DRC Combats Sexual Violence with Mobile Gender Courts

By Tara Pistorese
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of the Congo—Since 1996, approximately 500,000 people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have fallen victim to sexual violence according to United Nations (UN) estimates. Although UN members and the Security Council have condemned the sexually motivated injustice, the sufferers of these violent crimes are often stigmatized by their own communities and rarely see their attackers brought to justice.

Mobile court hears a rape case in South Kivu. (Photo Courtesy of ABA Rule of Law Initiative)

“As violence escalates in the eastern [DRC], I am deeply concerned that sexual violence is once again a pattern of the conflict,” said the acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Vijay Nambiar, in a statement. “In the context of illegal activities of armed groups, serious crimes have been reported.”

A lack of funding and issues of integrity have contributed to the overall failure to bring many perpetrators of these crimes to justice in DRC. Moreover, many victims are unable to reach a police station or afford the costs of bringing a case to trial.

Specifically, in South Kivu in 2005, fewer than 142 of incidents of sexual violence faced a tribunal, although 14,200 were recorded that year. Similar failures have surfaced within DRC’s national courts, although the Ituri district boasts some progress, including ten recent rape convictions.

In an effort to curb judicial shortcomings, a project was initiated in South Kivu in 2009 whereby mobile courts travel from city to city to bring justice to the victims of sexual violence. The mobile gender courts—supported by the Open Society Justice Initiative, the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative, and the Open Society Institute for Southern Africa in collaboration with the Congolese government—have emphasized locally-led justice.

The project has enjoyed considerable success. Within the first twenty months of its existence, fourteen court sessions took place, 248 cases were tried, and 140 perpetrators were convicted of rape. Mobile courts have held sessions in many cities and villages from urban regions, such Baraka and Bakavu, to more remote villages, like Kamituga and Mwenga.

However, limitations on the mobile courts call their sustainability and effectiveness into question. The itinerant agencies often require staff to travel by plane and automobile very far distances and through difficult terrain to reach remote service areas. Sadly, the courts also lack funding for basic and necessary equipment and supplies, such as paper.

Mobile trials typically last two weeks, in compliance with international law requiring crimes of this nature to conclude within three months. Additionally, this timeline provides “timely redress to individual victims in communities still struggling with the chaotic aftermath of war and political upheaval,” according to Judge Mary McGowan Davis, who was recently invited to assess the productivity of the mobile courts. On the other hand, the speed of the trials and their conclusions make important components of an effective trial, such as obtaining witnesses, very difficult.

The court sessions, which are exclusively staffed by Congolese citizens, are typically made open to the public in an effort to break down the stigma surrounding victims of sexual crimes.


For further information, please see:

All Africa—Africa: Mobile Gender Courts-Delivering Justice in the DRC—30 July 2012

UN News Centre—UN Official Condemns Sexual Violence by Renegade Soldiers—18 July 2012

News 24—UN Condemns Eastern DRC Attacks—17 July 2012

Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa—Helping to Fight Impunity for Sexual Crimes in DRC—7 May 2012


Belarus Government Punishes Officials and Perpetrators for Teddy Bear Incident

By Connie Hong
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MINSK, Belarus – A Swedish advertising company, Studio Total, flew a small plane across the Belarusian border and dropped hundreds of teddy bears to draw attention to violations of freedom of expression in Belarus on the country’s Independence Day, July 4. Photographer and journalism student, Anton Suryapin, now faces up to seven years in prison after posting pictures of the incident on his website.

Swedish teddy bears supporting freedom of expression in Belarus. (Photo Courtesy of Amnesty International) Swedish teddy bears supporting freedom of expression in Belarus. (Photo Courtesy of Amnesty International) Continue reading “Belarus Government Punishes Officials and Perpetrators for Teddy Bear Incident”

Religious Leaders Call on Mississippi Church to Reject Racism

By Mark O’Brien
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

JACKSON, Mississippi — Southern Baptist leaders said Monday that a Mississippi church was wrong to prevent a black couple from getting married at the church earlier this month, and called on the church to reject racism.

Charles and Te’Andrea Wilson were forced to relocate their wedding just days before the ceremony after some members of the First Baptist Church of Crystal Springs, near Jackson, Miss., complained complained about the black couple having a wedding there. (Photo Courtesy of Black America Web)

Directors of the Mississippi Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Convention said in keeping with the Baptist tradition, the congregation needs to “chart its own course.”

“Our entire country, and especially here in Mississippi, has been on a long journey for right rational relationships,” read a statement from Jim Futral, the executive director of the Mississippi Baptist Convention board.  “Mississippi Baptists both reject racial discrimination and at the same time respect the autonomy of our local churches to deal with difficulties and disagreements under the lordship of Jesus.”

Charles and Te’Andrea Wilson found out days before their July 21 nuptials that some members of the First Baptist Church of Crystal Springs, near Jackson, complained about the black couple having a wedding there.  The church’s pastor, Rev. Stan Weatherford, married the couple at nearby church in an effort to make peace and avoid conflict.

“I didn’t want to have a controversy within the church, and I didn’t want a controversy to affect the wedding of Charles and Te’Andrea,” Weatherford said in an interview with the Huffington Post.  “I wanted to make sure their wedding day was a special day.”

Charles Wilson has said members of the congregation, nevertheless, have threatened to fire the pastor.

But some churchgoers denied that the story being played out in the media is fully accurate.  They said it has caused hardship.

“There’s a lot of people in the church that are suffering inner turmoil over this issue, said church member Ralph Miley in an interview with WAPT News.

The Jackson television station also reported on the congregation’s frustration, with one woman swinging her purse at one of the station’s reporters before entering the church for Sunday morning services.

Other congregants acknowledge the pastor was trying to do the right thing.

“He was trying to gain time to deal with racism among the few members of our church who created this situation,” said retired Southern Baptist pastor Robert Mack to WAPT News.

The state and national church leaders also said Monday they are praying for the church and are ready to help, if needed.

“We are all saddened when any sin, including the sin of racism, rears its head,” said Southern Baptist Convention spokesperson Sing Oldham.  “Part of our gospel is that we are being redeemed.  We are flawed, failed creatures, and redemption is a process.”

