Syrian Revolution Digest: Sunday, 30 December 2012

Among Other Things!

Syrian Revolution Digest – December 30, 2012 

Everywhere a battle and a massacre, everywhere misery, everywhere hope rebellious, everywhere a birth. Syria may no longer be a country, but it is surely a laboratory for experimenting with human folly and tenacity, among other things.

 

Today’s Death Toll: 143 (including 10 children and 7 women)

85 in Damascus and Suburbs, 24 in Aleppo (most in Maysar neighborhood), 14 in Hama (7 in Kafranboudeh), 9 in Daraa, 4 in Homs, 3 in Idlib, 2 in Raqqa and 1 in Deir Ezzor.

Points of Random Shelling: 337

26 by warplanes, 7 by Cluster Bombs, 3 by Phosphorus Bombs, and 7 by barrel bombs. Artillery shelling was reported in 125 points, mortar shelling in 114 points and missile shelling in 62 points.

Clashes: 122

Rebels downed 3 jets in Manbej (Aleppo), Eastern Ghoutah (Damascus) and Hama Suburbs. In Raqqah City, they gained control of a gas station in Hamra area after a 3-day siege, meanwhile, 21 members of regime forces defected in the Karama neighborhood. In Qalamoun region, Damascus, rebels liberated the headquarters of the 413th Battalion after fierce clashes with regime loyalists. They also completed their liberation of Regiment 14 and the fuels storage facilities in the city of Nabek, and liberated the suburb of Bahdaliyah. In the town of Zabadani, Damascus, rebels also managed to take control of a number of checkpoints destroying 5 military vehicles in the process. In Daraa, rebels gained control of Al-Gharbi checkpoint in Basr Al-Harir after fierce clashes (LCCs).

 

News

Envoy: 2013 could bring 100,000 deaths in Syria

Russia Sends Another Naval Ship to Syria

Israeli crosses border into Syria Kfar Qassem resident said to be mentally unstable crosses border in Golan Heights with apparent aim of urging Assad to stop killing his people

 

Special Reports

In Syria, What’s Left Behind?
War is in many ways about things that are left behind—people, items, ideas, innocence. It ages children before their time, turns neighbors into enemies (or family), it destroys communities and leaves scars that may or may not show. The confidently authoritarian Syria that existed before March 15, 2011 has eroded, its brutal decades-old secular pan-Arab regime is fighting for its existence. It will likely eventually go the way of other brutal decades-old secular pan-Arab regimes, like Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s Tunisia and Muammar Qaddafi’s Libya, to be replaced by a more religiously conservative, Sunni Muslim power structure of some sort.

Syria Civil War: Gravediggers Have No Time To Wait For The Dead
Gravediggers at the cemetery in the northern Syrian town of Azaz no longer wait for bombs to fall before they break the ground. The dead come too fast… “We know the plane is coming to hit us, so we’re being prepared,” said Abu Sulaiman, one of a few men digging at the Sheikh Saad cemetary. “Massacres are happening. We’re putting every two or three bodies together. We’ve been working and digging since 6 in the morning. We’re going to dig 10 new graves today,” he said.

 

Video Highlights

Another video showing the massacre of Deir Baalbah, Homs City http://youtu.be/hYHe0rH6tRA

Leaked video shows how pro-Assad militias abuse the bodies of dead defectors http://youtu.be/5BHctiJ5kyk

In Damascus, rebels in Qalamoun take control of the town of Rankous http://youtu.be/lc9Vvuvlef0 But in Eastern Ghouta, the regime kept pounding the restive towns: Deir Al-Assafeer http://youtu.be/WwinTd2-oxU , http://youtu.be/PUd7-k5mf5E Aqrabah http://youtu.be/yYPzpPFZIcY In Jisreen people rush to save relatives and friends from under the rubble http://youtu.be/YZcl9oLUSQw , http://youtu.be/5sl15MX6PdE People do the same in Kafar Batna http://youtu.be/MXhU3qeYJfw

Along the border with Lebanon, the town of Zabadani continues to be pounded http://youtu.be/c43SMQObEDE

The pounding of the town of Rastan, Homs, continues http://youtu.be/ZF4lVelBKuY , http://youtu.be/AZx7eJ3oUiA

In Kafrenboudeh, Hama, people rush to pullout the injured and the dead from under the rubble in the aftermath of an aerial raid on the town http://youtu.be/v7X1h72J7J8 , http://youtu.be/l_YQWW9Sg6M The dead http://youtu.be/JiSs6MRPhYE Including children http://youtu.be/UHgsmRWOs40 , http://youtu.be/MM8wNYtF14s

Syrian Revolution Digest: Saturday, 29 December 2012

Laughrov!

