Kenya Launches Incursion into Somalia to Secure Borders and Economic Prosperity

By Zach Waksman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

NAIROBI, Kenya – Ten days ago, Kenya began a campaign to hunt down members of the radical Islamist militant group Al-Shebab, which occupies much of southern Somalia.  Its offensive has brought forces across the shared border between the two countries.  The new incursion has drawn scrutiny from Somalia and poses risks to both countries’ future security.

Kenyan police officers patrol Nairobi, the capital, following grenade attacks by militant Islamic group Al-Shebab. (Photo courtesy of European Photopress Angency)

Kenya has been a relatively stable country since gaining independence in 1963, becoming a Western ally and a popular tourist destination.  But a series of abductions credited to Al-Shebab, including one of humanitarian workers at a Somali refugee camp, led Kenya to strike back, launching its current action.  Or at least this was the initial claim.  Wednesday, spokesman Alfred Matua changed the rationale by saying that the abductions acted as a “good launchpad.”

“An operation of this magnitude is not planned in a week,” he said. “It’s been in the pipeline for a while.”

Part of the reason for this move appears to be economic gain, rather than security.

“This isn’t about tourism,” said a senior Kenyan official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “This is about our long-term development plan. Kenya cannot achieve economically what it wants with the situation the way it is in Somalia, especially Kismayu,” referring to a planned port city 60 miles south of the border that is occupied by Al-Shebab.

“Just imagine you’re trying to swim,” he added. “If someone is holding your leg and your arm, how far can you swim?”

For years, the United States has been providing weapons and training to the Kenyan military to aid in protecting its borders from its anarchic neighbor.  But this may be the first time Kenya has actually taken military action into Somalia.  The U.S. denied involvement in the present campaign, but acknowledged Kenya’s right to defend itself.  The Pentagon is watching the affair, finding promising initial returns, but fearing the potential next step.

A man claiming to be a member of Al-Shebab pled guilty to carrying out a pair of grenade attacks in Nairobi, the capital, on Wednesday.  The attacks have put the city on high alert.  Al-Shebab has affiliated itself with Al Qaeda and has carried out numerous suicide attacks in Somalia.  One of its goals is to overthrow Somalia’s transitional government, whose forces succeeded in taking control of Qoqani, a border town in the Lower Juba Region.  Despite the setback, the organization vows to stand strong in the face of the Kenyan incursion.

“Kenya violated the territorial rights of Somalia by entering our holy land, but I assure you that they will return disappointed, God willing,” said Sheikh Hassan Turki, a senior Al-Shebab leader.

Though Al-Shebab is an enemy to the interim government, President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed has stated his opposition to the incursion from the beginning, calling the action a potential breach of sovereignty and saying that an agreement with Kenya to run a cooperative security operation against Al-Shebab only allowed Kenya to train Somali troops.

His sentiments have not been echoed within his government.  Internal Security Minister George Saitoti sought an explanation of the president’s statements, which implied that he was turning away from the cooperative security agreement.

“In the light of this the Kenya Government is seeking clarification of the Somali government’s position as it is essential to have a unified approach in dealing with the destabilisation of Somalia by Al-Shebab, and its threats to peace and security to Kenya and the region,” Saitoti said.

One of the major questions that Kenya faces as the operation continues will be the ramifications of this action.  It is expected to have major implications on the delivery of humanitarian aid to the famine-ravaged Horn of Africa.  Mere days after the incursion started, several organizations with operations in Somalia had to suspend operations.  At best, the situation will be a temporary hiccup.  At worst, it will slow aid delivery to a halt.  An extended campaign may give Al-Shebab exactly the motivation it needs to make good on its promise to attack.

For more information, please see:

BBC — Kenya-Somali Border Attack: Al-Shabab Suspected — 27 October 2011

The Standard — Somalia Split over Hunt for Al Shabaab — 27 October 2011

Africa Review — Somali President Wants Kenya Troops Out — 26 October 2011

New York Times — Kenyan Motives in Somalia Predate Recent Abductions — 26 October 2011

Al Jazeera — Kenya Sends Troops to Attack Al-Shabab — 24 October 2011

IRIN — Kenya-Somalia: A Risky Intervention — 20 October 2011

War Crimes Prosecution Watch, Vol. 6, Issue 15 — October 24, 2011

Vol. 6, Issue 15 — October 24, 2011

IN MEMORIAM: The staff of War Crimes Prosecution Watch would like to dedicate this issue to the memory of Judge Antonio Cassese, a giant in the field of international criminal law, and former president of both the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. For more on his life, please see here or the website of the Special Court for more information.



Central African Republic & Uganda

Darfur, Sudan

Democratic Republic of the Congo



Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)


International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda

Special Court for Sierra Leone


Court of Bosnia & Herzegovina, War Crimes Chamber

International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

Domestic Prosecutions In The Former Yugoslavia


Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia

Special Tribunal for Lebanon

Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal

War Crimes Investigations in Burma


United States




Universal Jurisdiction

Gender-Based Violence


UN Reports



Ivory Coast





War Crimes Prosecution Watch is a bi-weekly e-newsletter that compiles official documents and articles from major news sources detailing and analyzing salient issues pertaining to the investigation and prosecution of war crimes throughout the world. For more information about War Crimes Prosecution Watch, please contact

Another Herder Killed By Truck in Mongolia

By: Jessica Ties
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

HOHHOT, Inner Mongolia – Chinese authorities are being accused of attempting to cover up the killing of an Ethnic Mongolian herdsmen who was struck by an oil truck while protesting the destruction of grazing land in the Uushin Banner district of Inner Mongolia.

Another herder in Inner Mongolia has been killed in the escalating conflict between Ethnic Mongolian herders and oil and gas companies (Photo Courtesy of Radio Free Asia).

