High Court of Ukraine Upholds Tymoshenko Conviction

By Pearl Rimon
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

KIEV, Ukraine – A three judge panel in Ukraine’s highest court upheld a guilty verdict against former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. In October 2011, Tymoshenko was convicted of abuse in office for negotiating and signing a natural gas contract with Russia.

Supporters of Yulia Tymoshenko hold a rally. (Photo Courtesy of Reuters)

The United States, Russia and the European Union have condemned the high court’s ruling.

Ukrainian Judge Oleksandr Elfimov said in his ruling that he “found no grounds to uphold the appeal,” and that the prison term is “adequate to the gravity of the crime.”

The EU issued a statement that Ukraine needs to “redress the effects of selective justice.” This is not the firs time the EU has commented on the Tymoshenko affair, in 2011 they released the statement that the trial “did not respect the international standards as regards fair, transparent and independent legal process.”

Sergiy Vlasenko, Tymoshenko’s lawyer, said that they are filing another appeal in the EU Court of Human rights.

“Today we again received a shameful decision which proves that a dictatorship is establishing itself in Ukraine,” Eugenia Tymoshenko, the daughter of Yulia Tymoshenko, told reporters.

Even Ukraine’s close allies’, Poland and Sweden, have expressed their concern about the Tymoshenko verdict.

Vice prime minister Sergei Tigipko, said “It is clear to us there is a clear violation. This was a criminal case, not a political case.” The Yanukoyvch government blames Tymoshenko’s gas deal with Russia for the Ukraine having the most expensive gas prices in Europe. Tigipko says that the deal cost the country six billion dollars in 2011.“Under Ukrainian law the cabinet should approve all such international agreements and this agreement was not approved by the cabinet,” added Mr Tigipko.

The European Court of Human rights in Strasbourg opened hearings on Tuesday probing into Tymoshenko’s pre-trial detention being politically motivated and if her rights were violated in prison.

Tymoshenko was the leader of the opposition party, All-Ukrainian Union “Fatherland Party”. She is credited as helping organize the 2004 Orange Revolution that resulted in massive protests across the country.

 

For further information, please see:

Focus News Agency– Yulia Tymoshenko’s Jail Sentence Confirmed — 29 August 2012

International Business Times — Former Ukrainian PM Yuliya Tymoshenko Loses Court Appeal, Stays In Jail – 29 August 2012

The Telegraph — Ukraine Minister Insists Yulia Tymoshenko Broke The Law – 29 August 2012

Call for Refugee Safe Zones in Syria

By Mark McMurray
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria — On Thursday, Turkey asked the U.N. Security Council to create refugee safe zones within Syria.  The plea came with a strong warning from the country that it cannot handle the amount of people fleeing the crisis in neighboring Syria.

Syrian men sit on the rubble of a shop destroyed by government forces in northern Syria.  (Photo Courtesy of Winnipeg Free Press)

Thursday’s Security Council meeting, which was called by France to discuss Syria’s humanitarian crisis, was attended only by France, Britain, Colombia, Morocco, and Togo of the 15 total members serving on the committee.

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, speaking ahead of the meeting, said there are “considerable difficulties” with the safe zones idea.  “We have to be clear that anything like a safe zone requires military intervention and that of course is something that has to be weighed very carefully,” he said.  However, he went on to add, “We are excluding no option for the future.”

Speaking in front of the Security Council on Thursday, Turkish foreign minister Ahment Davutoglu appealed for international assistance.  “The U.N. should initiate the establishment of IDP [internally displaced peoples] camps within Syria without delay.   Needless to say these camps should have full protection,” he said.

Davutoglu described the “serious difficulty” faced by Turkey in dealing with 4,000 refugees crossing the border every day.  With more than 80,000 Syrians in camps in Turkey and with 10,000 refugees waiting at the border separating the two countries, the humanitarian crisis is accelerating.

“The scale of the tragedy is growing so out of proportions that Turkey finds it increasingly difficult to cope with the ensuing challenges all by itself,” he continued.  According to the UN, over the past two weeks, the number of Syrians seeking refuge in Turkey and Jordan has jumped from 400-500 people per day to as many as 5,000 per day.

Releasing a statement ahead of the Security Council’s meeting, the opposition Syrian National Council pushed for a no-fly zone and for safe zones for refugees.  “The SNC considers that if the Security Council does not take serious measures to halt the regime’s massacres and crimes, it will have abandoned its role as guarantor of world peace and protector of people against genocide,” it read.

Responding to the human corridor appeal, U.N. officials expressed concern with the potential threat to the neutrality of humanitarian rights workers presented by military-protected zones.  The calls for safe zones “raise serious questions and require careful and critical consideration” U.N. Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson said.  “Bitter experience has shown that it is rarely possible to provide effective protection and security in such areas,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres added.

Meanwhile, refugees continue to suffer throughout the region.  Speaking from a camp housing 5,000 refugees on the border crossing into Turkey, Abdul Qadir Haj doubts the likelihood of the proposal.  “The safe zone is a dream.  It will not happen.  The world is against us,” the former Syrian policeman turned refugee said.

