UK Parliament Calls For Sanctions On Russia For Magnitsky Death

By Terance Walsh
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

LONDON, United Kingdom — The parliament of the United Kingdom unanimously passed a resolution urging sanctions against Russian officials for the egregious arrest and murder of Sergei Magnitsky.  The resolution was proposed by Dominic Raab and calls on the government of the UK to freeze the assets and visas of sixty Russian officials who were complicit in Magnitsky’s death.

Sergei Magnitsky (Photo courtesy of RIANOVOSTI).

The measure is labeled “Human Rights Abuses and the Death of Sergei Magnitsky.”

The human rights issues surrounding Magnitsky arise from a $230 million tax fraud scheme perpetrated by tax agents who registered fake companies with Hermitage Capital.  In 2008 Magnitsky uncovered the scheme.  The Russian government, instead of punishing the wrongdoers, framed Magnitsky and blamed him for the scheme.  The government subjected Magnitsky to abhorrent living conditions in prison and denied him urgent medical treatment.  They allowed him to die on the floor of the Matrosskaya Tishina prison hospital while he waited for a doctor for over an hour.

An investigation by Hermitage Capital leader William Browder uncovered the framing scheme and found that the true criminals were all enriched by the scheme while truth tellers were punished.  Meanwhile the Kremlin has perpetuated the cover-up by seeking to prosecute Magnitsky posthumously.

“All the suspects were cleared by Russian investigators. Some have been promoted, some decorated. In fact, the only people on trial are Magnitsky’s employer and Magnitsky himself, now the subject of Russia’s first ever posthumous prosecution,” Raab said.

The bill passed by the UK Parliament is meant to support the truth Magnitsky worked for and help those fighting for human rights improvements in Russia.

“The UK Parliament has spoken overwhelmingly in solidarity with Sergei Magnitsky and the other brave voices fighting for the rule of law and reform in Russia. The government should now heed its will and come forward with a bill to impose targeted sanctions on those responsible for torture, assassination and other crimes against those struggling to promote or defend the most basic freedoms we enjoy here,” said Mr. Raab, MP.

Other Members of Parliament have expressed enthusiasm over the measure.  “I am delighted that the House of Commons has unanimously expressed its will that the UK should join other government around the world in refusing visas and travel rights into the UK for those responsible for the persecution and death of Sergei Magnitsky,” said Sir Malcom Rifkind, MP.

Alistar Burt, the UK’s Foreign Office Minister, said that he does not oppose the bill, but it is the policy of his office not to comment on individual cases.

Mr. Burt did mention, however, that “[t]he death of Sergei Magnitsky serves as a stark reminder of the human rights situation in Russia, and questions about the rule of law there.”

The measure calling for sanctions comes on the heels of Vladimir Putin re-taking the Russian presidency.  Parliament declared its intent to shed light on Russian human rights abuses prior to debating the Magnitsky sanctions bill.  Former foreign secretary William Millband stated, “[t]his is not about Russia-bashing but support for a Russia fit for the history of that country.”

The measure calls for sanctions for those who

“(a) were involved in the detention, physical abuse or death of Sergei Magnitsky;

(b) participated in efforts to conceal the legal liability for the detention, abuse or death of Sergei Magnitsky;

(c) committed the frauds discovered by Sergei Magnitsky; or

 (d) are responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture or other gross violations of human rights committed in Russia or any other country against any individual seeking to obtain, exercise, defend or promote basic and internationally recognised human rights, including those set out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966.”

While the debate in Parliament was ongoing Russian officials objected to any proposed sanctions by the British government.  The Russian ambassador to the United Kingdom sent written objections to Member so Parliament telling them of errors in their proposed sanctions.

Mr. Raab responded “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.”

The United States and the Netherlands have both imposed visa bans against Russian officials involved in Magnitsky’s death.  Russia responded by banning certain American and Dutch officials, but none of the countries have actually carried out the ban. 

The United States Congress is currently considering a measure similar to the one urged by Parliament.  The Obama administration has shown no urgency to pass the measure, however, likely because of the provision in the bill that requires sanctions for any official associated with “gross violations of human rights.”  This proposition would drastically change the US’s human rights policy.

Last month the European Parliament’s delegation on relations with Russia requested that European Union member nations take action against Russia in response to the Magnitsky affair.

Raab has called on the UK government to pass the measure before the Queen’s speech, scheduled to take place on May 9th.

For more information please see:

The Guardian — At Last, The British Parliament Demands Action Against Corrupt And Murderous Russian Officials — 8 March 2012

Law and Order in Russia — British Parliament Votes Unanimously In Favor Of Magnitsky Sanctions — 8 March 2012

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty — U.K. Lawmakers Urge Sanctions Against Russians Over Magnitsky Death — 8 March 2012

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

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

BBC — UK MPs To Stage Debate Over Russia’s Human Rights Record — 28 February 2012

 

Truck Drivers Strike Against New Policy Banning Use of Highways During Peak Hours

by Emilee Gaebler
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BRASÍLIA, Brazil – The city of Sao Paulo, Brazil recently saw a massive strike by union truck drivers for petroleum companies.  The drivers went on strike for almost three days in response to city officials passing new legislation that banned commercial truck’s from using main through fares during certain times of the day.

A customer arriving at a gas station in Sao Paulo is told that there is no fuel available to purchase. (Photo courtesy of BBC News)

Sao Paulo is a very congested urban center with over 11 million citizens and approximately 7 million vehicles.  Throughout the city there are roughly 2,000 gas stations.  By late afternoon yesterday, nearly all those stations were running short on gasoline, and many were already closed down as they had already emptied their gas and ethanol supplies.

The truckers union stated that the new legislation unfairly targets them by limiting their access to major highways during peak hours of the day.  This then forces them to take alternative routes that increase their costs of driving and the time they spend working.  All 800 of the city’s tank truck drivers participated in the strike.