Zorigt, was one of several local Inner Mongolian herders involved in protests attempting to prevent the destruction of their land by “… unregulated Chinese oil and gas transport trucks that drive roughshod through their grazing lands and kill livestock.”

Conflicts between herders trying to protect their grazing land and the Shuurhei Oil-Gas Field transporters have resulted in numerous beatings that have caused several herdsmen, including Zorigt, to be hospitalized.

The Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC) has claimed that the Chinese government is attempting to “…prevent possible unrest by the Mongolians…” and that they had “…preemptively reported on the event, calling it a ‘traffic accident.’” This report, however, has since been removed from other Chinese language internet news sites.

The government’s fear of protests stems from demonstrations that occurred after a similar incident last May. On May 10 another herdsman, Murgen, was run down by the driver of a coal truck as he tried to prevent him from driving over the pasture.

The May killing catalyzed mass demonstrations that were fueled not only by the herdsman’s death, but also by Inner Mongolian anger at the exploitation of natural resources and the apparent erosion of Inner Mongolian self-rule by Han Chinese settlers and developers.

The protests resulted in a government crackdown and the execution of the man convicted of killing Murgen with his truck.

Given the lingering anger of many Inner Mongolians, the Chinese government allegedly hopes to avoid a repeat of the May protests by claiming that the death was caused by Zorigt’s own recklessness in attempting to pass a truck on his motorcycle and was not another intentional killing by a truck driver.

According to the SMHRIC, the government has combated the accusations by posting messages in internet chat rooms to encourage people to disregard the rumors that the death was intentional. One message states, “[s]ome people who have hidden intentions are interpreting it as an ethnic problem or a conflict with the oil and natural gas development.”

Ethnic Mongolians claim that mining and desertification, defined as land degradation that is often caused by human activity, have ruined their grazing lands and that the Han Chinese majority has been the main beneficiaries of the resulting economic development.


For more information, please see:

BBC – Truck Kills Herder in Inner Mongolia China – 24 October 2011

China Digital Times – Truck Kills Protesting Herder in Inner Mongolia – 24 October 2011

Radio Free Asia – Group Charges Cover-Up – 24 October 2011

Reuters – Truck Kills Herder in China Inner Mongolia Protest: Group – 24 October 2011

Straits Times – Truck Driver Kills Ethnic Mongol Herder in China Land Dispute – 24 October 2011

Uganda Struggles with Gay Rights as LGBT Advocate Wins Human Rights Award

By Tamara Alfred

Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

Earlier this month, Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera, a Ugandan woman, won the 2011 Martin Ennas Award for Human Rights Defenders.  The award is given annually by 10 of the world’s leading human rights NGOs and has been referred to as the Nobel prize for human rights.  Nabagesera is the founder and executive director of the LGBT rights organization Freedom and Roam Uganda.

The situation for Uganda’s LGBT community is extremely difficult, with numerous documented cases of discrimination, arbitrary arrests, unlawful detention, torture and other ill-treatment based solely on sexual orientation and gender identity.  Activists who work to expose such abuses are frequently targeted.

Ugandan tabloid Rolling Stone publishes a list of the 100 “Top Homos” calling for the people to be hanged. (Photo Courtesy of San Diego Gay and Lesbian News.)

In late January, Ugandan gay rights activist David Kato was murdered after the Ugandan tabloid Rolling Stone published a list of Uganda’s 100 “Top Homos” and called for the people named in the list to be hanged.  Nabagesera’s name also appeared on the list.

“I’ve lived my life fighting openly for gay rights in Uganda, and I’ve had to pay a price for that,” Nabagesera previously told Amnesty International.  “I’ve been evicted from house to house; my office has been evicted; I can no longer move on the streets openly; I’ve been attacked.”

Currently, homosexuality is a criminal offense that carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.  On Tuesday, Parliament voted to reopen a debate over a bill that seeks to expand on the criminalization of homosexuality and make it punishable by the death penalty.

The legislation was first proposed in October 2009 by Ugandan lawmaker David Bahati.  The Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee suggested that the penalty for “aggravated homosexuality” should be the same as for “defilement,” a crime that is punishable by death.  The bill could mandate the death penalty or life in prison for people who are identified as gay, or caught engaging in homosexual acts.

The bill had failed at the end of the previous legislative session after an international outcry directed at the nation.  Both U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague condemned the bill, and more than 1.6 million people around the world signed a petition urging the Parliament to let the bill die.

However, the speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga announced Tuesday that the legislature was interested in saving the bills from the previous parliament.

MP Barnabus Tinkasimire backed the bill, saying, “the anti-gays Bill is overdue because the spirit of my ancestors tell me that they lived without these practices [homosexuality]…We can’t afford to stay with such ills in our society and when it comes before the floor, we shall all pass it and support it.”

Bahati had previously said that the bill is aimed at stamping out western-imported immoral behaviors from society, protecting the moral fabric of the nation, saving the traditional family and buttressing legislation against ‘gayism.’

Uganda is not the only African nation currently dealing with gay rights.  Various other countries, including Ghana and Malawi, have passed laws making homosexuality illegal, while some in Zimbabwe are seeking to have gay rights included in the constitution.

For more information, please see: – Ugandan Parliament Revisits Kill-The-Gays Bill – 25 October 2011 – Zimbabwe: Prime Minister Criticised for Supporting Gays – 25 October 2011

San Diego Gay & Lesbian News – “Kill the Gays Bill” returns, passage could be “imminent” – 25 October 2011

The New York Times – Uganda: Anti-Gay Bill Is Revived – 25 October 2011

Bikya Masr – Uganda gay activist wins human rights award – 15 October 2011

Brazilian Doctors Declared Guilty of Harvesting Organs From Patients Before Death

by Emilee Gaebler
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America 

BRASÍLIA, Brazil – After 25 years a sentence has finally been handed down in a criminal case involving illegal organ harvesting.  Last Thursday a judge sentenced Doctor Rui Sacramento, Doctor Pedro Torrecillas and Doctor Mariano Fiore Jr. to seventeen years and six months each in prison.

