Decision by Brazil’s Superior Court of Justice Sparks Outrage

By Paula Buzzi
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BRASILIA, Brazil — Amnesty International and human rights activists around the world are showing outrage at a Superior Court of Justice’s decision this week, which ruled that sex with a 12-year-old does not necessarily constitute statutory rape. The head of Amnesty International’s Brazil branch, Atila Roque, is concerned that this ruling will serve as a green light to rapists and discourage victims of sexual abuse from reporting their abusers.

A model wearing clothes made by sex workers in a Brazilian red light district. (Photo Courtesy of The Global Post).

A Brazilian law, adopted in 2009, forbids sex with anyone under the age of 14. This week, however, Brazil’s Superior Court of Justice did not convict a man accused of having sex with three 12-year-olds because, among other things, the girls had previously worked as prostitutes and the incident occurred in 2002.  Amnesty International said in a statement that “It is of extreme concern that the protections provided by Brazil’s legislation in cases such as these have not been implemented.”

Brazil’s human rights minister, Maria do Rosario Nunes, believes the court’s ruling “would in practice spell impunity” and has pledged to try to get the case overturned. Tourism Minister, Gastao Vieira, agrees, and stated on Tuesday that “the exploitation of sex is a crime and those responsible for it must be punished.”

According to the court’s president, Ari Pargendler, the court is open to revisit the decision.

Underaged prostitution has drawn many tourists to Brazil over recent years. Brazil’s Tourism Ministry stated on Tuesday that over 2,000  websites have been found, many of them hosted in the United States, promoting Brazil as the “sex tourism” destination in 2011. The websites show pictures of women in sensual poses and encourages sexual encounters with minors.

Taking down and reporting these websites is going to be one of the many steps the Brazilian government will take to combat the sexual exploitation of underaged girls during the 2014 World Cup. Last year, members of the Brazilian government distributed posters and sponsored advertisements across the country containing warnings that the sexual exploitation of minors is considered a crime. The posters were also distributed to the United States, Germany, Italy, France, the Netherlands and Spain.

 

For further information, please see:

ABC News – Brazil: Critics Slam Court’s Underage Sex Verdict – 30 March 2011

The Global Post – Human Rights Group Outraged At Brazil’s Underage Sex Ruling – 30 March 2012

The Washington Post – Critics Slam Brazilian Appeals Court’s Lenient Verdict in Sex With Minors Case – 30 March 2012

Associated Press – Brazil Takes on Websites That Promote Sex Tourism – 27 March 2012

 

Poland Prosecuting Former Intelligence Head For Role In CIA Torture

By Terance Walsh
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

WARSAW, Poland — Polish prosecutors have filed charges against Poland’s former head of intelligence, Zbigniew Siemiatkowski, for his role in CIA torture of al Qaeda suspects on Polish soil.  Prime Minister David Tuck is supporting the ongoing investigation and prosecution and has promised the truth.

Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tuck (Photo courtesy of Reuters)

The prosecutors charged Siemiatkowski with acting beyond the scope of his powers and violating international law for “unlawful depravation of liberty” and “corporal punishment.”

The investigation over torture in Poland began in 2008.  Although Prime Minister Tusk supports the investigation, he has called for great discretion to assist in finding the truth.  In a news conference Tusk said, “I did not came up with those charges and, if I were in the prosecutors’ shoes, I would not come up with such charges. But maybe I don’t have enough information.”

He added that the investigation “must rise to the highest standards of concern for state interest” and exercise the “utmost discretion.”

Despite Tuck’s skepticism, he remains confident that the investigation is a positive endeavor.  “Poland will never again be a country where politicians, even if they are working hand-in-hand with the world’s most powerful country, can make under-the-table deals.”

A 2006 report from the Council of Europe accused 14 member states of participating in over 1,000 CIA flights across European territory.

Since 2007 the Council of Europe has expressed concern over allegation that al Qaeda suspects were being detained in secret prisons in Poland, Romania, and Lithuania.  All three countries have denied the existence of any such prisons.

Additionally, former U.S. CIA officials have stated that the U.S. used secret prisons in Poland, Romania, and Lithuania to detain al Qaeda suspects.

Polish campaigners have found evidence of the secret prisons after compiling records of CIA planes that landed in Szymany, a Polish military base, in 2002 and 2003.  One of the planes is said to have been carrying Kalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-identified 9/11 mastermind who now faces a United States military tribunal in Guantanamo Bay.  Mohammed himself says he was detained in Poland for a period.

According to the campaigners the secret prison was located in Kiejkuty.

Terror suspect Abu Zubaydah also claims that he was tortured in CIA prisons in several countries, including Poland.  Polish officials have given Zubaydah “victim” status over the course of the investigation.

Human rights groups have applauded the initiative Poland has taken in prosecuting Siemiatkowski.  “Poland deserves credit for this step, as the first European state to begin to deal with CIA torture on its own soil,” said Reprieve, a London based group.  Reprieve also encouranged Romania and Lithuania to follow Poland’s example.