So far, the church has not contacted state officials for any assistance.

A community rally for racial unity was planned in Crystal Springs for Monday evening.

For further information, please see:

The Clarion-Ledger — Southern Baptists: Mississippi Church Wrong to Reject Black Couple’s Wedding — 30 July 2012

WAPT News — Baptist Bodies Call on Church to Reject Racism — 30 July 2012

The Washington Post — State and National Baptist Leaders Ask Church that Turned Down Black Wedding to Reject Racism — 30 July 2012

USA Today — Baptist Groups: Miss. Church Wrong to Not Marry Black Couple — 29 July 2012

WAPT News — Members Speak out on Crystal Springs Church Controversy — 29 July 2012

The Huffington Post — Black Couple says Racism Forced Wedding Relocation — 28 July 2012

Four Sentenced to Death for Involvement in Iran Bank Fraud Scandal

By Ali Al-Bassam
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

TEHRAN, Iran — Four people have been sentenced to death by an Iranian court for their involvement in the largest ever bank fraud scandal in the country’s history.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denied any government involvement in the scandal. (Photo Courtesy of BBC News)

Two other defendants received life sentences, while 33 more will spend up to 25 years in jail, the chief prosecutor was quoted as saying.

“According to the sentence that was issued, four of the defendants in this case were sentenced to death,” Prosecutor General Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei told IRNA, the country’s state-run news agency.

In addition to jail time, some were sentenced to flogging, ordered to pay fines, and banned from holding government jobs.

The case became public in September 2011, when an investment firm was accused of forging documents to obtain credit from at least seven Iranian banks over a four-year period.  It reportedly involved forged documents used to secure a $2.6 billion loan.  The money was reportedly used to buy government-owned companies under the government’s privatization scheme.

Allegations included that the embezzlement was carried out by people close to the political elite or with their assent.  The story’s breaking fueled weeks of political conflict between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who denied his government’s involvement last year, and Iran’s ruling hierarchy of clerics.  Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, while criticizing financial corruption and acknowledging the political damage, said in televised comments last year that the media should not “drag out the issue.”

“Some want to use this event to score points against the country’s officials,” Khamenei said.  “The people should know the issue will be followed up on.”

Businessman Amir Mansoor Khosravi, who the Iranian media has described as the mastermind behind the scheme, is said to have forged letters of credit from Iran’s Bank Saderat to fund dozens of companies and buy a state-owned steel factory.  Mahmoud Reza Khavari, the former head of Iran’s largest bank–the state-owned Bank Melli–resigned because of the scandal.  He then fled to Canada, where records indicate that he owns a $3 million home.

Mohseni-Ejei did not name the defendants on trial, and the Iranian media only identified them by their initials.  State television broadcast parts of the trial, but blurred out the faces of the accused.  He believes the case demonstrates that Iran can appropriately deal with high level fraud.

“The government, parliament, and all available devices were used to pursue the issue so that corruption can be fought in an open manner,” he said.

Despite the Prosecutor General’s claim, one defendant believes that while the judiciary vigorously pursued some low-level players, senior officials involved in the scheme had gone unpunished.  “Many other banking officials are outside of prison right now,” an unnamed steel company official asserted.  “Why are you able to put us on trial and have nothing to do with them?”

For further information, please see:

Al Arabiya — Four Sentenced to Death for Iran’s Biggest Bank Fraud — 30 July 2012

Al Jazeera — Death Terms in Iran Bank Scandal — 30 July 2012

BBC News — Four Sentenced to Death over $2.6bn Iran Bank Fraud — 30 July 2012

The Guardian — Iran Sentences Four to Death Over Bank Fraud With Political Fallout — 30 July 2012

Reuters — Iran Sentences Four People to Death for Bank Fraud — 30 July 2012

Watch and Join the “I Am Syria” Campaign

IAmSyria.org is a non-profit media based campaign that seeks to educate the world of the Syrian Conflict.  This movement is dedicated to let the people of Syria know that the world is supporting them through video, pictures, and media attention.

The concept of human rights sets the foundation for IAmSyria.org.  The operation believes that all humans deserve their basic civil liberties, and no government entity shall take those away. With the Syrian Uprising in 2011, we support an end to the conflict and want to demonstrate to the Syrian people that the world cares for them, and the suffering they are enduring.

While IAmSyria.org supports an end to the Syrian Conflict, we do not propose a specific solution or any call to action by any governmental or non-governmental entity.  We have no religious affiliation, no position in the conflict, or condone any specific resolutions.


Los Angeles Times Op-Ed Piece: Consign Bush’s “Torture Memos” to History

by Morris D. Davis
Op-Ed for L.A. Times

How should we mark the 10th anniversary of the effort by the Bush administration to justify torture?  By ensuring it never happens again.

As the Bush administration developed its interrogation policies, it concealed various forms of torture under the moniker “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Above: Military police guard cells at the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images / April 7, 2004)

The Bush administration “torture memos” will be 10 years old this week. As the administration developed its interrogation policies, it concealed various forms of torture under the moniker “enhanced interrogation techniques.” It consulted with the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice on the legality of these techniques, including waterboarding, walling (slamming detainees against walls), forcing detainees into stress positions and subjecting them to sleep deprivation. Ultimately, the OLC provided legal cover for the use of most of these techniques.

On Aug. 1, 2002, in a memo addressed to the general counsel of the CIA, Assistant Atty. Gen. Jay Bybee wrote: “When the waterboard is used, the subject’s body responds as if the subject were drowning…. The subject may experience the fear or panic associated with the feeling of drowning.”

I know something about the feeling of drowning. The closest I’ve come to death was more than 20 years ago, while I was white-water rafting in West Virginia with some Air Force friends. As the raft careened through the rapids, two of us were tossed out. As the current pulled us past a large rock that jutted out into the river, it curled down and took me with it. I could see the surface five or six feet above me, but the water pushed me down harder than my legs could push me up. As I struggled to live, I thought about my wife who was pregnant with a child I might never see.

