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

First African Nobel Peace Prize Winner Dies After Lifelong Fight for Poverty & Conflict

By Tamara Alfred
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

The first African woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Wangari Maathai, died late Sunday in a Nairobi hospital at the age of 71 following a battle with cancer.  Maathai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Maathai.  (Photo Courtesy of Reuters.)
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Maathai. (Photo Courtesy of Reuters.)

Maathai believed that a healthy environment helped improve lives by providing clean water and firewood for cooking, thereby decreasing conflict.  The Kenyan organization she founded, the Green Belt Movement, planted 30 million trees in hopes of improving the chances for peace.  Her triumph later inspired the United Nations to launch a worldwide campaign resulting in the planting of 11 billion trees.

Although the tree-planting campaign did not initially address issues of peace and democracy, Maathai said it became clear over time that responsible governance of the environment was not possible without democracy.

“The tree became a symbol for the democratic struggle in Kenya,” said Maathai during one of her speeches.  “Citizens were mobilized to challenge widespread abuses of power, corruption and environmental mismanagement.”

Seen as a threat to the rich and powerful, Wangari Maathai was beaten, arrested and vilified for the simple act of planting a tree, a natural wonder Maathai believed, could reduce poverty and conflict.  At least three times during her activist year, she was physically attacked, including being clubbed unconscious by police during a hunger strike in 1992.  She also staged protests that vilified former Kenyan president Daniel arap Moi, a repressive and autocratic ruler, who called her a “mad woman” who was a threat to the security of Kenya.

In the summer of 1998, the Kenyan government was giving land to political allies in a protected forest on the outskirts of Nairobi.  Maathai launched a campaign to reclaim the land, ending in a confrontation with 200 hired thugs armed with machetes and bows and arrows.  While trying to plant a tree, she and her cohorts were attacked with whips, clubs and stones.  Maathai sustained a bloody gash to her head.

“Wangari Maathai was a force of nature.  While other deployed their powers and life force to damage, degrade and extract short term profit from the environment, she used her to stand in their way, mobilize communities and to argue for conservation and sustainable development over destruction,” said Achim Steiner, executive director of the U.N. Environmental Program, for which Maathai served as an inspiration.

Various world leaders expressed their sorrow at having lost Maathai and her efforts.

“Wangari Maathai combined the protection of the environment, with the struggle for women’s rights and fight for democracy,” said Geir Lundestad, director of the Nobel Institute.

“At last count, the Green Belt Movement…had assisted women to plant more than 40 million trees,” said Archbishop Desmond Tutu in a statement.  “She understood and acted on the inextricable links between poverty, rights and environmental sustainability.  One can but marvel at her foresight and the scope of her success.  She was a true African heroine.”

“The values she had for justice and civil liberties and what she believed were the obligations of civil society and government,” said Vertistine Mbaya, Maathai’s colleague at the University of Nairobi.  “She also demonstrated the importance of recognizing the contributions that women can make and allowing them the open space to do so.”

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore said Maathai “overcame incredible obstacles to devote her life to service – service to her children, to her constituents, to the women, and indeed all the people of Kenya – and to the world as a whole.”

For more information, please see:

CNN – Maathai: World mourns passing of ‘true African heroine’ – 26 September 2011

Huffington Post – Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Dies – 26 September 2011

British Law Firm Publishes Guide For Prosecuting Belarusian President Lukashenko

By Terance Walsh
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

LONDON, United Kingdom — McCue and Partners, a British law firm, has posted a “Prosecution Kit” to guide civilians, NGOs, and governments in arresting Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.  The Kit is a dossier of evidence of human rights violations committed by Lukashenko.

Alexander Lukashenko (Photo courtesy of rfe/rl)
Alexander Lukashenko (Photo courtesy of rfe/rl)

McCue had originally announced that it would be compiling a prosecution file for Lukashenko last March.