“Every state that has signed the (United Nations’) Convention Against Torture has an obligation not just to prevent torture but to hold accountable officials who authorize or facilitate it,” said Jameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties Union.

“I suppose it may be true that the Polish secret service was making a base available and then was not really engaged in what was going on there,” said Adam Bodnar of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights.  “But for such an operation to go ahead smoothly various units must coordinate their actions and have approval from politicians at the highest level. Any intelligence head would not make such a decision alone,”

In addition to the UN regulations, Poland has provisions in its constitution that ban torture and imprisonment without consent of the courts.  Politicians and officials who violate this provision are subject to prosecution in the courts.

Poland has been one of the United States’ staunchest allies throughout the course of the “War on Terror.”  It has taken part in American missions in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

The U.S. does not deny that it has flown prisoners to stations all over the world but it denies the use of torture in those prisons.

There also remain questions about how much Leszek Miller, the Polish Prime Minister in at the time the alleged detentions occurred, knew about the secret prisons.  There is, however, evidence that Miller was aware of the prisons and could face charges for allowing the prisons to operate on Polish soil.

The Polish prosecutor’s office has declined any comment on the matter.

For more information please see:

Adelaide — Light Shines On CIA “Black Site” — 30 March 2012

Huffington Post — PM: Poland Is “Victim” Of US Leaks On CIA Prison — 30 March 2012

BBC — Polish PM Promises Truth On CIA Rendition Of Prisoners — 29 March 2012

Reuters — Polish PM Urges “Discretion” Around CIA Prison Probe — 29 March 2012

Reuters — Human Rights Groups Welcome Reports On CIA Prisons — 28 March 2012

PolskieRadio — Former Polish Intelligence Chief Charged In CIA “Black Sites” Case — 27 March 2012

U.S. Settles for Sub-Par Human Rights Conditions in Russia for Better Foreign Relations

By Alexandra Halsey-Storch
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia–The Obama Administration is seeking to repeal a 1974 law, called the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, which currently restricts “normal trading relations with communist countries” and also permits mass emigration from the Soviet Union, despite having helped thousands of people escape the Kremlin’s repression, join their relatives abroad, or to leave behind inhuman living conditions.

Obama and Putin (Photo Curtesy of Getty Images)

The United States Chamber of Commerce has called the repeal its “top priority” for this year claiming that, when Russia joins the World Trade Organization, the country will be opened to a world of international trade. Continuing to prohibit the United States to trade with Russia could put American companies at a competitive disadvantage.

On the other hand, the law has had little “practical effect since 1994,” because the United States generally “waives” its application. Even still, lawmakers who are critical of Russia’s human rights record have resisted repeal and politicians in Washington D.C., Democrats and Republicans alike (including Sen. John McCain), have sought to enact a separate law—which they named the Magnitsky Act. The proposed law would put travel bans and freeze assets on Russian’s suspected of human rights violations, namely those who contributed to the death of Russian tax attorney Sergei Magnitsky.

The Bill’s latest endorser, Republican Senator Dick Lugar stated during a Press Release on March 27, 2012 that, “this bill has been pending before the Foreign Relations Committee for nearly a year, and we held a hearing on the bill last December. My office has worked with Senator Cardin’s staff to develop a revised version of the bill, which I strongly support.  Therefore, I would look forward to the opportunity for the Committee to consider this legislation at the next business meeting.”

Unfortunately, the Obama administration does not like the proposed law because it threatens United States/Kremlin relations—a bond which the President has worked hard to repair. Moreover, the Kremlin dislike the proposed law because it exposes—on an international level—Putin’s criminal regime.

Despite the important relation that the President has built with Russia, the Magnitsky Act calls for the rehabilitation of human rights in Russia and would require the United States to settle for nothing less. The law is named for Magnitsky, the Russian tax attorney, who suffered inhumane treatment at the hands of Russian authorities as a byproduct of a political brawl. The circumstances surrounding Magnitsky’s death have been vague and elusive from the beginning, though this much is clear: Magnitsky testified against the Russian Interior Ministry (a governmental agency responsible for policing, national security and investigation economic crimes, like tax invasion), stating that they used his employer, Hermitage Capital, to embezzle $230 million from the Russian treasury by filing false corporate tax returns. After testifying against the Interior Ministry, Magnitsky was detained beginning in 2008 “on suspicion of helping Hermitage Capital evade $17.4 million dollars in taxes.”

A year after being detained, Magnitsky died. As the Wall Street Journal describes,  prisoners in Russia are kept in “freezing and overcrowded cells, grotesque sanitation, and larvae-infested food.” Government officials iterated that Magnitsky’s death came as a result of heart disease and active hepatitis. Appropriate medical care would have allowed for the diagnosis and treatment of the diseases before he become fatally ill; nevertheless, on the day of his death he received no such medical treatment.