Syrian Revolution Digest – December 29, 2012 

Russia’s Foreign Minister says Assad insists on staying in power. Indeed, Assad underscored his determination today by having his militias perpetrate a new massacre against 220 residents of Deir Baalbah. Meanwhile, the self-appointed “heroes” and “guardians” of the revolution, the brave men of Jabhat Al-Nusra were busy fighting against immorality in Aleppo City by emptying Arak bottles into the drains of history, the same drains where their ideas will follow one day. As for Russian officials, it is about time they learned some necessary humility and began coping with blowbacks stemming from their idiotic and murderous policies in our region. While so many leftwing and Islamist pundits keep focusing on America’s alleged role in our misery, it is Russia’s all too real role that is now coming into sharp focus. In fact, it is insisting on Assad’s staying in power and backing that up with weapons and vetoes that has cost us so many lives.

Today’s Death Toll: 399 (including more than 20 children and 20 women)

227 in Homs 220 of them were field executed in Deir Baalbah, 62 in Damascus and Suburbs (10 of them in Nashabiya), 40 in Aleppo (13 in Tal Rifaat ), 22 in Deir Ezzor including 15 unidentified bodies, 17 in Daraa, 14 in Hama, 10 in Idlib, and 5 in Raqqa.

Points of Random Shelling: 399

34 by warplanes, 2 points by Phosphorus bomb, 3 by vacuum bombs, 5 by cluster bombs, 152 by heavy caliber artillery, 124 by mortar and 80 by missile and rockets.

Clashes: 112

In Damascus, rebels shelled several military centers inside Mazzeh Military Airport using domestically-manufactured rockets, they also managed to repel an attack by regime forces on the town of Darayya. In Daraa, rebels repelled an attack on the town of Basr Al-Harir (LCCs).

Bassem al-Sayid, son of acting Minister of State, Muhammad Turki Al-Sayid, was martyred on Friday in the town of Sarmada, Idlib, while fighting for the rebel group, Jundullah. His death comes as more and more family members of the official establishment come out against Assad and his lot, including in recent days Assad’s own sister-in-law, Rasha Al-Akhras.

 

News

Deadly day in Syria as diplomats talk At least 399 people were killed Saturday, the opposition Local Coordination Committees said… The figure includes 201 people who a captured Syrian soldier said had been executed in Deir Balbah, outside of Homs, after Syrian forces won a battle there, an LCC spokesman said.

Assad’s forces seize Homs district from rebels: activists The army moved into Deir Ba’alba, a neighborhood on the northeastern edge of Homs, they said, leaving the rebels controlling just the central neighborhoods around the old city and the district of Khalidiyah, immediately to the north.

Insisting on Assad’s Exit Will Cost More Lives, Russian Says Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, said on Saturday that there was “no possibility” that President Bashar al-Assad of Syria could be persuaded to leave and that the opposition’s insistence on his departure as a precondition for peace talks would only cost “more and more lives of Syrian citizens” — suggesting slender hope for a breakthrough in negotiating an end to a conflict that has already killed more than 40,000… “He has repeatedly said, both publicly and privately, including during his meeting with Lakhdar Brahimi not long ago, that he has no plans to go anywhere, that he will stay in his post until the end, that he will, as he says, protect the Syrian people, Syrian sovereignty and so forth,” Mr. Lavrov said. “There is no possibility of changing this position.”

Syria opposition leader rejects Moscow invitation for peace talks Moaz Alkhatib, whose National Coalition opposition group has been recognized by most Western and Arab states, demands Moscow apologize for supporting Assad’s regime.

Assad is panicking, Russia is frustrated – and Asma’s cousin calls for blood While a vehement letter by a member of Assad’s family spreads across the Arabic web, a resolution for the strife in Syria has no end in sight.

Syria doomed to “hell” without political deal: envoy U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said in Moscow that responsible people inside and outside Syria should “help the Syrians stop their descent into more and more bloodshed, into more and more chaos and perhaps a failed state”.

Syrian refugee influx could break Lebanon and Jordan, UN envoy warns Lakhdar Brahimi said: “If you have a panic in Damascus and if you have 1 million people leaving Damascus in a panic, they can go to only two places, Lebanon and Jordan.” Both those countries could break if faced with half a million refugees, he said on Saturday after meeting the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, in Moscow. “If the only alternative is really hell or a political process, then we have got, all of us, to work ceaselessly for a political process,” he said.

Syrian airline cancels flight to Aleppo Syria’s national airline canceled a flight to Aleppo on Saturday because of fighting near its international airport, while the United Nations’ top envoy to the country said it faced “hell or a political process” but gave no sign a truce was in sight. The two developments underscored just how far international efforts to end the violence in Syria have fallen behind developments on the ground, more than 21 months into the conflict.