On Tuesday afternoon, a state court judge issued a ruling that the strike must end or the union would be fined an amount of $1 million reais ($566,828 US).  One of the most pressing concerns was that the strike would also shut down public transportation throughout the city.

Claudinei Pelegrini, the Vice-President of the Sao Paulo truck drivers union, enunciated the union’s goal that talks be initiated to revoke the new restrictions.  Pelegrini noted, late on Wednesday, that his members move more than 90% of all petroleum in the city.  He demanded that an agreement must be reached or else truck drivers for food and construction materials would also join the strike.

Despite enunciating these pressures, Pelegrini noted that emergency services would not be affected by the strike.  He said deliveries to airports, hospitals, police and fire stations would take place.  City officials expressed their opposition to the strike, noting that police and military escorts were being used to allow for deliveries of supplies by a few drivers not participating in the strike.

The strike stands to affect local business owners in a drastic way, even if it is successfully ended within the next few days.  NPR reports that Marcelo Fernandes, a local gas station owner, will lose roughly $15,000 in sales for each 24 hour period that his gas tanks stand empty.

“They’re killing us, the government has got to give in to the guys. In the best-case scenario, if they ended the strike now, I don’t think I would get any fuel before Thursday,” said Fernandes.

 

For more information, please see;

CNN – Gas Pumps Near Empty in Sao Paulo due to Trucker’s Strike – 7 March 2012

NPR – Gas Stations Running Dry as Brazil Truckers Strike – 7 March 2012

San Francisco Chronicle – Sao Paulo Drivers Strike, Halt Gasoline Delivery – 7 March 2012

BBC – Sao Paulo Lorry Drivers’ Strike hits Fuel Supplies – 6 March 2012

Iran Sets Up Council To Monitor Internet

By Carolyn Abdenour
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

TEHRAN, Iran – On Wednesday, 7 March, Ayatollah Ali Kahamenei, Supreme Leader of Iran, created the Supreme Council of Virtual Space to oversee the domestic and international internet usage.  Iran’s state television reported Ayatollah Khamenei declared he was “establishing a center of national virtual space to define policy and co-ordinate and make decisions regarding virtual space.”

An example of a site that the Iranian Cyber Army Hacked. (Photo Courtesy of BBC)

Reporters Without Borders, a free-speech lobby group, noted that Iran has blocked websites and filtered keywords to censor the internet.  However, the formation of this council is Iran’s strongest initiative to regulate the internet.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will head the council composed the president of the parliament, the head of Iran’s judiciary, the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, the director of Iran’s broadcasting organization, the minister of information, and the commander of the Revolutionary Guard.

Ayatollah Khamenei’s degree stated the council will protect the country from “harm” resulting from “the increasing spread of information and communication technologies, particularly that of the global internet network and its important role in personal and social life.”  The council is also “responsible for safeguarding national and cultural values,” ensuring “safety of the internet,” and taking “measures to deal with challenges facing the national security and cultural values.”

Iran has previously tackled two particular cyber threats: computer viruses and “cultural invasion”.

Ayatollah Khamenei stated Iran will develop internet tools like Google to protect national security interests and so Iranians would not need to visit websites managed outside Iran.  In January, Esmail Ahmadi Moghadam, Iran’s police chief, described Google as an “instrument of espionage.”  In June, Iran plans to release its own search engine called “Yahaq” (meaning “Oh Lord”).

In 2010, the Revolutionary Guards created a “cyber army” to fight “destructive” networks.  The “cyber army” arrested hundreds of internet users.  The courts sentenced some of these users to death.  Iran also relies on special teams to execute “soft-war” counter-measures against the West.

Iranian authorities have blocked telephone lines and inducted internet slowdowns or disconnections during their recent increase of their surveillance and restrictions on the internet.  The authorities intensify their internet control specifically during times of political unrest.

Now, people must give their full names and show their identification to use an internet café monitored by the Iranian authorities.

This week, 30 million Iranians could not log into their Facebook, Gmail, Yahoo, and Hotmail accounts.  An Iranian news agency credited Iran’s actions to prevent opposition against the upcoming celebration of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

For further information, please see:

Sydney Morning Herald – Iran’s Leader Sets Up Internet Control Group – 8 Mar 2012

BBC – Iran’s Supreme Leader Sets Up Body To Oversee Internet – 7 Mar 2012

Haartetz – Ahmadinejad Heads New Council To ‘ Safeguard’ Iranian Internet Values – 7 Mar 2012

Iran Focus – Iran Considers Cyberspace Council – 7 Mar 2012

 

China Increases Military Spending by 11.5 Percent

By: Jessica Ties
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China – On March 5, 2012 the National People’s Congress approved a measure to boost spending on domestic security by 11.5 percent bringing the total budget to 111.4 billion U.S. dollars.

China has announced plans to boost domestic security spending by 11.5 percent (Photo Courtesy of The New York Times).

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao pledged that the increase in spending would be used to pursue modernization and expansion of the Chinese law enforcement agencies including the People’s Armed Police which is responsible for controlling domestic riots.

The approval of increased spending has caused some to fear that the “stability maintenance” measures undertaken this year ahead of leadership transition could become a permanent program.

In his annual address, Wen stated that the most important task for the Chinese military “…is to win local wars under information-age conditions.”

The statement was likely prompted by the Chinese government’s recent experiences with domestic unrest, including a string of twenty-five self-immolations that have occurred in the past year.

In addition, approximately one-hundred petitioners were detained earlier this week after traveling to Beijing to express their grievances with Chinese authorities.

Those detained were taken to unofficial detention centers known as “black jails” where detainees are often held until they can be taken back to their home town by local officials.

Other activists complained that after attempting to deliver petitioning letters to the National People’s Congress building, they were taken by police and told that such activity was illegal.

In addition to concerns about the affect of increased domestic security spending on dissidents, some have expressed frustration that the money is not being used to provide other services.