Magnitsky’s death has sparked incredible outrage throughout the world. In fact, on Russia’s “Google” equivalent—Yandex.ru—there are 19,000 articles on Magnitsky. According to Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens, this signifies that “middle-class Russians, whom Magnitsky typified, finally realize they are no longer immune to the everyday official thuggery routinely meted to Russians outside the privileged belts of Moscow and St. Petersburg.”

Despite the international outrage, and the growing concern that Russia continues to violate their citizen’s basic human rights, the Obama Administration has been slow to speak out against Magnitsky’s death; however, historian Alexander Goldfarb said, as quoted in The Moscow Times, that “when Russian citizen’s are once again compelled to go out onto the square and defend their rights, keeping the Jackson-Vanik Amendment is the best way the United States can support them.” Perhaps one day, so will the Magnitsky Act.

For more information please visit:

Wall Street Journal–Russia’s Steve Biko–27 March 2012

 

 

Independent Candidate, Liu Ping, Reports Being Beaten

By: Jessica Ties
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China –  Liu Ping was detained by local authorities on March 6 for running as an independent candidate in China’s Jiangxi province.

Liu Wang was detained and abused in prison following an attempt to run against the Communist Party as an Independent candidate (Photo Courtesy of The Hindu).

Liu was detained by security who worked from her former employer, Xinyu city Steel Group, which is state owned.

Following her detention Liu was taken to a “black jail”, the common name for an unofficial prison, where she was aggressively strip searched and beaten.

According to the China Human Rights Defenders, “her belongings were confiscated, and she was held temporarily in a black jail…her captors forced Liu into a car and drove her back to Jiangxi.”

After being driven to a secret location, while blindfolded, Liu was strip-searched by three women who left her virtually naked and with little food.

While in this location, Liu was forced to stay in a windowless room equipped with padded walls and surveillance cameras where she was monitored daily.

When Liu confronted her captors about the condition she was being kept in, she was beaten until she fell to the ground.

Liu was returned home on March 19 after she became sick.

Since being returned, Liu has endured surveillance cameras being placed at her home and negative treatment of her family members by authorities.

The treatment of Liu was caused by the strong following she had obtained during her candidacy as an independent candidate  for district People’s Congress.

Chinese authorities have reportedly warned that independent candidates do not exist and any person desiring to run for election for the People’s Congress will have to obey legal procedure.

Wang Songlian, a researcher at Chinese Human Rights Defenders, described  the arrest of Liu as another example of detentions made annually shortly after the yearly meeting of the National’s People Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

Wang asserts that this meeting typically leads to detention of people identified as troublesome to the government. Despite the regularity of these meetings and the subsequent detentions, Wang has express the opinion that “…this year is more serious than previous years.”

Interestingly, Liu was detained the National People’s Congress was focused on passing a revision to the Chinese Criminal Procedure Law which would require authorities to detain citizens in official detention centers rather than black jails.  The amendment would also require that family members of detainees to be informed of the detention within twenty-four hours.

Parties opposing the Communist Party are banned in China, with the exception of a few “democratic parties”, leading those who try to run against the ruling party to be subjected to lengthy prison terms.

Elections take place every five years and is responsible for appointing two million lawmakers at the county and township levels in over 2,000 counties and 3,000 townships.

 

For more information, please see:

The Hindu – Activist’s “Disappearance” Exposes China’s Legal Limits – 27 March 2012

Radio Free Asia – Independent Candidate Stripped, Beaten – 27 March 2012

The New York Time – Activist Said to be Missing in China – 19 March 2012

Afghanistan Imprisons Women For ‘Moral Crimes’

By Carolyn Abdenour
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

KABUL, Afghanistan – On Wednesday, 28 March, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released “I Had to Run Away,” a report highlighting the approximately 400 Afghan women and girls who are imprisoned in jails and juvenile detention facilities for “moral crimes.”  The authorities jailed women for escaping domestic abuse and surviving rape.

Zarghona holds her seven-month old son Balal to look out the window from the Kabul Women's Prison in Afghanistan. (Photo Courtesy of the Associated Press)

HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth commented, “It is shocking that 10 years after the overthrow of the Taliban, women and girls are still imprisoned for running away from domestic violence or forced marriage.”

The report notes “some women and girls have been convicted of zina, sex outside of marriage, after being raped or forced into prostitution.”  Judges routinely sentence women to lengthy prison sentences, including 10 years in some cases where a zina conviction could hold a 15 year sentence.  Illiterate women often are convicted on “confessions” they “signed” without the government reading the confession to them and without a lawyer present.

The number of convictions for running away rose after the Afghan Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that women who ran away and did not immediately go to the police or a close relative would be incarcerated.  The Court recommended these women be jailed as a precautionary remedy against promiscuity and prostitution.  However, the Afghan criminal code does not define fleeing her home without permission as a crime.