It was as if time slowed down. I experienced 10 minutes worth of thoughts in the minute I was underwater. Finally, my lungs aching, I pushed away from the rock rather than up toward the surface, and seconds later, I popped up, gasping, terrified.

As the CIA memo makes clear, that is the point of waterboarding. “Any reasonable person undergoing this procedure … would feel as if he is drowning … due to the uncontrollable physiological sensation he is experiencing…,” Bybee wrote. “It constitutes a threat of imminent death.” Nonetheless, he concludes that such treatment would not be torture because the harm would not be prolonged.

I suspect that Bybee never fell off a raft into white water, and never came close to death by drowning, because if he had, I feel certain he would have had a very different view of whether it causes prolonged harm.

Past administrations, both Republican and Democratic, had opposed torture, but the Bush administration embraced it by renaming it enhanced interrogation techniques and claiming that it was necessary for our national security. Upon taking office, President Obama issued an executive order halting the use of torture.

Torture is counterproductive. Professional interrogators — Ali Soufan of the FBI, Matthew Alexander of the Air Force and Glenn Carle of the CIA — have said this clearly.

Torture is always illegal. The United States ratified the United Nations Convention Against Torture in 1994, agreeing to abide by the following proscription: “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”

Torture is also a moral abomination. As the National Religious Campaign Against Torture — made up of member institutions representing followers of the Bahai faith, Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Sikhism and more — attests, it runs contrary to the teachings of all religions and dishonors all faiths. It is an egregious violation of the human rights and dignity of each and every person and results in the degradation of all involved — the victim, perpetrator and policymakers.

“Any reasonable person” understands that the United States engaged in torture during the Bush administration. And yet members of that administration still defend their actions. They argue that the enhanced interrogation techniques they used or authorized were not torture. Referring to the now discredited torture memos, they claim that the Department of Justice verified that these techniques were not criminal acts.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has undertaken an investigation into the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques allowed by the memos. It is essential that its findings be released to the public so that the American people can know the truth about what was done in their name.

And we should mark the 10th anniversary of the effort by the Bush administration to justify torture, remembering that as a nation founded on religious and moral values, we must work to ensure that U.S. government-sponsored torture never occurs again.

Retired Air Force Col. Morris Davis is former chief prosecutor for the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and is now on the faculty of the Howard University School of Law. He will participate in a panel discussion about torture at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday at the Hammer Museum.

Copyright © 2012, Los Angeles Times

Venezuela to Withdraw From Inter-American Human Rights Court

By Heba Girgis
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela—Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez recently announced that Venezuela will be withdrawing from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, also known as the IACrtHR. The IACrtHR makes up the human rights protection system of the Organization of American States, which works to uphold and protect basic human rights and freedoms in the Americas.

President Chavez Withdraws From Inter-American Court of Human Rights to Save Venezuela’s “Dignity.” (Photo Courtesy of BBC)

Chavez also noted that the country will now begin its one-year waiting period. Once the waiting period has passed, Venezuela will no longer be a party of the American Convention on Human Rights. The country is also removing itself from the Costa Rica Inter-American Court of Human Rights as well as the Washington Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Chavez made this decision after the Inter-American Court of Human Rights gave a ruling that he found to be “a travesty of justice.” The Costa Rica-based court held that Venezuela violated the rights of a prisoner, Raul Dias, who was convicted of bombing a diplomatic government office in Venezuela’s capital city of Caracas in 2003. The court found that Diaz was being held in inhumane jail conditions.

“Venezuela is pulling out of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights out of dignity,” said Chavez during a military ceremony in the Venezuelan town of Puerto Cabello. Chavez said that the court was ruling on the side of terrorism by ruling in favor of Diaz.

“We are an independent country,” he said, as Chavez also explained that this decision would allow Venezuela to assert and construct a fuller sense of national liberty and independence.

On the other side, Venezuelan human rights activists are concerned that if the Venezuelan government goes through with this decision and withdraws from the Organization of American States, victims of future human rights abuses will have fewer venues in which to seek protection and raise their cases.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland spoke to reporters last week and said that if Venezuela withdraws from the human rights court the country “would be sending a deeply regrettable message about its commitment to human rights and democracy.”

In early May, 2012, Rupert Colville, the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, urged Venezuela to cooperate with regional and international human rights mechanisms and organizations and to stay away from any decisions that would weaken individual protections against human rights violations. The country will go through its one-year waiting period before fully pulling out of the Organization of American States.


For further information, please see:

ABC News – Venezuela to Pull Out of OAS Human Rights Bodies – 27 July 2012

BBC News – Venezuela to Withdraw From Regional Human Rights Court – 25 July 2012

UN News Centre – UN Concerned Over Venezuela’s Possible Withdrawal From Human Rights Body – 4 May 2012

Venezuela Analysis – Venezuela to Withdraw From OAS’s Human Rights Court – 30 April 2012

OTP Weekly Briefing: Bensouda Begins Preliminary Examination on Mali Situation, New Warrants for Ntaganda and Mudacumura, ICC Judge Sentence Dyilo to 14 Years

ICC Office of the Prosecutor Weekly Briefing 4-23 July 2012, Issue #127

Syrian Revolution Digest -Friday 27 July 2012




500 Days of Night. 500 Days of Light.

Syrian Revolution Digest – July 27, 2012 

Judging things through the visor of international reactions, the past 500 days in Syria were an age of darkness and missed opportunities. But examining the situation from the point of view of an activist, every day that passed brought more people to the cause, and for all the complications still involved, that is a major achievement. Things will never be the same. Fear is gone. The spell is broken. 

Friday July 27, 2012

Today’s Death toll: 110. The Breakdown: 30 in Daraa, 23 in Damascus and Suburbs, 22 in Aleppo, 11 in Deir Ezzor, 10 in Hos, 5 in Idlib, 3 in Hama, 2 in Lattakia, and 1 in Raqqah.

