Syrian Network for Human Rights: Syrian People’s Casualties Exceeds 15,000

The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) and Damascus Centre for Human Rights Studies (DCHRS) observe rigorous documentation standards to verify each piece of information by seeking testimonies from two people, who do not know one another, before it is included in the casualties’ record.

Syrian citizens killed by the Syrian regime; from the start of the revolution on 18 March 2011 until 16 June 2012

  • Confirmed death toll (documented by name): 15,163
  • Children: 1,114
  • Women: 957
  • Killed under torture: 579

Victims killed by the Syrian regime, throughout the duration of the suspended UN observers’ mission, between 12 of April 2012 and 16 June 2012

  • Total figure of victims documented by name: 3,087
  • Children: 277
  • Women: 193
  • Under torture: 137

 

Statistics and information provided by Syrian Network for Human Rights and Damascus Center for Human Rights  Studies.  For further information, please see:

Syrian Network for Human Rights – Confirmed Death Toll Report – 19 June 2012

Syrian Network for Human Rights – UN Observers’ Death Toll Report – 19 June 2012

US Religious Groups Call on the U.S. Congress to Impose Magnitsky Sanctions

Press Release
Hermitage Capital

18 June 2012 – A number of US religious organizations from different denominations have called on the U.S. Congress to pass the Magnitsky Act. The leaders of nine US religious organisations have written to members of Congress urging the swift passage of the Magnitsky Act in its current form. In their letter, they point out that the Magnitsky Act gives the United States an important and effective policy tool to address serious human rights abuses around the world.

“It is one thing to talk about the human rights and religious freedoms and quite another to actually do something about it. Because of the well thought out terms of this legislation, we believe that this bill will become an effective lever that the United States will have in dealing with this pernicious and growing problem of human rights abuses around the world,” said the religious groups in their joint letter.

“Magnitsky’s sacrifice will hopefully lead to an important and new method for fighting human rights abuses which could have a dramatic effect everywhere,” said the letter.

The letter is signed by religious groups of various faiths and denominations, including the Action for Post-Soviet Jewry, the Union of Councils for Jews in the former Soviet Union, American Islamic Congress, Hindu American Foundation, International Institute for Religious Freedom, Church of Scientology, United Macedonian Diaspora, Partners for a Progressive Israel, and Human Rights Law Foundation, as well as prominent figures in the field of religious freedom.

“As representatives of a wide number of religions and faiths across the United States, we do everything possible to make sure that all people can practice their faith around the world without restriction or interference. For this reason, we strongly support the passage of the ‘Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act’,” says the letter.

Under the Magnitsky Act currently in front of the U.S. Congress, visa bans and asset freezes will be imposed on those involved in the torture of 37-year old whistle-blowing lawyer and the corruption he had uncovered in Russia, as well on those who kill, torture and otherwise repress the defenders of freedoms of religion, expression, association and assembly and of the right to a fair trial and democratic elections.

“Coming to America is a privilege and not a right, and when foreign officials are involved in torture, murder, restrictions of religious freedom or other human rights abuses, they should have that privilege taken away. We believe that this law would not only create an effective punishment for people who have violated human rights, but also a powerful deterrent for people not to do these things in the future,” says the religious freedom activists.

“As discussions on the Magnitsky bill progress in the U.S. Congress, we are seeing more and more outpouring of support for this legislation inspired by the courage and dignity of a young Russian man who gave his life for his belief in truth and justice,” said a Hermitage Capital representative.

 

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/

Puerto Rico Police Accused of Human Rights Violations, Police Brutality

By Stuart Smith
Impunity Watch, North America

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – The American Civil Liberties Union, in a June 2012 report, lambasted the Puerto Rico Police Department, the second-largest municipal police force in the United States, asserting that “the police force is plagued by a culture of violence and corruption.”

Puerto Rico Policia
Puerto Rican police clash with civilians. (Photo Courtesy of the Associated Press)

“These abuses do not represent isolated incidents or aberrant behavior by a few rogue officers. Such police brutality is pervasive and systematic, island-wide and ongoing,” the report stated. According to CNN and Fox News, the ACLU report alleged routine use of excessive force, failure by the PRPD to crack down on sexual assaults and violations of civil and human rights, particularly against low-income people, Puerto Ricans of African descent and Dominican immigrants.

Additionally, the Huffington Post reported that, from 2004 to 2010, nearly 27,400 complaints against police officers alleging misconduct were filed by civilian, causing the department to recommend the expulsion of 884 officers. And according to department statistics, 1,768 of those complaints alleged excessive or unjustified use of force.

Ruth Jimenez was among those who filed a complaint against the PRPD. When her son Jorge Polaco Jimenez was shot eight times by police officers, in October 2007, while unarmed, Ruth Jimenez filed a complaint with the PRPD, reported the Washington Post. Police maintain they acted in self-defense.

