ICTR Appeals Chamber Acquits Two Former Ministers; Convicts Two Other

ICTR Appeals Chamber Acquits Two Former Ministers; Convicts Two Other

By Daniel M. Austin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

ARUSHA, Tanzania – On Friday, September 30,  Casimir Bizimungu, the former Rwandan health minister, and Jerome-Clement Bicamumpaka, the former foreign affairs minister in the Rwandan government during the 1994 genocide, had their convictions thrown out by the Appeals Chamber for the International War Crimes Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). The Appeals Chamber found a lack of evidence to support the convictions. Along with ruling on the convictions of these two ministers, the Appeals Chamber also upheld the sentences of two other ministers, Mr. Prosper Mugiraneza, the former civil service minister, and Mr. Justin Mugenzi, the former trade minister.  Up to this date, Mr. Bizimungu and Mr. Bicamumpaka are the highest ranking officials to have their convictions overturned in the International War Crimes Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). Both men were quickly released after their convictions were thrown out.

Human remains from the 1994 Rwandan genocide.(Photo courtesy of InMyHair).
Human remains from the 1994 Rwandan genocide.(Photo courtesy of InMyHair).

The four ex-ministers had been jointly charged with a variety of crimes related to the 1994 slaughter of nearly 1,000,000 people. The crimes included genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, complicity in genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide, crimes against humanity (murder, extermination and rape) and war crimes. In the present case, all four ministers had been accused of calling for the killing of Tutsis during radio announcements and in public meetings that were held across Rwanda.

Speaking after the verdict had been announced, Mr. Bizimungu told Hirondelle news agency, “I am very happy and thank all the people who contributed to this success, I will mention first my lawyers, then my family, my friends, and I thank God.” Additionally, Mr. Bizimungu’s lead defense counsel expressed satisfaction, proclaiming “There is justice, there is justice. I am very happy.”

The two ministers who had their convictions upheld, Mr. Mugiraneza and Mr. Mugenzi were each sentenced to 25 years in prison. The trial for all four ministers took place from 2003 to 2008. Today’s decision comes nearly eight years after that trial began. Moreover, all of the ministers have been in ICTR custody for nearly  twelve years. According to the tribunal, Mr. Bizimungu was arrested in Kenya in February 1999, while the other three former ministers were all arrested in Cameroon in April 1999.

Commenting on the conviction of Mr. Mugenzi and Mr. Mugiraneza, ICTR Prosecutor Hassan Bubacar Jallow claimed ‘’We clearly welcome the conviction of the two, Mugenzi and Mugiraneza, for the crimes of conspiracy to commit genocide and also direct and public incitement to commit genocide.” However, when asked about whether the Prosecution would appeal the two acquittals, Mr. Jallow said he could not give an evaluation “until we receive the full judgment, look at it and consider whether there is any reason to proceed with the appeal”.

The International War Crimes Tribunal for Rwanda is based in the town of Arusha, Tanzania. The tribunal was formed in 1994 to try the alleged perpetrators of the genocide which killed nearly 800,000 people who were predominantly Tutsis.

For more information, please see:

BBC — Rwanda genocide court jails former ministers — 30 September 2011

Reuters — U.N. court acquits two ex Rwandan ministers of genocide –30 September 2011


Mexican Villagers Suing Former President Zedillo in U.S. for Crimes Against Humanity

By Brittney Hodnik
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, United States – Ten anonymous plaintiffs are suing former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo for alleged crimes against humanity.  Zedillo, an international studies professor at Yale University, says these accusations are slanderous.  Zedillo supposedly played a large part in a 1997 massacre of 45 people in a small Mexican village.

Former President Ernesto Zedillo will be tried in the United States for international human rights violations.  (Image courtesy of Asia One News)
Former President Ernesto Zedillo will be tried in the United States for international human rights violations. (Image courtesy of Asia One News)

Ernesto Zedillo was the president of Mexico from 1994 to 2000.  According to CNN, Zedillo was the last of a 71-year string of presidents who belonged to the Institutional Revolutionary Party.  The party is still very popular throughout Mexico. 

On December 22, 1997, in Acteal, Chiapas, a group of paramilitaries descended upon the town armed with assault rifles.  The paramilitaries, who were trained and armed by the Mexican military, killed 45 men, women, and children as young as two months old.