The report emphasizes that President Hamid Karzai did not meet the standards prescribed by international human rights law.  Although he passed the Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women in 2009 to protect women, President Karzai has struggled ensuring women’s rights to please the conservative religious forces.

For example, the traditional practice baad (where families give their daughters away to settle disputes), forced under-age marriage, and domestic violence remain present in Afghanistan.  President Karzai also supported a “code of conduct” submitted by the Ulema Council, a powerful council of clerics, that permitted certain situations for husbands to beat their wives, forbade women to study or work in mixed company, prohibited women from travelling without male chaperones, and stated a woman is secondary to a man.  However, President Karzai declared pardons should be given to women that left their home to marry a husband of her choosing.

HRW interviewed 58 jailed girls and women for this 120-page report.  The report details Asma W., a 36 year old women imprisoned when she ran away once her husband beat her, tossed boiling water on her, transmitted sexual diseases, and declared he intended to marry his mistress; 15 year old Fawzia sought security from a family that forced her into prostitution after they drugged her; and Farah G. is a 16 year old girl that eloped with her friend’s brother after they fell in love.

For further information, please see

Brisbane Times – Women’s Hefty Price for ‘Crimes’ – 30 Mar 2012

Pakistan Observer – Hundreds Of Women, Girls Jailed For ‘Moral Crimes’ In Afghanistan – 29 Mar 2012

BBC – Hundreds of Afghan Women Jailed For ‘Moral Crime’ – 28 Mar 2012

Irish Independent – 400 Women and Girls Held In Afghanistan For ‘Moral Crimes’ – 28 Mar 2012

Young Homosexual Man’s Death, From Violent Beating, Sparks Outcry for Passage of Anti-Discrimination Laws in Chile

by Emilee Gaebler
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

SANTIAGO, Chile – On Tuesday of this week, 24-year-old Daniel Zamudio passed away.  His death is sparking calls for the passage of new national anti-discrimination laws in Chile.  Zamudio, an openly homosexual youth, was violently beaten up by a gang of men in a park, 25 days ago, on March 4.

Citizens have made a memorial to honor Zamudio outside the hospital where he died. (Photo Courtesy of La Razón)

The men carved swastika symbols into Zamudio’s body and stubbed cigarette butts out on him.  News reports state that the attackers beat Zamudio for roughly an hour with bottles and rocks, cut off a portion of his ear, broke his leg and left him with severe head injuries.  Doctors at the Santiago Emergency Assistance Public Hospital worked to keep Zamudio alive but on March 19 he suffered a heart attack and his condition deteriorated.

The four men accused of the attack are members of the neo-Nazi group, Nazis del Centro (Downtown Nazis).  They are all four currently in custody, on attempted murder charges, but prosecutor Ernesto Vasquez is asking that be changed to premeditated murder, which carries a life sentence.  At least one of the men already has a prior record for assaults on homosexual individuals.

Gay rights groups throughout the country are asking that torture charges be included as well.  Jaime Parada, spokesmen for Chile’s Movement for Homosexual Liberation and Integration, spoke out about how this aggressive attack highlights the fear that homosexuals in Chile must live with.

“We are fighting for an anti-discrimination law, for changes in language so people stop treating us like we are ill and make sure that the church does not treat us like sinners and so on,” said Parada.

Seven years ago, an anti-discrimination law was first proposed, but it was never passed due to pressure from Evangelical Christian groups. Chilean government officials are promising to focus on getting that passed.  Chile’s Interior Minister, Rodrigo Hinzpeter, currently acting as President while President Piñera is in Asia, affirmed this.  Hinzpeter spoke outside the hospital, the day Zamudio died, to a hostile crowd who booed him.

“Since this aggression, Daniel’s murder happened, we have had a relative education on how we are going to construct a more harmonious society, with more love, where no one – no one – is discriminated against for any reason, because all Chileans have the same rights.  There is no-one in our society who can feel such murderous arrogance that they can attack and assault a fellow citizen for any reason,” said Hinzpeter.

There has been a general public outcry in the wake of the attack because people feel that the government is not doing enough to protect those who are victims of hate crimes.

 

For more information, please see;

La Razón – Asesinato de Joven Homosexual Conmociona a Sociedad Chilena – 29 March 2012

The Washington Post – In Chile, Beating Death of Gay Man Stirs Change – 29 March 2012

BBC – Chile Prosecutors Seek Murder Charges Over Gay Attack – 28 March 2012

NTN24 News – Murder of Gay Man by Suspected Neo-Nazi Group Shakes Chile – 28 March 2012

EDGE – Gay Man Brutally Attacked in Chilean Capital Remains in Critical Condition – 25 March 2012

Lugar Endorses The Magnitsky Act

Press Release
Originally sent 3/27/12

Today, U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar (R-IN) made the following statement at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Business Meeting:

“Mr. Chairman, several Committee Members have urged Committee consideration of the Magnitsky Rule of Law Act.  I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Senator Cardin for his hard work on the Magnitsky Act.  This bill has been pending before the Foreign Relations Committee for nearly a year, and we held a hearing on the bill last December.  My office has worked with Senator Cardin’s staff to develop a revised version of the bill, which I strongly support.  Therefore, I would look forward to the opportunity for the Committee to consider this legislation at the next business meeting.”

The Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2011 (S. 1039) would impose a travel ban on and freeze the assets of persons responsible for the detention, abuse, and death of Sergei Magnitsky.  The bill provides penalties for persons who commit similar human rights abuses in the future.

Sergei Magnitsky was a young Russian lawyer working for an American law firm in Moscow, who uncovered corruption and tax fraud by Russian officials.  He was subsequently arrested, placed in detention, and ultimately died of pancreatitis after being refused medical care.  The bill would strengthen supporters of modernization and rule of law in Russia.

http://lugar.enews.senate.gov/mail/util.cfm?gpiv=2100086110.20036.96&gen=1

Al-Assad’s Regime Agrees to Peace Accord, Brings Hope To End The Violence

By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria–According the spokesman for UN delegate Kofi Annan, The Syrian government has agreed in principle to accept the joint UN-Arab League envoy’s six-point plan on ending the violence in Syria. This is tremendous news for the civilians of Syrian who are desperate to see the violence end and receive proper humanitarian attention.

Kofi Annan and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. (Photo Courtesy of Reuters)

“The Syrian government has written to the joint special envoy Kofi Annan, accepting his six-point plan, endorsed by the United Nations Security Council. Mr. Annan views this as an important initial step that could bring an end to the violence and the bloodshed, provide aid to the suffering, and create an environment conducive to a political dialogue that would fulfill the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people.”

The six points of the peace plan are listed below:

1)Syrian-led political process to address the aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people

2)UN-supervised cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties to protect civilians

3)All parties to ensure provision of humanitarian assistance to all areas affected by the fighting, and implement a daily two-hour humanitarian pause

4)Authorities to intensify the pace and scale of release of arbitrarily detained persons

5)Authorities to ensure freedom of movement throughout the country for journalists

6)Authorities to respect freedom of association and right to demonstrate peacefully

Mr. Annan is currently in Beijing on a mission to remove any skepticism about his six-point plan so that it can be approved and implemented. Annan met with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, who pledged his support for the tireless efforts to bring peace to the people of Syria, and Annan has also met with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev in Moscow. It seems that support from both China and Russia should see the plan through and have the needed assistance reach the citizens of Syria immediately.

China and Russia are both close allies of Syria and already blocked two United Nations Security Council resolutions that condemned al-Assad’s regime. Their previous blocking of resolutions has drawn harsh criticism from Western nations. China continues to oppose foreign military intervention or any type of regime change after witnessing Western forces helping in the successful removal of Libya’s Moammar Gaddafi.

Russia President Medvedev stated on Tuesday 27 March 2012 that it was “short-sighted” to believe that the solution to the crisis is Assad agreeing to Western demands to step down.

As the news of al-Assad’s willingness to agree to the plan broke, opposition forces in Syria known as the Syrian National Council (SNC) met for a second day in Istanbul, Turkey to have a meeting of the minds on common objectives for their nation’s future as the weekend’s “Friends of Syria” conference looms. The opposition in Syria is fragmented and has struggled to remain united in the face of the regime’s deadly crackdown. The talks in Istanbul are aimed at bringing the members to a general consensus and securing international recognition.

Basma Kodmani, a spokeswoman for the SNC, shared these words with Reuters.

“A peaceful transition means that the regime needed to be changed. And that starts with the removal of the head of the state. Mr. Annan’s initiative for us should lead to development of clear terms of reference for negotiation on the modalities of change. Not on whether the change should happen or not.”

While al-Assad and the opposition leaders continue to talk amongst themselves, the situation on the ground has not changed at all. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Syria forced continued their assault across the nation with at least eight people, including three women, killed overnight in battle with rebel troops. Video posted on the Internet by activists showed thick black smoke and blazing buildings in a district of Homs. There were wounded and bleeding men and women lying in a street.

The United Nations has estimated that more than 9,000 people have lost their lives in Syria’s upheaval over the past year, according to the UN Middle East envoy Robert Serry. The Syrian government has continually blamed foreign-backed terrorists for the violence and reported that 3,000 soldiers and police have been killed.

Activists in Syria have shared their skepticism for Kofi Annan’s plan, noting that the Syrian government had only partially implemented a previous Arab League-led plan to halt the violence. A rebel spokesman, identifying himself as Abu Rami, shared with Reuters from Homs, the main arena for fierce fighting between Syrian forces and protesters, that he expected the violence to continue.

“It’s like other initiatives that have been before. They did not stop the shelling.”