The new budget for domestic security, for the second consecutive year, exceeds the 106.4 billion dollar budget implemented for national defense.

This statistic prompted Liu Kaiming, head of the Local Social observation Research Institute, to state that the “…cost of maintaining public security is greater than the defense of the country…this shows that our society is actually very unstable, if so much has to be spent on maintaining stability.”

Liu continued to also express his belief that the Chinese government is not expending a sufficient amount of its resources on social security, health insurance or education.

In 2010 the number of unrest recorded by the Chinese government was approximately 90,000 illustrating a growth from the 8,700 incidents recorded in 1993.

Although data about the number of protests in China has not been released since 2010, an economist and senior adviser to the State Council, Niu Wenyuan, stated that there is an average of 500 protests each day equating to 180,000 per year.

Some have expressed that the exceedingly high number of protests facing China should be seen as an illustration of structural flaws present in the Chinese government.

 

For more information, please see:

Vancouver Sun – China Fears Unrest at Home More Than Foreign War – 7 March 2012

Merco Press – China Boosts Domestic Security Budget to Face Growing Unrest – 6 March 2012

Radio Free Asia – China Boosts Domestic Security Forces – 6 March 2012

Reuters – China Domestic Security Spending Rises to $111 Billion – 5 March 2012

Censorship fades in Myanmar

By Greg Donaldson
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

YANGON, Myanmar – During President Thein Sein’s inauguration speech, the new president promised “sweeping democratic reform, and vowed to respect the role of the media.” One year later all signs indicate that President Sein is keeping his promise. Last month an article was published in the Yangon weekly Health Journal which described the poor living conditions prisoners faced in local jails.

Weekly newspapers are available for purchase from roadside shops in Yangon. (Photo Courtesy of Reuters)

The article explained that prison authorities attempted to cure an outbreak of scabies by having prisoners take their clothes off as prison employees wiped the naked inmates with medicine-laden brooms. Not only did the article raise alarming ethical questions about the treatment of prisoners but also displayed the poverty of both the nation’s prisons and healthcare system.

Zaw Thet, who wrote the article, was a political prisoner until last January. He explained “in the past it would’ve been a very dangerous thing to publish… it wasn’t allowed.” In the past journalists had been threatened, jailed, blacklisted, and beaten for writing articles the government did not want published.

While the government continues to censor reporting about “sensitive subjects” such as politics, censorship has ended on many subjects. Journalists are free to write on topics such as health, entertainment, fashion, and sports. Many reporters are interested in testing the recently gained limited freedom to find out what other topics the government will allow them to write about.

Thiha Saw, chief editor of a news weekly called Open News, said he’s now able to write freely about fires, murders, and natural disaster. He explained at various times in the past each had been prohibited.

Media groups who have been exiled in the past are interested at the prospect of returning to Myanmar. However, these groups hesitant to ensure that the current regime will not change its views on censorship in the future.

Aung Zaw, founder of the Irrawaddy news website based in Thailand, escaped Myanmar in 1988 after a popular uprising was “brutally crushed” by the previous government. After making his first trip back to Myanmar Zaw explained “it is our dream to publish a publication or online magazine inside Burma.”

The government has further promised to end censorship altogether once the parliament passes a new media law later this year. The legislation, which is currently being drafted, would allow Myanmar’s independent press to publish daily for the first time in decades.

For more information, please see:

Taipei Times – Myanmar’s Exiled Media Lured Back Home by Reform – 28 February 2012

Washington Post – Myanmar Eases Restrictions on media, Vows Full End to Censorship as Reporters Test New Limits – 28 February 2012

Libyans Mourn Deceased Discovered In Largest Mass Grave

By Carolyn Abdenour
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BENGHAZI, Libya – On Monday, 5 March, thousands of Libyans gathered in the former rebel capital of Benghazi to bury the bodies of 157 civilians and rebel fighters government officials discovered in a mass grave on Friday.  The officials unearthed the largest grave yet in the desert town of Bin Jawwad, a major battleground for the country’s 2011 civil war.

Libyan men carry coffins of victims discovered in the mass grave. (Photo Courtesy The Houston Chronicle)

Omar al-Obeidi, head of the new government-run missing person’s office, reported that officials began excavating bodies on Friday and completed the excavation on Sunday.  So far, officials have identified 80 bodies.  He added that all the bodies are from eastern Libya, and the youngest victim was a 17-year-old boy.

Most of the victims died between February and March 2011 from gunshot wounds and rocket strikes.  Some people died via execution, and rocket attacks severely disfigured others.

Al-Obeidi noted that before his office opened the graves to identify the bodies, it obtained a fatwa from the Mufti, Sheikh al-Sadiq al-Gharyani, and permission from Attorney General Abdelaziz al-Hassadi.

Spokesperson for the Ministry of Martyrs, Wounded and Missing Persons Osama Swail stated the government would return the identified bodies to their families for proper funerals.  Mr. Swali commented that two of his brothers were identified in the mass grave.

Presently, a forensic team is collecting DNA samples and photographs from the unidentified bodies in an attempt to match this information with DNA samples the ministry holds for missing persons throughout the country.

Libyans mourned for the deceased by holding a “Martyrs’ Parade” on Monday.  The procession began in Bin Jawwad, passed through the city of Ajdabiya, and ended in Benghazi.  Government officials escorted a caravan of 23 trucks carrying wooden coffins, each draped in a tri-colored Libyan flag, through the country’s eastern cities.  Libyans held a traditional Islamic prayer service in honor of their fallen “martyrs” in Benghazi’s Tahrir Square after the delivery of coffins ended.

Mohammed al-Darnaway came to Tahrir Square to bury his two brothers.  He asserted, “The revolutionaries of Zintan must hand over Seif al-Islam [Gaddafi’s son] immediately for trial.”  Al-Islam remains in custody of a militia composed of former rebel fighters.

