Cuban Prisoners Faced with Inhumane Conditions; No Investigations Permitted

By Brittney Hodnik
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

HAVANA, Cuba – A recent report and unverified video came out this last week showing the horrible conditions of Cuban prisons.  The environment in many of the 200 prisons throughout Cuba is inhumane and not fit for anyone.  The beds, toilets, food, and treatment of the prisoners are all inappropriate and appalling.

The Miami Herald reports that Cuba has between 70,000 and 80,000 inmates in about 200 prisons and labor camps on the island.  There are 11.2 million peoples in the country, making this a very high incarceration rate – 625 persons per 100,000.  Just for reference, the United States leads the way with 743 persons per 100,000 who are incarcerated.

Jose Miguel Vivanco, director of the Americas program at Human Rights Watch, said that prisoners told him back in 1995 that conditions were “absolutely awful, terrible, inhuman,” according to The Miami Herald.

Douglas Moore is an American convicted of a drug offense serving time in a Cuban prison, according to CNN.  In the hidden camera video released last week to publicize the terrible conditions, many of the inmates spoke about the atrocities.

Moore says in the video, “I cannot count all the times that I have been chained by my hands and legs and beaten mercilessly, then robbed of my meager possessions by the [guards] here at Combinado del Este,” reports CNN.  Complaints from other prisoners include meager rations of food, dilapidated cells, moldy walls, overcrowding, limited exercise hours, and persistent sewage leaks.

The major problem, reports CNN, is that the International Committee of the Red Cross and other human rights groups are unable to investigate conditions at the Combinado del Este.  A state released video in 2004 showed Cuban prisoners learning computer skills and exercising on a lawn.

According to an article by NBC Miami, Albert Mueller explains some of his time behind bars and the terrible things he went through.  He said that the prison was unsanitary, deteriorating, and unstable and that was over 40 years ago.  He recalls his first day in prison: “I [had] to suffer a simulation of a firing squad…It was a very bad experience.”

The narrator of the video wants it to be shared, and wants a change in the prisons in Cuba.  The Global Post reports the narrator says, “Show this video to the international community, how this miserable dictatorship commits cruelties against humanity.”  Hopefully the publicity will help the prisoners facing intolerable conditions there.

For more information, please visit:

Global Post — Cuban Prison Videos Filmed by Inmates Expose Living Conditions — 18 Mar. 2012

CNN – Cuban Prisoners Said to Make Videos Exposing Prison Conditions — 17 Mar. 2012

Miami Herald — Many Have Complained About Cuban Prisons, but No Independent Inspections Have Been Allowed — 16 Mar. 2012

NBC Miami — Ex-Cuban Prisoner Remembers his 15 Years Behind Bars — 15 Mar. 2012

Russian Ambassador Denies Intent To Seek Posthumous Magnitsky Conviction

By Terance Walsh
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

LONDON, United Kingdom – Alexander Yakovenko, the Russian ambassador to the United Kingdom, issued a statement denying reports of a posthumous prosecution of deceased Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.  Yakoveno’s statement contradicts documentary evidence that Russian authorities are preparing to prosecute Magnitsky.

Sergei Magnitsky (Photo courtesy of The Guardian).

Magnitsky was a lawyer for Russian company Hermitage Capital.  In 2008 Magnitsky uncovered a tax fraud scheme coordinated by one of Hermitage Capital’s clients.  Upon reporting the fraud the Russian government turned the blame on Magnitsky.  He was imprisoned in depraved conditions, denied access to urgent medical care, and was allowed to die on the floor of the prison.

Several documents contradict Yakavenko’s assertion that Russian officials never planned on prosecuting Magnitsky posthumously.  A letter from Major Smirnov of the Russian Interior Ministry to Magnitsky’s mother, dated 10 February 2012 read, “During preliminary investigation, no grounds in support of the rehabilitation of deceased S. Magnitsky have been established, and under these circumstances his case must go to trial on common terms.”

Another letter on 24 February 2012 from General Romanov, the Deputy Chief of the Russian Interior Ministry’s Investigative Committee, to Magnitsky’s family stated, “The reopening of the preliminary investigation into S. Magnitsky has a direct aim to determine…all circumstances of the case in support of the accusation against S. Magnitsky and decide on that basis the matter about his guilt or innocence in the incriminated acts.”

And on 6 March 2012, Boris Kibis of the Russian Interior Ministry wrote a letter to Magnitsky’s mother naming her as a defendant in Magnitsky’s prosecution.  “You have been made a participant in the criminal case and now have the rights of a defendant.”

In his statement, Yakovenko gives an explanation for the continued proceedings involving Magnitsky and denies intentions to convict him.

 In accordance with general rules of the Russian penal legislation, a criminal investigation is discontinued in case of death of the accused person.

However, the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation has recently decided that such a criminal investigation may be resumed or continued in case the person’s relatives insist on his posthumous rehabilitation. According to the information available, this is precisely what the mother of Sergey Magnitsky and his advocates insist on.

In this connection, the court is the only authority to decide on rehabilitation of Sergey Magnitsky or discontinuation of this criminal case “on account of the death of the defendant”. Russian law does not envisage conviction of a deceased person.

Thus, allegations of a posthumous prosecution of Sergey Magnitsky spread by the Hermitage Capital investment fund and some international organizations have no legal grounds.

Yakovenko’s statement follows a long debate in the British Parliament earlier this month, which concluded with a recommendation to impose sanctions against Russian officials for their role in Magnitsky’s death.

