UN Report Highlights Iranian Human Rights Abuses; Draws Criticisms from Iran

By Tyler Yates
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

NEW YORK, New York — On September 23 the Secretary-General of the United Nations presented a report to the General Assembly on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran.  This report is the result of a mandate pursuant to the Human Rights Council, which assigned Ahmed Shaheed as the Special Rapporteur to the region.

It is the job of the Special Rapporteur to submit reports to both the UN General Assembly and the Human Rights Council on the current human rights situation in Iran.

The mandate calls upon Iran to cooperate fully with Shaheed by permitting access to visit the country, and providing all necessary information to enable the fulfillment of the mandate.

Shaheed was assigned as Special Rapporteur in June so the report was only a preliminary list of findings based on interviews with NGOs and persons who claimed to suffer abuses at the hands of the Iranian government.  A more substantive report will be released in the future.

Shaheed’s report begins by noting that Iran ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on 24 June 1975.  This covenant committed Iran to recognizing the freedoms of expression, assembly, association, and religion.  It also provided for the right to due process, legal assistance, humane treatment of detainees.  It prohibited the arbitrary arrest and detention of individuals.  Further protections included the “equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all civil and political rights,” and the protection of the rights of minorities.

Shaheed’s report examines Iran’s human rights abuses on the backdrop of this covenant as well as the guarantees contained in Iran’s constitution. His report, while only preliminary, highlights incidents of particular importance.

Using first-hand testimonies from various NGOs and concerned parties, Shaheed presents a pattern of systematic violations of the previously mentioned rights.  The testimonies reveal allegations of physical and psychological mistreatment and torture for inducing self-incrimination, the use of solitary confinement for long periods during case investigation, excessive bail requirements, predetermined sentences, and the use of threats, violence, and intimidation of family members to encourage admission of guilt.

The treatment of detained political activists, including political leaders Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, also draws a lot of ire in the report.  Both men and their wives have been under house arrest since February.  Sources reveal that they have been allowed little contact with the outside world, and their families.  They also have been deprived of control over their health care, access to publications, privacy, and their ability to live a normal life.

Detained journalists fare little better.  Sources give numerous accounts of detained journalists facing long bouts of solitary confinement, difficult interrogations, torture, and coercion to incriminate themselves.

Iranian journalist Reza Hoda Saber takes concerns about such arbitrary detentions to another level after having suffered a heart attack while in prison following a hunger strike protesting his incarceration.  There are worries that prison authorities may have denied proper medical attention to Saber, who reportedly complained of chest pains for hours before the heart attack.

Other civil actors, including students, artists, lawyers, and environmentalists, faced similar fates for anti-government activism.  Many individuals also faced bans on practicing their respective jobs, some for periods up to 20 years.  Some students faced permanent bans on their access to higher education.

There are several accounts of the Iranian government denying permits and using intimidation methods to prevent demonstrations in a clear violation of the right to assembly. Shaheed specifically mentions one incident in which the government allegedly denied mourners the right to attend the funeral of a political activist.  Accounts suggest that security forces disrupted the funeral services by removing the activist’s body and beating mourners, including the deceased’s daughter who suffered a fatal heart attack shortly after.

Shaheed’s report finds that the application of certain laws “erect[s] barriers to gender equality” undermining Iran’s commitments stipulated in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  Men have an absolute right to divorce.  Women can only initiate divorce if they meet certain conditions.  Mothers can never be awarded guardianship rights of their children, even when their husbands die.  Women do not have equal inheritance rights.  Even if a woman were the sole survivor upon her husband’s death she would at most only receive a quarter of the estate.

An issue of grave importance in the report is the targeted violence and discrimination against minority groups.  This includes an encroachment on their rights including the freedoms of assembly, association, expression, movement, and liberty.  The Baha’i community, the largest non-Muslim religious minority, is not recognized by the government, and has been the victim of historical discrimination. Recognized religious minorities face serious constraints on their ability to worship freely, and often subjected to severe limitations on their respective practices.

Shaheed also expresses concern over the increase in the number of executions in Iran.  Noting, that while the frequency is a definite concern, this issue is compounded further by worries that the death penalty is often used in cases where due process has been denied to the defendant.  There is also reason to believe that the death penalty is being used in cases that do not meet the international standard for serious crimes.  This includes usage of the death penalty for cases involving drugs, immoral acts, and kidnapping.   Four percent of the crimes announced by the Iranian government stipulated no charges.  There have also been reports of secret executions that go well beyond those officially reported.

Shaheed concludes the report by expressing his wish to open a “constructive dialogue” with Iran as he completes his mandate, and encourages Iran’s government to make strides in correcting the elements discussed in the preliminary report.

Since the report’s release Iran has actively denied the allegations contained within it, describing Shaheed as having “hostile views” towards Iran.  A special envoy from Iran did meet with Shaheed on Tuesday, which he described as frank and friendly.

The UN is expected to act on an annual human rights resolution on Iran by the end of the year.  Shaheed’s final report is due at the spring 2012 session of the Human Rights Council.

