Eight-Year-Old Sparks Rally Against Religious Extremism

By Carolyn Abdenour
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BEIT SHEMESH, Israel – After ultra-Orthodox extremists harassed eight-year-old Naama Margolese, rallies erupted against ultra-Orthodox Jewish extremism.  On her way to school, these extremists spat on Naama and called a prostitute for her immodest school uniform of long-sleeved shirts and a long skirt.

Naama and her mother in their home in Beit Shemesh. (Photo Courtesy of The Sydney Morning Herald)

Beit Shemesh borders an ultra-Orthodox area and a modern Orthodox Jewish community with many American immigrants, including Naama’s parents.  Tensions have increased over the years between secular Jews and ultra-Orthodox Jews who want a strict interpretation of religious law.  Naama’s religious school moved to this location in September, and the ultra-Orthodox view the school as a territorial infringement.

Almost daily for months, dozens of ultra-Orthodox men physically confront and verbally harass the 400 school girls asserting the girls’ presence is a provocation.

Naama said, “When I walk to school in the morning I used to get a tummy ache because I was so scared…that they were going to stand and start yelling and spitting…They were scary.  They don’t want us to go to school.”

Israel became enraged when they saw Naama crying on her walk to school during a local news report.  The Israeli leadership issued statement of outrage, nearly 10,000 people joined a Facebook page to protect Naama, and thousands of Israelis demonstrated on Tuesday in her honor.

President Shimon Peres supported the rally.  He stated, “The entire nation must be recruited in order to save the majority from the hands of a small minority.”

Protestor Kinneret Havern added the rally combats “all the extremist elements that are rearing their heads and are trying to impose their worldview on us”.  People held signs staying “Stop Israel from becoming Iran” and “Free Israel from religious coercion”.

As journalists came to Beit Shemesh to report on Naama, extremists jeered and threw eggs at them.  Furthermore, “modesty patrols” required chaste appearance of female by throwing stones at outsiders and violators and calling women whores.  The ultra-Orthodox population has also posted signs for sidewalk segregation of sexes and for a woman’s dress code of closed-necked, long-sleeved blouses and long skirts.

300 ultra-Orthodox men and boys threw eggs and stones at police for requiring the sidewalk segregation sign removed on Monday.  Officers detained several people and one officer sustained injuries.  Although the ultra-Orthodox activists stated they condemned the violence, they claimed the media initiated the violence to make the obedient residents look bad.

On Thursday, Naama returned to school welcomed by Education Minister Gideon Saar and members of the Knesset’s Committee on the Status of Women.  Mr. Saar said Israel will not “back down in the face of bullying and threats.”

For further information, please see:

Haaretz – Israeli 8-Year-Old Returns To School For First Time Since Accosted By Haredi Men – 29 Dec 2011

The Sydney Morning Herald – Fury At Ultra-Orthodox Jews After Girl Abused – 29 Dec 2011

BBC – Israelis Rally Against Ultra-Orthodox Extremism – 27 Dec 2011

USA Today – Israeli Girl’s Plight Highlights Jewish Extremism – 27 Dec 2011

Moscow Protests For Jailed Opposition Leader Pass Peacefully

By Terance Walsh
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia —  Protests over the jailing of Russian activist Sergei Udaltsov took place in Moscow today.  The protests were not sanctioned but were smaller than expected and passed without incident, perhaps signaling a cooling of political unrest following teeming protests in Russia last month.  About two hundred Russians participated in the protests although two thousand indicated their intention to attend on social media outlets.

A demonstrator raises a picture of Sergei Udaltsov, a jailed opposition leader in Russia. (Photo courtesy of The Guardian)

The jailed activist, Udaltsov, is the leader of the socialist party Left Front.  He has been arrested over a dozen times but has failed to attract any attention outside a small core of supporters.  Udaltsov was arrested on December 5th upon allegations of jaywalking and has been in prison ever since.  Twice during his stay in prison Udaltsov has been admitted to the hospital for health problems caused by his hunger strike.

City officials in Moscow had denied the protestors a permit to gather, but Udaltsov’s wife, Anastasia Udaltsov, encouraged people to show up in Moscow’s Pushkin Square for the rally anyway.

There was a worry that the demonstrations would turn violent.  A source in the Moscow police department said if the protestors did not comply with prescribed meeting formats the police would intervene.  “Any attempts to abuse the format of the meeting will be viewed as violations, which the Moscow police must stop in strict compliance with the law,” he said.

Leaders of the gathering told protestors not to bring placards, chant slogans, or confront the police.  Instead participants brought photographs of Udalstov or simply stood silently on the steps of the monument.  A few people chanted simple phrases like “freedom for political prisoners” or used mega-phones to demand Udaltsov’s release.  Protestors were relieved when the demonstration went off without a single recorded arrest.

The Udalstov protests are the latest in a series of the largest protests Russia has seen since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.  The underlying thrust of the protests has been the perceived election fraud that occurred in the December 5th parliamentary elections.

Authorities’ response to the Udaltsov protests were soft, likely as a result of the lessons they learned after early protests resulted in violence and greater turnout.  The protests on December 5th were broken up and opposition leaders were jailed.  A few days later the crowd swelled to about 40,000 in Bolotnaya Square.  On December 24th the protests surged further to a crowd of 80,000 people.

Prime minister Vladimir Putin denied the protestors’ demands for a re-run of the parliamentary elections, but did take a conciliatory turn and said he would be willing to sit down with opposition.  His offer, however, was without substance as he followed his offer to meet with opposition by remarking that there was no opposition.  “Is there a common platform? No. Who is there to talk to?” he said.

Assistant to a law maker who was behind the demonstration Alexei Sakhnin, 30, said the protests were a statement to authorities that the political unrest was not yet ready to subside.

“The regime wants to clear the movement and divide it up the middle between radicals and moderates — these are their definitions of course — to show that there are people who will never be included at the negotiating table,” said Mr. Sakhnin, who carried his 4½-year-old son to the rally on his shoulders.  “That would of course be the death of the movement.”

Anti-corruption protestor Aleksei Navalny said that if violence broke out and riots took place in the street then it would be the judge that presided over Udaltsov’s case who would be to blame.  Udaltsov also received support from television host Tina Kandelaki, who is known to have connections with the Kremlin.  She wrote an open letter on Thursday calling for his release.

Udaltsov, in a speech delivered from his hospital bed that was projected onto large screens, channeled the Occupy Wall Street Movement.  He dubbed the protestors the “99 percent” who were being ruled and oppressed by the corrupt “1 percent” of bureaucrats and oligarchs.  He remains in the hospital due to health concerns following his hunger strike.