The firm’s website reads, “Wherever Lukashenko travels, he now faces the prospect of prosecution. The international community of nations and its organizations has so far failed to hold Lukashenko to account and to prevent further human rights abuses in Belarus. Only the E.U. and U.S. [have] managed to maintain an intermittent travel ban: lifting it when Lukashenko promises to reform only to re-impose it when he inevitably offends again. Unless Lukashenko is prepared to face justice, a de facto people’s travel ban has now been imposed by his victims and the people of Belarus. . . .  Just as his victims have had to look over their shoulders in constant fear for their security and that of their families. Lukashenko now knows that wherever he goes he cannot evade justice.”

Matthew Jury, a partner at McCue, said, “Due to the current travel ban on Lukashenka traveling within Europe, there is no possibility at present of him traveling to our jurisdiction here in England.  As a result, what we have done — what the people of Belarus have done — [is to make] available a prosecution file.”

He identified the file as “universally available as an open source document for download on the Internet so that private lawyers, nongovernmental organizations, or even governments can file for the arrest of Lukashenka should he travel to their jurisdictions.”

The firm also promises that “[i]f Lukashenko should travel to the U.K. we confirm that we will seek a warrant for his arrest.”

Senior partner Jason McCue stated, “Dictators and rogue regimes have evaded the law for too long. They do this through brutality and jumping through loopholes in sovereign and international law. We have developed a pragmatic solution to fill the gaps. Lukashenko and other would-be dictators around the world had better sit up and pay attention to this precedent. It is to the credit of the people of Belarus that this novel human rights tool has been developed.”

The dossier comes after Belarusian citizens who claimed they were tortured by Lukashenko’s government since the disputed Belarusian election last December approached McCue.  Protests began in Belarus shortly after Lukashenko announced he won the election, securing a fourth term in office for himself.  Former Belarusian opposition candidate Ales Mikhalevich was detained and compared the detention center in which he was held to a concentration camp.

Earlier this week Andrzej Poczobut, a Polish activist living in Belarus, was banned from exiting the country after allegedly defaming Lukashenko.  The ban comes as the Eastern Partnership is set to convene this week in Warsaw to discuss relations with its member countries, including Belarus.

Belarusian rights group Charter’97 welcomes McCue’s efforts.  “McCue & Partners represent Lukashenko’s victims, their families, and the campaign group Free Belarus Now that initiated this legal action. Heading a Belarusian/international coalition of leading lawyers, it has prepared a criminal case against him on charges of torture and hostage taking. We would like to see charges brought against Lukashenko in Belarus, but his tight control of state administrative apparatus, including the courts, precludes this from happening. However, Lukashenko has committed crimes, such as torture, that punishable under international law, meaning that any government may seek to prosecute Lukashenko upon these charges under universal jurisdiction. The people of Belarus today invite Lukashenko to submit to the universal jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales or any other E.U. country where a fair trial can be guaranteed.”

The dossier created by McCue is a relatively novel concept.  “As far as we are aware, this approach hasn’t been taken before. And really, what our intent is [is] to put the power to bring [trials against] human rights abusers and those who would commit crimes against humanity into the hands of civil society rather than solely in the hands of national governments or international organizations,” Jury said. “By making this prosecution file universally available, we allow the victims themselves to decide where and when they bring a prosecution rather than leaving it in the hands of politicians and diplomats.”

Lukashenko was dubbed “Europe’s last dictator” by the United States and has faced a travel ban from the European Union since last December’s election.

“By preparing this prosecution,” McCue’s website posits, “his victims, their families and international civil society have ensured that impunity with respect to torture and electoral fraud in Europe will not stand in the 21st Century.”

For more information please see:

Polskie Radio — British Lawyers Produce Lukashenko ‘Prosecution Kit’ — 28 September 2011

Charter’97 — Global Prosecution of Europe’s Last Dictator — 27 September 2011

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty — London Law Firm Publishes Torture Dossier Against Belarusian President — 27 September 2011

McCue & Partners — The Prosecution of Alexander Lukashenko, The Last Dictator in Europe

Brazil Truth Commission Bill Passes Congress

by Emilee Gaebler
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BRASÍLIA, Brazil – Last week the Brazilian Congress took the first step forward in investigating the human rights abuses perpetrated during the military dictatorship which lasted from 1964 to 1985.  On Wednesday they passed a bill to approve the creation of a commission to investigate these human rights abuses.  The approved proposal now heads to the Senate and then to President Dilma Rousseff for approval.