Benghazi resident Mahar al-Maghrabi also expressed anger at his new government for taking almost three months to recover the bodies, including the body of his brother, a 23-year-old rebel fighter.  He said, “They knew about this grave, and they should have worked quicker to excavate the bodies…This is unacceptable.”

For further information, please see:

IOL News – Libyans Mourn Dozens Found In Mass Grave – 6 Mar 2012

Newsday – World Briefs – 6 Mar 2012

The Miami Herald – Libya Buries 170 Bodies Found In Mass Grave – 5 Mar 2012

Boston Globe – Mass Grave of 157 Bodies Unearthed in Libyan Town – 4 Mar 2012

 

ICC Issues Arrest Warrant for Sudan’s Defense Minister & Calls for More Help in Darfur

By Tamara Alfred
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

 The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Sudan’s defense minister, Abdul -Rahim Mohamed Hussein, for 41 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes allegedly committed in Darfur.

Sudan’s Defense Minister Abdul-Rahim Mohamed Hussein (Photo Courtesy of Sudan Tribune.)

Hussein is wanted for actions taken during the time of August 2003 to March 2004 in Darfur, where rebels have fought government forces and allied militiamen since 2003.  Hussein was Sudan’s interior minister at the time when attacks were made upon the towns and villages of Kodoom, Bindisi, Mukjar and Arawala in West Darfur.

The ICC said “there are reasonable grounds to believe that Mr. Hussein is criminally responsible for 20 counts of crimes against humanity (persecution, murder, forcible transfer, rape, inhuman acts, imprisonment or severe deprivation of liberty and torture) and 21 counts of war crimes (murder, attacks against civilian population, destruction of property, rape, pillaging and outrage upon personal dignity.)”

The court continued, explaining that “Mr. Hussein made essential contributions to the formulation and implementation of the common plan…through his overall coordination of national, state and local security entities and through the recruitment, arming and funding of the police forces and the Militia/Janjaweed in Darfur.”

The court has at least six other cases involving Darfur.  Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is wanted for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, while Sudanese government official Ahmad Harun, Janjaweed leader Ali Kushayb, and rebel leaders Abdallah Banda, Saleh Jerbo and Abu Garda also face war crimes charges.  However, Sudan does not recognize the ICC and refuses to hand over suspects.

The government in Khartoum was quick to dismiss the ruling, reiterating that Sudan is not a signatory to the Rome Statute, the ICC’s founding treaty.

“We are not concerned with the court and the decisions that come out of it,” foreign ministry spokesman Al-Obeid Marwih said.  “We, like the United States and Russia, are not signatories to the Rome Statute governing the court.”

Sudan’s Minister of Information Sana al-Awad said Sudan was equally unconcerned with this latest arrest warrant.  “The court has become a political tool and not one that seeks justice,” she said.  “Sudan considers the arrest warrant an outcome of lobbying by anti-Sudan groups in the U.S.  It is an unjustifiable allegation.”

Marwih suggested that the timing of the warrant was meant to coincide with the “recent victories” of Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) against the rebels in Blue Nile, South Kordofan and Darfur.  “The court’s decision is more of a message to the rebellion than it is to frustrate the armed forces,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Prosecutor of the ICC, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, urged the international community to find “the final solution” for the problem of impunity in Darfur, where he says war crimes have continued despite the various arrest warrants.

“I think we did something complicated – we investigated the crime, we collected the evidence, we clarified the responsibilities,” Moreno-Ocampo told reporters at UN Headquarters.  “But our effort is not enough if the crime is not stopped.”

The case against Hussein will be Moreno-Ocampo’s last involving Darfur before his tenure as ICC Prosecutor ends in June.

The United Nations (UN) estimates as many as 300,000 people have been killed and almost 3 million people have been displaced from their homes as a result of the conflict.

For more information, please see:

UN News Centre – Sudan: ICC prosecutor urges world to do more to end impunity in Darfur – 5 March 2012

CNN – Sudan’s defense minister wanted for war crimes – 2 March 2012

Sudan Tribune – Sudan downplays ICC arrest warrant issued for defence minister – 1 March 2012

TIBET SEES THREE SELF-IMMOLATIONS IN THREE DAYS

by Hibberd Kline
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China – A 32 year old mother, an 18 year old boy and a middle school student each died after setting themselves on fire in protest of Chinese rule in Tibet over the past three days.

The recent string of self-immolations has largely been carried out by Buddhist monks who felt that the Chinese Government suppresses their religion. (Photo courtesy of the Guardian).

The three protesters lit themselves on fire in separate incidents in two different provinces in China’s restive Northwestern region.

The first of the weekend’s immolations took place on Saturday, when a student set herself on fire at a vegetable market in Gansu province’s Maqu county. The girl died at the scene.

Radio Free Asia reported the girl to be “in middle school.” London-based group, Free Tibet, later identified her as 20 year old Tsering Kyi.

Free Tibet quoted the student as saying before she died that Tibetans were burning themselves in Aba, a town in Sichuan province as well as in other areas under a widespread security clampdown by the Chinese authorities.

According to Tibetan exiles, unidentified market-goers threw stones at the girl’s burning body.

On Sunday, in an apparently uncoordinated second incident a 32 year old woman by the name of Rinchen lit herself on fire in front of a police station in Aba prefecture in Sichuan province. The act was especially symbolic to Tibetans because, like many police stations in heavily Tibetan populated areas in China, the station was by the main gate to a Buddhist monastery.  China is rapidly expanding its security presence in Tibet and neighboring Xinjiang  and it has become a common practice for the government to build police stations inside or next to Buddhist monasteries in order to maintain closer control over Tibetan religious leaders.

The particular monastery that Rinchen chose is known as the Kirti Monastery and is significant because it has been central to a recent string of protests and more than twenty self-immolations undertaken by Tibetans in protest of Chinese rule. Rinchen reportedly quoted a Tibetan monk, who is currently exiled in India, calling for the return of the Dali Lama and freedom for Tibet.

