China Threatens Punishment of Internet Users Who Post Rumors

By: Jessica Ties
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China – Chinese authorities have renewed the threat that internet users who use the internet to make statements that the government deems to be false will be punished.

Chinese authorities have renewed threats to punish internet users who spread false information (Photo Courtesy of Reuters).
Chinese authorities have renewed threats to punish internet users who spread false information (Photo Courtesy of Reuters).

Internet use in China has exploded in recent months, causing the total number of internet users in China to become larger than the population of every country on earth with the exception of India and China itself.

A report by the China Internet Network Information Center has indicated that, as of June, 195 million of China’s 500 million internet users were utilizing the internet to operate microblogs. This number represents a 209 percent increase from the number of microblogs found at the end of 2010.

The sudden boom in microblogging has led authorities to express concern about the ability of users to quickly send information and comments that run contrary to the Communist Party’s censors.

The spokesperson from the State Internet Information Office under China’s Cabinet has called on internet users to “abide by the law, show self-discipline and refrain from spreading rumors.” The spokesperson has also ordered local authorities and websites to hold those that spread rumors accountable and penalize them to the full extent allowed by law.

As a result of warnings from government authorities and a visit from a Politburo member, China’s largest microblog operator, Sina Corp. is increasing its censorship over bloggers. The corporation has asked its users to help stop the spread of rumors and has warned that bloggers will have their accounts suspended for one month if they are found to have posted false information.

The apparent catalyst for Sina Corp’s decision to increase its censorship is a controversial blog that has caused Chinese authorities to express frustration at Sina Weibo, a microblog controlled by Sina Corp. In this blog a 31-year-old man posted fictitious stories about working as a prostitute. After his identity was discovered, his account was permanently deleted and he was forced to pay a fine for disturbing public order.

Chinese regulations permit those who spread rumors to be punished by serving five to ten days in jail and a fine of 500 Yuan, the equivalent of eighty American dollars.

China’s regulation of the internet is not a new phenomenon and the country currently blocks Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, and monitors other internet sites to block unfavorable information. Analysts suggest that the anxiety being exhibited by officials in response to the increasing use of microblogs could lead to even stricter regulations being placed on internet users in China.

For more information, please see:

Associated Press – China Vows to Punish Posters of Internet Rumors – 1 October 2011

People’s Daily Online – China Calls for Boycott on Online Falsehoods – 1 October 2011

Bloomberg – China Calls for Internet Crackdown After ‘Prostitute Diary’ Shut – 30 September 2011

Reuters – China’s Sina to Step-Up Censorship of Weibo – 19 September 2011

Are Children In Mexico Better Off In School or Out?

By Brittney Hodnik
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

MEXICO CITY, Mexico – School-age children in Mexico are facing a terrible situation.  Due to the constant violence and threats from gangs and drug traffickers, thousands of schools are closed throughout Mexico; and the schools that are open do not provide a helpful, safe learning environment.

"No classes until further notice" sign outside of a Mexican school. (Image courtesy of AFP)

Mexico is riddled with drug violence, and the situation only seems to be getting worse.  Drug cartels have now resorted to threatening teachers and children, causing thousands of teachers to refuse to report to work.  CNN reports that approximately 140 schools have been closed since the beginning of the school year due to safety issues, and teacher refusal to work.

According to The Associated Foreign Press (“AFP”), teachers in Acapulco have been on strike for a month, trying to persuade authorities to improve security before they return to work.  The threats were left outside of the building, and in some situations, armed men entered and delivered the threats themselves, according to CNN.

Threats are often left by simple messages, but recently, gruesome displays have prevailed.  According to BBC News, Mexican police found five decomposing heads in a sack outside of a primary school along with threatening messages.  In Veracruz, 49 bodies were dumped on the roads within a three-day span, causing parents to be even more fearful of sending their children to class, reported AFP.

Parents are hesitant to let their children go to school for fear of violent clashes both in school and on their way to school.  Elizabeth Garcia, a mother of two told the Associated Foreign Press that she felt better keeping her kids at home.  “I don’t know if it’s better that they don’t go to school, but at least I know where they are,” she told AFP.

Although the threats were anonymous, Mexican authorities believe that they are linked to organized crime.  Gustavo Duncan, the representative for Santiago Mayor’s Office said that the threats were “against society in general” and “there was nothing specific,” reported CNN.

Questions about the legitimacy, safety, and overall learning environment of schools that are currently open have emerged.  According to the Washington Post, on September 23, teachers made sixth-grade students strip down after $13 went missing in a classroom.  Mexico’s Human Rights Commission is investigating the incident, and the school has refused comment.

Mexico’s violence is escalating, and Mexican authorities do not seem to have any of the drug cartels or other gangs under control.  The children are suffering from lack of education, potentially creating a dangerous cycle of violence and disobedience in Mexico.

For more information, please visit:

Associated Foreign Press — Fears of Violence Shake Mexico Schools — 2 Oct. 2011

The Washington Post — Mexican Rights Commission: Parents Say Sixth-Graders Forced to Strip Down After $13 Disappears — 2 Oct. 2011

CNN — More Schools Threatened in Mexico — 30 Sept. 2011

BBC News — 5 Severed Heads Left Outside Mexican School — 28 Sept. 2011

Mosque in Israel Set on Fire; Arson by “Price Tag” Group Suspected

By Zach Waksman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

TUBA-ZANGARIA, Israel – Years of general peace in the northern Israeli region of Galilee were shattered Monday after a mosque in Tuba-Zangaria was set on fire.  The attack is the latest in a series of arsons, but it is believed to be the first of its kind to be perpetrated within Israel’s pre-1967 borders.