Just three years earlier, a group of Zapatista rebels had sparked an uprising demanding more rights.  The paramilitaries (along with Mexican military figures, supposedly) were sent to kill Roman Catholics who sympathized with the Zapatista rebels, according to The Washington Post.  The current lawsuit further questions Zedillo’s attempts to cover up of the massacre by telling the media that the deaths were due to local infighting, reported CNN.

The ten unnamed plaintiffs filed the lawsuit in a U.S. District Court in Hartford, Connecticut, where Zedillo now lives.  The lawsuit can proceed in the United States even though the killings happened in Mexico.  Under the Alien Tort Claims Act and Torture Victim Protection Act, United States federal courts have jurisdiction over the case, according to CNN.  The plaintiffs are children and family members of the 45 people killed in 1997.  As reported by The Washington Post, the plaintiffs’ attorneys said the total damages sought are in the millions of dollars.

Still, Zedillo maintains his innocence, suggesting the claims are “fabricated” and “obviously false,” reported The Washington Post.  Zedillo cited his record of “pursuit for rule of law, respect to human rights, economic and social development in the poorest regions of Mexico and the achievement of full democracy in [his] country.”

Further, immediately after the killings in 1997, Zedillo issued a statement saying, “Those who participated in the planning and execution of this crime must receive the full rigor of the law . . . since nothing can justify the atrocity which they have committed,” as reported by Hispanically Speaking News.

The biggest issue is the government cover-up of Zedillo’s actual involvement.  Attorney Roger Kobert for the anonymous plaintiffs told The Associated Press: “My clients are seeking justice . . . against a man we’re confident will be shown to have played a significant role in causing them harm.” 

Zedillo told CNN that he would “respond accordingly” to authorities, all the while maintaining his innocence.

For more information, please visit:

Hispanically Speaking News — Former Mexican President Zedillo Being Sued for 1997 Massacre — 22 September 2011

Asia One News — Mexican Ex-President Sued for War Crimes — 21 September 2011

The Washington Post — Ex-President of Mexico Zedillo, Now Yale Professor, Sued in Conn. Over 1997 Villager Killings — 21 September 2011

CNN — Mexican Indian Villagers Accuse Former President in U.S. Court — 20 September 2011

Bahraini Doctors Sentenced to Prison for Providing Aid to Protesters

By Zach Waksman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

MANAMA, Bahrain – Justice was perverted Thursday.  Courts in Bahrain sentenced 20 medical professionals to lengthy prison terms for doing their jobs in providing aid to participants in protests against the Kingdom’s government that took place earlier this year.  The sentences ranged from five to fifteen years in length.

Salmaniya Medical Complex, which employed the accused, was raided by security forceson March 16. (Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera)
Salmaniya Medical Complex, which employed the accused, was raided by security forces on March 16. It was suspected of being a "coordination center" for protesters against the regime. (Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera)

The medics in question worked at Manama’s Salmaniya Medical Complex, Bahrain’s largest public hospital.  Security forces stormed the facility on March 16 after clearing the nearby Pearl Roundabout of protesters, who had been demonstrating peacefully at the time.  Numerous medical personnel were arrested.  According to the official Bahrain News Agency (BNA), they faced trial for “forcefully occupying Salmaniya Medical Centre… possessing unlicensed arms (AK-47s) and knives, incitement to overthrow the regime, seizing medical equipment, detaining policemen, and spreading false news.”  BNA added that they conducted these activities for purposes of terrorism.

The March 16 incident was not the last time Bahrain’s security forces have interfered with the ability of medical professionals to provide much needed care.  On July 28, armed troops raided a Doctors Without Borders clinic in Manama.  All medical equipment and supplies were confiscated, and a volunteer was arrested (he has since been released).  The organization later withdrew from the kingdom entirely.

Bahrain’s International Affairs Authority (IAA) was pleased by the verdict.

“The Salmaniya hospital was used as a co-ordination center for three weeks for protests calling for the overthrow of the government,” an IAA spokesman said.  “Those doctors who have been found guilty were charged with abusing the hospital for political purposes. Nobody is above the law.”