According to Free Tibet, Rinchen was the mother of four children.

The third self-immolation was carried out by an 18 year old boy identified by Free Tibet as Dorjee, who set fire to himself in the town of Chara in Sichuan province on Monday.

According to a Tibetan in exile in India, Dorjee set himself on fire and then marched from a nearby bridge to a government building, where he collapsed and died.

Local authorities refused to comment on any of the three incidents.

Tibet has been ruled by China since 1950, when Chinese troops occupied the region. The Chinese Government claims that the self-immolations have been carried out by “terrorists.”

The back-to-back immolations took place on the eve of the annual opening of the Chinese Parliament. This year’s parliamentary session is expected to effect the transfer of power to a younger generation of leaders within the Chinese communist party. The planned transfer has put much of the government in a heightened state of alert and has led to a sizable increase in China’s security presence in its restive northwestern region.

In addition to the enhanced security ahead of this year’s Parliamentary session, security is traditionally bolstered in Tibetan-populated areas in March, which marks the anniversaries of the 1959 uprising, which sparked the flight of the Dali Lama, and the anti-government protests that took place in the regional capital of Lhasa in 2008.

Human rights activists claim that China’s attempts to tighten its grip on the region merely exacerbates the problem by alienating the indigenous Tibetan populous.

Last Thursday, the regional government ordered authorities inside Tibet to increase control over mobile phones and the internet, both of which are already monitored in the region and have reportedly even been blocked completely in some areas.

Foreign journalists are largely banned from entering the region. Therefore the recent increase in censorship makes events in the region even more difficult to independently confirm.

Human rights activists and Tibetan exiles claim that the Chinese Government oppresses Tibetans and that it is deliberately undermining Tibetan religion and culture. The Chinese Government rejects this, claiming that China has improved the Tibetan economy and improved the lives of people in a “backward” region.

For more information, please see:

BBC News —  Tibetan Women ‘Die after Self-Immolation’ — 05 March 2012

The Guardian — Tibetan Women Set Themselves on Fire, Say Reports — 05 March 2012

The New York Times — Three Tibetans Die after Self-Immolations — 05 March 2012

Radio Free Asia — Third Self-Immolation in Three Days —  05 March 2o12

Voice of America — Reports: Tibetan Teenager Sets Himself on Fire — 05 March 2012

The Washington Post — Reports Say Teenage Tibetan in Sichuan Sets Self on Fire and Dies; Third Immolation in Three Days — 05 March 2012

AP News — Tibetan Woman, Student Set Selves on Fire — 04 March 2012

The Guardian — Tibetan Woman Dies after Setting Herself on Fire in Protest at Chinese Rule — 04 March 2o12

Bahrain Delays The Visit of UN Investigator

By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

MANAMA, Bahrain– The UN human rights office in Geneva, Switzerland stated that on Thursday 01 March 2012, the Bahraini government had formally requested that the visit of the special rapporteur on torture be delayed until mid-July. The investigator, Juan Mendex, had originally been scheduled the visit the Gulf island nation from 8 March to 17 March. The Bahraini government has also imposed restrictions on groups attempting to monitor reforms inside the nation, clearly desiring to keep all foreign influence away from its citizens.

Anti-government protesters at a demonstration organized by al-Wefaq in Manama.(Photo Courtesy of Reuters)

While the protests and violence continues, three international human rights groups were informed last week by the Bahraini government of new restrictions on visiting the nation. Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International stated that Bahrain’s Human Rights and Social Development Ministry told them that new rules limited them to five-day trips and those trips must be arranged through a Bahraini sponsor.

Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, a regional Amnesty deputy director, shared these words in a statement concerning the situation.

“Regrettably, we have cancelled the fact-finding visit to Bahrain as the new five days limit imposed by the Bahraini authorities for visits by international human rights organizations is a serious impediment. The Bahraini authorities have repeatedly stated their commitment to undertake human rights reform and to cooperate with human rights organizations. These new restrictions contradict such commitment.”

The UN also released a statement concerning the inability to enter and inspect the nation. A spokesman for the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Xabier Celaya, stated that Mendez would express his regrets to Bahraini representatives in meetings this week concerning the “last minute postponement.”

“Mr. Mendez will seek to secure new dates as he remains very committed to undertaking this important visit. Bahrain is still undergoing major reforms and wants some important steps, critical to the special rapporteur’s mandate, to be in place before he visits so he can assess the progress that Bahrain has made to date.”

Bahrain is ruled by the Sunni Muslim al-Khalifa family and has been under tremendous pressure to institute political and rights reforms since the violent crackdown on the uprising. Bahrain’s Minister for Social Development, Fatima al-Balooshi, told the UN Human Rights Council this week that the kingdom had learned important lessons from the demonstrations and protests against the government.

“Mistakes were made. Serious wrongs were committed. We believe we are on the right track.”

The road leading up the delay of Mendez’s visit is rather peculiar one. In January, Bahraini officials told a number of human rights organizations that they should delay trips to the country until after 22 February 2012, the date that the government had set for a review of the changes in the way the country functioned as a whole. This included changes for the police, the judiciary, the educational system, and the media. Also, as recommended by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), a body of international legal experts, the reforms included the payment of compensation to torture victims and a process of national reconciliation. The recommendation from the BICI came in November 2011.

On Thursday 01 March 2012, the Bahraini government said that it needed as many as 20 more days to complete its plans for implementing the recommendations of the BICI. The BICI reported that demonstrators and protesters, who come primarily from the majority, non-ruling Shia population, had suffered from systematic torture to elicit confessions that were subsequently used in military trials.

The ruling, minority Sunni Muslim community in Bahrain has been under pressure from the non-ruling, majority Shia Muslim community to change the rules on the appointment of government officials. The Shia community believes that if they had more officials, more policies would better serve their interests. The Sunni ruling party has been very reluctant to allow this to occur. Thus, demonstrations and protests have occurred across the Gulf island nation.

