by Emilee Gaebler Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
SANTIAGO, Chile – The Aysén region of Chile continues to experience unrest as local residents rebel against the government in an attempt to get better health care access, fuel subsidies, education programs and infrastructure improvements.
On Thursday, February 23, about 400 protestors in the Aysén area clashed with police when their week long blockade of the southern highways was not dismantled. Police also clashed with protestors in the capital city of Santiago on Thursday. A group of over 1,000 people, mainly students, were demonstrating in support of the Aysén cause.
In both instances, the Chilean police forces used tear gas and water cannons in dispersing the groups. As reported by the Santiago Times, the protest in Santiago was the third one this week and was markedly different; there were hardly any signs and no chanting. Instead, the group, immediately upon entering the square, began to throw rocks at the buildings and the armored police cars surrounding them.
The Aysén protest movement began last Friday when negotiations with the government broke down. The Aysén region is in southern Patagonia and is a rural area that largely subsists on the tourism industry. The cost of living in the area is disparately high in comparison to those living in urban areas. Local leaders had been in talks to get higher government investments in the area.
The uprising is led by the Social Movement for the Aysén Region (MSPRA) which is a collaboration of labor, environmental and student organizations. The week-long blockade of the highways is significantly slowing the tourism industry as well as causing reported food shortages. Residents are describing the situation as a war zone
“Tonight is a night of terror like every night, because this is turning into a war. It’s not just clashes anymore but a war where rocks fly, pellets fly, Molotov cocktails fly, buckshot flies. There are all kinds of things outside our homes,” was a statement by an unidentified resident to NTN24 News.
On Friday the protest expanded into the fishing industry as well. Roughly 200 local fishermen blockaded the North Route 9 of the Magallanese strait and access to the Punta Arenas airport. They were demonstrating their solidarity with the overall Aysén movement as well as protesting against proposed amendments to the fishing and aquaculture laws which favor “big business” over local production.
By Alexandra Halsey-Storch Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe
STRASBOURG, France–On Thursday, February 23, 2012, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that, “it is a violation for states to collectively expel migrants intercepted on high seas.”
In 2009, the subjects of the case, 11 Somali and 13 Eritrean nationals, boarded a boat and left for Italy in search of a better life. They were part of a larger group of about 200 migrants, including pregnant women and children. Just outside of Italian territorial waters, south of the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, Italian military vessels picked the migrants up and took them to Tripoli, Libya’s capital. There, they were handed over to Libyan authorities who incarcerated them for at least several months.
This procedure was arranged by then-Italian President, Silvio Berlusconi and Libya’s then-dictator, Moammar Ghadafi, in an effort to “stem the huge tide of immigration to Italy.” Under this course of action, about 1,000 migrants were “forcibly returned to Libya by the Italian Cost Guard,” according to the United Nations.
The attorney for the African migrants alleged that this bi-lateral agreement between the two countries violated Article 3, Article 4 of the Protocol Number 4, and Article 13 of the Geneva Convention thereby violating their human right to seek political asylum. The European Court of Human Rights agreed.
The Court Opinion recognized that, through the bi-lateral agreement, Italy attempted to alleviate some of the problems associated with a great influx of migrants; however, the Court went on to articulate that a State is not absolved of its “obligation not to remove any person who would run the risk of being subjected to treatment prohibited under Article 3 in the receiving country.”
Article 3, which governs civil armed conflict, prohibits members of the armed forces from engaging in “violence to life and person, in particular murder…mutilation, cruel treatment and torture” against civilians and innocent bystanders.
Looking back to the “situation prevailing in Libya” at the time migrants were forced there in 2009, the Court determined that they could have been subjected to the aforementioned Article 3 prohibitions. Moreover, bringing the African migrants to Libya exposed the migrants to the “risk of arbitrary return to their countries of origin,” also in violation of Article 3. The Court determined that in 2009 Somalia remained a place of “widespread insecurity” and individuals in Eritrea “faced being tortured and detained in inhuman conditions merely for having left the country.”
The court also ruled that a country is not permitted, under Article 4 of Protocol Number 4, to collectively expel migrants captured at sea, iterating that, “we have long expressed alarm at the interception and collective expulsion of migrants, often risking their lives on the high seas, without opportunity for an individual examination of their cases.”
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, “cheered” the Court’s decision and called on “all states to recognize and respect the fundamental rights of all migrants, which are guaranteed by international law.” She also encouraged states to consider “human rights and protections enshrined by international law” when writing migration policies and laws.
by Emilee Gaebler Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
LA PAZ, Bolivia – Yesterday police and a crowd of protestors clashed in the Plaza Murillo, the center of the national government. Roughly 50 disabled individuals ended a 1,000 mile protest walk at the Plaza Murillo and were met by police barricades.
Upon entering the Plaza the group attempted to pass the barricades and the police stepped in to stop them. Some of the protestors used their wheelchairs, canes and crutches to fight the police. Pepper spray was used to disperse and end the riot.