Brazilian protestors in the 1970s.  (Photo Courtesy of ICTJ)
Brazilian protestors in the 1970s. (Photo Courtesy of ICTJ)

The bill creates what is being called a truth commission.  The duty of the commission will be to investigate and bring to light the human rights abuses that occurred during the period of several authoritarian leaders.  The International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) President, David Tolbert, stated that the Commission will help Brazilians to better understand a shadowed part of their history and aid in the recognition of rights for victims of abuse.

The commission would be comprised of 7 members who would be appointed by President Rousseff.  The 7 members would investigate, for a period of 2 years, the torture, death, disappearances and hiding of bodies that occurred during the oppressive regimes.  The military has offered their support of the commission.  Their support is conditioned on the guarantee that investigations will look at both military abuses as well as abuses committed by opposition guerilla groups.

The positive aspects of the bill include the express recognition of the human rights violated at the time, investigations into disappearances of citizens to increase the possibility of discovering bodies and a comprehensive inquiry into the structures, institutions and places that lead to such systematic violation of human rights.

Critics note that there are a number of negative aspects to the bill.  First, is the notable absence of an accountability mechanism.  The commission will simply investigate and publish their findings at the end of the two year period.  No punishment for any crimes they investigate will occur.

Linked to this concern, is the recent affirmation by the Brazilian Supreme Court that the commission will not overcome the country’s 1979 Amnesty Law.  The law releases military personnel and civilians from liability for politically motivated crimes.  It was originally formulated in order to give political prisoners and leaders, who were imprisoned and exiled, a way to return to the country.  At the time it was largely unrecognized that it would also keep military crimes free from prosecution.  In other South American nations, like Argentina, Chile and Peru, the establishment of truth commissions was the precursor to punishment of offenders and a full cycle of justice occurred.

Another concern is that the commission is too limited in scope; with only 7 members and only 2 years to investigate the crimes of 4 decades the reality is that only a cursory investigation will be possible.  Roughly 500 Brazilians were killed in that period, another 150 disappeared and more than 20,000 citizens were tortured or abused.

For more information, please see;

Radio Netherlands Worldwide – Brazil: Truth or Reconciliation Without Prosecution? – 26 September 2011

International Center for Transitional Justice – Brazil: Six Critical Steps for Truth Commission Success – 22 September 2011

The New York Times – Brazil: Lower House Approves Truth Commission to Investigate Abuses During Military Dictatorship – 22 September 2011

MSNBC – Brazilian Lawmakers Approve Probe of Abuses – 22 September 2011

Times Live – Brazil Lower House Approves Truth Commission – 22 September 2011

Four Died at Rally to Protest Parliamentary Elections in Guinea

By Carolyn Abdenour
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

CONAKRY, Guinea – On Tuesday, paramilitary police forces killed four people violently dispersing a march people attempted to join.  Nineteen opposition parties organized the march.  The police took control of the traffic circle and used tear gas and batons on people as they collated at September 28 Stadium, the prescribed meeting point.  Ministry of Defense spokesperson Commander Aliou Diakite reported twenty-three police officers received treatment from injuries sustained by the rock-throwing activists.

Police forces disperse opposition demonstration in Conakry, Guinea.  (Photo Courtesy of BBC)
Police forces disperse opposition demonstration in Conakry, Guinea. (Photo Courtesy of BBC)

Former Prime Minister Cellou Dalein Diallo, who narrowly lost current President Alpha Conde in last November’s run-off election, reported one of the four dead bodies arrived at the headquarters of Union of the Democratic Forces of Guinea, his political party.  The other three bodies rested at the local morgue, but the morgue denied the victims’ families access to the bodies.

