War Crimes Prosecution Watch, Vol. 6 Issue 24

Vol. 6, Issue 24 — February 27, 2012

INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT

Central African Republic & Uganda

Darfur, Sudan

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

United States

TOPICS

Terrorism

Piracy

Universal Jurisdiction

Gender-Based Violence

REPORTS

UN Reports

NGO Reports

TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSIONS

Canada

Kenya

Nepal

Sri Lanka

Thailand

COMMENTARY AND PERSPECTIVES

WORTH READING

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.

OSCE Special Rapporteur Calls for Prosecutions in Magnitsky Case, William Browder Urges Sanctions in all OSCE Countries

Press Release
Originally sent by Hermitage Capital 2/27/12

Following the annual meeting of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in Vienna last week, Coskun Coruz, the OSCE Human Rights Rapporteur and MP from the Netherlands called for the prosecution of Russian officials in Magnitsky case, the termination of his posthumous trial and the end of intimidation of his family by the Russian authorities.

Coskun Coruz, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Rapporteur of the Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions, said:

“As a member of the OSCE, Russia should fulfill its human rights obligations and adhere to the norms and values of the OSCE. In the harrowing death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, Russia’s lawlessness is absolutely not fitting into OSCE ‘s values. What is particularly shocking is the unprecedented prosecution of a dead man. As a lawyer and politician, I will do everything in my power and the power of the OSCE to call on Russia to prosecute Magnitsky’s killers, to cease the posthumous prosecution against him and to protect his family.”

Mr Coruz was responding to an appeal from Ludmila Alexeeva, chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Russia’s leading human rights NGO. Ms Alexeeva called upon OSCE’s leadership and parliamentarians to intervene in the case of Sergei Magnitsky. In a strongly-worded letter sent on the eve of the OSCE winter meeting in Vienna, Ms Alexeeva urged OSCE members to do everything possible to bring to justice those responsible for Mr Magnitsky’s horrific death in Russian police custody. She called for an end to the unprecedented posthumous trial of Sergei Magnitsky as well as pressure put on his family by the Russian authorities.

“The prosecution of the dead lawyer and the intimidation and harassment of his family by police is a new low and an alarming symptom of the complete degradation of the Russian justice system and the absent rule of law. Posthumous prosecutions were not practiced even during the Stalin purges,” said Ms Alexeeva in her appeal to the OSCE.“They are clearly carried out …to intimidate and silence victims of police abuse and their relatives and to exonerate police officers implicated in serious crimes.”

In addition to Mr Coruz’s call for justice, William Browder, CEO of Hermitage Capital, was invited to testify at the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in Vienna last week. In his testimony, Mr Browder described in detail the torture and murder of Mr Magnitsky in custody and the pressure on his surviving family. He called on all parliaments in OSCE countries to pass visa sanctions and asset freezes on the Russian officials in the Magnitsky case.

“Selectively cancelling visas and freezing assets may not be real justice in a case like this, but if we are successful in creating some real and painful consequences in a situation where, until now, these people have enjoyed absolute impunity, perhaps the next time a Russian investigator is asked by his boss to torture a false confession out of an innocent prisoner, he may think twice… This is a new weapon in the fight against human rights abuses,” said Mr Browder.

In her appeal to OSCE, Ms Alexeeva reiterated Russia’s international obligations as a member of the OSCE to ensure that law enforcement officers pursue “legitimate aims” and “are subject to judicial control and are held accountable” as per paragraph 21 of the Document of the Moscow Meeting of the Conference on the Human Dimension.

“In no way such actions [posthumous trial of Mr Magnitsky and pressure on his family by the Russian authorities] can be viewed as an internal affair of Russia as they run contrary to Russia’s international obligations. The duty of the OSCE is to safeguard universally recognized human rights and freedoms and the rule of law in the territory of the participating countries,” said Ms Alexeeva.

“I ask you to adopt a special Resolution of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and undertake all other possible efforts to protect the family of Sergei Magnitsky from the police tyranny and to urge the Russian government without any further delay to bring to account law enforcement officers implicated in massive corruption, false arrest and torture of Magnitsky, and to put an end to the intimidation of his family,” said Ms Alexeeva in her letter addressed to Petros Efthymiou, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly President, Eamon Gilmore, OSCE Chairperson-in-Office and Irish Deputy Prime Minister, Coskun Coruz, Rapporteur of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s Committee on Human Rights, and OSCE Vice Presidents.

Last week, a Moscow court rejected two lawsuits from the Magnitsky family against the Russian Investigative Committee for its failure to investigate and bring high-ranking Russian police officers to trial for the false arrest, torture and murder of the 37-year old whistle-blowing lawyer. Russian courts also rejected Magnitsky mother’s requests for access to her son’s tissue samples and their independent medical examination. The Investigative Committee in charge of Magnitsky’s death investigation is the same body that concealed Mr Magnitsky’s testimonies about the $230 million corruption of Interior Ministry and tax officials. The Investigative Committee also refused to investigate the illicit multi-million dollar wealth of the families of those officials.

Falkland Island Tensions Increase with Denial of Cruise Ship Entry and Enactment of Bill Banning British Ships

by Emilee Gaebler
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Tensions between the Argentinian and British governments regarding the Falkland Islands, called the Malvinas Islands by Argentina, are peaking.  This past weekend a couple of cruise ships were denied entry to the Port of Ushuaia in southern Argentina.

The sign in the Port of Ushuaia banning British flagged ships. (Photo Courtesy of MercoPress)

On Friday, February 24, the Adonia ship of P&O Cruises was denied entry and then on Saturday the Star Princess of Princess Cruise Lines was also turned away.  Both ships had stopped in the Falklands the day before.

