Guatemalan Commission Presents Anti-Impunity Plans to United Nations

By Mark O’Brien
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala — A commission dedicated to fighting impunity in Guatemala presented a new strategy to the United Nations on Thursday.

Francisco Javier Dall´Anese Ruiz, head of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (left), presented a new strategy at the United Nations on Thursday to protect human rights.

The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, known by the Spanish-language acronym CICIG, identified four focus areas.  Commissioner Francisco Javier Dall’Anese Ruiz, alongside Guatemalan Vice President Roxana Baldetti, announced efforts to reduce impunity rates, boost anti-crime measures, stop illegal security forces, and educate people about the threats impunity poses on democracy.

The plans came one week after a United Nations independent expert warned that many Guatemalan children are victims of sexual exploitation and forced labor, despite the government’s protection measures.

“The phenomenon of sexually exploited girls in prostitution is very worrying, “said Najay Maalia M’jid, the Special Rapporteur on child trafficking, in a press release on Aug. 29.

Last month, a Guatemalan police officer was arrested and charged with using a 14-year-old as a sex slave.  Fox News Latino reported that about two-thirds of the 318 sexual violence reports were minors, according to the country’s human rights office.

“The strengthening of institutions that are tasked to implement, coordinate, and evaluate prevention and protection strategies for children should take advantage of the continued technical assistance of the United Nations and the international community,” Maala M’jid added.

There was no indication that Thursday’s announcement by CICIG that its four-focus plan was a product of Maala M’jid’s recommendation.  But UN Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernandez-Taranco said UN leaders greatly values the commission’s work and deserves strong support from the international community.

The United Nations helped establish CICIG in 2006 with the Guatemalan government.  The goal was to create an independent body to help prosecutors, police, and other agencies investigate an illegal security organizations and dismantle them.  In its press release this week, CICIG said its efforts have led to more than 130 people being charged.

The list of Guatemalan dignitaries at Thursday’s announcement included Commissioner Ruiz, Vice President Baldetti, Supreme Court of Justice President Thelma Aldana, President of Congress Gudy Rivera, Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz, and Minister of the Interior Mauricio Lopez Bonilla.

For further information, please see:

The Commission against Impunity in Guatemala — Commissioner Presents CICIG’s 2012-2013 Work Plan at UN Headquarters — 6 September 2012

The Guatemala Times — CICIG’s 2012-2013 Work Plan Presented at UN Headquarters Today — 6 September 2012

UN News Centre — UN-backed Commission Presents Plan to Fight Impunity in Guatemala — 6 September 2012

UN News Centre — Many Children in Guatemala Still Facing Sexual Exploitation, Forced Labour – UN Expert — 30 August 2012

Fox News Latino — Guatemalan Cop Accused of Holding Teen as Sex Slave — 17 August 2012

Morocco Expels Group of Sub-Saharan Migrants

By Heba Girgis
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

RABAT, Morocco—Very early on Tuesday morning, September 4, 2012, several units of Spain’s paramilitary Civil Guard rounded up a group of hopeful African immigrants on a small and uninhabited island on the North African coast. After securing the group, the Spanish paramilitary shipped them off back to the shores of Morocco—a country that is only a few dozen yards away from their rocky sanctuary.

African Immigrants on the Border Between Morocco and Algeria. (Photo Courtesy of International Herald Tribune)

The Spanish media has reported that ten “would be” immigrants—two mothers and eight children—would be allowed to remain on the territory per an agreement between Spain and Morocco. The approximately seventy others were taken back to Morocco and now face a possibility of expulsion to a no-man’s land region between Morocco and its neighbor, Algeria.

Describing the failure of this small group of African migrants attempting to escape to what they believe to be the prosperity of Europe, Spain’s El Mundo said, “Thus ended the dreams of dozens of sub-Saharans.”

This type of incident highlights the lengths to which people will go to fight for a better future. However, it also shows that authorities will create obstacles for these migrants. European governments are facing pressure to stop illegal immigration as it seems to be putting even more pressure on the scarce resources of the continent as the economies of southern European countries are struggling themselves.