Yet, despite filing numerous complaints, she only recently obtained a received a copy of her son’s autopsy. “I have had zero answers. Zero,” she said in a phone interview. “I want the truth.”

In response to ACLU’s report, Fox News reported that Hector Pesquara, PRPD’s superintendent, in a radio interview, said that the report is not an accurate reflection of reality, proclaiming it to be incorrect and irresponsible.

However, reports of violence and corruption within the ranks of the PRPD are not new. The ACLU’s report comes nine months after a DOJ report describing similar abuses on the island and stating that “the path toward lasting reform will require nothing less than federal judicial intervention.”

Similarly, the ACLU report called on the PRPD to implement a series of reforms, including: developing and implementing policies on the use of force, creating comprehensive procedures for investigating allegations of police abuse and other civilian complaints, and taking measures to address the problems with policing of domestic and sexual violence.

The ACLU’s report, affirming the recommendation of the DOJ, also recommended that the Department of Justice, to ensure the full implementation of these reforms, take control of the PRPD.

Jennifer Turner, the ACLU human rights researcher who authored the report, explained, “there’s clearly no will by the police force there to change its ways,” reported Fox News. “There’s also no leadership in Puerto Rico that’s interested in effective and real reform. That’s why it’s so necessary for the Justice Department to act.”

For further information, please see:

Washington Post – ACLU accuses Puerto Rico police of excessive force and other abuses, urges US to take control – 19 June 2012

CNN – ACLU report blasts Puerto Rico Police Department – 19 June 2012

Fox News Latino – Puerto Rico Police Brutality Against Residents Remains Persistent, ACLU Says – 19 June 2012

Huffington Post – Puerto Rico Police Department Faces Human Rights Crisis Of ‘Epic Proportions’, According To ACLU – 19 June 2012

ACLU – Island of Impunity: Puerto Rico’s Outlaw Police Force Executive Summary – June 2012

Department of Justice – Investigation of the Puerto Rico Police Department Executive Summary – 5 September 2011

Bangladesh Refuses Entry to Myanmar Refugees

By Jenna Furman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

DHAKA, Bangladesh—Despite pleas from the United Nations and countries such as the United States, the Bangladesh Government has refused to grant assylum to recent Rohingya Muslim refugees escaping sectarian violence in Myanmar.

Rohingya Muslims fleeing sectarian violence in Myanmar. (Photo Courtesy of LA Times)

“It is not in our interest that new refugees come from Myanmar,” Dipu Moni, the Bangladeshi Foreign Minister, stated at the capital, Dhaka, on Tuesday.

Border guards turned back an estimated 1,500 Rohingya refugees over the weekend after further violence broke out between the minority Rohingya Muslims and the majority Rakhine Buddhists.

Dipu Moni also cited a strain on resources as a reason for turning back boats traveling across the Naf river to the Bangladeshi border. Bangladesh already houses around 30,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees in two camps in Cox’s Bazaar.

Human Rights Watch refugee program director Bill Frelick stated,“Bangladesh has an obligation under international law to keep its border open to people fleeing threats to their lives.”

The UN refugee agency reported that boats transporting women, children and some wounded have been turned back even within reach  of locals trying  to give assistance to the refugees. The agency indicated that the refugees are in need of food and medical care.

However, Bangladesh emphasized that the Myanmar and Bangladeshi governments are trying to “to ensure that developments in the Rakhine state do not have any trans-boundary spillover.”

Still, thousands of people have been displaced as a result of the fighting thought to have been sparked last month by the rape and murder of a Rakhine Buddhist woman followed by an attack on a bus carrying Rohingya Muslims, which left 10 people dead. Twenty-nine people are estimated to have died and many homes have been burnt to the ground in the western Rakhine region.

Myanmar President Thein Sein declared a state of emergency after rioting began a little over week ago in the town of Maung Daw which spread to the capital, Sittwe, and other nearby villages. The violence highlights the delicate nature of the relations between ethnic groups in Myanmar.

The Rohingya have been deemed a “stateless” group by both Myanmar and Bangladesh. Myanmar views the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and denies them citizenship while Bangladesh argues that the Rohingya have lived in Myanmar for centuries and should be recognized as citizens.

According to The United Nations, Myanmar’s 800,000 Rohingya Muslims are one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.

For further information, please see:

NY Daily News – Violence Highlights Myanmar’s Sectarian Tension –  16 June 2012

Aljazeera – Bangladesh ‘Turns Back’ Myanmar Refugees – 15 June 2012

BBC News – UN Urges Bangladesh to Take in People Fleeing Burma Violence – 15 June 2012

Los Angeles Times – Bangladesh Rebuffs Pleas to Admit People Fleeing Myanmar Violence – 13 June 2012

Syrian Revolution Digest – Wednesday 20 June 2012

THE COMMENTARY IN THIS PIECE DOES NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THE VIEWS OF IMPUNITY WATCH.  