For more information, please see:

National Iranian American Council– UN Human Rights Report on Iran Spotlights ‘Increasing Trend’ of Violations — 20 Oct. 2011

UN News Centre — Iran: UN human rights expert stresses need for dialogue — 20 Oct. 2011

Voice of America — Iran Slams UN Human Rights Report — 20 Oct. 2011

Voice of America — UN Cites ‘Systematic Violations’ of Human Rights in Iran — 19 Oct. 2011

United Nations — The situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran — 23 Sept. 2011

Justice Jackson’s Echoes From Nuremberg: Sixty-Five Years Ago This Month

By Terance Walsh
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

On Tuesday, October 1, 1946 nineteen defendants were convicted and three were acquitted on charges of conspiracy, aggressive war, war crimes, and crimes against humanity at the International Military Tribunal (IMT) in Nuremberg.  This date and judgment marked the end of Justice Robert H. Jackson’s work as chief prosecutor.  Justice Jackson returned to Washington, DC on October 2 and resumed his role on the Supreme Court on October 7.

Justice Robert H. Jackson (Photo courtesy of Holocaust Research Project)

The convicted defendants were sentenced to death and the Allied Control Council declined to mitigate their sentences.  On October 15 one of the condemned, Hermann Goering, committed suicide by cyanide in his cell.  In the early morning hours of October 16 the remaining condemned were led by a U.S. Army team to a newly-constructed execution chamber.  They were hanged and pronounced dead before 3:00 a.m.

Whitney Harris, formerly a junior prosecutor working with Justice Jackson, flew to Nuremberg from Berlin where he was working at the Office of Military Government for Germany.  There he saw the executions and four days later he reported to his former boss, Justice Jackson.

Mr. Justice Robert H. Jackson

Supreme Court

Washington, D.C.

Dear Chief:

On Tuesday I flew to Nurnberg to be present at the final episode in the trial of the major war criminals.  In spite of the efforts of General [Lucius] Clay to gain my admittance as a witness to the actual hangings, this proved impossible under a policy established by the Control Council which excluded members of prosecuting staffs from the execution chamber.  However, familiarity with the scene and close contact with the newspaper men who were present was quite sufficient to enable me to report on the details.

The executions took place in the prison gymnasium which you will remember as the small building about seventy-five yards from the door leading into the cell block where the “Big Twenty-one” were imprisoned.  The secret that this building, which had been the workroom for the defendants who processed the thousands of affidavits submitted for the [defense of the indicted] organizations and had been used for a basketball game only the Saturday preceding, was to be the execution hall was kept so well that only two security officers knew the fact on Tuesday afternoon.

The members of the four-man committee in charge of the executions were all generals, Roy V. Rickard for the United States, Paton Walsh for Britain, Morel for France and Molkov for Russia.  They handled the arrangements very efficiently, except, of course, for the Goering suicide which could scarcely be charged to their neglect.  This remains at writing the great mystery of the executions.

At nine-thirty [on Tuesday night, October 15], the correspondents were permitted to inspect the cell block and observe the condemned.  Jodl was writing a letter; Ribbentrop was in earnest conversation with a chaplain; Sauckel nervously paced the floor, and Goering simulated sleep, his hands outside of the blankets.  At the forty-five, the guard noticed Goering twitching.  He called for the corporal of the guard and they rushed into the cell.  They saw Goering writhing in agony.  When the doctor arrived the death rattle was in his throat.  Goering had cheated the hangman.  They found in the cell a small envelope marked H. Goering on the outside, inside of which were three notes, one addressed to Colonel Andrus [the prison commandant] from Goering, and the cartridge case in which the vial of potassium cyanide had been preserved.  As yet, the contents of the notes have not been released for publication and how Goering got the poison remains unsolved.  Goering’s body was brought into the execution chamber so that it might be viewed by the committee and by the two representatives of the German people present, Dr. Wilhelm Hoegner, Minister President of Bavaria, and Dr. Jakob Meistner, General Prosecutor of the High Court at Nurnberg.

At eleven minutes past one o’clock in the morning of 16 October, the white-faced Joachim von Ribbentrop stepped through the door into the execution chamber and faced the gallows on which he and the others condemned to death by the Tribunal were to be hanged.  Ribbentrop’s hands were unmanacled and bound behind him with a leather thong.  He walked to the foot of the thirteen stairs leading to the gallows platform.  He was asked to state his name.  Flanked by two guards and followed by the Chaplain, he slowly mounted the stairs.  On the platform, he saw the hangman with the noose of thirteen coils and the hangman’s assistant with the black hood.  He stood on the trap and his feet were bound with a webbed Army belt.  He was asked to state any last words, and said:  “God protect Germany.  God have mercy on my soul.  My last wish is that German unity be maintained, that understanding between East and West be realized and there be peace for the world”.  The trap was sprung and Ribbentrop died at 1:29.