The capture of these migrants was the outcome of an overnight joint operation by both Spanish and Moroccan authorities only several days after more than two dozen undocumented Africans either swam or waded across the narrow channel that connects Morocco to Isla de Tierra. Isla de Tierra is a remnant of Spanish presence in Northern Africa along with other enclaves along the African coast.

Although these European countries are trying to protect themselves in these situations, human rights groups have criticized these nations and have expressed concern that in doing so, they are neglecting the rights of migrants especially those who may have a real case for asylum.

Amnesty International, a world-wide organization, has estimated that 600,000 men, women and children have been detained in Europe each year for immigration and migration control reasons. The organization noted that, “There has been a growing trend of ‘criminalization’ of irregular migration in Europe.” Amnesty International also said, “Today, Europe is failing to promote and respect the rights of migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees” and that, “Hostility is widespread and mistreatment often goes unreported.”

A Moroccan human rights group made the argument that the state is responsible for the safety and security of these migrants. However, instead of being handed over to the government they are subjected to beatings, by both the authorities and hired thugs or as stated before, they are sent to the border near Algeria.

According to many different human rights organizations, there are between 20,000 and 25,000 unregistered sub-Saharan immigrants currently living in Morocco who may also try to flee to what they believe to be more opportunity in southern Europe.

 

For further information, please see:

Radio Netherlands Worldwide – Rights Group Slams Morocco Expulsion of Immigrants – 6 September 2012

Zimbabwe Independent – Human Rights Group Slams Morocco Government – 6 September 2012

El Pais – Expelled From Spanish Rock, Immigrants Regroup in Morocco for Next Border Bid – 5 September 2012

ANSA Med – Immigration: Morocco Expels 200 Sub-Saharan Migrants – 4 September 2012

International Herald Tribune – On the Fringes of Europe, a Crackdown on Migrants

Bakeries Attacked as Clashes Continue in Aleppo

By Ali Al-Bassam
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria — Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports that over the past three weeks, at or near at least 10 bakeries in the Aleppo province were attacked by Syrian bombs and artillery, killing dozens of civilians as they lined up to buy bread.  HRW believes that the attacks were specifically targeting civilians.

A child is treated for injuries after an air raid attack took place near a bakery in Aleppo. (Photo Courtesy of Human Rights Watch)

“The attacks are at least recklessly indiscriminate and the pattern and number of attacks suggest that government forces have been targeting civilians.  Both reckless indiscriminate attacks and deliberately targeting civilians are war crimes,” HRW said.

One of the deadliest attacks took place in the Qadi Askar neighborhood of Aleppo, where up to 60 peopler were killed and up to 70 people were wounded.  On August 21 a second attack occurred in the Bab Al-Hadid area of Aleppo, where at least 23 people were killed and 30 people were wounded.

“I was standing near the door of the bakery when the bomb hit – I just covered my head with my hands and ran for my life. I ran into a store next door and only there I realized that I was injured – in my side and left arm,” said “Fais,” a civilian who was injured during the attack.  “There was black smoke everywhere, and broken glass.  The bomb hit the corner of the street, and the shrapnel flew straight into the line – everyone still there was either killed or heavily injured.  I saw one guy on the ground without a leg, another without an arm, then a 16-year-old boy whom I knew, Rafat Makik Halak, without a head…  One of my cousins, Ahmed, lost his arm and leg, and died afterwards. My sister, who was also injured, is still in the hospital.”

“Day after day, Aleppo residents line up to get bread for their families, and instead get shrapnel piercing their bodies from government bombs and shells,” said Emergencies Researcher Ole Solvang, who recently visited Aleppo.  “Ten bakery attacks is not random – they show no care for civilians and strongly indicate an attempt to target them,” he added.  Solvang also said that the neighborhoods in which the 10 bakeries came under attack were a place where “no fighting was taking place before or during the attack.”

“Every pilot who deliberately launches a rocket at a bread line of civilians, and every commander who gives such an order, should face justice for their crimes,” Solvang said.