La Razón, a daily news agency in Bolivia, reports that four protestors were detained by police and roughly 10 of the disabled had minor injuries from the confrontation. The police report that about 10 officers were also injured.
The group began the protest on the 15 of November, roughly 100 days ago, in the streets of Trinidad, Bolivia. Along the way the protestors were fed and given places to sleep by families in the towns they passed through.
The protestors sought to draw attention to a government statute, passed on the 5th of November, that kept monthly payment subsidies, to those disabled, at roughly $130 US. The demand of the group was that payment be increased to $400 US; a more appropriate amount which they could viably live on. They also want to establish a more integrated place in society for those with disabilities.
The march was especially symbolic as it claimed for those disabled a strong political identity just like any other social group. They specifically chose to end the march at Plaza Murillo as that is where other groups typically gather for protests.
“Why not us? It is a public space and like everyone we all have the right to protest,” said Camilo Bianchi, a leader of the group.
Living in Bolivia as a disabled individual is not an easy life. Most of the buildings throughout the nation are not handicapped accessible and there is a strong prejudice that continues to exist against them. Most who are disabled find it impossible to work or to attend school.
“It’s very hard to be a person with a disability. Even our own husbands abandon us because they feel ashamed of us. I look after my four children alone, washing and ironing clothes for people, and doing whatever I can,” said Domitila Franco, one of the protestors.
The group has now declared that 10 individuals will begin a hunger strike in an attempt to gain governmental acquiescence to their demands. The government’s defense of its actions yesterday centered on the theory that the group had been “infiltrated” by other political activists. This presented too great of a threat to the Plaza as a public forum and thus police barricades were erected.
BEIJING, China –China’s state security police have warned pro-democracy dissident, Qin Yongmin, that he is not to continue his work on plans for a website aimed at promoting peaceful change in the nation.
Qin was release from prison in November 2010 after serving a twelve year prison term following a conviction for subversion which resulted from his role as co-founder of the China Democracy Party and attempt to have the new party registered.
Since his release, he has been on twenty-four hour surveillance by officials and has been subjected to routine searches of his home and confiscation of his belongings.
In April, Qin was subjected to two home searches in a two week period during which he was threatened and verbally abused by authorities who also confiscated articles written by Qin and notebooks.
This week, Qin reported that he was surrounded by police while leaving a computer store and taken to a police station.
While at the police station, a police officer informed Qin that they had information that he had “…been posting articles overseas and giving interviews to journalists, and that this was against Article 82 of the national security law, and that they were going to punish me for that.”
Qin had intentions to launch a website called “Peaceful Transition Advice” which would be hosted overseas but was told by authorities but he was absolutely forbidden to create the website.
According to Qin, “[t]hey said that if I launched it in the morning, they would arrest me in the afternoon, and that they would pursue the harshest kind of punishment for me.”
The police officer also informed Qin that they were alarmed by a meeting he had held at a restaurant with several political activists.
According to Qin, the meeting was held on the second floor of the restaurant and the police “…took over the entire third floor.” He also reports that he was warned by police that no matter where he went or who he was with, they would know about it.
China’s dissidents have been under increased pressure from authorities since the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to imprisoned democracy activist Liu Xiaobo.
Prior to the twelve year sentenced leading to his November release, Qin had been jailed twice before for his political activism. He served an eight year sentence for “anti-revolutionary propaganda and subversion” in 1981 for his involvement in the pro-democracy movement.
Four years later he was sentenced to two years of hard labor in a re-education through labor camp for a writing a document entitled “Peace Charter”.
By Tyler Yates Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
JERUSALEM, Israel — Israeli police clashed with hundreds of Palestinians who threw rocks after leaving Muslim prayers at Jerusalem’s most holy site on Friday. Elsewhere, Israeli soldiers opened up fire on protesters at a separate demonstration in the West Bank, killing one Palestinian. This continues a series of recent clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police.
Hundreds of worshippers emerged from the two mosques in the walled al-Aqsa compound and began staging a demonstration. An Israeli police spokesperson said that the hundreds of worshippers turned protesters hurled rocks at the police prompting the police to respond with stun grenades to disperse the crowd.
Najeh Bkeirat, a Muslim official at the scene, said demonstrators began throwing rocks only after police tried to stop their march.
Reports state that approximately 11 police officers were lightly injured by rocks, about 30 Palestinians were treated for light injuries from tear gas inhalation and scuffles, and four Palestinians were arrested.
The al-Aqsa Mosque compound has repeatedly been a site of violence between the two groups. The compound sits atop the remains of the two biblical Jewish temples. It is the most sacred site in Judaism, and it is Islam’s third-holiest site. Any perceived attempt to change the delicate division of control of the compound sets off protests.
A similar clash at a demonstration near Ramallah in the West Bank around the same time of day resulted in Israeli soldiers firing on Palestinian protesters, leaving one dead. The Israeli military said the protesting Palestinians threw rocks and firebombs at soldiers stationed nearby, which prompted their response.