Blood spattered on the bricks where Syria bomb falls Blood was spattered on the bricks that littered the area around the bomb site. A child’s teddy bear lay in the wreckage and nearby cars were marked by shrapnel and bullet holes. A bulldozer cleared the heavy rubble while young boys dug through the debris with their hands, hoping to find people still alive amid the broken bed frames and crushed furniture.

 

Special Reports

‘Til death do us part: Marriage destroyed by war
(CNN) — For the third time, Mahmoud Al-Qassab lowers the body of one of his children into the ground. He steps back as neighbors and relatives shovel dirt over his teenage daughter’s grave. He does not cry or wail. “I thank God this is my third martyr: Ahmed, Abdullah and now her. I thank God, and I will not say anything against his fate,” Mahmoud told an activist filming the small funeral. Just a few months ago, 18-year-old Ayat Al-Qassab sang and danced with her mother and aunts as they dressed the bride in her wedding gown. Now, her shattered and bloodied body lies in a grave below the crumbling, bullet-ridden buildings of Homs… A 120 mm rocket fired into the family home struck Ayat in the head, killing her and her unborn child instantly. Ayat’s father, who was standing nearby, was hit in the shoulder and wounded.

Persona non grata in Beirut
The sudden departure from Beirut of the Syrian interior minister, Mohammad al-Shaar, was a sign of how much has changed in the Syrian-Lebanese relationship. Shaar allegedly took to the skies after being warned by the Lebanese that Interpol might issue an arrest warrant for him, and that Lebanon would have to implement it.

U.S. impotence on Syria
… the crisis is the result of the brutality and ruthlessness of ruler Bashar al-Assad and the family clique around him, and their supporters in Iran and Russia. But it is also reflects a massive failure of Western — and particularly American — leadership, the worst since the Rwandan genocide two decades ago.

Syria’s war creates concern for its neighbor
The more than 40,000 refugees might be tucked into a barbed-wired corner of the high desert, but their arrival – and their country’s turmoil – is being felt all the way to Amman. The effects on Jordan’s economy and on its royal family’s always-precarious grip on power could be serious, especially now, as protests unfurl in a country outraged by the government’s decision to chop fuel subsidies – a necessary action for it to secure $2 billion (1.5 billion euros) in loans from the International Monetary Fund.

To make things clear, leader of the Syrian National Coalition (abbreviated as SOC: Syrian Opposition Coalition, to distinguish it from its predecessor: the Syrian National Council), Moaz Alkhatib, did not reject the Russian government invitation to Moscow outright, he simply laid certain conditions, including: Russian government should offer an apology to the Syrian people for standing by Assad for so long, the Russian government should recognize SOC, and the initial meeting should take place in an Arab country.

To the Russians, this reply smacked of a political lack of experience, but to the Syrians, Alkhatib’s primary audience, this was exactly what they needed to hear. Alkhatib follow up to Moscow’s criticism connected him even more to the larger grassroots and further legitimated his position as a leader. Perhaps, it should be Alkhatib himself who should lead the transitional government as well. Too many changes at the helm of the opposition will only confuse people, and Alkhatib is steadily showing that he can connect to the grassroots. Mr. Alkhatib is himself a technocrat (a chemical engineer) and is such he should be capable of leading a technocratic transitional government.

As for Russian officials, it is about time they learned some necessary humility and began coping with blowbacks stemming from their idiotic and murderous policies in our region. While so many leftwing and Islamist pundits keep focusing on America’s alleged role in our misery, it is Russia’s all too real role that is now coming into sharp focus. In fact, it is insisting on Assad’s staying in power and backing that up with weapons and vetoes that has cost us so many lives.

 

Video Highlights

First video from Deir Baalbah, site of a new massacre by pro-Assad militias that claimed the lives of over 22o people by early counts http://youtu.be/n-Paele3-uc With the assault in Deir Baalbah, the encirclement of restive neighborhoods of Old Homs is now complete, pro-Assad militias intensify the pounding: Khaldiyeh http://youtu.be/r-V3vSF_pqA , http://youtu.be/v0lqXHXxris , http://youtu.be/69qttG3EWsw , http://youtu.be/zcg_ayHb1hg

Aerial attack on Nashabiyeh in Damascus leaves many dead http://youtu.be/8Voay4emp80 , http://youtu.be/TfZhMjDHhLo A similar attack on Douma leaves many dead as well, including children http://youtu.be/XAj7IMfj54g The raid on Douma http://youtu.be/r1gwEUTe0s0 The suburb of Saqba was also targeted among other communities of Eastern Ghoutah http://youtu.be/hP7_mHQ2CLI The town of Yabroud to the north, also comes under attack http://youtu.be/IedIIG8-Lgk