Tuba-Zangariya residents survey the damage a suspected arson did to their mosque. Graffiti on the outside called the attack a price tag. (Photo courtesy of Associated Press)

These actions, referred to as “price tag” attacks, are part of what is believed to be a radical campaign to make local Palestinians or Israeli security forces pay a proverbial “price” for violence against settlers or removing settlements form the West Bank. Police found severe damage to the building’s interior.

“The whole mosque was burnt – the carpet, the books, the Korans, all burnt,” the village imam, Sheik Fuad Zangariya, said in describing the scene to Israel’s Army Radio.

In addition to the scorched interior, graffiti had been spray-painted on the exterior walls.  The Hebrew words for “price tag,” “revenge,” and “Palmer” were the primary comments seen.  “Palmer” is believed to be a reference to a September 23 incident in which Palestinians threw stones at a car driven by Asher Palmer, a recent settler.  One of the stones may have hit him in the head, causing the car to crash and overturn.  The 25-year-old Palmer and his year-old son both died in the accident.

Israeli authorities were quick to condemn the attack.

“This is an act which is against the values of the state of Israel, which places supreme importance on freedom of religion and freedom of worship,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Monday, Israeli President Shimon Peres paid a visit to the Tuba-Zangaria mosque in an effort to calm tensions after Bedouin protesters set fire to several buildings and scuffled with police.  He brought with him a delegation of Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Druze spiritual leaders as part of a show of religious solidarity.  Zangariya said that the Bedouin village had always enjoyed friendly relations with neighboring Jewish towns.  By Monday night, the New York Times described the atmosphere there as “tense but calm.”

Peres denounced the arsonists as he reviewed the damage.

“I am shocked to the depths of my soul. I am full of shame and disgrace to see what they caused to this mosque, to the holy books in such a manner. We will not accept this, this is not acceptable. There is not one Israeli who is not ashamed,” he said.

Peres was particularly upset by the arson’s timing.  It took place during the Ten Days of Atonement between Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement).  He said this time period is meant to be one for reflection.

Netanyahu has instructed the Shin Bet security service to locate the perpetrators of these acts and bring them to justice.  The organization believes that attacks like these by right-wing extremists could lead to violence in the future.  This radicalization, which Shin Bet first noticed in 2004, appears to have been rising and no longer requires an incident to trigger action.  The variety of targets has also increased to include defacing military vehicles and the homes of left-wing activists.

But for now, the goal is to minimize the attacks’ effect and control tensions while the investigation into these incidents proceeds.  Israel appears to be taking the “price tag” group’s efforts very seriously.

“These acts are so dangerous, and harmful on a national level. They can result in an escalation, and this is the last thing the country needs,” Police Inspector General Yohanan Danino said in September.

Shin Bet believes that most settlers oppose these actions, which it suspects are being carried out by a few dozen individuals.

For more information, please see:

Ha’aretz — Israel Police on High Alert as Clashes Ensue Following Mosque Arson — 04 October 2011

Ma’an News Agency — Israel’s Peres Condemns Mosque Burning — 04 October 2011

Arutz Sheva — Arson in Galilee Mosque — 03 October 2011

BBC — Mosque in Northern Israel in “Price Tag” Arson Attack — 03 October 2011

Ha’aretz — Peres: Galilee Mosque Arson Shameful for the State of Israel — 03 October 2011

Jerusalem Post — Mosque Set Alight in Suspected “Price Tag” Attack — 03 October 2011

New York Times — Mosque Set on Fire in Northern Israel — 03 October 2011

Protests Against Impunity in Bulgaria

By Greg Hall
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

SOFIA, Bulgaria – About two thousand protesters marched into Bulgaria’s capital city of Sofia in anti-Roma protests.  Prejudices against Roma in Bulgaria and intolerance to daily crime and impunity after several serious incidents have triggered a series of national demonstrations that have increased ethnic tensions.  The nationalistic party, Ataka, held demonstrations protesting against the impunity of Roma.

Bulgarian nationalists shout slogans during an anti-Roma demonstration in Plovdivon Sunday as political leaders and security chiefs sought to calm tensions. (Photo courtesy of Hurriyet Daily News)
Bulgarian nationalists shout slogans during an anti-Roma demonstration in Plovdivon Sunday as political leaders and security chiefs sought to calm tensions. (Photo courtesy of Hurriyet Daily News)

There has been an increase in protests recently due to a death of a youth hit by a car driven by relatives of a Roma clan boss.  Following the accident, an angry crowd of roughly 2,000 people attacked three houses owned by the Roma leader in the village.  Smaller protests occurred in other towns the following week.

National Security Council President, Georgi Parvanov, called on political parties and the media to cease using hate speech.  He also announced that a Roma inclusion program would begin in November and was being funded by the European Union and the Bulgarian government.  The time could not have come any later, as opinion polls state that 69% of Bulgarians rule out the possibility of having Roma friends and 63% find it unacceptable to live in the same neighborhood as them.

Volen Siderov, Ataka’s far right candidate, is calling for the death penalty to be reinstated and for Roma “ghettos to be dismantled.”  The recent violence in Bulgaria has been called the worst since the violence that took place in 1997.

