Rights Group Calls on Pakistan to End Forced Disappearances

Rights Group Calls on Pakistan to End Forced Disappearances

By: Jessica Ties
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Following the failure of authorities to present two missing individuals to the Supreme Court, Amnesty International is calling on Pakistan to identify hundreds of people who are believed to have “disappeared” at the hands of Pakistani agencies.

Pakistan has been called upon to end the occurrence of enforced disappearances (Photo Courtesy of Amnesty International).

A person is said to have “disappeared” when they are detained by government officials who then deny knowledge of their whereabouts.

Amnesty International noted the case of Mazar ul Haq who disappeared in 2007 after being accused of attacking Army Headquarters run by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency.

Although ul Haq and the ten other men arrested with him were cleared by the Anti-Terrorism Court, they went missing again after being kidnapped from a high security jail.

Since being kidnapped in May 2010, four of the eleven men have died in custody. While Pakistan’s intelligence agencies maintain that the men died naturally, the attorney of one of the deceased has stated that his client was tortured to death.

Mazar ul Haq appeared in court in February 2012, four years after disappearing, surprising his family who did not whether he was alive or dead during the time he was missing.

Ul Haq and six other men were presented to the Supreme Court looking severely emaciated and some had urine bags protruding from their pants.

The allegations of abuse in combination with increased public pressures has prompted the Pakistani Supreme Court to not only order intelligence agencies to explain the poor conditions that the remaining seven men arrested are being kept in but to also order the creation  of the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances.

Despite the creation of this commission in 2010, disappearances continue to be reported.

Although the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has been attempting to identify the number of those kept in secret detention for years, they have reported that verifying the actual number has been nearly impossible.

It is estimated, however, that 1,000 people have disappeared at the hands of intelligence agencies since 2001. Of the estimated 1,000, approximately five hundred are still missing and the dead bodies of dissidents are regularly found.

Enforced disappearances were rare in Pakistan before September 11, 2001. Following the attacks on the United States, authorities began using the disappearances against activists advocating for ethnic rights and justified such action as necessary for the “war on terror” led by the United States.


For more information, please see:

Amnesty International – Pakistan Must Account for Missing Victims of Enforced Disappearances – 16 April 2012

Pakistan Daily Times – No Forced Disappearance Should Escape Attention: HRCP – 3 April 2012

The Guardian –Pakistan’s Spy Agency ISI Faces Court Over Disappearances – 9 February 2012

Amnesty International – Denying the Undeniable: Enforced Disappearances in Pakistan – 22 July 2008

Tensions Soar Between Sudan and South Sudan

By Tamara Alfred
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

On Thursday, the Sudanese president vowed to “never give up” a disputed oil-rich region that has led to escalated tensions between Sudan and South Sudan and sparked fears of a return to war.

The region where current clashes are escalating. (Photo Courtesy of the AFP.)

Clashes between the two nations soared in the past week after South Sudan declared the disputed Heglig region to be under its control.  Sudan also claims ownership of the region and has lodged complaints with the United Nations (UN) and the African Union (AU), urging both groups to pressure South Sudan to withdraw its troops from the territory.

“We will never give up an inch of our land,” Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir said during a rally broadcast on state media.  “And we have said it before, whoever extends his hand toward Sudan, we will cut it off.”

President al-Bashir’s defiant speech continued: “We will punish them…and it will be the last lesson for them.  If they do not understand, we will make them get it by force.  We extended our hand before for peace and unity.  But they deceived us.  Heglig is the start.”

The international community has urged the two countries to return to the negotiating table amid the intensified tensions.  South Sudan split from Sudan in July 2011 under the terms of a 2005 peace agreement that ended decades of civil war.

“The last thing the people of these two countries need is another war – a war that could claim countless lives, destroy hope and ruin the prospects of peace and stability and prosperity of all Sudanese people,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said.

The UN Security Council issued a statement demanding “a complete, immediate and unconditional end to all fighting and a withdrawal of the SPLA [Sudan People’s Liberation Army of South Sudan] from Heglig and an end to aerial bombardments.

The United States (US) has also called for both sides to stop the hostilities.  “We condemn South Sudan’s military involvement in the attack on and seizure of Heglig, an act which goes beyond self-defense and has increased tensions between Sudan and South Sudan to dangerous levels,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.  “We also condemn the continued aerial bombardment in South Sudan by the Sudanese Armed Forces.”

Five people were killed and five others were wounded this past weekend after an airplane dropped bombs on a town in South Sudan.  Col. Philip Aguer, a spokesman for the SPLA, said that the aerial strike hit a market area in Rubkona in the early afternoon on Saturday.  Two other counties were reportedly also attacked that day.