Cities & Towns Under Shelling: Harasta, Arbeen, Moadamiah, Harran Al-Awameed, Zabadani, Madaya, Eltal, Dmeir, Hameh, Yelda, Rankous, Qarrah (Damascus Suburbs), Sit Zeinab, Al-Qadam, Modan, Al-Hajar Al-Aswad, Yarmouk, Kafar Sousseh, Mazzeh, Qaboun, Barzeh (Damascus City), Daraa City, Khirbet Al-Ghazaleh, Tafas, Bostra Al-Sham, Na’eemah, Mseifrah, Jimreen, Hraak (Daraa), Rastan, Talbisseh, Houla, Tal Kalakh, Al-Qusayr, Al-Hosn, Al-Ghanto, Al-Bouaydah, Old Homs (Homs Province), Hreitan, Elbab, Eizaz, Marei, Bayanoun (Aleppo Province), Haffeh, Jabal Al-Akrad (Lattakia), Deir Ezzor City, Mouhassan, Albou Kamal (Deir Ezzor Province), Kafar Zeiteh, Hawash, Shahshabo, Hama City (Hama Province), Jabal Al-Zawiyeh, Ma’rrat Al-Nouman, Saraqib, Maar Shoureen, Ariha, Kafroumah, Al-Rami, Khan Shaikhoon (Idlib).


Aleppo short on weapons, medical supplies as Syria’s next big battle looms

Assad’s fall only matter of time: former U.N. Syria mission chief

Russian warships not to enter Syria port: Navy chief

UNESCO Calls For Protection Of Heritage Properties In Syria

Poland closes embassy in Syria as crisis worsens

Syria: Inmate Describes Fatal Assault on Prisoners

Syria rebels ready for ‘mother of all battles’

Rebels hold Syria loyalists in Aleppo, Idlib

Syrian refugees flock to Iraq to escape violence

2 Western Photographers Freed From Syria Captivity


Op-Eds & Special Reports

Brief History of Aleppo: A Great World City Now in the Grip of War As Syrian government forces and rebels clash in Aleppo, TIME takes a look at the history of this ancient, cosmopolitan city now locked in a state of war

Syria’s Christians, Caught in the Middle of Worsening Chaos Every effort must be immediately made to anticipate the potential for post-Assad retaliation against civilians such as Alawites, Christians, and other minorities associated with the regime (or who simply stayed out of the fight)- and to form a real and workable strategy to prevent it, or to stop it if all hell begins to break loose.

Kurdish worries drag Turkey deeper into Syria war Turkey may be some way from acting on Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s threat to strike Kurdish separatists in Syria, but week by week it finds itself sucked ever further into its neighbor’s worsening war.

By Ceding Northeastern Syria to the Kurds, Assad Puts Turkey in a Bind Ankara has been a key backer of Syria’s rebellion, but the prospect of an Iraq-style autonomous Kurdish zone has Erdogan threatening to intervene

Syria regime ‘reeling, armed to the teeth’ with chemical weapons Like a three-card monte player, the Syrian government has been shifting its chemical weapons around the country in the midst of the country’s increasingly violent and chaotic civil war, leaving foreign intelligence agencies to guess where the outlawed weapons of mass destruction might end up – and under whose control.

Meeting the Syrian Opposition in Antakya and Istanbul … It is very difficult on the ground to be sure who it is that you are really talking to and what they represent… Turkish officials maintain a striking degree of control over Syrian opposition forces inside Turkey… the Muslim Brotherhood is pervasive not only within the Syrian National Council (SNC), but among many opposition groups… there is a striking cynicism and anger among fighters within Syria toward the outside world for not providing enough practical support.

Alawistan Bashar al-Assad may be gearing up to create an Alawite statelet along Syria’s coastal mountains. And he has the means to do it.

Kurdish flag-waving unnoticed in Syria Whatever has happened on the ground, which restricted media access to Syria makes very difficult to confirm, the recent assertion of Kurdish authority in northern Syria has led to speculation about Kurdish demands in a post-Assad era.


Assad’s Theater of the Absurd

An example of the kind of propaganda espoused by Assad’s official media organs:

This footage was originally broadcast on the official Souriyya Ikhbariyyah TV network and uploaded by supporters of Bashar al-Assad on July 23, 2012. It depicts a news report claiming that American corporations funded by Qatar and Saudi Arabia are constructing life-size replicas of major Damascus neighborhoods in Hollywood to stage the fall of the capital. It also claims that senior level defections are being staged “and will be played by famous actors.” http://youtu.be/GjW5jlSqsRU

The inspiration for this storyline came out of a joke on Facebook, a joke that was actually mocking the Syrian regime’s propaganda. Regime supporters, it seems, did not get the joke and ended up believing and adopting the story!

Another story in this vein concerns the arrival in Doha of an Assad look-alike who is meant to play him delivering a concession speech. The included picture can be downloaded and amplified for the English version.

Some of the news anchors in Assad’s propaganda machine, however, could not stomach having to peddle these lies. Here is Oula Abbas, an anchorwoman at Ikhbariyyah, announcing her defection and accusing the regime of stoking sectarian sentiments http://youtu.be/J0UzfzK0fAI

Meanwhile, there were more political defections, including the Syrian Ambassador in Belarus, Taha Farouqhttp://youtu.be/ETMm_DOgzkI and an MP representing Aleppo, Ikhlas Badawi.


Now it’s Official

After so many months of lies on part of Assad’s propagandists speculations on part of international experts, and dithering on part of international leaders, the incitements and the neglect combined to create a vacuum in areas around Syria that was finally filled by the wrong elements that we were all fearing and warning against. Al-Qaeda is here. But guess who is trying to contain them: the FSA.

Here is Colonel Afif Solaiman, head of the Military Council of Idlib, explains how they freed two western journalists kidnapped by AQ and held for ransom http://youtu.be/lzknOugbvSo

The FSA is unlikely to try to fight against the emerging AQ network at this stage, since both have a common enemy they are fighting against: the Assads. But eventually, the two sides will have to battle out. This is another reason why the FSA should be supported.