The port of Ushuaia is right near the Tierra del Fuego national park.  The 3,000 passengers on the two ships were unable to go on shore excursions and tours as planned.  Instead they were forced to remain on the ship at sea.

This comes shortly after Argentina enacted provincial act No. 852, called the “Gaucho Rivero” act.  This bans the entry to any Argentinian port of a ship flying any form of a British flag.  The ban also covers any commercial vessels that are partly owned by British companies.

As reported by MercoPress, the act is named in honor of an Argentinian soldier, a “gaucho” who flew the flag of Argentina on the islands until the British landed and took control of the islands in 1833.  This individual has become a legend and a Malvinas history hero by the administration of President Cristina Fernandez.

Earlier this year the Star Princess  cruise ship was denied entry to the Falklands due to a majority of the passengers contracting a stomach virus.  At the time Argentina claimed the real reason was politically motivated because Argentinian citizens were on board.

Many have expressed concerns over the choice to ban these ships as the bill specifically targets commercial boats involved in the exploitation of natural resources in the area.  Marcelo Lietti, the President of the Ushuaia Tourism Chamber, expressed his the city’s position.

He noted that the tourism industry is not related to the Malvinas dispute and most business in the Ushuaia region centers on the cruise industry so this decision has a negative impact that is deeply felt by the community.

The levels of hostility between the Argentinian and the British governments are at an all time high as the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War approaches.  Britain has refused any negotiations with Argentina regarding giving the islands sovereignty to choose their national identity.

Reports of a British parliamentary committee that oversees defense matters visiting the Falklands within the next month have also contributed to the tensions.  Last week Argentina lodged a complaint with the United Nations regarding the militarization taking place in the Falklands with the dispatch of the HMS Dauntless destroyer ship.

The deployment of Prince William, as a helicopter pilot, to the area is also viewed as a threatening move by the Fernandez administration.  Britain has defended both the deployment of the ship and the placement of Prince William as planned rotations.

 

For more information, please see;

BBC News – Falklands Tension: Argentina “Turns Away” Cruise Ships – 28 February 2012

MercoPress – Port of Ushuaia Refuses Entry of Cruise Vessels that Visited the Falkland Islands – 27 February 2012

Penguin News – Argentine Port Bans Entry to Cruise Ships en route from Falklands – 27 February 2012

The Guardian – Falklands Tension Set to Rise with Visit of Defence Committee MP’s – 14 February 2012

Judge Dismisses Harassment Case; Lectures Atheist for Portrayal of ‘Zombie Mohammed’

By Brittney Hodnik
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, United States – Some of the most fundamental rights protected by the United States are laid out in the First Amendment of the Constitution: freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition.  Interestingly, religious groups seem to enjoy more protection than non-religious groups nowadays; specifically, atheists across the country are facing discrimination.  Most recently, a Pennsylvania judge ruled in favor of a disgruntled Muslim who allegedly attacked an atheist at a Halloween parade.

Perce dressed as a zombie Mohammad and his friend, dressed as a zombie pope. (Image Courtesy of Youtube)

On October 11, 2011 in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, Ernie Perce, a self-proclaimed atheist participated in a Halloween parade.  According to CNN, Perce was dressed as a “Zombie Mohammed,” wearing a long fake beard, a white turban, and green face paint.  A fellow member of “The Parading Atheists of Central Pennsylvania” was dressed as a zombie-themed pope, an apparent jab at the Catholic religion.

During the parade, a Muslim man named Talaag Elbayomy allegedly attacked Perce, grabbing him, choking him, and attempting to take an unsavory sign off Perce’s neck.  He was charged with harassment based on Perce’s claims and went to court, according to CNN.

On December 6, to many a surprise, District Judge Mark Martin dismissed the case saying that it was one person’s word against another’s, and that a video clip of the incident was inadmissible, according to The Huffington Post.

Judge Martin said there was not enough evidence to proceed, but did not stop his commentary there.

Judge Martin told Perce that “you have that right, but you’re way outside your boundaries of first amendment rights,” reported The Huffington Post.  He went on, “[T]his is why we are referred to as ugly Americans, because we are so concerned about our own rights we don’t care about other people’s rights as long as we get our say . . . .”

He also told Perce his actions against the tenets of Islam made him “look like a doofus,” according to The Washington Post.  Perce believes that his “lack of belief” played a role in the judge’s decision.

Scholars and rights groups alike found the judge’s comments shocking.  According to The Huffington Post, Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University wrote, “[Judge Martin’s] legal views seem grotesquely out of place.”  A blog post by the group American Atheists said, “That a Muslim immigrant can assault a United States citizen in defense of his religious beliefs and walk away a free man, while the victim is chastised and insulted . . . is a horrible abrogation.”

Judge Martin defended his actions saying that he is not biased towards Islam and that he has always fought to preserve the right to freedom of speech.  According to CNN, Judge Martin spent 27 years in the military and has spent over two total years in Iraq and Afghanistan where he learned much about the Muslim culture.

He reiterated that he dismissed the case because there was not enough evidence to show that Elbayomy was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and that is it.  However, he expanded on his courtroom speech by saying, “With rights come responsibilities.  The more people abuse our rights, the more likely that we’re going to lose them.”

The Washington Post reports that Judge Martin stands by his decision and would not do anything differently, even considering the hundreds of calls he has received in the last week.

According to CNN, former terrorism prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy accused the judge of allowing the Muslim suspect to “invoke a Sharia defense – what he claimed was his obligation to strike out against any insult against the prophet Mohammed.”