This violence demonstrates the struggles of the Bulgarian country.  Bulgaria is the poorest country in the European Union.  Roma makes up only 5% of the population in Bulgaria. The attacks triggered worries that Bulgarian Turks, the county’s largest minority at almost 10%, will also become subject to attacks.  As of now, a great majority of the attacks have been directed only at the Roma.

All of these protests and attacks come just three weeks before the Bulgarian presidential elections. Some fear that a few civil servants that are Bulgarian Turks will be forced to work for the governing party’s electoral campaign.  Roma Rangel Palamoudov stated that the nationalist parties are inciting young people to turn against them so they can win the election.

The Roma community lives mostly in depressed areas with higher rates of poverty and unemployment and lower levels of education than the national average. Public frustration against corruption, a growing gap between rich and poor and the weakness of the justice system has helped turn people against the Roma, as well as against Bulgaria’s Turkish minority.

The unemployment rate among Roma is 65% and as high as 80% in some other regions.  The prejudice and distorted perception of Roma coupled together with low levels of education make it extremely difficult for Roma to get jobs.  It is also believed that quality of education to Roma children is inferior to that afforded to other students.

For more information, please see:

Hurriyet Daily News – Turks Worry as Bulgarian Nationalists Rally Ahead of Polls – 3 October 2011

iFocus – European Press Review – 3 October 2011

BBC News – Bulgarian Rally links Roma to Organised Crime – 1 October 2011

Argentina Enacts New Measures to Protect Domestic Industries: Customs Holding Books, Cars, Toys, Cell Phones

by Emilee Gaebler
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Over 1 million books are currently being held by the Argentinian government at customs.  The books are the newest good to be affected by the stringent economic protectionist plan that President Cristina Fernández has enacted and which she is determined to see succeed.

Cartoon depicting Argentinas new policy to protect domestic industry.  (Photo Courtesy of The Economist)
Cartoon depicting Argentina's new policy to protect domestic industry. (Photo Courtesy of The Economist)

Earlier restrictions have affected many things including; textiles, tires, cars, chemicals, pharmaceutical goods and cell phones.  President Fernández’s goal is to see the Argentinian economy grow more self-sufficient by promoting local goods over imports.  Also included in the policy is the goal of increasing exports; $1 export for every $1 import.

“The editorial sector is surprised by the prolonged intervention that affects the basic right of the citizens to have access to the book as a vehicle of education and culture,” the Publishing Chamber said in objecting to the customs slowdowns.

Last year the people of Argentina purchased roughly 76 million books, government officials claims 60 million of those were printed outside of the country.  Publishers disagreed with that and instead maintain that two-thirds of all books sold are printed domestically.

The ability of the publishing industry to keep up with the volume is being called into question.  Publishing executives further note that local printers are either not of as high a quality or drastically more expensive than printers overseas.

At the opening and inauguration of the new Museum of Book and Language President Fernández championed the plan once again.

“The world is going in one direction and at times it seems like we’re going to the opposite, but this is the necessary path to recover a country that already knew how to do things,” she said.

The other sectors affected by this plan report that they have been forced into talks with government representatives from the Commerce and Industry department.in order to try and recover their stopped goods.  These talks result in the company agreeing to a plan which will increase their export capacity or increase their use of domestic products and labor.

Nordenwagen, an Argentinian car importer, had its business stopped back in January when customs would no longer allow them to bring in imported Porsches.  It took three months for the cars to be released and it was only once Nordenwagen agreed to a deal.  The owners of the business also own a vineyard and have agreed to launch a mass-market line of wines for export around the world.

Cell phones, in particular Blackberry’s, are in high demand across Argentina with all cell phone carriers having sold out of them months ago and the government refusing to allow imports of the good in.  Brightstar, a multinational manufacturer of phones, has just agreed to begin manufacturing the phones in factories located in Tierra del Fuego, south of the Magellan strait.

The phones will be made with imported parts but put together by local workers and packaged in locally sourced wrapping.  The cost of this is roughly 15 times more than the phones being made in Asia.

Global Trade Alert, a database that monitors international commerce restrictions, reported that Argentina is now second in the world in trade limitations.  The only country ahead of them is Russia.

President Fernández is unable to raise import tariffs on its own because of membership in the Mercosur customs union.  This has led her to utilize the World Trade Organization’s recognized “non-automatic licensing” method which allows a country to hold imported goods for 90 days.

Argentina has certainly not maintained this 90 day period and the list they use of goods restricted to requiring special licensing before release by customs has grown from 400 to 600.  Tax incentives are also being offered to local companies.  For example, domestically produced finished books have been made tax-free and Brightstar was offered tax incentives for starting the Blackberry manufacturing plant in Tierra del Fuego.

Concerns in the Falkland Islands have also been expressed due to the new severe protectionist policy.  Just recently President Fernández announced a plan to support local island producers of fruit, vegetables, salad and eggs.  Grants will also be made to local new businesses that help provide locally sourced foodstuffs to the islands.

“The aim is for the Falklands to become self-sufficient and less susceptible to external pressure” said David Waugh, general manager of the Falkland Islands Development Corporation (FIDC).  Easily 60% of produce consumed in the Falklands could be supported by a strong local market according to the FIDC.

The new plan for the Falklands self-sufficiency follows a period of disruption of British shipping interests by Argentinian claims that all ships between the Argentina coast and the Falklands must hold a special permit.