Video Highlights

In Mayadeen, Deir Ezzor Province, the indiscriminate pounding http://youtu.be/EQr-NDqZG7Q claimed many lives and left many injured http://youtu.be/I6dmizQTxoo , http://youtu.be/g1xVkjylPo8 But local FSA unit still fought back and destroyed an invading tank http://youtu.be/pPLLTKAvPfU

In Aleppo City, the pounding by helicopter gunships http://youtu.be/RlgWVZEqLmQ of Firdos Neighborhood leaves many dead http://youtu.be/2OjXHu5aXxs But members of Al-Tawhid Brigade managed to capture the local police station arresting over 100 pro-Assad militias http://youtu.be/IGgNcM68aGM

In Daraa City, the indiscriminate pounding http://youtu.be/tkHwBH2SEIM , http://youtu.be/4wPD5TmvEbk of theMokhayam District left many dead http://youtu.be/fNdzjVDofYU , http://youtu.be/dWGgWQivM1M The Mokhayam’s population is a mix of Palestinians and Syrians.

In Damascus, the pounding by helicopter gunships of other restive suburbs and neighborhoods continues:Moadamiyah http://youtu.be/ZyD5MlkEUnE

In Homs Province, Old Homs, Rastan, Talbisseh and Houla continue to be pounded: Houlahttp://youtu.be/yFGHktDjgiE Rastan http://youtu.be/mcd7fEy8CZU Talbisseh http://youtu.be/1sLhwTCi64Q Old Homs (Baba Amr) http://youtu.be/kkmlnRcsRyc

While the pounding of cities and towns continued unrelenting, Friday witnessed as well the usual protest rallies still calling for toppling the regime, and the birth of a new democratic Syria.

Kafrenbel, Idlib: http://youtu.be/5Zcy9UZ7-vs Binnish, Idlib http://youtu.be/e1tg3iOrlC4

Shaar Neighborhood, Aleppo City: protesters chanted for Al-Tawhid Brigade which is now in controlhttp://youtu.be/Rc8ZtUSFvZo

Kafarzeiteh, Hama: http://youtu.be/EAHFeeWMYsg Khattab http://youtu.be/s-vNta9iGVk

Janoub Al-Malaab, Homs City: http://youtu.be/6cqiQVQXJOw

Douma, Damascushttp://youtu.be/kTOV_PBWxJ8 Qarrah http://youtu.be/mcDnvEI-kSI

Abtaa, Daraa Province: People chant “the Syrian people are one: Muslims and Christians”http://youtu.be/THh4ZrX6SiM

EU appoints Special Representative for Human Rights

By Pearl Rimon,
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

BRUSSELS, Belgium — The Council of Europe appointed Stavros Labrinidis as the EU Special Representative for Human Rights. Labrinidis’ new role puts him in charge of enhancing the effectiveness and visibility of the EU human rights policy. He will work with the European External Action Service. He begins his official role on September 1st, which runs until June 2014.

Stavros Labrinidis, Special Representative for Human Rights. (Photo Courtesy of Public Service Europe).

Labrinidis is the former minister of foreign affairs of Greece and a Vice President of the European Parliament. His appointment is a result of the EU’s Strategic Framework and Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy that was adopted on June 25.

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton announced the appointment in Brussels today. “Human rights are one of my top priorities and a silver thread that runs through everything that we do in external relations,” she said. “With his talent and huge experience, Mr. Lambrinidis will be a tremendous asset to us. I look forward to working with him in putting the protection and promotion of human rights and democracy at the heart of EU external action, and enhancing the coherence, effectiveness and visibility of our work in this field.”

Labrinidis was chosen ahead of French human rights ambassador François Zimeray  and Astrid Thors of Finland, a former European affairs minister.  The Council of Europe said the role had been created to “enhance the effectiveness and visibility of EU human rights policy.”

Lambrinidis’ past experience includes being deputy chairman of Parliament’s civil liberties, justice and home affairs committee. He was also the chairman of the committee for human rights in the Washington DC Bar Association.

Dany Cohn-Bendit, co-president of the Greens/European Free Alliance Grup in the Parliament, said “The creation of this new post is an important signal of the priority the EU gives to the promotion of and respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law.”

Labrinidis’ role requires him to be the voice for those who suffer from human rights violations. Barbara Lochibler, chair of the Council of Europe’s human rights subcommittee describes the appointment described Labrinidis; new role, “The Special Representative must be a reliable voice for the people who suffer human rights violations. He should keep an eye on the bilateral and multilateral relations of the EU and monitor the implementation of human rights with international partners: in foreign and economic policy as well as in development cooperation. Last but not least, there must be coherence between the EU’s internal and external policies as regards human rights.”

For further information, please see:

New Europe — EU Appoints Human Rights Chief – 26 July 2012

European Parliament — MEPs congratulate new EU human rights envoy, Stavros Lambrinidis – 25 July 2012

Public Service Europe — Labrinidis Appointed EU’s First Human Rights Envoy – 25 July 2012

New Motions in Challenge to Lawyer Access Rules at Guantanamo

By Mark O’Brien
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, United States — In a motion filed this week, the U.S. Justice Department requested just one federal judge decide which rules apply to lawyers representing suspects being held at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The Justice Department filed a motion this week in a case over whether Guantanamo detainees can have continued access to counsel after losing habeas. (Photo Courtesy of the Christian Science Monitor)

Government lawyers asked for Chief Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to be the decider in a growing dispute between the government and defense lawyers.

The issue is whether detainees who have lost their one-shot habeas cases can have continued access to their counsel.

“Respondents request that the instant Motions for Counsel Access be referred to a single judge for a coordinated ruling on the counsel-access issue that will govern in these and all other Guantanamo Bay habeas cases,” the motion stated.

According to Politico, Guantanamo leaders have tried “to unilaterally impose rules for lawyers’ visits to Guantanamo when no court proceedings are pending.  Lawyers for some inmates have complained that they should continue to be covered by orders issued by judges in Washington.  They argue that prisoners are free to file successive petitions for release, so the visits are directly tied to potential litigation.”

The filing stems from a case in which Yasin Qasem Muhammad Ismail, a Yemeni national detained at Guantanamo, was told he no longer had the right to see his counsel after losing his habeas petition.  An email from the Justice Department to Ismail’s lawyer reportedly said Ismail could only meet his lawyer if the lawyer signed a new “memorandum of understanding.”  Ismail’s lawyer, David Remes, described that new MOU as giving the government “absolute authority over access to counsel.”