The criminal justice system in Brazil is notorious for its protracted cases like this one which took 25 years to reach a sentence. (Photo Courtesy of CTV News)

The three doctors were charged with removing kidneys from four patients that were not really dead.  The patients had signed off on being organ donors in the event of their respective deaths.  The victims were patients in the time period from September to December of 1986.  They were incorrectly declared brain dead by neurosurgeon Mariano Fiore Jr. who then authorized the removal of the organs.    

Torrecillas and Sacramento were the doctors who removed the organs and prepared them for transplant.  Following the removal of the organs, the patients did actually die.  Another neurosurgeon, Antonio de Carvalho Monteiro was also accused but died last year.

The organs were harvested at a public hospital and then sent to a private organ transplant facility.  At public hospitals, transplants are free but the waitlists are long.  At the private facilities the organ transplant process can be accelerated for those wealthy enough to pay the price.  For each kidney, it is estimated that US $41,000 was paid.

Two organ recipients testified in the trial that they paid that amount for a kidney transplant at the private facility.  Both noted that they were not informed of where the organ donation was from. 

The case first came to light in December of 1986 when the head Doctor at the University of Taubate’s medical school noticed irregularities in records regarding organ transplants.  He investigated further into the transplants and the team of doctors who performed them then turned the information over to the Federal Council of Medicine.

The state prosecutor on the case, Marcio Friggi de Carvalho said that the victims, “simply did not have the diagnosis of brain death.”

The doctor’s defense attorney, Sergio Salgado Badaro told the jury, “[I]f you convict them, you will be the first jury in the country to convict doctors for killing people who were already dead.” 

When the sentence was handed down, Baldaro noted that he respected the jury’s decision but his clients were going to appeal.  The doctors will be permitted to continue practicing while their appeal is considered.

Family members of the victims present when the sentence was handed down cried and hugged each other.  The decision has long been awaited and Brazilian authorities have termed it extremely complex in order to explain the 25 year wait.  The Brazilian criminal justice system is known to be a slow machine and it is not uncommon for cases to take years or even decades to be decided. 


For more information, please see;

Bio Edge – Brazilian Transplant Doctors Convicted After 25 Years – 22 October 2011

CTV News – Doctors Guilty of Harvesting Organs of Live Patients – 21 October 2011

WHDH News – Brazil Doctors Found Guilty of Killing Patients – 21 October 2011

MSNBC News – Docs Charged For Removing Organs From Live Patients – 17 October 2011

Court Dismisses Magnitsky’s Mother’s Complaint Over Resumption Of Prosecution

By Terance Walsh
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia —  The Moscow City Court has upheld a lower court’s ruling to reopen Sergie Magnitsky’s tax evasion case.  Natalia Magnitskaya, mother of the late anti-corruption lawyer Magnitsky, had sued a senior Moscow judge for the denial of access to justice and in opposition of Deputy General Prosecutor’s decision to reopen the prosecution of her deceased son last summer.  She had claimed that the reopening of the prosecution of her son was a violation of her constitutional rights.

Sergei Magnitsky (Photo courtesy of RAPSI)

Magnitsky died in a Russian pre-trial detention center two years ago, at the age of 37, after being tortured and denied medical treatment.  The Prosecutor General’s Office named Magnitsky’s cause of death “cardiovascular insufficiency.”  A hearing was held for her lawsuit on Monday, 24 October at the Moscow City Court.

A judge of the cassation board said announced the dismissal of Mrs. Magnitskaya’s claim, declaring, “The Tverskoy District Court’s decision to dismiss the complaint is legal and founded.”

When Mrs. Magnitskaya opened her lawsuit she stated her cause of action against Judge Igor Alisov as a “failure to consider her legal action to stop the prosecution by Russian authorities of her dead son.”  Magnitsky’s friends have deplored the prosecution as barbaric and medieval.

Explaining the basis of her lawsuit, Mrs. Magnitskaya said, “Judge Alisov, in his position as Chairman of Tverskoi District Court, deprived me of the right to protection from courts. I believe he was obviously aware that this denial of justice was against the law. I consider his actions as a hidden form of mockery and manifestation of his conflict of interest.”

“Earlier, the Deputy General Prosecutor of Russia issued an unlawful and unconstitutional decree to prosecute my dead son making me a participant in that criminal proceeding. The fact that it is directly relevant to my rights is evidenced by summonses for questioning that I have received from Interior Ministry Investigator Sapunova who personally prosecuted my son.”

The plea was returned to Mrs. Magnitskaya without consideration on its merits so she would be allowed to revise and resubmit it.

The Deputy General Prosecutor of Russia ordered the reopening of the prosecution against Magnitksy, 20 months after Magnitsky died.  Russia allows cases against deceased defendants to be reopened upon request from their surviving relatives to reinstate and rehabilitate their bad name.

The newly opened case, however, was not initiated upon request of the family and was not for the purpose of rehabilitating Magnitsky’s name.  The case was reopened using evidence the Russian President’s Human Rights Council determined was fabricated and led by the same team of investigators that the Human Rights Council concluded.

Prior to Magnitsky’s death he testified against these very investigators, claiming theft of his client’s companies and embezzlement of $230 million of public funds.

Russian authorities decided to prosecute Magnitsky on “trumped up charges” instead of going after the officials named in the Human Rights Council’s report.  As part of the investigation Mrs. Magnitskaya was summoned to be questioned as a witness by the same officials who arrested and tortured, or authorized the torture of, her son.