All of this likely stems from the 2001 crash and resulting inflation experienced in the country.  Fears of a too strong import industry have sparked this new policy as Argentina brought in roughly $5 billion in imports per year since 2009.

For more information, please see;

MercoPress – Publishing Houses Told to Print in Argentina While Imported Books are Blocked in Customs – 1 October 2011

Seattle PI – Argentina Holds Up Book Imports to Help Industry – 29 September 2011

The Economist – South America’s Two Biggest Economies are Imposing Heavy Handed Trade Restrictions – 24 September 2011

The Telegraph – Falkland Islands’ Bid to Grow its own Food Amid Fears of Argentina Blockade – 6 September 2011

The Heritage Network – Argentina: Cristina Ramps Up Protectionism – 18 July 2011

Market News International – LatamWatch: Brazil Trade Barriers Hint at Rising Protectionism? – 16 May 2011

MercoPress – ‘Argentina’s Protectionism’ the Great Obstacle for EU/Mercosur Trade Talks – 15 April 2011

Police Arrest Demonstrators at Independence Rally Days Before their Presidential Elections

By Carolyn Abdenour
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

YAOUNDE, Cameroon – Police detained over 200 people at an independence rally in Southern Cameroon this weekend. Police arrested 126 people for defying public order after they arrested fifty activists from the Southern Cameroons National Council (“SCNC”) at a demonstrated in Buea on Saturday. Saturday was the fiftieth anniversary of the merger between British Cameroon and French Cameroon that created present Cameroon.

President Biya is expected to win the presidential election on 9 October.  (Photo Courtesy of BBC)
President Biya is expected to win the presidential election on 9 October. (Photo Courtesy of BBC)

SCNC seeks independence for the English-speaking minority in Cameroon. English-speaking separatist movements created the organization in 1995 to gain independence of their territory. The Council complains the authorities in Yaounde, Cameroon’s capital, politically marginalizes and neglects the English-speaking minority. SCNC did not receive permission to hold its rally in Buea on Saturday, and security forces dispersed the Anglophone separatist movement.

On Sunday, an anonymous source stated “As I am speaking to you, 150 of [the detainees] are held at (the mobile intervention unit), 30 at the central police station and 25 at the gendarmerie brigade.” The source asked for anonymity because he did not receive authorization to speak to the press.

Cameroonians will go to the polls for a presidential election on Sunday, 9 October. President Paul Biya has governed Cameroon since 1982. Biya is likely to remain president of this oil-producing country for another seven-year term. In 2008, Biya amended Cameroon’s constitution by removing presidential term limits. This amendment provoked unrest in the country.

This protest trials behind recent unrest related to the elections. On Thursday, 29 September, gunmen, wearing military uniforms, opened fire in Douala, Cameroon’s commercial capital, in an anti-government protest. They carried signs that read “Paul Biya Must Go At All Costs” and “Paul Biya Dictator”.

The gunmen blocked the mile-long Wouri Bridge as they protested against Biya. The gunmen and police shot at each other for hours, and one gunman fell off the bridge into the Wouri River. An eyewitness to the incident was unsure if he drowned. Residents continued to hear sporadic gunfire hours after the situation concluded.

Biya faces twenty-two candidates opposing the 78-year-old incumbent in the race. However, Biya’s critics suggest with Biya’s tight control of the electoral commission, Biya will rig the election.

The Social Democratic Front (“SDF”) denounced the organization of the election. SDF’s spokesman Evariste Fopoussi says, “There is a whole mountain of irregularities” because the election rolls have double entries and is missing candidate names.

For more information, please see:
Antigua ObserverCameroon Arrests More Than 200 Separatists2 Oct 11
Cameron OnlineCameroon: 126 Arrested Over Independence Protest 2 Oct 2011
Voice of AmericaCameroon Separatists Arrested Following March in Buea1 Oct 2011
BBC Cameron Shooting: Douala Gunmen Kill One29 Sept 11

ICTJ Welcomes Establishment of UN Special Rapporteur on Truth, Justice, Reparation and Guarantees of Non-Recurrence

ICTJ Welcomes Establishment of UN Special Rapporteur on Truth, Justice, Reparation and Guarantees of Non-Re…

Justice Eludes Children in Armed Conflict

By Lisa Schlein
Originally published on Voice of America 29 Sept 2011

Millions of children are victims of armed conflict. Many are killed, maimed, raped and psychologically traumatized for their whole lives. Many children are recruited to fight for governments and rebel groups. They are forced to commit atrocities and are often prosecuted for these crimes. A United Nations Study, called Children and Justice During and in the Aftermath of Armed Conflict, examines how children caught in wars can seek justice for the violations they have suffered and examines the extent to which children should be held accountable for crimes they have committed. A panel of experts met at U.N. offices in Geneva to discuss these issues.
Fear

The war in Bosnia-Herzegovina broke out in 1992. The siege of the capital, Sarajevo, lasted nearly four years. Almost 10,000 people were killed, including 1,500 children.

The U.N. Ambassador from Bosnia, Emina Keco-Isakovic, is haunted by these memories.  She relives the anguish experienced by her son during this period.