For more information please see:

CBC News — Moscow Anti-government Protests Avoid Crackdown — 29 December 2011

The Guardian — Protests for Jailed Activist Passes Off Peacefully — 29 December 2011

NY Times — Russians Rally for Sergei Udaltsov — 29 December 2011

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty — Opposition Activist Rally in Central Moscow — 29 December 2011

Washington Post — Several Hundred Demonstrators in Moscow Demand Release of Opposition Activist — 29 December 2011

Kyiv Post — Police to Stop Opposition Action in Moscow — 28 December 2011

China’s Christmas Crackdown Continues

By: Hibberd Kline
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China – On Monday, an intermediate level people’s court in Guiyang, the capital of China’s southwestern Guizhou province, sentenced 57 year-old activist Chen Xi to ten years in prison for “subversion of state power” and “inciting subversion of state power.”

Chen Xi has been jailed repeatedly for his continued advocacy of human rights and freedom of expression in China. (Photo Courtesy of BBC News).

The court also announced that Chen will be “deprived of his political rights” for three years.

According to a statement by Amnesty International, neither “subversion” or “incit[ing] others to subvert state power,” which are common charges leveled against activists in China, is adequately defined by Chinese law  or related regulatory interpretations.

Chen Xi is a former soldier and factory worker, who was previously jailed for three years in 1989 for his support of the student protests in Tiananmen Square. Chen served an additional ten year jail term from 1995-2006 for “organizing and leading a counter-revolutionary group.” Chen is also a prominent member of Guizhou Human Rights Forum, which was outlawed inside China on December 5.

Chen’s conviction follows his arrest on November 29 in what activists claim to be a response to his authoring 36 online articles critical of the state and Communist party. The articles were published both domestically and abroad and called for political reform and improvement of human rights inside China. Chen has also recently incurred the ire of officials by campaigning for the election of independent candidates to the local people’s congress.

Chen Xi’s sentence is one in a series of lengthy prison terms recently handed down to human rights activists by Chinese authorities. Many analysts believe that the arrests, speedy trials, and imprisonments have been deliberately timed to coincide with an annual window of low-key diplomatic activity in the West during the Christmas holiday in order to minimize criticism.

The trial reportedly lasted only a few hours and was punctuated by frequent interruptions of the defense counsel by the judge, whom Chen’s wife, Zhang Qunxuan, claims ignored every point made in Chen’s defense. Though Chen was able to express his contention that he was innocent of all charges, he was prevented from reading out his final statement to the court. According to Zhang, the judge pointed out that Chen was a “repeat offender” deserving of a long prison sentence and said that Chen’s crime was “major” and “had a malign impact.”

Chen Xi’s family was informed of his trial on Saturday. However, according to Zhang the authorities refused to inform her what her husband had been charged with, citing rules against sharing information with family members. Additionally, the family was instructed that only three family members would be allowed to attend the court’s proceedings.

Many activists have suggested that the speed and consistency of the results of the Christmas trials prove that the trials were merely for show and that the verdicts were predetermined.

During the past year, Chinese authorities have clamped down on free expression and have arrested more than 130 activists and human rights lawyers. The government’s crackdown has come largely as a response to the popular pro-democracy protests that broke out across the Middle East. Authorities fear that the “Arab Spring” may spark copycat uprisings, which could undermine governmental authority in China.

Last winter, calls for a “Jasmine revolution” in China did circulate on the internet. However, the online pleas drew little visible support inside China and did not succeed in bringing about any large-scale protests.

Nonetheless, the Chinese Government has continued to tighten its control over free-expression, especially on the internet. The state has strengthened its nationwide firewall to further reduce the number of potentially “subversive” websites available for domestic consumption and has installed new monitoring equipment at many internet cafes.

Additionally, Chinese authorities have tightened restrictions on popular social networking service Twitter, which has been used around the world to advocate and coordinate protests against national governments. Though the use of Twitter in China is officially prohibited, many Chinese have found ways to access Twitter by circumventing the firewall through the use of private networks or other means. Accordingly,  many large cities, including Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, have recently passed laws requiring domestic Twitter users to register for the service using their real names. However, enforcement of the new laws may prove difficult.

The United States has been joined by the EU and several human rights organizations in repeatedly criticizing China’s decreasing tolerance for dissent. On Monday, UN human rights chief Navi Pillay criticized the Chinese judiciary following the sentencing on Friday of human rights activist Chen Wei to nine years in prison.

Like Chen Xi, Chen Wei was also charged with “subversion” after engaging in political speech critical of the Chinese government on the internet. Pillay called Wei’s sentence “extremely harsh” and indicative of a “further tightening of the severe restrictions on the scope of freedom of expression in China that has been seen over the last two years.” Pillay called upon China to release “any person detained for exercising his or her right to freedom of expression.”

During his trial, Chen Wei asserted that he had merely exercised his right to free expression, which is protected by China’s constitution. Both Chen Xi and Chen Wei claim that the one-sided nature of China’s legal system make appealing their verdicts futile.

Though the two activists are not as well-known as recent Nobel Prize winner Liu Xiabo, who was sentenced to eleven years in prison in 2009, both activists have held prominent positions in human rights movements inside China. Additionally, both Chen Xi and Chen Wei joined Liu Xiabo and thousands of other activists in China in signing the so-called “Charter 08,” which called for political reform.

For more information, please see:

Aljazeera — China Jails Veteran Activist for Ten Years? — 27 December 2011

BBC News — China Imprisons Veteran Activist Chen Xi — 26 December 2011

The Guardian — China Jails Dissident Chen Xi for Ten Years — 26 December 2011

The Telegraph — China Continues Christmas Crackdown on Activists as Chen Xi Given Ten Years in Prison —  26 December 2011

Amnesty International — China: Harsh Sentence for Activist Chen Wei Condemned — 23 December 2011

As Arab League Monitors Arrive in Syria, Mass Protests Continue

By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria–Arab League monitors have arrived in Syria to observe three key protest sites as the international community urges al-Assad’s regime to allow full access to the country. The observers must be able to adequately determine if the country is implementing a plan to end crackdowns on demonstrations and protests.

 

A Syrian protester in the city of Homs. (Photo Courtesy of Al-Jazeera)

The UN has stated that more than 14,000 people are in detention and estimated that more than 5,000 people have been killed in the government crackdown since anti-government demonstrations and protests began earlier this year in mid-March.

All of the detained demonstrators and protesters should be freed under a peace plan created by the Arab League.