“We will observe closely the behavior and attitude of the reaction of the government of the South to this call and if they don’t heed it, we will reserve our right to exercise the right of self-defense and we will chase them out,” Sudan’s Ambassador to the UN Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman said.

While South Sudan did not immediately respond, Maj. Gen. Mangar Buong, a deputy commander for the South Sudanese military vowed to hold their position.

Later, South Sudan’s Ambassador to the UN Agnes Oswaha blamed the Sudanese government for attacks of their forces at the border, provoking the South Sudanese actions at Heglig.

“South Sudan had no choice.  It had to defend itself to deter attacks on South Sudanese territory,” Oswaha said.  “South Sudan is prepared to withdraw troops as long as a mechanism is put in place that the area cannot be used to launch further attacks.”

Tensions have continued to run high since the separation last year.  Unresolved issues pertaining to the divorce include status of citizens, how much the landlocked South should pay to transport its oil through Sudan, and the division of national debt, among others, including the fate of disputed border areas.

Addressing a rally in Khartoum on Wednesday, al-Bashir accused South Sudan’s ruling party, the SPLM, of seeking to execute “the agendas of world powers to oust the government in Khartoum” before threatening to do it the other way himself.

“Either we end up occupying Juba [the capital of South Sudan] or you end up occupying Khartoum, but the boundaries of the old Sudan can no longer fit us together.  Only one of us has to remain standing,” Bashir said.

He further pledged to liberate South Sudan’s people from the SPLM, which he described as an insect that must be crushed.

“We have promised the South’s people to free them from the SPLM rule immediately and we bear a responsibility before the South’s citizens after we contributed to establishing the SPLM rule in the South,” he said.

Meanwhile, South Sudan government spokesman Barnaba Marial Benjamin said that al-Bashir’s words were a warning that he would like to carry out the “genocide” in South Sudan as he is doing in the Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile regions of Sudan.

The violence has led to increase of rights groups warning of deteriorating humanitarian conditions.

The International Crisis Group (ICG) said in a new analysis that the countries are “teetering on the brink of all-out war from which neither would benefit.”

“The deteriorating situation right now is making the overall humanitarian issues very challenging,” said Alex Neve, secretary-general of Amnesty International Canada.  Reportedly, supply lines to refugee camps have been cut off, and a failure to get key supplies before the rainy season hits will lead to an even greater humanitarian crisis.

“Diplomatic pressure to cease hostilities and return to negotiations must be exerted by both government by the region and the United Nations Security Council, as well as such partners as the US, China and key Gulf states,” said the ICG.

For more information, please see:

Associated Press – Arab League calls emergency meeting on Sudan violence – 19 April 2012

CNN – Sudan president vows to ‘punish’ South Sudan – 19 April 2012

CNN – Official: 5 killed, 5 wounded in aerial attack in South Sudan – 18 April 2012

Sudan Tribune – Bashir Vows to ‘Free’ South Sudan’s People From SPLM – 18 April 2012

Schumer, Gillibrand Announce Plans to Introduce Senate Legislation to Name Buffalo Courthouse After Robert H. Jackson of Jamestown – Chief Prosecutor in Nuremberg Trials

Press Release courtesy of Senators Schumer & Gillibrand
Originally Sent April 19, 2012

Today, U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand announced the plan to name the Buffalo Federal Courthouse after Robert H. Jackson, the distinguished Supreme Court Justice that was raised in Jamestown and is famous for his role as chief prosecutor in the international Nuremberg Trials. Ahead of the official May 3rddedication ceremony, Schumer and Gillibrand will introduce Senate legislation for the Courthouse to be named after Robert Jackson, who began his legal career in a Jamestown firm and went on to serve as the Solicitor General, Attorney General, and U.S. Supreme Court Justice, in addition to his role at Nuremberg. Schumer and Gillibrand plan to introduce their legislation as a companion bill to one introduced by Congressman Higgins in the House of Representatives. Once the bill clears the Senate and the House, it must be signed by the President before the building name is officially approved.

“Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson was one of the truly great legal professionals Western New York and Chautauqua County gave America, and it is appropriate and fitting that the Buffalo Federal Courthouse bear his name,” said Schumer. “This courthouse symbolizes the rule of law in Western New York, and as the region’s only Supreme Court Justice, who had his humble beginnings in Jamestown and famously went on to be chief prosecutor in the Nuremberg trials, naming the courthouse for him is a perfect fit. The Buffalo courthouse stands as a new pillar of the Buffalo community, serving justice throughout Western New York, and it should honor all that he has accomplished through his long career in public service.”