There is a widespread consensus among Syrians that al-Assad is simply attempting to bog down Annan and his team of mediators in a frivolous diplomatic process that will give him political cover to continue his military campaign against the opposition. One can hope that Annan’s plan and method of implementation will not allow this to happen or hope for change will dissipate. And the life of every Syrian civilian and protester will remain in imminent danger.

 

For more information, please see:

Ahram – Syria Accepts Annan Peace Plan – 27 March 2012

Al-Jazeera – Syria ‘Accepts’ Annan Plan To End Strife – 27 March 2012

BBC – Syrian Government Accepts Annan Peace Plan – 27 March 2012

The Guardian – Syria ‘Accepts Annan Peace Plan’ – 27 March 2012

NYT – Syria Reportedly Accepts Peace Plan as Clashes Erupt Near Lebanon – 27 March 2012

Reuters – Annan Says Syria Accepts Peace Plan – 27 March 2012

Washington Post –Syria Accepts Annan’s Peace; China, Russia Also On Board – 27 March 2012

 

 

 

 

Syrian Troops Clash With Rebels In Lebanon

By Carolyn Abdenour
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

AL QAA, Lebanon – On Tuesday, 27 March, Lebanese residents and local security forces reported fighting between Syrian rebels and security forces spilled into Lebanon.  The witnesses saw Syrian troops destroy Lebanese farm buildings and fight with Syrian rebels who sought refuge in their neighboring country when the troops entered Lebanon.

A Syrian woman emotional reacts to Syrian forces attacking her home in northern Syria. (Photo Courtesy of News Times)

Over the past year, thousands of Syrians have escaped to Lebanon.  Since the Baba Amr district of Homs sustained four weeks of bombardment in early March by Syrian forces, over 1,500 Syrians fled to Lebanon.  The Free Syrian Army (FSA), who wants to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and smugglers also utilized this border.  Residents stated the Syrian troops followed the FSA over the border to enter Lebanon.

Abu Ahmed, a 63 year old resident of al-Qaa (a Sunni Muslim rural mountain region) said, “More than 35 Syrian soldiers came across the border and started to destroy houses.”  Another resident added troops in armored vehicles demolished one home with a bulldozer, lunched rocket-propelled grenades, and fired machineguns in a clash with rebels.  A witness also stated the forces also burned several houses.

A Lebanese security source stated the clashes occurred near a poorly marked border where people easily and frequently cross.  A Lebanese security official stated, “There is no Syrian military presence on the Lebanese side of the border.”  Two Lebanese officials asserted bullets just passed through the rural village near the border.  However, residents reported dozens of Syrian forces are presently located 200 to 500 meters inside Lebanese territory.

Residents also stated Syrian forces momentarily entered Lebanon to shadow fleeing rebels throughout the recent months.  Al-Jazeera documented cases where Lebanese residents believed Syrian troops planted landmines near populous areas.  In October, the regional English-language news organization added a Syrian army tank launched shells at military targets inside Lebanon’s territory.  Last week, Syrian shells landed in northern Lebanon.

On Monday, 26 March, Syria accused Lebanon of supporting armed “terrorist groups” with weapons.  In his letter to the United Nations (UN) Security Council and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon last week, Syrian UN Ambassador Basah Ja’afari wrote, “Experts, officials and observers are unanimous that weapons are being smuggled into Syrian territory from bordering States, including Lebanon.”

These clashes occur on the same day of Syria’s acceptance of a cease fire and peace plan composed by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Syria Crisis: Clashes Spill Over Lebanese Border – 27 Mar 2012

MSNBC – Annan Says Syria Accepts Peace Plan, Fighting Enters Lebanon – 27 Mar 2012

News Times – Syria Accepts UN Peace Plan But Bloodshed Persists – 27 Mar 2012

Reuters – Syrian Forces, Rebels Clash Inside Lebanon – Residents – 27 Mar 2012

 

 

Wade Concedes to End Contentious Election in Senegal

By Zach Waksman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

DAKAR, Senegal – Sunday night marked the end of a long, contentious presidential election cycle in Senegal, the only West African country to have never been marred by a military coup or a civil war that reached the capital.  At about 9:30 p.m. local time, incumbent President Abdoulaye Wade placed a phone call to his opponent in the run-off vote, former protégé Macky Sall, to concede defeat.  Even before Wade conceded, proud Senegalese celebrated in the streets of Dakar in recognition of a change of the guard and a possible end to the violence that had left at least six people dead during the campaign.

Supporters of Macky Sall celebrate their candidate's victory Sunday night after using their ballots as weapons against President Wade. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

“Senegal, in a transparent election, has proven once again that it is and remains a great democracy, a great country,” Mr. Wade’s press secretary said in a statement announcing his concession.

This election had been a source of controversy for months.  The 85-year-old—but possibly older—Wade  attempted to circumvent the constitution’s two-term limit, which he installed, by claiming his first term did not count because he served it before the limit’s passage.  His decision was met by derision by opponents and civilians alike, who considered him to be too grandiose and, at times, a person who wasted resources.  Youth groups soon targeted him through the use of highly critical rap songs.