Througout the debate in Parliament, members of the British Parliament accused Yakovenko of attempting to gag discussions of sanctions.  These accusations stem from Yakavenko’s letter to British MP Dominic Raab complaining of “errors” in Raab’s motion for sanctions against Russian officials.

Raab responded to the letter by saying, “It’s bad enough Mr Putin’s regime corrupting elections in Russia. But it adds insult to injury for him to send envoys to try to subvert democracy in this country.”

Since the proceedings against Magnitsky began last July his family has sent over twenty complains to Moscow courts against the Russian Interior Ministry and General Prosecutor.  All of the complaints have been denied.

For more information please see:

Law and Order in Russia — Russia’s UK Ambassador Joins Cover Up In Magnitsky Case — 18 March 2012

The Embassy of the Russian Federation to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland — On The Magnitsky Case — 16 March 2012

RIANOVOSTI — British MPs Urge Magnitsky List Sanctions — 8 March 2012

The Telegraph — Russia ‘Tries To Gag British Parliament’ — 7 March 2012

 

Bahrain Prosecutes Medics as Protesters Seek Underground Aid

By Tyler Yates
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

MANAMA, Bahrain — The Bahraini government is continuing its prosecution of a group of medics who treated wounded protesters during an Arab Spring inspired uprising last year.  The continuation of the internationally criticized high profile case comes despite a statement from the prosecutor suggesting that most of the charges would be dropped.

Bahrain medics have become a target for helping injured protesters (Photo courtesy of The Guardian).

Last week it was announced that charges would only be pursued against five of the 20 medics that are involved in the case.  The other medics’ cases would be sent to a professional tribunal.

So far none of the charges have been dropped, and there has been no pronouncement as to why.

There appears to be some problem within the Bahraini government as to the policy that should be applied.

“It looks like various people are making decisions in the Bahrain government without an agreed policy. What’s happening with the medics smells of incoherence and incompetence,” said Brian Dooley of the US-based Human Rights First.

The prosecution has inspired a lot of international ire, as rights groups claim that the medics are being punished for helping civilians who had been attacked by state security forces during anti-government demonstrations.

This case is technically a retrial.  The original trial took place in a military court where the medics received jail terms of up to 15 years on charges including incitement to overthrow the government and attempting to occupy a hospital.

Some of those charged are said to have taken part in a protest inside the Salmaniya hospital.  Government witnesses claim that there was a plan to stockpile weapons inside the hospital and take hostages.

The prosecution of these medics is just one portion of a larger story.  There is currently a push in Bahrain for injured protesters to seek out underground medics rather than risk hospitals.

Police have been setting up shop in hospitals to interrogate the admitted injured. Some reports talk of interrogations happening in circumstances where the injured was barely conscious or unaware of their situation.

Sixteen-year-old Mohammed al-Jaziri was seriously injured when he was struck in the face with a tear gas canister on February 18.  He was taken to the hospital, where, within ten minutes of arriving, police attempted to interrogate him despite the fact that he was heavily bleeding.  Throughout the night, the police repeatedly attempted to interrogate Mohammed, even though he was only semi-conscious.  His brother, Hussein, begged the police to leave him alone, but the next day Mohammed was subjected to a three-hour interrogation by a public prosecutor who refused to identify himself.

The treatment of patients like Mohammed has led many protesters and their families to distrust hospitals.

Last month Bahrain’s National Health Regulatory Authority issued a warning to all private hospitals and clinics.  It said: “Providers must report cases with injuries due to suspected criminal activities irrespective of their causes to concerned authorities.” The letter added that failure to do so “constituted collaboration and is criminalized by law”.

While reporting criminal behavior is a norm in many societies, in Bahrain, where the act of going out and protesting is a crime, the repercussions are more severe.

“Calling for freedom and democracy in the streets makes me a criminal in Bahrain,” says Zainab al-Khawaja, a veteran human rights campaigner.

If an individual is injured during the protests they are likely to face interrogation and the possibility of criminal charges if they seek medical aid in a hospital.

This had led to a noticeable decline in the number of people being admitted into emergency rooms.  Some estimates show that admittances have been halved since the protests began in February 2011.

While the number of people seeking aid from hospitals has decreased, all signs show that violence between protesters and the police is escalating, and so is the number of injuries.

The need for non-hospital medical care has led many medics to begin practicing underground medicine on the side, despite the risks of facing criminal charges themselves.

For more information, please see:

RT — Bahrain retries convicted protest doctors — 23 Mar. 2012

Al-Jazeera — Bahrain to go ahead with medics trial — 21 Mar. 2012

International Business Times — Bahrain Pushing the Trial of Medics Who Treated Protesters — 21 Mar. 2012

Chicago Tribune — Bahrain to push on with medics trial, not drop cases — 20 Mar. 2012

BBC — Bahrain’s ‘underground medics’ secretly treat injured protesters — 24 Feb. 2012

 

“Sperm Hunters” Causing Trouble in Zimbabwe

By Tamara Alfred
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

Reports of gangs of beautiful women picking up male travelers to have sex and harvest their sperm in condoms have been gripping Zimbabwe recently.

Sophie Nhokwara, 26, Netsai Nhokwara, 24, and Rosemary Chakwizira, 28, leave a court after being charged in attacking men for their sperm. (Photo Courtesy of The Daily Mail.)

Local media in Zimbabwe have reported that male victims have been drugged, subdued at gun or knife point, given a sexual stimulant and forced into repeated sex before being dumped on the side of the road.

The so-called sperm hunters first appeared in the press in 2009, but police have only arrested three women, found with a plastic bag of 31 used condoms in October.  The women were alleged to have violated 17 men.  However, the women have received a large amount of press attention and public anger, including death threats.