“When the cannon firing was starting over the city, it was really every evening,” she said. “My 10-year-old son asked me whether he would have died that night. And, every night I answered ‘no, no, you shall not die,’ I said and touched him and held him while he was falling asleep. All children from besieged Sarajevo, still suffer from trauma in the form of waiting to die.”
Justice

While the study says children should be permitted to seek reparations for violation of their rights, Keco-Isakovic says the children of Sarajevo have never received justice commensurate with the crimes committed against them.

“When you kill a European in a car accident, you get 10 years in prison,” said Keco-Isakovic. “When you kill thousands of people in Balkans, Asia, Africa – you are in prison five, six years. The explanation-good behavior, the age and you are out.”

Messeh Kamara was a child during Sierra Leone’s decade-long civil war.

“What I am here to do is to represent the voices of the millions of children whose voice go unheard, who we cannot see in this small room,” said Kamara. “But, they are out there suffering from conflict.”
Children unheard

Kamara lost his parents. He learned to survive and eventually became a child-activist for children’s rights. He is now 24 years old and studying to become an international human rights lawyer.

He says it was most important for him and other children who lived through this brutal war to see those who created this havoc brought to justice.

“I was 11,” said Kamara. “I was thrown into a conflict I did not cause to happen, but I suffered the most. So for justice and accountability to us is very important. But, it is also mostly important when our rights are given back to us. Remember, what they did was they stole our rights from us and when they stole something from someone, it is most important that you return what they stole.”
Punishment

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor is seen at the U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone in Leidschendam, Netherlands (File Photo – August 5, 2010).
Kamara regards the trials of suspected war criminals at the Special Court for Sierra Leone and the war crimes trial of former Liberian President, Charles Taylor, at the International Criminal Court at The Hague as very important. He says they are giving the children and young adults in Sierra Leone a sense of hope that justice will be done.

While children undeniably are victims of war, the U.N. study notes some children also are involved in committing crimes.

Radhika Coomaraswamy is Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict and lead author of the study. She says children who are abducted and forced to commit atrocities by their military commanders should not be prosecuted and judged in the same manner as adults. She notes under international law, the recruitment and use of children under the age of 15 in hostilities is a war crime.

“We would prefer a process of, what we call, diversion, which is that children are diverted away from the judicial and prosecutorial system into some alternative mechanism, which can be either a truth and reconciliation commission, truth-telling, restorative justice or some kind of rehabilitation process,” she said. “And, what we are saying is if they have to be prosecuted, then it must be the absolutely last resort.”

The study notes countries increasingly are arresting and detaining children associated with armed groups on the grounds they are a threat to national security or because they have participated in hostility.

It contends children held in administrative detention during armed conflict are particularly vulnerable. It says few are granted access to lawyers or are given reasons why they are being detained.

The study argues states should not use administrative detention for children under 15 and detention conditions should comply with international standards and judicial guarantees. It says the United Nations should be allowed to monitor child detention centers.

First U.S.-Born Citizen is Targeted and Eliminated in the War on Terror

By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

SANAA, Yemen–Yemen’s defense ministry reported that Anwar al-Awlaki, a prevalent and controversial imam allegedly linked to al-Qaeda, was killed on Friday 30 September along with four other individuals. Tribal sources reported to the AFP news agency that al-Awlaki was killed early on Friday in an air raid that crushed two vehicles travelling through an al-Qaeda stronghold in central Yemen.

A drone armed with Hellfire missiles tracked al-Awlakis movements for days before striking. (Photo Courtesy of Graphic News)
A map of Yemen.(Photo Courtesy of Graphic News)

The 40- year-old U.S.-born al-Awlaki was a father of five children. Government officials reported that al-Awlaki was targeted 8km (approximately 4.97 miles) from the town of Khashef in the province of al-Jawf. Khasef is located just 140km (approximately 86.99 miles) from the capital of Yemen, Sanaa.

Another U.S. citizen, Samir Kahn, was also killed in the air raid. Kahn was the co-editor of al-Qaeda’s Inspire magazine, a specialist in computer programming, and was also wanted by the American and Yemeni authorities.

U.S. President Barack Obama said the killing of al-Awlaki was a “significant milestone in the broader effort to defeat al-Qaeda and its affiliates.”

“[A]l-Awlaki repeatedly called on individuals in the United States and around the globe to kill innocent men, women, and children to advance a murderous agenda.”

The aircraft that carried out the mission to eliminate al-Awlaki was probably American, according to tribal sources. American aircraft had been patrolling the skies over Marib, a central Yemeni province, for the past several days.

Al-Awlaki had been targeted for quite some time.  In May 2011, a U.S. drone aircraft targeted him but missed its mark. In July 2010, the Obama Administration placed al-Awlaki on its list of terrorism supporters, freezing his financial assets and banning any transactions made with him. On 24 December 2010, the Yemeni defense ministry had announced his death, saying that he had been killed in an air attack, only to admit later that he was still alive.

Hakim al-Masmari, the editor-in-chief of the Yemeni Post, shared these sentiments with Al-Jazeera about the targeting of al-Awlaki.

“He has been a target of US drones at least three times. The Yemeni government will face a lot of criticism, especially in the south, for allowing US drones to attack Yemeni civilians. But it will not be a blow to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula from any perspective. We don’t feel they will suffer because al-Awlaki did not have any real role in al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).”

U.S. President Obama’s counterterrorism advisor John Brennan has directly accused al-Awlaki of having links with Major Nidal Hassan. Hassan is suspected of shooting dead 13 people at Fort Hood military base in Texas in November 2009. Hassan is set to face a trial in a military court on 5 March 2012.