Turley (the professor from George Washington Law) went on to say that the decision is “greatly disturbing to people that believe in free speech.”  According to CNN, he continued, “You can say things that are hurtful to others.  We hope that you don’t, but you most certainly can be protected.”

As for Elbayomy, he admitted in court to approaching Perce and laying his hands on him.  He said that he took his kids to watch the parade and when he saw Perce pass by he was “shocked” because he could not believe what he was seeing, according to LF Press.  He said, “I teach my kids how to respect everybody.  Any religion, it doesn’t matter what your religion . . . I teach them to be respectful for everybody.”

At the time, Elbayomy believed that it was illegal for Perce to mock Mohammed, according to LF Press.  He actually went to a police officer himself to report Perce’s costume and actions.

Perce and other atheists throughout the country remain upset about the comments Judge Martin made in the decision.  Many believe – beyond the dismissal of the case – that the six minute lecture telling Perce how bad he was offending Islam was out of line.

For more information, please visit:

CNN — Judge’s Dismissal of Atheist’s Harassment Claim Against Muslim Makes Waves — 28 Feb. 2012

The Washington Post — PA Judge’s Dismissal of  Harassment Case Criticized After ‘Zombie Muhammad’ Posts Trial Audio — 28 Feb. 2012

The Huffington Post — Pennsylvania Judge Dismisses Case Against Muslim Accused  of Attacking Atheist Dressed as ‘Zombie Muhammad’ — 27 Feb. 2012

LF Press (London) — ‘Zombie Muhammed’ Alleges Muslim Attack — 27 Feb. 2012

Fox News — Pennsylvania Judge Dismisses Case of Attack on ‘Zombie Mohammad’ — 24 Feb. 2012

HRW Calls For Bahrain To Release Activists

By Carolyn Abdenour
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

MANAMA, Bahrain – On Tuesday, 28 February, Human Rights Watch (“HRW”) called upon Bahrain to release hundreds of pro-democracy activists arrested last year and to drop all charges against them.  HRW also urged the country to void people’ convictions from civil and military courts that do not meet international fair trial standards.

Police prevent journalists from mingling with doctors and nurses during a break at a civilian criminal trial. (Photo Courtesy of Human Rights Watch)

HRW’s 94-page report, “No Justice in Bahrain: Unfair Trials in Military and Civilian Courts,” highlighted the county’s due process violations during politically motivated trials in criminal courts since 2010 and high-profile trials by special military courts in 2011. 

In March 2011, King Hamad organized special military courts during the country’s three-month “State of National Safety”, a quasi state of emergency.  Since 4 April 2011, Bahrain’s military officials tried and convicted hundreds of people charged under “national safety” grounds.  Civilian courts began accepting the trials and appeals of these people charged in the uprising on 7 October 2011.

In its report, HRW emphasized the violations through two case studies.  First, the court convicted twenty doctors of inciting to overthrow the government and trying to occupy a hospital.  Second, security forces jailed fourteen political activists for leading protests.  Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, a jailed activist with Danish nationality, has conducted a hunger strike for the past two weeks. 

HRW asserted the violations of fair trial rights include denying defendants the right to present a defense and to counsel along with failing to investigate torture allegations during interrogations. These violations reflect systemic failures in the country’s criminal justice system rather than deficient practices of judges and prosecutors. 

Furthermore, HRW has documented continued exercise of ill-treatment and torture by Bahraini security officers.   In November, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (“BICI”) published that at least five people detained for engaging in peaceful protests died from torture.  The government pledged to implement recommendations by this Commission, including police and judicial procedural reforms.  However, earlier this month Amnesty International reported the government remained “far from delivering the human rights changes.”

Moreover, HRW requested France, the United Kingdom, and the United State halt military and security-related sales and assistance to the country until Bahrain address these human rights violations.

HRW’s Deputy Middle East Director Joe Stork said, “King Hamad should examine the special military courts he set up by decree before claiming there are no political prisoners in Bahrain…In case after case, people were convicted for their political beliefs, for the slogans they chanted, and for joining large peaceful rallies that the Crown Prince had publicly proclaimed were protected by Bahrain’s constitution.”

For further information, please see:

Dalje – Bahrain Trials Lack Due Processs – 28 Feb 2012

Human Rights Watch – Bahrain: Hundreds Railroaded in Unjust Trials – 28 Feb 2012

The Daily News: Egypt – HRW Calls On Bahrain To Release Democracy Activists – 28 Feb 2012

The Daily Star: Lebanon – Bahrain Should Shelve Trials Linked To Protests: Group – 28 Feb 2012

Rights Group Concerned About Burma Military Abuse

By: Jessica Ties
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar – Human Rights Watch has expressed concern that despite Burmese attention to reform and cease-fires with ethnic insurgents, abuse by the military continue.

The Burmese military has been accused of continuing abuses against civilians (Photo Courtesy of Radio Free Asia).

David Mathieson, Human Rights Watch senior researcher on Burma, recently visited Burma and learned that fighting in Kachin State has displaced approximately 70,000 people since last June.

In addition, there have also been reports of sexual violence, the use of weapons against unarmed civilians, destruction of property and forced labor.

Mathieson has also encountered rights abuses by ethnic armed groups who use child soldiers and execute Burmese prisoners of war.

Recently, the use of child soldiers has prompted the U.S. ambassador for human trafficking to demand that Burmese military officers be accountable for involvement in human trafficking.

A 2011 Human Rights Watch report alleged that the Burmese military was colluding with corrections Department officials to gain access to approximately 700 prisoners who the army used as porters who are often forced to risk their life by checking for landmines.

Mathieson further stated that “…with all the changes happening in central Burma, it’s quite alarming that the army is showing absolutely no compunction to change its behavior.”