*WARNING VIDEOS MAY CONTAIN GRAPHIC IMAGES*

Updates from the Road (2)!

Notes From India: Prisoner Realities and Additional Challenges for Inmates With Disabilities

Emily Schneider
Special Contributor, Blog Entry #2

“I’ve never seen so many men fighting before,” said a young attorney, who sat across the desk from me and the rest of our group of five.  She was just returning from a walk-through, of another part of the prison, which we were all visiting that day and describing her experience.

“While we were standing there, speaking with a supervisor, one of the men started to punch another.  One had a razor, or a piece of wire, and cut the other; there was so much blood.  Soon after, all the guards rushed in and grabbed the man who started the fight.  They beat him repeatedly, on the face, the arms, and stomach. When he finally fell down they picked him up and carried him off.”

My supervisor asked where they took the man who instigated the fight.

“We asked one of the prisoners what would happen to him and he told us the guards would put him in solitary confinement for a few days and then release him back into the large cell with the group,” she replied

After hearing this story, we all sat there in disbelief.  My supervisor explained to me that they were familiar with the reality that guards habitually beat inmates but had never seen it firsthand. This time the HRLN attorneys witnessed such a beating and might be able to use the experience to file a petition for a public interest litigation (PIL).

“After things calmed down, we asked the guard giving us the tour of the jail what normal procedure was for incidents like this.  His response was that we, “Just saw it.”  He also mentioned that the guards at this particular jail are specially trained in calming prisoners down.  Sometimes they are even sent to other facilities, including the women’s jail, to enforce peace.

I asked him why there would be a need to send male guards to the women’s jail as the female guards stationed at them are supposed to enforce the peace.  He looked right at me and said, “Yes, but there are some things a man is needed for.”  I think he knew right away that he had said too much because he didn’t answer the rest of our questions.

It was my second week working at HRLN and I was in a meeting for the disability rights initiative.  The woman speaking was a young attorney who was assigned to the disability department.  She and two other attorneys were investigating torture and cruel treatment of prisoners with disabilities in jail.  When I first joined the disability rights initiative I was a bit disappointed; I was hoping to be assigned to the anti-trafficking or reproductive rights departments.  Disability law was something I could do in the U.S. and I was looking for new experiences at HRLN.

However, India’s treatment of persons with disabilities is so atrocious that the issues tackled by the disability rights initiative at HRLN are not even remotely similar to the problems facing people with disabilities in the United States.  In India, there is nothing in the government system that is designed to provide any form of aid to these people.

My research of Indian law, found that almost no provisions are given to support, or provide, for persons with disabilities in any sector.  There is no help for them in obtaining: education, employment, transportation, and juvenile justice legislation.  Instead, persons with disabilities are treated as second class citizens and are denied equal access to employment, education and housing.  Worse, some are placed in substandard institutions for the rest of their lives.

HRLN takes on high-impact public interest litigation cases to try and change the standard for persons living with disabilities and bring the domestic laws of India up to general international standards, and to achieve compliance with the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The lack of provisions for persons with disabilities in daily aspects of life is disheartening itself, but when persons with disabilities are denied care during incarceration, a whole new set of problems arises.  In a recent case, adopted by HRLN, a physically handicapped prisoner was put in a large cell with other inmates where he was expected to share a single toilet and shower facility.  He could not walk the length of the cell to the toilet, nor could he stand up to use the facilities if he was lucky enough to get to them.  Instead, he was forced to defecate in his bed and went without showering for a month.

It was not surprising that because of this he developed bed sores that got badly infected.  To add to his predicament, he was able to eat only when the guards delivered his meal within arms length.  If they didn’t slide it far enough into the cell then he didn’t eat that day.

The prisoner recently died and his family approached HRLN, asking them to take the case. HRLN is planning to argue that this treatment denied the prisoner basic human rights and violated India’s obligations to ensure these basic rights under international law.  Sadly, like so many others, this case is now in a purgatory-like “pending” stage due to the Indian courts’ system being flooded by more cases than they can even remotely hope to handle.

 

Emily Schneider is a third-year law student at Syracuse University College of Law.  She will be contributing to Impunity Watch by blogging about her experiences in India, where she is spending her summer working as an intern.  

Egypt’s Army Retains Political Power During Presidential Uncertainty

By Ali Al-Bassam
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt — As uncertainty surrounds the result of last Sunday’s presidential runoff, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) issued a declaration to retain the authority to exercise legislative powers until a new parliament is elected.  These powers include control over the budget, and over who writes the permanent constitution.  The organisation also retained the power of authority over the army, limiting the president’s power as commander-in-chief, only granting him the power to declare war with the military council’s approval.