Anti-government protests festered violence that continued on Wednesday 28 December 2011. Video shared by activists depicted the central city of Hama with gunshots being fired and black smoke rising above the city.

Dozens of men were seen marching through the streets, chanting and shouting, “Where are the Arab monitors?”

More violence was reported in the southern province of Deraa, where the Britian-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights stated that army defectors killed at least four Syrian soldiers. The organization also reported that at least one person was killed in the city of Homs.

On Tuesday 27 December 2011, activists stated that Syrian police used tear gas to disperse an estimated 70,000 people who took to the streets of Homs as the monitors arrived. Some demonstrators were fired upon with live ammunition as they made their way to Sa’a square, and four were wounded, one of them critically.

Before joining the march on Al-Sa’a square, some tens of thousands of protesters staged a sit-in in the al-Khalidiyeh neighborhood, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. There were also demonstrations that took place in the Bab Dreib and Jub al-Jandalia districts of the country. On Monday 26 December 2011, at least 34 civilians were reportedly killed in Homs’ Baba Amro district. T

Mustafa al-Dabi, the head of the Arab League’s mission, stated on Wednesday 28 December 2011, that monitors would head to Hama and to Iblib, on Syria’s nortern border with Turkey. These two areas have endured intense fighting between security forces and fighters who support the protesters. al-Dabi shared these words with Al-Jazeera about the monitors’ arrival.

“Yesterday was quiet and there were no clashes. We did not see tanks but we did see some armored vehicles. There were some places where the situation was not good. But there wasn’t anything frightening, at least while we were there. But remember, this was only the first day and it will need investigation. We have 20 people who will be there for a long time.”

The Arab League plan endorsed by Syria on 2 November calls for the withdrawal of the military from towns and residential districts, a halt in violence against civilians, and the release of detainees. A Syrian security officer in Homs told Human Rights Watch (HRW), a US-based rights organization, that after the government signed the Arab League protocol authorizing the observer mission, between 400 and 500 prisoners were moved out of his facility to other places of detention, including a nearby missile factory in Zaidal. The official shared these words with HRW.

“The transfers happened in installments. Some detainees were moved to civilian jeeps and some in cargo trucks. My role was inside the prison, gathering the detainees and putting them in the cars. My orders from the prison director were to move the important detainees out.”

Other witnesses corroborated the official’s account. HRW spoke with a detainee who claimed that a transfer of other detainees took place from the Military Security detention facility in Homs on the night of 19 December.

“There were about 150 detainees. They took them out around 1:30 or 2:00 in the morning. These guys were in detention the longest. Not criminals, but people who worked with journalists, or were defectors, or involved in protests.”

HRW has accused al-Assad’s regime of hiding from the monitors hundreds of detainees held in its crackdown on dissent. HRW’s Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson released a statement about the hiding of detainees.

“Syria’s subterfuge makes it essential for the Arab League to draw clear line regarding access to detainees, and be willing to speak out when those lines are crossed. Syrian authorities have transferred perhaps hundreds of detainees to off-limits military sites to hide them from Arab League monitors now in the country.”

Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, has urged Syria to give the monitors the maximum amount of freedom as they move throughout the country to complete their mission.

“We constantly work with the Syrian leadership calling on it to fully cooperate with observers from the Arab League and to create work conditions that are as comfortable and free as possible.”

The Local Coordination Committees in Syria stated that seven people had been killed so far on Wednesday 28 December 2011, four in Homs, two in Hama, and one in Aleppo.

The ban on international journalists in Syria continues to be in effect, making it increasingly difficult to independently verify casualty figures and other information.

 

 

For more information, please see:

Ahram – Observers to Deploy in More Syria Protest Hubs – 28 December 2011

Al-Jazeera – Arab Monitors in Syria Flashpoint Towns – 28 December 2011

BBC – Syria ‘Release 755 Detained During Unrest – 28 December 2011

Reuters – ‘Nothing Frightening’ Seen in Syria Protest Hotbed – 28 December 2011

The Guardian – Arab League Monitors Visit Homs – 27 December 2011

Human Rights Watch – Syria: Detainees Hidden From International Monitors – 27 December 2011

 

New “Media Bill” Passes in Argentina, Threatens to Limit Freedom of the Press

by Emilee Gaebler
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Last week, the “media bill” made its way through Argentina’s lower congress, passing in the lower house by a vote of 134 to 92.  It then moved forwards, where the Senate also passed it.  This week President Cristina Fernandez signed it into force.

President Cristina Fernandez has long had an adverse relationship with Clarins media. (Photo courtesy of BBC News)

The Argentine “media bill” is being criticized as way for the government to choke the freedom of the press.  The bill makes the sale and distribution of newsprint a national interest.  This places it under government control so that the paper is equally distributed to all media sources and has a set price.

Papel Prensa, which distributes 78% of all newsprint in Argentina, is now mandated by the government to operate at maximum capacity in order to meet all domestic needs.  They must also supply the state with a regular investment plan.

The main shareholders of Papel Prensa are the Clarins media group, which owns a 49% share and the La Nación media group, which owns 22.5%.  The government owns a 27.5% share.  Both Clarins and La Nación have stated that the bill is an underhanded government expropriation of private property.

It is well known that President Fernandez believes Clarins media group provides unfair reporting on herself and her government.  She has also alleged in the past that the sale of Papel Prensa to Clarins sometime during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship was illegal.

“The intention to seize Papel Prensa isn’t an isolated case, but the latest in a whole series of measures aimed at controlling the media,” said opposition deputy Federico Pinedo.

Clarins newspaper notes that there are a number of disturbing aspects to the bill.  First is the passage that allows for the state to unilaterally take a majority share of the company as the newsprint distribution is now classified a national interest.  Also of concerns is the portion that would permit the Economy Minister to determine how much newsprint to import, establishing government quotas that have never before existed.

The Argentine Association of Journalistic Enterprises also criticized the bill in a statement they released, noting that the actions taken will cause more problems than they propose to solve.

Supporters of the bill state that in the past, the monopoly held by Papel Prensa over access to newsprint has limited the abilities of independent media sources.  Smaller newspapers like Pagina 12 and El Tiempo Argentino applauded the passage of the bill.

Concurrent with the media bill passage is a new anti-terrorism bill that classifies certain “economic crimes,” including certain actions taken by the media, as terrorist acts.  The bill states that “economic terrorist acts” are those done with an intent to terrorize the general population.

Argentine newspaper, O Estado de Sao Paulo reported that this measure would allow the government to consider “terrorist” anything that negatively portrays or criticizes the government.  This second bill is viewed as a much more cunning move by the Fernandez administration to ensure that media sources within the nation are kept in check.