The first round of elections took place last month.  Wade earned the largest share of the vote, with 34.8%, followed by the 50-year-old Sall, at 26.6%.  Twelve other candidates had their names on the ballot, and all of whom backed Sall in Sunday’s second round.  As neighboring Mali stood on the verge of its first coup in more than twenty years, peace prevailed at the polls in Senegal, despite fears of vote rigging in order to ensure Wade’s defeat.  It proved unnecessary, as preliminary totals showed Sall supporters outnumbering Wade backers at a rate of more than two to one, including in Wade’s home constitutency.

“The real winner remains the Senegalese people,” he said in his victory address.  “We have shown to the world that our democracy is mature.  I will be the president of all the Senegalese.”

For Sall, a geologist who once served as prime minster under Wade, the results signify a return to prominence after five years away from Dakar.  While he was president of the National Assembly, he called Wade’s son, Karim, to the capital for questioning on public spending.  This action angered the president, who was believed to be grooming Karim as his successor.  From there, Sall returned to his hometown of Fatick, where he was elected mayor.  He ran a platform calling for “a style of government that is more sober and efficient” than the extravagant Wade.

Wade’s concession and the presumed easy transition that will follow stands in marked contrast to contentious and occasionally violent fights for control in Senegal’s neighbors.  But in this coastal country, where democracy has reigned, the voters turned to the polls to bring about changed.

“This is a great victory for Senegal — it shows the maturity of our democracy,” said sociologist Hadiya Tandian. “It shows that the Senegalese believe in their voter IDs, that a voter card can change something, can make a difference. It shows that our long democratic heritage continues to live in us day by day.”

General reaction was one of euphoria, but skepticism remains.  Sall’s connections to Wade are well-known, and his statements could be a façade.

“We have never seen a president elected with this kind of landslide victory [in Senegal]. It gives a lot of political capital [to Sall],” said Senegalese political analyst Aly Fary Ndieye.  “The question now is how will Macky Sall turn this win into political power.  The biggest challenge now is how to effectively implement policies to benefit Senegalese people.”

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera — Senegal Opposition Celebrates Election Win — 26 March 2012

BBC — Macky Sall Senegal Election Win “Example for Africa” — 26 March 2012

BBC — Senegal Proud of Peaceful Election after Macky Sall Win — 26 March 2012

Senegambia News — Macky Sall Wins Senegal Run-Off Votes — 26 March 2012

New York Times — A Turbulence-Free Election in Senegal — 25 March 2012

Chinese Lawyers To Swear Party Loyalty

by Hibberd Kline
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China– The Chinese Ministry of Justice announced Wednesday in a statement on its website that all attorneys in China will from now on be required to swear an oath of allegiance to the Chinese Communist Party.

China's ongoing crackdown has not only targeted human rights and pro-democracy activists, but often their attorneys as well. (Photo courtesy of BBC News).

According to the statement, attorneys must take the oath within 3 months of receiving or renewing their certificate of practice.

The oath reads in part as follows: “I pledge to faithfully fulfill the sacred mission of a worker of the socialist system of laws with Chinese characteristics, be loyal to the homeland, loyal to the people, support the leadership of the Communist Party of China…”

The Justice Ministry statement explains that the purpose of the oath is improve the “political, moral and professional quality” of China’s attorneys.

However, the oath has come under heavy criticism from many of China’s leading human rights lawyers.

Human rights attorney Pu Zhiqiang told the Financial Times that the oath was potentially problematic in that many of the leaders of the Communist Party often break the law. Therefore, Pu reasoned that pledging loyalty to both the party and the law will in some cases create a conflict for Chinese attorneys.

According to another prominent human rights lawyer, Jiang Tianyong, the existence of such an oath in modern society is “ridiculous.” Jiang was detained for two months last year by the Chinese authorities for his work defending aids activists and advocates of religious freedom. He believes that the oath is out of tune with international norms and that it will likely interfere with lawyer’s duties to their clients.

The new oath, which is the first of its kind for Chinese attorneys, has widely been decried as just another tool for restricting human rights lawyers. However, according to China’s official Xinhua News Agency the Chinese authorities have repeatedly hinted at the likelihood that such an oath would be implemented at some point in time. In 2000, the All China Lawyers Association (ACLA), an organization which carries out professional administration of all lawyers in China, proposed the adoption of a similar oath. However, the ACLA’s proposal never came to fruition. In September 2010, the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party and the State Council both suggested that loyalty oaths would be important to “improving lawyers’ integrity.”

Efforts by Chinese lawmakers to “modernize” the Chinese legal system often come under criticism for taking one step forward and two steps back as national security concerns and the desire to maintain the hegemony of the Communist Party often undermine the rule of law.

In recent years, the Chinese Government has worked hard to encourage the development of modern Chinese business law.