In the same way, each of the remaining defendants to receive capital sentences approached the scaffold and met the fate of common criminals.  All, except the wordy Nazi philosopher, Rosenberg, uttered final statements.  Keitel spoke as a Prussian soldier:  “I call on the Almighty to be considerate of the German people, provide tenderness and mercy.  Over 2,000,000 German soldiers went to their death for their Fatherland before me.  I now follow my sons.  All for Germany”.  Gestapo Chief Kaltenbrunner declared apologetically:  “I served the German people and my Fatherland with willing heart.  I did my duty according to its laws.  I am sorry that in her trying hour she was not led only by soldiers.  I regret that crimes were committed in which I had no part.  Good luck Germany”.  Frank said quietly:  “I am thankful for the kind treatment which I received during this incarceration and I pray God to receive me mercifully”.  Frick spoke only the phrase, “Let live the eternal Germany”.  Streicher shouted “Heil Hitler!” as he climbed the stairs and followed with the words: “Now I go to God, Purim Festival 1946.  And now to God.  The Bolshevists will one day hang you.  I am now by God my father”.  And his last words were, “Adele, my dear wife”.  Sauckel protested:  “I die innocently.  The verdict was wrong.  Got protect Germany and make Germany great again.  Let Germany live and God protect my family”.  Jodl spoke in the manner of an officer addressing his troops:  “I salute you my Germany”.  Seyss-Inquart climaxed the final statements when he said:  “I hope that this execution is the last act of the tragedy of the second world war and that a lesson will be learned so that peace and understanding will be realized among the nations.  I believe in Germany”.  Seyss-Inquart died at 2:57 less than two hours after von Ribbentrop had entered the execution chamber.  It was over—the trial ended, evil requited, and as Dr. Hoegner said, “Justice done”.

I am now at work in Berlin in the Legal Division, Office of Military Government (U.S.), and my job is “Legal advice”, by which I am charged with answering any and all legal questions which may be referred by the Deputy Military Governor or departments of OMGUS.  The Legal Division at present is primarily charged with the reinstitution of the legal basis for democratic government in the American Zone of Germany.  The laws of the dictatorship have been repealed, but there remains the task of reenacting codes covering each branch of substantive law and reestablishing workable procedures.  I hope this task will have been completed by next summer and that when I leave Germany the basis for a new democratic society will have been laid.

                                                            Faithfully yours,

                                                            /s/ Whitney

When Justice Jackson wrote back to Harris, privately, nearly a month later, Jackson expressed disapproval of aspects of the execution events and some of his standards of good judgment and propriety in the use of power:

November 18, 1946

Mr. Whitney R. Harris,

OMGUS, Legal Division

APO 742,

C/o Postmaster, New York City.

My dear Whitney:

I very much appreciated your report of the Nurnberg executions.  Apparently the military crowd were a little vindictive.  They were very sore, I understand, because those who were sent to take charge of the executions were not put in prominent [courtroom] places at the [IMT] rendering of the verdict.  The impropriety of playing up the executioners before the judgment of guilt had been rendered or sentence imposed does not seem to occur to such mentalities, if that is what they can be called by courtesy.

The photographs [of the corpses of the hanged criminals and Goering] which were released in this country have produced an extremely bad impression and with very few exceptions there is criticism, even in the papers that published them, of the fact that they were released.  All in all, I am rather glad that the military people shut us out and made it their own performance.

I am glad that you are comfortably situated in Berlin and are at the job of giving legal advice.  You certainly are having a very interesting experience and you may decide to make foreign service a career.

I hope you will let us hear from you from time to time and tell us the low-down on what goes on.  …

                                                                        Sincerely yours,

                                                                        /s/ Robert H. Jackson

To read the words of Justice Jackson and Mr. Harris is to journey to the past.  They give us eyes that see truths Nuremberg reveals that we, the people of the world, must carry with us at all times.  They show us the need for hearts and minds that must simultaneously learn, feel, and forget.  And they give us shoes in which we must continue to walk.

Special thanks to John Q. Barrett, Professor of Law, St. Johns Universty School of Law.

Venezuela’s Only Independent News Agency, Globovisión, Fined $2.1 Million by Government

by Emilee Gaebler
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuelan television company, Globovisión, has been fined $2.1 million for their editorial conduct.  Venezuelan media regulator, Conatel, announced the fine on Tuesday.  The amount represents roughly 7.5% of Globovisión’s gross income.

Guillermo Zuloaga, owner of Globovisión. (Photo courtesy of Noticias VE)

Conatel’s director, Peter Maldonado, stated that the fine stemmed from the private television company’s reporting in July of the riots at the El Rodeo prisons.  Maldonado said that the reporting incited “the anxiety of the citizenry” and “promoted hatred and intolerance for political reasons.”

Specifically, Maldonado stated that interviews with relatives of inmates were played more than 300 times and that false audio was added to the tracks, including the sound of gunfire.  Globovisión defended their coverage of the events, stating they were not permitted onto the scene and that their reporting was fair and balanced under the circumstances.

In December, Venezuela passed media responsibility laws in order to ensure social responsibility from those who transmit text, image, sound or information via television, radio or the internet.  Globovisión is accused of violating two of these laws.  The first is their failure to pick up appearances by government officials that were broadcasted by state media.  Second, that they broke the law that prohibits stirring anxiety in the public and inciting intolerance for political reasons. 