For further information, please see:

Al Arabiya – Syria Buffer Zone Plans Raise Serious Questions: United Nations – 30 August 2012

BBC News – ‘Difficult’ Demand for Refugee Camps in Syria Vexes UN – 30 August 2012

Christian Science Monitor – Amid Squalor and Fear on Turkish Border, Syrians Make Plea for Safe Zone – 30 August 2012

France 24 – Turkey Calls for Refugee Camps Inside Syria – 30 August 2012

Obama-inspired Gay Marriage Bill Passes First Vote in New Zealand

By Mark O’Brien
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand lawmakers overwhelming supported a gay marriage legalization bill this week that the bill’s sponsor said was inspired, in part, by U.S. President Barack Obama.

In its first of several votes, New Zealand Parliament overwhelmingly approved MP Louisa Wall’s gay marriage bill, which she said was partially inspired by U.S. President Barack Obama’s public support of the issue. (Photo Courtesy of The New Zealand Herald)

Parliament voted 80 to 40 after the bill’s first reading, well more than the simple majority needed to ensure a second vote.  Three votes are needed before the bill becomes law.

“I think the catalyst was around Obama’s announcement,” the bill’s sponsor, Labour MP Louisa Wall, told the Associated Press, referencing Obama’s declaration in May supporting gay marriage in the United States.  “Then obviously our prime minister came out very early in support, as did the leader of my party, David Shearer.  The timing was right.”

If the law ultimately passes, then New Zealand would become the 12th country to recognize same-sex marriage since 2001.  Recent polls show roughly two-thirds of New Zealanders support gay marriage.

But some political leaders cautioned observers that the vote was not an accurate reflection of the population.

Colin Craig of the Conservative Party indicated some MPs might not have done enough to get the views of their constituents.

“My biggest concern is the MPs who are just not consulting with their electorates at all,” Craig told Newstalk ZB.  “They’re being swayed by those who lobby with them directly, and we see that as a key point in terms of going forward on this one.”

Indeed, New Zealand media reported switches of support before the vote.  The New Zealand Herald reported that some of the significant turnarounds were National MP Paul Hutchison, who the day before the vote told the Herald he would oppose the measure; Labour MP David Clark, a former Presbyterian minister who was unsupportive of marriage equality a year ago; and, ACT MP John Banks, who was quoted as describing the gay marriage bill “evil” and its potential passing as a “sad and sickening day.”

Labour MP Phil Twyford explained to the Western Leader that it took him a month of talking with voters before he could reach a decision on how to vote.  Ultimately, he said the choice came down to doing “the right thing.”

“While there were differing views on the bill and some people have strong feelings, I believe the community on balance is ready to support the measure,” he said.  “I have been heartened to hear so many people express the view that all New Zealanders should have every chance in life regardless of color, sex, where they grew up, what school they went to, or who they choose to love.”

Still, opponents hope to stop the bill from becoming law.  Family First, a conservative lobby group, helped organize a petition drive that received signatures from 50,000 people against the measure.  The group’s founder, Bob McCoskrie, said government should not redefine marriage when civil unions suffice.

“Equality doesn’t mean sameness,” he told the Associated Press.  “Marriage has always been about the relationship of a man and a woman because of their natural potential to have children.”

For further information, please see:

The Western Leader — MPs Back Gay Marriage — 31 August 2012

The New Zealand Herald — NZ ‘Gayest Place on Earth’? — 30 August 2012

The Huffington Post — New Zealand Gay Marriage: 1st Stage of New Law Passed — 29 August 2012

Newstalk ZB — Day Has Arrived for Govt Vote on Gay Marriage — 29 August 2012

Chautauqua Declaration Renewed By International Prosecutors

By Remington Whitcomb (rwhitcomb@post-journal.com)
The Post-Journal

CHAUTAUQUA , New York – Nine international prosecutors gathered at Chautauqua on Tuesday to reaffirm the promises made in the Chautauqua Declaration five years ago.

H.W. William Caming discusses his opinions on the Chautauqua Declaration and international humanitarian law. 
P-J photo by Remington Whitcomb

Those who were not familiar with the event taking place at the Athenaeum Hotel may have mistaken the building for some sort of embassy, as a handful of languages were audible before the afternoon renewal of the declaration.

This is because nearly every single continent was represented at the event, either as a prosecutor or as a guest.

The event began with an address delivered by Elizabeth Andersen, representative of the American Society of International Law, and followed with the reaffirmation of the Chautauqua Declaration by the highly lauded board of international prosecutors.

The original Chautauqua Declaration, which was issued in 2007 stated that, “The challenge for states and for the international community is to fulfill the promise of the law they created; to enforce judicial decision and to ensure the arrest and surrender of sought individuals …”

To begin, Andersen gave the American Society of International Law’s purpose for supporting the International Humanitarian Law Dialogues.