A third bill passed through the government at the same time.  It limits the amount of property that is purchased in Argentina by foreign companies or foreign individuals.  The law was passed close to unanimously in both houses.  It limits foreign entities from owning more than 15% of Argentine territory.

All three together are leading some commentators to note that the way is now paved for President Fernandez to establish an authoritarian regime.   Since she was sworn in for her second term as president, just two weeks ago, Fernandez’s administration has pushed through 11 new laws.

 

For more information, please see:

Merco Press – Argentine Media Bill: “A Dictatorship Couldn’t Have Done it Better” – 27 December 2011

Pulse America – Argentina This Week – 26 December 2011

BBC News – Argentina to Tighten Controls on Newsprint Supplies – 16 December 2011

Center for International Media Assistance – Argentina: Controversial Law to Control Newsprint Production in Argentina Moves Forward – 15 December 2011

Probation of Chinese Rights Lawyer Revoked

By: Jessica Ties
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China- Chinese officials have announced that rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who has been missing for almost two years, will be forced to serve three years in prison for allegedly violating the terms of his probation.

The probation of rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng has been revoked for violating the terms of his probation despite being considered a missing person for almost two years (Photo Courtesy of the Shanghaiist).

Gao was arrested and sentenced to probation in 2006 for defending practitioners of Falun Gong which is a banned religion in China. After being sentenced Gao disappeared three times and, in the period between his disappearances, informed reporters that he had been tortured.

He reported that he had been beaten with electric batons and handguns. He also reported that he had been forced to sit still for sixteen hours with a hood over his head while being told to forget that he was human and threatened with death.

Human rights activists have been angered by the announcement of the revocation and have used it to illustrate the abuse faced by dissidents in China.

They emphasize that although missing for twenty months, the Chinese government had maintained that Gao Zhisheng was free on probation since 2006. Some believe that the recent revocation indicates that the lawyer has secretly been in state custody despite claims by authorities that they were unaware of his location.

Renee Xia, a director of Human Rights Directors, asserts that the courts revocation “…is the clearest acknowledgement to date by the Chinese government that it has secretly detained Gao for the last twenty months despite its repeated denials.”

Chinese authorities have not identified what probation violations were committed by Gao but it is known that his five year probation would have expired earlier this week prompting some to believe that the government re-imprisoned him solely to prevent him from being freed.

Gao Zhisheng’s brother, Gao Zhiyi reported that he has not seen his brother since April 2010 and fears that he may be dead.

This fear has been substantiated by Nicholas Bequelin, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, who stated that “[t]he people who saw him more than twenty months ago described him as a ghost. We have absolutely no details about his condition now.”

Chinese authorities have been pressured by Western nations and the United Nations to release Gao but have refused to do so.

In response to international concern, the spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry has stated that other nations do not have the right to interfere in China’s internal affairs.

 

For more information, please see:

China Daily – China Opposes Interference in Legal Case – 23 December 2011

The New York Times – China Revokes Probation of Missing Human Rights Lawyer – 16 December 2011

The Washington Post – China Jails Lawyer Gao Zhisheng  for Three More Years, Confirming Status After Long Disappearance – 16 December 2011

Kim Jong-il: A Legacy of Brutality

by Hibberd Kline
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PYONGYANG, North Korea – One week after Kim Jong-il’s death, the 69 year-old, ruthless dictator continues to hold the spotlight of world attention hostage from beyond the grave.

Kim Jong-il's Military First Policy is widely believed to have caused mass-starvation among North Korea's impoverished population. (Photo courtesy of The Mirror).

Speculation in the media and among foreign policy analysts as to the potential impact of Kim Jong-il’s death on North Korea’s future has run the gamut from detente to crackdown to collapse and back again. However, as the world struggles to discern a murky future it must not forget or ignore either the brutality of Kim’s reign or the continuing, horrific, human suffering in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

Like his father before him, Kim Jong-il used the coercive power of the state to reach into and attempt to control nearly every aspect of the daily lives of Koreans living in the North. Any perceived threat to the dominance of the personality cult of the “dear leader” over the hearts and minds of the North Korean people was filtered out of public consumption and dealt with mercilessly. Under Kim’s direction, the DPRK’s political machine is widely reported to have worked vigilantly to stomp out its citizens civil liberties including; privacy, and freedom of expression, religion, association and the press.

One of the regime’s methods for achieving its aims has been to effect a practically universal stranglehold on the flow of information within the country. According to the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the DPRK boasts no independent media and all radios and televisions in the country are “pre-tuned to government stations.” Furthermore, people living in the North are forbidden to listen to, watch or read foreign media and all foreign broadcasts are jammed by the government. Violators of the government’s media policies are punished swiftly and severely.

Although the DPRK’s constitution provides for the free exercise of religion, the CIA believes that the reality in the North falls far short of the idealistic text. North Korea’s media continuously showered praise on the “dear leader,” and the population was required to demonstrate unwavering and absolute devotion. State sponsored religious groups do exist, ostensibly to provide an illusion of choice to the outside world. However, autonomous religious activity has all but disappeared entirely from the isolated state.

In order to maintain its grip on society, the DPRK’s government continues to punish political dissent harshly. Once accused of disloyalty, political dissenters and other “enemies of the state” are denied access to an impartial and independent judiciary and receive no due process in sentencing or punishment. Furthermore, public and secret executions, forced labor, intimidation, imprisonment and torture are reportedly widely utilized to impose the government’s will on the populace.

Additionally, a recent report by Amnesty International estimated the number of political prisoners currently languishing in the country’s remote gulags to be upwards of 200,000. Tens of thousands are estimated to have died from exhaustion, starvation, exposure, sickness or execution in the camps under Kim Jong-il. Yet, the North’s stranglehold on information and its treatment of political prisoners, though horrendous and inexcusable, are unlikely chief among the many pressing woes that most of the DPRK’s population continue to face on a daily basis.

At the close of 2011, the DPRK’s population is once again believed to be facing widespread famine. PBS Newshour reports that flooding and a severe winter have decimated the North’s food production. As a result, DPRK has set food rations for its non-military, non-political elite, civilian population at “200 grams or less per person per day.” According to the World Health Organization, the minimum daily energy requirement is around 600 grams of food per person per day. An estimated 60% of North Korea’s population depends on government rations for survival.