The Bahraini government has moved swiftly to control any widespread, anti-regime movement. It has even strengthened its tourist visa restrictions, after some Western activists took part in anti-government demonstrations last month that marked the first anniversary of the uprising on 14 February 2012. Bahraini police officers allowed the main parties, led by the al-Wefaq group, to hold a rally inside the nation’s capital of Manama last week.

On Thursday 01 March 2012, Wefaq released a statement concerning the situation.

“Many villages were repressed brutally by security forces, leaving at least two people seriously injured. One of the injured had been hit in the head by a tear gas canister, while another had sustained injuries from shotgun pellets.”

Inspired youth protesters and activists have regularly held demonstrations in Shia districts, although Bahraini police usually quell any momentum using armored vehicles, teargas, and stun grenades. The Bahraini government has repeatedly reported that the youth protests are rioters simply causing chaos with no aim of political objectives. Until the voices of the majority are genuinely heard and addressed, it seems that the suffering and violence will continue. The continued denial of human rights groups into the country projects the message that the rights of those not in power do not matter.

 

For more information, please see: 

Al-Jazeera – Bahrain Delays UN Investigator Visit – 02 March 2012

AllVoices – Bahrain: Government Delays Visit by UN Torture Investigator – 02 March 2012

Chicago Tribune – Bahrain Delays U.N. Investigator, Limit Rights Group Visits – 01 March 2012

Reuters – Bahrain Delays U.N. Investigator, Limits Rights Group Visits – 01 March 2012

 

Red Cross Denied Access to Civilians as Shelling Continues in Syria

By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria – Syrian security forces resumed their attacks on the city of Homs, causing more civilian deaths and preventing relief access to the wounded. On Sunday 04 March 2012, activists reported that a bombardment came to Syria’s third-largest city of approximately one million residents as China presented a proposal to end the violence in the country. It called for an immediate ceasefire and dialogue between all of the parties but stood firm against any type of intervention by outside forces.

 

A member of the Syrian Free Army. (Photo Courtesy of NYT)

In addition to Homs, the Syrian security forces also descended upon the rebel-dominated city of Rastan on Sunday 04 March 2012. According to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, four children were said to be among seven civilians killed in the shelling. The victims included as many as six family members when a rocket crashed into their home, causing the building to collapse.

The focal point of the attacks by security forces has been the western Homs neighborhood of Baba Amr, where the situation has been described as “catastrophic.” On Saturday 03 March 2012, there were reports of power outages, shortages of food and water, and no medical care for the sick and wounded. The Red Cross has desperately been trying to gain access to the city for three days, attempting to deliver aid and supplies to those in need. The closest that the organization has come to assisting Baba Amr is handing out food and blankets to those fortunate enough to have the ability to flee the city to nearby areas.

Syrian officials informed the Red Cross that Baba Amr had to be cleared of booby traps before they could enter the area. But activists reported that troops were carrying out reprisal attacks around the city, causing more death and violence at the expense of thousands of civilians. While the attacks continue to occur, the bodies of two foreign journalists who lost their lives for the sake of letting the world know what was happening on the ground left Syria and were headed to France. The bodies of Remi Ochlik and Marie Colvin were placed on an Air France flight from Damascus on the evening of Saturday 03 March 2012.

Rebels from the Free Syrian Army withdrew their forces from Baba Amr late last week, as the weeks of shelling from government forces made it increasingly difficult for the rebels to maintain their positions. The Syrian government gave the Red Cross permission to access Baba Amr but once the help actually arrived in the form of a convoy, the government refused to allow it to enter the city. BBC correspondent Jim Muir, reporting from Lebanon, stated that this is when the Red Cross decided to assist those who were lucky enough to flee Baba Amr. Muir also stated that the ICRC had dispatched a 15-man team to the Abil area, a southern part of Baba Amr.

ICRC spokesperson Hicham Hassan shared these words with Reuters about the developing situation.

“The plan is to continue to the neighborhoods of Inshaat and Tawzii in order to assist local populations and families displaced from Baba Amr. We really don’t know how many people are still in there. It’s all a bit of a mystery to us.”

The Syrian state television has been broadcasting pictures of deserted streets laden with debris, being careful not to display any strife on the part of civilians. There have been a multitude of unconfirmed reports of revenge killings and summary executions by Syrian forces in Baba Amr. Opposition activists believe that a government-wide cover up is responsible for the delay in bringing these reports to public attention. The reports detail mass arrests of males over the age of 11, with the local cooperative building being transformed into a detention facility.

Another report detailed that truck full of bodies was seen driving away from Baba Amr.

Sunday Times photographer Paul Conroy, who fled Syria after being wounded while working in Homs, told the BBC that what he saw on the ground in Baba Amr classified as “systematic slaughter.”

“I’ve done a fair few wars, I’ve never seen anything on this level.”

Activists have reported that approximately 7,500 people have lost their lives since the demonstrations and protests against President Bashar al-Assad began almost a year ago. The government had repeatedly and staunchly blamed “terrorists and armed gangs” for the violence. Regardless of who the government chooses to throw the blame on, the people of Syria continue to pay a fatal toll as each day goes by.

The international community continues to debate the appropriate course of action and each day seems to bring a new idea to the table. The proposal by China and Turkey strictly rules out the use of foreign intervention, a theme that seems so necessary at this point but will not be used. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that the lack of consensus among the international community has only emboldening the Syrian government to proceed with its crackdown. Davutoglu stated that the gravity of the killing closely resembles the bloodshed of the Balkans war of the 1990s.

He described the actions of al-Assad’s regime as “crimes against humanity.” And these crimes will only continue while the rest of the world watches and reports on the situation, instead formulating and agreeing on a plan to end it.