Diallo called the march to protest the upcoming December parliamentary elections, which he contends the government will rig.  The country should have voted for parliamentary positions six months after the presidential election, but the Independent National Electoral Commission (“CENI”) pushed them back.  Diallo asserts Conde placed a close friend as head of CENI who will attempt to tamper the votes.

On Monday, Prime Minister Mohamed Said Fofana met with opposition leaders to resolve the claims.  After unsuccessful negotiations, Diallo announced the march would proceed despite a governmental ban.  Tuesday morning, riot police assembled at main intersections around September 28 Stadium, and they fired tear gas grenades towards people attempted to organize.  After pro-opposition youth began throwing rocks at the police, witnesses report he police fired live round in the Matoto district.

Spokesperson for the opposition parties Faya Millimono reported participants received injuries from gunshots and cuts.  However, General Mamadouba Toto Camara, minister of security and protection reported the security forces “do not use firearms.”

This march was the first major demonstration since last year’s elections.  Many shops and petrol stations did not open for business on Tuesday for fears of violence from the march.

The protest took place on the eve of the second anniversary of the September 28 Massacre.  Under the rule of Junta chief Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, 150 people died when security forces fired live rounds at the anti-juanta protestors.  Mass rapes also occurred at the hands of the security forces.

Shopkeeper Souleymane Sow, a supporter of Diallo, said “What is remarkable is that the police units are using riot control tools to disperse the protesters—tear gas and night sticks, and not fire arms for the most part…It’s my opinion that the repression I’m seeing is not too violent compared to what we are used to.”

For further information, please see:
BloombergGuinea Opposition Says Four People Killed in Protests, 11 Hurt28 Sept 11
Alert NetTimeline – Political Tensions Rise Again in Guinea27 Sept 11
BBCGuinea Elections: Three Die as Police Break Up Protest 27 Sept 11
Wall Street JournalPolice Disperse Guinea Opposition March27 Sept 11

Support Grows in Canada to Prosecute Dick Cheney for War Crimes

By Brittney Hodnik
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

OTTAWA, Canada – Not only Canada but other countries are looking into the prospect of indicting former U.S. Vice President, Dick Cheney, for war crimes.  Thousands, maybe even millions of people around the world believe that Cheney’s use of water boarding and other harsh interrogation tactics constitute torture and other war crimes.

Many believe that Dick Cheneys use of water boarding violates the United Nations Convention Against Torture.  (Image Courtesy of CNN)
Many believe that Dick Cheney's use of water boarding violates the United Nations Convention Against Torture. (Image Courtesy of CNN)

According to the Vancouver Observer, Human Rights Watch said that Canada should prepare itself to investigate Cheney for violating the United Nations Convention Against Torture.  This convention clearly lays out what constitutes torture, the possibility of criminal sanctions, and other consequences of violation.  All U.N. recognized nations have ratified this Convention Against Torture except Bahrain and Yemen.

The United States has not brought any charges against Cheney at this point.  As soon as he leaves the country, (for example, to promote his new memoir in Vancouver, Canada) he opens himself up to possible prosecution.  Activist group, Stop War, asked in a press release earlier this week for Vancouver natives to speak out against Cheney’s appearance, reported the Vancouver Observer.

“We owe it to the victim’s of war and torture in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond to have a strong showing of opposition to this event featuring this war criminal,” Stop War said. 

Canada in particular has jurisdiction over such prosecution.  According to a statement on the Human Rights Watch website, a country has jurisdiction over an individual for torture if the complainant is a Canadian citizen, even if the acts were committed outside of the country.  Cheney’s interrogation tactics affected at least two Canadian citizens.

Dick Cheney is unapologetic about his war tactics, maintaining his opinion that water boarding does not constitute torture, but rather it is merely “an enhanced interrogation technique” according to The Globe and Mail.  He says the practices were legal and were approved by the Justice Department.  President Obama has since banned the practice.

The Globe and Mail reported that a rowdy group of protestors gathered outside of Cheney’s book appearance in Vancouver; some calling for his arrest while others wanted him barred from Canada.  Shouts from the crowd included, “Detain Dick” and “Don’t harbor war criminals,” reported CTV News.

