International Push for Transitional Libya to Respect Human Rights

International Push for Transitional Libya to Respect Human Rights

By Tyler Yates
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

TRIPOLI, Libya — In the last few days, the world has watched closely as Libya finally began to shake off the last remnants of its Qaddafi problem, and began a new chapter in its history.  After six months of intense fighting, the Libyan opposition took control of large parts of Tripoli, Libya’s capital and Qaddafi’s base of operations.

The National Transitional Council (TNC), the recognized face of the opposition, now has the job of picking up the pieces of Libya, and completing its goal for a “free and dignified” Libya.

The TNC derives its legitimacy from the decisions of local councils set up by the people of the cities and villages that have already been “liberated” by the rebel opposition.  So far 46 countries have recognized the council as a legitimate governing body, with the notable exceptions being the People’s Republic of China and Russia, both of which had business dealings with Qaddafi’s regime.

Numerous international actors, including foreign governments and human rights organizations, are urging the TNC to take the steps necessary to prevent lawlessness and reprisals from Qaddafi supporters.

“The National Transitional Council has set a good tone for the transition with forceful statements about justice and human rights,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director of Human Rights Watch.  “But concrete steps are urgently needed to avoid revenge, protect vulnerable people and help promote the rule of law.”

So far the TNC is working to prevent revenge killings, but some have already occurred.  Human Rights Watch (HRW) has asked the council to step up the security for pro-Qaddafi Libyans, including those who were displaced from rebel territories and those who are accused of serving as mercenaries for Qaddafi.

Despite help from NATO, the job of trying the criminals of the revolution is being laid at the feet of the TNC. State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland notes that while Qaddafi and his followers must face justice for all the “blood on their hands” such accountability needs to be “Libyan-led.”

HRW has also asked the TNC to protect all institutions that have become symbols of Qaddafi’s oppression such as the prisons, police stations, courthouses, and other government buildings.  Both the TNC and interested international onlookers hope to avoid what happened in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein, when many government buildings were looted and damaged and documents were destroyed.

In response to its new duty, the TNC has issued a call for a unified Libya.  They do not want any more civilian deaths in what has already been a deadly conflict.

Further, the TNC has promised to hold elections next April to choose a new permanent government for Libya.  This announcement, made by Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the TNC chairman, comes as world leaders prepare to meet to discuss Libya’s future.  “We want a democratic government and a just constitution,” Jalil said.

Jalil and other members of the TNC have said that they will not seek office in the elections, but that they will still play a central role in the country’s immediate future.

As Amnesty International has said these are “momentous, but extremely dangerous” days for the people of Libya, but it is hoped by many that cool head will prevail and allow for a peaceful, human transition.

For more information, please see:

Amnesty — Both Sides in Libya conflict must protect detainees from torture — 25 Aug 2011

CNN — Group urges Libyans to respect human rights in transition — 24 Aug 2011

Huffington Post — Libya: a Revolution’s Endgame —  24 Aug 2011

New York Times — Sarkozy Assures Libyan Rebel Leader — 24 Aug 2011

The Telegraph — Libya:  leaders promise elections next year — 24 Aug 2011

Voice of America — US Human Rights Groups Urge No Retribution in Libya — 23 Aug 2011

Chinese government closing schools that serve the children of migrant workers

By: Jessica Ties
Impunity Watch, Asia

BEIJING, China – The Chinese government has shut down 24 schools that had served the children of migrant workers in Beijing and has resulted in 40, 000 students being forced to scramble for new placements just two weeks before the new semester was scheduled to begin.

Two children play on the debris of their demolished school in Beijing (Photo Courtesy of The Wall Street Journal).
Two children play on the debris of their demolished school in Beijing (Photo Courtesy of The Wall Street Journal).

The 24 schools affected were located  in the Daxing, Chaoyang and Haidian districts of Beijing which have long been home to migrant workers.

While the district government closure orders stated that the school closures were due to”…illegal construction, illegal operation, and safety concerns”, many are skeptical of the government’s motives.

Some of the skeptics suggest that school closures were caused by property developers who are anxious to continue expanding Beijing, while others believe that the school closures are a ploy to force migrant workers to leave the city. Fueling the latter suspicion is the memory of plans made last year by eastern Beijing’s Chaoyang district, in which 3,900 students were affected by the school closures, to ask approximately one million migrant workers to leave the city to alleviate strain on “social security and pollution.”

Under China’s residence permit system, the hokou system, the government designates each citizen based on their place of residence and determines which social services individuals are eligible to receive. Under the hokou system migrant workers living in Beijing, which numbered approximately five million, generally remained registered in their hometown making their children ineligible to register in Beijing schools. As a result, the children of migrant workers are only permitted to attend private schools that are often unapproved and unregistered.

In the Haidian district of Beijing, New Hope School was demolished on August 10 but official announcements were not made until eight days following the demolition. New Hope School had approximately 1,000 students ranging from kindergarten to ninth grade, all of which were forced to find placement elsewhere.

Following the  school closure’s, officials assured students and their parents that they would find placements for the children who were displaced. Some individuals; however, do not believe that the government will maintain it’s promise.