“I can think of few activities of the society that better serve our mission than cosponsoring these dialogues,” said Andersen. “The opportunity to bring together experts in our field for careful discussion and debate … and disseminating that information to broad constituencies of international law, that is what we are all about.

“We are impatient for justice, as we should be,” continued Andersen. “Sometimes the process seems too slow, too compromised, but when we reflect on the legacy of the special court for Sierra Leone, we can take satisfaction in progress made, lessons learned … and now pass it on to future processes. … It is for that stock-taking of lessons learned and progress made, and to rededicate ourselves to the work that remains and inspire the next generation to carry it on that we convene the dialogues …”

Following Andersen’s address, the board of prosecutors reaffirmed and commented on the Chautauqua Declaration. The board consisted of: Fatou Bensouda, International Criminal Court; Serge Brammertz, International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia; H.W. William Caming, United States Military Tribunal of Nuremberg; David Crane, Special Court for Sierra Leone; Sir Desmond de Silva, Special Court for Sierra Leone; Brenda J Hollis, Special Court for Sierra Leone; Hassan Jallow, International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda; William Smith, Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia; Ekkehard Withopf, Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

When given the opportunity to say a few words about their accomplishments in arresting and prosecuting international war criminals, many took the opportunity to speak of the future, rather than of their many, many collective accomplishments.

“After nine years of activities, there is much we have achieved,” said Bensouda. “However, our work is far from over. We are facing many challenges, including outstanding warrants against 12 individuals.”

“I am a bit concerned as an American,” said Crane, “the United States of America has built a wonderful house beginning in 1945. It has built a house on which we seek justice for those at-large. Yet, as I look out into the not-so-distant future, particularly in the next five years, as (several tribunal courts) close, my question is: how many Americans will be a part of modern international criminal law? You won’t see anymore American chief prosecutors or judges or registrars or someone who had a leadership role in these courts, because they are all closed. So as we walk out of the house we built and close the door, within five or six years, we will only be able to look through the window of that house we built. … That’s what international justice is about: the camaraderie and teamwork of building something together under extreme circumstances and then watching it with colleagues.”

“I’ve had the privilege of listening to the words of remarkable men and women here in this room,” said Sir Desmond de Silva. “I leave Chautauqua with the renewed hope that I will see, and we will see, victory and justice over evil and the triumph of victims over despots. That is what we are here to achieve.”

Following the prosecutors’ comments, the audience gave a standing ovation which lasted for no less than a minute. The conclusion of the reaffirmation of the Chautauqua Declaration marks the end of the three-day ceremony of the International Humanitarian Law Dialogues.

UN Report Finds Gaza Will Not Be ‘Liveable’ by 2020

By Ali Al-Bassam
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

GAZA STRIP — In a comprehensive report published on Monday, the United Nations determined that the Gaza Strip will not be livable by the year 2020, unless measures are taken to improve the region’s water supply, power, health, and schooling.

Gazans currently rely on smuggled goods, which are transported through an underground tunnel connected to Egypt.  (Photo Courtesy of Haaretz)

According to the report, Gazans must double their current supply of electricity, and must provide at least 440 more schools, 800 more hospital beds, and more than 1,000 doctors if the region is to remain habitable.  The report also said that the region is suffering from a housing shortage, finding that tens of thousands of housing units must be constructed soon.

On Monday, U.N. Humanitarian Coordinater Maxwell Gaylard said in a press release that, “[A]ction needs to be taken now if Gaza is to be a livable place in 2020 and it is already difficult now.”  The U.N. expects the population to grow steadily from its current number of 1.6 million to 2.1 million by the year 2020.

Gaza has been under the control of Hamas, the armed political movement that refuses to accept peace with Israel, since 2007.  Despite international pressure, Israel refuses to lift its blockade on goods coming into the region out of fear that Hamas would be able to acquire weapons.

Because the Gaza Strip lacks both an airport and a seaport, it relies heavily on outside funding and illegal smuggling from Egypt through underground tunnels.  The U.N.’s report says that such circumstances makes Gaza’s economy “fundamentally unviable,”  also saying that Gazans are worse off than they were in the 1990’s despite the minor economic growth that the region has felt in recent years.

With 80 percent of Gazans dependent on charity, Gaylard has called on international donors to increase their aid.  “Despite their best efforts the Palestinians in Gaza still need help,” he said.  “They are under blockade.  They are under occupation and they need our help both politically and practically on the ground.”  Jean Gough of UNICEF believes that a lack of clean drinking water is the region’s greatest concern.  The report states that the water needs of Gazans has increased by 60 percent, and that urgent action is necessary to protect their current water source, a single aquifer that is estimated to become unusable by 2016.  The report also says that more desalination plants will be needed in the near future.

Gaylard believes that peace and security is necessary to improve the lives of Gazans.  “It will certainly have to mean the end of blockade, the end of isolation and the end of conflict.”