Kate Dyson, a student at the University of Alberta described Cheney as “a self-confessed war criminal, torturer,” according to CTV News.  Additionally, anti-war activist Thomas Poulsen said that he was disappointed that Cheney was not arrested.

Cheney continues to defend his use of water boarding and claims he would do it again if faced with the same situation.  Cheney can avoid arrest internationally, simply by staying in the United States.  Although he was not arrested in Canada this past week, support for his prosecution is growing rapidly.

For more information, please visit:

CTV News — Protestors in Calgary Want Dick Cheney Arrested — 27 Sept. 2011

The Globe and Mail — Dick Cheney, Unapologetic, Defies Vancouver Protestors — 26 Sept. 2011

The Vancouver Observer — Movement to Arrest Dick Cheney for War Crimes Grows — 24 Sept. 2011

CNN — Cheney and Justice for Torture Victims — 23 Sept. 2011

The United Nations Convention Against Torture

Singapore Refuses to Abolish Internal Security Act

By: Jessica Ties
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

SINGAPORE, Singapore – Despite urging from human rights groups, Singapore is refusing to abolish the Internal Security Act (ISA) which allows for individuals to be detained without a trial.

Singapore is refusing to abolish the Internal Security Act which gives them the ability to detain individuals without a trial (Photo Courtesy of SDP Fans).
Singapore is refusing to abolish the Internal Security Act which gives them the ability to detain individuals without a trial (Photo Courtesy of SDP Fans).

Curiosity about the nation’s plans for the act is due, in part, to Malaysia’s recent decision to abolish two of their security regulations. On September 15, Malaysia announced that it would abolish not only the Emergency Ordinance but their version of the Internal Security Act as well. Similar to the act currently in place in Singapore, both acts allowed citizens to be detained without a trial.

Despite Malaysia’s decision; however, Singapore’s Home Affairs Ministry has stated that the ISA continues to be relevant and crucial in the realm of national security.  In announcing the decision to not follow in Malaysia’s footsteps, the Home Affairs Ministry notated various differences that exist in the two nations.

 One such difference is the holding period required under both forms of the ISA. In Malaysia, detainees could remain in custody for up to sixty days while Singapore only allows detainees to be held for thirty days before the individual is required to be released unconditionally unless a Detention Order is issued.

The ministry also claimed that the ISA has never been used to detain somebody based solely on their political beliefs and has instead only been used to combat threats of subversion, espionage, terrorism and religious extremism.

While some scholars believe that there is a need for the ISA,  other groups as well as sixteen individuals who were formerly detained under the ISA are pushing for its abolition.

One proponent of the ISA, Dr. Rohan Gunaratana from the International Center for Political Violence and Research stated, “…ISA is [a] valuable tool to preventively detain terrorist suspects to investigate and also confine them.”

In contrast, sixteen former detainees held under the ISA state that “[t]his law has been in existence for more than half a century and its impact on society is both crippling and pernicious.”

One of the detainees is Chia Thye Poh who spent 26 years in detention and was one of the world’s longest held political prisoners along with Nelson Mandela.  Chia was detained in the 1960’s after being accused of being a Communist subversive.

Seven of the others former detainees were detained for an alleged Marxist conspiracy against the government of Singapore in 1987.

The Singapore government maintains that the sixteen former political prisoners were detained for their involvement in activities that threatened national security and not because of their political beliefs.

The ISA was initially enacted by British authorities to fight the Communist insurgency after World War II. While the ISA was generally used between the 1960’s and 1980’s to contain those believed to be causing racial and religious disharmony, it was primarily used to combat terrorism following the September 11 terrorist attacks.