Globovisión has stated that they will appeal this fine as it will bankrupt them, effectively shutting the network down.  They have made clear their feelings that this fine is simply a way to force them out of operation.  Globovisión is currently the only remaining news station in Venezuela that is openly critical of President Chávez.

The owner of Globovisión, Guillermo Zuloaga, is living in exile due to prosecution from the Venezuelan government.  He is wanted for allegedly storing illegal vehicles on his property with the intent to sell them for profit.  His son is also wanted by the Venezuelan government. 

Zuloaga claims that these charges are trumped up; that they are an attempt to silence his criticism of the government.  In a phone call interview, regarding the fine, he stated this was “one more attack by a government that has only fear of freedom of expression.”  Zuloaga also said that if necessary, he will come up with the funds to pay the fine himself.  He is adamant that he will make sure this fine does not shut the news station down.     

Past investigations into Globovisión have been conducted by the government for a variety of reasons.  These investigations have taken place for trivial violations, like reporting on an earthquake before an official report was released, to allegations of failure to pay taxes.   

Last year, RCTV, another independent news station, was forced out of business when Chávez refused to renew their license for alleged telecommunication regulation violations.  Since Chávez’s election in 1999, state-owned media has expanded dramatically.

For more information, please see;

Aljazeera – Anti-Government TV Channel Fined in Venezuela – 19 October 2011

National Public Radio – Venezuela Fines TV Station for Prison Coverage – 19 October 2011

BBC News –Huge Fine for Venezuela Opposition Channel Globovision – 18 October 2011

CNN – Venezuela Fines Independent Broadcaster – 18 October 2011

El Universal – Telecoms Agency Fines Globovisión for Coverage of Prison Riot – 18 October 2011

Ukraine Proposes New Homophobic Law

By Greg Hall
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

KIEV, UKRAINE – A bill being introduced in Ukraine’s Parliament could unlawfully censor information about homosexuality.  The proposed bill, ‘On introduction of Changes to Certain Legislative Acts of Ukraine,’ would establish liability for propagandizing homosexuals. Those opposed to the proposed bill argue that it is a form of censorship and is discriminatory.

A proposed bill in Ukraine could have the effect of curbing information about homosexuality. (Photo courtesy of Mladiinfo)

Homosexuality was decriminalized in Ukraine in 1991 but homophobia sentiment is still very strong.  There has been a rapid growth of homophobia fueled by religions and politicians.  Activists point out that homosexuals do not want extra rights or privileges but simply insist that they be treated like everyone else.

Proponents for the bill argue that sexual conduct has long fallen under the sphere of public regulation because of its relation with family and health.  Yevgen Tsarkvo, a member of Ukrainian Parliament who helped author the bill, said that one can open a magazine and see homosexual propaganda filled with same-sex love and interviews of from the gay community.

The proposed bill itself states in part, “[t]he spread of homosexuality is a threat to national security, as it leads to the epidemic of AIDS/HIV and destroys the institution of the family and can cause a demographic crisis.  To address these demographic challenges, it is necessary to create conditions to direct public policy to improve nation’s morals, including introduction of effective mechanisms for strengthening family values and preventing the spread of manifestations of moral depravity in the media.”

The proposed bill seeks to achieve this objective through amendments of five laws addressing protection of public morals, regulation of the media/publishing, and the criminal code. In each case this is done through simply adding either “the promotion of homosexuality” or “the production/distribution of products which promote homosexuality” to the list of prohibited activities in the legislation.

Ukraine has been a member of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms since 1997.  This Convention protects against discrimination and protects freedom of expression.  Arguably, this bill violates the Convention’s principles.  Several months ago, the Convention unanimously adopted a set of recommendations to combat discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Borris Dittrich, advocacy directory for the LGBT rights program said, “If the Ukrainian parliament were to adopt this discriminatory and stigmatizing legislation, Ukraine would alienate itself from the other member states of the Council of Europe.  Lawmakers should realize that the best way to protect Ukrainians is to respect their rights and not to censor them.”

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – Ukraine: Reject Homophobic Law – 16 October 2011

Ukraine Watch – National Peculiarities of Homophobia in Ukraine – 23 August 2011

ILGA Europe – Ukraine Introducing New Homophobic Law – 26 July 2011


Conflict in Yemen Escalates; Saleh Has No Plans to Resign

By Zach Waksman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

SANA’A, Yemen – Gunfire and explosions threw Yemen into a state of flux over the weekend.  On Saturday, fighting broke out in Sana’a, the capital, between forces loyal to controversial President Ali Abdullah Saleh and pro-democracy activists who have received backing from army defectors led by Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsin al-Ahmar, and it has continued since then.  At least 30 people were killed by security forces during peaceful protests on Saturday and Sunday alone.