Assar and Shahin
Generals Mohammed Al-Assar (left) and Mamdouh Shahin discuss the SCAF's decision to retain legislative power. (Photo Courtesy of Al Jazeera)

The SCAF’s decision was made after it dissolved parliament, the majority of whose members were part of the Muslim Brotherhood.  The dissolution occurred after the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled last year’s legislative polls unconstitutional because party members contested seats in the lower house that were intended to be reserved for independents.

Its actions have been met with criticism.  Mohamed ElBaradei, a prominent political figure, believes they are a “grave setback for democracy and revolution.”  Former presidential candidate Hamden Sabahi considers them to be “a seizure of the future of Egypt.”

Mohammed Al-Assar, a general of the SCAF, assured those concerned with the power grab that it was temporary.  At a press conference, Al-Assar said “we’ll never tire or be bored from assuring everyone that we will hand over power before the end of June.”  Last Sunday, the group issued a decree stating that it will retain these powers until a new parliament is elected.

It is also likely that the next Egyptian president will have a short term, and will be replaced after a new constitution is drafted.  Sameh Ashour, head of the SCAF’s advisory council, said that “[t]he upcoming president will occupy the office for a short period of time, whether or not he agrees.  His office term will be short despite the huge efforts exerted in the election campaigns.”

A statement issued by the SCAF said that a “constitutional commission representing all segments of society” will have three months to draft a new constitution.  The organization will also have the power to veto anything in the new constitution it objects to as “contrary to the interests of the country.”  The group also holds the right to form a new constitutional commission if it believes there is a setback “preventing them from performing their work.”  Lastly, the declaration grants SCAF chief Marshall Hussein Tantawi “power to decide all matters within the armed forces, the appointment of its commanders, and the extension of their service.”

Yesterday’s runoff has been marred with confusion over the vote count as both Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Mursi, and former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq claimed victory.  The Brotherhood’s unofficial tally has Mursi winning 52.5 percent of the votes.  Shafiq accused Mursi of miscounting the votes, with his camp claiming that he had won with 52 percent.

The Brotherhood is critical of the SCAF’s decree, finding it “null and unconstitutional.”  Ahmed Abdel-Atti, Mursi’s campaign director, expects “popular action” against the group’s undertakings in the near future.

For further information, please see:

Albawaba — Egypt: Muslim Brotherhoods Claim Presidential Victory — 18 June 2012

Al Jazeera — Political Uncertainty Threatens Egypt — 18 June 2012

BBC News — Egypt’s Military Grants Itself Sweeping Powers — 18 June 2012

Reuters — Egypt Rivals Claim Presidency as Army Tightens Grip — 18 June 2012

Syrian Revolution Digest – Tuesday 19 June 2012

THE COMMENTARY IN THIS PIECE DOES NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THE VIEWS OF IMPUNITY WATCH.  

*WARNING VIDEOS MAY CONTAIN GRAPHIC IMAGES*

Updates from the Road (1)

Russia will not be part of the solution in Syria. Yemeni-style scenarios are unlikely. Obama needs to hit the reset button again. There is little time left to save a country and a region from a meltdown.

Tuesday June 19, 2012

News

Op-Eds & Special Reports

Sectarian realities in Homs

USA Politics and Syria

On the personal front

Getting Serious on Syria: my participation in a panel at the American Enterprise Institute where the keynote speaker was Senator McCain: Excerpt from my intervention, the whole event.

More fall-outs from our April trip to Kosovo: The Pristina-Damascus Connection

Over the next 5-7 days, I will be taking part in a series of activities that will take up most of my time and might, therefore, be unable to update the blog as regularly and extensively as I want. But I will be back in full force soon.

Syrian Network for Human Rights: Documenting the Widespread Massacres

In the past few weeks the number of massacres taking place around Syria drastically increased.  The Syrian Network for Human Rights, in collaboration with the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies, have documented a number of them.  Below is their summarized reports for the past four massacres; beginning with the most recent.

Douma | 16 June 2012

The Syrian regime’s combat forces launched a fierce and concentrated attack on the city of Douma, located to the east of the capital Damascus. The residents came under continual mortar shelling by the forces surrounding the city; additionally there was intense shelling originating from the vehicles administration headquarters, which is located in the neighbouring city of Harasta. The shelling went through the night until dawn; it stopped around 3:00 am.

Artillery shelling was concentrated on residential quarters located behind the mosques of Haseeba and Al-Agha. Eight people, including three women, were killed at the onset, when shelling targeted a residential building. This was a clear indication that shelling was random with the intent of killing for the sake of killing. This building, the first target, is located between the Great Mosque and Haseeba Mosque and the area is one of the most densely populated quarters of the city.

We were not able to access the inflicted area to provide assistance due to the full siege and the Syrian government’s refusal to give access to any Human Rights or relief organization to work on the Syrian territories.  By contacting locals and victims’ relatives, we were able to confirm eight names of the victims who fell to the shelling and documented at least 40 wounded, including four people with very critical injuries.