“Naming downtown Buffalo’s U.S. courthouse in the honor of Justice Robert H. Jackson is the right choice, and the right way to tribute his tremendous public service to our community and our entire country,” said Senator Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “From serving on America’s highest court, to his role as the architect of the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg, Justice Jackson always served with integrity, and was a true champion for human rights. This is the perfect opportunity for Western New York to celebrate and honor his legacy.”

Schumer and Gillibrand highlighted Justice Jackson’s impressive legal career, which got its start in Western New York. Robert Jackson was raised in Frewsburg and then spent the majority of his young adulthood in Jamestown, after spending a post-graduate year at Jamestown High School. Jackson went on to Albany Law School, and then returned to join a law practice in Jamestown. Jackson went on to become a leading lawyer in New York State, and was elected to the American Law Institute in 1930, one role among others that elevated his national reputation.

In 1934, Jackson was appointed to a federal judgeship by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, which opened the door to a host of federal roles, including his work as the U.S. Solicitor General, U.S. Attorney General, and finally his extensive work as a Supreme Court Justice. In 1945, President Truman appointed Jackson to serve as the Chief Prosecutor in the international Nuremberg Trials, for which he took a leave from the Supreme Court. Jackson is famous for the passion, energy, intellect and great skill that he brought to these trials. Schumer and Gillibrand highlighted his long career of public service in the legal field, and stated that Jackson is the perfect candidate for the naming of the Buffalo courthouse.

In November of last year, Schumer toured the new federal courthouse in Buffalo before its official opening. Schumer has championed the project for nearly a decade, helping to secure Congress’ support for the project. After successfully gaining Congress’ support, Schumer helped to deliver $83 million in federal funding for the project, which began in 2007. Schumer was also instrumental in pushing the Office of Management and Budget to release nearly $10 million to the General Services Administration to help move site selection and the design process forward. Since the groundbreaking, Schumer has fought to keep costs down and ensure that the costs of construction mistakes were not passed along to taxpayers.

For further information, please see:

Press Release – 19 April 2012 – http://schumer.senate.gov/Newsroom/record.cfm?id=336575

South Africa Rape Video Goes Viral

By Tamara Alfred
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

A cell phone video allegedly showing a group of seven Soweto youths filming themselves raping a 17-year-old girl, who is said to have the mental age of a five-year-old, went viral on Twitter in South Africa.

Women place white flowers outside parliament during a demonstration on the International Day for the Prevention of Violence Against Women in South Africa. (Photo Courtesy of Getty Images.)

Eight suspects, between 14 and 20 years of age, were arrested Tuesday morning and charged with kidnapping and rape, according to police spokesperson Warrant Officer Kay Makhubela.

“The video is very bad.  The men can be clearly identified as they take turns raping and filming her,” Makhubela told CNN.

“The girl can be heard pleading with the boys to stop,” journalist Mandy Weiner reported.  “They crudely jest and crassly spur one another on.”

The Daily Sun, a local tabloid, reports that it was the one to alert the police after a concerned mother who caught her daughter watching the video handed it over to the paper.

“The mother of a teenage girl saw the horrifying pictures and confiscated her daughter’s phone.  A work colleague of the woman said they recognized some of the boys and advised her to take the video to Daily Sun,” the newspaper reporter.  Interestingly, the colleague did not advise the woman to go the police directly.

The paper reports that the video lasts just over 10 minutes and the girl can be heard shouting “you are forcing me” repeatedly.

The Sun was also the one to inform the victim’s mother.  The woman reportedly said that her daughter had been a victim of rape since age 12.

“People took advantage of her illness and because my family is poor,” the Sun quoted her as saying.

The girl’s mother reported her missing on March 21.  Media reports suggest the police initially failed to open a missing persons case, but that the girl has since now been found.  Police suspect the girl was kidnapped and turned into a sex slave.

A local radio station got hold of the video and has been receiving requests to post it.  Eyewitness News editor Katy Katopodis stated that the station would never do that.

“To those asking for the #rapevideo link that #EWN reported on today.  Stop!  Not happening!  We’d never put it on our site.  Illegal & wrong,” Katopodis posted on Twitter.

According to the Film and Publication Board CEO Yoliswa Makhasi, the Films and Publications Act states that minors may not be used or featured in pornographic content and the creation, possession and distribution of child pornography is illegal.  Authorities have warned anyone who has received a copy of the video to delete it or risk being charged under these laws.