A woman lies dead after being shot by sniper fire during Sunday's efforts by Yemeni special forces to crack down on protesters across the country. (Photo courtesy of the Yemen Times)

Protesters were trying to increase pressure on Saleh, who has been in power for 33 years, to step down from his position.  In response, the longtime leader has returned fire with live ammunition.  Saturday’s peaceful protest was met with gunfire and rounds form rocket-propelled grenades.  A Yemeni journalist in Sana’a told Al Jazeera that many of the at least 17 who died Saturday were shot in either the head or the chest.  The news organization’s own special correspondent described the shooting as “another day of bloodshed in Yemen where unarmed protesters are caught in the middle of Pro-Saleh forces and defected soldiers.”

At least 13 people were killed during Sunday’s protest, a march into portions of the capital, which has been split between territory held by General Ahmar and government territory, constituted hostile grounds.  Accompanied by a division of Ahmar’s troops, unarmed dissidents made their way toward government offices.  As they approached a checkpoint near the Foreign Ministry, loyalist forces again opened fire, focusing on the protesters.  A video on YouTube shows footage of young men carrying a woman who had been shot off the street.

Unlike prior rallies, the activists made their intentions known to the government in an effort to avoid what happened over the weekend, which were attributed to fear of attacks on government offices or the presidential palace.

“We [the protesters] used to fear announcing the marches’ plans or places, scared of thugs’ attacks,” said independent protester Ameen Dabwan. “This time, the protesters thought that announcing the marches path would be a good way to avoid the security attacks.  Although this time we made it clear to the regime that the protesters would only march peacefully away from the palace, they attacked and killed the protesters.”

Saleh disagreed with that assessment.

“O.K., how is it a peaceful march then, when behind them is the power of a rebel military, which is now an integral part of what are called demonstrators?” he said. “The outside world treats this as if it is a peaceful revolution against a political regime and does not see” the government’s supporters.

On Sunday, SABA, Yemen’s official news agency, issued a press release regarding a meeting Saleh had with his Ministries of Defense and Interior.  According to the release, the protesters are part of a military coup operated by the Muslim Brotherhood, with backing from Al Qaeda.  He described them as “insane people, who can’t sleep and only want to take power.”

These recent skirmishes come against a backdrop of international pressure for the longtime president to relinquish power.  The Gulf Cooperation Council has been trying to create an initiative that would lead to this happening, in exchange for immunity from prosecution for himself and his family.  So far he has not abided by this initiative, but says that he will step down “in the coming days,” which could mean anything.

Later this week, the United Nations Security Council is expected to vote on a resolution based on the GCC initiative that would call for him to immediately resign. The United Nations has support from Yemeni Nobel Peace Prize laureate Tawakkul Karman, who wrote a letter to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon encouraging him “to take immediate and decisive action to stop the massacres and hold the perpetrators accountable…”

Saleh issued a statement accusing the Western powers of ignorance, saying that they “just take their information from shows and from the opposition who considers itself oppressed and is vying for its own victory.”

For more information, please see:

Yemen Post — Karman Speaks Up — 18 October 2011

Al Jazeera — Fighting Erupts in Yemeni Capital — 17 October 2011

BBC — Fighting Shakes Yemen Capital Sanaa — 17 October 2011

New York Times — Violence in Yemen’s Capital Escalates as Clashes Enter Third Day — 17 October 2011

Yemen Times — Violence Resumes in Sana’a — 17 October 2011

SABA — President Heads Meeting of Security and Military Leaders — 16 October 2011

UN Special Rapporteur On Iran Releases Official Report Today

Originally published 15 October 2011
By the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, has just released his first official report to the Human Rights Council.

23 September 2011
Sixty-sixth session
Agenda item 69 (c)
Promotion and protection of human rights: human rights situations and reports of special rapporteurs and representative
The situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran
Note by the Secretary-General

The Secretary-General has the honour to transmit to the members of the General Assembly the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, submitted in accordance with Human Rights Council resolution 16/9.

The Special Rapporteur officially assumed responsibility for the mandate on 1 August 2011 and has since notified the Secretariat that, owing to his late appointment, he would not be in a position to present a substantive report, but would focus instead on presenting his proposed methodology and cataloguing the most recent trends in the human rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

This would emphasize the need for greater transparency and cooperation from the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Read the full document here.

War Crimes Prosecutions Watch Vol. 6, Issue 14–October 10, 2011



Central African Republic & Uganda

Democratic Republic of the Congo




International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda


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

NGO 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 warcrimeswatch@pilpg.org.

Amnesty International Urges Libya to Cease Arbitrary Detention and Abuse of Detainees

By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

TRIPOLI, Libya–Libya’s Transitional Council (NTC) is holding some 2,500 detainees in the capital of Tripoli. Many of these individuals have been beaten, subjected to other types of ill-treatment, and been denied access to lawyers or judicial proceedings.

Sub-Saharan Africans suspected of being Gaddafi's mercenaries. (Photo Courtesy of Reuters)

Amnesty International, a London-based rights group, claimed that it had uncovered evidence of torture and ill-treatment of thousands of people detained in recent months.

Prisoners interviewed by the group’s researchers said they had been held for various durations, from a few days to a few months and that with rare exception, they had not been arrested under any kind of legal order.

In the report released on Thursday 13 October, Detention Abuses Staining the New Libya, Amnesty International reported that routinely involved beatings, particularly involving the use of wooden sticks or ropes on the feet. The human rights group conducted the report after interviewing some 300 prisoners.