Magnitsky’s former employer, Hermitage, called Mrs. Magnitskaya’s summons to testify “a cynical and cruel action designed to suppress his family’s efforts in seeking justice.  The officers who tortured Magnitsky in custody, now, almost two years after his death, are trying to pressure his relatives into withdrawing their public call for justice.”

Mrs. Magnitskaya filed a lawsuit on 5 September 2011 against the Deputy General Prosecutor for prosecuting her son after his death.  She claimed that reopening a case against a deceased defendant was only legal upon request from the defendant’s family.

Mrs. Magnitskaya said, “The criminal prosecution of my son is being resumed under the pretext of restoration of his right to rehabilitation. At the same time, the re-investigation will be carried out by the same investigators of the same department, with whose participation my son was brought to death….  It is not only that I don’t trust them, but I also fear them”

On 12 September 2011 Judge Igor Alisov refused to consider Mrs. Magnitskaya’s lawsuit.  He reasoned that Mrs. Magnitskaya was not party to the proceedings and failed to show how the reopening of her son’s case violated her rights.  Then on 20 September 2011 Mrs. Magnitskaya filed suit against Judge Alisov for refusing to hear her case.

Judge Alisov had previously absolved all officials of liability for the alleged $230 million they had embezzled.  Instead the embezzlement was pinned on an ex-convict in a proceeding in which no evidence was examined.  No compensation for the $230 million was asked of the convict.

For more information please see:

Law and Order in Russia — Magnitsky’s Mother Sues Russian Judge For The Denial Of Access To Justice — 24 October 2011

RAPSI — Magnitsky’s Mother Complaint Over Case Resumption Dismissed — 24 October 2011

RIA Novosti — Court Upholds Reopening Of Magnitsky’s Case — 24 October 2011

Law and Order in Russia — Sergei Magnitsky’s Mother Accusses Russian General Prosecutor Of Murder — 26 September 2011

Emerging Markets — Mother To Be Questioned By Her Son’s Alleged Killers — 6 September 2011

RT — Case Reopening ‘Immoral” – Mother — 6 September 2011

Police in Dominican Republic Account for 10% of All Fatal Shootings

By Brittney Hodnik
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican RepublicAmnesty International reports that the police in the Dominican Republic account for an astonishing 10% of all killings in the country.  Crime rates have soared in the past few years, which many attribute to organized crime; following in Mexico’s footsteps.  There have been reports of unlawful killings, abuses while in police custody, and even reports of enforced disappearance.

The police in the Dominican Republic have accounted for 10% of all the killings this year. (Image Courtesy of BBC News)

Statistics from the Office of the Prosecutor General show that between January and July of 2011, the police killed 154 people, according to Amnesty International.  This number is up from 125 people during the same period last year.  This means that the police committed 10% of all homicides in the Dominican Republic.

The police contend that these killings were always during “exchanges of gunfire” with criminal suspects, according to Amnesty International, but the report finds that many of these situations involved deliberate shots to kill.

Colonel Maximo Aybar is the National Police spokesperson in the Dominican Republic.  He reinforces that the police are indeed committed to protecting the public.  Aybar told CNN, “We are more than aware that we are here to defend members of society, not to assault them. . . . In those cases where excesses may have been committed, investigations have occurred and measures have been taken . . . .”

The police further point out that they too have been the victims of these violent exchanges.  CNN reports that 97 officers have been killed this year, and 176 have been injured.  The police are using gunfire as a deterrent to prevent young people from engaging in this type of organized crime that is running rampant throughout the country.

Beyond the killings on the street, Amnesty International reports that while in police custody, suspects have been threatened with death, denied food and water, beaten, had plastic bags put over their heads, or were hung on nails by their handcuffs.  Further, at least two people last seen in police custody have gone missing, and many fear the worst.  The Washington Post reports that these instances are investigated, but not very thoroughly.

The police may be using the killings to deter young locals from engaging in future violence.  Javier Zuniga, head of Amnesty International’s delegation to the Dominican Republic said, “We believe their conduct is actually exacerbating the violence and creating a climate in which human rights are completely ignored,” reported BBC News.

Hopefully, the police force will not become a totally corrupt agency, fighting against the people.  Although the Dominican government recognizes the fact that there are high levels of corruption already, it actively seeks to dismiss those involved.

For more information, please visit:

Amnesty International — Dominican Republic Urged to Tackle Alarming Levels of Police Abuse — 25 Oct. 2011

BBC News — Amnesty Accuses Dominican Republic Police — 25 Oct. 2011

CNN — Amnesty: Killings by Dominican Police ‘Alarming’ — 25 Oct. 2011

The Washington Post — Amnesty International Accuses Dominican Republic Police  of Killings, Torture — 25 Oct. 2011

Malnutrition Ravages North Korea

By Greg Donaldson
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

SEOUL, South Korea – After a five day visit to North Korea United Nations’ humanitarian aid chief Valerie Amos declared the country to be in dire need of help to fight malnutrition. She continued “six million North Koreans urgently need food aid but the outside world is not giving enough.”

Valerie Amos, the United Nations' humanitarian chief speaks about the lack of food available to North Koreans (Photo Courtesy of Voice of America)

During her trip Ms. Amos said she was allowed to visit all of her requested locations without any restrictions. These locations included a public market, a government food distribution center, two orphanages, two hospitals, and a communal farm.

Ms. Amos found that most people were surviving on corn and cabbage. A few groups of people had access to small amounts of rice. Ms. Amos explained that children are most affected by the food crisis and one out of every two children is malnourished.

David Austin, the North Korea program director for the U.S. based relief group Mercy Corps explained that children are dying because they are eating alternative foods such as corn mixed with roots or leaves. He further explained that this kind of diet, along with the failure to find clean water to drink, has rendered many North Koreas unable to fight simple sicknesses such as the common cold.

Mr. Austin had the opportunity to interview several North Koreans during his time in the country. What he found was families spent all of their household income on food and “every single person knew the exact date of when they last had protein.”