For further information, please see:

Al Jazeera — UN Warns Gaza ‘Will not be Liveable by 2020’ — 27 August 2012

BBC News — Gaza ‘Will not be Liveable by 2020’ – UN Report — 27 August 2012

Business Insider — UN: Gaza Won’t be ‘Liveable’ by 2020 Unless Urgent Action is Taken — 27 August 2012

Haaretz — UN Report: Gaza Won’t be ‘Liveable’ by 2020 if Urgent Action not Taken — 27 August 2012

The Jerusalem Post — ‘Gaza Will not be ‘Liveable’ by 2020 Without Action’ — 27 August 2012

 

Assassination of Islamic Cleric Sparks Riots in Mombasa

By Ryan Aliman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

NAIROBI, Kenya – The murder of Islamic cleric Aboud Rogo Mohammed, popularly known in Kenya as Rogo, sparked riots in Mombasa that began on Monday, August 27.

Civilians carry Imam Rogo’s body along the Mombasa-Malindi highway.(Photo Courtesy of BBC News)

Identified by the US and the UN as an aide and financier to Somalia’s Al Qaeda-linked Al Shebab militants, Rogo was driving a minibus with his father-in-law, wife and children when he was shot to death by “unknown people”, according to local police. Rogo’s family members reportedly survived the attack.

Upon learning of Rogo’s “targeted assassination”, his supporters began barricading the streets with burning tires in the predominantly Muslim neighborhood of Majengo as they clamored against the alleged “witch-hunt” against Muslims by the Kenyan government. They threw stones and fired machine guns at law enforcers; looted stores; and set ablaze churches. On Tuesday, they detonated a grenade in the area which injured almost a dozen officers and killed five people, including one civilian and three police officers.

The Kenyan police attempted to quell the unrest by retaliating with open fire and by arresting some of the protesters. So far, around 24 people are in detention and are likely to face charges of illegal assembly, arson and destruction of property. Anti-riot forces have also begun to patrol the streets armed with batons, teargas and rifles. In addition, they have ordered local residents to remain in their houses.

A day after Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Keriako Tobiko appointed Assistant Deputy DPP Jacob Ondari to assemble the team that will investigate Rogo’s murder, the National Muslim Leaders Forum (NAMLEF) called for an end to the riots. Despite conceding that the police were behind Rogo’s death and characterizing the cleric’s assassination as an “extra-judicial killing”, the Muslim leaders openly condemned the violence inflicted upon the police and the burning of churches, stating that “Islam did not condone attacks on places of worship”.

Perhaps to avoid aggravating already strained Muslim-Christian relations in the region, Cabinet Minister Najib Balala, a member of the NAMLEF, reminded Rogo’s supporters that, “this is not a war between Muslims and Christians, it is war against crime.”

However, Prime Minister Raila Odinga seemed to disagree with Cabinet Minister Balala. “We suspect the hand of the enemies of our country in this, those who want to create religious animosity. It is an attempt to try create a division between Christians and Muslims in our country so that it appears it is a religious war,” he told reporters.

Foreign embassies, meanwhile, such as those of Australia, Britain and France have issued travel warnings for Mombasa, a popular tourist destination with a major Indian Ocean port.

 

For further information, please see:

BBC – Kenya Cleric Rogo Riots: Mombasa Death Toll Rises – 29 August 2012

Reuters – Kenya PM Blames Killing of Muslim Cleric on Nation’s Foes – 29 August 2012

The National – Kenyan Police Officers Killed in Mombasa Riots over Imam Death – 29 August 2012

Daily Nation – Muslim Leaders Call for End to Mombasa Riots – 29 August 2012

Arab News – Riots Break Out for 2nd Day in Kenya over Cleric’s Death – 29 August 2012

Zimbabwean Police Officers Raid Gay Rights Organization

By Tara Pistorese
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa Desk

HARARE, Zimbabwe—On August 20, Zimbabwean police officers forcibly occupied the Harare organizational offices of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ), which advocates for national gay rights and provides health education and counseling. This was the second police raid of GALZ this month.

Activists Advocate for Gay Rights in Zimbabwe. (Photo Courtesy of The International Business Times)
Activists Advocate for Gay Rights in Zimbabwe. (Photo Courtesy of The International Business Times)

Officers confiscated computers, gay rights advocacy materials, DVDs, pamphlets, CDs, and other important documents, accusing the organization of operating without a license, in violation of the Private Voluntary Organizations Act. The “truckloads” of officers responsible for the invasion completely shut down the organization upon their departure.

The raid lasted six hours, most of which was conducted without a search warrant. When police finally provided a warrant in response to GALZ’s attorney’s demands, it stated the purpose of the raid was that GALZ was “in possession of pamphlets and fliers with information that promotes homosexuality for distribution.”

Forty-four members of the organization were arrested and will be tried, although a trial date has not yet been set, according to GALZ attorney Tonderai Bhatasara.

“It’s not an offense to be gay under the Zimbabwean Constitution,” Bhatasara explained, “but, if one man sodomized another man, then it becomes an offense. It is only intolerance within the society and political leadership here in Zimbabwe which have fueled the vilification of gays and lesbians.”