For more information, please see:

Channel News Asia – MHA Says ISA Remains Relevent & Necessary – 23 September 2011

AFP – Ex-Prisoners Urge Singapore to Scrap Security Law – 19 September 2011

My Sinchew – Will Singapore Bow to Pressure to put an End to ISA? – 19 September 2011

Today – Selling Singaporeans on the ISA – 19 September 2011

Channel News Asia – ISA Relevant to S’pore, Crucial for National Security: MHA – 16 September 2011

Saudi Women Granted Right to Vote, but Not Until 2015

By Zach Waksman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – Women’s rights in Saudi Arabia took a gigantic step forward Sunday.  Claiming to “reject any marginalization of women in Saudi society in every domain,” King Abdullah used his address to the Majils Al-Shura, a council that advises him on issues of public policy, to grant women the right to vote in the municipal elections of 2015.  Women will also be able to run for office in that election and be eligible for appointment to the council as full voting members.  They will not, however, be able to vote in Thursday’s elections, which a group of at least 60 Saudi intellectuals and activists have called to boycott for that reason.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia (center, seated) addressed the advisory Majils Al-Shura Sunday, announcing that women would have the right to vote in 2015s municipal elections. (Photo courtesy of Reuters)
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia (center, seated) addressed the advisory Majils Al-Shura Sunday, announcing that women would have the right to vote in 2015's municipal elections. (Photo courtesy of Reuters)

“Because we refuse to marginalise women in society in all roles that comply with sharia, we have decided, after deliberation with our senior clerics and others… to involve women in the Shura Council as members, starting from next term,” he said.  “Women will be able to run as candidates in the municipal election and will even have a right to vote.

The Middle Eastern country has historically been one of the most conservative countries in the world when it comes to women’s rights.  One of the most notable restrictions is a ban on women drivers, which was challenged by numerous women in May.  The general rule in Saudi Arabia is one of male guardianship, which means that women cannot make decisions about their lives without the approval of a male relative.

King Abdullah’s announcement is viewed as a possible response to the “Arab Spring” that has gripped the Middle East for much of this year.  He has promised reform for over a decade, but his efforts have been slow to take hold due to fear of a religious backlash.

“There is the element of the Arab Spring, there is the element of the strength of Saudi social media, and there is the element of Saudi women themselves, who are not silent,” said Hatoon al-Fassi, a history professor and one of the women who organized a campaign demanding the right to vote this spring. “Plus, the fact that the issue of women has turned Saudi Arabia into an international joke is another thing that brought the decision now.”

Saudi women enthusiastically responded to the monarchy’s announcement, even if they will have to wait four years to take advantage of their new rights.

Writer Nimah Ismail Nawwab told the BBC: “This is something we have long waited for and long worked towards.”

The Twitter page Women2Drive, a key player in the organized protest where women drove on the streets of Saudi Arabia, also spoke with great hope.  “A new day for Saudi women..a new era..the dream comes so true..Good morning ladies..and gentlemen,” a tweet read.

Deputy Education Minister Noura bint Abdullah Al-Fayez, Saudi Arabia’s first female minister, was strongly encouraged by King Abdullah’s remarks.

“Woman is a partner of man in building society. The new assignments are an honor for Saudi women,” she said.  “During this prosperous era of King Abdullah, women enjoy a lofty position as the king recognized their achievements in the areas of education and science and their ability to carry out different roles in an efficient manner. Women have won the king’s confidence through their hard work.”

Majils Al-Shura President Abdullah Al-Asheikh seconded Al-Fayez’s remarks.  He pointed out the significant contributions that women had made in several fields of Saudi society, including education, heath, and economics.  He also noted that women had done well in research, and some had acted as consultants to the council.  In 2006, six women were appointed in that capacity, which has since grown to 12.  Despite their role as advisors, they lack voting power.  In Al-Asheki’s opinion, allowing women to serve and vote on the council would provide the council with “new blood.”

While the actual reform will have to wait, women are encouraged by the announcement.  A Facebook page titled “We are all Manal al-Sharif,” in support of an activist who was arrested for defying the ban on women drivers, has numerous comments on King Abdullah’s decision, almost all of them positive.  But it is clear that there are other key issues on their minds.

“Al-Bandari Abdallah” commented on that page: “Our hope has grown with the new decisions. God willing Saudi women will drive soon,” and “Sawdiyah La-Diniyah” notes that it’s a “Good start…but when [will women be] driving!!”