Talat Ramieh, 25, was declared dead at a local hospital after suffering a critical chest injury.
The cause of the confrontations is not clear, however there have been heightened tensions between Jews and Muslims recently as rumors have been swirling among Palestinian activists that far right Israelis are attempting to gain access to Muslim-controlled areas at the holy site.
Israeli police have claimed that such rumors are false.
Jordan previously warned Israel on Sunday over any attempts by right-wing activists to threaten the al-Aqsa mosque. Foreign Minister Nasser Judah denounced the recent use of force by Israeli police against worshippers at the mosque after eyewitnesses claimed that Israeli police entered the Muslim portion of the temple with a group of foreign visitors.
There has been a call from extremist Israeli groups and politicians to storm the al-Asqa mosque and establish the so-called Third Temple. Many pro-Palestinian activists cite Israel’s failure to stop or disavow the extremist campaign as a reason for the growing violence.
Jordan has called for immediate international intervention from the Arab and Islamic worlds to stop Israel’s “daily and ongoing violations” in Jerusalem.
By Paula Buzzi
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
CARACAS, Venezuela — Jewish groups in Venezuela and around the world are urging President Hugo Chavez to stop using anti-Semetic attacks as a political tool against opposition leader Henrique Capriles Radonski. International groups are voicing concerns that Chavez’s campaign for presidency will only become more threatening and offensive as the October elections approach.
Last week, the government-run website of Radio Nacional de Venezuela posted a column that highlighted the Jewish ancestry of Capriles; his grandparents were Polish Holocaust survivors. The column labeled Capriles a secret follower of Zionism, which is a Jewish political movement that the column called “the most rotten sentiments represented by humanity.” The column urged Venezuelans to reject “international Zionism” by re-electing Chavez.
Abraham Foxman, the director of the New York-based Anti-Defamation League, believes Chavez’s anti-Semitic remarks are an early attempt to cast Capriles as a “traitorous Jew” who is not worthy of the presidency. “The Venezuelan political campaign has just begun, and this early appearance of government-sanctioned anti-Semitism is a deeply troubling sign of the depths that President Chavez is willing to go to retain his oppressive power,” he said.
In 2008, A U.S. State Department report named Venezuela a country where its leaders and governments “fan the flames of anti-Semitic hatred within their own societies and even beyond their borders.” The report also criticized Venezuela’s government-sponsored mass media for functioning as a medium for anti-Semitism.
Other attacks coming from the Chavez campaign include accusations that Capriles is involved in a group that promotes the “Aryan race” with ties to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, and that he is a pig and part of South America’s bourgeoisie. “You are not going to be able to disguise yourself, even if you look for advisers, masks. Dress yourself up however you dress yourself up. Pig’s tail, pig’s ears, pig’s nose: It’s a pig,” Chavez said.
Capriles, who spent four months in jail in 2004 on charges related to an attempted coup against Chavez, has denied the accusations against him in an interview and said he wants to focus his campaign on talking about the problems that really bother Venezuelans such as crime and unemployment. “They came here and they called me ‘Nazi,’ when my grandmother was in the Warsaw Ghetto,” Capriles told The Forward newspaper in response to the accusations.
Despite the aggressive campaign against him, Capriles is currently believed to be the most popular politician in Venezuela and a strong contender against Chavez, a socialist who has ruled Venezuela for the last 13 years. Chavez and Capriles will face off in October for the Venezuelan presidency.
DAKAR, Senegal – Two days before the election to determine the next president, there is no sign of an end to the acrimony that has dominated Senegal since January. Despite appeals from the international community, President Abdoulaye Wade remains in the race.
The situation is unusual for this West African country, which has had free elections since the late 19th Century and has never been upended by a military coup. Protests have occurred in downtown Dakar, the seaside capital, on a daily basis, leading local businesses to cut their hours of operation in half and send employees home to avoid the chaos. At least six people have died in rallies against the 85-year-old (officially; he is rumored to be even older) Wade’s candidacy. After his election to a seven-year term in 2000, the constitution was amended to limit the president to two five-year terms. It was re-amended to two seven-year terms after his re-election in 2007, which he believes allows him to run again.
Opponents have another story. Earlier this week, dissenters rallied along Avenue William Ponty, close to Independence Square, singing and chanting: “He should go! He must go! He has to go!” in reference to Wade. The interior ministry banned events held in Independence Square itself. Even his former ministers had become disenchanted.
“The Constitution has been violated!” declared Idrissa Seck, one of six former prime ministers to have served under Wade and one of three to be running against him. “We must prevent the coup d’état that is unfolding.”
Wade’s election campaign continues in spite of the vitriol. Amadou Sall said that the president was willing to talk to opposition leaders about their concerns. As far as he was concerned, Wade’s candidacy was legal.
“President Wade is a candidate of a group of parties who support him and we have the majority of the Senegalese people with us, and the constitutional court said the candidacy of Wade is good. So, he is a legal candidate,” said Sall. “Now, you have the minority in the opposition who contest and who protest and the make demonstrations in just two areas in Dakar and fighting with policemen. These guys are losers.”
