and moving “never again” from rhetoric to reality.

“The Global Centre applauds the directive of President Obama in establishing this board. We see its establishment as crucial in advancing the Responsibility to Protect agenda internationally, and in making the promise of ‘Never Again’ a reality. In a world where innocent civilians continue to be at risk of mass atrocity crimes, we believe that this decision will play an important role in preventing another Rwanda, Cambodia or Srebrenica,” said Simon Adams, Executive Director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect.

The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect was created in February 2007 to catalyze action to move the 2005 World Summit agreement on the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity from principle into practice. See website: www.globalr2p.org/

Handing Qaddafi a Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free Card

Originally published in the International Herald Tribune
By Richard Dicker, 1 Aug 2011
When the United Nations Security Council unanimously referred the situation in Libya to the International Criminal Court prosecutor on Feb. 26, it made clear that impunity for crimes against humanity threatens international peace and security. The referral sent a strong message that systematic attacks with deadly force against peaceful protesters have criminal consequences.
Now, the governments that took the lead in the 15-to-0 Security Council vote — Britain, France and the United States — seem to be negotiating a deal that, if it goes through, would short-circuit justice by sidelining the court’s proceedings for victims in Libya.
Britain’s foreign secretary, William Hague, said recently that it was important for Muammar el Qaddafi, the Libyan leader, to relinquish all power, but that after that: “What happens to Qaddafi is ultimately a question for the Libyans.” This turnabout is enough to set even the nimblest diplomatic head spinning.
After setting the wheels of justice in motion, all Security Council members — and these three countries in particular — should be reaffirming the message that impunity is no longer an option, instead of proffering a get out of jail free card to end a military stalemate. Amnesty for mass atrocities, whether explicit or de facto, has no legal validity internationally.
Fortunately, we have moved past the point where governments can offer immunity to people implicated in serious international crimes. Indeed, the Security Council’s unanimous referral of the situation in Libya to the International Criminal Court reflects its choice to hold international criminals accountable, including senior officials.
On June 27, three judges at the I.C.C. issued arrest warrants for Qaddafi, his son Seif al-Islam Qaddafi, and Libya’s intelligence chief, Abdullah Senussi. They are wanted on charges of crimes against humanity for their roles in attacks on civilians, including peaceful demonstrators, in Tripoli, Benghazi, Misurata, and other Libyan cities and towns.
These warrants were an important step toward providing justice for the victims of the serious crimes in Libya.
Now that there is an independent international judicial process in place the process should be allowed to play out. Moreover, the I.C.C. prosecutor should apply the law impartially and investigate alleged crimes by the Libyan rebels as well as any committed by NATO forces. It is simply too late to turn back the clock.
An offer of amnesty to an accused sitting head of state can make the situation a lot worse by sending a signal that there will be no cost for slaughtering as many people as possible in the effort to cling to power. If more brutality works, the leader is home free. If it doesn’t keep him in power, there’s no penalty for having tried. This is an awful message to abusive leaders around the world — if they hang on long enough, tiring out the opposition forces, all will be forgiven.
While Qaddafi cannot be granted a formal amnesty for serious crimes committed in Libya, diplomats may be thinking of using a possible escape hatch contained in the I.C.C.’s treaty. Under Article 16 of the I.C.C. Statute, the Security Council may, citing the needs of international peace and security, defer the proceedings against Qaddafi for 12 months. This truly unfortunate provision authorizes political interference in a judicial proceeding, and it should be used only in exceptional circumstances.
Since a suspension under Article 16 is limited to a renewable 12-month duration, if the Security Council granted a deferral there would be enormous pressure to renew it after a year and then again at the expiration of each succeeding year. This would spawn the ugly optic of Security Council members voting each year for continued immunity for Qaddafi.
Of course, a deferral of an I.C.C. investigation also risks setting a dangerous precedent for accused senior officials from other countries. By effectively bartering away accountability for the most serious crimes under international law, the Council would be encouraging all those alleged to be responsible for major atrocities to negotiate, as Qaddafi is now attempting to do, to void the rule of law. Indeed, a deferral for Qaddafi may lead other accused war criminals such as President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan to renew his claim to suspend the I.C.C. warrant against him for crimes committed in Darfur.
In addition to renouncing judicial principle and creating a troubling precedent, a plan that gives Qaddafi a comfortable retirement (inside or outside of Libya) is short-sighted. Qaddafi, who holds no official government post and exercises enormous power through his presence, would remain a destabilizing figure, and the Libyan people would probably not feel free from fear and intimidation. Moreover, effectively amnestying the top leaders would also make it difficult, if not impossible, to prosecute anyone else in the regime for crimes committed there over 40 years of Qaddafi’s rule.
In the short-term, it is easy to understand the temptation to forego justice in an effort to end an armed conflict. But instead of putting a conflict to rest, a de-facto amnesty that grants immunity for crimes against humanity may just spur another cycle of grave abuses while failing to bring peace.
Richard Dicker is the international justice director at Human Rights Watch.

Pakistan Forces ‘Disappear’ Political Activists

By: Jessica Ties
Impunity Watch, Asia

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistani security forces are holding and torturing political activists in the Pakistani province of Balochistan in an attempt to derail the separatist movement in that region.

Relative of those who have gone missing from Baluchistan protest in Islamabad (Photo Courtesy of World Wires).
Relative of those who have gone missing from Baluchistan protest in Islamabad (Photo Courtesy of World Wires).

Human Rights Watch Asia Director Brad Adams has stated that “Pakistan’s security forces are engaging in an abusive free-for-all in Balochistan as Baloch nationalists and suspected militants ‘disappear’ and in many cases are executed…the national government has done little to end the carnage in Balochistan, calling into question its willingness or ability to control the military and intelligence agencies.”