On Monday, the Majils Al-Shoura announced that it is reviewing the ban on women drivers in order to reconsider the issue.

For more information, please see:

Saudi Gazette — Shoura Reconsidering Women Driving Issue — 27 September 2011

Arab News — Saudi Women Won Confidence through Hard Work: Al-Fayez — 26 September 2011

Arab News — Shoura Chief Says Women Will Bring New Blood to Council — 26 September 2011

BBC — Saudi Social Media Joy at Reform Promise — 26 September 2011

Human Rights Watch — Saudi Arabia: Women to Vote, Join Shura Council — 26 September 2011

Al Jazeera — Saudi Women Given Voting Rights — 25 September 2011

Arab News — King Abdullah Grants Women the Vote — 25 September 2011

BBC — Women in Saudi Arabia to Vote and Run in Elections — 25 September 2011

New York Times — Saudi Monarch Grants Women Right to Vote — 25 September 2011

War Crimes Court Expedites Trial

By Greg Donaldson
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – The Khmer Rouge tribunal explained Thursday that the four former Cambodian leaders accused of genocide will be tried on a charge-by-charge basis.

Nuon Chea attends a trial in his sunglasses and ski cap (Photo Courtesy of Phnom Penh/Reuters
Nuon Chea attends a trial in his sunglasses and ski cap (Photo Courtesy of Phnom Penh/Reuters)

“Separation  of  proceedings  will  enable the chamber to issue  a  verdict  following  a  shortened trial,  safeguarding  the  fundamental  interest  of  victims  in  achieving  meaningful  and  timely justice, and the right of all accused in Case 002 to an expeditious trial,” the opinion read.

The court’s desire to accelerate the trials stems from the fact that defendants range in age from seventy-nine to eighty-five. The court is attempting to avoid the result of the 2006 trial of Slobodan Milosevic in which Milosevic died in his cell during trial.

Defendants have already cited their health as obstacles to upcoming trials. It has been reported that Ieng Thirith, the youngest of all the defendants, has dementia and memory loss. A health expert told the court that Thirith was no longer fit for trial.

Another defendant, Nuon Chea, has told the court that it is very difficult for him to focus and he cannot sit for long periods of time.

Clair Duffy, a trial monitor for the Open Society Justice Initiative admitted that the decision to break up the charges into separate trials is not perfect but explained the clock is ticking for the court to sentence the defendants before they die.

“I guess it’s an exercise of weighing competing interests. The question is, is it better to see some form of justice in a shorter period of time that only involves some allegations? I think the answer to that has to be yes,” she said.

While public appearances by the defendants have been limited, the media has kept a close watch on how the defendant’s act while in public. During a bail hearing in 2009, Ieng Thirith said that anyone accusing her of a crime would be cursed “to the seventh circle of hell.”

Nuon Chea has been wearing sunglasses and a stripped ski cap throughout the trial. On the first day of trial he announced that he was not happy with the trial. After a judge denied Chea’s request to hear hundreds of Chea’s witnesses, Chea staged a three day walkout.

Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. In addition to being accused of genocide, it is also alleged that the regime authorized torture, executions, starvation, and child labor camps.

For more information, please see:

Phnom Penh Post — Khmer Rouge trial split — 23 September 2011

AFP – War crimes court splits KRouge trial charges– 22 September 2011

Voice of America — Khmer Rouge Court to Try Former Leaders Crime by Crime — 22 September 2011

The Atlantic — Scenes From a Khmer Rouge Trial Gone Wrong — 21 September 2011

Vice Presidential Candidate Accuses Incumbent of Buying Votes for Upcoming Election

By Carolyn Abdenour
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

MONROVIA, Liberia – On Thursday, 22 September, vice presidential candidate and soccer star George Weah accused Liberia’s incumbent president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of buying votes and using government funds to campaign for the country presidential election on October 11, 2011.  On Friday, President Sirleaf’s spokesperson denied the allegations.