Since Tuesday, former Nigerian leader Olusegun Obasanjo has been in Dakar as head of a joint African Union-Economic Community of West African States observer mission. He has met with both Wade and opposition leaders about the situation, vowing to do more than observe if things do not improve. After his meeting with Wade, the ruling party said that it would not postpone the election or withdraw its leader from the poll.
Hopes for success within the mission were running high when Obasanjo arrived in Dakar Tuesday. But the reality may be much more harsh. To Arame Tall, a researcher at John Hopkins University-Sais, breaking through the gridlock may not be possible.
“It is a stalemate. On one hand, Wade is obstinate and is at least 90-years-old, meaning that if he wins we would have a president that would finish his term at 97-years-old,” Tall told Al Jazeera. “On the other hand, we have a highly divided opposition, animated by personal ambition – and they are also guilty of trapping the public because they simply refuse to unite and create a strong front to confront the old man. The public has no choice, because they are faced with an old man they do not want and a fragmented opposition with no leadership.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron urged the international community Thursday to help Somalia’s government tackle piracy, militants and hunger, or face terror threats from the troubled African nation.
World leaders from 40 countries, including Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, attended the conference on Thursday in London focusing on stabilizing and rebuilding Somalia after decades of war. The conference sought to address terror and conflict in Somalia and find ways to resolve other critical problems, including famine and weak leadership.
“These problems in Somalia don’t just affect Somalia,” Prime Minister Cameron said. “They affect us all.”
In a country where there is no hope,” Cameron continued, “chaos, violence and terrorism thrive. Pirates are disrupting vital trade routes and kidnapping tourists. Young minds are being poisoned by radicalism, breeding terrorism that is threatening the security of the whole world.”
The militant Islamist Somali rebel group Al-Shabaab emerged in about 2004 and has been fighting the government since. Children as young as 10 years old are increasingly facing horrific abuse as the group forcibly recruits them to replenish its diminishing ranks of fighters. According to Human Rights Watch, patterns have also emerged of children serving as human shields on the battlefields.
Al-Shabaab is also implementing strict Sharia law in the nation. Women have been stoned to death for adultery; amputations and beheadings are common. In some areas, listening to the radio has been banned, as have non-Arabic signs. Al-Shabaab is also responsible for the assassination of several journalists.
In addition to the violence, the Somali people have endured bouts of natural disasters, including famine, drought and floods. The U.S. government said 30,000 children had died in Somalia due to famine alone in the summer of 2011.
The prime minister stressed that the world cannot afford to look the other way anymore: “If the rest of us just sit back and look on, we will pay a price for doing so. For two decades, politicians in the West have too often dismissed the problems in Somalia as simply too difficult and too remote to deal with.”
Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki said Al-Shabaab’s recent announcement that it had joined al Qaeda should serve as a wake-up call. “Clearly, a new and more dangerous theater for terrorist action has emerged in Somalia,” he said, “and this calls for focused and concerted international effort.”
Kenya is host to the world’s largest refugee camp, Dadaab. The camp is currently over capacity with desperate Somalis who have fled their homeland. The UN estimates that over 360,000 refugees reside in Dadaab.
Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali said that he even welcomed airstrikes to rid his of country of Al-Shabaab terrorists, though this was not on the conference agenda. “We have to face this menace, and al-Qaeda in Somalia is not a Somali problem – it is a global problem that must be addressed globally,” he said.
However, Secretary of State Clinton said that the U.S. sees no reason for military strikes. She announced $64 million in humanitarian aid to the Horn of Africa countries and said the focus should be on political progress. Clinton said the U.S. will continue to work with Somali officials to create jobs, provide health and education services, and conflict resolution.
Cameron announced agreements on key areas including a new task force on piracy ransoms and the willingness of Tanzania, Mauritius, and the Seychelles to take on judicial responsibilities to convict pirates. There was recognition, however, that it would take time to bring change to a country that has come to epitomize a failed state.
“We are realistic – Somalia’s problems cannot be solved in a day, said British Foreign Minister William Hague, “but its people deserve a better future, and our own security requires their country to become more stable.”
Hague also applauded the UN Security Council’s decision on Wednesday to increase the African Union force in Somalia to 17,700 troops, almost 6,000 more than the current number. Neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia have both sent troops directly, while Uganda, Djibouti, and Burundi are contributing peacekeepers. The United States has used drones to target militants in Somalia.
Cameron commended the conference on their movement. “Today’s conference has put new momentum into the political process,” he said. “We’ve backed the Somalis’ decision to end the mandate of the transitional federal institutions in August. This timetable will be stuck to. There will be no further extensions. We will hold the Somalis to this. We’ll act against those who stand in the way of the peace process and we’ve also agreed the formation of a new government must be as inclusive as possible.”
Meanwhile, Hague dismissed criticism of the conference by some critics who said it lacked enough Somalia input.