According to Scotusblog, Remes challenged the new MOU earlier this month in federal court.

“As long as [Ismail] is detained, he retains the right to pursue any available legal avenues to obtain his release,” Remes argued, according to court papers.

As Scotusblog put it, those other avenues include “the right to file a new or amended habeas challenge, or to file a formal motion to have his case reopened in District Court.”

But this new legal challenge is not the only complaint defense lawyers have raised regarding the system for terror suspects detained at Guantanamo.

Just last week, lawyers for Saudi defendant Abd al Rahim al Nashiri alleged that the military official in charge of the tribunal attempted to rig the Guantanamo court to deliver the death sentence.  Nashiri is charged in connection with planning the al Qaeda attack on the USS Cole off the coast of Yemen in 2000, killing 17 sailors and injuring dozens more.

The defense accused retired Vice Admiral Bruce MacDonald of “unprecedented bureaucratic meddling” in instructing the judge how to carry out jury selection, something normally left to the judge alone.

The instructions would result in a jury panel “that numerically favors a death sentence,” said Lieutenant Commander Stephen Reyes, a lawyer for Nashiri.

For further information, please see:

Lawfare — On Continued Counsel Access at Gitmo and the Government’s Filing — 27 July 2012

Politico — Feds: Single Judge Should Rule on Rules for Lawyers at Guantanamo — 26 July 2012

Reuters — Defense Lawyers say Guantanamo Court Rigged to Deliver Death Sentence — 19 July 2012

The Christian Science Monitor — Guantanamo Judge Refuses to Step Aside — 17 July 2012

Scotusblog — Are “Boumediene Rights” Expiring? — 13 July 2012

Death Squad Decision Infuriates Public

By Margaret Janelle Hutchinson
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

 LIMA, Peru – President Ollanta Humala has announced that the State Prosecutor will appeal a 3-2 ruling handed down by the Supreme Court last Friday which reduced prison sentences for the country’s former spy chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, and members of a paramilitary death squad known as the Grupo Colina.

Street Protest in Peru
A man waves a sign reading, “No more impunity” as Peruvians protest the recent Supreme Court decision that reduced sentences of former death squad members. (Photo courtesy Al Jazeera)

The Colina group, wearing masks, machine-gunned 15 people, including an 8-year-old boy, in the courtyard of a tenement building in Lima’s Barrios Altos district in 1991 and kidnapped, tortured and murdered nine students and one professor at La Cantuta University in 1992.

Other crimes of which they were accused included the murder in May 1992 of 10 small farmers in the Santa Valley, north of Lima, allegedly at the personal request of General Hermoza, and the assassination in December 1992 of Pedro Huillca, the influential leader of the national workers’ union, CGTP, who had called for a national strike against then President Fujimori’s privatization efforts.  The death and dismemberment of intelligence agent Mariella Barreto also was attributed to members of the squad.

In 2004, investigative journalist Ricard Uceda published Muerte en el Pentagonito, a well-documented report on the human rights violations by the military intelligence service in their fight against terrorism between 1982 and 1993, with key details of the death squads kidnappings, torture and incineration of victims in the basement of the military headquarters in the San Borja district of Lima.

Released in 2011, a meticulously detailed documentary, La Cantuta en la Boca del Diablo, traces the work of investigative journalist Edmundo Cruz into the death of the university students and professor, who were pulled out of their dorm rooms at the Chosica campus before dawn and never seen again.  Some of their scattered remains were found near the water treatment plant in east Lima and more remains were found between the hillsides on the road to Cieneguilla.  In some cases, confirmation of their whereabouts was only made by matching keys to their dorm lockers, found buried among the pieces of lime-bleached bones in the desert.

The Supreme Court’s argument to annul the qualification of crime against humanity was that the squad was acting as part of a chain of command within the army and that they were fighting terrorists.

At the time, Peru was locked in a bloody conflict with the Shining Path, a Maoist-inspired insurgency that sought to topple the government system.

The president of the Supreme Court, Javier Villa Stein, said that while the killings were human rights crimes, they are not necessarily crimes against humanity.

Peruvians have reacted with widespread anger and are voicing their opposition in the streets of Lima. In a video victims’ family members spoke out against impunity. One woman interviewed said: “[The judge] says that it is not crime against humanity. But what about my son? He was eight years old and they shot him with seven bullets in his body and one in his face.”

The President’s wife, Nadine Heredia tweeted: “Crimes of the Colina group and their leaders should not be forgotten. This ruling stains the honor of our country!”

“To kill a child is a terrible crime but that doesn’t convert it into a crime against humanity,” Stein said.

Human rights attorney Gloria Cano, who represents 14 victims of the Colina group, said the ruling contradicts a 2001 decision by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that deemed the killings crimes against humanity.

“In our country, the military are in prison while the terrorists are already out,” Stein said.

Writing for the court, Judge Javier Villa Stein said the men could not be made to serve sentences for crimes against humanity because the prosecutor in the case had not specifically sought to convict them on that charge. The prosecutor refutes that, however, as do court documents filed in 2005.

In 2009, ex-President Alberto Fujimori, who took office in 1990, was found guilty on charges for sanctioning the death squad.

The Supreme Court’s decision trimmed the prison sentences of 15 former military men as well as Mr Montesinos, who as national security adviser to Mr. Fujimori helped him maintain power through violence, bribery and intimidation.

The court also overturned the aggravated murder conviction and 15-year sentence of Montesino’s army intelligence chief, Alberto Pinto, for providing financial and logistical support to the Colina group.

Pinto was released from prison on Tuesday.

Defendants convicted of crimes against humanity in Peru are not eligible for parole. Those convicted of murder are eligible after serving two-thirds of their sentence.

Mr. Montesinos himself will not be eligible for parole any time soon. He has been convicted of a series of other crimes including running guns to Colombian rebels.

Peruvian courts have found that the Colina group committed 53 murders of supposed left-wing rebel sympathizers and other civilians from 1991 to 1996 with the knowledge and aid of high-ranking officials who gave the group state funds, medical insurance, cars, weapons and training.