Technically, though, what these women are doing is not illegal.  No law in Zimbabwe criminalizes rape by women.  As a result, the women have been charged with 17 counts of aggravated indecent assault.

So far, local authorities are unable to tell exactly how many incidents have occurred.  Nakai Nengomasha, a counselor who’s worked with some of the male victims, suggested there could be more cases which have gone unreported.

“I think there has been a lot of under-reporting because the victims will feel not man enough to talk about such issues and that will hinder them from speaking out,” Nengomasha told the BBC.  “Some have to deal with the issue of seeing the assault as a loss of manhood and feel disgusted with themselves.

The sperm’s exact use is not clear, but it is thought to be intended for “juju” or traditional rituals to bring luck.  It is also not known why the semen is taken forcibly from strangers.  A spokesman for the Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers Association suggested that one reason why the harvesters do not solicit sperm from their loved ones is the belief that sperm used in “jujus” could bring on trouble for the man.

The Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers Association slams the practice, mainly because they believe it to be form of witchcraft.  Additionally, “it has really frightened people,” said spokesman George Kandiyero.  “It has really brought in a bit of shock because normally it was the other way round, normally we know of men raping women, not women raping men.”

“Now, men fear women,” said 19-year-old Susan Dhliwayo.  Dhliwayo was shocked was she pulled her car over to pick up a group of male hitchhikers and they refused to get in.  “They said: ‘we can’t go with you because we don’t trust you’.”

Not everyone is outraged or shocked at the stories.   Tende Marahu, 24, tells stories of “sugar mamas” picking up young men from the streets to collect their sperm secured in a knotted condom after sex.  “It started a long time back,” Marahu said, adding that while he had not been involved, he would happily do so for the money.  “To me, I didn’t get shocked because I already knew it was happening.”

As well, a Zimbabwean women’s rights group has criticized the spotlight shifting to male rape victims.  The group paid for a newspaper advertisement to deplore that violence against women in the country is not met with the same degree of shock.

For more information, please see:

The Daily Mail – Men fear women in Zimbabwe after spate of rapes to harvest their sperm – 23 March 2012

International Business Times – Zimbabwe ‘Sperm Hunters’ Raise Fear Among Hitchhikers – 23 March 2012

The Raw Story – Sperm-hunting women prowl Zimbabwe highways – 22 March 2012

City Mayor Accused of Factory Shooting Not Charged

By: Jessica Ties
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – On Thursday March 15, Cambodian chief prosecutor Hing Bunchea stated that Chhouk Bandit, a former city governor and the lone suspect in a factory shooting, had not been charged despite admitting to a shooting that resulted in injuries for three women.

A former governor has avoided charges in a factory shooting despite admitting guilt (Photo Courtesy of Voice of America).

The incident involving Chhouk occurred on February 20 when Chhouk allegedly opened fire on a group of approximately 1,000 protestors outside of Kaoway Sports Ltd factory.

The protestors were demanding an increase in their pay and better working conditions when the suspect stepped out of his car, pulled out a hand gun and began to fire on the protestors.

As a result of the shooting, three women between the ages of eighteen and twenty-three suffered gunshot wounds and were taken to the hospital.

Despite the fact that Chhouk Bandit was subsequently fired by Prime Minister Hun Sen, many fear that he is using his money and influence to avoid being charged for the shooting.

Minister of the Interior Sar Kheng has identified Chhouk as the shooter leading NGO’s and rights groups  to “…strongly urge the Royal Government of Cambodia to make the suspect’s arrest an utmost priority.”

Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, stated that the shooting is a criminal matter and Chhouk “…can’t use his money to shut people up.” He continued to state that there should be “…an investigation into who is trying to convince the court to drop the case. This kind of impunity sets a bad example for the country.”

Also fueling accusations of legal impropriety are the statements of the Svay Rieng provincial prosecutor.

Last week the prosecutor issued a summons for Chhouk rather than an arrest warrant citing his belief that the police report was unconvincing despite the fact that the former governor had been identified by the Interior Minister.

Initially, and following a meeting with Chhouk, the prosecutor had stated, “I already questioned him this morning. He was accompanied by his lawyer. He confessed to the shooting, but he gave me many reasons for that…It is my right not to arrest [him]. I don’t see it as important.”

Despite the admission, however, Chhouk left court without being arrested. Following this statement the prosecutor then changed his account of the deposition and stated that Chhouk had fired his gun in the air only to change his story again a few days later by stating that Chhouk had a gun but was unaware that it had discharged.

Kaoway Sports Ltd factory sources products for major clothing companies leading a consortium of clothing retailers including Puma, Gap and H&M to demand that the Cambodian government “…conduct a full and transparent investigation into the shooting and [to] hold those responsible for injuring workers accountable.”

For more information, please see:

Khmerization – Prosecutor’s Account of Questioning Varies – 20 March 2012

Khmerization – Factory Shooter Confesses – 17 March 2012

Radio Free Asia – Prosecutors Slammed for No Arrest – 15 March 2012

Voice of America – Bavet Mayor Identified as Suspect in Bloody Shooting – 1 March 2012

Azerbaijani Musicians Detained for Criticizing President

By Carolyn Abdenour
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAKU, Azerbaijan – On Thursday, 22 March, international rights advocates condemned Azerbaijani authorities for detaining two rock musicians for criticizing President Ilham Aliyev and his deceased mother on Saturday, 17 March, during a concert at an opposition rally in Baku, the country’s capital.  This police action raises doubts about Azerbaijan’s suitability to host the Eurovision Song Contest this May.