Human Rights Watch sent a letter to Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangrai and President Robert Mugabe calling for the government to immediately stop persecuting members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community, and, specifically, GALZ.

This incident comes on the heels of a similar police raid that took place on August 11. On that occasion, police forcibly entered a GALZ office without a warrant in response to the organization’s publication of the 2011 LGBTI Rights Violation Report as well as a briefing of the progress of the new Zimbabwe Constitution, which is currently being drafted. President Mugabe vowed to exclude LBGTI rights in the new Constitution.

The police detained and assaulted forty-four GALZ members with batons, slaps, and punches during the August 11 attack, forcing some of the victims to seek medical attention for the injuries they suffered.

The week following the August 11 raid, the police entered the homes of various GALZ members and forced them to accompany officers to police headquarters, where the individuals were questioned.

“Such use of force is in direct contradiction to the Global Political Agreement,” said a GALZ spokesperson. The Global Political Agreement established a power-sharing government in 2009 with the intention of resolving Zimbabwe’s political and economic crisis and illuminating a new national political direction.

GALZ has been the target of multiple other violent assaults at the hand of the Zimbabwean government, most of which subject the organization’s officers to intimidation, arbitrary arrests, and beatings.

Specifically, in May 2010, two GALZ staff members were arrested after displaying a letter from San Francisco’s mayor calling President Mugabe “homophobic.” The two individuals were assaulted and detained for six days while police officials attempted to coerce them into providing a GALZ member list.

The staff members were charged with “insulting the President,” which is a criminal offense in Zimbabwe, although both were acquitted six months later. One of the arrest victims has since fled Zimbabwe out of fear for her personal safety.

GALZ, however, has not yet retracted the mayor’s letter from public display, prompting police to concentrate on the organization’s director during their criminal investigation of the Presidential insult. The director has been threatened with prosecution for this crime unless the organization brings forth another member willing to be prosecuted for the offense.

The U.S. State Department Spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland condemned the raids saying the U.S. “stands in solidarity” with Zimbabwe’s gay rights activists and other civil society.

“We are deeply concerned when security forces become an instrument of political violence used against citizens exercising their democratic rights,” Nuland said. “We call upon the government of Zimbabwe to eradicate the culture of impunity that allows members of the security sector to continue to violate the rights of the Zimbabwean people.”

Similarly, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) has condemned the police actions against GALZ and has monitored and recorded incidents of anti-gay government action. Notably, a speech from government figures in May 2012 urged Zimbabwean chiefs to banish “people who support homosexuality” from their communities and disposes them of their land.

GALZ has responded publicly to the police raids by saying, “[we] do not condone violence and we are not a threat. Those who cause violence are a threat to public safety and security and we ask that they stay away from our premises.”


For further information, please see:

Human Rights Watch—Zimbabwe: End Attacks on LGBT People—27 August 2012

ZimEye—U.S. Gov’t Blasts Zimbabwe Over Gay Group Raids—25 August 2012

The Zimbabwean—ZLHR Condemns GALZ Raids and State-Sponsored Homophobia Against LGBTS—23 August 2012

NewsDay—44 GALZ Members Arrested—13 August 2012

Two Members of Pussy Riot Flee Russia to Avoid Prosecution

By Connie Hong
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia – Two members of Pussy Riot, a Russian feminist punk band, had fled the country in order to avoid prosecution for their involvement in an anti-Putin performance held at the alter of Christ the Savior cathedral.  Their decision to leave the country comes after the conviction of three of their band mates for hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.  The three women were sentenced to two years of jail time, but their defense lawyers are expected to soon appeal their sentences.

Members of Pussy Riot wearing colorful balaclavas. (Photo Courtesy of The Guardian) Continue reading “Two Members of Pussy Riot Flee Russia to Avoid Prosecution”

Sixteen Lions and Tigers Stopped at Paraguay-Argentine Border

By Heba Girgis
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

ASUNCION, Paraguay—We all know what it is like to be stuck in the security line at the airport for an hour anxiously wondering if we will make our flight departure, or wondering if just because we possess certain traits we will be held up at customs. Now take this situation and multiply it by two months of waiting.

The Cats Have Been Held in Paraguay for Almost Two Months at the Zoo in Asuncion. (Photo Courtesy of The Cortez Journal)

This is the situation that 16 lions and tigers face on the border of Paraguay because Argentine officials refused to approve the big cats’ paperwork for re-entry into the country.

The group of cats includes nine Bengal tigers and seven African lions. They all belong to an Argentine circus that travels to the capital of Paraguay every August to perform. The group’s owner, Oswal Wasconi, travelled with them to this year’s performance and ran into trouble when the group attempted to return to Argentina. Apparently a new law was passed in Paraguay banning live animal acts in performing circuses.

After realizing that they had no choice of putting on the live animal show, Wasconi decided to try to ship the lions and tigers back to Argentina. It was at this point in the game that these animals got stuck at the customs border between Argentina and Paraguay. While the animals all have good-health forms and certificates, their entry back into Argentina was blocked by government border officials who demanded more information about the protected species of cats.