For further information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Peru: Outrage over death squad decision – 26 July 2012

Fox News Latino – Peruvians Outraged Over Possible Release of Death Squad – 25 July 2012

Morning Star – Court Ruling Court Free Peruvian Death Squad Members – 25 July 2012

Peruvian Times – Humala Says State Attorney to Appeal Supreme Court Ruling that Lightens Sentence of Death Squad and Montesinos – 24 July 2012

Senegal and AU Reach Deal on Trying Hissène Habré

By Ryan Aliman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

 DAKAR, Senegal – On Tuesday, July 24, 2012, Senegal and the African Union (AU) reached a preliminary agreement on how they intend to try former Chadian dictator, Hissène Habré, who is accused of committing war crimes during his rule from 1982 to 1990.

Chad’s former dictator Hissène Habré in court in Dakar. (Photo Courtesy of Ho/AFP/Getty Images)

After four days of deliberations in Dakar, AU and Senegalese government representatives drew a draft agreement on the creation of a special court in Senegal to try Habré.  Such “extraordinary African chambers” shall be incorporated “within the Senegalese court structure,” says Amadou Baal, director of the justice minister’s office.  The chambers will be divided into four sections depending on their functions, namely, instruction, investigations, trials, and appeals. Each chamber will consist of Senegalese and African judges.

Proceedings against Habré are tentatively scheduled to commence by the end of 2012 according to Senegal President Macky Sall. Baal, however, clarified that the proposal is still subject to final approval.

The deal between the AU and Senegal comes a few days after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague, Netherlands, ruled unanimously that Senegal must either prosecute the former dictator for war crimes or extradite him “without further delay.”

The ICJ order was a response to Belgium’s request to prosecute Habré.

A lower court in Dakar has already charged Habré in February 2000, but an appeals court overturned this decision on the ground that Senegalese courts lacked jurisdiction to try crimes that were perpetrated in another country. Belgium, citing the decision of the appeals court as a form of procedural delay, brought the matter to the ICJ and sought to have Habré extradited to face charges in Belgium instead.

Habré ruled Chad for 7 years until he was overthrown in 1990. He was then sent into exile in Senegal.

His regime was marked by repression and systematic targeting of ethnic groups such as the Sara, Hadjerai and the Zaghawa. A 1992 truth commission report said that he presided over up to 40,000 political murders and widespread torture of members of these ethnic groups perceived to be a threat to Habré’s government.

Despite these allegations, Habré has been living a quiet life in the suburbs of Dakar as courts and governments have tussled over who should try him for atrocities.

“Senegal made history in 1999 as the first country to join the International Criminal Court, and it could make history again by being the first country to prosecute the human rights crimes of a foreign leader,” said Alioune Tine, president of the African Assembly for the Defense of Human Rights.


For further information, please see:

Huffington Post – Hissene Habré Trial: Senegal, African Union Reach Deal on Trying Ex-Chadian Dictator – 25 July 2012

All Africa – Chad: Agreement on Habré Court – After World Court Ruling, Plan to Try Chad’s Ex-Dictator in Senegal with African Judges – 24 July, 2012

Star Africa – AU, Senegal Agree on Special Court to Try Habré – 24 July 2012

All Africa – Chad: UN World Court Rules Senegal Must Prosecute Ex-Chadian Leader oe Extradite Him – 20 July 2012

BBC – Profile Chad’s Hissene Habré – 20 July 2012

Syrian Revolution Digest – Thursday 26 June 2012



Solution Or Collusion?

A “solution” that keeps Assad in play and the Revolutionaries at bay when it comes to managing the transitional period is not a solution. It’s a collusion. The Revolutionaries get it, and will oppose it.

Thursday July 26, 2012

Today’s Death toll: 200. The Breakdown: 48 in Aleppo, 46 in Damascus and suburbs, 30 in Daraa (including 22 in Wadi Al-Ajami), 27 in Idlib, 21 in Homs, 14 in Deir Ezzor, 6 in Hama, 4 in Raqqah, 2 in Lattakia, 1 in Hassakeh and 1 in Qunaitra.

Cities & Towns Under Shelling: Harasta, Arbeen, Moadamiah, Harran Al-Awameed, Zabadani, Madaya, Eltal, Dmeir, Hameh, Yelda, Rankous, Qarrah(Damascus Suburbs), Sit Zeinab, Al-Qadam, Modan, Al-Hajar Al-Aswad, Yarmouk, Kafar Sousseh, Mazzeh, Qaboun, Barzeh (Damascus City), Daraa City, Khirbet Al-Ghazaleh, Tafas, Bostra Al-Sham, Na’eemah, Mseifrah, Jimreen, Hraak (Daraa), Rastan, Talbisseh, Houla, Tal Kalakh, Al-Qusayr, Al-Hosn, Al-Ghanto, Al-Bouaydah, Old Homs (Homs Province), Hreitan, Elbab, Eizaz, Marei, Bayanoun (Aleppo Province), Haffeh, Jabal Al-Akrad (Lattakia), Deir Ezzor City, Mouhassan, Albou Kamal (Deir Ezzor Province), Kafar Zeiteh, Hawash, Shahshabo, Hama City (Hama Province), Jabal Al-Zawiyeh, Ma’rrat Al-Nouman, Saraqib, Maar Shoureen, Ariha, Kafroumah, Al-Rami, Khan Shaikhoon (Idlib).


Op-Eds & Special Reports

Russia and Syria’s Assad: The End of the Affair? It has become clear to many officials in Moscow that the Assad regime cannot restore the pre-rebellion status quo in Syria, forcing them to consider backing away from a longtime client.

Al Qaeda’s War for Syria Now is the time to begin moving against the terror group’s Syrian assets.

Insight: Cautious on Syria, Obama moves to help rebels One of the most telling signs that the administration sees few good options in Syria is the apparent lack of major policy disagreement among Obama’s advisers. “There was more on Egypt and Libya,” a senior administration official said.