The report included visiting eleven detention facilities in and around the capital of Tripoli and the cities of Zawiya and Misrara. The group made their visits to these cities between 18 August, just before Tripoli, and 21 September. At least two guards at two different detention facilities told Amnesty International researchers they beat detainees in order to elicit “confessions” more quickly.

Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, the group’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, shared these sentiments about the developing situation.

“There is a real risk that without firm and immediate action, some patterns of the past might be repeated. Arbitrary arrest and torture were a hallmark of Colonel Gaddafi’s rule. We understand that the transitional authorities are facing many challenges, but if they do not make a clear break with the past now, they will effectively be sending out a message that treating detainees like this is to be tolerated in the new Libya.”

Sub-Saharan Africans who were suspected of being Gaddafi’s mercenaries were particularly targeted, according to the report. The NTC pledged to look into these reports.

Jalal al-Galal, a spokesman for the NTC, told Reuters correspondents that the council leadership would look into the report.

“NTC Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil has said time and time again that he will not tolerate abuse of prisoners and has made it abundantly clear that he will investigate any such allegations.”

There are unconfirmed reports that Colonel Gaddafi’s son Mutassim has been seized. NTC authorities have claimed that he had been captured in the family’s embattled home town of Sirte. Meanwhile, a military commander in the city has denied the claims, which have ignited celebratory gunfire in several cities. If these reports are confirmed, the capture of Gaddafi’s son would represent a major breakthrough for the NTC, according to BCC correspondent Caroline Hawley.

Mutassim is a senior officer in Gaddafi’s army and was also a national security advisor to his father.

Amnesty International has stated that black Libyans, particularly those from the Tawargha region, which happens to be a base for Gaddfi forces in their efforts to regain control of Misrata, are vulnerable to attacks and abuse. Dozens of Tawarghans have been taken from their homes, checkpoints, and even hospitals.

The United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have also expressed concern over the sweeping arrests of men accused by interim authorities of fighting for Gaddafi.

Al-Jazeera correspondent James Bays visited some police stations in Tripoli and shared these sentiments. Some of these stations were also visited by Amnesty International during their investigation.

“Many of them were from Sub-Saharan African countries who came here as workers and were then rounded up and accused of being mercenaries. It’s quite possible that some of those people were fighting for Gaddafi but having spoken to some of them myself, it was pretty clear that some of them were also innocent people, rounded up simply because of the color of their skin.”

Amnesty International’s Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui shared these sentiments after meeting with NTC officials. During these meetings, the NTC acknowledged concerns over arbitrary detention and promised to do more to ensure that all those detained enjoy equal protection of the law.

“The NTC has to act urgently to translate their public commitments into action, before such abuses become entrenched and stain the new Libya’s human rights record. These detainees have in many cases been arrested without a warrant, beaten and sometimes worse, on arrest and arrival in detention. They are vulnerable to abuse by armed militias who often act on their own initiative. The authorities cannot simply allow this to carry on because they are in a ‘transitional’ phrase. These people must be allowed to defined themselves properly or be released.”

One can only hope that the NTC will act soon enough to prevent more abuses. Gaddafi’s throne has been successfully taken from him but the practices delegated from that throne appear to remain. And as long as that appears to be the case, the NTC will have a difficult time in substantively distancing itself from Gaddafi.

For more information, please see: 

Al-Jazeera – Libya’s NTC Accused of Detainee Abuse – 13 October 2011

BBC – Amnesty Urges Libya to Tackle ‘Stain’ of Detainee Abuse – 13 October 2011

CNN – No Confirmation Yet of Gadhafi Son’s Arrest; New Report Details Detainee Abuse – 13 October 2011

NYT – Anti-Qaddafi Fighters Are Accused of Torture – 30 September 2011

The Guardian – UK Tells Libya to Form Interim Government After Taking Over Sirte – 13 October 2011

Human Rights Watch – Libya: Protect Civilians in Sirte Fighting  – 12 October 2011



U.S. Waives Ban on Aid to Countries with Child Soldiers

By Ryan T. Elliott
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America/Oceania

WASHINGTON, D.C., United States–For the second consecutive year, President Obama has waived a ban on military aid for countries that use children soldiers.  Under the U.S. Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008, which took effect in 2010, there is a federal ban on providing U.S. foreign military financing, military training, and other military aid to countries that recruit and enlist soldiers under the age of eighteen.

U.S. waives aid ban for countries using child soldiers.  (Photo Courtesy of ABC News)
U.S. waives aid ban for countries using child soldiers. (Photo Courtesy of ABC News)

The president holds the power, however, to waive this ban, but only if he or she determines that doing so would serve the best interests of the country.  That is precisely what President Obama did last Tuesday for the second straight year in a row.  According to a memorandum released by the White House on Tuesday, the countries that will continue to receive military assistance despite the fact that they continue to use of child soldiers in their armed forces, include: Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Yemen and South Sudan.