Estela Gomez, the director of Paraguay’s wildlife agency, noted that her ministry decided to move the performing cats to the Asuncion Zoo in pairs “so that they can live in some comfort and not in a strange area” until the issue with the border patrol is resolved. The cats’ owner will be providing the zoo with enough food and water to care for the cats while this matter is investigated further.

Gomez said also that, “In the next few days we will continue investigating the true reasons why the Argentine authorities aren’t authorizing their return. I can’t anticipate whether these beasts will remain forever in Paraguay or eventually go to Argentina.”

Paraguay is not the only country to develop this type of ban on live animal acts. Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador have also passed a similar law and the legislation process is under way in both Colombia and Brazil to develop their own laws of this nature.

As Wasconi awaits the news from Argentine border officials, his animals await the verdict in the Asuncion Zoo in Paraguay’s capital city.

 

For further information, please see:

Global Post – 16 Tigers and Lions Stuck in South American Border Limbo for 2 Months – 25 August 2012

Cortez Journal – Caged Big Cats Stuck on Paraguay Border 2 Months – 24 August 2012

Newsday – Caged Big Cats Stuck on Paraguay Border 2 Months – 24 August 2012

The Washington Post – 16 Tigers and Lions Caged in Two Month Border Limbo; Banned in Paraguay, Barred From Argentina – 24 August 2012

Japan’s Recent Resolution Around Disputed Islands Exacerbate Tensions

By Karen Diep
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

TOKYO, Japan – On Friday, Japan demanded South Korea end its unauthorized occupation of small islands under Japanese control.  In addition, Japan criticized China for its unrightful claims over other islands and occupation by Chinese activists.

Japanese Nationalists with on island with Japanese flag. (Photo Courtesy of New York Times)

“Since earlier this month, a series of incidents have occurred, threatening to violate our sovereignty, which we find extremely regrettable.  We do not tolerate these actions,” voiced Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.

On Friday, Japan’s lawmakers passed a symbolic resolution banning South Korea’s President, Lee Myung-bak, from Japan’s island, Takeshima in Japanese and Dokdo in Korean.

“We condemn [Lee’s landing] and strongly demand South Korea end its illegal occupation of Takeshima as soon as possible,” read the resolution.  According to the Washington Post, the strong language in the dispute worsened relations between both countries.

On the other front, on August 17th, Japan deported 14 Chinese activists previously detained after landing on an island concurrently claimed by Japan and China in the East China Sea.  The island, Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese, lies near rich gas reserves, and in April, Tokyo’s governor announced that he would purchase the cluster of islands.

As reported by the Washington Post, critics pressured Prime Minister Noda to take harsher action monitoring and protecting the islands.  Accordingly, Mr. Noda announced that Japan would bolster its security near Senkaku or Diaoyu to prevent further “incursions by foreigners.”  Mr. Noda further stated that Japan would continue to push its position in international forums.

In response, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei claimed, “It is illegal and futile for Japan to strengthen its claim by approving the resolution.  It does not change the fact that the islands belong to China.”

In September 2010, a Chinese fishing boat collided with Japanese coastguard patrols near the disputed islands.  According to the Guardian, a Japanese coastguard claimed that the collision occurred after the captain disregarded requests to leave the area and subsequently refused to allow Japanese authorities to inspect his boat.  The Japanese further demanded that China pay for the damages.

Such events have lead to thousands of anti-Japanese protests the last few weeks in China.  As a result, Japan has urged China to protect its citizens.

“With a rising China and a more self-confident South Korea, the region is entering an era of turbulence,” shared Narushige Michishita, a security expert from Japan’s National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies.

For further information, please see: 

Tapei Times – Japan talks tough in row with South Korea on Islands – 26 Aug. 2012

The Washington Post – Japan condemns ‘illegal’ landings by Chinese activists, SKorean president on disputed islands – 24 Aug. 2012

Euro News – Japan and China clash over disputed islands – 20 Aug. 2012

The Guardian – Japan to deport 14 Chinese island activists – 17 Aug. 2012

The Guardian – Japan-China row escalates over fishing boat collision – 09 Sept. 2010

 

 

Gambia vows to Execute all Death Row Inmates

By Ryan Aliman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

BANJUL, Gambia – Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh declared that his government vows to execute all prisoners who had been sentenced to death by September.

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh.
(Photo courtesy of Gambia News)

According to Jammeh, the executions are meant to end the rise of “brutal killings” and “heinous crimes” in the country. “I will set an example on all those who have been condemned,” he proclaimed in a televised meeting with the country’s Muslim elders and religious leaders last Sunday.

Human rights groups report that Gambia has currently sentenced 44 inmates to death, including 2 women, since last year. Crimes that receive the capital punishment as penalty include murder and treason.

