Viviane Morales Colombia’s Chief Prosecutor Forced to Resign

by Emilee Gaebler
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTÁ, Colombia – Viviane Morales, the chief prosecutor of Colombia has been forced to step down from her post.  A lawsuit was filed claiming that Morales was elected improperly according to provisions of the Colombian constitution.  She took office in 2010 and was the first woman to be elected to the position as Colombia’s top prosecutor.

 

Viviane Morales was forced to resign following a verdict that she was improperly elected. (Photo Courtesy of Colombia Reports)

The lawsuit claims that Morales was improperly elected because at the time she failed to get the 2/3 majority vote of the Supreme Court magistrates as required.  She was elected by a 14-4 vote and the discrepancy arises because the number of magistrates mandated by the Colombian constitution is 23.  The suit claims that since there were 5 vacancies during her election, and only 18 sitting magistrates, she did not properly take office.

As reported by NTN24 News, the decision to elect Morales ended a 1.5 year impasse between the Supreme Court and the government where the magistrates refused to accept any of the nominees submitted to them.  Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, expressed his regret that Morales resigned.  He noted that during her time as chief prosecutor she performed with, “great dignity, great efficiency, great transparency and great character.”

Morales resigned when the ruling was handed down by Colombia’s Council of State that her election was invalid.  In her resignation speech, she emphasized her aggressive stance in prosecuting even those seen as “untouchable” like government agencies and officials.

During her time as the chief prosecutor Morales investigated, prosecuted and dismantled the DAS department for its use by past-president, Alvaro Uribe’s administration to illegally spy on political opponents.  She also prosecuted a number of past ministers who were close to Uribe including Bernado Moreno, Uribe’s chief of staff, and Andres Felipe Arias, Uribe’s agriculture minister.

In the past year Morales has faced strong criticism and a rash of bad publicity for her marriage to Carlos Alonso Lucio, an ex-guerilla member of the group M-19.  The group is now demobilized but was linked to drug paramilitaries and drug trafficking.  Morales noted that such attacks against her and her husband were “vile, low and slanderous.”

Vice Prosecutor General, Wilson Martinez, will step in until Morales’ successor is elected.  President Santos will now submit a shortlist of three candidates to the Supreme Court for their consideration.  It would be possible to place Morales on that list, however she noted in her resignation speech that she would not be available as a candidate.

For more information, please see;

Xinhua News – Colombia’s Chief Prosecutor Resigns After Adverse Verdict – 3 March 2012

BBC News – Colombia Chief Prosecutor Viviane Morales Resigns – 2 March 2012

Colombia Reports – Colombia’s Unseated Prosecutor General not Available for Re-election – 2 March 2012

Colombia Reports – President Santos Regrets Prosecutor General Resignation – 2 March 2012

Colombia Reports – Colombia’s Prosecutor General Removed From Office – 29 February 2012

NTN24 News – Colombia Prosecutor that Jailed Uribe Officials Ousted – 29 February 2012

 

Spanish Judge Off The Hook For Franco Probe

By Terance Walsh
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MADRID, Spain — Baltasar Garzon, a well-known judge in Spain, was acquitted Monday of abuse of power charges.  His charge stemmed from his alleged improper investigation of human rights violations under the dictatorship of Francisco Franco.

Baltazar Garzon, Spanish judge accused of abuse of power (Photo courtesy of Amnesty International).

Spain’s Supreme Court acquitted Garzon on a 6-1 vote.

The prosecution was brought by right wing private groups, as allowed by Spanish law, led by the group Manos Limpias (Clean Hands).  They accused Garzon of ignoring Spanish amnesty laws when he investigated human rights abuses that occurred between 1936 and 1975.

Franco led a military uprising in 1936 that set off three years of civil war in Spain that ended with Franco’s forces defeating republican and left-wing fighters.  He remained in power until he died in 1975.

Garzon has said that crimes against humanity deserve no amnesty because they are “permanent crimes.”

In 2008 Garzon began an investigation of the disappearance of tens of thousands of people in the build up to Franco’s rise to power.  The investigation included the excavation of mass graves.  Ultimately an appellate court ended the investigation and the next year Manos Limpias brought the prosecution.