HRW reports that a Free Syrian Army facility located near one of the bakeries remained unharmed.

For further information please see:

The Egyptian Gazette — Syrian Forces Bombed People Queuing for Bread — 30 August 2012

Gulf News — Syrian Army Attacks on Bakeries — 30 August 2012

Human Rights Watch — Syria: Government Attacking Bread Lines — 30 August 2012

Al Jazeera — Deadly Fighting Rages on in Syria’s Aleppo — 11 August 2012

London High Court Blocks Inquiry Into the 1948 Killing of 24 Malaysians

By Karen Diep
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

Yesterday, London’s high court thwarted an inquiry into the killings of 24 unarmed Malayan rubber plantation workers in 1948.

Relatives of fallen victims. (Photo Courtesy of The Guardian)

With the support of over 568 Malaysian groups comprised of schools, temples, and professional groups, relatives of the fallen victims requested the court to launch an inquiry into the 1948 killings.  As a result, this past May, London’s High Court heard their case.

According to Reuters, at the time, officials reported the killing as an operation against anti-communist insurgents or supports attempting to escape.  However, in 1970, soldiers formerly involved admitted to a British newspaper that the killings were in fact pre-meditated.  The soldiers were allegedly ordered to cover the truth.

Sir John Thomas, the president of the Queen’s Bench division, and Justice Treacy rejected the government’s argument that treaties in effect at the time, transferred responsibility to Malaysia.  However, the London’s court rejected the claimants’ argument that the government had a legal duty to hold an inquiry; however,  laimants’ counsel, John Halford, anticipates appealing this decision.

“There is evidence that supports a deliberate execution of the 24 civilians at Batang Kali,” read Tuesday’s judgment.  “The first matter in relation to the purpose of inquiry is to consider whether it can establish the facts.  There are obviously enormous difficulties in conducting an inquiry into a matter that happened over 63 years ago.  Most of the contemporary documents are missing and most of those who were engaged are dead.  Nor, in our view, would it be any easier to determine whether the use of force was reasonable or proportionate.”

“Many of the shameful events at Batang Kali have been firmly established, as has the UK’s ongoing legal responsibility for them,” voiced Mr. Halford.  “If ministers can find the moral courage within themselves to address it, they can do so immediately.  If they fail to act decisively to end the ongoing injustices at the heart of this case, the survivors and families of the Batang Kali massacre will continue to pursue legal action and complete the work this court has begun.”

The Scots Guard beheaded claimant Lim Kok’s father.  “Though the court found the government did not need to hold an inquiry on technical grounds, the fact is that the Scots Guards shot innocent civilians, my father included,” shared Mr. Kok to the Guardian.

Chong Koon Yin’s father Chong Voon suffered the same fate.  “The truth has not been fully revealed.  Without a proper inquiry or a proper acceptance of fault, the government held legally responsible for the killing remains unaccountable.”

For further information, please see:

The Guardian – Relatives lose court case for inquiry in to 1948 Malaya ‘massacre’ – 04 Sept. 2012

The Independent – Judges block 1948 Malaya ‘massacre’ probe – 04 Sept. 2012

Reuters – Britain held responsible for 1948 mass killing in Malaya – 04 Sept. 2012

BBC – British ‘massacre’ in Malaya in 1948 to be reviewed – 08 Sept. 2011

Syrian Network for Human Rights: Lost Cousin in Daraya Massacre

My cousin Mohammed Mustafa Al Abbar from Daraya killed by the Syrian security forces during the horriblemassacre that took place in my home town Daraya on 29 of August.  He was summoned to a security facilities for interrogation, later they released him but after two hours the security took him again, two days later his family found his body in the basement of a one of the building in Daraya.  They executed him like all the families killed in Daraya .

A recent picture of Mohamad Al Abaar, my cousin.

The security forces searched from house to house, looking for adults and young men, among the houses was my apartment in the city.  They destroyed all the furniture, but my family was lucky, the security forces left the city in the first day of the military campaign on Daraya.