Once implemented, the President’s decree will mark the end of an execution-free regime that has been in place for almost 30 years. Gambia last executed a prisoner in 1985. The resumption of the death penalty will also make Gambia the only West African country to inflict capital punishment upon its prisoners. Togo, Burundi, Gabon and Rwanda have abolished the death penalty for all crimes in the last five years.

Known in Gambia as His Excellency, Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr Yahya Jammeh, the Gambian Leader has already made similar threats several years ago. For instance, in 1995, Jammeh’s government reinstated the death penalty. Almost a decade later, he issued another statement saying that his administration will see to it that all death row inmates will be executed as soon as possible. None of these intended executions, however, have been carried out. Despite this, Human Rights groups such as Amnesty International still consider President Jammeh’s recent announcement “a matter for serious concern”.

“Any attempt to carry out this threat would be both deeply shocking and a major set-back for human rights in Gambia,” said Audrey Gaughran, Amnesty International’s Africa director. “The President’s statement is in stark contracts to the trend, both in West Africa and globally, towards ending the use of the death penalty,” she added.

In his article for Think Africa Press, Journalist Bubacarr Sowe expressed his dismay regarding the President’s administration. He writes that over the past couple of years, President Jammeh has made decisions that run counter to the President’s “promises of transparency, accountability and probity” – promises he made when he led a coup that ended former Gambian President Dawda Jawara’s 30-year rule. “Instead,” Sowe writes, “the administration is, like its predecessor, tainted with evidence of corruption and misappropriation of state resources.”

Notwithstanding the backlash against Jammeh’s regime, the President has maintained a steady number of supporters due to a recent boost in infrastructure projects which include the building of schools and hospitals, a new airport and the Gambia’s first university.

 

For further information, please see:

CNN – Gambia vows to execute all death row inmates by September, sparking outcry – 23 August 2012

AP – Gambia president vows to execute death row inmates – 22 August 2012

All Africa – Gambia: Murder Convicts Will Be Executed President Jammeh Tells Muslim Elders – 21 August 2012

All Africa – Gambia: President Jammeh Must Retract Call for Execution of Death Row Inmates – 21 August 2012

All Africa – Gambia: Yahya Jammeh – 18 Years and Counting – 2 August 2012

France Relaxes Employment Restrictions on Roma

By Pearl Rimon
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

PARIS, France – The French government has made it easier for Roma immigrants to obtain work and residence rights.

Many Roma live in makeshift camps on the edges of large cities. (Photo courtesy of Reuters)

This change in policy comes after police raids on makeshift Roma campsites located near Lille and Lyon. French Housing Minister, Cecile Duflot, defended the dismantling of the camps and called for: “integration through work, by widening and softening constraints that weigh heavily on Roma populations who wish to work, by eliminating the tax paid by the employers of the Roma and widening, in a very big way, the professions they can have access to.”

There are an estimated 20,000 Roma living in France.

One of the main changes in policy is waiving the tax that French employers are required to pay the immigration office when hiring a Romanian or Bulgarian worker, the tax can run as high as $2,200. The government-approved list of jobs that are open to Roma people will be expanded from the current 150 jobs.

“The Roma people are EU citizens like anyone else and would like to work like anyone else,” Malik Salemkour, a human rights activist who met with Socialist Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, told reporters.

Ayrault told reporters that the measures taken towards the Roma and the new measures were a “question of humanity and respect.”

Citizens of Romania and Bulgaria, which include the Roma, are subject to employment limitations until the end of 2013 in the European Union. This policy was supposedly imposed due to the fear of an excessive influx of immigrants looking for work. Roma are required work permits to stay legally beyond three months in a host country. This leads to many Roma living in makeshift camps near the edge of large cities illegally.

Earlier this month, police evicted around 300 people from illegal campsites. They also sent 240 Roma back to Romania and offered a stipend for those who voluntarily returned.

The Council of Europe, a governmental organization for human rights, has urged France to seek a solution for Roma immigrants. The European Commission, in charge of monitoring EU treaties, began monitoring the situation in France after the campsite raids.

For more information, please see:

BBC News — French Government Eases Job Access For Roma – 23 August 2012

Chicago Tribune — France Says to Relax Restrictions on Roma Jobseekers – 22 August 2012

Daily Reporter — After Camp Closures, France Loosening Job Restrictions on Roma From Eastern Europe – 22 August 2012

 

Clashes Continue in Syrian Cities

By Mark McMurray
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria — On Thursday, Syrian forces increased efforts to reclaim areas in the capital Damascus and the city of Aleppo from rebels.  The violence resulted in the deaths of about 100 people throughout Syria, with nearly 50 civilians dying in Damascus and more than 20 government troops losing their lives.

Rebels in Syria’s northern city of Aleppo. (Photo Courtesy of Voice of America)

The military bombed the towns of Daraya and Moadamiyeh near the capital.  A London-based group, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, reported raids on houses in Daraya and heavy fighting in the Hajar al-Aswad district of Damascus.