There is a severe shortage of medical necessities because the Syrian government hinders the transport of the wounded and the injured to hospitals, so they are treated in houses that lack real medical supplies or preparation facilities.

Saqba | 16 June 2012

The Syrian regime forces moved from Douma to Saqba on this same day.  Upon entering the city, which is located east of Damascus, they quickly took control and began to instill terror in the residents.  Tanks, armoured vehicles and infantry advanced from the south (from the Kafr Batana region), the north (from the Hamouriya direction), the west (from the Hazza direction), and the east (from the Jesreen direction). This entry in the city was followed by raid campaigns, around a square known as Al-Jameiya, while other combat troops moved to the secondary school street, and remaining troops moved to the northern area of Al-Jouzeh.

One of the tanks, positioned in the city centre, fired a shell on a residential building; this caused severe damage in the building and several injuries, including a child who received an injury to the eye.  Dozens of residents were arrested. We were able to identify a few of them from the Al-Khawaja family. Following this, troops moved to the Al-Mahfara area, to the west of the city, where they looted commercial shops.

The horrendous massacre harvested the lives of 19 civilians including a woman and a child. We have been able to contact residents to confirm and document the names of victims. To add insult to injury, some of the victims were slaughtered by knives in a revengeful, sadist fashion that was reminiscent of the Dark Ages and reflected a mindset of the utmost savagery.

Maarat Al-Numan | 10 June 2012

 During the night, the Syrian regime’s army forces shelled the city of Maarat al-Numan with many mortar shells, which are internationally considered to be inaccurate.  This mortar shelling is hard evidence, and a clear indicator, that the Syrian regime does not discriminate between the killing of a child, a woman or a young man. This reality is readily apparent on the ground as a high number of children and women are killed.

The preliminary death toll stands at thirteen victims.  The victims’ body parts were scattered in the streets following the attack.  More than 90 people were wounded, 25 of whom suffer from severe and critical injuries. As usual, the Syrian regime has cut off all means of communications and prevented doctors from treating the wounded or transporting them to safer zones where medical care necessities are available.  Many houses and shops were damaged from the attack as well.

Dar’aa | 9 June 2012

The Syrian regime’s army and security forces launched a fierce attack on the city using mortars, which the international community considers to be random inaccurate projectile, and heavy machineguns. Those shells hit the houses of:

Suliaman Shihadeh Aba Zeed, Adnan Dyab Aba Zeed, Ibrahim Mifleh Aba Zeed, Muhammad Kheir Aba Zeed, Yusuf Aba Zeed, Abu Nasir Abu Al-Qayasin al-Bajabja neighbourhood

A shell fell on al-Dallou family house killing 7 members of the family and burning down the house.  Residents recovered the bodies of Mansour Rizq Aba Zeed, Rita Rizq Aba Zeed and Rizq Hasan Shihada from under the rubble.

The regime’s army snipers, stationed at the roof of the national hospital, targeted citizens who came to donate blood following the attack.  The regime’s army checkpoint, stationed at Al-Sad road, targeted a civilian car that was transporting the wounded to the makeshift hospital, killing the volunteer in the process.

 

For further information, please visit the website listed below:

Syrian Network for Human Rights 

Acid Attacks Against Women On The Rise

By Heba Girgis
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Colombia — Viviana Hernandez still vividly recalls the acid attack that left her with burns on her face, chest, and hands, and took her eyesight in her left eye. “All of a sudden you see some liquid coming towards your face and you think that somebody might have slipped, or that they want to get you wet,” she said. “You never imagine that it can happen to you.”

Five Years Later, Hernandez is Still Suffering From the Aftermath of the Attack. (Photo Courtesy of BBC)

The aim of these attacks is not to kill but to punish women. Hernandez, 28, noted that when her former husband wanted to get back together with her, she refused. She said, “he used to call me, to threaten me. On the day of the attack, he followed me.” While, her husband did not throw the acid himself, he did point her out to hired attackers.

Another young woman told BBC that “when they threw acid, they also told me: ‘it is your fault for being so pretty.” These attacks often result from domestic disputes or romantic rivals, and as a result, many of the victims are not given proper care, nor are they immediately hospitalized.

A plastic surgeon in Colombia, Dr. Linda Guerrero, explains that, “When a woman has little schooling and no job, she’s financially dependent on a man. That creates a situation where women are inferior, where men can say, ‘I’m the owner of that woman and therefore I have a right to do want I want with her.'”

Colombian Congresswoman Gloria Estela Diaz introduced a bill in mid-march to toughen the punishment for acid attackers. Currently, assailants can get a maximum ten-year jail sentence. Diaz’s bill will heighten the sentence from between eight-to-thirty years, without a possibility of reduced jail time. She also hopes to restrict the sale of the acids typically used against women–phosphoric acid, sulfuric acid, and nitric acids.