The volatility of the DPRK’s food security has been further aggravated by the large number of persons thought to be internally displaced (IDPs) as a result of flooding and famine. However, the exact extent of the impact of IDPs on North Korea’s food security is unknown, because an accurate number of IDPs in the isolated country is difficult to determine. As the situation appears to be worsening, international aid organizations fear that children, pregnant women and the elderly will face a significant risk of starvation throughout the winter.

However, food scarcity is nothing new to Koreans living in the DPRK. Kim Jong-il’s 17-year rule was marked by food shortages and malnutrition punctuated by periods of widespread starvation. In 1992, he launched his so-called “Military First” policy, which stressed intensive military spending above feeding DPRK’s population.

In times of economic hardship or agricultural failure this policy called for the military and state officials to be provided for first and often resulted in slashed food imports and severe hardship for much of the civilian population. Furthermore, the DPRK has repeatedly been accused of stockpiling international food aid for use by its military.

In addition to failing to provide food security to its people, the government under Kim Jong-il allowed human traffickers to operate with virtual impunity. Women continue to be systematically sold to buyers in China as wives, sex slaves or laborers. Furthermore, inside the country, the DPRK’s government effectively treats many of its citizens as slaves by mandating their type of employment.

In light of the ignominious human rights record of Kim Jong-il’s government, Kim’s death has sparked a series of serenades by international humanitarian organizations echoing previous calls from around the world for North Korea to commence immediate and drastic reforms. A plea from Human Rights Watch quoted  the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in North Korea’s depiction of DPRK human rights abuses as “harrowing and horrific,” “egregious and endemic,” “systematic and pervasive” and “in a category of its own.”

Unfortunately, the prevailing view among analysts seems to be that the DPRK’s leadership will likely not be receptive to outside calls for quick and thorough reform. Indeed, many have pointed to Kim’s ruthless purge of potential enemies throughout the North’s society upon taking power in the 90’s and suggest that the military has already begun to initiate similar activities on behalf of the “dear leader’s” son Kim Jong-un.

While the future of the North Korean Government’s stance on human rights remains ambiguous at best, it may still be premature to predict whether or not Kim Jong-il’s death will have a significant impact on the suffering of the North Korean people. However, even if Pyongyang were to completely reverse its stance on human rights, salving the brutality of Kim Jong-il’s legacy would require substantial assistance from the international community for years to come.

Sources cited by Amnesty International report that the people of North Korea are eating grass and bark as they struggle to survive. Meanwhile, a cruel dictator lies bedecked in flowers.

For more information, please see:

CBC News — 7 Questions about North Korea’s Future — 20 December 2011

Amnesty International — North Korea: Kim Jong-il’s Death Could Be Opportunity for Human Rights — 19 December 2011

Huffington Post — Kim Jong Il’s Death Elicits Plea for End to Human Rights Abuses in North Korea — 19 December 2011

Human Rights Watch — North Korea: Kim Jong-Il’s Legacy of Mass Atrocity — 19 December 2011

PBS Newshour — Aid Groups: Children in North Korea at Risk for Starvation This Winter — 08 December 2011

Amnesty International — North Korean Prison Camps Grow Larger — 11 May 2011

Amnesty International — Images Reveal Scale of North Korean Political Prisoner Camps — 3 May 2011

Human Rights Watch — World Report 2011: North Korea — 24 January 2011

UN News Center — Human Rights Situation in DPR Korea Is Bleak, Independent UN Expert Says — 15 March 2010

War Crimes Prosecution Watch, Vol. 6, Issue 19 — December 19, 2011

Vol. 6, Issue 19 – December 19, 2011

 

INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT

Central African Republic & Uganda

Darfur, Sudan

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Kenya

Libya

Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)

AFRICA

International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda

Special Court for Sierra Leone

EUROPE

Court of Bosnia & Herzegovina, War Crimes Chamber

International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

Domestic Prosecutions In The Former Yugoslavia

MIDDLE EAST AND ASIA

Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia

Special Tribunal for Lebanon

Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal

NORTH AND SOUTH AMERICA

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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.

Congolese Opposition Leader Holds Self-Inauguration; Security Forces’ Behavior since Election Announcement Questioned

By Zach Waksman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo – Etienne Tshisekedi, Congo’s opposition leader, held an inauguration ceremony for himself as president of the central African country on Friday.  The ceremony, which happened three days after the inauguration of President Joseph Kabila, serves as a sign of his disregard for the results of last month’s election, officially decided in favor of Kabila.  Originally scheduled to take place at Stade des Martyrs, the event was moved to Tshisekdi’s home after police prevented both Tshisekedi and his supporters from attending.

A soldier in the Congolese army stomps on a member of Etienne Tshisekedi's Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) during efforts to break up a peaceful protest on December 14. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

Tshisekedi’s Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) party invited supporters, journalists, and diplomats to attend the event, but police acted to disperse would-be attendees.  Several were arrested as they attempted to enter the stadium, and others were subjected to stun grenades.  No injuries were reported.  The government banned the ceremony itself and dispatched heavily armed security forces around the stadium, which is located in an area of Kinshasa that strongly supports Tshisekedi.  The BBC reported that its recording equipment was confiscated.

Opposition supporters also flocked to their leader’s house, where the ceremony eventually took place.  Police cordoned off the streets surrounding it.  They fired tear gas into the assembled crowds at both locations.  Other weapons spotted included water cannons, machine guns, and rocket-propelled grenades.  The military presence was greater in areas that backed Tshisekedi.

Reaction was mixed, with some fearing that this demonstration has the potential to continue what has already been a contentious aftermath to the country’s second ever democratic election.  Last month’s election has been a source of dispute in both the Congo and the international community.  Despite allegations of voter fraud, the country’s Supreme Court confirmed the results on December 16, with incumbent Kabila the victor with 49 percent of the vote, versus only 32 percent for Tshisekedi.  The UDPS party disagreed and considered Kabila’s victory a fallacy.

“Before thinking about the destabilization of the country, we have to think about the truth of the vote,” said Tshisekedi advisor Valentin Mubake.  “The reality of the elections is that Tshisekedi has been elected by the Congolese people.  That [means] the stabilization of Congo and that is reality.”

Before Tshisekedi took the oath at his ceremony, spokesman Albert Moleka introduced him by saying that he had won with 53 percent of the vote.

Government spokesman Lambert Mende called the ceremony a “non-event.”

“It’s an extremely regrettable act,” he said, adding that officials were “saddened” that Tshisekedi “was expressing his frustration over his defeat in this fashion.”

Others connected to the regime concurred.