Activist Abu Zeid spoke with Reuters about the violence in Daraya.  “They are using mortar bombs to clear each sector then they enter it, while moving towards the centre,” he said.  In Moadamiyeh, the army used the nearby Qassioun mountain as a staging area for bombing the city.

Additionally, districts of Aleppo came under attack, with reports of foreign fighters joining the opposition.  According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the army had previously claimed that they had “cleansed” the area of rebels.  On Thursday, Syria’s state news agency, SANA, reported that government forces had again routed “terrorists” in Aleppo.

Thursday also marked the release of an 11-page report by Amnesty International detailing the treatment of civilians in Aleppo.  Syria’s largest city has witnessed the brunt of the violence since the uprising.

“Civilians are enduring a horrific level of violence in the battle between Syrian government forces and opposition fighters for control of Aleppo,” the report’s summary read.

“The use of imprecise weapons, such as unguided bombs, artillery shells and mortars by government forces, has dramatically increased the danger for civilians,” Donatella Rovera of Amnesty International added.

“As the conflict continues there are also growing concerns about increased abuses, including unlawful killings and ill-treatment of captives by opposition fighters belonging to a plethora of armed opposition groups, including the Free Syrian Army, operating in the city,” the report said.

The upheaval in Syria has continued to impact its neighboring countries.  In Lebanon, fighting broke out again on Thursday.  The Lebanese city of Tripoli saw its fourth day of violence with clashes between pro-Assad and anti-Assad forces.  A cease fire between political leaders representing the groups was broken less than 24 hours after its formation on Wednesday.

Tripoli and other parts of Lebanon have witnessed growing tensions between Sunni and Alawite Muslims who often live in neighboring communities.  Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has enjoyed the support of most of his Alawite sect while the Sunni community supports the Sunni led revolt seeking to topple his government.

For further information, please see:

BBC News – Syria Crisis: Fighting Continues in Damascus and Aleppo – 23 August 2012

NY Times –Syrian Forces Renew Raids on Damascus Suburbs – 23 August 2012

Syria Arab News Agency – Terrorists Confronted in Aleppo and Homs – 23 August 2012

Voice of America – Syrian Forces Carry Out Assault on Damascus – 23 August 2012

South Africa Reacts to Lonmin Massacre

By Tara Pistorese
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

PRETORIA, South Africa—Police, armed with automatic rifles and pistols, opened fire on a crowd of 3,000 workers of the Lonmin mining firm on August 17, killing 34 and injuring 78. The incident has been called the most lethal police action since the end of apartheid.

Police officer walks among bodies the shooting. (Photo courtesy of News24)

The miners had been on illegal strike for six days in an effort to have their wages raised from 4,000 rand per month (approximately $484) to 12,000 rand per month (approximately $1512). Bearing spears, traditional fighting sticks, and machetes, 250 miners were arrested for public violence. They are expected to appear in court soon.

“We are angry,” said a victim’s family member. “Why must people be killed because they are protesting?”

Mangwashi “Riya” Phiyega, the newly appointed Police Commissioner, said officers were acting in self-defense when they fired on the miners after they had attempted to dilute the crowd with tear gas, water cannons, and rubber bullets.

While the circumstances surrounding the tragic event are somewhat unclear, some witness accounts suggest the shooting was a response to the workers rushing a line of police officers.

On the Wednesday following the shooting, President Jacob Zuma spoke with a crowd of survivors, informing them that the government had no intentions of killing anyone that day. The crowd reacted by shouting “phansi amaphoyisa phansi,” which means “down with the police.”

President Zuma has been criticized for his handling of the situation, which has had a critical impact on the nation’s investors. Financiers have previously expressed distrust in the nation’s legal system in light of statistics showing the country suffers 43 murders each day, which is more than six times the murder rate in the United States.

The tragedy “will make it more difficult for South Africa to attract foreign investment,” Carmen Altenkirch, a sovereign analyst at Fitch Ratings in London, told Bloomberg.

South Africa is one of the largest platinum producers in the world and the nation’s economy relies on mining of resources for almost two-thirds of its exports. The day news of the massacre was released, the rand fell 1.8% against the dollar.

President Zuma created a judicial inquiry and committee of cabinet ministers to investigate and take action against those responsible, if necessary. However, he has publicly announced he will not terminate Phiyega.

“We need answers,” said Julius Malema, a spokesperson for the mineworkers. “I don’t trust President Zuma and his inquiry.”

President Zuma has declared a week of national mourning from August 20 through 26. Flags across the country and at missions outside South Africa’s borders will fly at half-mast this week.

Lonmin threatened surviving workers with dismissal, however, if they failed to return to the job by August 20.

 

For further information, please see:

Mail & Guardian OnlineZuma on Lonmin: Government Didn’t Plan to Kill Anyone22 August 2012

Bloomberg—Zuma Rejects Criticisms of Handling of Lonmin Mine Deaths22 August 2012

Mail & Guardian OnlineDeep Read: In the Eye of the Lonmin Storm20 August 2012

BBC News AfricaS. Africa Lonmin Killings: National Mourning Declared19 August 2012