Azerbaijan will host fans like these for the Eurovision Song Contest in May 2012. (Photo Courtesy of AFP)

When an unidentified man attacked the band Bulistan after singer Jamal Ali used harsh language, the police arrested 24-year old Ali, bass player Natig Kamilov, and protest planner Etibar Salmanli.   The police detained and supposedly tortured the musicians and Mr. Salmanli, who tried to separate the fighters.

The men were charged with “petty hooliganism.”  A court sentenced Mr. Ali to 10 days of administrative detention, Mr. Kamilov to 6 days, and Mr. Salmanli to 5 days.  The men remained detained in a district police station where the alleged beating occurred rather than a special detention facility.

At their closed hearing, the musicians asserted the police denied them contact with their lawyers and families while in detention.  Yesterday, the appellate court upheld the men’s sentences.

Anar Gasimli, the musician’s attorney, reported that the police beat his clients upon arrest and at the police station.  The authorities also prevented Mr. Gasimli from private and timely consultation with his clients before the hearing.

The judge requested the district prosecutor investigate the torture claims after seeing Mr. Ali’s facial bruises, large bump on his nose, and several scratches on his forehead.  Although Mr. Kamilov stated the police beat him until he became unconscious and witnesses told HRW the police dragged him by his hair, the court denied his request for an investigation.

Mr. Gasimli stated that due to public holidays in Azerbaijan this week, “the prosecutors are not conducting an investigation” of the beatings.

Azerbaijan received the privilege of hosting Eurovision after its singers Ell and Nikki won last year’s contest.  Local campaigners hope the media addresses claims that the oil-rich country violates freedom of speech and civil rights while broadcasting the competition.  The government plans to have the contest highlights its economic growth.  The nation has spent millions of dollars as an investment that the event runs smoothly.

Yesterday, Human Rights Watch (“HRW”) and Amnesty International requested the government investigate the brutality allegations.   John Dalhuisenm, Amnesty International’s Director for Europe and Central Asia, said, “It’s deeply ironic that only two month before Baku takes the world stage for the Eurovision, Azerbaijani authorities are using force to break up and silence musicians performing at a peaceful protest.”

For further information, please see:

AFP – Rights Groups Slam Azerbaijan Rock Band Arrests – 22 Mar 2012

Belfast Telegraph – Azerbaijan Warms Up For Eurovision By Torturing Musicians – 22 Mar 2012

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty – Azerbaijani Court Upholds Jail Sentence For Rock Star – 22 Mar 2012

Alert Net – Azerbaijan: Investigate Alleged Ill-Treatment By Police – 21 Mar 2012

 

2 Nurses in Uruguay Charged with Killing at least 16 Patients – Attorneys Maintain These Were Mercy Killings

by Emilee Gaebler
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay – On March 19, two male nurses in Uruguay were charged with the murders of 16 patients and held without bail after confessing their guilt in front of Judge Rolando Vomero.  The names of the two men have not been released to the press at this time.  Instead they have been simply identified as J.A.A. age 46, and M.P.G. age 39.

Uruguayan Minister of Public Health, Jorge Vengas, reacts during a press conference to news that both nurses have admitted to more killings. (Photo courtesy of San Jose Mercury News)

The two nurses do not appear to have been working together.  J.A.A. worked at the Asociación Española, a private caregiving facility, where he admits to killing 11 patients.  M.P.G. was employed at the Hospital Maciel, where he admitted to causing the deaths of another 5 patients.  A single female nurse was also arraigned with them on charges of covering up their deeds.

The charges against the two men are for the deaths of at least 16 patients at this time.  Reports have surfaced that there are more than that so investigators are currently looking in depth at patient’s records for the two hospitals.  Public news outlets in Uruguay believe that dozens more patients were killed by the men.  At a recent news conference one of the men said he had killed at least 50 patients and the other said he had lost count long ago of how many he had killed.

The hospital’s spokespeople and the health minister of the government are stressing that there is substantial rebuilding now required to instill faith and credibility back in to the health system.  The first step is to establish just how extensive this operation was.

Ines Massiotti, a lawyer for one of the nurses, stressed that both her client and the other nurse acted out of pity due to their extensive years working in the intensive care units and being exposed to death and suffering.

“My client is fully aware of his actions.  He fully confessed in front of the judge [and] prosecutor, and his defense is he did it out of mercy,” said Massiotti.

Attorney Santiago Clavijo echoed a similar statement noting that these were not “vicious” killings but rather done to stop the pain they witnessed the patient’s experiencing.  Prosecutors contest this noting that many of the patients targeted were not terminally ill.  In fact, one of the victims had release papers signed the day before she was killed.

Investigators believe that the two were killing patients in a number of ways, including; overdosing patients with the drug morphine and injecting air bubbles into their blood streams.  Health officials expressed profound concern for the situation and stressed that they would be fully cooperative during the investigation.

 

For more information, please see;

Latin American Herald Tribune – Nurses Accused of Killing 16 in Uruguay Hospitals – 21 March 2012

CNN – 2 Nurses in Uruguay Charged in Slayings of Patients – 20 March 2012

BBC – Nurses Confess to Killing 16 Patients at Uruguay Hospital – 19 March 2012

CBS – Uruguay Nurses Charged with Murdering 16 with Morphine – 19 March 2012

Daily Mail Reporter – Two Nurses Arrested in Uruguay After Poisoning 200 Hospital Patients in Mercy Killings – 19 March 2012

Colombian Military Kills FARC Guerrillas in Response to Soldier Murders

By Paula Buzzi
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Colombia — 39 Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, rebels were killed on Wednesday after Colombian troops launched bombs into their Arauca camp. The bombardment comes five days after FARC guerrillas killed a non-commissioned officer and 10 other soldiers in the northeastern Arauca state. Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon described this event on his Twitter account as the biggest blow against the FARC since he first took office in 2010.

