President Obama Announces New Sanctions on Syria; Focuses on Preventing Mass Atrocities

President Obama Announces New Sanctions on Syria; Focuses on Preventing Mass Atrocities

By Brittney Hodnik
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, United States – On Monday, President Obama gave a speech at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to present new tools to preventing and responding to mass atrocities.  He addressed broad and specific topics alike: Joseph Kony, the Assad regime in Syria, and the Qadhafi regime in Egypt.

President Obama spoke out against mass atrocities today, imposing harsher sanctions against Syria and its allies. (Image Courtesy of Reuters)

President Obama insisted in his speech, “Preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States of America,” reported CBS News.  He reiterated that military force is not a necessary intervention.  Rather, he stressed the use of other tools: “Diplomatic and political and economic and financial and intelligence and law enforcement and our moral suasion.”

According to Voice of America News, President Obama set up the Atrocities Prevention Board last year, which was to meet for the first time Monday at the White House.

Furthermore, President Obama announced new, stricter sanctions against Syria and Iran and any other groups or nations that are currently aiding Syria.  He announced a new asset freezes and visa restrictions system against Syrian and Iranian agencies, according to Reuters.

He also stressed that the United States is committed to keeping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.  This was especially an issue for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.  Reuters reports, “When faced with a regime that threatens global security and denies the Holocaust and threatens to destroy Israel, the United States will do everything in our power to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.”

Besides the current issues in Syria and the Middle East, President Obama promised to extend military presence in Central Africa to aid Uganda and its neighbors to pursue the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) there.

The LRA is led by the infamous Joseph Kony, who recently gained recognition thanks to a viral video.  CBS News reports that President Obama ensures that the U.S. will not stop until this “madman” is brought to justice.

He continued, “It’s part of our regional strategy to end the scourge that is the LRA and help realize a future where no African child is stolen from their family and no girl is raped and no boy is turned into a child soldier.”

Because the speech took place at the Holocaust Museum, comparisons were made between today’s issues and the “greatest tragedy in history.”  Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said, “The greatest tragedy in history could have been prevented had the civilized world spoken up, taken measures,” reported Voice of America News.

According to a White House Press Release, the Obama Administration has made the prevention of atrocities a key focus of this Administration’s foreign policy.  The U.S. needs to prioritize this effort and rely now on the Atrocities Prevention Board.  “The APB will help the U.S. government identify and address atrocity threats… we will make our military and civilian workforce better equipped to prevent and respond to atrocities . . . [and] we will hold accountable perpetrators of mass atrocities and genocide and support others who do the same.”

The press release lays out more strategies and tools that the U.S. will use to both prevent and respond to mass atrocities throughout the world.

For more information, please visit:

CBS News — Obama Tackles Mass Atrocities; Spotlights Syria, Kony — 23 Apr. 2012

Reuters — Obama Seeks to Stop Syria, Iran Tech Assault on Activists — 23 Apr. 2012

Voice of America News — Obama Unveils Sanctions , Touts Anti-Atrocity Mesasures — 23 Apr. 2012

White House Press Release — Fact Sheet: A Comprehensive Strategy and New Tools to Prevent and Respond  to Atrocities — 23 Apr. 2012

ICRC Worker Kidnapped in Yemen Amidst Violence

By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

SANAA, Yemen–While traveling from a northern part of Yemen to the Red Sea port city of Hudaida, a French official working for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has reportedly been kidnapped by armed men. The identity of the official was not disclosed.

A map of Yemen. (Photo Courtesy of BBC)

It is not yet clear who is responsible for the kidnapping, although it is not uncommon for Westerners to fall victim to such actions. Last week, Al-Qaeda announced that it was holding Saudi diplomat Abdullah al-Khalidi, a deputy counsel in Aden, who was abducted outside his home in the southern port city on 28 March 2012.

A Swiss woman working as a teacher was also kidnapped in Hudaida in March. The French news agency AFP reported that she is being held by Al-Qaeda after being taken to the far eastern province of Shabwa.

Dibeh Fakhr, an ICRC spokeswoman in Sanaa, stated that the kidnapped man works in the northern city of Sadaa and that the kidnapping occurred late on Saturday 21 April 2012, approximately 30 km from Hudaida.