“The law [restricting U.S. taxpayer funds to go to militaries that recruit and use child soldiers] could be very effective if it was applied the way Congress intended, but instead the administration has chosen to disregard the law and exert poor leadership on this issue,” Jo Becker, the director of Human Rights Watch’s Children Rights Division, told ABC News.  “Last year, the administration said they were putting governments on notice and giving them time to address the problem, but this year governments have shown no progress and are still getting assistance [with] no strings attached.”

Last year there were five countries that were identified for their use of child soldiers, and they included: Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Yemen, Somalia, and Myanmar. This year, only Somalia and Burma were not given waivers, presumably because the U.S. military does not have strong military ties with these countries. President Obama’s waiver will allow tens of millions of dollars of U.S. tax dollars to to go to Yemen, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad and South Sudan, all of which continue to recruit, enlist and use children soldiers

The administration justified the waivers either in terms of the relevant countries progress with respect to reducing child soldiers or, in the case of Yemen, the country’s importance to anti-terrorism efforts.

South Sudan is expected to receive one hundred million dollars this coming year for military aid.  The administration took the position that the law banning military aid to countries with child soldiers should not apply to South Sudan because it did not exist as an independent country until after the publication of the 2011 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report.

 Meanwhile, the administration noted the progress in Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo in addressing child soldiers. In Chad, the government had issued a plan to prevent child recruitment and discharge child soldiers who are currently enlisted.  It has been said that Chad has already taken some steps towards this programs implementation.   The administration said that the Democratic Republic of Congo has also taken some very important steps to reduce child soldiers in the military.

Finally, Yemen has received the most criticism from human right advocates because it continues to receive U.S. military aid despite the fact that it has done very little to reduce the amount of children in its armed forces.  In fact, it is well documented that in Yemen, children who are 15 years old and younger have been recruited to fight in the government’s conflicts.  Yet Yemen continues to receive millions of dollars in U.S. military and counter-terrorism assistance.

 The administration justified this aid by stating that “[c]ooperation with the Yemeni government is a vital piece of the U.S. national strategy to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qa’ida and its affiliates and adherents by denying them sanctuary in the ungoverned spaces of Yemen’s hinterland.”   Accordingly, for the 2012 fiscal year the State Department has requested thirty five million dollars in foreign military financing for the Yemeni government.  This represents only a portion of the total aid the Yemeni government is expected to receive, which has exceeded one hundred million dollars in past years.

While the administration has fallen back on the position that they cannot simply withdraw all of this military support, Jo Becker, the director of Human Rights Watch’s Children Rights Division, told ABC News that this does not have to be an “all or nothing “ approach and that “thirty five thousand dollars is a lot of money.”  Becker suggested that the administration could simply withhold a portion of the funds until the country in question takes the necessary steps in order to remove children from its forces.

“The Obama administration has been unwilling to make even small cuts to military assistance to governments exploiting children as soldiers,” Jo Becker told ABC News, and “children are paying the price for its poor leadership.”

For more information, please see: 

Albany Times Union – Should America Aid Nations With Child Soldiers? – 7 October 2011

AllGov – Obama Administration Urged to Stop Funding Child Soldiers – 6 October 2011

Black Entertainment Television – Obama Administration Waives Child Soldier Law – 6 October 2011

ABC News – Obama Waives Child Soldier Ban in Yemen and Congo – 5 October 2o11

Democracy Now – Obama Waives Curbs on Aid to Countries Using Child Soldiers 5 October 2011

Foreign Policy – Congress Strikes Back Against Obama’s Child Soldiers’ Waivers – 5 October 2011

Inter Press Service – Obama Waives Aid Curbs on Militaries Using Child Soldiers -5 October 2011



Venezuela Under International Scrutiny for Attacks Against Activists

By Paula Buzzi
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela – United Nations’ Human Rights Council issued 148 recommendations for Venezuela recently, in part because of the various reports of government human rights abuses towards activists who have publicly criticized government policies. Venezuela, however, has rejected the recommendations despite requests for change from its own allies.

Venezuelan human rights activist Humberto Prado has fallen victim to what he believes is government induced harassment. (Photo courtesy of ABC News).

Humberto Prado, 48, an ex-prison inmate turned director and founder of a prison monitoring group, claims he has been fearing for his life ever since he became an activist for prison reform. After criticizing conditions in a prison where inmates rioted in June, Prado began receiving anonymous phone calls at all hours of the night threatening to kill him.

Government officials, however, have ignored his complaints and Prado suspects that they might even be behind the threats. As the harassment intensified and government indifference continued, Amnesty International helped Prado and his family flee to Spain.

Prado is one of many activists who have fallen victim to attacks after President Hugo Chavez took office. Over the last 12 years, 83 activists have been attacked or harassed and 10 have been killed.

Out of the cases involving attacks on activists in Venezuela this year, the Committee of Victims’ Relatives reports that only 13 percent of them are being tried in court while the remaining have been either dismissed or remain in the preliminary investigative stage.

According to the director of the Committee of Victims’ Relatives, Liliana Ortega, various nonprofit groups have been investigated for improper funding after publicly denouncing government policies. Additionally, human rights groups have also reported arbitrary police arrests of activists, illegal wiretapping and restrictions on public meetings.