“It’s not Western, it’s global,” Hague told CNN. “Part of our objective here is to build up the local governments, the regional governments, the institutions that have been able to take root…which is why they are all here. It’s not top down at all.”
And yet, at least three demonstrations protested outside the conference. “The conference is about 40 countries coming together discussing the Somali issue, [but] what we feel is that Somalia not part of it,” said Cabdi Aakhiro of Voice 4 Somalia. “They are discussing their interests, not the Somali interests.”
BBC Somalia analyst Mary Harper also seemed to think that while Cameron was saying that the conference was “not about telling Somalis what to do,” the policies do not seem to be leaving Somalia to the Somalis.
Amnesty International also said the conference failed to adequately address the “dire human rights situation” in Somalia.
“The recent surge in military operations increases civilians’ vulnerability to attacks and displacement, and brings more arms into a country already awash with weapons,” said Benedicte Goderiaux, Amnesty International’s Somalia researcher. “Direct attacks against civilians, indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks, these are crimes under international law, these are war crimes. This is a lethal mix that could fuel further human rights abuses. At this conference, we hoped to see more efforts to improve the safety of the Somali population.”
One Somali man expressed unease that the conference gave a lot of attention to ending impunity for pirates. “What about ending impunity for the war-lords who have killed so many of our children?” said the man. “What about the African Union peacekeepers who shelled residential areas in Mogadishu? What about Al-Shabaab and even our transitional government soldiers?”
The next international meeting on Somalia is scheduled for June in Istanbul, Turkey.
BERLIN, Germany — Germany has rejected recent calls to end its practice of castration of sex offenders, reasoning that the punishment has a high deterrent effect. The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) has led the calls for Germany to end the practice recently.
Voluntary castration was implemented as a punishment in Germany’s 1969 Law on Voluntary Castration. A person over the age of 25 who has committed a sex crime may be subject to castration if he “displays an abnormal sex drive, which … gives reason to suspect that he will commit one or more criminal offenses.”
The punishment is not mandatory and may only be used with the informed consent of the offender. The convicted offender can only be castrated after he is informed of the implications of his decision and medical approval is obtained. Germany’s use of castration as a punishment is reportedly “rare”, only used on about five offenders annually during the past decade.
German officials posit that castration is not a punishment, but instead is a treatment for those with an abnormal sex drive.
Despite the rarity and consensual nature of the punishment the CPT has still called on Germany to stop castrating because of its degrading nature. “It’s a highly controversial issue. There are divided opinions on the subject — some justify it on the basis that the results validate the process,” said Tim Dalton, leader of the CPT. “[The CPT’s] fundamental position is that it’s not an appropriate response to the threat of reoffending to mutilate a person, which is in effect what is involved.”
The CPT also criticized the Czech Republic, the only other European nation to practice castration. The Czech Republic still offers castration as an optional punishment for convicted sex offenders.
The CPT gave four main reasons for its opposition to castration. First, the punishment has permanent effects that may cause physical or psychological damage. Second, castration does not conform to the punishment guidelines set forth by the International Organization for the Treatment of Sex Offenders. Third, there is no guarantee of a lasting reduction of the sex offender’s testosterone level. And fourth, it is unclear how “consensual” the punishment actually is.
The CPT’s report also cites investigations into ill treatment of offenders during police custody, conditions for immigrants who have been detained, and allegations of violence amongst prisoners.
Germany has stood fast against the calls to cease castration, citing a high deterrent effect supported by a low recidivism rate. Specifically, Germany points to a 1997 report that shows a three percent recidivism rate amongst those who opted for castration. Out of 104 sex who underwent castration between 1970 and 1980, only three went on to repeat their offense. The report also showed a forty-seven percent recidivism rate for a control group that did not get castrated.
A spokesperson for the German government stated, “Germany defends the procedure on the grounds that surgery helps where illnesses connected to an abnormal sex drive must be treated, or in order to counter the risk of future unlawful offences being committed by sexual offenders and/or violent offender.
“As far as the federal government is aware, there are quite a number of scientific studies on the criminological long-term effects of surgical castration.”
Presently Germany has no plans to eliminate castration as an option for convicted sex offenders, but Berlin has expressed agreeability to talks on the issue.
The Council of Europe is Europe’s primary watchdog for torturous practices, but the Council itself has no actual power to change laws. Still, its opinions and critiques carry a great deal of influence.
The practice of castration of sex criminals dates back to Nazi Germany where thousands of sex criminals were forcibly castrated.
Russia recently implemented a form of voluntary chemical castration for sex offenders. The law was proposed last summer and was approved this month. During the course of the debate the majority party, which proposed the punishment, wanted chemical castration to be mandatory.
South Korea, Canada, France, Israel, Poland, some US states, Britain, Denmark, and Sweden offer voluntary chemical castration drugs to sex offenders.