The Burmese government has continuously denied journalists access to Kachin and other conflict zones which has made it impossible for independent reports to be made regarding the allegations of abuse said to be occurring at the hands of the military.

Under the dominance of the previously ruling military junta, individual freedom was severely restricted. Owning a computer or fax machine without being given prior permission was prohibited and internet access was severely controlled.

Since the civilian government assumed power from the military junta last year, restriction on freedom have been largely lifted and several prominent political prisoners have been released although some remain imprisoned.

Despite these initial reforms, some experts fear that they could be easily reversed considering that many of the laws that were formerly used to repress Burmese citizens have not been repealed.

Failure to repeal the repressive laws means that despite improvements made in individual freedoms, many of the ways in which these freedoms are exercised are still technically illegal and the government could decide to revert to the human rights policies that existed under the military junta.

Another positive sign of reform, however, is that President Thein sein and his administration are expected to allow the National League of Democracy leader Aung San Suu kyi to give a political broadcast. Prior to the broadcast, however, the National League of Democracy is required to produce the text of the broadcase to the censors at the Ministry of Information for their review.

For more information, please see:

The Guardian – Burma Awakes to Glasnost: A (Partly) Free Press and (Some) Freedom of Expression – 25 February 2012

Irrawaddy – HRW: Army Abuse Unabated Despite Burma Reforms – 24 February 2012

Radio Free Asia – Burma’s Military ‘As Abusive as Ever’ – 23 February 2012

Voice of America – U.S. Calls for Burma Military to Account for Human Trafficking – 12 January 2012

CHINA DEPORTS NINE TO NORTH KOREAN

by Hibberd Kline
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China – According to the South Korean media, nine North Korean refugees were handed over to the North Korean authorities by China last week.

South Korean activists including actor Cha In-pyo staged rallies calling for the release of North Korean refugees outside the Chinese Embassy in Seoul. (Photo courtesy of Voice of America).

The nine are part of a group of more than thirty North Korean refugees who have been rounded up by the Chinese authorities this month in separate locations in the city of Shenyang. The refugees are reportedly being held in the northern Chinese city of Changchun, where they await processing and deportation to North Korea.

According to human rights group Amnesty International, some of the refugees are believed to have successfully contacted a South Korean organization devoted to helping North Korean refugees escape to South Korea.

Amnesty called upon the Chinese government not to forcibly repatriate the refugees earlier this month. The group’s Asia-Pacific Director, Sam Zarifi declared that China must allow “…North Koreans to seek asylum in China and other countries and provide them with access to the United Nations refugee agency or other relevant refugee channels.”

Additional activist groups and members of the South Korean government have since echoed the group’s pleas.

Seoul’s traditional stance regarding North Korean refugees in China has been less confrontational. However, following the failure of low-level talks on the fate of the refugees to achieve favorable results, the South Korean Foreign Ministry announced that it would seek international help on the issue at a meeting of the the United Nations Council on Human Rights in Geneva later this week.

According to Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei, China believes that the issue of North Korean refugees is not suitable for discussion at the United Nations and should be handled pursuant to domestic Chinese laws.

South Korean politicians have also weighed-in on the issue. According to South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, “When it comes to the North Korean defectors, it is right for the Chinese Government to handle them in line with international rules as long as they are not criminals.”

The South Korean Parliament also recently adopted a resolution demanding that China discontinue the repatriation of refugees. One lawmaker, Park-Sun young, even went so far as to begin a hunger strike in front of the Chinese embassy on Tuesday in order to draw attention to the refugees’ cause.

Human rights activists, relatives of the detained refugees and South Korean celebrities also staged protests outside the Chinese embassy to demand that China forgoe repatriating the refugees.

For its part, China has often expressed an apparent desire to play a positive role in the Korean Peninsula. China has sent aid to North Korea and has repeatedly encouraged all parties to return to the stalled six-party talks over the future of North Korea’s nuclear program. However, China appears to remain unflinching on the issue of refugees.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry responded last Tuesday to pressure from South Korea by repeating its long-standing policy of treating the refugees as “illegal economic immigrants.” China has close ties with the North Korean regime and systematically captures and forcibly repatriates refugees who cross over into Chinese territory.

The typical journey for refugees fleeing North Korea is long and perilous. Refugees generally cross the border into China on foot, then hide themselves inside China before securing transportation to a third country. The lucky refugees eventually make their way to South Korea. However, human rights activists and North Korean refugees say that repatriated North Koreans are often tortured, sent to remote prison camps, or publicly executed.

Following the death of North Korea’s “dear leader” Kim Jong-il and the rapid assent of his son Kim Jong-un to power, activists in the South have relayed reports of harsher punishments for those who get caught trying to flee the country. Some refugees have suggested that punishment may extend to three generations of an escapee’s family.

Tens of thousands of North Koreans are thought to be currently hiding in China. Estimates put the total number of North Korean refugees who have escaped to South Korea since 1950 at more than 20,000.

China is a party to the United Nations Refugee Convention (UNHCR), but has been accused by human rights groups of failing to live up to its obligations under the convention.

For more information, please see:

BBC News– China ‘Sent Back Nine North Korean Refugees’ — 24 February 2012

Bangkok Post — China Returns Nine Refugees to North Korea — 24 February 2012

Korea Herald — Nine North Korean Defectors Repatriated to Their Homeland — 23 February 2012

BBC News — Seoul Urges China on North Korea Refugees — 22 February 2012

New York Times — China Should Not Repatriate North Korean Refugees, Seoul Says — 22 February 2012

Voice of America — China Rejects Pleas Not to Repatriate North Koreans — 21 February 2012

Amnesty International — Amnesty International Urges China to Avoid Forced Repatriation of North Korean Defectors — 14 February 2012

Trial of Pro-Democracy NGO Workers in Egypt is Adjourned

By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt–The first day of a controversial trial of 43 non-governmental organization workers accused of working illegally and pressing American and Israeli interests in Egypt has adjourned in Cairo. Mohammed Shoukry, the chief judge, stated on Sunday 26 February 2012 that the court would reconvene for the next hearing on 26 April 2012. The court session adjourned after being suspended “until order is restored” due to a brawl between civil claimants and the judge.