Relatives of the victims of Franco’s human rights offenses have been some of the strongest supporters of Garzon.  They have seen the judge as their hope for justice

The groups bringing the prosecution supported their allegations by saying Garzon’s investigation “reopened wounds which we Spaniards – whatever our political beliefs – had totally recovered from.”

Human rights groups applauded Garzon’s acquittal.  “The Supreme Court has spared itself further embarrassment by rejecting these ill-advised charges,” Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch said. “Investigating torture and ‘disappearances’ cannot be considered a crime.”

In addition to the Franco investigation charges, Garzon is under fire for ordering wire taps of conversations between remand prisoners and their lawyers regarding a corruption case.  The lawyers filed suit alleging a constitutional violation of their constitutional right to confidential communications with their clients.

Garzon contends that the wiretaps were supported by state prosecutors, who did not file charges against him.  The wiretaps were ordered on suspicions that the subjects of the taps were involved in a money laundering scheme.  He was suspended from the bench for 11 years.

Supporters of Garzon argue that these convictions are meant to be retaliation for Garzon’s activism.  “It was clear they were out to get him, and now they have,” said Emilio Silva, head of the Historical Memory Association that campaigns to shed light on Francoist killings. “It is very sad. Plenty of other judges have committed the same irregularities and have not been treated this way.”

Garzon argued in a statement through his lawyers “that the Supreme Court sentence seriously violated several of the fundamental rights which he, as all citizens have under the constitution, as well as his judicial independence.”

Accordingly Garzon filed his papers with the Supreme Court to appeal the decision.  This request, however, is expected to fail and Garzon plans to appeal to the Supreme Constitutional Court.

Although human rights groups applauded Garzon’s acquittal on the Franco investigation charges, they continue to push Spain for accountability for its past misdeeds.

“It is a scandal that Spain has not yet tackled its dark past,” said Marek Marczynski, Amnesty International’s Head of International Justice.  “News about Judge Garzón is a step forward. However, what we want to see next is a full investigation into the catalogue of abuses that took place during the Civil War and Franco’s regime. There must be no impunity in Spain for these most horrible crimes.”

Amnesty International calls on Spain to continue its remediation of its past human rights abuses and set aside its law granting amnesty for crimes committed under Franco.

For more information please see:

Amnesty International — Spain: Ruling On Baltazar Garzon Is Good News, But Crimes Remain Untackled — 27 February 2012

BBC — Spanish Judge Baltazar Garzon Cleared On Franco Probe — 27 February 2012

CNN — Former Spanish Judge Acquitted Of Abusing Power — 27 February 2012

Expatica — Spanish Judge Asks Supreme Court To Annul Verdict — 22 February 2012

The Guardian — Baltazar Garzon, Judge Who Pursued Dictators, Brought Down For Wiretapping — 9 February 2012

NY Times — Truth On Trial In Spain — 4 February 2012

Colombian Military Admits They Have Not Yet Found Kidnapped Mine Workers

By Paula Buzzi
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Colombia — At least 11 oil workers were kidnapped on Tuesday by an unidentified armed group as they were working on Colombia’s largest oil-pipeline project, Oleoducto Bicentario. Colombia’s Defense Minister, Juan Carlos Pinzon, announced on Wednesday morning that the workers had been found and freed after a search mission. He later backtracked his statement and admitted that the workers are still missing.

11 oil workers were kidnapped on Tuesday by an unidentified armed group. (Photo Courtesy of Colombia Reports).

The oil workers were kidnapped as they were riding the bus to work in the rural Arauca province. Colombian authorities are blaming the ELN, Colombia’s second largest rebel group, for the kidnapping because of the location of the act. According to authorities, 500 security forces are looking for the missing oil workers and they are promising a $57,000 reward for any information leading to their safe recovery.

Defense Minister Pinzon’s statement on Wednesday morning stirred up some controversy when it was later discovered that the oil workers were still missing. He confirmed to the media that the oil workers were safe in a military base when in fact they had never been found. Furthermore, he initially said nine workers had been kidnapped, which he corrected to 11 later that day in his redaction.