Many women continue to struggle proving the identity of their attacker. Hernandez is one of these women. As a result, she was forced to flee to another city to protect herself. “We carry this tragedy with us every day,” she stated.

For further information, please see:

UPI – 3 Arrested in Bogota for Acid Attacks – 6 June 2012

BBC – Colombia Acid Victims Seek Justice as Attacks Spread – 30 May 2012

Care2 Make a Difference – Acid Attacks on Colombian Women – 21 May 2012

Fijilive – Acid Attacks on Women Grow in Colombia – 8 March 2012

Malawi Will not Attend African Union Summit

By Vicki Turakhia
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

LILONGWE, Malawi – The Malawi President Banda will not be attending the African Union (AU) Summit this year. Earlier this month, President Banda banned the Sudanese President from entering Malawi for the African Union Summit due to war crimes.

Malawi's president Joyce Banda has taken a number of bold steps to steer the country into donor-friendly waters. (Photo Courtesy of AFP)

The Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir was told by President Banda that he would be arrested if he entered Malawi. Malawi is a member state of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and would be required to arrest President al-Bashir for war crimes.

The ICC is holding Bashir responsible for over 300,000 deaths in Darfur. President Ian Khama of Botswana agrees with the ICC and has stated in reference to al-Bashir, “His failed leadership is like a cancer in his country.”

Instead, the AU meeting will be held in Ethiopia where the Malawian President has refused to attend. President Banda is focused on economic recovery for Malawi and believes any association with the Sudan President would only discourage international donors.

Around 40 percent of Malawi’s development funding comes from foreign aid. President Banda is supported by the Malawi government and Vice President Khumbo Kachali has stated that Malawi will not bow to the AU’s conditions for hosting the summit.

The ICC’s chief prosecutor has asked that aid be cut to all countries that fail to arrest the Sudanese president. Other countries such as Chad, Kenya, and Djibouti have been reported to the United Nations Security Council for not arresting Bashir despite their involvement with the ICC.

33 African States have a duty to arrest Bashir due to the ICC rules. The ICC prosecutor is also asking the United Nations Security Council to hold all 193 member states of the UN responsible for issuing warrants for the arrest of President Omar al-Bashir.

However, reactions are mixed about the Sudanese President and his involvement in war crimes. Some have accused the ICC with getting overly involved in African affairs, causing more disruptions than beneficial actions.

The AU meeting is set for July 15-16 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the AU headquarters. This meeting will elect a new commission chair after the January meeting which resulted in a deadlock.

 

For further information, please see:

Reuters Africa – Malawi Leader Banda Will not Attend AU Summit – 15 June 2012

BBC News – Ethopia to Host African Union Summit After Omar al-Bashir Malawi row – 12 June 2012

New York Times – Malawi: Summit Meeting Declined – 9 June 2012

The Herald Online – Malawi Cancels AU Summit Hosting Over al-Bashir – 9 June 2012

Syrian Revolution Digest – Sunday 17 June 2012

THE COMMENTARY IN THIS PIECE DOES NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THE VIEWS OF IMPUNITY WATCH.  

*WARNING VIDEOS MAY CONTAIN GRAPHIC IMAGES*

Obama’s Legacy!

In the first major battle of Cold War II, Russia and its allies (the Assad regime, China, Iran, Belarus, Venezuela, etc.) are winning, so far. Forget about killing Bin Laden and ousting Qaddafi, if Obama loses Syria, that and the regional chaos that will ensue will be what he is remembered for. If Obama’s strategy is to wait for November, the battle might just be lost by then, and his legacy set in blood and stone.

Sunday June 17, 2012

Death tolls: 60. The Breakdown: 17 in Homs, 18 in Damascus (15 in Suburbs and 3 in City), 11 in Hama, 5 in Deir Ezzor, 5 in Daraa, 4 in Aleppo.

News

Associated Press journalist wounded in Syria

Op-Eds & Special Reports

Group of Tel Aviv Arabs post Anti-Assad signs in Nazareth: But Israeli Arabs remain deeply split over events in Syria.

The rebels risked a great deal in allowing journalists to embed with them, but they needed to get their message out, not through the opposition “leaders” in London, and in answer to the regime’s version of events. Commander al Sheikh told Shelton, “We want the people of the world to understand us as people, to see our revolution from a human prospective. The Syrian people cannot turn back. We must fight until victory.”

A great roundup by Rhonda Parker, with reference to the Digest and a personal interview

Excerpts

In an interview published yesterday by American PBS Newshour, self-proclaiming Alawite “Shabiha active member” Abu Jaafar, said he is “ready to kill women and children to defend his friends, family and president.” “Sunni women are giving birth to babies who will fight us in years to come, so we have the right to fight anyone who can hurt us in the future,” said the Alawite militiaman, a member of the ancient offshoot of Shiite Islam to which Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the powerbase of his regime belong.