Some of the NGO workers wait in a holding cell at the courthouse in Cairo. (Photo Courtesy of NYT)

The defendants include 19 Americans and 16 Egyptians. Only seven of the US citizens reportedly remain in the country, where they are not permitted to leave. The others include Serbians, Lebanese, Germans, a Norwegian, a Jordanian, and a Palestinian. Only 13 Egyptians and one German defendants actually appeared at the hearing.

A prosecutor at the hearing read the charges against the defendants, alleging that their “acceptance of illicit funds had detracted from the sovereignty of the Egyptian state.” All 14 defendants who were present denied that they had committed the crimes they were charged with. Upon the case’s adjournment, human rights lawyer Hafez Abou Seida told Egyptian State television reporters that the circumstances surrounding the trial do not necessitate allowing civil claimants as plaintiffs in the case. Abou Seida also stated that the defendants’ representatives should begin submitting evidence of innocence by the upcoming hearing on 26 April 2012.

The charging of US citizens has brought relations between Egypt and the United States to their lowest points in almost three decades. US politicians stated they may cut off Egypt’s $1.3M in annual military aid if the US citizens are tried in the case, although none of them appeared at the hearing. Les Campbell, the regional director of one of the accused US organizations, stated tat his group’s foreign employees did not receive official summons from the court. Thus, they saw no reason to present themselves.

On the other hand, Egyptian officials have stated that the trial has absolutely nothing to do with the government and is in the hands of the judiciary. They have blamed the continued unrest in their country on foreign interference and attribute much of it to the organizations from which the workers in this case are charged.

Ashraf El-Ashmawi and Sameh Abu Zeid, two judges also handling the case, stated the charges could lead to up to five-year prison sentences. El-Ashmawi shared these words with Al-Jazeera.

“These organizations conducted unlicensed and illegal activities without the knowledge of the Egyptian government. Documents confiscated during the raids on the NGO offices confirm illegal foreign funding.”

Seven of the Americans remain in Egypt and have been residing on the grounds of the US embassy in Cairo since the charges were filed and they were barred from leaving the country. Outside of the courtroom on Sunday 26 February 2012, approximately 100 protesters called for the release of Omar Abdel-Rahman, the blind Egyptian cleric imprisoned in the US following the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York, in exchange for the US defendants.

The main US organizations involved in the trial are the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute.

The activists were charged with the illegal use of foreign funds to stimulate and fester unrest and operating in the country without a license. But the investigation against these workers fits into a much larger framework. There is a campaign within Egypt’s leaders against foreign influence since the collapse of Hosni Mubarak’s regime last year, considered by many as the first real victory for the Arab Spring.

Rights groups have sharply criticized the existence of the investigation into the groups and the charges, stated that they are part of an orchestrated effort by Egyptian authorities to silence all those critical of the current military rulers. Since the ouster of Mubarak, the civilians in Egypt are ready to begin a new era of change and prosperity. They are putting pressure on the country’s military rules over their stewardship of the economy and the transition to a civilian government. The head of the ruling military council, Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantwai, ordered on Sunday 26 February 2012 that parliament convene on 3 March to elect a committee to draw up a new constitution.

Since Mubarak’s ouster, Egypt has run through over 50 percent of its foreign reserves and is currently seeking a $3.2 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund, as well as additional help from the World Bank and other foreign donors. The Egyptian people are left wondering how and when this desired loan will be used to address their needs and desires, the same needs and desires that removed Mubarak from power and placed the military in control.

One of the defendants, Islam Shafiq, shared these words with the AFP. He works as a financial manager with the US-based International Center for Journalists.

“Of course this trial is politicized. We proved during the investigation that we didn’t do anything.”

 

For more information, please see: 

Ahram – Egypt’s NGO Trial Adjourned for 26 April in First Session – 26 February 2012

Al-Jazeera – Egypt NGO Workers Trial Adjourned – 26 February 2012

Bloomberg – Egypt Court Adjourns Trial of Pro-Democracy NGO Workers Until April 26 – 26 February 2012

CNN – Trial Is Adjourned After Americans Fail To Appear in Cairo Court – 26 February 2012

The Guardian – Egypt Opens Trial of 43 Pro-Democracy Workers – 26 February 2012

NYT – Trial of U.S. Nonprofit Workers in Egypt Is Abruptly Put Off – 26 February 2012

 

Amid Chaos and Violence, Syria Holds Vote For New Constitution For Its Citizens

By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria–As the crackdown against civilians continued across the nation, the Syrian government called its citizens to the polls on Sunday 26 February 2012 to vote on a new constitution. Although the new text of the constitution ends the legal basis for the five-decade stranglehold o power for the ruling Baath party, it still leaves the executive powers in the hands of President Bashar al-Assad. This is a tremendous problem for the situation and had already been criticized by the opposition.

Voters in Damascus submit their votes on Sunday 26 February. (Photo Courtesy of Reuters)

The opposition stated that the changes offered were entirely cosmetic and that only the removal of al-Assad from power will bring the desired changes. After 11 months of crackdowns, human rights groups have reported that more than 7,600 individuals have lost their lives, with more deaths occurring every day.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, on Saturday 25 February 2012, 98 individuals were killed and 72 of them were civilians.