Many critics have pointed fingers at the United States and South Korea for their recent lack of aid to North Korea. Some feel as though the United States is holding back its aid as leverage against North Korea in nuclear talks going on this week in Geneva.

While speaking with reporters Ms. Amos urged the world to not politicize the situation. “You do not judge people on the basis of the political environment in which they are living” she said following her visit.

While North Korea has taken unprecedented actions such as allowing journalists into the country to report the food situation to the world, Ms. Amos understands the world’s skepticism. She explained that she instructed the North Korean authorities about the importance of data collecting regarding the food situation.

In April the U.N. requested 218 million dollars in humanitarian aid for North Korea. Approximately, one-third of that amount has been contributed with the primary donors being the European Union and Russia.

For more information, please see:

Herald Sun — ‘Terrible’ Malnutrition in North Korea – UN – 24 October 2011

Korean Herald — U.N. Says Aid to N.K. Should be Separate from Politics — 24 October 2011

New York Times — Head of U.N. Humanitarian Aid Paints Dire Scene in North Korea — 24 October 2011

Reuters — North Korea food aid should not be politicized – U.N. official – 24 October 2011

Voice of America — UN Calls for Increased Funding to Feed North Korea’s Hungry — 24 October 2011


After Igniting the Arab Spring, Tunisians Head to the Polls

By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

TUNIS, Tunisia–Nine months after a popular uprising that successfully ended decades of authoritarian rule, the pioneers of the region-wide protests are getting a true taste of freedom. Tunisians have begun to vote for new leaders who will create and implement the new rules for the country’s new political system.

Voters waiting in line at polls in Tunis. (Photo Courtesy of BBC)

The actions of Mohamed Bouazizi, the young vegetable seller who set himself on fire in December 2010, served as the catalyst for Tunisian revolt as well as the region-wide revolution.

Tunisia is the nation that started what became known as the “Arab Spring,” after a month-long uprising forced then-President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee to Saudia Arabia. The uprising quickly permeated neighboring countries Egypt and Libya, along with countries in the Middle East, such as Bahrain, Syria, and Yemen. All of these countries have seen their citizens come together and protest for immediate and substantive change. Many lives, ranging from adults to children, have been lost in the process.

The polls in Tunis opened at approximately 07:00 local time (06:00 GMT) on Sunday 23 October with some 7.2 million registered voters set to cast ballots to select a 217-member constituent assembly. In addition with being tasked to write a new constitution, the assembly will also bear the responsibility of appointing an interim president and a “transitional” government for the duration of the drafting process.

The real success of the Arab Spring could be measured by the success or failure of the Tunisian election. The result will send a strong signal to the people of other Arab countries who drew inspiration from Tunisia’s revolution as an example to begin their own uprisings. The latest prong of success comes from Libya, with the death of ruler Moammar Gaddafi.

At 19:00 local time (18:00 GMT), the polls closed and the results are set for announcement on Monday 24 October.

For the 217 representative seats, some 11,686 candidates are running in the election. Some 80 political parties will be represented in the election, while several thousands candidates are choosing to run as independents. Islamist party Ennahda is projected to secure the most votes, although it is unclear at this point if it will gain a majority.

Voters will choose from 11,686 candidates on 1,517 lists. There are 828 for political parties, 655 for independents, and 34 for party coalitions. Campaigning ended at midnight on Saturday 22 October and the ISIE independent polling commission reminded candidates and journalists that Saturday would be an “election silence day.”

Any breach was punishable by law, the ISIE independent polling commission warned.

Open elections for Tunisia come at the end of a long road. But nothing would stop the country’s citizens from coming out to have their voices heard in a substantive manner. On the ground, Al-Jazeera correspondents reported that high temperatures in and round the capital did not discourage hundreds of voters coming out and waited for hours in lines to cast their votes.

The government deployed some 40,000 police and soldiers to ensure that no possible protests could escalate into more violence. Many shopkeepers in Tunis claimed that many citizens had been stockpiling milk and bottled water, just in case any more occurrences of unrest disrupted the supply of necessities.

The country’s election chief, Kamel Jendoubi, claimed that his independent ISIE polling commission was “ready and confident” before the voting began. The European Union’s observer mission reported that the elections were promulgated as legitimately as possible and that there was “almost no chance of cheating or falsifying results.”

The mother of Mohamed Bouazizi shared these sentiments about the election.

“Now I am happy that my son’s death has given the chance to get beyond fear and injustice. I’m an optimist, I wish success for my country.”

Ahram news organization spoke with Mohamed Ben Salah, a 30 year-old man, who said that voting was a privilege, months afer he joined other Tunisians in protests over corruption, poverty, and unemployment that forced former President Ben Ali to flee to Saudia Arabia.

“I am 30 years old, but I have no work, no wife, no car, no house. I will be voting for freedom and for jobs.”

CNN correspondents interviewed housewife Maha Haubi just as she took her position at the end of a long line of more than 1,000 voters anxiously awaiting a chance to cast their ballots outside an elementary school in Menzah.

“It’s a holiday. Before we never even had the right to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’.”

For more information, please see:

Al-Jazeera – Polls Open in Historic Tunisia Election – 23 October 2011

BBC – Tunisia Voters Go To Polls in Historic Free Election – 23 October 2011

CNN – Tunisians Vote in First Election of Arab Spring – 23 October 2011

Reuters – Large Turnout in Tunisia’s Arab Spring Election – 23 October 2011

Ahram – Tunisians Gear Up  For Historic Vote – 22 October 2011

The Guardian – Tunisians Go To Polls Haunted By Ghosts of Old Regime – 22 October 2011

NYT – Financing Questions Shadow Tunisian Vote, First of Arab Spring – 22 October 2011

Burma’s Armed Forces Accused of Abuses Against Kachin Civilians

By: Jessica Ties
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

NAYPYIDAW, Burma – Burma’s military has been accused of killing, attacking and exploiting Kachin civilians since hostilities between the Burmese military and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) began five months ago.