Colombia's Commander of the Armed Forces, Alejandro Navas, and Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon at the press conference that broke the news that Colombian troops had killed 31 rebels. (Courtesy of Yahoo News).

General Ernesto Maldonado, commander of the Army’s 8th Division, confirmed that five air force planes bombarded the guerrilla’s camp from the air first, and then Colombian troops stormed the camp by foot shortly thereafter. According to Maldonado, the rebels that were killed on Wednesday were not the rebels responsible for Saturday’s killings, but they were part of the same unit as them.

The bombardment against the guerrillas was in response to the murders of a non-commissioned officer and 10 other soldiers on Saturday in the city of Tres Cruces, inside the province of Arauca. The soldiers, who were guarding the oil industry infrastructure, were killed just hours after the FARC’s announcement that they would release hostages in exchange for allowing Women of the World for Peace members to visit rebels detained in the country’s jail.

The family and friends of the soldiers killed on Saturday have publicly criticized Santos’ government, saying their young sons were thrown into dangerous conditions with little preparation. Saturday’s attack by FARC rebels is the deadliest guerrilla attack against the Colombian government forces in many years.

The FARC is believed to currently have hostage at least 10 Colombian soldiers, despite it’s announcement late February that it would officially stop all abductions. President Juan Manuel Santos has announced that he will be willing to negotiate with the FARC only after all their hostages are released, and only after they pledge to stop “terrorist” actions.

The military estimates that approximately 600 to 700 members of the FARC operate in the Arauca area. Arauca has been a hotbed for leftist guerrilla activity recently, mainly because of the presence of foreign oil companies — potential targets for future attacks and extortion deals.

The FARC, which was founded in 1964 as an anti-government group, is Colombia’s largest and most dangerous guerrilla group with an estimated 8,000 members. The Colombian government has made fighting the FARC a top priority and has obtained billions in foreign aid to help combat the FARC’s terrorist acts. The FARC’s power has recently been dwindling, however, thanks in part to military and police who captured and killed it’s leader, Alfonso Cano late last year.

 

For further information, please see:

CNN – Colombian Troops Kill Dozens of Guerrillas, Defense Minister Says – 21 March 2011

The Wall Street Journal – Colombia Forces Kill 33 FARC Rebels in Arauca – 21 March 2012

Hispanically Speaking News – FARC Guerillas Kill 11 Soldiers at Colombia-Venezuela Border – 18 March 2012

USA Today – Colombian Rebels: Hostages To Be Freed – 18 March 2012

BBC News– Colombian Soldiers Killed in Farc Ambush – 17 March 2012

Sri Lankan Clergy Prays for Dismissal of UN War Crimes Resolution

By Greg Donaldson
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

COLUMBO, Sri Lanka – The United Nations Human Rights Council will vote this week on a resolution strongly sponsored by Britain and the United States. The resolution will explore potential war crimes that occurred during a Sri Lankan civil war that ended three years ago.

Hundreds of Buddhist Monks gathered in Colombo to pray, in protest of a current United Nations' resolution (Photo Courtesy of Agence France-Presse)

Citizens of Sri Lanka are upset over the resolution. Many Sri Lankans see the resolution as disruptive of the current peace. Hundreds of Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, and Christian clergy gathered in Colombo to demonstrate against the UN resolution. The ceremony demonstration included members of each clergy carrying national flags and traditional drummers parading throughout the city.

The clergies also read a statement following the day’s events. The statements said “evil forces both local and international, have joined hands to deprive Sri Lanka of the present environment of peace… and take this blessed island back to an era of darkness.” The statement continued “we therefore pledge with national determination that the Sri Lankan government and people will be able to defeat the resolution and the evil forces behind it.”

It is alleged that both the Sri Lankan army and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam were responsible for major war crimes during the country’s civil war. Last year a United Nations appointed panel found that there were “credible allegations” that both sides had committed serious human rights violations.

The Sri Lankan government has rejected the report and instead commissioned its own internal investigation. The Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission found the armed forces had not acted inappropriately. The report was rejected by the U.N. and condemned by several human rights groups.

One of the examples the UN panel found in its investigation was a so-called humanitarian rescue operation carried out by the Sri Lankan army. The operation took place during the final stages of the civil war against the Tamil Tigers. The panel estimated that the operation was responsible for the deaths of over 40,000 people.

Eileen Donahoe, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Council, has pushed hard for the proposed Sri Lankan war crimes resolution. In a statement she explained, “many thousands of Sri Lankans civilians died or suffered other violations in the final weeks of the long-running civil war in 2009. There has been no complete accounting of those deaths or other violations and no pursuit of accountability for them.

The resolution is currently being debated at the United Nation’s convention in Geneva. Both proponents of the resolution and the Sri Lanka government have received strong support from outside parties and countries.

For More Information Please See:

New York Times –U.N. Panel Seeks Vote on Carnage in Sri Lanka – 19 March 2012

Washington Post – Sri Lankan Clergy Pray for Defeat of UN Resolution Urging Investigation of Possible War Abuses – 19 March 2012

The Independent – Sri Lanka Resists UN Resolution Against Alleged War Crimes – 26 February 2012

Morocco to Revise Rape-Marriage Law after Shocking Suicide

By Zach Waksman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

RABAT, Morocco – After sixteen-year-old Amina al-Filali killed herself on March 10, following a six-month forced marriage to the man who raped her, Morocco announced plans to revise its laws regarding the relationship between rape and marriage last Thursday.  Protesters and feminists have long called for a controversial statute to be repealed, and the government has pledged to change its handling of rape.