On Sunday 26 February 2012, the polls opened at 7:00AM local time (5:00 GMT). Reports from the around Syria stated that more than 14 million people over the age of 18 eligible to vote appeared at the 13,835 polling stations.

Louay Safi, a leading member of the Syrian National Council, an opposition group, said that the new constitution would be fruitless in bringing about the desired change because it is being promulgated and offered by the current government. The same government that continues to violate its own laws in its ongoing efforts to crush the uprising.

“The major problem is that the government is violating the current constitution. What we fear is if the regime stays intact, the new constitution will be meaningless. So the real step to have a new constitution is to have a new or transitional government.”

In the capital of Damascus, opposition activists claimed that they would try to hold protests near polling stations and even burn copies of the new constitution. One activist named Omar shared these words with Al-Jazeera on Sunday February 26 2012.

“No one is going to vote. This was a constitution made to Bashar’s tastes and meanwhile we are getting shelled and killed. More than 40 people were killed today and you want us to vote in a referendum? No one is going to vote.”

Another activist, Waleed Fares, shared these words from the Khalidiyah district of Homs.

“What should we be voting for, whether to die by bombardment or bullets? This is the only choice we have.”

On the reverse angle, Adel Safar, the country’s prime minister, stated on Sunday 26 February 2012 that the opposition’s call for a boycott displayed a lack of interest in a substantive dialogue for change.

“If there was a genuine desire for reform, there would have been movement from all groups, especially the opposition to start dialogue immediately with the government to achieve the reforms and implement them on the ground.”

While the voting was underway, the violence did not take a break to visit the polls. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, government forces shelled residential areas in Bab Amr for the 26th day in a row, claiming at least nine lives. The group stated that rebel soldiers had also killed at least four government troops in the city.

Al-Baath, the ruling party’s newspaper, stated in an editorial this week that the new constitution “does not represent a loss for the party and just keeps up with political and social evolution.” The new text does eliminate all references to Syrias as a social state. But Article 60 maintains the mandate that half of the deputies must be “workers and farmers.”

Al-Assad would remain in power under the new constitution, keeping several important responsibilities such as naming the prime minister and the ability to veto legislation. Another provision in the new constitution that has drawn negative attention in Article 3, which states that the president should be a Muslim and that “Islamic jurisprudence shall be a major source of legislation.”

Sunni Muslims makeup 75 percent of Syria’s population of 22 million, while the Alawite community accounts for another 12 percent. President al-Assad comes from the Alawite community and this further exacerbates his refusal to relinquish his power.

Article 88 of the new constitution also states that the president can be in office for two seven-year terms. But subsequent Article 155 states that these conditions would only take effect after the next election for the head of state, which is set for 2014. This would allow al-Assad to theoretically stay in power for another 16 years. This is unacceptable for the Syrian people and quite frankly, would be a nightmare for all of them.

Syrian specialist Thomas Pierret said stated that regardless of the proposed and debated changes, the type of government and political system in Syria does not matter in a country “dominated by the intelligence service.”

“Nothing indicates that this would change under the current regime.”

 

For more information, please see:

Ahram – Syria Puts New Constitution To Vote In Thick of Unrest – 26 February 2012

Al-Jazeera – Syria Holds Vote On New Constitution – 26 February 2012

BBC – Syria Votes On New Constitution Referendum Amid Unrest – 26 February 2012

CNN – Syria Says Referendum Results Coming Monday; Vote Punctuated By New Violence – 26 February 2012

The Guardian – Syria Votes On New Constitution As Shelling Of Homs Continues – 26 February 2012

NYT – Syria Offers A New Charter As Battles In Cities Continue – 26 February 2012

Reuters – Syria Referedum Goes Ahead Amid Military Onslaught – 26 February 2012

 

HRW Calls IOC To Ban Saudi Arabia

By Carolyn Abdenour
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – On 15 February 2012, Human Rights Watch (“HRW”) called for the International Olympic Committee (“IOC”) to prevent Saudi Arabia from participating in the Olympic games until the country allows women  to compete, beginning with the 2012 London Games.  Saudi Arabia has received criticism that the country violates the spirit of the Olympics by not bringing a female team to participate at the international event.

Girls in Saudi Arabia at basketball practice. (Photo Courtesy of The Guardian)

HRW’s 51-page report entitled “Steps of the Devil: Denial of Women and Girls’ Right to Sport in Saudi Arabia” highlights discriminatory practices against females when the State denies them physical education at state schools, limits women’s athletic facilities, and refuses to support female athletes participation in the Olympic games.

HRW’s report documents that “opponents of sport for women and girls put forward the ‘slippery slope’ argument that, once women start to exercise, they will shed modest clothing, spend ‘unnecessary’ time out of the house and have increased possibilities of mingling with men.”  Opponents also purpose women could engage in sport outside the view of men while wearing modest cloths.

Since the country’s law restricts women from driving, women face challenges accessing athletic facilities.  Furthermore, when a woman is outside, she must wear an abaya, a black cloak that covers her from head to toe.  HRW reported a woman received permission to run a marathon a few years ago if she ran in the abaya.

Moreover, Saudi Arabia’s denial of women’s right to sport raises health concerns for women and girls, where obesity and diabetes rates climbed in the country.

HRW asserts Saudi Arabia’s policy violates the pledge of equality in IOC charter.  Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Brunei are the only countries that have not sent women’s teams to the Olympics.  However, their cultural counterparts, including Indonesia, Algeria, Bahrain, and Iran, have supported women’s Olympic teams.