None of the accused attended the hearing, which was held by the National Safety Court of First Instance, a hybrid military court.  It lasted just seven minutes.  The medical professionals were given 24 hours to turn themselves in at the nearest police station or have arrest warrants issued.  The daughter of one medic issued a statement, which was reported by Al Jazeera.

“These cruel sentences present a serious breach of law and is considered to be an attack on the medical profession,” it said.  “We urge all international medical organizations, societies, bodies to take an action, issue a statement or do anything to condemn the recent sentences of Bahraini medical professionals.”

Amnesty International, a global organization that seeks to defend human rights wherever violations exist, called the trial “a travesty of justice.”

“These are simply ludicrous charges against civilian professionals who were working to save lives amid very trying circumstances,” said Philip Luther, Deputy Director of its Middle East and North Africa Programme.  “It appears that the real reason for targeting these health workers was the fact that they denounced the government crackdown on protesters in interviews to international media.  We’ve repeatedly said that Bahraini authorities should never have used military courts to prosecute ordinary civilians, including doctors, teachers and human rights activists.”

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), a Nobel Prize-winning organization that attempts to use science and medicine to prevent or mitigate human rights atrocities, was similarly outraged.

“These are medical professionals who were treating patients during a period of civil unrest, as their ethical duty requires them to do. To imprison them as part of a political struggle is unconscionable,” said Hans Hogrefe, PHR’s Chief Policy Officer, who called for the sentences to be overturned.

According to the organization, the medics were handled in a manner that denied them basic human rights.  Among other claims, they were arrested and interrogated by military personnel, despite being civilians.  These actions, PHR believes, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Bahrain has ratified.  Allegations of torture also exist, as their health declined while in prison, in part due to a hunger strike that eventually led to their being freed on bail.

A lawyer for the accused medics said that they will appeal their convictions next week before the High Court of Appeal, which is part of the kingdom’s civilian justice system.  But for now, they are saying goodbye to family as they prepare for imprisonment, according to Fatma Haji, one of the doctors.

“I know that I am definitely, 100% innocent,” said Haji, who was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment.  “Our crime – I’m talking about all the medics – was that we helped innocent, helpless people who were just protesting and got injured,”

For more information, please see:

Arabian Business — Bahrain Jails 20 Doctors on Unrest Related Charges — 30 September 2011

Gulf Daily News — SMC Siege Medics Jailed — 30 September 2011

Al Jazeera — Bahrain Medical Staff Sentenced over Protests — 29 September 2011

Amnesty International — Bahrain Military Court Finds Medics Guilty — 29 September 2011

BBC — Bahrain Sentences Medics Who Treated Protesters — 29 September 2011

New York Times — Bahrain Court Hands Down Harsh Sentences to Doctors and Protesters — 29 September 2011

Physicians for Human Rights — PHR Denounces Sentences Passed on Bahraini Medics and Protesters — 29 September 2011

Doctors Without Borders — Bahrain: MSF Condemns Armed Raid on Office and Detention of Staff Member — 3 August 2011

Iranian Christian Convert Faces Execution Over Refusal to Convert Back to Islam

By Tyler Yates
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

TEHRAN, Iran — A Christian pastor who converted from Islam to Christianity is facing the death penalty in Iran for refusing to return to Islam.

Yousef Nadarkhani, a Christian pastor, faces death after refusing to recant his faith in favor of Islam (Photo courtesy of CNN).
Yousef Nadarkhani, a Christian pastor, faces death after refusing to recant his faith in favor of Islam (Photo courtesy of CNN).

Youcef Nadarkhani, of the Church of Iran, currently faces hanging after refusing to follow a court order to renounce Christianity.  If the execution goes ahead it will be the first time a Christian has been executed in Iran for religious reasons in 20 years.

Nadarkhani was originally detained in his home city of Rasht in October 2009 when he attempted to register his church.  His supporters claim he was arrested after questioning the Muslim monopoly on the religious instruction of Iran’s children.

The original charges Nadarkhani faced were for protesting, but those charges have since been changed to ‘apostasy’ – or abandoning Islam — and ‘evangelizing Muslims.’   Both of these charges carry the death penalty in Iran.

He was tried and found guilty of apostasy in September 2010.  The court sentenced him to death.