Protesters call for a change to Moroccan law after Article 475, which permits a rapist to avoid imprisonment by marrying his victim, contributed to the death of sixteen-year-old Amina al-Filali. (Photo courtesy of The Week (UK))

Rape victims in Morocco are often subject to deep shame upon both themselves and their families, especially in rural areas such as where her hometown of Larache is located.  Though the West African country’s laws provide for a prison sentence of 10 to 20 years for a person who rapes a minor, the rapist has a loophole that enables him to avoid incarceration.  Under Article 475, an adult who has “corrupted a minor” may evade the charges by marrying the victim.  A similar concept exists in the Christian Bible.  This provision has often been used by families of rape victims to protect their honor.  These “special circumstances” create an exemption to the requirement that both parties to a marriage be at least 18 years old.

“Another, more terrible failure is that the family agreed to the “amicable solution” offered by their friends.  Rape is a crime in Morocco, but it is also a taboo.  The woman who has been raped is often seen as having been shamed—her marriage prospects change radically, and her morals are called into question,” wrote Laila Lalami in a piece for The Daily Beast.  “In other words, the victim is blamed and the perpetrator is forgotten. ‘If we married her off,’ Amina’s sister Hamida told a Spanish network, ‘it was to protect her, so that people would not speak ill of her.’  The Filali family apparently preferred to sacrifice their daughter’s physical and emotional well-being rather than live with the reminder that she had been raped.”

In Amina’s case, the family filed charges against the rapist last year.  Her father, Lahsan al-Filali, said that the prosecutor advised him of the option to have her marry him.  The judge ordered it.  He told Morocco’s 2M Television that he had no choice but to allow the marriage.

“When the judge said they will marry, I did not agree, but I could not challenge the law.  I wanted that man [the rapist] to go to prison,” he said.  “At first I did not agree to this marriage, but when the court of family affairs called me and pressured me, I agreed.”

After the marriage, the husband’s treatment of Amina did not improve.  She was beaten and deprived of food.  When she told her family about the life she was living, she was reportedly disowned.  By March, she could no longer take the punishment, so she swallowed rat poison to end her life.  As Amina died, her enraged husband dragged her down the street by her hair.  The Ministry of Justice’s preliminary investigation concluded that the relationship was consensual, meaning that it was not rape.

The stunning suicide prompted immediate calls for reform.  A Facebook page called “We are all Amina Filali” has been created, and other protesters seek the incarceration of both the rapist and the judge who ordered the marriage.

“Amina was triply violated, by her rapist, by tradition and by Article 475 of the Moroccan law,” tweeted activist Abadila Maaelaynine.

Morocco is one of the more liberal Arab states with regard to women’s rights.  In 2004, the country all but eliminated polygamy, abolished a duty of obedience to the husband, and permitted women to keep assets after a divorce.  These reforms were hailed by the West as a step forward for women’s rights.  But there is still more work to be done.  Since 2006, the country has planned to adopt legislation banning all forms of violence against women, but it has yet to be seen.  This incident might be the catalyst that drives the issue forward.

“It is unfortunately a recurring phenomenon,” Fouzia Assouli, the president of the Democratic League for Women’s Rights, told the Associated Press. “We have been asking for years for the cancellation of Article 475 of the penal code, which allows the rapist to escape justice.”

Moroccan communications minister Mustapha el-Khalfi confirmed the need for further reform.

“We can’t ignore what happened, one of the things we are looking for is to toughen the sentence for rape,” he told Al Jazeera.  “We are also looking to creating a debate on the cultural and social aspects to create a comprehensive reform.”

Whatever the ultimate appearance of that reform may be, it is unlikely to constitute the end of the issue in Morocco.  Last year, a government study found that about 25% of Moroccan women have been subjected to sexual assault at least once in their lives.

“Legal reforms are not enough so long as Moroccan society views the victim of a rape as something that needs to be solved,” wrote Lalami.  “Rape is not puzzle. Rape is a crime. Amina Filali’s death is a stain on our collective conscience.”

For more information, please see:

Morocco Board — Morocco: Outrage Grows over Minor Rape & Suicide — 19 March 2012

The Week (UK) — Ordeal of Rape Victim Amina Filali Shocks Morocco — 19 March 2012

Morocco Board — Morocco: Antiquated Law Led to Suicide of Minor — 18 March 2012

Al Jazeera — Morocco Mulls Tougher Line on Rape-Marriages — 17 March 2012

BBC — Morocco Protest against Rape-Marriage Law — 17 March 2012

Montreal Gazette — Morocco to Revise Law after Rape Victim’s Suicide — 16 March 2012

Citizens of Damascus Feel The Burn of Syria’s Violence From The Ongoing Uprising

By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria–As the never-ending turmoil continues in Syria, heavy fighting has erupted between opposition fighters and security forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in a main district of Damascus. Witnesses report that this particular area is home to several key security installations. The intense fighting is taking place as al-Assad’s regime retains the contention that it has complete control of Damascus.

Members of the Free Syria Army in the streets of Damascus.(Photo Courtesy of Reuters)

Syrian state television stated three “terrorists” and a member of Syria’s security forces were killed in the fighting. Since the beginning of the uprising, the Syrian state television has continually held that these “terrorists” are to blame for the violence around the country and has not repeatedly acknowledged the many deaths endured by innocent civilians.