Rebels strike the Damascus International Airport with homemade rockets http://youtu.be/NEYczLkAjpA

In Aizaz, Aleppo, locals pull the body of a dead boy from under the rubble in the aftermath of an aerial raid http://youtu.be/Lr0IDDs1-_w The attack http://youtu.be/qoOy0aK2Yt8

Collecting the dead in Tal Rifaat, Aleppo http://youtu.be/5UCCVndb584 , http://youtu.be/3Wacz3iy6wg

In Aleppo City, rebels try to take down a helicopter http://youtu.be/Ckqhz0sYj9I

Rescuing the children from under the rubble in Karnaz, Hama http://youtu.be/6gA3c6j2A6Y , http://youtu.be/thw-ljhoUtQ The attack as seen from outside the city http://youtu.be/LPZlHeX15xA

U.K. Plans Secret Courts to Hear National Security Matters

By Madeline Schiesser
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

LONDON, United Kingdom – Legislation before Parliament would create a judicial method by which civil courts could hear evidence the government claims is a matter of national security behind closed doors in a “closed material proceedings,” concealed from the public, the media, and even claimants and their lawyers.  Parts of the judgment, pertaining to the national security evidence, would also remain secret.

Parliament is considering controversial legislation to expand when material may be deemed a matter of national security and heard behind closed court doors. (Photo Courtesy of BBC News)

In a small victory for opponents of the legislation, the House of Lords defeated a measure last month that would have allowed ministers to determine what material would be considered a matter of national security.  Instead, the legislation has been amended to grant that power, and thus the power to initiate a closed door proceeding, to judges.

Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan has strongly approved of this amendment, as the first draft of the bill “failed” to preserve the principle of “openness and transparency”.  He further stated that: “Any deviation from this [principle] should only be considered in the most extreme of circumstances and must be accompanied by transparent checks and balances.”

The Justice and Security Bill would allow members of the security services to give evidence to civil courts in secret if a “closed material proceeding” is initiated.  In deciding the appropriateness of such a proceeding, judges would be required to balance any harm from disclosing security information against the open administration of justice, amended language says.  A further amendment also allows either party to request a closed material proceeding.

The bill moved to the House of Commons on December 18, where reading and debate on it began.

Civil liberty groups, however, say that the secret courts could allow government wrongs to go unquestioned.  Furthermore, opponents say that the proposals of the bill would compromise the principle of open justice.

For example, Tory MP Andrew Tyrie wonders whether the bill would hinder extraordinary rendition investigations and “make it more difficult to find out the degree of Britain’s complicity”.  Labour MP Joan Walley questioned whether the Ministry of Defense might use the bill as a shield against suits by “families of armed forces personnel who have been illegally killed or who may have been injured.”

Ken Clarke, minister without portfolio, who is charged with moving the legislation through Parliament, explained that the specific circumstances leading to a suit would determine whether a closed material proceeding would be appropriate.

Prime Minister David Cameron has further given assurances that the secret court hearings would only be needed “in a small number of cases”.

According to a government spokesman, there are currently about 20 civil damages cases where material “relating to national security” is central, and it would be in the interest of all parties for these cases to go to court.  Unfortunately, in the past, some claims were not able to be “properly vindicated” and the case therefore had to settle because “material was necessarily excluded from the court.”

Former director of M15, Baroness Manningham-Buller, has praised the legislation, saying that it would enable British spies to defend themselves against “deeply distressing” allegations of torture.  She said, “We have been judged by many to have been engaged in criminal activities but there have been no prosecutions . . . closed material procedures are a way that the judiciary can make a judgment on the validity of these claims and give a ruling and give judgment.

However, the in addition to appearing to run against the ideas of open justice, the legislation also appears to conflict with international law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights, which requires the U.K. to respect the right to a fair and public trial in all civil as well as criminal cases.

Benjamin Ward, Europe and Central Asia division deputy director at Human Rights Watch explained: “Justice when you don’t know the case against you is no justice at all.”

For further information, please see:

BBC News – Judges Should Decide Secret Courts, Government Accepts – 18 December 2012

HRW – UK: Scrap Secret Courts Plan – 18 December 2012

Independent – Government Plans U-turn on ‘Secret Courts’ to Avert Rebellion – 13 December 2012

BBC News – Cameron defends decision to block top civil service appointment – 11 December 2012

BBC News – Government Secret Courts Plans Defeated in Lords – 21 November 2012

Sunnis Protest in Iraq

By Justin Dorman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq ­ –  For the fourth time this week, tens of thousands of Sunnis flooded the streets of Ramadi, in the Anbar province, to denounce Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the rest of the Shia led government. As a result of the demonstrations, the main trade route to Jordan and Syria was blocked.