By Carolyn Abdenour Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
DAMASCUS, Syria – On Thursday, 23 February, the United Nations (“U.N.”) panel announced it delivered a sealed list naming Syrian officials, including President Bashar Assad, whose actions may merit investigation by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to Geneva. The U.N.-appointed Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria found the country “manifestly failed” to protect its citizens.
The U.N. panel issued a report documenting reliable evidence exists to hold commanding officers and high-level government officials responsible for ordering security forces to commit crimes against humanity and gross human rights violations. Since protests began in March 2011, security forces have killed approximately 8,000 people. The U.N. Human Rights Council will meet in Geneva next week to review the panel’s report.
Brazilian professor Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, leader of this panel of experts, added the list includes armed opposition groups that committed gross abuses “not comparable in scale and organization with those carried out by the state.”
The U.N. panel relied on information from human rights activists and Syrian army defectors to compose the list because Syria denied the U.N. panel’s request to enter the country. The government believed the panel exceeded the UN mandate and ignored official information.
The panel’s report asserts the ruling Baath Party’s National Security Bureau initiated the systematic arrest or killing of citizens by translating government policies into military operations. The report also notes the country’s intelligence and security agencies “were at the heart of almost all operations.” Furthermore, it describes how Shabbiha, informal pro-government militias, received funding and arms from businessmen.
Moreover, the report highlights the Syrian army and government ordered security forces to shell residential communities, kill unarmed women and children, and torture wounded protesters receiving hospital care.
The international community has sought avenues to support Syria’s citizens. U.N. Secretary General recently expressed his desire for his humanitarian chief to negotiate access to Homs in Syria. The U.N.’s top human rights official previously asked the International Criminal Court to review the situation in Syria. This week the International Committee of the Red Cross requested a cease-fire in the worst affected areas to aid trapped and wounded victims.
UK Foreign Secretary William Hague noted the European Union could tighten its sanctions against Syria further. “It is a deeply frustrating situation that people have been dying in [the] thousands…that the Assad regime has continued to act seemingly with impunity – but I think we can agree to a wider set of measures across a large group of nations,” he said.
by Emilee Gaebler Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Yesterday, a packed commuter train, on the Once line, crashed into the end of the train station. Workers and rescue personnel have spent the last 24 hours freeing those still trapped in the crumpled train. The death toll from the accident currently sits at 50 people, including 3 children.
Close to 600 passengers were injured. Hospitals in Buenos Aires have been overwhelmed both with working to give aid to those injured and with attempts to reunite family members trying to find loved ones.
Today, in remembrance of the accident, flags across the country were flown at half-mast. They will fly at half-mast tomorrow as well. Identification of those who were killed as well as those injured has been slow. Many have been noted on the lists as “name unknown.”
Mirta Soria, is looking for her 19-year old niece who she believes was on the train. She thinks that her niece’s wallet was lost in the accident and now she is either in a hospital or morgue. Soria has been searching throughout the night. “I am tired, and just have to keep going. I am waiting, and waiting, hoping that she is here,” she said. A similar sentiment that hundreds of others continue to echo.
Rescue workers had to use vaseline and oil to pull passengers out of the crumpled cars and apart from each other. As reported by the Boston Globe, it took hours for workers to pull out over a hundred people from one area of the train where they had been compressed into a few square feet of space.
Initial reports indicate that the train’s operator had difficulties with the brakes on the train throughout the morning. The accident occurred when the train came into the station and was not able to stop. It slammed into the barrier wall at the end of the line still going at almost 20 miles per hour.
Two cars were essentially folded into each other during the accident. Passengers recounted that the windows broke and the tops of the train cars separated from the floors. People were thrown out of their seats and into each other. The train was extensively overcrowded as it was a rush-hour commuter train. The Transportation Minister notes that during peak hours each train roughly carries 1200 to 1500 people.
The high death toll makes this the worst train accident in Argentina since February 1 in 1970, when 200 people were killed as two trains collided at full speed. In the last 2 years there have been five other accidents involving the public transportation system in Argentina.
By Brittney Hodnik Impunity Watch Reporter, North America
WASHINGTON, United States – For the past four to five years, the New York City Police Department (“NYPD”) has engaged in surveillance of Muslim students who have committed no crimes. The Associated Press announced this week that the NYPD has followed Muslim students enrolled in colleges and universities all throughout the Northeast. The ACLU, college representatives, and students all think that the surveillance is completely unwarranted and inappropriate, amounting to a violation of the students’ rights.
The Associated Press revealed these secret programs, explaining that the NYPD worked with the CIA to monitor Muslims at schools, restaurants, shops, and even places of worship. The AssociatedPress also reports that the NYPD put undercover officers in Muslim student associations in colleges in the city.
At first, the report only detailed surveillance of schools within the city limits such as City College, Brooklyn College, and St. John’s University along with at least five others.
Now, documents show that there has been extensive surveillance at campuses all over the Northeast, not just limited to New York. Many of the SUNY schools (including Albany, Buffalo, and Stony Brook) were observed along with private universities such as Syracuse University, Clarkson University, and Rutgers University in New Jersey. Even the ivy-leagues Yale, Columbia, and the University of Pennsylvania were not spared the watching eye.