“Anyone who makes pantomime politics and declares himself president will have to face the law of the land,” said Kikaya Bin Karubi, Congo’s ambassador to the United Kingdom.  “We will not tolerate someone disturbing the peace and thinking his dreams are reality.”

Questions have also arisen over the behavior of Congolese security forces.  On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch reported that they have killed at least 24 people since the results were announced in early December.  The report shows numerous occasions of security forces, including the elite Republican Guard which is tasked with the President’s protection, firing on civilians in an effort to break up potential demonstrations and detaining dissenters.  The Republican Guard does not have the authority to arrest or detain civilians.

When asked by Human Rights Watch, Gen. Charles Bisengimana, the nation’s police chief, said that he could ask the Congolese army for help if police could not maintain order.  He had not done so because Kinshasa had been calm.  He did not expect any need to call on them in the near future.  He also could not explain why the Republican Guard was in Kinshasa, saying that he had no authority over them.

“The callous shooting of peaceful demonstrators and bystanders by the security forces starkly illustrates the depths the government will reach to suppress dissenting voices,” said Anneke Van Woudenberg, a senior Africa researcher for Human Rights Watch. “The UN and Congo’s international partners should urgently demand that the government rein in its security forces.”

For more information, please see:

BBC — DR Congo Police Block Entry to Tshisekedi Inauguration — 23 December 2011

Congo Planet — Tshisekedi Stages Self-Inauguration at Home — 23 December 2011

Guardian — Congo’s Opposition Leader Holds Own Inauguration Ceremony — 23 December 2011

Voice of America — Police in D.R. Congo Fire Tear Gas at Protesters — 23 December 2011

Human Rights Watch — 24 Killed since Election Results Announced — 21 December 2011

Police Infiltrated by Zeta Drug Cartel; Over 800 Officers Fired

By Brittney Hodnik
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

MEXICO CITY, Mexico – After months of drug related violence, failed protection, and shootings in broad daylight, the Mexican city of Veracruz-Boca Del Rio has fired its entire police force.  The police had become so infiltrated with members of the Zeta drug gang, that there was no other choice.

The navy has taken control of the city since the police have been fired. (Image courtesy of BBC News/AP)

President Felipe Calderon, who took office in 2006, has repeatedly vowed to cut down on organized crime.  The biggest problem however has been with the local police, who are often employed by drug traffickers, according to CBS News.

“It was a fairly high percentage of people infiltrated or in collusion,” an unnamed armed forces official told the Associated Press.

Specifically, marines had already been deployed to help in the area after 35 bodies were found dumped on a busy road in September.  Two weeks later, the navy found another 32 bodies in three different buildings, according to BBC News.  The killings are likely linked to a battle between two of Mexico’s most powerful drug gangs – the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel.

Although other officers have been fired over the last five years for drug related and violence related crimes, this has been the largest crackdown yet.  According to CBS News, 800 officers were fired Wednesday along with 300 administrative personnel.

The Gulf coast city of Veracruz-Boca Del Rio is home to approximately 700,000 people.  In the meantime, about 800 marines or navy infantry are patrolling the port city according to News24.

The state reports that none of the dismissed employees are under investigation for corruption and each of them can reapply for his or her job.  Each applicant will be required to undergo a new program of testing and background checks to prevent future problems, according to News24.

President Calderon leaves office in December 2012 and has promised to develop a more secure police force.  Currently, the Mexican navy is training new officers to replace the recently dismissed officers.  The process is expected to take about ten months.

Mexico has also begun a process to secure police forces throughout the country.  According to the Washington Post, the federal government has been pushing an elaborate process for vetting all of Mexico’s 460,000 police officers, starting with polygraphs, psychological and toxicology tests along with personal and medical background checks.

For more information, please visit:

News24 — Mexico Fires Corrupt Police — 23 Dec. 2011

CBS News — Mexico Port City Police Infiltrated by Zetas Gang — 22 Dec. 2011

The Washington Post — Marine Official Says Fired Police Force  in Mexico Port City was Infiltrated by Zetas Cartel — 22 Dec. 2011

BBC News — Mexico Disbands Veracruz-Boca del Rio Police Force — 21 Dec. 2011

Egyptian Government Targets Female Protesters

By Tyler Yates
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt — Egyptian security forces and military are targeting female protesters, subjecting them to torture, sexual assault, and threats of rape.  The practices are very similar to those employed pre-revolution say various international and Egyptian human rights organizations.

Women protesters face the double pressure of being activists and female in a conservative male-dominated society (Photo courtesy of Jezebel).

“Nothing has changed overall. Law enforcement officers still feel that they are above the law and that they don’t have to fear prosecution, it’s a green light that legitimizes an excessive use of force, sexual assault and torture,” said Heba Morayef, Egypt Researcher for Human Rights Watch.

Since January, it has appeared that the military was protecting protesters, both male and female, during a revolutionary process that ended in the overthrow of long-time president Hosni Mubarak.  With the power of the government now in the hands of the military critics say that they have resorted to the same sorts of brutality used by the former regime, most notably during protests in 2005 and 2007.

A viral video, filmed recently, shows Egyptian soldiers beating and disrobing a female protester.  At least three men expose the woman’s midriff and bra as they stomp on her stomach and batter her head with batons.  The video has drawn international scorn, including a condemnation of the “systematic degradation” of Egyptian Women by U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.

“Women protesters have been rounded up and subjected to horrific abuse. Journalists have been sexually assaulted. And now, women are being attacked, stripped, and beaten in the streets,” she added.

“This systematic degradation of Egyptian women dishonors the revolution, disgraces the state and its uniform and is not worthy of a great people.”

In response to this beating thousands of Egyptian women took to the streets in protest.  It was the largest all-female protest since Egypt’s independence, demanding the end of military rule.

The Egyptian government released an apology via Facebook for the beating and expressed “its great regret to the great women of Egypt for the violations that took place” and promising that “all legal measures have been taken to hold accountable all those responsible for these violations.”

There is skepticism about seeing real change come from the government’s response.  There was not explicit order banning or condemnation of violence and sexual assault on female protesters given anywhere in the apology.

The usage of violence against female protesters does have a purpose.  Egypt is a conservative, male-dominated society.  Women are not supposed to express themselves openly in the public sphere.  The violence is likely meant not only to punish those who violate this norm, but also to deter those who might consider speaking out in the future.