I knew Mohammed very well, I remember his smile, he was struggling to provide for his family because he was responsible for his family and three children.  I still can not imagine when I will return to Daraya, hopefully soon, but when I do, he will not be there waiting for me as he used to do .

Daraya, a city of dignity, has paid a heavy price for demanding freedom. Thus far, 633 of Daraya’s sons were martyred and well over 1,755 were detained by regime forces.  Regime forces carried out one of their most barbaric attacks against a city that was made famous for its commitment to nonviolence.  The death toll has doubled in the past few days due to field executions and revenge killings, and includes those martyred in yesterday’s massacre in which well over 300 people were killed, including dozens of women and children. The regime’s military campaign, ongoing for the past 4 days, has resulted in hundreds massacred, dozens detained, and utter destruction throughout the city.

 

Information in this report provided by:

Syrian Network for Human Rights – Lost my Cousin in Daraya Massacre – 1 September 2012

Thousands Gather in Bahrain’s First Authorized Protest Since June

By Ali Al-Bassam
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

MANAMA, Bahrain — Tens of thousands of protesters marched along a three-kilometer stretch of highway west of Manama on Friday.  It was the country’s first authorized protest in over a month since the government  announced a ban on protests in June.  The Interior Ministry said the ban was necessary to “restore order.”

Protesters holding Bahraini flags and posters of Nabeel Rajab marched on a three-kilometer stretch of highway west of Manama. (Photo Courtesy of Russia Today)

Protesters chanted pro-democracy slogans, waved Bahraini flags, and demanded the release of Nabeel Rajab, a prominent human rights activist who was jailed two weeks ago for leading illegal protests.  The Al-Wefak National Islamic Society and other opposition groups led the rally, which bore the slogan, “Liberty and Democracy.”  The opposition parties voiced their demand for the elected parliament to have full powers and the ability to form governments.  It was considered to be a peaceful demonstration, and there were no clashes between government authorities and protesters.

Even though Bahrain is mostly comprised of Shiite Muslims, the country’s government, whose current structure grants King Khalifa considerable power, is Sunni.  Because of this, many Shiites in the country believe they are discriminated against by the ruling Sunni minority.  They feel that their access to government positions and better jobs is restricted.  In response to these complaints, the government has enacted some reforms, yet the opposition remains unsatisfied.

Pro-democracy protests have been ongoing since February 2011. Even when the ban was in place, many unauthorized protests occurred around the country, especially in Shiite villages.  In an interview with Al Jazeera, journalist Reem Khalifa said that since the protests began, “[i]t has never been quiet…especially in the over-populated Shiite areas.  Every day there is tension in various areas around the island.”

The Bahraini government believes that the protests have occurred under the direction of Iran, whose majority of the population is also Shiite.

On Friday, the Bahraini Ministry of Interior released a statement in which the Northern Governorate Police announced that public and private property was violated during the rally.  The statement also claimed that participants chanted illegal political slogans and “that the case will be referred to the competent authorities.”

Joe Stork of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East Division told Al Jazeera that he would give Bahrain a “very bad review,” but that the criticism the country is facing must be “having an impact.”

“It’s also true that some members of the government are very sensitive to their international image.  They’re concerned about their reputation that Bahrain has gotten over the last couple of years as a place that doesn’t tolerate any peaceful dissent,” said Stork from Washington.

For further information, please see:

Russia Today — Thousands Swamp Bahrain Highway in First Legal ‘Freedom and Democracy’ Demo in Weeks — 2 September 2012

Daily News Egypt — First Authorised Protest in Bahrain Gathers Thousands — 1 September 2012

Digital Journal — Op-Ed: Bahrain Demonstrators Call for Democracy and Release of Activist — 1 September 2012

Al Jazeera — Tens of Thousands Join Protest in Bahrain — 31 August 2012

Amnesty International Urges Slovak Government to Desegregate Schools

By Connie Hong
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia —  Amnesty International is urging the Slovak government to address the issue of segregation that plagues the country’s schools and classrooms.  Currently, thousands of Romani children living in Slovakia are forced to learn in classrooms separated from their Slovakian peers.  Although the organization has urged the government for the past five years to provide reform to the country’s educational system, nothing has changed.