Thousands of Sunnis demonstrate in Iraq’s Anbar province. (Photo Courtesy of the Guardian)

These protests come just a week after ten of Rafia al-Issawi’s bodyguards were arrested by troops loyal to Maliki. Issawi is Iraq’s finance minister and is one of the government’s most senior Sunni officials. Issawi actually went to one of these demonstrations and declared to his fellow Sunnis that, “injustice, marginalisation, discrimination and double standards, as well as the politicisation of the judicial system and lack of respect for partnership, law and constitution . . . have all turned our neighbourhoods in Baghdad into huge prisons surrounded by concrete blocks.”

The Sunni people believed that their government officials were being persecuted even before the arrests of Issawi’s bodyguards. Prior to the arrests, Vice-president Tariq al-Hashemi, Iraq’s highest Sunni official, was sentenced to death. He was charged with running hit squads which he claims are fabricated and is currently in Turkey on exile.

Protestors at the rally flew the old Iraqi flag which Saddam’s Baath party introduced and chanted that, “the people want to bring down the regime.”

Issawi stated that, “this sit-in will remain open-ended until the demonstrators’ demands are met, and until the injustice against ends.”

Others, like Sheikh Ali Hatem Sulaiman, the leader of the Dulaimi tribe, say that if the protests demands are not met, they will bring the protests to “the gates of Baghdad.”

Shia analysts have discounted the effects that these protests will have on any upcoming election. While the demonstrations may have earned a national audience; analyst for the Iraq Institute for Strategic Studies, Yahya Qubaisi, maintains that the demands are not national but merely regional.

There is a serious fear that Iraq will erupt into sectarian violence. These events are particularly problematic given the health status of Jalal Talabani. Talabani, Iraq’s Kurdish president, suffered a stroke around the same time which Issawi’s bodyguards were arrested. Talabani has been seen as a unifying figure who could successfully mediate among the Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish.

Political analyst Sabah al-Mukhtar reminded Al Jazeera not to forget that, “we have the Arab Spring. The Iraqis are saying, “if everybody else revolted, why aren’t we revolting against a regime, which is anyway imposed on us by an occupying force in 2003?”

For further information, please see:

Reuters – Iraq Sunni Rallies Gather Steam – 27 December 2012

Al Jazeera – Iraq Sunnis Block Trade Routes in new Protest – 26 December 2012

Guardian – Iraq Protests Signal Growing Tension Between Sunni and Shia Communities – 26 December 2012

New York Times – Iraq: Sunnis Continue Protests Against Prime Minister – 26 December 2012

Putin Plans to Sign U.S. Adoption Ban

By Madeline Schiesser
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia – Russian President Putin announced Thursday that he intends to sign into law an act that would ban American families from adopting Russian children.  The act is part of several Russian legislative measures in response to the recently passed U.S. Magnitsky Act, which implements sanctions against Russians accused of human rights violations.

A Russian ban on U.S. adoption places children in the middle of a political storm. (Photo Courtesy of Al Jazeera)

The announcement follows passage of the act by the Federation Council, Russia’s upper house of parliament, unanimously (143 senators present) Wednesday, and by the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, last week in a vote of 441-7.

The ban would terminate the bilateral adoption agreement between Russia and the United States and forbid U.S. adoption agencies from working in Russia, effectively halting adoption of Russian children by US families.

Mikhail Margelov, chairman of the Council’s foreign affairs committee, however, has stated that the agreement currently in place binds Russia to notify the U.S. of a halt in adoptions 12 months in advance.

Putin also said he plans to sign a presidential decree to improve Russia’s troubled child welfare system.  Putin said the decree would “chang[e] the procedure of helping orphaned children, children left without parental care, and especially children who are in a disadvantageous situation due to their health problems.”

The legislation is also partly in response to several adoptions in recent years of Russian children by Americans that ended unfortunately.  For example, in 2010, an American woman returned a 7-year-old boy to Russia, saying that he had behavioral problems and that she no longer wanted him.  In 2008, a 21-month-old Russian boy died of heatstroke in July when his American adoptive father accidently left him unattended in a car for nine hours.  The father was later found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter.  Some Russian legislators are unofficially calling the adoption ban the Dima Yakovlev Bill in the boy’s honor.

Alexei Pushkov, chairman of the Duma’s Foreign Relations Committee, said: “Cases of the death of our children in the United States continue, and cases of not-guilty verdicts; we decided to take this tough decision to deprive Americans of the right to adopt Russian children.’