Displaced Kachin civilians at an internally displaced persons camp (Photo Courtesy of Human Rights Watch).

Abuses by Burmese soldiers have caused an estimated 30,000 Kachin civilians to become displaced after being forced to flee their homes in fear of the army.

One farmer described his ordeal by explaining that they “…were afraid to live in the village so we went to hide in the jungle…we lived there for one month…” Another villager reported that Burmese soldiers are now living in the homes of those who were forced to flee after their village was invaded by the army.

Among the abuses causing citizens to flee their homes is the unnecessary killing of civilians.  In one case, Burmese soldiers entered Hang Htak village in search of KIA members and killed a fifty-two year old woman and her four year old grandson in their home as they tried to leave. There have also been reports of military forces entering villages and aimlessly firing their weapons at civilians.

Other civilians stated that they were held and aggressively interrogated by Burmese soldiers who threatened to kill them. One villager stated, “I was very afraid when they [soldiers] came and asked questions. I was afraid they would kill us.”

Some civilians have also reported being raped or witnessing a rape by soldiers. According to the September 2011 report to the United Nations by the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Burma, at least eighteen women and young girls have been “gang- raped” by the Burmese military and at least four of those victims were killed.

Those who survive encounters with the army have often reported being forced to work for the military without compensation. One woman reported that the army forced her to carry provisions up a steep two mile road despite the fact that she was six months pregnant. She stated that they were forced to make the strenuous three hour trek twice a day and were forced to eat their own food because they were not fed by the army.

Violence by the Burmese army has caused many Kachin civilians to attempt to flee into China. In response, the Chinese government has deployed 2,000 troops to the border to prevent refugees from entering the country and has also prevented the transfer of food and medical supplies to areas where over  20, 000 displaced Kachin are taking shelter.

Fighting between the Burmese army and the KIA erupted on June 9th after a seventeen year ceasefire between the ethnic Kachin and the Burmese government forces. The KIA has stated that they will not stop fighting until Burma agrees to allow the ethnic group full political power and other rights.

For more information, please see:

Chinland Guardian – Churces Attacked, Women Raped and Civilians Killed in Kachin State – 22 October 2011

Radio Free Asia – Renewed Clashes Near Chinese Border – 20 October 2011

Asian Correspondent – Burma’s Civil War: Who is Really Pulling the Strings? – 19 October 2011

Human Rights Watch – Burma: Army Committing Abuses in Kachin State – 18 October 2011

Atmosphere of Impunity Surrounds Disabled People, Says Commissioner of Human Rights

By Alexandra Halsey-Storch
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

STRASBOURG, France – Earlier this week, Thomas Hammarberg, the Commissioner for the Council of Europe for Human Rights submitted a statement to the European Court of Human Rights, in which he urged the Court to hear a case concerning the maltreatment of a disabled person in Romania. “There is an atmosphere of impunity,” Hammarberg said, “surrounding abuses committed against people with disabilities.”

Malnourished child tied to his crib in a Serbian Institution (Photo Curtesy of Disability Rights International)

This case has been filed by the Center for Legal Resources on behalf of Valentin Campeanu, a young man who suffered from a severe learning disability and was infected with the HIV Virus, which in Romania is considered a handicap.  He died at the age of eighteen at the Poiana Mare Psychiatric Hospital, just one of the institutions where he spent his entire life.

Under Article 34 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a petitioner “should claim to be a victim of a violation of one of the rights set forth in the Convention.” As such, the person who was “directly affected by the violation” is the ideal petitioner to bring the lawsuit; however, the Court has not strictly enforced this provision and has, in some circumstances, allowed a close relative or legal representative of a deceased victim to commence an action for violating ones “right to life.” The case at issue differs from typical cases that the Court has heard in the past in that the named-plaintiff is deceased, and he is not survived by an heir or close relative, nor did he have a legal representative prior to death. Should this case be heard, it will be the first of its kind to be brought by a third party. Thus arises the question of whether or not the Center for Legal Resources, as a third, unrelated party may sue on behalf of Campeanu.

There are at least two bodies of international law that are intended to protect the lives and rights of persons like Campeanu but have been, in many instances, ineffectual in deterring human rights abuses. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights–adopted by the United Nations in 1948—speaks generally on the issue, stating that, “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of oneself and one’s family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care.” More specifically, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) was designed “to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.”

As a policy measure, the Council of Europe 2006-2015 Action Plan to Promote the Rights and Full Participation of People with Disabilities in Society is a plan aimed at bettering the welfare of disabled people.

Despite the laws that are in place and the policy initiatives at work, the abuse of disabled people remains prevalent around the world. The abuse can be visible, while in other instances it is more subtle and clandestine. The spectrum of types of abuses runs the gamut from being denied employment opportunities, to being the subject of hate crimes; from receiving substandard education in segregated classrooms to physical and psychological abuse in the home.

Throughout Europe, “thousands of people with disabilities are still kept in large, segregated and often remote institutions” often living in “substandard conditions, suffering neglect and human rights abuses.” Adults and children alike that have been institutionalized are often denied basic mental health and medical services and are physically and sexually abused by health care professionals. Children are chained to cribs, while adults are chained to their beds; children and adults alike can be severely underfed and malnourished. In some instances, there are “premature deaths” that go uninvestigated or even unreported.