The Huffington Post reported about Adeela Khan, a student at the University of Buffalo, who was a victim of NYPD’s surveillance. After logging into her email and forwarding a message about an upcoming Islamic conference to fellow members of her Muslim group at school, the NYPD created a file. The file was marked “SECRET” in large red letters and went all the way to Commissioner Raymond Kelly’s office, according to The Huffington Post.
Yale President Richard Levin described the surveillance as “antithetical to the values” of Yale University and those of the nation, reported CNN. Newark Mayor Cory Booker said he would never have condoned the investigation had he or anyone in his police department known it was going on. The Associated Press reports that he finds the investigations “deeply offensive.”
However, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Tuesday supported the NYPD’s surveillance. After serious uproar from school presidents and civil rights groups, the mayor struck back defending the department. “We have to keep this country safe,” he told reporters.
According to CNN, Bloomberg went on, “If people put things on websites and make them available to everybody, of course the NYPD is going to look at anything that’s publicly available in the public domain . . . And given we’ve had a dozen people arrested or convicted of terrorist acts who’ve come from similar organizations, we have an obligation to do so.”
Even after Bloomberg’s statements, Booker’s sentiments were not the same in New Jersey. “We really want to be clear: This type of activity is not what the Newark PD would ever do,” Booker told the Associated Press. New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie also refused to support the NYPD investigations, telling the Associated Press that it is “disturbing” and that he did not know it was going on.
Reportedly, student groups were specifically chosen because they tend to attract young Muslim men, a demographic that terrorist groups frequently target. So what do the students think?
Tanweer Haw, chaplain of the Muslim Student Association at Syracuse University spoke with The Huffington Post. He said, “I see a violation of civil rights here . . . Muslim students want to have their own lives, their own privacy and enjoy the same freedoms and opportunities that everybody else has,” he said.
However, some students do not share the same feelings of violation. Ali Ahmed a student at City College understands the NYPD’s concern, according to The Huffington Post. Ahmed was part of a white water rafting trip where an undercover officer accompanied the group to monitor its actions. “I can’t blame them for doing their job. There’s lots of Muslims doing some bad things and it gives a bad name to all of us, so they have to take their due diligence,” he told The Huffington Post.
In addition, Khan, the female college student who was targeted for forwarding an email is undecided on the issue. She told The Huffington Post, “It’s just a waste of resources, if you ask me. I understand why they’re doing it, but it’s just kind of a Catch-22. I’m not the one doing anything wrong.”
Mayor Booker seemed to sum up one side of the argument in a statement emailed to media: “If this is indeed what transpired, it is, I believe, a clear infringement on the core liberties of our citizenry. I strongly believe that we must be vigilant in protecting our citizens from crime and terrorism but to put large segments of a religious community under surveillance with no legitimate cause or provocation clearly crosses a line.”
The problem really puts into question the American values that Muslim students are here to enjoy. With opinions on both sides of the spectrum, it will be interesting to see what else transpires. The constant struggle to find a balance between safety and freedom will continue.
By Carolyn Abdenour Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
SANAA, Yemen – On Tuesday, 21 February, Yemen elected the U.S.-backed Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi as President of Yemen. However, Mr. Hadi was the only candidate on the ballot. Mr. Hadi’s election ends the 33-year rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh and a year of turmoil after Yemenis ousted Mr. Saleh.
Dayfallah al-Shami from the Houthis’ leadership council said, “These are not real elections, it is just formalizing the American-backed [Gulf Cooperation Council] initiative which aimed to control the Yemeni revolution…It is just a reproduction of the same regime.”
Although Mr. Saleh agreed to resign from office with full immunity from prosecution once the country elected a new president, his strong tribal and family connections continue to influence the nation. His sons and nephews, for example, command the country’s security agencies and military units.
Before the election, Mr. Saleh addressed Yemenis to encourage them to vote. In his address, Mr. Saleh said, “I will remain with you as a citizen loyal to his country, people and nation…and will continue to serve the country and its just issues.”
After Mr. Hadi voted for himself, he said, “This is a qualitative leap for modern Yemen…There will be big political, economic and social change.” He added, “Elections are the only exit route for the crisis which has buffeted Yemen for the past year.”
During Tuesday’s elections, Yemen’s Election Commission stopped voting in nine of 301 districts due to chaos. Nine people died from election violence where southern separatists called for an election boycott in southern Yemen. A bomb threat also moved Mr. Hadi’s polling station at the last minute. Furthermore, four soldiers and four civilians, including a child, died in clashes between security forces and election opponents throughout the country.
In the Aden province, a series of explosives blasted near the polling place. Abdel-Aziz Yehiya, the province’s election commission head, also reported that unidentified gunmen captured 44 of the 800 ballot boxes and set them on fire. Yemeni officials suspect al Qaida members took the ballot boxes.