Last week at a press conference, President Putin, called the bill an “emotional but adequate” reaction to the Magnitsky Act, but expressed his desire to see the exact language of the bill before reaching a final conclusion.  Putin further suggested that the majority of Russians “have a negative attitude toward adoption of our children by foreigners” and would support the ban.  Putin discussed his intent to sign the bill with his senior government officials last Friday.

However, there has also been opposition to the bill.  A petition, signed by 100,000 in opposition to the ban was filed with the Duma.  Furthermore, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said last week that banning Americans from adopting Russian children would be “wrong.”  Additionally, police have detained protestors both this week and last outside Parliament for protesting the ban.

Said one protestor: “These black mourning ribbons in our opinion symbolize today’s draft law which is useful neither for our children nor our national security and our priorities.”

Ilya Ponomaryov, a state Duma deputy, member of the opposition party A Just Russia, and one of the few legislators to vote against the ban stated directly: “As I’ve said many times: I think this law is absolutely outrageous, amoral, and despicable.”

Education Minister Dmitry Livanov, explained that an “eye-for-an-eye logic” would put at risk children who fail to find adoptive parents in Russia.

Last year, 3,400 Russian children were adopted by foreign families, and of those, 956 – nearly a third – were adopted by Americans, according to official figures.  Eighty-nine of those adopted were disabled children, who often have a lower chance of adoption within Russia.

Due to increased regulations U.S.-Russian adoptions have declined over the past years, however, Russia is still the third largest source of adoptions for the U.S.  Presently, there are about 740,000 children without parental custody in Russia, according to UNICEF.  In the past two decades, American families have adopted more than 60,000 Russian children.

Currently, the adoptions of 46 Russian children to American families would be voided of the bill becomes a law, despite court rulings in some of the cases authorizing the adoptions.

“The children who have been chosen by foreign American parents . . . who were seen, whose paperwork was processed, who came in the sights of American agencies,” said Pavel Astakhov, Russia’s child rights commissioner and a major proponent of the ban, “[t]hey will not be able to go to America, to those who wanted to see them as their adopted children. There is no need to go out and make a tragedy out of it.”

The bill further contains language to outlaw U.S.-funded “nonprofit organizations that engage in political activity” by suspending and freezing their assets if they receive funding from US citizens or organizations or if their leaders or members are Russian citizens who have US passports.  Under the bill, any nongovernmental organization (NGO) that engages in “political” work that “harms Russia’s interests” would be suspended and also have its assets frozen.

In Washington, D.C., State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell expressed the United States’ “concern[]” that “[t]he welfare of children is simply too important to be linked to political aspects of our relationship.”

“What’s particularly concerning here is in this present legislation, what this would do is prevent children from growing up in a family environment of happiness, love, and understanding. That’s the basic premise of our bilateral adoption agreement, it’s something we’ve worked for many months with the Russians on, and so really it’s Russian children who would be harmed by this measure.”

But Margelov, claims the bill is “a natural and a long overdue response [to the U.S. Magnitsky legislation].”  He further stated that “[c]hildren must be placed in Russian families, and this is a cornerstone issue for us.”

For further information, please see:

New York Times – Putin Says He Will Sign Law Barring U.S. Adoptions – 27 December 2012

Al Jazeera – Protesters Arrested Outside Russia Parliament – 26 December 2012

BBC News – Russia’s Upper House Approves Ban on US Adoptions – 26 December 2012

Independent – Anti-US Adoption Bill Unanimously Endorsed in Russia – 26 December 2012

HRW – Russia: Reject Adoption Ban Bill – 21 December 2012

RFE/RL – Russian Duma Approves U.S. Adoption Ban – 21 December 2012

RFE/RL – Russian President Backs U.S. Adoption Ban – 20 December 2012

Al Jazeera – Russian Parliament Supports US Adoption Ban – 19 December 2012

Christmas In Argentina Sees Country Wide Looting

By Brendan Oliver Bergh
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – For the first time in eleven years Argentina has succumbed to massive looting when on Dec. 20, groups of masked individuals began invading and looting six supermarkets in San Carlos de Bariloche. The looting spread throughout the province as stores in major cities from Rosario to Santa Fe were set ablaze before looters began looting Beunos Aires.

An Argentinian supermarket after looters ransacked the market. (Photo Courtesy of Reuters)

Early Thursday President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner dispatched a regiment of 400 militarized police before the country descended into chaos. Since then, the police have been mobilized in all areas experiencing this country wide state of mayhem.

Historians have noted the similarities between those broke out in December 2001, which resulted in some 40 deaths and the resignation of then-president Fernanndo de la Rúa. The rioting was seen as a direct result from the collapse of the banking industry, the recession and country default on public debts.