Roma students are being forced to learn in separate classrooms. (Photo Courtesy of Equality) Continue reading “Amnesty International Urges Slovak Government to Desegregate Schools”

Sudan Withdraws its Candidacy From UN Human Rights Council

By Heba Girgis
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

KHARTOUM, Sudan—On Thursday, August 30, Sudan withdrew its candidacy on the United Nations Human Rights Council after receiving strong criticism from several human rights and pro-democracy groups around the world. Sudan’s representatives to the United Nations wrote a letter declaring its withdrawal and noted that, “it is no longer interested in taking up one of the vacancies available in the Human Rights Council.”

Sudan Will Not Be Seen Under This Ceiling at the UN Human Rights Council After its Withdrawal From the Candidacy. (Photo Courtesy of The Sudan Tribune)

The current coordinator for East African countries at the United Nations, Djibouti, first received Sudan’s letter which gave no reason for the country’s decision to pull out of the election that will take place in November at the United Nations General Assembly.

The criticism from human rights groups and pro-democracy groups developed from human rights violations that took place in Sudan. Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, has been accused of genocide and other war crimes in Darfur, and his regime has been accused of other human rights violations in other parts of the country. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a U.S. congresswoman who heads the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, noted that “As Sudan appears poised to win a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council, the United Nations has hit a new low. Allowing this genocidal dictatorship, which has killed thousands of its citizens, to serve on such a body is beyond hypocrisy, it is callous, dangerous and tragic.”

Despite these accusations, Sudan was almost guaranteed a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council. The Council itself is made up of forty-seven members and Sudan would have been one of the five African candidates for the only five African seats available.

While Sudan gave no indication as to why the country has withdrawn its candidacy, Philippe Bolopion, the United Nations director for Human Rights Watch, was happy with Sudan’s decision and noted that, “the worst human rights offenders are slowly recognizing they are not welcome on the Human Rights Council.” He further commented saying, “Sudan joins notorious rights violators Syria, Iran, Belarus, Sri Lanka and Azerbaijan whose hypocritical aspirations to sit on the Council have properly let to embarrassing retreat.”

Eight years ago, in May 2004, the United States representative at the United Nations Human Rights Commission left the room after Sudan was elected to sit on the Commission at the peak of the Darfur conflict. Despite the growing animosity toward Sudan, one African ambassador noted that no African country wants to jeopardize their own relations with Sudan by telling them that they don’t qualify because of their own human rights problems. The Ambassador further added, “we will be sitting at the table with them in the future.”

The famous actress Mia Farrow has been a leading campaigner for victims in Darfur. Farrow has also been campaigning against the Sudanese government and sought to have the country’s United Nations candidacy disqualified because of al-Bashir’s crimes. The Sudanese government has refused to arrest the president and the African group will now have to choose a replacement for Sudan in order to fill the fifth seat on the Council.

 

For further information, please see:

The Journal – Sudan Withdraws Candidacy for UN Rights Council – 1 September 2012

Zee News – Sudan Withdraws Candidacy for UN Rights Council – 1 September 2012

Boston News – Sudan Withdraws Candidacy for UN Rights Council – 31 August 2012

Sudan Tribune – Sudan Quietly Withdraws Controversial UNHRC Candidacy – 31 August 2012

The Washington Post – Sudan Withdraws Candidacy for UN Human Rights Council Seat After Criticism on Rights Record – 31 August 2012

Reports of (Another) Massacre of Yanomami Indians by Brazilian Gold Miners

By Margaret Janelle R. Hutchinson
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

 CARACAS, Venezuela – Dozens of members of the Yanomami indigenous group were reportedly massacred back in July, according to a document released on Wednesday by various indigenous rights organizations. Reports of the incident are only now reaching Venezuelan authorities due to the remoteness of the indigenous villages.  The killing may be the latest tragedy in a pattern of vicious encounters between Yanomami and Brazilian gold miners.