For more information, please see:

Afrique en ligne — Egypt urged to prosecute sexual assaults on protesters — 22 Dec. 2011

ABC — Female Protesters Targeted By Egyptian Government, Say Activists — 21 Dec. 2011

Al Jazeera — Egyptians protest against beating of women — 21 Dec. 2011

Huffington Post — Sexual Violence Has No Place in Egypt’s Public Forum — 20 Dec. 2011

European Commission Blocks Export Of Lethal Injection Drugs

By Terance Walsh
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

BRUSSELS, Belgium — The European Commission announced a restriction on drugs produced by European manufacturers for use in lethal injection executions.  The restriction marks another widening of the gulf between the capital punishment policy of Europe and the United States and further decreases the supply of an already scarce resource.

A lethal injection room in Alabama (Photo courtesy of The Guardian).

The newly restricted drug, sodium thiopental, is a sedative that has several uses but is commonly used in administering executions.  It can now only be exported from European countries after authorization by national authorities.

The reason for the restriction, according to the European Commission, is to “prevent their use for capital punishment, torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

The move was cheered by opponents of the death penalty.  “We need to see a broad, catch-all provision to prevent any drugs from being used in capital punishment in order to ensure Europe is never again complicit in the death penalty,” Anti-death penalty group Reprieve’s director, Clare Algar, said.

The restriction expressly forbids the sale of the drug to countries that currently practice the death penalty.  It is consistent with the unconditional opposition to the death penalty expressed in the European Charter:  “[T]he European Union opposes the death penalty under all circumstances. The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union states that no one shall be condemned to the death penalty, or executed. In this regard, the decision today contributes to the wider EU efforts to abolish the death penalty worldwide.”

The impact of the regulation is yet to be known in countries that practice the death penalty.  States like Ohio, Texas, and Georgia that execute people relatively frequently have taken to using alternative drugs and looking to other countries overseas to meet its demand.  Switching to the use of alternative drugs, however, places a burden on states that want to perform lethal injections by complicating the process of obtaining the drugs and possibly opening legal challenges.

Tuesday’s announcement is the latest in a string of efforts to reduce the supply of drugs used for executions.  In April Great Britain announced a ban on exportation to the United States of three drugs used for lethal injections and an Indian pharmaceutical manufacturer that supplied sodium thiopental to Nebraska announced it would cease supplying the drug to American prison officials.  In July a Danish manufacturer attempted to quell the sale of its drug for executions by making its distributors promise they would not use the drug for that purpose.

Many American prisons have stockpiled execution drugs over the past year in anticipation of restrictions, but Europe’s new regulation will make it more difficult for prisons to replenish supplies in the future.  It is also difficult for regulators to promise that the drugs will not be sold to prison through the back door.  In order to prevent manufacturers from circumventing the regulations, the European Council has retained the power to add other drugs to the ban as it sees fit.

The United Kingdom’s business secretary Vince Cabel supports the new restriction.  “We have led the way by introducing national controls on the export to the United States of certain drugs, which could be used for the purpose of lethal injection. However we have always stated our clear preference for action at EU level and I am pleased that, following our initiative, these steps are now being taken.”

In the United States lethal injections have become the predominant method of executions in recent years.  Earlier this year President Barak Obama made a direct appeal to Germany to supply the drugs, to which German Vice Chancellor Philipp Rosler responded, “I noted the request and declined.”

The death penalty is entirely banned in the European Union and since 2007 the EU has called for a worldwide halt on the death penalty.

For more information please see:

ACLU — Europe Won’t Supply Execution Cocktail To U.S. — 21 December 2011

New York Times — European Union Tightens Exports Of Drugs Used In Executions — 20 December 2011

The Guardian — Europe Moves To Block Trade In Medical Drugs Used In U.S. Executions — 20 December 2011

The Olympian — European Union Restricts Sale Of Execution Drugs — 20 December 2011

Washington Post — European Union Restricts Sale Of Lethal Injection Drugs To U.S., Tightening Scarce Supply — 20 December 2011

New Blog Illustrates Sharia Law in the United States

By Brittney Hodnik
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, United States – Sharia Index is a recently launched blog that brings Islamic law to the forefront.  The website addresses the role of sharia law in U.S. courts, which is becoming more and more prevalent.  You can visit the blog at: www.shariaindex.com

The goal of the blog is to report on U.S. cases that address Islamic law and comment on other, specific areas of Islamic law.  Also on the website, there are multiple educational resources including articles about sharia law in the news, interviews, and lectures.

Sharia Index describes in its mission the goal of the blog: “To provide an objective resource and destination for lawyers, professionals and anyone who is interested in learning about sharia in America.”  It further explains that sharia law is becoming more and more important in the American court system.  Just as foreign courts refer to the United States Constitution and public policy to resolve American issues, the United States must reference relevant sharia law to govern certain disputes.

“In our global village, marriages, finance and commercial transactions are crossing borders.  U.S. courts, therefore, must regularly interpret and apply foreign law – including Islamic law . . .,” says the website.

The website lists U.S. cases by name, by subject, or by state.  Each link provides a compressed version of the facts, issue, and the ruling, created by lawyers or law students.  The website provides no editorializing; the cases are summarized with objective facts.

Overall, the blog aims to clear up any confusion about sharia law and its role in the United States and the world.  Some of the links are under construction, as the website is relatively new.  It is a very useful blog for learning the basics of sharia law and its application in the United States.  Again, the website is www.shariaindex.com.

Turkish-French Relationship Jeopardized Over Proposed Legislation

By Carolyn Abdenour
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

ANKARA, Turkey – On Tuesday, 20 December, Turkish President Abdullah Gul asked France to drop a proposed parliamentary bill that criminalizes Turkey’s denial that the 1915 mass killings of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey was genocide.  Turkey warned France would jeopardize the countries’ friendship for “small political calculations” if the French National Assembly passed the bill on Thursday.  French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe stated the countries’ ties “are sufficiently strong to overcome challenges.”

 

Presidents Sarkozy and Gul talking after a press conference on February 25, 2011, in Turkey. (Photo Courtesy of Today's Zaman)

The bill presented by the French lower house of parliament includes a one-year prison term and a $59,000 fine for Ottoman Turks who deny the Armenian killings.  If the bill passes as expected, France would criminalize any genocide, war crime, or crime against humanity recognized by French law.  This proposed legislation parallels how the French treated the denial of the Holocaust, which the French banned in 1990.

French spokesperson Valerie Pecresse stated the bill is “very broad in a way that it can apply to all genocide recognized by France in the future.”  She added the bill includes slavery and does not target the Armenian genocide.

In October, President Sarkozy asked Turkey to recognize the Armenian genocide as part of its history as a “gesture of memory” similar to France’s participation in the Nazi deportation of Jews during the Holocaust.