Also, according to Brennan, al-Awlaki may have had contact with Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian student accused of attempting to blow up a Detroit-bound aircraft on Christmas 2009. In a video posted on websites in May 2010 by AQAP, al-Awlaki urged Muslims serving in the U.S. military to follow Hassan’s example and defended Abdulmutallab’s actions.

While the death of al-Awlaki may be considered a U.S. victory in the War on Terror, the legality of the action has not been settled at all.

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which had previously brought a challenge in federal court to the legality of the authorization to initially target al-Awlaki in Yemen, condemned the killing and called into question the existence of such practices. The organization’s media office released the following statement on 30 September, the same day the killing was reported.

“The assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki by American drone attacks is the latest of many affronts to domestic and international law. The targeted assassination program that started under President Bush and expanded under the Obama Administration essentially grants the executive the power to kill any U.S. citizen deemed a threat, without any judicial oversight, or any of the rights afforded by our Constitution. If we allow such gross overreaches of power to continue, we are setting the stage for increasing erosions of civil liberties and the rule of the law. ”

In addition, Pardiss Kebriaei, a CCR senior staff attorney, shared these words in addition to the general statement.

“In dismissing our complaint, the district court noted that there were nonetheless ‘disturbing questions’ raised by the authority being asserted by the United States. There certainly are disturbing questions that need to be asked again, and answered by the U.S. government about the circumstances of the killing and the legal standard that governed it.”

The news of al-Awlaki’s death comes amongst daily reports of new violence in Yemen. The impoverished Arabian Peninsula country has witnessed demonstrators staging protests, demanding the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. President Saleh has been in power since 1978.

For more information, please see:

Ahram – Killing of American in Yemen Raises Legal Questions – 1 October 2011

BBC – Anwar al-Awlaki Killing Sparks US Travel Alert – 1 October 2011

The Guardian – How US Tracked Anwar al-Awlaki to His Death in Yemen – 1 October 2011

Al-Jazeera – Anwar al-Awlaki Killed in Yemen – 30 September 2011

Washington Post – Anwar al-Aulaqi, U.S.-Born Cleric Linked to al-Qaeda, Killed in Yemen – 30 September 2011

Center for Constitutional Rights – CCR Condemns Targeted Assassination of U.S. Citizen Anwar Al-Awlaki – 30 September 2011

NYT – Two-Year Manhunt Led to Killing of Awlaki in Yemen – 30 September 2011

Independent Candidates Facing Harassment and Detention in China

By: Jessica Ties
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China – Activists who attempted to register as independent candidates in district legislative elections, which are generally dominated by the Communist party, are being held under house arrest and detained by Chinese authorities.

Chinese authorities have been harassing and detaining independent candidates attempting to run for the Peoples Congress (Photo Courtesy of The Guardian).
Chinese authorities have been harassing and detaining independent candidates attempting to run for the People's Congress (Photo Courtesy of The Guardian).

Reportedly, dozens of activists across China have filed applications to campaign despite receiving official warnings that there is “no such thing” as an independent candidate in China. As of Friday, there were thirteen candidates who had been detained for several hours after meeting to discuss the upcoming election in Beijing.

Although the capital generally has only a few independent representatives, Li Fan of the World and China Institute Think tank estimates that there are now tens of thousands independent candidates prompting unease among the Communist Party. Li attributes this increase to an awareness of civic rights, an increasingly worse relationship between the government and citizens, and social networking that allows for information to be transferred quickly.

Han Ying, who planned to run for election for the National People’s Congress, described her inability to pursue political office when she explained that, “[t]here are a lot of plainclothes officers near my house, and the police come to my home everyday to stop me from campaigning and to stop me from meeting with journalists.” Han also stated that barriers had been set by the police to prevent journalists from approaching her and that they took her cell phone away when she attempted to make a phone call.

Ye Qingchun, another independent candidate, was held at her home by authorities who intended to prevent her from campaigning in the elections.

In addition, three other potential candidates were detained and given fifteen days detention for “obstructing public servants in the course of their duties.”

Other candidates have reported being detained until after the polls were closed, having their name excluded from the ballot, enduring threats against them self and their family, having their business investigated and being told that males were not allowed to campaign against the communist party.

As a result of government opposition to independent candidates, some were forced to resort to refusing donations and avoiding public campaigning opportunities in order to avoid conflict with Chinese authorities.

The election for the People’s Congress, the lowest level of China’s parliamentary system, seats delegates to represent the townships and urban districts across the country. Elections for the People’s Congress are conducted every five years and are the only elections in which citizen’s can directly vote for their legislatures.

Chinese law allows anyone over the age of eighteen years old to be an independent candidate if they are endorsed by at least ten people although elections are tightly controlled by Communist Party officials who choreograph the outcome of elections.

For more information, please see:

Radio Free Asia – Election Candidates Held in Beijing – 30 September 2011

CNN – Independent Candidates Test China’s Election Experiment – 23 September 2011

NTD Television – China’s Independent Candidates Face Detention, Harassment – 20 September 2011

The Guardian – China’s Boom in ‘Citizen Candidates’ Sparks Backlash – 19 September 2011

Non-Profit Organization Calls for Reform Against Child Sex Tourists

By Alexandra Halsey-Storch
Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

MADRID, Spain — The United Nations World Tourism Organization held its annual Congress on Ethics and Tourism last week in Madrid, Spain with the stated purpose to encourage countries to “intensify efforts to place ethics at the core of tourism development.”  While the tourism industry brings opportunities for jobs, economic growth and social power, it also brings “challenges that can’t be ignored.” Perhaps the biggest challenge the industry faces, in countries around the world, is the challenge to determine the means by which officials may eradicate the very pervasive, yet clandestine and often ignored, phenomenon of child sex tourism.