As Syrian Troops Pour Into Aleppo, Rebels Warn of Drawn-Out War The Syrian Army is trying to prevent the country’s commercial capital from becoming a base for a rebel offensive against Damascus. Damien McElroy, Adrian Blomfield, and Magdy Samaan report.

After Assad: What’s Next for the Future of Syria? If Syria is allowed to fracture, each ethnic group hunkering down, says Ammar Abdulhamid, an exiled Syria opposition leader in Washington, “it won’t be easy to put humpty dumpty back together again. It would take decades of instability and violence to sort itself out. And that is what we’re most worried about.”

Video Highlights

The following video purport to show clashes between the Syrian and Jordanian armies near Tal Shihab http://youtu.be/HueiEPXCEJ0 The clashes came at the heel of a cross-border shooting by the Syrian army that left a 3-yerl0ld Syrian refugee boy dead. The clashes were confirmed by Al-Jazeerah, but the Jordanian government refuted the report saying the Syrian army fired at refugees who were crossing into Jordan, but no clashes took place.

The pounding of Kafroumah, Idlib province, leaves several dead and wounded, including many children http://youtu.be/r3T4xKxSWoY Trying to rescue the wounded http://youtu.be/ECwHyOv2Geo , http://youtu.be/GXfI9dXFdXA Funeral for four of the dead http://youtu.be/zeiF2vZTsk4

The call for general mobilization made by the Commander of the Military Council of Aleppo, affiliated with FSA, with English subtitleshttp://youtu.be/nZmg0e4kaCo

A video surfaces of Assad celebrating the birthday of his wife’s brother back in August 2011 when his troops were busy committing massacreshttp://youtu.be/lhbYI9WO0zY

Mhardeh, Hama Province: the judge appointed for investigating the Massacre of Qoubair defects and accuses the regime of the massacrehttp://youtu.be/4UcTPQfdMlc

People in the Damascene suburb of Yelda rush to pull bodies from underneath the rubble after the suburb was shelled by helicopter gunshipshttp://youtu.be/CvfhLHljy7Q The dead and wounded include many childrenhttp://youtu.be/NbkaTPcPdRA , http://youtu.be/kX0tEvJi1Bg

The pounding of the town of Dmeir to the North leaves many buildings and shops on fire http://youtu.be/AqhtDOnXJrs

The suburb of Daraya was also heavily pounded by helicoptershttp://youtu.be/dIsaqojh6cM , http://youtu.be/dIsaqojh6cM

In Damascus City, the regime bulldozed parts of Qaboun Neighborhood as a form of collective punishment destroying many homes and shops in the processhttp://youtu.be/AKZFVOm80bo , http://youtu.be/iK5Q3WDrrU0

MIGs still taking part in the pounding in Aleppo Province. This video is from the town of Manbej http://youtu.be/gDzdtaskTh0

A little boy takes his last breaths in Albou Kamal, Deir Ezzor Provincehttp://youtu.be/1mrgx9Sru0Q

In Aleppo City, preparing for battle is not just about establishment checkpoints and barricades, in Sakhour, it’s about collecting garbage and cleaning the neighborhoods: and the fighters are doing the job http://youtu.be/1u9wLwhkdxc ,http://youtu.be/9u1-CbG2mJI

The pounding of Deir Ezor City continues http://youtu.be/k0jLXiJSMVc

Trial of Iraq’s Vice President Delayed

By Mark McMurray
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq — On Tuesday, an Iraqi court postponed the trial of Iraq’s Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi until August 14.

Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi.  (Photo Courtesy of France 24)

Al-Hashemi, a high-ranking Sunni politician, faces around 150 separate charges.  He is accused of operating death squads along with his staff and bodyguards that targeted Shia officials and pilgrims.  The vice president has denied the wrongdoing and insists the charges filed by the Shia-led government are politically motivated and that he is the victim of a political vendetta by Shia Prime Minister Nouri al-Malik.

The appeals court earlier this week refused the defense’s request to call President Jalal Talabani, an ethnic Kurd, to testify at the trial.  Seeking to have Talabani serve as a character witness with five Sunni legislators and two other government officials, al-Hashemi first filed the request in May.

With the denial of the request to call the witnesses by the lower court hearing the case, al-Hashemi’s defense sought to have Iraq’s federal appeals court overturn the ruling.  The higher court denied the request and instead announced the trial would resume on August 14.   While the defense sought to ask the witnesses if they had any information about al-Hashemi’s role in terror attacks, the three-judge panel rejected the request, believing it  would add nothing to the case.

Muayad Obeid al-Ezzi, head of al-Hashemi’s defense team, spoke shortly after the denial.  “The federal appeals court rejected all of the appeals we filed, and returned the whole case to the [Central Criminal Court of Iraq],” he said.

Additionally, during Tuesday’s session, the court heard from witnesses supporting previous testimony given on May 15, when the trial began.  Five police officers testified that they found pistol silencers during a raid on the homes of al-Hashemi and Ahmed Qahtan, his son-in-law and office manager.   The claims, in addition to testimony from bodyguards and other officials who say they were offered money, or were forced, into carrying out attacks on al-Hashemi’s orders, are contested by the defense.

A woman and her son also testified on Tuesday.  As neighbors of Qahtan, they told the court they saw policemen taking silencers from his house.  Furthermore, testifying this week, one of the more than seventy of al-Hashemi’s guards currently held in custody described to the court how he drove other guards to plant roadside bombs under the orders of the vice president.

Al-Hashemi and several of his bodyguards are being tried in absentia.  In December, after the initial charges were filed, he fled to Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region before beginning a tour through Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.  He was last known to be in Turkey where the Turkish government has stated it will not extradite him to Iraq.

For further information, please see:

Al Monitor – Iraqi Government Wants Chevron To Scuttle Contract With Kurds – 25 July 2012

ABC News – Nine Killed in Attacks After Deadly Iraq Day – 24 July 2012

Al Jazeera – Iraqi Vice President’s Trial Postponed – 24 July 2012

France 24 – Iraq Court Says President Cannot Testify in VP Case – 24 July 2012

Fox News – Iraq President’s Testimony Rejected in Trial of Vice President – 24 July 2012