While Fernandez was quick to question the Labor unions involvement with the organization, leaders from the Federation of Argentine Workers and the general Confederation of Labor Hugo Moyano were quick to deny responsibility, claiming “This is probably triggered by the difficult situation the people of Argentina are facing.”

President Fenandez may have been right to question the Labor unions, who late last month organized mass work stoppages which caused some spare looting. Workers are struggling as the economy failed to expand beyond 2% this year, despite a steady growth rate of about 8% for the past ten years. This year has also marked a stark increase in food prices with inflation increasing well above 20%.

Activists who have used similar tactics in the past tend to traditionally block access to supermarkets during December and demand free food. Beyond the millions of rioters in 2001, these protests rarely turn violent.

While the militarized police force were forced to employ the use of tear gas and rubber bullets to turn looters back, gunshot victims are not immediately associated with the polices use of force. At least 3 people were shot and killed during the initial clash on Thursday evening, with another 21 injured as a result of the violence.

As the police have attempted to restore order, hundreds have been arrested for their participation and aggression among the mayhem.

While another blow to President Fernandez’s waning popularity, her administration has stressed that despite complaints about food prices that is not what is being stolen. Looters have been using the opportunity to steal computers and televisions, not food staples as one would expect from a protest against economic policies.

 For further information, please see:

Rosario – She Died A Woman Who Was Shot In The Looting – 26 December 2012

World War 4 Report – Argentina: Massive Looting Returns After 11 Years – 25 December 2012

BBC – Argentina Looting Spreads To Buenos Aires Province – 22 December 2012

The Wall Street Journal – Looting Tests Leader In Argentina – 21 December 2012

Morsi Signs new Constitution Into law

By Ali Al-Bassam
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt — On a late Tuesday evening, President Mohamed Morsi signed into law a new constitution, which was approved by a referendum monitored by the media, judges, and non-governmental organizations just hours earlier.

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi signed the final draft of the constitution into law last Tuesday. (Photo Courtesy of Daily News Egypt)

The constitution itself was criticized by opponents of Morsi for what was within its provisions and the ratification process it followed.  Some say that it sacrifices individual and minority rights for the sake of ensuring power for the religious and military establishments.  Others criticized the constitution and its passing through a series of unilateral moves that silenced the dissent within both the judiciary and Constitutional Assembly.

A spokesman for the main opposition group, the National Salvation Front (NSF), said that they will still continue with their protests, and will hold one in Tahrir Square and elsewhere in Egypt on January 25, the second anniversary of Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow.

The NSF alleged that there were a few incidents of fraud during the vote, but Judge Samir Abou el-Maati, head of the electoral commission, denied the allegations, saying that the judicial supervision involved with the referendum successfully prevented the occurrence of fraud.

Despite the criticism, the final draft of the constitution passed with the support of just over ten million of Egypt’s 85 million citizens, supporting it during two rounds of votes.  Out of the 33% of citizens who came to the polls, 65% of voters approved of the final draft.

On Wednesday, Morsi addressed the nation to show his support for the constitution’s passing, emphasizing that the powers granted by the document is for the sake of maintaining a democracy and not a dictatorship.  “Today we celebrate our new constitution.  It is a historic day.  Egypt has a free constitution chosen chosen by the people.  It is not a grant from a king or an obligation from a president or dictation from an occupier,” said Morsi.

In his speech, Morsi stressed his focus on the economy, saying that the passing of the constitution will bring security and stability for the people.  “I will deploy all my efforts to boost the Egyptian economy, which faces enormous challenges but has also big opportunities for growth…”

Morsi also promoted the opportunity of working together with his criticizers, yet condemned those who responded with violence.  Morsi also promised Egyptians to relinquish the powers he granted himself once a national charter was passed.

In response to Morsi’s Wednesday address, NSF spokesman Hussein Abdel Ghani accused the government of trying to create an “autocratic tyranny in the name of religion,” and that the dialogue “lacked serious business.”

For further information, please see:

Al Bawaba — Morsi Addresses the Nation, Says Talking is the Answer — 26 December 2012

Al Jazeera — Egypt’s Morsi Signs Draft Charter Into Law — 26 December 2012

BBC News — Egypt’s President Morsi Hails Constitution and Urges Dialogue — 26 December 2012

Daily News Egypt — Morsy Addresses Nation After Passing new Constitution — 26 December 2012

Human Rights Groups Criticize Kenya’s Decision to Move Refugees

By Ryan Aliman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

NAIROBI, Kenya – Human rights groups say Kenya’s decision to move refugees and asylum-seekers out of urban areas and into rural camps is “discriminatory” and “unlawful”.