Young victims in a therapy room where they are encouraged to release suppressed feelings (Photo Curtesy of D + C.com)
Young victims in a therapy room where they are encouraged to release suppressed feelings (Photo Curtesy of D + C.com)

Child sex tourism is an industry that accommodates individuals who travel specifically for the purpose of engaging in sexual activities with children; however, within this context, the people who exploit children for sex are not necessarily pedophiles. More often, they can be described as “situational child sex tourists – “someone who abuses children by way of experimentation or through the anonymity and impunity afforded by being a tourist.” He or she does not have an exclusive sexual inclination for children.” This phenomenon span the globe, and can be found in increasing numbers in Eastern Europe, Latin America, South Africa and East Asia.

The statistics to date indicate that three to five million people travel each year with the sole purpose of exploiting young children for sexual advantages, and while the numbers range, it is estimated that 1.2 – 3 million children are trafficked each year throughout the world for the purpose of child sex tourism. Of these children, 80-90% are girls. Some suggest that these numbers are severely underreported and are actually far greater.

In 1997, the non-profit organization End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography, and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes (ECPAT) spearheaded, developed and wrote the Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children From Sexual Exploitation in Travel & Tourism in an effort to thwart child sex tourism.  The Code lays out six main principles for companies and associations of the tourism, travel and transport industry to adopt and follow. Eighty members and seventy countries have adopted the Code since 1998.

Since its inception, ECPAT has worked tirelessly to encourage more tourism counterparts to sign and adhere to the Code. They explain that vulnerable children are procured and channeled through commercial sex rings. Customers—mainly men—perpetuate the market simply by continuing to use children for sexual gratification. This market is virtually uninhibited as a result of corruption, collusion, lax law enforcement personnel, and a set of laws that are inadequate and/or absent.

While most customers are men, ECPAT has said that society at large is responsible for allowing this abuse to continue: family members, the business sector, service providers, customers, community leaders and government officials, all contribute to the exploitation through indifference to and ignorance of the harmful consequences suffered by children. Additionally, the desperation of poverty combined with a cultural and historically entrenched conception of children as economic commodities further perpetuates this business.

Child sex tourism in Eastern Europe, in particular, is a violent, criminal network dating back to the collapse of the Soviet Union.  The dangerous nature of the industry in Eastern Europe has made it particularly difficult for ECPAT workers to successfully intervene.

In 2005, Cathrin Schauer, a social worker and nurse who works at a nongovernmental organization on the German-Czech border providing health and social services to prostitutes, gathered evidence of 500 children fallen prey to the child sex tourism industry. In her book, Children Walk the Streets, she says that parents and relatives act as pimps. For a couple of euros or a piece of candy for an older sibling, a mother will prostitute her three-year-old. Fifteen-year-old “Antonin” (the names in the book have been changed as safety precautions) says, “When the Germans ask for younger children, I bring them my six-year-old brother.”

As recent as April 2011, ECPAT and 30 other children’s rights organizations submitted a letter to the United Nations arguing that Sweden continues to fail to take appropriate measures in combating child sex tourism.

On Thursday, ECPAT, in collaboration with The Body Shop, submitted a petition with 7 million signatures to the United Nations—perhaps the largest petition the UN has ever received. The petition urges the UN to take action to stop the sex trafficking of children. “Offenders have been [and continue] operating with impunity,” said Kathleen Speake, executive director of ECPAT International, “and child victims are often criminalized or abandoned without care options;” however, the petition has already generated “unprecedented change,” by motivating the world to call for change and prompting 14 countries to adopt new legislation pertaining to child sex trafficking.

For more information, please visit:

The Irish Times — Don’t Let Child Abuse Travel – 24 September 2011

SOS Children’s Villages Canada – Tourism Industry Endorses Code of Conduct – 20 September 2011

World Tourism Organiztion UNWTO – Congress on Ethics and Tourism Opens With Calls to Place Ethics at the Core of Tourism Development – 15 September 2011

ECPAT International — Europe and CIS – September 2011

ECPAT International – Largest Ever Human Rights Petition to European Commission Calls for Action to Stop Sex Trafficking of Children – 28 June 2011

Child Protection in Europe – Childs Rights Group Slams Sweden on Sex Crimes – 13 April 2011

ECPAT International – ECPAT International: Report of the World Congress III Against Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents – September 2009

The Wall Street Protests: Grabbing the bull by the horns?

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

New York City, United States – The group “Occupy Wall Street” is credited with organizing the protests that are currently under way in lower Manhattan. The protests began on September 17, when hundreds of protestors gathered at Bowling Green Park in Manhattan, home of the famous charging bull located in New York’s Financial District. Protestors gathered at this symbolic location and prepared for days, or possibly even months, of protest. According to statements on Occupy Wall Street’s website, the movement was generated by the pervasive attitude of “profit over and above all else,” which, they believe, has negatively affected American society and culture. The website also stated that the other “thing [protestors] have in common is that We Are The 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%.”