However, civil liberties, human rights and other politically sensitive subjects are not protected by law in China. Lawyers who represent clients in these matters often face harassment, jail time, lose their licenses or are “disappeared.” Some prominent human rights attorneys and activists have also allegedly been tortured by the Chinese authorities.

The loyalty oath comes against the background of increasing repression of lawyers and activists as part of an attempt by China’s expansive security apparatus to prevent Arab Spring-inspired protests in the run-up to this year’s transfer of political power to a younger generation of Communist Party leaders. The Chinese Government has also drastically increased spending on its police, militia and other security forces to an announced $111 billion for 2012. This amount surpasses China’s official military budget, which is steadily rising and is second only to that of the United States.

For more information, please see:

New York Times —  Chinese Lawyers Chafe at New Oath to Communist Party — 22 March 2012

ABC News — China Says Lawyers Must Swear Allegiance to Party — 21 March 2012

BBC News — Lawyers in China to Swear Allegiance to Communist Party —  21 March 2012

Financial Times — China Tightens Grip on Lawyers — 21 March 2012

Reuters — China Orders Lawyers to Pledge Allegiance to Communist Party — 21 March 2012

Xinhua News — China’s Lawyers to Swear Their Professional Loyalty — 21 March 2012

Racial Tension Rising in Trayvon Martin Shooting; Questions About “Stand Your Ground” Law

By Brittney Hodnik
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, United States – By now, most of the country has heard of the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed, teenage black male.  The shooter, George Zimmerman is the community watch captain in the neighborhood.  Students have staged walkouts, the President has expressed his opinions, and thousands across the country are outraged about the lack of an arrest.

Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman. (Image courtesy of ABC News)

Zimmerman claims he was acting under Florida’s “stand your ground” law, in an act of self-defense.  As mentioned above, Martin was unarmed however, causing many to question whether deadly force was even necessary.  Furthermore, Zimmerman trailed Martin, following him on his walk home from a convenient store.

Under the law, a person may use deadly force anywhere they have a right to be if they have reasonable fear an assailant could seriously harm them or someone else, according to CNN.  Also, it eliminates the “duty to retreat” and allows people to “meet force with force.”

Former Florida governor, Jeb Bush signed the bill into law in 2005, according to The LA Times.  Although he was (and presumably still is) in favor of the law, he thinks it is being abused.  As reported by The LA Times, Bush said, “Stand your ground means stand your ground.  It doesn’t mean chase after somebody who’s turned their back.”

The problem with the law as written does not require a person to prevent a possible altercation, nor does it address whether one can pursue someone who has been perceived as a threat, according to The LA Times.  For example, a Florida judge ruled that a man who chased a burglar more than a block and a half and stabbed him to death, was acting within his rights under the “stand your ground” law.

The police have not arrested Zimmerman; there is no evidence to refute the claim that he acted in self-defense.  Now, however, the FBI and the Justice Department are investigating Zimmerman for possible civil rights violations, according to ABC News.

Zimmerman is white-Hispanic and Martin was black.  Zimmerman’s lawyer, Craig Sonner believes that Zimmerman’s life is in danger and has encouraged him to keep a low profile, reports CNN.  He said, “This case is spinning out of control…I hope there’s a way to rein things in so it doesn’t become an issue of a racial battle.”

Many believe that it already is a race battle and are insistent upon an arrest.

The New Black Panther Party (different from the more widely known Black Panther Party formed in the 1960s) has resorted to a reward.  The group put a $10,000 bounty for his capture.  According to CNN, the group is a “virulently racist and anti-Semitic organization.”  The City of Sanford responded to the bounty by demanding no vigilante justice.

Walkouts across the country including New York, Virginia, Georgia, California, and Trayvon’s old high school have become prevalent.  There is also a movement associated with the hoodie that Trayvon Martin was wearing when he was killed.  Miami Heat basketball players made a statement wearing the hoodies, and there are plans for a “Million Hoodie March” in Rochester, New York, reports CNN.

The Sunshine Slate reports that even though two major figures have stepped down in connection with the shooting, it does nothing to ease the rising racial tensions.  There is widespread and continued distrust of the Florida police by the black community.  The Sunshine Slate reports that historically, Sanford has already dealt with documented racial tensions.

The “stand your ground” law will be carefully looked at and possibly amended after this tragedy.  Sonner is questioning whether to argue that the law even applies to his client, or whether it was merely self-defense, which has always been an acceptable avenue to take.

For more information, please visit:

ABC News — Trayvon Martin Shooter ‘Could Not Stop Crying’ After Shooting — 25 Mar. 2012

CNN – Lawyer: Federal Hate Crime Charge Against Trayvon Shooter a “Challenge” — 25 Mar. 2012

The Los Angeles Times — “Stand Your Ground” Law Criticized After Trayvon Martin Shooting — 25 Mar. 2012

The Sunshine Slate — Trayvon Martin: State Attorney Steps Aside, Chief Steps Down — 24 Mar. 2012