The IOC has banned countries in the past for their policies toward women.  Afghanistan, for example, could not participate in the 2000 Sydney Olympics because of the country’s stance on women under Taliban rule.

In 2006, Reema Abdullah organized Jeddah King’s United, the country’s first all-female soccer team, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.  The 33-year old reported the women practice three times a week on “a proper size football field with grass that is surrounded by a wall.”

Regarding the upcoming Olympic games, Abdullah told the Associated Press, “We will watch the London Olympics and we will cheer for our men competing there, hoping that someday we can root for our women as well.”

For further information, please see:

The Guardian – Olympic Outrage at Saudi Ban On Women Athletes – 25 Feb 2012

Hamilton Spectator – Saudi Arabia’s Sports Gap – 22 Feb 2012

Sports Illustrated – Female Athletes In Saudi Arabia Challenge Tradition Muslim Norms – 17 Feb 2012

Human Rights Watch – IOC/Saudi Arabia: End Ban on Women in Sport – 15 Feb 2012

HUNDREDS OF TIBETANS DETAINED FOR REEDUCATION

by Hibberd Kline
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China– According to Human Rights Watch, hundreds of Tibetans returning from India have been arbitrarily detained and now face “political re-education.”

A Tibetan refuge participates in a candle light vigil in India (left), while Chinese troops patrol the streets in Kangding, Ganzi Prefecture (right). (Photograph Courtesy of The Telegraph).

The detainees were part of a group of 7,000 Tibetans who were granted permission by the Chinese government to attend teaching sessions held by the Dali Lama in Bihar, India. The travelers reportedly possessed all the necessary documentation for the journey including Chinese-issued passports.

At first, human rights groups hailed the initial travel grant as a relaxation of Chinese government policy in Tibet. However, applause for the perceived policy shift has been abruptly cut short in recent weeks as China continues to expand its crackdown on ethnic minorities.

According to Human Rights Watch, some 700 ethnic Chinese accompanied the Tibetans on their journey to attend the Dali Lama’s teaching sessions. However, the group stressed that there have been no reports of ethnic Chinese travelers being detained upon re-entry into China. Accordingly, Human Rights Watch believes that the travelers are being detained solely based upon their ethnicity.

In addition to extensive indoctrination sessions, the “reeducation” faced by many of the detainees reportedly will include forced denunciation of the Dali Lama as a spiritual leader. Though there has been no official word regarding the duration of the detainees’ reeducation, previous programs have typically lasted for several months. Sources cited by Human Rights Watch suggest that detainees’ families have not been notified of the detentions.

The detainment follows recent escalating unrest in the regions of Sichuan and Gansu, which both possess sizable ethnic Tibetan populations. In recent weeks, at least 15 monks are thought to have died in the two regions from self-immolation in protest against Chinese rule. An additional seven Tibetans were shot dead and dozens wounded in clashes with police in Sichuan in January.

However, the recent detainees reportedly hail from areas as of yet untouched by the recent unrest. This has led some analysts to view the detainment as a preemptive move by the Chinese authorities to tighten control over the Tibetan plateau in order to prevent violent unrest from spreading to the regional capital, Lhasa.

A February 10 article in the Beijing-based newspaper, Global Times, reported that Chinese officials in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) had been ordered to “prepare for a war against secessionist sabotage.” The government-owned tabloid quoted Xiong Kunxin, a professor at the Minsu University of China, who explained the recent string of self-immolations as having to do with “geographic and historical factors, which made the Tibetan people [in Sichuan] more aggressive.” The professor was further quoted as he decried “less strict management” for having contributed to the “problem” as well.

Conversely, the exiled Dali Lama has blamed the self-immolations on a “cultural genocide” committed by the Chinese authorities against his people. However, he rejects government claims that he is behind the violence.

Growing unrest in the region has led China to significantly bolster its police, military and secret service presence in an effort to clamp down on dissent and tighten communist party control. For instance, the Gami Temple, which lies at the edge of the TAR, houses not only Buddhist monks, but also a local police headquarters. Such close proximity between police and local religious leaders allows for easy surveillance and control and is increasingly commonplace.

Additionally, in many parts of the region police roadblocks make travel difficult. In some towns, the authorities have even gone so far as to block all internet and telecommunications access by the local population.

In a statement released on its website, Human Rights Watch alleged that the recent crackdown has seen the largest number of Tibetan laypeople detained by the Chinese Government since the 1970s.

As a result of the authorities’ heavy-handed tactics, traditional Tibetan New Year celebrations, which the Tibetan Government in exile had called upon Tibetans to boycott, appear to have largely gone off without incident. However, some activists suggest that China’s approach may be serving to unite ethnic Tibetans against Chinese rule. Some analysts suggest that the March 10 anniversary of a 1959 uprising against Chinese rule may pose more of a challenge to security forces than the innocuous new year celebrations.

China has ruled Tibet since its troops occupied the region in 1950. Many Tibetans fear that Chinese migrants and government policies are eroding Tibetan culture.

For more information, please see:

AP News — As China Clamps Down, Tibet Struggle Grows Radical — 22 February 2012

Reuters — Tibetans Mark New Year under Shadow of Immolations — 22 February 2012

Reuters — China Detaining Tibetans Returning from India – Human Rights Watch — 18 February 2012

Jurist — China Must Release Tibetan Prisoners: HRW — 17 February 2012

The Guardian — China Detains Hundreds of Tibetans for ‘Re-education’, Says Human Rights Group — 17 February 2012

The Telegraph — Hundreds of Tibetans ‘Detained and Forced to Undergo Political Re-education’ — 17 February 2012

Human Rights Watch — China: End Crackdown on Tibetans Who Visited India — 16 February 2012

The Global Times — Tibet Officials ‘Prepare for War’ — 10 February 2012

Prosecuting the Dead

by David Crane
Originally published through Jurist 20 Feb 2012

In 897 AD in what was called “the Cadaver Synod,” Pope Formosus was tried for various violations of Church laws. He was found guilty, his edicts were annulled, his robes were taken from him, and three fingers on his right hand were severed, before the former Pope was thrown in the Tiber River. Bizarrely, Pope Formosus had died of natural causes several months earlier. They prosecuted a dead man. Fast forward over a thousand years to 2012. Russia is about to put on trial a dead man, Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer, who died in prison from the effects of his imprisonment and torture by the Russian government in November 2009.