Protesters gather at the charging bull in New Yorks Financial District (Photo Courtesy of  Spencer Platt/Getty Images North America)
Protesters gather at the charging bull in New York's Financial District (Photo Courtesy of Spencer Platt/Getty Images North America)

The protest, evolved from a network of individuals and groups who were purportedly inspired by the demonstrations in Egypt. On its website, Occupy Wall Street describes itself as a “leaderless resistance movement” drawn from people of all backgrounds and political beliefs. Reports on the protesters in lower Manhattan seem to verify this statement, describing the demonstrators as a group of people who are expressing concerns ranging from: greed, poverty, war, and even the death penalty.

While the number of protestors varies at any one point, as the protesters are constantly drifting in and out of the park, there are approximately a hundred people who are sleeping in the park every night. Meanwhile there are other protestors who live in and around the area and attend the demonstrations for a few hours a day or week. Many commentators on the protest have stated that the protest is reached a metaphorical “crossroads” where it must either define its demands or face the possibility of becoming irrelevant.

While the protestors have yet to tackle this issue, they have, at the very least, developed an internal organization to deal with day-to-day realities. For instance, the group has a created committees that are responsible for: finance, food and comfort. There are also daily meetings where protestors make important announcements. These announcements are made all the more difficult due to a ban on bullhorns. So protestors have harnessed the power of the crowd to simultaneously repeat a single message, which circumvents the need for bullhorns, and allows nearly everyone within earshot to hear the group’s messages.

Although this demonstration was organized through social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook, that is, arguably, where the comparisons to the “Arab Spring” end, for two reasons. The first is that the Wall Street demonstrations have only assembled a few hundred protestors, which is a far cry from those numbers seen in Athens or Cairo. Second, there is the practical concern that a group who fails to clearly define its objectives will have any success in achieving them. This skepticism is widely shared,  a blog featured on the Economist’s website had this to say about the demonstration:

“[T]he protest looked less like Tahrir Square than the remnants of an urban Burning Man. The ranks of the demonstrators had dwindled to what looked like 100, yet twice as many people milled around the 3,000-square-foot plaza to observe the spectacle of disillusioned 20-somethings and a smattering of baby-boomers acting out a haphazard blend of activism, exhibitionism, idealism and performance art.”

Most of the media coverage that originally dismissed the demonstration, however, has taken a renewed interest. This may be because the protest has gained attention from celebrities and institutions. But the more likely explanation is the disturbing images captured after the arrests of eighty or so people last weekend. These arrests were largely for disorderly conduct and disrupting traffic, but amateur video footage showed protesters being handled and dealt with in an unusually aggressive manner by the NYPD. In fact, one video account has already led to a positive identification of NYPD Deputy Inspector, Anthony Bologna, who can be seen discharging pepper spray on a number of peaceful protesters and innocent bystanders. Many have said that these policing tactics may very well constitute excessive force.

These jarring images, contrasted by “Wall Streeters” who show every sign of mocking the protesters, has created a powerful backdrop for news outlets to address the varied concerns of the protestors. And these concerns are, indeed, varied. It is reported that the protesters have voiced concerns ranging from the environment to U.S. military presence in foreign countries, and even the recent execution of Troy Davis. But economic concerns seem to loom large. The most visible signs of outrage seem to be over the Wall Street banks and bankers who weren’t held accountable after the financial meltdown. Accordingly, James Downie of the Washington Post, posited the following theory on what may be a unifying factor for young protestors:

“[D]emonstrators are protesting not only for a cause but for themselves… Three years after Wall Street crashed the economy, youth unemployment stands at 18 percent, double the national rate, while youth employment is at its lowest level since the end of World War II. And because the graduate who spends a year unemployed will still make 23 percent less than a similar classmate a decade later, the young unemployed will feel these effects for years. The average college graduate now carries over $27,000 in debt at graduation; not surprisingly, then, more than 85 percent of the Class of 2011 moved back into their parents’ home, the highest number on record.”

Whatever the cause, one thing is clear: the protest is moving beyond the parks and streets of lower Manhattan where it began on September 17, 2011. There are now several other events either under way or planned, which indicates that this protest may remain relevant despite criticism leveled against it. In fact, there are currently demonstrations in cities around the United States, including Los Angeles, Chicago and Boston, and another demonstration is scheduled for October 6th in Washington D.C.

Yet many commentators can’t resist raising doubts about the groups longevity if it fails to find a unified focus, or alternatively, unless it partners with an institution. While the group is unlikely to define itself or its objectives, it has already received support from many institutions, including: the Air Line Pilots Association, the Transit Workers Union Local 100, MoveOn.org and the Service Employees International Union. Time will reveal what this support will mean for the budding movement, if anything. But, so far the movements strength has been its broad platform, and this will likely fracture under political pressure to clearly define itself and its demands.

For more information, please see:

‘Occupy Wall Street’ Only Growing Stronger — 30 September 2011

Occupy Wall Street Protesters Settle In, Despite Weather And Police Clashes –29 September 2011

The Revolution will not be Liberalised — 28 September 2011

‘Occupy Wall Street’ Protesters get Boost from Filmmaker Michael Moore — 27 September 2011

NYPD Pepper-Spaying Caught on Camera — 26 September 2011

Why ‘Occupy Wall Street’? — 26 September 2011

‘Occupy Wall Street’ Protests Turn Violent; Video Shows Police Macing Women — 25 September 2011