Rami Abdel-Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, stated that at least 18 security troops were wounded in the fighting that broke out before dawn in the upscale and heavily guarded Mazzah neighborhood of Damascus. According to the Observatory, more than 9,100 people have lost their lives since the uprising began against the regime last March. Abdel-Rahman shared these words with the AFP.

“The clashes were the strongest and closes to security installations in the capital since the outbreak of the revolt a year ago.”

A member of the Revolutionary Leadership council in Damascus, referring to herself as Lena and not wishing to be identified further, shared these words with Al-Jazeera about the fighting in Damascus.

“Some people came to al-Mezzah and they are trying to attack residents. They are calling them names and taking them out of their houses, people have left their homes. They are in the streets. The security forces are all around the place. Security police have blocked several side streets and the street lighting has been cut off.”

Mourtadad Rasheed, an activist living in Damascus, shared these words with Ahram about his encounter of the violence, detailing that heavy shooting could be heard in Mazzaeh as well as two other districts, Qaboon and Arbeen.

“We woke up at 3AM to the sound of heavy machinegun fire and rocket propelled grenades (RPG). The fighting last about 10 minute, then eased before starting again.”

Al-Jazeera’s own Rula Amin reported from neighboring Lebanon that many residents believe that opposition is pressing into areas around Damascus that could make al-Assad much more vulnerable than he already is.

“Residents are telling us that there was intense gunfire for hours. They could hear from loudspeakers the army and the security forces asking armed men to leave one of the buildings. Al-Mazzeh is not geographically located in the heart of the capital but it’s a very important neighborhood. It is heavily guarded. There are a lot of high-ranking officials living in Al-Mazzeh, in addition to the UN headquarters, embassies, and ambassadors. This is taking place as the government claims they have control over the capital.”

The most recent clashes in Syria came after twin car bombs ripped through two neighborhoods of Damascus on Saturday 17 March 2012, which according to the Syrian interior ministry, claimed 27 lives. Another car bomb was detonated on Sunday 18 March 2012 in a residential neighborhood of Aleppo, claiming two lives.

The international community continues to struggle with the appropriate and consensus response to the situation. Former UN chief Kofi Annan, who met with al-Assad in Damascus earlier this month, ordered a team of experts to Syria to discuss a possible ceasefire and an international monitoring mission. The Arab League previously deployed a monitoring mission into Syria but it was short-lived as organizational issues and turmoil on the ground prevented its success.

Technical experts from the UN and Organization of Islamic Cooperation were in Syria on Monday 19 March 2012 to assess the humanitarian impact of the regime’s deadly crackdown on the protests. The mission, with three OIC experts in the team, will cover 15 cities and will submit a report to the Saudi-based Islamic grouping and UN on the humanitarian needs of the Syrian people. OIC assistant secretary general Atta Al-Mannan Bakhit shared these words with the AFP about the mission.

“The joint OIC-UN mission entered Syria on Friday to carry out an evaluation of humanitarian aid.”

Jacob Kellenberger, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, flew to Moscow for talks on Monday 19 March 2012 with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavror on the “extremely difficult” humanitarian situation in Syria’s protests hubs.

“A daily ceasefire of at least two hours is imperative to allow the evacuation of the wounded.”

While the wounded wait for the proper attention, it would seem foolish for the international community to not pursue harsh action against al-Assad directly. The security forces are clearly following his direction and it is costing many civilians their lives. When the Arab League had its monitoring mission, it was very against the idea of foreign intervention into Syria. But at this juncture, foreign intervention seems like the only possible course of actions to serve the interests of the civilians, especially the wounded. Without intervention, more suffering is imminent.

 

For more information, please see: 

Ahram – Damascus Rocked By Fighting After Weekend Bombings – 19 March 2012

Al-Jazeera – ‘Heavy Fighting’ Shakes Syrian Capital – 19 March 2012

BBC – Syria Unrest: Fierce Firefight Erupts In Damascus – 19 March 2012

The Guardian – Syria: ‘Heavy Fighting’ In Damascus – 19 March 2012

NYT – Fighting Flares In Elite Area of Syrian Capital, Activists Say – 19 March 2012

Reuters – Syrian Captial Sees Heavist Fighting of Uprising – 19 March 2012

 

Convicted Nazi War Criminal Dies at Age of 91

By Alexandra Halsey-Storch
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MUNICH, Germany–Convicted Nazi war criminal, John Demjanjuk, died on Saturday in a German nursing home. He was 91 years old and suffered from terminal bone marrow disease and other illnesses.

John Demjanjuk after being sentenced to five years imprisonment in May 2011 (Photo Curtesy of MSNBC World News)

In 1977, Demjanjuk was extradited to Israel from the United States, where he had been employed in Ohio as a mechanic with Ford Motor Corporation. In Israel, he was accused of and put on trial for being “Ivan the Terrible,” an “infamous Ukrainian guard” at Treblinka Extermination Camp. According to the Telegraph, “even in Treblinka, where beatings, gassing and torture were part of the daily routine, ‘Ivan the Terrible’ stood out for his perverse sadism’” and was allegedly responsible for putting 800,000 prisoners to their death.

After a lengthy trial, Demjanjuk was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity; he was thereafter sentenced to death in April 1988. However, the sentence was overturned five years later on appeal. The court determined that “new evidence threw sufficient doubt on whether Demjanjuk was, in fact, Ivan the Terrible.” In 1993, Israel ordered Demjanjuk back to the United States.