Syrian dissident and pro-democracy activist in exile, Ammar Abdulhamid, has been calling for more active international intervention in Syria, and added another addendum in his Syrian Revolution Digest Syria report last night.

Stated Abdulhamid, “I wouldn’t ask for intervention had it not been a reality of our lives already, had Russia, China, Iran, Iraq, Belarus and Venezuela not chosen to intervene from the onset in our affairs, siding with the Assads, arming them to the teeth, helping circumvent sanctions, (and) shielding them from accountability. Things need to be made equal. We need to be given a fighting chance. Assad is conducting a war of attrition against the rebels, while carving out his own personal fiefdom, hedging his bets. We only have one bet: staying the course, come what may.

Meanwhile, in an opinion piece for A&E the National had the soul-searching title, “When tanks crush children, Syrians must ask: who are we?”

The piece documents activists who feel there is a military strategy behind the madness and civilian carnage – including the brutal massacres and targeting of children.

“By outsourcing the dirty work to local militias, the regime distanced itself from the monstrosity of the crimes while deceptively placing the perpetrators within the blurry category of ‘armed gangs,’ said one hama activist.

Another activist from Homs said: “This is what they want to see: we are 20 massacres away from an opposition-free Syrian coast.”

Abdulhamid also stated in an email interview late tonight that he didn’t feel the Free Syrian Army had the time or resources to take civilian hostages, as some pro-Assad media have been alleging in regards to the Christian and Sunni civilians trapped in Homs.

“Basically, at this stage, the few local fighters in Homs City are locked in a fight for survival against pro-Assad militias, they do not have the time or the capacity to take hostages, and the regime does not care about the well-being of hostages anyway. Having hostages – even Alawites – will not stop pro-Assad militias, who, for months now, have been bombing both Sunnis and Christian neighborhoods, destroying mosques and churches, without any hesitation.”

Said Abdulhamid, “The truth of what is happening in Syria is quite simple: Assad and his militias are trying to re-subjugate their opponents using all means at their disposal, including resorting to ethnic cleansing along the coast and in central Syria in preparation for a possible breakup of the country.”

He also stated that Assad and his supporters realize “they have lost control of major swathes of the country, and that their opponents are committed to staying the course until Assad is brought down.”

 For this reason, Abdulhamid said, “…They are carving out a territory that will remain, by virtue of its ethnic makeup, completely loyal to Assad, and so it can serve as a base that will keep the Assads as active players in the regional scene even after the state falls apart.”

He added, “With the help of Russia and Iran, Assad is creating a win-win scenario for himself: reestablishing control over all the country, or becoming the undisputed leader of a critical chunk of it that might be declared as an independent state at a certain point in the future.”

Video Highlights

Qudsaya, West Damascus: the impact of shelling by pro-Assad militiashttp://youtu.be/Agn9qsreFTA , http://youtu.be/TgfOGvYQSkg Buildings catch firehttp://youtu.be/6X234GKD2xo

Zabadani, West Damascus: playing cat-and-mouth with snipershttp://youtu.be/Yjbzi6jAQy8

Douma, East Damascus: buildings catch fire due to shellinghttp://youtu.be/439C6HMQ4g8 Martyrs http://youtu.be/SJ4tbVaCzRE The pounding resumes at night http://youtu.be/wNhHQoZPreY

Dmeir, East Damascus: locals leaving the town at night to escape the shellinghttp://youtu.be/OpzmCM3mySU

Rastan, Homs: a child martyr http://youtu.be/EH40I07gJlQ Martyrshttp://youtu.be/vR1cgbITI5I The cemetery is pounded even as people try to bury their deadhttp://youtu.be/S20e3lCOc2Q The pounding continues http://youtu.be/HFnjOYeFL7E

Houla, Homs: pro-Assad militias set houses on fire http://youtu.be/KtMHHWr69CU At night, the pounding resumes http://youtu.be/7dQV5jtRs2g

Russian Journalists Detained After Passage of New Assembly Regulations

By Connie Hong
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe 

MOSCOW, Russia — On June 13, 2012, Natella Boltyanskaya, Olga Bychkova, Alina Grebneva, Vladimir Varfolomeev, and Alexander Podrabinek were detained by Russian police after engaging in peaceful, individual pickets.  The five journalists were trying to hold up posters to support their colleague, Sergei Sokolov, who had received threats from the head of the Investigation Committee, Alexander Bastrykin.  One of the detained journalists said that the police moved so rapidly to arrest them that only two of the journalists had time to unravel and display their posters.  Sergei Sokolov, the deputy chief editor of Novaya Gazeta, began receiving threats from Bastrykin after accusing Bastrykin and the rest of the Investigation Committee of aiding crime bosses in a recent article.