President Gul stated, “It is not possible for us to accept this bill which denies us the freedom to reject unfair and groundless accusations targeting our country and our nation.”  Last week, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the French government the hostile bill targeted Turkey and Turks living in France.  Turkey said it would pull its ambassador to France if the bill passes.

Turkish Members of Parliament (“MP”) and business representatives lobbied Juppe and Jean-David Levitte, President Nicolas Sarkozy’s diplomatic adviser, in France this week.  The Turkish delegation desires to remove the bill from the National Assembly’s agenda.  If the bill remains, they urge the upper house of parliaments not to pass it.

Armenia reports Turkey killed 1.5 million people during mass deportations, but Turkey claims only 300,000 people died.  Turkey also asserts Turks died when Armenians fought against the Ottoman Empire and Russian troops invaded Turkey during World War I.  Turkey refuses to call the deaths genocide.  Rather, it asserts the people died during civil unrest when the Ottoman Empire collapsed.

During his visit to Yerevan, Armenia’s capital, in October, President Sarkozy commented, “Turkey, which is a great country, would honor itself by revisiting its history like other countries in the world have done.”

For further information, please see:

BBC – French Genocide Bill Angers Turkey – 20 Dec 2011

Hurriyet Daily News – Turkish President Urges France To Drop Genocide Bill – 20 Dec 2011

The Jerusalem Post – Turkey Calls On France To Halt ‘Genocide’ Bill – 20 Dec 2011

Today’s Zaman – Turkey Urges France To Immediately Drop Genocide Bill – 20 Dec 2011

“Scores” Reported Killed in Syria, As Al-Assad’s Regime Continues to Fester Violence

By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

IDLIB, Syria–Less than a week before the Arab League delegation is due to visit Syria as part of a deal hoping to end the bloodshed, as many as 200 individuals are reported to have lost their lives in the last two days across the country. There are various reports coming from Syria about the situations involving the death tolls.

Demonstrators holding placards against al-Assad's regime in Idlib. (Photo Courtesy of Reuters)

Activist groups have reported the deaths on Tuesday 20 December 2011 after heavy fighting had occurred primarily in the province of Idlib, near Syria’s northern border with Turkey. On Monday 19 December 2011, activists claimed that as many as 110 people lost their lives in fighting acorss the country, including 60-60 army deserters who were apparently gunned down by machine-gun fire close to a village called Kafrouaid in Idlib.

More violence was reported in the region of the Zawiya Mountains on Tuesday 20 December 2011, with the Local Coordination Committes stating that 25 individuals had died close to the same village by machine-gun fire and shelling.

Many of the towns and cities located within Idlib are without Internet and mobile phone connections. Others are with electricity.

Rula Amin, an Al-Jazeera correspondent reported from Beirut, shared these sentiments about the violence.

“Activists and opposition figures say killings in Idlib area are very large. Dozens have been killed but people differ who were among those killed; some say they were defectors, others say armed men who oppose the government.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British based organization, stated on Monday 19 December 2011, more than 60 army deserters had been shot and killed as their tried to flee their base. Also, it reported that al-Assad had decreed the death penalty for anyone caught distributing arms “with the aim of committing terrorist acts.”

The state news agency SANA reported that security forces in Idlib had killed at least one “terrorist” and wounded several others.

Wissam Tarif, a well-known activist based in Beirut, stated that accounts from hospitals and witnesses suggested that some 260 individuals had been killed in Idlib alone on Tuesday 20 December 2011. He said that most of these individuals were defecting soldiers but also included some 93 loyalist soldiers and six civilians.

In the town of Jabal al-Zawiya alone, Tarif claimed that more than 3,000 soldiers had defected and that 10,000 had defected across Syria.

The Syrian National Council (SNC), the opposition umbrella group, stated that 250 individuals lost their lives between Monday 19 December and Tuesday 20 December. It released a statement urged the international community to act against the “horrific massacres.”

A team of observers from the Arab League is scheduled to arrive in Damascus later this week, as part of a signed deal between al-Assad’s regime and the Arab League in order to end the violence. The team is comprised of security, legal, and administrative observers, with human rights experts expected to follow.

Nabil el-Araby, the Arab League chief, stated that the initial team would go to Syria on Thursday 22 December 2011 while the rest will arrive by the end of December. He also stated that the Arab League desires to have 500 monitors in Syria by the end of the month and shared these sentiments with Reuters.

“It’s a completely new mission and it depends on implementation in good faith. In a week’s time, from the start of the operation, we will know if Syria is complying.”

The US and the EU have already imposed sanctions upon Syria, which combined with the unrest itself has pushed Syria’s economy into a free-fall. The Syrian pound fell nearly 2 percent on Tuesday 20 December 2011 to over 55 pounds per dollar, 17 percent down from the official rate before the crisis erupted.

In response to this economic depravity, Al-Baath newspaper reported that Prime Minister Adel Safar had instructed ministries to cut their expenditures by 25 percent. These cuts affected spending on elements such as fuel, stationery, and hospitality. Arab League chief el-Araby stated that the sanctions would stand until the League’s monitors begin reporting back on what they have seen on the ground.

The Arab League has threatened to request the UN Security Council to adopt its peace plan for Syria. This would considerably broaden the chances for international action inside Syria.

Syrian opposition leader Burham Ghalioun was not enamored by the actions of the Arab League thus far by allowing al-Assad’s regime to sign a proposal to end the violence.

“The Syrian regime is playing games and wants to buy time. We are quite surprised that the Arab League is allowing this to take place. This regime had proven time and time again that it is a regime built on lies and force. We need a safety zone to protect and prevent efforts by the regime to transform the crisis into a civil conflict.”

The UN has claimed that more than 5,000 individuals have been killed in Syria since the ant-Assad demonstrations and protests began in March, not missing the opportunity to be part of the Arab Spring. The Syrian government has reported that more than 1,100 security personnel have lost their lives to foreign-backed “armed terrorist gangs.”

The ban on international journalist inside Syria still stands, preventing all casualty claims from being independently verified.

 

For more information, please see:

Al-Jazeera – ‘Scores killed’ in Syria Violence – 21 December 2011

BBC – Syria crisis: ‘Nearly 200 Lives Lost’ In Last Two Days – 21 December 2011

Ahram – Deaths Mount in Syria as Arabs Move On Peace Plan – 20 December 2011

CNN – More Die in Syria After Deadliest Known Day – 20 December 2011

Reuters – Dozens Killed in Syria as Arab Peace Team Due – 20 December 2011

NYT – Syria Agrees To Allow Outside Observers, But Activists Remain Wary – 19 December 2011