President Sirleaf accused of buying votes for the next presidential election.  (Photo Courtesy of The Liberian Dialogue)
President Sirleaf accused of buying votes for the next presidential election. (Photo Courtesy of The Liberian Dialogue)

Weah made these allegations at a press conference held at the headquarters of his party, the Congress for Democratic Change (“CDC”), in Congo Town.  Cyrus Badio, President Sirleaf’s secretary, called the allegations “reckless and unsubstantiated.”

The allegations followed a report tht Weah and former prosecutor of the Special War Crimes Court for Sierra Leone Alan White signed a Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”) to stir conflict if the CDC did not win the elections.  They believe former Secretary General Eugene Nagbe will damage the CDC’s chances of winning the election.  Last week, police charged three CDC members for throwing a gasoline bomb that burned Mr. Nagbe’s vehicle.

Weah asserts the CDC will win the election “very massively, because we carry the confidence of the people.”  He also calls upon the international community to monitor the elections to safeguard from fraudulent results.

Sirleaf face Weah and his running mate Winston Tubman along with fourteen additional challengers in the election.  The CDC is Liberia’s leading opposition political party to Sirleaf’s Unity Party (“UP”).

In 2005, Liberia elected Harvard-trained economist President Sirleaf as the first democratically elected female president in Africa.  Since the civil war in Liberia ended in 2003, United Nations (“UN”) Peacekeepers assist Liberians in maintaining peace in their country.

During the election’s debate, campaign, and candidate interactions, Liberian commentators call upon the candidates to mutually respect one another, behave civilly, and speak honestly to each other.  They also call upon the Ministry of Justice to investigate Weah’s claims against Sirleaf.

Weah demands free, fair, and transparent elections in Liberia.  However, when asked what his reaction would be if CDC lost the election, Weah answered “Freely and fairly, we will accept the result, because that will be the decision of the Liberian people and we will not overturn the decision.”

For further information, please see:
The Liberian DialogueThe Ensuing Liberian Elections: A Word to the Candidates25 Sept 2011
The Liberian DialogueWeah’s Claims Must be Investigated24 Sept 2011
MENA FNWeah – Ellen Will Be Defeated Massively23 Sept 2011
The Washington PostLiberia Candidate Accuses President of Buying Votes; Spokesman Denies Claim23 Sept 2011

ICRC of Washington, DC Launches “Intercross” Blog

From the News and Notes newsletter of the International Committee of the Red Cross: “[T]oday we Launch Intercross, the blog of the the ICRC in Washington, DC. At a time when conflict-related issues are at the forefront of so many important debates, we need to continue to find new and creative ways to inform and engage those interested in these issues. We join the digital conversation to make our voice and the voices of those who care about humanitarian action better heard. We will do this by featuring colleagues working in the field and by showcasing the work of outstanding photojournalists and reporters working in conflict. When you visit Intercross, we hope you will see that we have interesting things to say about war, its realities and the laws that apply when people take up arms.

[The content on Intercross] includes an interview with George Comninos, our head of delegation in Tripoli. Mr. Comninos explains that while the ICRC has been able to operate in many parts of Libya, some cities, including Sirte, where heavy fighting has been taking place, remain off limits. He once again calls for access to civilians in those cities and provides an overview of our delegation’s priorities amidst ongoing hostilities.

An important part of Intercross will be an exploration of law and policy issues. Here we share an interview with Vincent Bernard, Editor-in-Chief of the academic journal International Review of the Red Cross. Mr. Bernard speaks about the most recent edition of the Review, which examines legal, policy and humanitarian issues in Afghanistan.

Finally, Intercross will regularly dig into the rich archives of the ICRC. The first historical post looks at the role the ICRC delegation in Washington from 1941 to 1947.

We invite you to take a look, read a few posts, become a subscriber and let friends know about Intercross if you like what you see. . . . We are excited about this new way to connect with you, and look forward to staying in touch. As always, we welcome your feedback and comments.”

Visit the new Intercross blog at http://intercrossblog.icrc.org/