Last June, the Supreme Court of Iran upheld the death penalty, but also asked the lower court to re-examine whether or not Nadarkhani had been a practicing Muslim adult prior to his conversion, offering recanting as an option.

Nadarkhani has made it clear that he has no intention of returning to Islam. He said: “Repent means to return.  What should I return to?  To the blasphemy that I had before my faith in Christ?”

The court is ordering his repentance because of his deep Islamic ancestry.  Based upon the type of apostasy Nadarkhani has been charged with he will likely be given a short period of time to repent or else he will be executed.  Many believe the execution could occur as early as Friday, however due to misinformation practices carried out by Iran there is a chance, though unlikely, that it already happened.

The written version of the Supreme Court’s ruling included a statement that the death penalty would be annulled if the pastor recanted.

Nadarkhani’s lawyer is hopeful that an appeals court will acquit his client, but history does not give much defense for his optimism.  Even if the sentence is commuted he could still face life in prison, and if were to be set free his life would still be in danger.  Rumors abound of numerous counts of other Iranian Christian converts who have been assassinated because of their beliefs.

The story has garnered outrage and condemnation from Christian organizations worldwide.

Estimates put the number of devoted Christians in Iran at around 100,000.  Iran’s leadership is concerned about the spread of Christianity throughout the state, and has been cracking down on its influence.

For more information, please see:

The Daily Mail — Christian pastor faces execution in Iran for refusing to renounce his faith — 29 Sept. 2011

International Business Times — Iranian Pastor Sentenced to Death: Nadarkhani Refuses to Convert — 29 Sept. 2011

Voice of America — Lawyer Hopes Iranian Christian Sentenced to Death Will be Freed — 29 Sept. 2011

The New Statesman — The Trial and punishment of Yousef Nadarkhani — 28 Sept. 2011

Indigenous take Bolivia highway protests to La Paz after feelings of betrayal by Bolivia’s first Indian President

by Paula Buzzi
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

LA PAZ, Bolivia — Thousands of indigenous Bolivians took to the streets in central La Paz yesterday to continue protesting the construction of a Brazil-funded highway through the Amazon that they say would likely destroy an indigenous preserve and encourage illegal settlements. The Bolivian government, however, maintains that the construction is essential for development and trade.

Bolivian miners protest in La Paz against a construction of a highway through the Amazon.  (Photo Courtesy of The Guardian)
Bolivian miners protest in La Paz against a construction of a highway through the Amazon. (Photo Courtesy of The Guardian)

Bolivia’s Defense Minister, Cecilia Chacon, resigned on Monday in protest of a very violent police crackdown on Sunday which resulted in hundreds of arrests. On Tuesday, Interior Minister Sacha Llorenti and his deputy Marcos Farfan also resigned after disapproving the amount of force, including tear gas and truncheons, used during the break-up.

President Evo Morales, who advocated for indigenous rights and the protection of Mother Earth during his election campaign, has been heavily criticized by his indigenous and environmentalist constituents who say they feel betrayed by him.

President Morales announced on Tuesday that he has suspended the construction of the highway. According to Morales, whether the construction continues will depend on voters in the easter region of Bolivia.

On a televised speech on Wednesday, Morales called the protests a big wake-up call for his government. He asked for forgiveness from the families of the protestors for the amount of violence used and urged a meeting between the government and indigenous groups.

Jorge Lazarte, a political analyst, believes these protests mark a huge turning point in the Morales government. “There’s a split between the government and its indigenous support base that casts doubt on the government’s legitimacy,” he stated. “For the first time in recent years, we’re hearing people yell that this government should go.”

Since the police crackdown, protestors have regrouped and are planning to continue their march into La Paz this week. They reject Morales’ call for a vote.

This protest marks the second protest against Morales’ government by his own constituents in less than a year. Late last year, indigenous and environmentalists took to the streets to protest a hefty fuel hike ordered by his administration.

For further information, please see;

AFP – Bolivia Leader Asks for Pardon After Massive Strike – 29 September 2011

BBC News – Bolivia Highway Protests Spread, Paralysing La Paz – 28 September 2011

The Guardian – Bolivians March Against Evo Morales Over Jungle Highway Crackdown – 28 September 2011

Times Union – Bolivian Official Quits in March Backlash – 27 September 2011