 

 

For more information, please see: 

Ahram – China Demands End To Violence As Syria Blocks Aid – 04 March 2012

Al-Jazeera – Syrian Forces Renew Assault On Homs – 04 March 2012

BBC – Syria Crisis: Red Cross Pushes For Baba Amr Access – 04 March 2012

CNN – Rockets Fall On Syrian City of Rastan, Opposition Activists Say – 04 March 2012

The Guardian – Syria: Red Cross Blocked Again From Baba Amr – 04 March 2012

NYT – Bearing Witness in Syria: A Correspondent’s Last Days – 03 March 2012

 

20 DEAD IN XINJIANG INCIDENT

by Hibberd Kline
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China – Regional authorities have increased the death toll from Tuesday’s violence near the city of Kashgar in China’s western Xinjiang region to 20 up from an initial figure of 12 reported by China’s official Xinhau News Agency.

China has maintained a heavy police presence in Xinjiang since riots between ethnic Uighurs natives and Han Chinese migrants in 2009 left approximately 200 dead and 1,700 injured. (Photo courtesy of the Guardian).

According to the regional government, the “attack” was instigated by knife-wielding “terrorists” who attacked passers-by on a busy shopping street. The authorities attribute 13 deaths to the alleged terrorist attack. State news agency Xinhua previously described the incident as a “riot.”

The official government report also increased the number of alleged terrorist assailants shot dead by police officers from the earlier reported 2 to 7.

According to Xinhua, the authorities are in pursuit of an unspecified number of additional suspects thought to have taken part in the alleged terrorist attacks.

Details are still not forthcoming about what may have set off the violence. However, the region has a long history of ethnic tension between the native, muslim, ethnic Uighur population and Han Chinese migrants. That history has often been punctuated by oubursts of violence, which are often portrayed officially as terrorist attacks.

Uighur activists groups claim that China oppresses their culture and religion and say that instances of violence, which the Chinese government claims to be the work of “mobs” or “terrorists” are actually anti-government riots or peaceful protests turned violent.

Foreign media access to the region is restricted. Therefore, China’s official accounts of violence in Xinjiang are generally difficult to independently confirm and are often the subject of dispute by human rights organizations. Following the attack, Chinese censors were quick to block internet searches including the name of either the county “Yecheng” or the town “Kashgar” in which the attack took place.

The Chinese Government is currently expanding its security footprint inside Xinjiang. Last month, authorities in Xinjiang announced plans to recruit 8,000 additional security officers to help maintain control in the region.

China sees Xinjiang with its vast oil, natural gas and mineral deposits as strategically vital to Chinese economic expansion. The Chinese Government has adopted a policy of intensive economic investment in the region coupled with a stifling security presence in order to reduce the potential for open unrest.

Following the attack in Xinjiang, a Chinese woman was shot to death in Peshawar, Pakistan. An element of the Pakistani Taliban took responsibility for the woman’s death. According to a Taliban spokesman, the killing was carried out as “revenge for the Chinese Government killing… [the Taliban’s] Muslim brothers” in Xinjiang.

China and Pakistan have long been close allies and recently staged joint anti-terrorism drills. The Chinese Government responded to the killing by demanding that Pakistan investigate the incident and take steps to protect Chinese nationals inside Pakistan. Pakistan’s ambassador to China has promised that Pakistan will hunt down the attackers.

China often asserts that alleged terrorist activity in Xinjiang, Tibet and other restive regions within China are encouraged and supported by foreigners.

For more information, please see:

Reuters — Pakistani Militants Say Chinese Woman Killed for Revenge — 01 March 2012

BBC News — China Violence: ’20 Dead’ in Kashgar City in Xinjiang — 29 February 2012

AP News — China Says at Least 12 Killed in Xinjiang Riot — 28 February 2012

The Telegraph — ‘Violent Mob’ Riots Leave 12 Dead — 29 February 2012

BBC News — China Violence: 12 Dead in Kashgar City in Xinjiang — 28 February 2012

The Guardian — China Unrest Kills at Least 12 — 28 February 2012

Iran’s Parliamentary Elections Take Place Amidst Claims of Unfairness

By Tyler Yates
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

TEHRAN, Iran — On 2 March Iran held their first elections since the 2009 election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spurred mass protests.  Human Rights Watch has called Iran’s parliamentary elections grossly unfair due to their arbitrary disqualifications and other restrictions.

Large turnout at Iran's Parliamentary elections (Photo courtesy of Christian Science Monitor).

The voting for 290 seats came after the disqualification of hundreds of candidates on the basis of vague and ill-defined criteria.  Opposition leaders were either barred from participating, serving suspicious prison sentences, or they voluntarily refused to participate in what they considered sham elections.

On 21 February, the Guardian Council, an unelected body of 12 religious jurists, announced that only about 3,500 of the approximately 5,400 candidates running for parliamentary seats had been approved by Iran’s parliament.  At least 35 of those who were disqualified are current members of parliament.  The Interior Ministry had previously disqualified 750 candidates.

Iran’s opposition and reformist movement called for an election boycott in response to these disqualifications, and other state actions.

“Iranian authorities have stacked the deck by disqualifying candidates and arbitrarily jailing key members of the reform movement,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.“There is no transparency surrounding the vetting and selection of candidates.”

Iran’s vetting process for both parliamentary and presidential elections is comprised of several stages.   Initial cuts come on the basis of election laws, with some concrete criteria such as age and education, but many of the criteria are extremely vague and ambiguous, allowing the authorities to cut applicants without discretion.

Candidates were disqualified for “a lack of adherence to Islam and the Constitution,” for being critical of President Ahmadinejad’s government, and for being allegedly affiliated or supportive of “illegal” parties.

Of note, several of the candidates banned from running are members of the 15 member Sunni bloc in parliament.  The Sunni are a minority in Iran, and on December 19, 2011 the bloc sent Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, a letter asking him to protect the political and social rights of Iran’s Sunni minority.