Last Friday, during the United Nations Periodic Review of Human Rights convention in Geneva, some of Venezuela’s allies, including Brazil, Russia, and Turkey, expressed concern over Venezuela’s criminal procedures, specifically it’s procedural delays, and other human rights issues.

A member of the Venezuela delegation who attended the convention but who wants to remain anonymous was surprised to hear criticism coming from Venezuelan allies. “”The fact that the United States, Britain and Germany questioned the Judiciary was predictable, but Brazil’s criticisms were not,” he said.

The Brazilian delegation expressed concerned about how closely judges and prosecutors work together in criminal proceedings. They called for a more independent judiciary in order to guarantee citizens of Venezuela the essential conditions of a democracy.

For further information, please see:

ABC News – Threats, Violence Rising for Venezuelan Activists – 14 October 2011

El Universal – Even Allies Questioned Venezuela at the UN Human Rights Council – 14 October 2011

CNN – Venezuela Rejects Certain Human Rights Recommendations – 11 October 2011

El Universal – US Asks Venezuela to “Reconsider” Human Rights Suggestions

– 12 October  2011


Tunis TV Station Under Criminal Investigation for Airing ‘Persepolis’

By Tyler Yates
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

TUNIS, Tunisia, — The interim government of Tunisia is currently investigating a television station for airing the animated film Persepolis.  Specifically, they are investigating whether the station should face charges for “defaming” Islam by airing the film.

Islamist protesters were angered by the scene in Persepolis in which God is pictorially depicted (Photo courtesy of The Guardian). .

Persepolis is a semi-autobiographical film by Marjane Satrapi based upon her best-selling graphic novel of the same name.  It depicts her early childhood through adult years in Iran during and after the Islamic revolution.  One scene includes an imaginary conversation with God, who is represented by a man with a white beard.  Many Muslims consider such pictorial depictions of God to be prohibited.

The film was dubbed into the Tunisian dialect of Arabic for the airing.

On October 9, two days after the film’s airing, more than 300 protesters marched on the Tunis headquarters of Nessma TV.  Police, having gained prior knowledge of the protest from Facebook, were on hand to prevent the protesters from reaching the building and made around 50 arrests.

An Interior Ministry official was quoted as saying that many of the protesters were carrying weapons, including knives, bars, and sticks.  Hichem Meddeb, a ministry spokesman, said that arrests were made after protesters began throwing rocks.

The National Commission for the Reform of Media and Communication has come out condemning “all forms of violence and attempts to intimidate journalists.” They also called on media outlets to abide by the code of press ethics, and to exhibit responsibility.

A complaint about the film’s airing was sent to the Tunisian government and was signed by 144 individuals.  The complaint sought charges to be brought against Nessma’s director and others under the press code and penal code. The press code says in articles 44 and 48 that a person found guilty of inciting hatred among religions or insulting a religion can be sentenced to prison. Penal code article 226bis says that a person found guilty of undermining public morals by “intentionally disturbing other persons in a way that offends the sense of public decency” can be sentenced to prison.

On October 11, after receiving the complaint, the state prosecutor opened up the case against Nessma.

Human Rights Watch is calling for the government to drop its investigation, telling authorities to respect free expression and approve pending amendments to abolish the “defaming of religion” law.

“Nessma’s owners have every right to air this serious and provocative film,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should be defending that right, just as it should defend the right of Tunisians to protest peacefully against Nessma.”

On September 23, Tunisia’s ad hoc advisory board, the High Commission for the Protection of the Objectives of the Revolution, approved a draft code that eliminates the offense of defamation of religion, as well as many other articles that violate the right to freedom of expression.

The interim government has yet to promulgate this change in the code.

This is not the first attack on free expression that has taken place since the ouster of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali on January 14.

Film director Nouri Bouzid was bludgeoned on the head with a metal bar on April 18, shortly after giving an interview on a Tunisian radio station in which he called for a secular constitution and explained that his upcoming film defended civil liberties and criticized religious fundamentalism.

The dispute over Nessma has highlighted the struggle between religious conservatives and liberals over the direction of the country.

A rally was held on Sunday in furtherance of preserving the freedoms of the Tunisian people.

“This event does not defend Nessma TV in any way, this event defends the freedom of the individual,” the post says. “We do not want a dictatorship in the name of the sacred. We do not want to go from a police dictatorship to an Islamic dictatorship,” said organizers.

For more information, please see:

LA Times — Tunis crowds gather for anti-censorship march — 16 Oct. 2011

Tunisia Live — Protests Against Protests: Freedom of Speech and Anti-Censorship Rally in Downtown Tunis Today — 16 Oct. 2011

Eurasia Review — Tunisia: ‘Persepolis’ Screening Stirs Passions — 15 Oct. 2011

Macon — Protesters attack home of Tunis TV station head — 14 Oct. 2011

Human Rights Watch — Tunisia: Drop Criminal Investigation of TV Station for Airing Persepolis — 13 Oct. 2011

The Guardian — Islamist protesters attack Tunisian TV station over animated film Persepolis — 10 Oct. 2011