A popular radio talk show host broke down Wednesday morning as she encouraged listeners to come up with solutions to the problem of rape in the country.  According to the latest police statistics more than 60,000 cases of sexual assault were reported in the year ending March 2011, down from 70,000 in 2008.  NGOs estimate a woman is raped every 26 seconds in the country.  Women’s rights activist Lisa Vetten says that in the province where Johannesburg is located, one in every five rapes is a gang rape.

“Rape is a young man’s crime.  It’s a bit of a performance for them, showing off to each other how macho they are,” said Vetten.  “We need to teach our young men that you can be masculine in ways that do not involve violence and degrading women.”

Experts say that the South African government is well aware that the problem needs urgent attention.  “We are not lacking in terms of legal instruments to deal with this kind of thing,” said Nomboniso Gasa, an expert on gender and culture.  “What we lack are ways of making these instruments effective.”

The country has created a ministry of women and children headed by Lulu Xingwana precisely to deal with violence against women and other related matters.  Xingwana says that this case will be a high priority.  “Distributing child porn is illegal in this country so the police must confiscate this video,” said Xingwana in a radio interview.  Furthermore, “[i]n addition to the painful ordeal of rape the young woman was forced to endure, she is now subjected to a second assault on her dignity (the video),” Xingwana added.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Outrage in South Africa over internet rape video – 18 April 2012

CNN – Shocking rape video goes viral in South Africa – 18 April 2012

South African Press Association – South Africa: Board Warns About Rape Video – 18 April 2012

Israel Prevents Pro-Palestinian Activists From Boarding Flights

By Carolyn Abdenour
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

JERUSALEM, Israel – On Sunday, 15 April, Israeli police denied 43 pro-Palestinian activists entry into Israel at Ben-Gurion Airport.  The authorities sent 12 activists to their country of origin and detained 31 activists to the Givon detention center.  Moreover, the police held 9 people protesting at the airport for investigation.

Israeli police escort an activist through Ben-Gurion Airport. (Photo Courtesy of Haartez)

However, two female activists with French and Italian citizenship gained access to the country and arrived in Bethlehem on Sunday.  The 23-year-old French activist reported she attempted to board a flight to Israel from the Lyon airport in France as part of a 50 person group.  The French police prevented half of the activists from boarding the flight while she expects the Israeli authorities to deport the other half.

She commented that the security forces in France and Israel “treated us like criminals or terrorists, despite the fact that we made it clear that we came for peaceful purposes.”  She added, “It was very frustrating and surprising that French authorities cooperated with Israel’s claims and propaganda.”

Carriers in Manchester and Brussels also prevented passengers from flying.  Manchester passenger Mick Napier said, “We were demonstrating over our right to travel but we also had the extra provocation of Jet2 refusing to reimburse us for our flights.”  Jet2 recently agreed to reimburse the passengers.

These activists intended to travel to Israel to participate in the “Welcome to Palestine 2012” weeklong conference.  The protest organizers reported airlines notified 60 percent of the expected 1,500 activists scheduled to arrive in Israel on Sunday that their flights were cancelled.  After Israel release this list, it  warned the airlines they must take responsibility for passenger’s immediate return if a banned person arrived in the country.

A similar “fly-in” protest took place in July 2011 where the Israeli authorities detained 120 of the 300 international activists that arrived in Israel.  The authorities denied entry to 69 people as well.

The airlines that prevented the activists from boarding flights over the weekend included Lufthansa, Jet2, Air France, and EasyJet.  EasyJet announced it would not allow passengers on Israel’s no-entry list to board.  In a letter to the international airlines, Israel’s Internal Ministry wrote, “due to statements of pro-Palestinian radicals to arrive on commercial flights from abroad to disrupt the order and confront security forces at friction points, it was decided to deny their entry.”

If an activist arrives in Israel, the authorities will give them a letter stating the activists are disregarding the humanitarian crisis in Syria, the militants firing rockets into Israel from the Gaza Strip, and Iran’s support of terror.  The letter reads, “We therefore suggest you first solve the real problems of the region, and then come back and share with us your experience…Have a nice flight.”

For further information, please see:

BBC – Pro-Palestinian Activists Refused Israel Flight – 15 Apr 2012

Haaretz – Pro-Palestinian ‘Fly-In’ Activist: Israel and Europe Treated Us Like Terrorists – 15 Apr 2012

Reuters – Update 4 – Israel Moves To Thwart Pro-Palestinian “Fly-In” – 15 Apr 2012

The Boston Globe – Airlines Cancel Activists’ Flights To Israel – 14 Apr 2012