The parliamentary elections have been largely viewed as a contest between President Ahmadinejad’s supporters and those of Ayatollah Khamenei.  The underlying issue has been the growing tension between the president and Khamenei since Ahmadinejad’s controversial 2009 reelection.  Though Khamenei supported Ahmadinejad’s victory as president, there has been uneasiness between the two ever since, including an incident with Ahmadinejad disappearing from public view for 11 days after his decision to fire an intelligence minister was overruled by Khamenei.

It appears that Khamenei was the victor in the most reason battle. Candidates who support Khamenei look to gain about ¾ of the parliamentary seats, Iran’s state-run Press TV reported on Sunday.

The strength of the various parties after this election will set the stage for the, vastly more important,  2013 Iranian presidential elections.

The results of the election are not likely to change Iran’s stance on their controversial nuclear program.

For more information, please see:

CNN — Iran leader consolidates power, vote results suggest — 4 Mar. 2012

Tehran Times — Iran dismisses Hague’s claims on Majilis polls — 4 Mar. 2012

BBC — Iran conservatives contest poll for parliament — 2 Mar. 2012

Human Rights Watch — Iran: Fair Vote Impossible — 1 Mar. 2012

Activist Imprisoned for Exposing China’s ‘Black Jails’

By: Jessica Ties
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China – A Chinese court has sentenced an activist to eighteen months in a labor camp after he gave journalists information that led them to a “black jail” which is an unofficial detention facility kept by the Chinese government.

A Chinese activist has been sentenced to a labor camp following detention in one of China's black jails (Photo Courtesy of Radio Free Asia).

Zhao Zhenjia was recently sentenced after being detained by Beijing police on January 22.

Chinese authorities claim that Zhao was indicted for fraud based on alleged dealings with rural machinery workers.

According to Chinese activists, those who try to make against the local government are often detained in black jails where they are beaten and harassed by government authorities.

A former black jail detainee expressed their experience when they stated, “[the guards] entered without a word, grabbed me…kneed me in the chest and pounded my lower belly with their fists until I passed out. After it was over I was in pain, but they didn’t leave a mark on my body.”

Another former detainee stated that, “[t]here was no medical treatment [in the black jail]. I’m not very healthy and combined with the disgusting conditions inside [the facility], I was sick every day, but they wouldn’t give me medical treatment and wouldn’t let me go to see a doctor. [A guard] said, ‘You don’t want to die here because your life [to us] isn’t worth one cent. [If] I want you dead, you can die [here] as easily as an ant.’”

A 2009 Human Rights Watch report alleged that Chinese officials regularly take citizens and keep them in unlawful detention facilities maintained in state-owned hotels, nursing homes and psychiatric hospitals.

According to the report local officials create black jails to allow activists to be detained and punished in a way that will not cause these officials to be reprimanded under rules that impose penalties when a large portion of prisoners flow from their areas.

Those hired to guard the prison often subject prisoners to physical violence, theft, extortion, threats and deprivation of food, sleep and medical care.

Minors have not been spared black jail detention in China. Human Rights Watch interviewed a fifteen year old girl who reported that after being abducted and taken to the jail, she was detained for two months and subjected to severe beatings.

Black jails appeared following the government’s abolishment of laws allowing arbitrary detention of non-residents and according to Human Rights Watch the operators of black jails receive payment from the local governments for each person kept in the black jail.

Despite the recent change of government, few expect to see changes in the treatment of activists due to  the need of the new government to assert power and stability over the nation.

For more information, please see:

Radio Free Asia – Labor Camp for Petitioning Activist –  29 February 2012

Reuters – China “Black Jails” Prompt Fears of Wider Security Crackdown – 10 November 2011

Human Rights Watch – China: Secret “Black Jails” hide Severe Rights Abuses – 12 November 2009

European Lawmakers Unanimously Call for Immediate Visa and Economic Sanctions on Russian Officials in Magnitsky Case

Press Release
Originally sent by Hermitage Capital 2/29/12

Yesterday, the European Parliament delegation in the EU-Russia Parliamentary Cooperation Committee held an extraordinary meeting on the case of Sergei Magnitsky which resulted in the adoption of a statement calling for immediate EU travel bans and asset freezes on the Russian officials responsible for the false arrest, torture and death of Sergei Magnitsky. The Sergei Magnitsky Statement was adopted unanimously (with one abstention).

 

The statement of the European Parliament Delegation to the EU-Russia Parliamentary Cooperation Committee said:

 

“Urges the EU Member States to start immediately procedures to enact measures such as a EU-wide travel ban and a freeze on the financial assets of those believed to be guilty of the torture and death of Sergei Magnitsky as well as of covering up the case.”

The Statement notes “the failure to punish those guilty of his death” in Russia.

 

The Statement pays tribute to Sergei Magnitsky, recognizing him as “one among many people who have been fighting for freedom, democracy and the rule of law in Russia and who died while pursuing this endeavour.”

 

Members of the European Delegation have instructed its Chair, Knut Fleckenstein, who abstained during the vote, to forward the resolution to the President of the European Parliament, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament and Russian delegates in the EU-Russia Parliamentary Cooperation Committee.

For further information please contact:

 

Hermitage Capital

 

Phone:              +44 207 440 17 77

E-mail: info@lawandorderinrussia.org

Website:           http://lawandorderinrussia.org

 

Facebook:        http://on.fb.me/hvIuVI

Twitter:             @KatieFisher__

Livejournal:       http://hermitagecap.livejournal.com/

 

Official Site of the European Parliament Delegation to the EU-Russia Parliamentary Cooperation Committee http://www.europarl.europa.eu/delegations/en/d-ru/home.html

 

Notice of Extraordinary Meeting

http://www.europarl.europa.eu/delegations/en/d-ru/meetings-search.html;jsessionid=26B6CFD684CD676C23F90952DE90D296.node2