“He was with two Yemeni drivers who the kidnappers released shortly afterwards. Until now, we have no contact with the kidnappers or our employee.”

The kidnapping comes amid a fresh round of fighting between the military and the Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda in the southern city of Zinjibar. The fighting cost 19 individuals their lives and nearly 30 others were injured during clashes between the group and government forces, who have taken control of the eastern part of the city.

The battle represents repeated attempts by the Yemeni government to regain parts of the country that it has lost to Al-Qaeda fighters who took advantage of last year’s violent uprising against the former ruler, Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Zinjibar is the capital of the Abyan province and holds particular military significance for the government’s ability to drive Al-Qaeda out of the southern Yemeni territories. The coastal city also lies near several vital shipping lanes and millions of barrels of oil pass through them every single day.

According to medical officials, the fighters who had lost their lives were buried near the town of Jaar and turned a kindergarten there into a field hospital in order to treat the wounded. The school also now functions as a command center for the fighters, especially considering that the violence has not allowed the children an opportunity to attend and learn.

On Friday 20 April 2012, the Yemeni defense ministry reported that in the town of Lawdar, another town in the Abyan province, at least 250 Al-Qaeda fighters and 37 government soldiers had been killed in two weeks of extended fighting. The ministry said that it was sending more troops to the area to attempt to cut down on the fighting. With all of the violence occurring in the country, one can only hope that the kidnapped ICRC worker is not forgotten.



For more information, please see: 

Al-Jazeera – Red Cross Official Kidnapped in Yemen – 22 April 2012

CNN – French ICRC Official Kidnapped in Yemen – 22 April 2012

Reuters – International Committee of Red Cross Aide Abducted in Yemen – 22 April 2012

BBC – French Red Cross Official Kidnapped in Yemen – 21 April 2012


Argentine Soldiers From Falklands War Open Case Against Military Commanders for Torture and Abuse

by Emilee Gaebler
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – As the 30 year anniversary of the Falklands war passes by, new tensions are brewing in the island community.  Argentina’s President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is still asserting an Argentine claim over the archipelago, which goes against the current British governance that exists.

Ex-soldier Rubén Gleriano recounts being staked to the ground for ten hours. (Photo Courtesy of MercoPress)

The 74-day war, for control of the Falklands, took place between Britain and Argentina from April to June of 1982.  The war was brief but very violent; with 649 Argentinian soldiers being killed and 225 British soldiers.

A recent class action lawsuit was started by conscripted Argentine soldiers who fought in the Malvinas (what the Argentines refer to the Falklands as).  Led by Nobel Peace Prize winner, Adolfo Perez Esquivel, the suit claims that human rights violations were committed by the Argentinian military commanders.  Over 100 ex-soldiers are now part of the suit.

During the first week in April, the case made an Amicus Curiae presentation before the Argentine Supreme Court at the Tribunals Palace in Buenos Aires.  Criminal Chamber Prosecutor, Javier de Luca asked that the court rule on whether the claims of torture and other abuses practiced on conscripted soldiers could be called war crimes.

The claims include stories of beatings, lack of food, psychological punishments and even being staked to the ground.  Rubén Gleriano, one of the conscripted soldiers who is part of the suit, recalls that on May 27, 1982, he was caught stealing food.  Gleriano says that he stole because he was starving.  The only food he had received in the past two days was a chocolate bar on May 25, as a celebration of Argentina’s national day.

The punishment inflicted on Gleriano for this was staking him to the ground for a period of ten hours, from 4pm until 2am the next morning.  The night was freezing cold and Gleriano almost died from hypothermia that night.  He did not regain consciousness until 2 days after his fellow soldiers were able to sneak out and take him down from the stake.

Similar stories are repeated by the other conscripted soldiers who were forced to fight for Argentina.  Rations were rarely provided, often soldiers were given a days worth of food and told they had to make it last for a week.  Suitable clothing to protect against the cold was never provided and half of the weapons given to soldiers were not functioning.