The United States reinstated Demjanjuk’s citizenship in 1998, but it was again revoked in 2002 after “mounting evidence,” suggested that Demjanjuk had served as a guard in Sobibor death camp where more than 27,000 people died during World War II. This evidence, the U.S. government claimed, had been omitted from Demjanjuk’s immigration papers and concealed from United States officials when Demjanjuk immigrated to the country in 1952. Thus, in 2009, he was again extradited, this time to Germany, where he faced yet another war crimes trial.

In May 2011, after eighteen months of trial, the Munich court convicted Demjanjuk on 28,060 counts of being an accessory to murder between March and September of 1943—one count for each person who died during his time at the camp.

The court said that although there is no doubt that Demjanjuk had been a prisoner of war, there was also “clear evidence” that Demjanjuk had volunteered to serve with the notorious German army and participated in the “Nazi killing machine that slaughtered 6 million Jews and undesirables.”

Interestingly, there was, according to the Huffington Post, no evidence that Demjanjuk had committed any specific crime. Instead, the prosecution based its case theory on the idea that “if Demjanjuk was at the camp, he was a participant in the killing.” According to the Huffington Post, it was the first time that such a legal argument had been made in Germany. Furthermore, according to Thomas Walther, a lead investigator who prompted Demjanjuk’s prosecution, this verdict could open the door to the prosecution of other “low-ranking Nazi helpers.”

A key piece of evidence to the prosecution’s case was an SS identity card, which “allegedly shows a picture of a young Demjanjuk and indicates he trained at the SS Trawniki camp and was posted to Sobibor.” Court experts claimed the card is genuine while the defense insisted that it was “a fake produced by the Soviet KGB.”

Though sentenced to five years imprisonment, the presiding judge had ordered that Demjanjuk be freed during the appeal process, noting that he was not “a flight risk because of his advanced age, poor health and the fact that [he was] deported from the U.S. two years ago, [and] is stateless.” Demjanjuk was not, however, to leave Germany.

Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk always denied his presence at any death camp and participation in the Nazi’s atrocities. Instead, he claimed that after having been drafted into the Soviet Red Army, he fell into the hands of German combatants in May 1942 and was thereafter “recruited to work as a guard in exchange for escaping the camps himself.”

After is May 2011 conviction, Demjanjuk told the German judges presiding over his trial, “I am again and again an innocent victim of the Germans. Germany is responsible for the fact that I have lost for good my whole reason to live, my family, my happiness, any future and hope.”

Demjanjuk’s son, John Jr., has accused German prosecutors of ignoring the facts. “My dad,” he said in an email to the Associated Press at the time of the 2011 verdict, “is a survivor of the genocide famine in Ukraine, of the war fighting the Nazis, of the Nazi POW camps…and now of Germany’s attempt to finish the job left unfinished by Hitler’s real henchmen.”

Demjanjuk is survived by his wife Vera, his son John Jr., and two daughters Irene and Lydia.

For mor information, please visit:

MSNBC World News–Nazi War Criminal John Demjanjuk Dies at 91–17 March 2012

The Telegraph–John Demjanjuk–17 March 2012

Iraqi “Emos” Face Threats, Anti-Gay Violence

By Tyler Yates
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq — A recent string of violent attacks in Iraq have targeted so-called unconventional youths who call themselves “emos.”  Members of the subculture have reportedly been threatened or killed throughout the country, where some see their long hair and alternative style as gay.

Unconventional youths have become the target of recent violence in Iraq (Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Times).

While “emo” is a specific subculture in Western culture, it serves as a catchall phrase for nonconformists in Iraq. Gay and effeminate men have been grouped into the category.

The Iraqi government has dismissed the problem, characterizing emos as “Satanists,” and calling the reports of violence fabricated.  In the same report, the Iraqi government gave police “official approval to eliminate [the emo threat] as soon as possible, because the effects of it on society …[are] now threatening a danger.”

Most, if not all, of the attacks have gone unsolved, and no widespread inquiry has been made by the Iraqi police into the targeted killings.

“Our youth are feeling really horrible,” Shi’ite lawmaker Safia al-Souhail said on Friday. “The security forces need to acknowledge this is happening to be able to carry out an investigation.”

Al-Souhail believes that individuals within the Iraqi security forces, who want to stop the spread of democracy and turn the country into an Islamic state, are aiding the campaign against the emos. However, she does not believe that the campaign is supported by the overall government.

It is unclear how many such attacks have taken place, but at least 58 emos – identified by their Western clothing and hairstyles – have been killed in the last two months, according to local officials and security forces in Baghdad.  Iraq is currently engulfed in violence to the point where it has become difficult to determine why many killings have taken place. Fear also prevents people from reporting the slayings to authorities.

A sign in Baghdad’s Sadr City, decorated with two handguns, became a source of controversy recently by threatening 33 accused emos by name, warning them to stop their “dirty deeds” or face the “wrath of God.” The sign warned: “If you do not stop this dirty act within four days, then the punishment of God will fall on you at the hands of Mujahideen.”

Several clerics, including Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s most revered Shi’ite, have denounced the killing of emos. However, they have been careful not to endorse the lifestyle, warning of the dangers of imitating Western culture.

Youth across Iraq have rushed to cut their hair and shed their Westernesque clothing.  Anyone who wears something unusual is being labeled an emo, and risks violence.

A coalition of international organizations is pushing for Iraq to address the problem, and launch an investigation to bring the killers to justice.

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch: Iraq: Investigate ‘Emo’ Attacks — 16 Mar. 2012

Los Angeles Time — Iraq killings target ’emos’ for nonconformist style — 16 Mar. 2012

Seattle PI — Advocates demand protection for Iraqi Emos — 16 Mar. 2012

San Francisco Chronicle — Iraqi ’emo’ subculture target of antigay attacks — 12 Mar. 2012