 

Magnitsky’s death has caused universal condemnation by world leaders, international organizations, such as the EU, as well as human rights groups. His crime was exposing a massive tax fraud scheme by the Russian government and officials within the Medvedev/Putin regime in the amount of over $230 million dollars. Not content to leave Magnitsky in peace, the Russian government has hounded his family and harassed his mother, Natalia Magnitskaya. They are even going to bring charges in absentia against Magnitsky’s former employer, William Browder, a British citizen, of the Hermitage Capital Fund.

 

The Magnitsky case is indicative of Russian justice in the twenty-first century. Joseph Stalin did not prosecute the dead, yet the current government plans to move forward with the prosecution unless Magnitsky’s family ceases its efforts to seek justice for their family member, Sergei. “Even in Stalin’s time, the authorities did not prosecute people who were dead. The Interior Ministry is so desperate to justify its repression of Sergei Magnitsky that government officials are running roughshod over all legal precedent, practice and morality,” said an Hermitage Capital spokesperson.

 

Boris Kibis, the very investigator who found in 2010 no credibility to the Russian President’s Human Rights Council report that Magnitsky had been tortured and mistreated in violation of the European Human Rights Convention, is now completing the investigation against the long dead Magnitsky and intends to refer the case for prosecution this year. What those charges are remains to be seen.

 

It is important to note that the United States Senate has taken up the cause of the torture death of Sergei Magnitsky to sanction the officials who were responsible for his death. Led by Senators John McCain and Ben Cardin with 28 co-sponsors, the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act (S. 1039) is being considered this congressional term.

 

Sir Tony Brenton, United Kingdom Ambassador to Russia, 2004-2008, declared on the one year anniversary of the death of Sergei Magnitsky, November 2010: “The death of Sergei Magnitsky is an appalling indictment of some parts of the Russian judicial system. It is important for Russia, as it is for the wider world, that they clean this poison out.”

 

Prosecuting dead people has only happened a few other times in history. Such dead defendants included Joan of Arc, Thomas Beckett, John Wycliff, and Martin Borman. The Catholic Church banned the practice centuries ago. In modern jurisprudence prosecution of the dead is unheard of, particularly by civilized nations who respect the rule of law. We simply do not try the dead. This Russian example of justice brings shame to the rule of law and discredit upon its judicial system.

 

David Crane is a professor at Syracuse University College of Law and the founding former Chief Prosecutor of the international war crimes tribunal in West Africa called the Special Court for Sierra Leone, 2001-2005.

Lawlessness in Egypt an Issue of Concern

By Tyler Yates
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt — The revolution that changed Egypt is nearly a year old, and a growing security problem has many wondering if Egyptian security forces are complacent about or complicit in the mayhem around them.

Egyptian security forces are drawing criticism for a rise in violent crime (Photo courtesy of Ahram Online).

There has been an unprecedented rise in violent crimes since 2011, which has largely been attributed to prison breakouts and a lack of police.

The brazenness of the violence is also troubling. Seven men went into a bank robbery shooting in January; the same day, three men stormed an armored car and made off with $500,000.  A few days later, there was a surreal scene as families lined up outside of a Cairo morgue to watch the procession of coffins carrying the 74 people killed in the Port Said soccer melee.

Historically, Egypt has been safer than many Western countries, but this trend has changed.

Earlier this month groups of American and South Korean tourists were kidnapped in the Sinai peninsula by Bedouin tribesmen.

Currently, at least 20 Jordanian nationals are trapped in the Ras Sidr area in the governorate of south Sinai.  “They can’t move because the road is being blocked by tires set on fire by Bedouin protesters demanding the release of Sinai prisoners,” said an Egyptian interior ministry source.

This increase in violent crime has taken police by surprise, as many city neighborhoods seem to slip fervently out of their grasps.

“We keep reading about crimes that never before existed in our community,” said Mohamed Radwan, the owner of a Cairo gift shop.  “After so many years of financial frustration under [President Hosni] Mubarak,  a certain class of people is willing to do anything for more money, even if that means killing people while robbing them.”

It appears that many of the criminals feel that Egyptian security forces are too busy confronting political issues to seriously deal with crime or provide security.

Ironically, the crime and unrest have brought a sense of equality to some Egyptians as both poor and rich share concerns over security. “We got used to burglaries and attacks and assaults in our poor neighborhoods,” said Soad Mahmoud, a Cairo street vendor. “But I see this everywhere now, cars getting stolen and people murdered for money in places that once used to be the safest.”

The Egyptian police have consistently made statements saying that the situation is under control, however the almost daily incident reports continue to bring criticisms of the security forces.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera — Jordanians “trapped” in Egypt’s Sinai — 26 Feb. 2012

Philadelphia Inquirer — Brazen crimes add unease to Egypt — 26 Feb. 2012

Boston.com — Egypt: Tribesmen kidnap 3 Korean tourists in Sinai — 10 Feb. 2012

Al Jazeera — Security in Egypt’s Sinai a cause for concern — 05 Jan. 2012