Survivors of 1993 Haximu massacre hold urns containing the ashes of their relatives. Gold miners reportedly killed 16 Yanomami in the attack. (Photo courtesy Survival International)

Residents of the Hokomawe village said they discovered charred bodies and the torched “shabono” or communal house during a visit to the indigenous community of Irotatheri in early July.  Of the approximately eighty residents of Irotatheri, only three survivors were discovered hiding in the forest.

The survivors reported that they had been out hunting at the time of the attack, which they blamed on miners from nearby Brazil. The hunters said they heard gunshots, explosions and the sound of a helicopter, which miners sometimes use to ferry supplies.

According to the survivors’ account, the miners attacked because some in the community had been “rescuing Yanomami women” from miners.

The Yanomami have often had to contend with Brazilian gold miners, known in Portuguese as garimpeiros, who for years have crossed into Venezuela and torn up the forest, leaving pits of water laced with mercury.

In 1993, activists say, 16 people were killed by Brazilian miners in a Yanomami community in the area of Haximu.  In 2010, Venezuelan authorities said four people in an indigenous community died after drinking water contaminated by miners.

The Yanomami are one of the largest isolated indigenous groups in the Amazon, with a population estimated at roughly 30,000 on both sides of the Venezuela-Brazil border.  They have maintained their language as well as traditions that include face paint and wooden facial ornaments piercing their noses, cheeks and lips.

The isolation of the Yanomami caused the delay in reporting.  The account of villagers from Hokomawe who saw the victims’ remains and talked with the three survivors was later relayed to others in the village of Momoi after days of walking through the forest.  Others then took the news to the larger community of Parima.

The site where the attack is alleged to have happened, in the Venezuelan municipality of Alto Orinoco, near the Brazilian border, is a five-hour helicopter ride, or 15 days on foot, from Puerto Ayacucho, the main Venezuelan city in the Amazon.

Prosecutors were appointed to investigate after leaders of the Yanomami organisation Horonami alerted them to the account, Venezuela’s Public Ministry said in a statement Wednesday.

As of Friday, no headway had been made in the investigation.

Brazil’s Foreign Ministry said on Friday its embassy in Caracas had asked the Venezuelan government to provide it with any information that could help it determine whether the attack had happened and whether Brazilians had been involved.

Brazil’s National Indian Foundation, a government body that oversees indigenous affairs, said it would seek a joint investigation by officials from both countries at the site.

Venezuelan Interior Minister Tareck Al Aissami said in televised comments on Friday that officials had managed to speak with seven of the nine known groups of the Yanomami tribe and thus far had no proof of an attack in any of their settlements.

There has been an outcry from native rights groups across the globe.

Stephen Corry, Director of Survival International said, “This is another appalling tragedy for the Yanomami – heaping crime upon crime. All Amazonian governments must stop the rampant illegal mining, logging and settlement in indigenous territories. It inevitably leads to massacres of Indian men, women and children. The Venezuelan authorities must now bring the killers to swift justice, and send a signal throughout the region that Indians can no longer be killed with impunity. The mining and logging must be stopped.”

The Yanomami have complained of increasing encroachment by the miners.

“The presence of garimpeiros in this area has been documented since at least four years ago, and complaints have been made various times,” said Aime Tillett, an activist with the indigenous rights organization Wataniba in Caracas. “What we’re asking is for the government to take sufficient measures to control the garimpeiros.”

Though the exact death toll is unknown, Linda Manaka, a representative of the Venezuelan Association of Indigenous People in Puerto Ayacucho, said that based on the account she believes dozens died.

“Generally a ‘shabono’ is made up of dozens of people,” she said. “At least there are about four, five dozen people.”

For further information, please see:

The Guardian – Brazil asks Venezuela to investigate village massacre claims – 1 September 2012

Chicago Tribune – Brazil presses Venezuela on alleged Amazon massacre – 31 August 2012

CNN – Venezuela to investigate reports of massacre of Indians by gold miners – 30 August 2012

Fox News – Indigenous Amazon Reports Massacre in Venezuela – 30 August 2012

Survival International – Yanomami Indians ‘massacred’ by goldminers in Venezuela – 29 August 2012