Following the war, studies show that roughly 400 Argentine veterans have committed suicide.  Soldiers who were released from their conscription were forced to sign a silence agreement that banned them from recounting the stories they had of the war, even to their own families.  It is only recently that a true picture of the Falklands/Malvinas war has emerged.  Much of this is attributed to the fact that the war was a point of embarrassment, something that Argentina wanted to cover up.  Additionally, the acts were done during a brutal military dictatorship, something which the current government wants to distance itself from.

Despite this, the court ruled that the crimes had prescribed.  Those involved in the case will still pursue their claims.  A report that was commissioned shortly after the end of the war, the “Rattenbach Report,” was recently given to President Fernandez.  The report was never released as it was considered to be “too crude and damning towards the commanding officers.”  The ex-soldiers, abused in the war, hope that in the end justice will prevail.


For more information, please see;

MercoPress – Malvinas Veterans Revisit Scenes of War Where They Were Tortured by Their Officers – 20 April 2012

The Guardian – Falklands War: 30th Anniversary  a “Day for Reflection” – 2 April 2012

Space War – Argentine Falklands Vet Sue for Abuse, Torture – 1 April 2012

Denver Post – 30 Years After Falklands War Visible Scars Remain – 31 March 2012

MercoPress – Legal Actions Against Argentine Officers who Tortured Conscripts During Malvinas War – 26 March 2012

Solitary Confinement for 40 Years? Amnesty International Says It Is Inhumane

By Brittney Hodnik
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, United States – On the 40th anniversary of their confinement, Amnesty International turned over a petition signed by 65,000 people to Governor Jindal (Louisiana) to release two men from solitary confinement.  The two men have sat in isolation – 23 hours a day – for the last forty years.  Now, many believe the extreme form of imprisonment is cruel, unusual and unnecessary.

Two of the three men remain in solitary confinement after 40 years, even after questionable convictions. (Image courtesy of Amnesty International)

Albert Woodfox, 65 and Herman Wallace, 70 were placed in isolation at the Louisiana State Penitentiary known as Angola Prison on April 17, 1972, according to Amnesty International.  The two men were convicted of murdering a prison guard.  However, the two have constantly denied the accusations.  Additionally, Democracy Now reports that Woodfox, Wallace and their supporters believe the two men were framed for their political activism and involvement with the Black Panther party.

What is more, there is no physical evidence linking the men to the murder, according to Amnesty International.  Additionally, any and all potentially exculpatory DNA evidence has been lost.

Originally, a third man named Robert King was also convicted for the murder.  His conviction was overturned in 2001.  King told The Guardian that he spent 29 years in solitary confinement and he knows what it did to him.  He said, “it shrunk the brain, it shrunk the individual . . . you become acclimatized to small distances.”  He cannot bear the thought that his former fellow inmates have been in there an additional decade.

Extended stays in solitary confinement seriously impair both mental and physical health.  Amnesty International insists that this form of long-term solitary incarceration is cruel and inhumane and against both the U.S. Constitution and international law.

Amnesty insists that these men are no longer a legitimate threat to the prison community.  At their respective ages – and after the physical and mental degrade they have experienced – there are no longer rational reasons for this incarceration.  Everette Harvey Thompson, a regional director for Amnesty International USA said, “There is no legitimate penal purpose for keeping these men in solitary.  Louisiana authorities must end this inhumanity.

The cells are 2 meters by 3 meters and the men spend 23 hours there a day.  There is a mattress, toilet, sheets, and a small bench on the wall, with no windows.  The men get a short opportunity to “exercise” (in a concrete outdoor area) and time to shower.  Their social interaction is severely limited to a few visits from family members and a few phone calls.  They are also limited on the books they read, the news they read, and the education they can receive.

The men’s supporters and Amnesty International will continue to fight to get the “Angola 3” out of solitary confinement.

For more information, please visit:

Amnesty International — U.S. Authorities Urged to End Two Men’s 40-year-long Solitary Imprisonment — 17 Apr. 2012

Democracy Now — 40 Years in Solitary Confinement: Two Members of Angola 3 Remain in Isolation in Louisiana Prison — 17 Apr. 2012 (includes transcript of conversation as well)

The Guardian — Forty Years in Solitary: Two Men Mark Somber Anniversary in Louisiana Prison — 16 Apr. 2012


Prosecuting the Dead: Part II