The kidnapping highlights the dangers of the new booming oil sector in Colombia. Oil and gas companies operating in dangerous rural regions are often vulnerable to attacks by organized crime and drug cartels. The Colombian Petroleum Association has recently warned of an increase in extortion demands on oil companies.  President Juan Manuel Santos has threatened to exile any foreign company that participates in extortion to any criminal group.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Colombia’s biggest rebel group and one of many criminal groups in Arauca, has been bombing oil pipelines and kidnapping civilian workers for decades in order to disrupt the oil market. The FARC is famous for their high profile kidnappings of politicians and business executives.

The kidnapping came only days after FARC announced its intent to stop abducting civilians. Three Chinese oil contractors and a translator are still missing from when the FARC kidnapped them in June.

 

For further information, please see:

Colombia Reports – ELN Blamed For Kidnapping Oil Workers – 01 March 2012

Fox Business – Colombian Military Continues Search For Missing Oil Workers – 29 February 2012

Colombia Reports – 9 Kidnapped Oil Workers Liberated – 29 February 2012

Reuters – Eleven Colombian Oil Workers Kidnapped by Armed Group – 29 February 2011

Associated Press – Colombia’s FARC Announces Halt to Kidnapping – 27 February 2012

 

Judgment Scheduled for Ex-Liberia President Taylor

By Zach Waksman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

THE HAGUE, Netherlands – The Special Court for Sierra Leone has scheduled the rendering of judgment for former Liberian President Charles Taylor’s trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity for April 26 at 11 A.M.  Thursday’s statement came more than a year after his trial, which focused heavily on trading of “blood diamonds,” ended.  It will be the last major trial to be held by the United Nations-backed Court.

Taylor, who served as President of Liberia from 1997 to 2003, is the first former African head of state to go before an international tribunal.  Faces 11 charges, which include acts of slavery and the recruitment and use of child soldiers.  He has denied all charges, calling them the product of a conspiracy by “some powerful countries [that] were out to get him” as early as 2002.  If convicted, he could serve a life sentence.  The trial began in 2007.  To reach a decision, judges had to peruse more than 50,000 pages of testimony by witnesses and 1,520 exhibits in evidence.

Prosecutors attempted to say that his actions were part of a plan to take control of Sierra Leone from Liberia in order to exploit its vast resources of diamonds.  To do so, Taylor allegedly provided arms to the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), one of two revolutionary groups mentioned during the trial, in exchange for illegally mined diamonds, also known as “blood diamonds.”  In 1991, the RUF launched a civil war in Sierra Leone, which claimed more than 120,000 lives during its ten-years of violence.  The group was painted as a “surrogate army” for Taylor, who led an ultimately successful revolution in his home country in 1990.

The trial will mark more than the conclusion of business for the Special Court, which was founded by the government of Sierra Leone and the United Nations in 2002.  It will also signify that dictators acting with impunity will no longer considered acceptable.  This proceeding was “of importance to Africa and to this evolving concept of international justice,” according to Courtenay Griffiths, Taylor’s defense attorney.

But just because Griffiths agrees with the trial’s importance does not mean he supports the case itself.  He characterized Taylor as a target, at one point asking why former Libyan dictator Colonel Muammar Al-Gaddafi was not “on the dock.”  Gaddafi is dead, but the International Criminal Court has decided to investigate the late despot’s regime.  This means that the Taylor trial is almost a test run for the Gaddafi investigation.  The defense has also made claims that several prosecution witnesses were paid for their troubles, including one who received about $3,000 from prosecution funds.

Taylor himself remains imprisoned in The Hague, where his trial took place for security reasons.  The Special Court is based in Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital.  According to an aide who spoke to The New Dawn, a Liberian newspaper, on the condition of anonymity, the former warlord and statesman was mourning the death of his cousin, Vivien Cooke, whom he referred to as a brother.  He has converted to Judaism, and the aide characterized him as “more religious than ever.”

“Taylor told me that there is no sin bigger than the other-all sins are equal,” the aide said.