Russian police using new regulations to disrupt journalist's peaceful protest. (Photo Courtesy of RIA Novosti)

The journalists were protesting separately in front of Russia’s Investigation Committee, the state agency in charge of criminal investigations, when police officers forced them into a van.  Despite the fact that each of the journalists were careful to stand some distance away from the others, they were all taken to the Basmanny precinct in central Moscow.  There, they were questioned and forced to provide written statements explaining their actions before they were released without charge.

Bychkova told Human Rights Watch that demonstrating individually does not, by law, require authorization in advance.  The recent legislation on public rallies however, defined individual pickets as organized public events if they appear to “have attributes of planned collective action,” and therefore require prior authorization.  It is under the new regulations that the police found a basis for detaining the journalists.  Bychkova said that the police had warned them at the precinct “not to attempt any such thing in the future,” and continually referred to the new law.

The detention of the five journalists sparked media outcry and inspired other journalists to show up at the Investigation Committee building.  A policeman told one of the journalists that taking over someone else’s poster qualifies as collective action, and would give him the right to arrest her.  When asked if she could draw her own poster, the policeman replied: “If your new poster revolves around the same idea as the other poster, it will mean that this is an organized public action, not an individual picket.”

Noting their repressive and abusive nature, Humans Rights Watch has sharply criticized Russia’s new regulations on peaceful assembly.  It urged the Kremlin to revise the new law since it so starkly conflicts with Russia’s duty to respect and uphold freedom of expression and peaceful demonstration.  According to Tanya Lokshina, a senior researcher for Russia at Human Rights Watch, “Even if a law gives police powers of detention, to use them to suppress the legitimate exercise of fundamental rights makes that use arbitrary and abusive.”

 

For further information, please see:

Human Rights Watch — Russia: Five Journalists Detained — 14 June 2012

Gulf Times — Top Russian journalist flees ‘investigator’s death threat’— 13 June 2012

The Republic — Russian top investigator threatens reporter, paper says — 13 June 2012

Human Rights Watch — Russia: Reject Restrictions on Peaceful Assembly — 8 June 2012

 

Possession of Lemon Leads to Deaf-Mute Facing 25 Years in Prison

By Melike Ince
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

ANKARA, Turkey — A Kurdish man who is deaf, mute, and illiterate faces twenty-five years in prison in Turkey for allegedly taking part in protests that support terrorism.

Mehmet Tahir Ilhan faces up to 25 years in jail for allegedly supporting terrorism. (Photo Courtesy of Hurriet Daily News)

On April 21, 2011, Mehmet Tahir Ilhan was on his way home from his job as a porter in the city of Mersin when he noticed protestors for the banned Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) conducting a demonstration.  With the help of a sign language interpreter, Ilhan testified that “A friend [of mine] gestured at me to join them but I refused.”   He added, “I did not throw rocks, Molotov cocktails or fireworks at the police.”  He was arrested at the protest and later released in Mersin, only to again be taken into custody in the province of Adana, an area that happened to be looking into the case.

Ilhan, who is married and father to six children, has been deaf and mute his entire life.  His lawyer, Tugay Berk, believes that the charges defy logic.

“It is impossible for my client to chant slogans,” said Berk.  “It is against logic and reason to charge a suspect, who is lacking the physical abilities to make propaganda on behalf of an organization, with such an accusation.  The fact that İlhan is being put on trial for making propaganda on behalf of a terrorist organization is tragicomic.  We request that this unlawfulness be ended immediately.”

The charges against Ilhan include committing a crime on behalf of a terrorist organization, making propaganda on behalf of a terrorist organization, and resisting arrest.  The evidence the prosecutor intends to use consists of Ilhan’s possession of half a lemon, which is known to ease the effects of tear gas.  Turkish Courts been known to convict with little evidence to support a charge.

It is an offense to show any public support for the PKK in Turkey, even though the use of these anti-terrorism laws has been controversial.  Over the last year and a half many Kurdish activists, journalists, and politicians have been detained under the long arm of these laws.  The Council of Europe stated their concern by noting that the laws were having a “chilling effect” on freedom of speech.

To encourage Kurdish moderates–and to isolate the more extreme members–the Turkish government has taken steps to bridge the gap between the two cultures with efforts, including the offering of Kurdish language classes in schools. But with the tension so high, some worry that the actions taken by Turkey’s judiciary will ultimately threaten the already hostile relationship.

For further information, please see:

BBC News — Turkey: Kurd with Lemon Accused of Supporting Terror — 15 June 2012

Global Post — Deaf, Mute & Illiterate Kurdish Man Faces 25-yr Jail Term in Turkey — 15 June 2012

Hurriyet Daily News — Deaf, Mute Man Faces 25 Years in Jail For Terrorist Propaganda in Turkey — 14 June 2012

Today’s Zaman — Prosecutor Demands 25 Years For Deaf Man Over Illegal Slogan — 14 June 2012