After Yemenis voted amid the tight security, young men rode in taxis holding their inked thumbs that signified they voted out the taxi’s windows. Other demonstrators displayed their red-dyed thumbs to protest the elections and remember the uprising’s causalities.
Sanaa voter Bushra al-Baadany reported, “I am voting for Hadi as a new leader instead of Saleh because I want change…If Hadi is like Saleh, we are ready to have another revolution.”
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says fighting between the Malian armed forces and the Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA) has displaced 60,000 people within Mali, not including those who have fled to neighboring countries.
Meanwhile, the UN says that more than 44,000 Malian refugees have crossed into Mauritania, Niger and Burkina Faso. The majority of the refugees are fleeing the fighting in the north of the country, but others are seeking shelter from ethnic tension and violent demonstrations in cities in the south.
“This is the worst human rights crisis in northern Mali for 20 years,” said Gaetan Mootoo, Amnesty International’s researcher on West Africa. “The rule of law has been markedly absent in this part of the country for years, and the region could be plunged into chaos if the fighting continues.”
Starting on January 18, dozens of soldiers and fighters were killed in clashes between the Malian armed forces and the MNLA, a Tuareg armed opposition group who says it is fighting for the independence of northern regions in Mali. The Tuareg rebels began by attacking various army garrisons in the north of Mali. Violent demonstrations then spread to several southern cities. Those marches were organized in reaction to what protesters viewed as a “timid” reaction by the authorities against the rebellion, but many degenerated into rioting.
The resurgence in fighting follows two years of relative peace between the government and the Tuareg.
Following the initial attacks, photographs circulated showing the corpses of Malian soldiers with their hands tied behind their backs, prompting the authorities to accuse the MNLA of carrying out extrajudicial executions. The MNLA denied the allegations, saying the photos were fabricated.
Amnesty International has called for MNLA to reveal the names of any captives they are holding and to allow the Red Cross access to them. The human rights organization has also asked Malian authorities to charge or release four people, including two women, who were arrested in the northern town of Kidal for their alleged support of the MNLA.
During various demonstrations, the Malian security forces have failed to prevent mobs from attacking homes and properties owned by Tuaregs and other ethnic groups, including Arabs and Mauritanians, living in the capital. As a result, thousands of Tuaregs and others, targeted because of their lighter skin color, have begun fleeing the country.
Sinegodar, a village located approximately 12 miles from the Mali border, has seen the largest influx of refugees – around 9,000. Many of the refugees in Sinegodar come from Menaka, a town in northeastern Mali which was first attacked by the rebels on January 17. Many of the refugees travelled on foot or on donkeys and had not eaten for several days.
“Many of the new arrivals are sleeping in the open and have little access to shelter, clean water, health service and food,” said UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards.
“As the influx continues, our teams are stepping up assistance for refugees who have taken refuge in makeshift shelters in villages bordering Mali,” UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming said in a news release. “Humanitarian assistance is all the more critical because the Sahel region is facing a severe food crisis due to several years of drought.”
Mali’s political parties have jointly called on the government to hold a forum for peace and reconciliation as a way to end the rebellion, while President Amadou Toumani Toure has sought to keep the country from further eruptions.
BEIJING, China – After a week of negotiations, the United States and China came to an agreement Friday that will open the Chinese market to more American movies. In a statement United States Vice President Joe Biden said “this agreement with China will make it easier than ever before for U.S. studios and independent filmmakers to reach the fast-growing Chinese audience, supporting thousands of American jobs in and around the film industry.”
This is just one of the many agreements the United States and China have come to during the visit of future Chinese President Xi Jinping to the United States this week. The agreement does not require China to change its annual quota of twenty foreign films per year but exempts several types of movies from the quota.
For example China will now allow fourteen “premium format films” each year that do not count against the quota. “Premium format films” has been defined as IMAX or 3-D films. Many expect 3D movies that are about to be released such as “Dr. Seuss’ the Lorax,” and “The Amazing Spider-Man,” or 3-D remakes such as “Titanic” will seek to take advantage of the new agreement.
The United States has frequently complained about China’s oppressive restrictions on foreign films. In 2009 the United States won a case against China in the World Organization Trade Court. The case challenged China’s restrictions on importation and distribution of copyrighted materials. The United States claimed that China’s restrictions on foreign films created a massive market for pirated U.S. movies that are widely available throughout China. It is expected that Friday’s agreement will help lower the demand for pirated movies throughout China.
Chris Dodd, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, called the agreement “a major step forward in spurring the growth of U.S. exports to China and tremendous news for the millions of American workers and businesses whose jobs depend on the entertainment industry.”
The agreement will also increase a foreign studio’s permitted share of box office revenue from films released in China to twenty-five percent. Previously, a foreign studio’s percentage of box office revenue ranged from thirteen to seventeen percent.
Chinese director Gao Qunshu said “the agreement would bring more challenges for China’s filmmakers, but in the long term he believed in the power of competition in an open market. With fourteen more foreign films, the market space for local productions will further shrink… More “lame” works will be drive out of the market.”