Geoffrey Crothall, the director of communications for China Labour Bulletin expressed his skepticism of the government’s promise by stating that, “…they set the threshold for school placement qualifications so high that the vast majority of migrant families cannot meet the requirements.” This concern is exemplified by the fact that only 70 students out of the 1,000 who were displaced from New Hope School have been able to gather the required documentation to have their children placed in the Beijing school system.

The requirements are so difficult to meet that of the approximately 1,000 students displaced from the New Hope School, only 70 have been able to gather the required documents to have their children placed in the school system.

For more information, please see:

The Wall Street Journal  –  Will School Closures Prompt Migrants to flee? – 19 August 2011

MSNBC – In Beijing, 40,000 Students Stranded – 18 August 2011

Radio Free Asia – Anger Over Migrant School Closures– 18 August 2011

Reuters – Closure of Migrant Children Schools in China Sparks Anguish – 18 August 2011

BBC – Migrant Schools Closed in Chinese Capital -17 August 2011

Extradition hearing set for Croatian woman living in Kentucky

By Greg Hall
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

Azra Basic charged and arrested for war crimes committed nearly two decades ago. (Photo courtesy of the New York Times)

LEXINGTON, Kentucky, United States of America – An extradition hearing has been set for a Croatian woman, Azra Basic, who had been living in the United States but was charged with murder and torture relating to the collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.  Basic has become a naturalized citizen of the United States.  Basic’s attorney, Patrick Nash, has questioned the motion for Basic’s extradition and seeks to dismiss the case.

“I think we’ve got a really valid argument on the dismissal motion, using a treaty of this age in the way they’re using it is fraught with problems,” Nash said, further noting that the statute of limitations has expired on the alleged crimes.

Assistant U.S. Attorney James Arehart said in a motion that it is up to the executive branch of the federal government to determine if a treaty is in effect, even though the country has changed names and forms of government.  “The political ideologies of the predecessor and successor states are irrelevant,” Arehart wrote.

Basic is accused of torturing and killing ethnic Serbs at prison camps from April to June in 1992.

Basic had been living in Powell County in Kentucky for several years and working in a nursing home before her arrest in March of this year.  Friends of Basic refer to her as a “big-hearted” person, who was so scarred by her experience in Croatia that she could not watch war movies and cut all ties with her homeland.  They defend her by saying that she was in a place of war and forced to make impossible moral choices.

Now after almost twenty years, Basic faces extradition back to Bosnia.  If convicted of the alleged crimes, Basic could spend the rest of her life in prison.  Basic states that she is not pleased with the current situation but understands the legal process takes time.

People that know Basic and her story state that she was just acting as a human being.  Others are calling for justice for her alleged atrocities.

The United Nations estimates that nearly 104,000 people died in the ethnic strife.  The conflict was the most brutal since World War II.

For more information please see: – Hearing set for woman accused of Bosnia war crimes – 22 August 2011

The Republic – Federal Court hearing set for woman accused of Bosnia war crimes in Yugoslav wars – 22 August 2011

New York Times – Dark past in Balkan war intrudes on new life – 3 April 2011


By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip–Fresh strokes in the ongoing conflict between the Israel and Palestine has caught the attention and concern of the international community. With the current volatile situations in other countries of the region taking center stage, such as Libya and Syria, the timeless conflict has pushed its way back to the headlines after drifting somewhat into the background.

An Israeli tank is positioned near the southern Israel kilbuttz of Nahal Oz.(Photo Courtesy of CNN)
An Israeli tank is positioned near the southern Israel kilbuttz of Nahal Oz.(Photo Courtesy of CNN)

A third Israeli raid crushed a military training camp in the Gaza Strip after rockets fired from Gaza fell in southern Israeli on the fourth day of a continued cross-border conflict that has claimed the lives of 30 individuals.

Al-Jazeera’s Safwat Kahlout reported that at least nine Palestinians, including a brutally injured 13-year-old boy, were wounded on Sunday from Israeli drones and F-16 fighter jet attacks. The Israeli attacked targeted a Hamas police station and a military training camp belonging to the al-Ahrar movement.

On 20 August 2011, Hamas announced that it was formally ending its two-year truce with Israel. This was the first time in months that Hamas had openly declared its involvement in rocket attacks against Israel, since observing the de facto truce since the end of a three-week offensive in January 2009.

Al-Jazeera correspondent Cal Perry shared these sentiments concerning Hamas involvement.

“Hamas has called off the ceasefire that was in place with Israel, largely due to the violence and the continued strikes that we see from Israeli aircraft, killing at least 15 Palestinians. They do blame Hamas whenever anything originated from Gaza, be it a rocket attack from the south-we have seen 70 of those since Thursday-or an attack like we saw from southern Israel.”

Israeli army officials reported that at least 12 rockets fired from Gaza fell in southern Israel and hit an empty school, not creating any serious injuries. Israeli ministers held an emergency meeting on Saturday night to discuss the violence after an Israeli man was killed that evening by a rocket strike in the southern city of Beersheba. According to the AFP news agency, the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) has claimed responsibility for the Beersheba attack. PRC is a faction in Gaza that is traditionally loyal to Hamas.