Whether that is true or not remains to be seen, but Taylor will learn his fate in approximately seven weeks.  Regardless of the verdict, both sides will have an opportunity to appeal.

For more information, please see:

BBC — Charles Taylor  Liberia War Crimes Verdict Set — 01 March 2012

Pretoria News — Taylor to Hear His Fate Soon — 01 March 2012

United Nations — UN-backed Court to Deliver Judgment in Charles Taylor Trial Next Month — 01 March 2012

New Dawn — Taylor Mourns in Prison — 29 February 2012

BBC — Charles Taylor: Godfather or Peacemaker — 11 March 2011

IDF Raids Palestinian TV Stations

By Carolyn Abdenour
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

RAMALLAH, Palestine – Before dawn on Wednesday, 29 February, about 30 Israeli Defense Force (“IDF”) troops seized transmission equipment, documents, and computers during raids at two private Palestinian TV stations.  Palestinian officials asserted the raids violated media freedom.  Palestinian Prime Minster Salam Fayyad stated the raids were “oppressive and monstrous” and violated “all international laws.”

Prime Minister Fayyad visits al-Watan TV after the IDF raided it Wednesday Morning. The computer screne on the right captures a soldier conducting the raid. (Photo Courtesy of The Times of Israel)

IDF raided the Ramallah-based Jerusalem Education TV, a station owned by the Palestinian Al-Quds University, and al-Watan TV, a suspected pirate TV station.  Israel’s Communications Ministry initiated the raids claiming the frequencies from the stations interfered with aircraft communications at Ben-Gurion International Airport and legal broadcasters throughout Israel.

Moreover, the Israeli ministry stated the broadcasting frequencies violated Israeli-Palestinian agreements.  IDF spokesperson further reported the raids occurred after the stations ignored several warnings from Israel’s Communication Ministry to stop broadcasting.  He also asserted the IDF legally confiscated the items.

After the raids occurred, the Palestinian Authority emphasized that it did not receive these warnings and that the stations did not violate agreements.

Director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al-Quds University, the operator of the TV station, Lucy Nusseibeh urged, “We have all our licenses through the Palestinian Ministry of Communications and are in constant touch with them.  I never heard anything about Israeli complaints or warnings.”

Ms. Nusseibeh reaffirmed the station is “an education television station, which puts on ‘Sesame Street’, antismoking programs and broadcasts to help integrate handicapped children into the community.”

During his visits to the raided TV stations, Mr. Fayyad said the raids undermined his government and called upon the international community to persuade Israel to cease these raids.  He added, “This is a clear aggression against what remains of the Palestinian Authority.”  Mr. Fayyad promised to provide both stations with replacement transmitters.

Al-Watan, owned by three non-governmental associations, frequently airs Palestinian protests in the West Bank against Israeli policies.  Mustafa Barhouti, legislator of the station’s part-owner Palestinian Medical Relief Society, said, “This is an act of repression of the freedom of the media in Palestine, and of repression of the popular resistance that we believe in.”

Al-Watan’s station director Moammar Orabi recalled an IDF officer told the employees to “say hello to Khader Adnan,” the Palestinian prisoner protesting his detention with a two-month hunger strike.  A worker at the raid stated the raiders “became very angry when they saw Khader Adnan’s photo hanging on our office wall.”

Mr. Fayyad added, “This piracy and raids on Palestinian media institutions are reminiscent of practices by the occupations forces in the beginning of the second intifada, when they stored and vandalized many Palestinian media institutions, including Palestine TV, Palestine Radio as well as Watan TV.”

For further information, please see:

Daily Times – Israel Raids Palestinian Television Stations – 1 Mar 2012

Arutz Sheva – IDF Raids Two Ramallah Pirate TV Stations – 29 Feb 2012

New York Times – Israel Troops Raid Two Palestinian TV Stations in the West Bank – 29 Feb 2012

The Times of Israel  – IDF Raids Ramallah TV Station – 29 Feb 2012

The Times of Israel – IDF Shuts Down Pirate TV Stations In Ramallah – 29 Feb 2012