The Pakistani government has cracked down on the separatist movement in Balochistan since 2004 when rebels emerged to demand autonomy and a share of the profits from the region’s oil, gas and mineral sources. As a result, those who “disappear” are generally Baloch nationalist activists or suspected Baloch militants.

In a 132 page report by Human Rights Watch, “We Can Torture, Kill, or Keep You for Years: Enforced disappearances by Pakistan Security Forces in Balochistan”, it is stated that the government is responsible for most of the abductions and detainees are rarely, if ever, charged with any crime.

The report is comprised of over 100 interviews with former detainees, witnesses, lawyers, family of the “disappeared” and local human rights activists.

While the exact number of enforced disappearances is unknown Human Rights Watch reported that in 2008 Interior Minister Rehman Malik said at least 1,000 victims had disappeared in Balochistan. There is increasing evidence to suggest that many of those who have disappeared have suffered extrajudicial execution while in the custody of the government.

One former detainee, Mazhar Khan, described his abduction from a friend’s home in 2009 when armed men stormed into the home blindfolded both men and drove them to separate locations. Khan was questioned about the Baloch party and then held alone in a dark room for two months before being released on the side of a road. The fate of his friend is still unknown.

Another former detainee, Bashir Azeem, was detained on three separate occasions between 2005 and 2009.  He states that on one occasion his abductors “pushed pins under my nails, put a chair on my back and sat on top of it, and put me for 48 hours into a room where I could only stand but not move. When they took me out, my legs were so swollen that I collapsed on the floor and fainted.”

In some cases witnesses alleged that the detainers wore the same uniformed donned by members of various Pakistani intelligence agencies.  The arresting agency never identified themselves or informed the detainee of the basis for their arrest. Often, the abductors would beat, handcuff, blindfold and then drag the detainee into a vehicle before taking them to an unknown location. In each and every case investigated by Human Rights Watch, detainees who were released and their relatives reported torture and ill treatment while detained. Torture often included beatings with sticks or leather belts, hanging detainees upside down and prolonged sleep and food deprivation.

For more information, please see:

AFP – Pakistan Accused Over Separatists who ‘Disappear’ – 28 July 2011

BBC News – Pakistan Torturing Balochistan Activists, Report Says – 28 July 2011

Human Rights watch – Pakistan: Security Forces ‘Disappear’ Opponents in Balochistan – 28 July 2011

MSNBC – HRW: ‘Disappeared’ Still Haunt Pakistani Province – 28 July 2011

Journalist’s murder in the Dominican Republic draws criticisms regarding lack of protections

By Brianne Yantz
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic – Earlier this week, Jose Agustin Silvestre, a Dominican TV reporter, was kidnapped from his home in La Romana and found murdered a few hours later.

Slain journalist Jose Silvestre. (Photo Courtesy of Dominican Today)
Slain journalist Jose Silvestre. (Photo Courtesy of Dominican Today)

Several news reports indicate that four men grabbed Silvestre, beat him, and drove away with him in an SUV on Tuesday morning. He was discovered with several gun shot wounds to the head and abdomen.

Silvestre was the twentieth journalist killed in Latin America this year, and in the Dominican Republic alone more than 30 journalists and press workers have been attacked since January.

Silvestre was the host of “La Voz de la Verdad,” or “The Voice of Truth,” on Cana TV and published a bi-weekly magazine of the same name. He was well known for making controversial claims regarding drug trafficking in his hometown of La Romana. He had long been the target of death threats and just last week there had been a failed attempt on his life.

According to Dominican Today, Silvestre was to appear in a San Pedro court on the day of his murder to face libel charges filed by La Romana prosecutor Jose Polanco. Silvestre had accused Polanco of favoritism and corruption, and had also compared him to an alleged drug baron.

The murder of Silvestre brings concern for journalists’ freedoms regarding speech and expression. Journalism.co.uk reported that the Inter-American Press Society had recently highlighted the weakened press freedom standards in the Dominican Republic, which has been in steady decline over the past decade.

In an interview with Journalism.co.uk, Benoit Hervieu, head of the Americas desk at Reporters Without Borders, explained that the Dominican Republic was “the hidden face of drug trafficking” in Latin America and that those journalists who reported on the nation’s rampant political corruption or widespread organized crime often received death threats.

Irina Bokova, the Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, was quick to condemn the Dominican Republic for Silvestre’s killing. She also insisted “a full investigation [needed to] be carried out into [his] case for journalists to be able to continue exercising their basic human right of freedom of expression.”

Susan Lee, the Americas Director at Amnesty International, expressed similar sentiments, arguing that those responsible must be brought to justice. She further called for better protections for journalists and for full disclosure regarding Silvestre’s death. “If it emerges that his death could have been prevented through better protection, the authorities must make that information public,” Lee stated.

Lee was adamant in her demand to protect those journalists who may be at risk. She argued such protections were vital because “journalists must be able to carry out their jobs without fearing for their lives.”

For more information, please see:

UN News Centre – Murder of Dominican journalist sparks condemnation from UNESCO – August 5, 2011

Dominican Today – Slain journalist Jose Silvestre buried amid cries for justice – August 4, 2011

Amnesty International – DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: JOURNALIST’S KILLING MUST SPUR BETTER PROTECTION – August 3, 2011

Journalism.co.uk – Twentieth journalist killed in Latin America this year – August 3, 2011

Dominican Today – Gunmen kill journalist who linked Dominican Prosecutor to drugs – August 2, 2011