Israeli aerial attacks on Gaza have claimed the lives of at least 15 people, including gunmen and five civilians, three of them children. Israeli officials blamed the attack on Palestinian fighters who had entered southern Israel from Gaza through Egypt.

The Arab League implored the international community to “pressure the Israeli occupation authorities to put an immediate end to this assault,” after holding emergency talks in Cairo, Egypt on Sunday.

“The Arab League calls on the UNSC to assume its responsibilities and take quick steps to halt this brutal assault.”

As recently as 23 August, Palestinian fighters in the Gaza Strip fired rockets into southern Israel overnight, according to Israeli police. Hamas officials said that Palestinian factions and Israel had agreed to observe a ceasefire after three days of border skirmishes. Ghazi Hamad, Hamas’ deputy foreign minister, has confirmed the reported ceasefire to Al-Jazeera, detailing that both sides reached an informal ceasefire through Egyptian and UN mediation.

“We have temporarily stopped firing rockets at Israel according to the national consensus.”

For more information, please see:

BBC-Israel and Hamas agree Gaza truce, reports say-23 August 2011

Al-Jazeera-Hamas says Gaza ceasefire agreed-22 August 2011

Ahram-Gaza militants agree to halt fire on Israel-22 August 2011

NYT-Efforts Seek to Restore Calm Between Israel and Hamas-21 August 2011

CNN-Rockets kill 1 in Israel; Hamas military wing ends truce-20 August 2011

Assad Stands Firm Amid Pressure to Step Down, New Investigation of Violence

By Zach Waksman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad took to the airwaves Sunday, using an interview on national television to say that he would not bow to urges to resign from Western countries.  And as crackdowns continued against protesters in Syria, the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) today passed a resolution calling for an inquiry into Assad’s actions, which may include crimes against humanity.

President Bashar al-Assad said that he would not step down from office during Sundays interview on Syrian television. (Photo courtesy of SANA)
President Bashar al-Assad said that he would not step down from office during Sunday's interview on Syrian television. (Photo courtesy of SANA)

“The solution in Syria is political, but when there are security cases, they must be confronted through the competent institutions…” Assad explained.  “We have chosen the political solution since the very first days of events; otherwise, we wouldn’t have headed toward reform as we announced a package of reforms in less than a week after the events began…the political solution can’t succeed without preserving security.”

But Monday, crackdowns continued in Homs, the country’s third largest city, where a UN fact-finding team was visiting in order “to assess such needs as food and medicine.”  But while they were there, Syrian security forces fired at a crowd of people who had gathered to welcome the team.  The attack violated promises to the UN, including a personal assurance by Assad to Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.  Today, Al Jazeera reported that 55 tanks had raided the town of al-Khowria in Deir ez-Zor.  They were launching shells at the neighborhood while two helicopters deployed troops.

The UN resolution comes mere days after the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights released a report detailing actions taken by security forces against activists.  Among other tactics, the security forces shot to kill unarmed protesters, including women and children.  The UN estimates that more than 2,200 Syrians, most of them unarmed dissidents, have died since the protests began in mid-March.  The 46-member HRC approved the resolution with 33 votes in favor, 4 votes against, and 9 abstentions.  China and Russia were two of the four countries who opposed, both saying that it was an unnecessary intervention.

Assad seemed unconcerned about the new pressure.  During Sunday’s interview, he promised elections and a review of the country’s constitution.  He also considered Western insistence that he step down “meaningless.”  “This cannot be said to a president who was elected by the people,” he said, referring to his victory in a 2007 referendum with 97.6% of the vote. Assad was the only candidate.

He also appeared confident that his country would emerge from its present situation stronger than before the violence began in March.  “Syria will not fall unless there will be a crisis that will finish Syria and this can’t happen,” Assad said. “I am reassured that the Syrians will come out of this crisis. I am not worried, and I want to reassure everybody.”

But the reality seems quite different, as protests continue and local and international opinion continues to move against Assad.  Though some activists liken their situation to that of the recently fallen Libya, they do not hold any cities, and the military forces seem to be holding strong.  It is, however clear, that Assad’s continued efforts are repression are failing.

According to Nadim Shehadi, a scholar at the London-based Chatham House, a research organization in London. Assad “needs to understand first that it’s over. He probably does but hasn’t shown it. Then he needs an exit strategy.”

Until Assad acknowledges this, the cycle of protests, crackdowns and calls for him to step down may not end for a long time.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera — UN orders probe into Syria rights violations — 23 August 2011

BBC — Syria unrest: UN rights body to investigate crackdown — 23 August 2011

SANA — President al-Assad: The Solution in Syria is Political…We Made Security Achievements…There will be Elections and Review of Constitution — 23 August 2011

United Nations — Top UN human rights body orders inquiry into Syrian violence — 23 August 2011

United Nations Office at Geneva — Human rights council decides to dispatch a commission of inquiry to investigate human rights violations in the Syrian Arab Republic — 23 August 2011

New York Times — Dissent in Syria Emerges as Front Line of Arab Uprisings — 22 August 2011

New York Times — Assad Says He Rejects West’s Calls to Resign — 21 August 2011