While all of these violations of basic human rights occur, disabled people are often unable to reach the very place that could give them relief from their misery: the court system. A study by Inclusion Europe, a non-governmental organization, found that “access to justice for people with intellectual disabilities is by no means guaranteed in many European countries.” The problem is widespread and deeply embedded in society. As such, Commissioner Hammarberg argues that the Center for Legal Resources—even though a third, unrelated party– should in-fact be permitted to bring a lawsuit on behalf of Campeanu. He states: “in exceptional circumstances [non-governmental organizations] should be allowed to lodge applications with the Court on behalf of victims, even in the absence of specific authorization.” Such organizations are necessary in order to expose “human rights violations experienced by vulnerable persons and in facilitating their access to justice…”

For more information please visit:

Council of Europe – Access to Justice for Persons with Disabilities – 18 Oct. 2011

Council of Europe – Third Party Intervention – 14 Oct. 2011

Cornell University ILR School – Justice, Rights and Inclusion for People with Intellectual Disability – 1 Jan. 2007

Council of Europe – Improving the Quality of Life for People with Disabilities – 5 April 2006

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights – Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – 13 Dec. 2006

India Repels Parts of Armed Forces Act

By Greg Donaldson
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

NEW DEHLI, India – Chief Minister Omar Abdullah announced on Friday that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) will be removed in some of the areas of Jammu and Kashmir in the following days.

Women protest the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in January of 2008 (Photo Courtesy of Reuters)

Abdullah explained that many of the areas in the state have become peaceful enough to permit the change. The law has been despised for years and has been the subject of much protest.

The AFSPA was enacted in 1958 as an emergency measure to protect the country from a small rebellion in the northeast part of the country. Since the AFSPA’s enactment many have called for its repel claiming it results in the military committing major human rights violations.

After a woman died in military custody in 2004, a violent protest broke out demanding the AFSPA be revoked. The Prime Minister set up a judicial committee to review the law but no change was made to it even though the committee recommended the AFSPA be exchanged for a more “humane law.”

The AFSPA grants the military the ability to shoot to kill in law enforcement situations, to arrest without a warrant, and to detain people without time limits.

Security officers cannot be prosecuted without special approval from the central government. Even in cases of alleged rape or murder it is rare for governmental approval to be given to prosecute an officer.

Critics of the law claim that this blanket authority given to the military has resulted in torture and poor treatment to citizens throughout the country. This summer thousands of unidentified bodies were discovered in mass graves in Jammu and Kashmir lending support to critic’s claims.

The Khaleej Times quotes an “official” who explained that as AFSPA is removed from part of the state (Jammu and Kashmir) the practice will be gradually continued to other parts of the country, pending the security situation.

While most of the country is thrilled at the prospect of the AFSPA being phased out, the Army and the Defense Ministry are not. Military officials have already declared that the areas the minister has assigned as “peaceful” could be reclassified as “disturbed” if violence occurs which would led to the revival of the AFSPA in those areas.

The Military claims that terrorist threats still exist in those regions, however, defense ministry officials have declared the decision of Chief Minister Abdullah will be respected and followed.


For more information, please see:

Khaleej Times – Anti-Terror Laws to be Relaxed in J&K: Omar – 22 October 2011

Times of India – Army Still Opposed to Withdrawal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act from J&K – 22 October 2011

New York Times – Kashmir to Lift Reviled Security Law – 21 October 2011

Human Rights Watch – India: Repeal Armed Forces Special Powers Act – 19 October 2011

Is the FBI Using Racial Profiling to Target Certain Communities? The ACLU Thinks So.

By Brittney Hodnik
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, United States – The American Civil Liberties Union (“ACLU”) has accused the FBI of using racial profiling techniques in their investigations.  The ACLU says that because the government expanded the FBI’s power since terrorist attacks of September 11, 2011, the FBI has taken advantage of its newfound power.  The FBI denies that it uses racial profiling and joins the ACLU in condemning the action.

The ACLU believes the FBI's racial profiling techniques are unconstitutional and impinge on civil liberties. (Image Courtesy of Reuters)

The ACLU has reached this conclusion after reviewing documents it requested under the Freedom of Information Act.  According to Reuters, the FBI is associating certain crimes with certain races and ethnicities then using 2010 Census data to profile entire communities.  Not only is this illegal but it poses a threat to civil liberties across the United States.

Some of the demographics affected are Arab Americans and Hispanics in Michigan, blacks in Georgia, and Chinese and Russian-American groups in California, according to the Associated Press.  The documents were heavily redacted, resulting in large gaps of information.

One of the memos obtained however, was posted on the ACLU website.  The memo came from Detroit’s field office saying, “Because Michigan has a large Middle-Eastern and Muslim population, it is prime territory for attempted radicalization and recruitment by these terrorist groups,” reported the Associated Press.  The FBI defended their position by saying “Often, though, certain terrorist and criminal groups are comprised of persons primarily from a particular ethnic or geographic community, which must be taken into account when trying to determine if there are threats to the United States.

A major expansion to the FBI’s guidelines has contributed to the problem.  In 2008, the guidelines changed to allow the FBI to do new investigations called ‘assessments,’ which require no factual basis, according to

Hina Shamsi is the director of the ACLU’s National Security Project.  He told reporters that the memos received under the Freedom of Information Act have “confirm[ed] some of our worst fears” about FBI surveillance, reported The Washington Post.  “The FBI has targeted American communities for investigation based not on suspicion of wrongdoing but on the crudest stereotypes.”

The FBI continues to defend its position, reminding people that these mapping techniques are used widely in law enforcement and are essential to protecting the nation from further terrorist attacks, reports The Washington Post.  “To fulfill its national security mission the FBI cannot simply wait for people to report threats,” the FBI told The Associated Press.

The ACLU vows to continue its investigation and exposure of the FBI and its profiling tactics, suggesting that the FBI has stepped out of bounds and surpassed its power.

For more information, please visit: — Racial Profiling on an “Industrial Scale” — 22 Oct. 2011

The Associated Press — ACLU in NY Accuses FBI of Racial Profiling — 21 Oct. 2011

Reuters — U.S. Rights Watchdog Accuses FBI of Racial Profiling — 20 Oct. 2011

The Washington Post — ACLU Says FBI Uses Racial Profiling Against Muslims, Other Minorities — 20 Oct. 2011

Libya Exults with Death of Gaddafi, but Challenges Lie Ahead

By Zach Waksman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

TRIPOLI, Libya – Libya rejoiced after reports of former dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi’s death were confirmed Thursday, marking the end of an unpredictable 42-year reign of terror.  Shouts praising God, celebratory gunfire, and other noisemakers pervaded the streets of Tripoli, the capital.  Saturday will confirm the beginning of a new era in Libya when the National Transitional Council (NTC) will declare the country free and start the process of transitioning into a democracy, but many challenges remain as it begins.

NTC fighters celebrate their victory after taking control of former dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte. (Photo courtesy of the New York Times)

NTC forces captured Gaddafi near his hometown of Sirte after a U.S. Predator drone and a French fighter jet fired on a convoy leaving the city in order to stop its progress.  From then, the Libyan fighters made their attack and found the onetime despot.  The nature of his death is unclear.  Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril, who has promised to resign after liberation, said that Gaddafi died in crossfire between his supporters and the NTC and died en route to a hospital.  But others, including Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, are uncertain as to whether this is true.  Recently available video footage suggests that he was alive when he was captured, but was later executed.  Pillay wants an investigation into the matter.

For Libyans, it was a chance to celebrate.

“It is a historic moment,” said NTC spokesman Abdel Hafez Ghoga. “It is the end of tyranny and dictatorship. Gaddafi has met his fate.”

Omar Abulqasim Alkikli, a writer and a former political prisoner, saw the celebration first hand as he traveled the streets of Tripoli.

“Cars passed us, carrying passengers who themselves were carried on the waves of a powerful joy,” he wrote for the New York Times.

Those passengers waved the independence flag outside their windows, while heavy traffic, with almost all of the cars running their blinkers, blocked the roads.  Others on the street sprayed the passing vehicles with orange blossom water, which Alkikli said was “a custom traditionally reserved for weddings,” adding that “[o]ne of the young men shouted as he showered us: ‘A new life! A new life!’”

Twitter also blazed with comments.  Many of them suggested that similar fates awaited President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen and President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, who had also tried to crush protests against their regime.  One notable tweet, also referring to the former Tunisian and Egyptian leaders, read: “Ben Ali escaped, Mubarak is in jail, Gaddafi was killed. Which fate do you prefer, Ali Abdullah Saleh? You can consult with Bashar.” Another simply said: “Bashar al-Assad, how do you feel today?”

The international community generally stated its approval of the liberation.

“We can definitely say that the Gaddafi regime has come to an end,” said U.S. President Barack Obama. “The dark shadow of tyranny has been lifted, and with this enormous promise the Libyan people now have a great responsibility to build an inclusive and tolerant and democratic Libya that stands as the ultimate rebuke to Gaddafi’s dictatorship.”

The Sun, Great Britain’s most popular newspaper, bore the headline: “That’s for Lockerbie!”,a reference to the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people.  An agent of Gaddafi’s was convicted for conducting the attack.

NATO, which had run a bombing campaign in Libya since March, will be terminated.  Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that “the people of Libya can truly decide their own future.”

That future is still uncertain.  Libya now faces the challenges of building a new government almost from scratch and finding a common goal to keep its people united.  Lisa Anderson, president of American University in Cairo and a political scientist who studies the country, feared the worst.

“Libya is going to have a terrible time.  For a long time, what knit them together was a kind of morbid fascination with Qaddafi, and until now everybody felt that until they saw his body that he almost might come back, like a vampire,” she said.  But “they don’t have a credible institution in the entire country.  They don’t have anything that knits them together.”

Arguably, the first step the new nation must take is one of reconciliation, as the country seeks to turn itself into a democracy.  The disparate groups that formed the provisional government were locked in a power struggle for positions within it before Gaddafi’s death, but agreed to put that off until his capture.  Those issues will need to be resolved, and a new constitution will have to be written.  The NTC has scheduled elections for 2013, which will prove difficult because Libya, even before Gaddafi, has never used an electoral system before.

Providing security and developing a national army is also a top priority.  During the revolution towns relied on small brigades, some of which became rivals, to maintain order.  But more than anything, reducing the stockpiles of guns will be critical.

While forming the government will be a major issue going forward, Libyans are able to celebrate right now.  Younis Fenadi, a climate researcher at the Libyan National Meteorological Center, was happy to learn of the news, saying that Gaddafi’s death brings a degree of closure to the country.  Over time, he believes, they will receive answers to questions about Gaddafi’s behavior during his regime.  But more than anything, he is enjoying the potential for a brighter day.

“I am glad that I get a chance, I am 52 years old now, to speak freely in my country,” Fenadi said.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera — Libyans Celebrate Gaddafi’s Death — 21 October 2011

Al Jazeera — Muammar Gaddafi Killed as Sirte Falls — 21 October 2011

BBC — After Gaddafi: Libyan Revolution ‘Still Has Far to Go’ — 21 October 2011

BBC — Libya: The Challenges Ahead — 21 October 2011

Libya TV — Gaddafi Killed in Hometown Sirte as Libyans Look Toward Future — 21 October 2011

Tripoli Post — NATO Chief Calls on Libyans to Work Together to Build a Brighter Future — 21 October 2011

Tripoli Post — NTC to Proclaim Libya Free Saturday — 21 October 2011

New York Times — In Tripoli, Blaring Horns and Shouts of Joy — 20 October 2011

New York Times — Qaddafi’s Death Places Focus on Arab Spring’s ‘Hard Times’ — 20 October 2011

New York Times — Violent End to an Era as Qaddafi Dies in Libya — 20 October 2011