The Dadaab refugee complex reportedly hosts four times the population it was built for. (Photo courtesy of BBC News/AFP)

Last Tuesday, the Kenyan government issued an order requiring Somali refugees and asylum-seekers living in urban centers including Nairobi, Nakuru and Mombasa to transfer to the Dadaab refugee camp complex in north-eastern Kenya, while those from other countries will be required to transfer to the Kakuma camp.

The government contends that this decision is meant to ensure the safety of Kenyan citizens since refugees have been allegedly involved in recent attacks in the capital and various parts of the Northeastern region.

On Friday, President Kibaki called for support to have them returned to their home countries. “There is no dignity in living in refugee camps,” he told the press after a meeting with Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud. “Our two governments will work together to enable the hundreds of thousands of Somalia people who are living in refugee camps return to their homes . . . We also call on the international community to play their part and help the people of Somalia live in honourable lives in their homes,” he said.

Once the order is implemented, Kenya will no longer receive and register any new refugees and asylum-seekers. Registration centers in the mentioned urban areas will also close down. The Commissioner for the Department of Refugee Affairs Badu Katelo has also requested the UN agency for refugees (UNHCR) to stop giving any services to those in urban areas.

However, the UNHCR, along with the Amnesty International, refused to acknowledge the resolution calling it illegal and in violation of international law regarding the protection of refugee rights.

The UNHCR claimed that the Kenyan government did not consult with relevant and concerned stakeholders before carrying out the order. The UN agency also said that the government failed to consider that most camps in the rural areas are already overcrowded. Thus, the resolution was “insensitive to the rights and plight of refugees.”

Amnesty International shared the same view. “This restriction on freedom of movement is likely to lead to other serious human rights abuses in already overcrowded, insecure refugee camps,” said Amnesty International’s East Africa observer Kathryn Achilles.

Medecins Sans Frontieres, which provides health aid and services in Dadaab, reported that it was already struggling to cope with the number of refugees in the camp.

Both the UNHCR and Amnesty International reminded the Kenyan government that it is a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and the 1969 OAU Refugee Convention. Therefore, it is under an obligation to protect those seeking asylum on its territory.

“Kenya must live up to its obligations under international law, and must have the support of the international community to do so, including through increased funding and resettlement programmes,” urged Amnesty International in a recent press release.

 

For further information, please see:

Daily Nation – Kenya tightens resolve on Somalia refugees – 23 December 2012

All Africa – Kenya: Fury Over Order for All Refugees to Go to Daadab – 22 December 2012

BBC News – Kenya’s Somali refugee plan unlawful, says Amnesty – 21 December 2012

Reuters – Amnesty says Kenya sending refugees to camps unlawful – 21 December 2012

Amnesty International – Kenya’s decision to confine refugees and asylum-seekers in camps is unlawful – 20 December 2012

Kenya’s First Openly Gay Politician Faces Funding Issues

By Heba Girgis
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

NAIROBI, Kenya—David Kuria, Kenya’s first openly gay politician to run in the country’s election was forced to withdraw from the race. Kuria’s supporters were more than disappointed when he announced that he could not carry out the senate race because of lack of funds. He could not raise enough to cover personal security and logistics of the race. He also received many threatening text messages saying that his candidacy would bring “a curse to the land.”

Kuria, 40, was forced to drop out of the race because of funding issues. (Photo Courtesy of Kenya Today)

Kuria told the Guardian, “It is one of the saddest decisions I have had to make during my years working as a human rights activist. I had seen changes in the way our people in the villages view gay people. For many people gay people and gay rights are perceived though mediated interpretation of politicians and religious leaders. For the first time it was possible to talk with people, answer their questions as well as point out the nexus areas of different forms of marginalization, including poverty and other challenged that affect them, too.”

Kuria, age 40, was the first openly gay person in Africa to run for political office outside of South Africa. His campaign could not go forward after his fundraising campaign raised only 4% of its target. Kuria also never lacked opposition, especially in Kenya’s conservative Christian heartlands. Moses Wetangula, a cabinet minister, noted that if Kuria was elected, a revolt would surely be carried out against the government. Wetangula also said that an openly gay man should not “have an opportunity or privilege to lead a country that is founded on religious morality.”

Under Kenyan law, acts of homosexuality are punishable up to 14 years in jail. In 2011, the Kenyan Human Rights Commission took a survey that revealed that only 18% of LGBT Kenyans had opened up about their sexual orientation to their families and that of these 89% of them had been disowned. Homosexuality is also outlawed in 36 African countries with many politicians finding gay people to be “unafrican.” Kuria addressed this issue, saying, “Again that is one of those stories that have been told over and over again that it has come to be seen as true. But there are also very few public LBBT voices—these need to increase for the narrative to be debunked.”

 

For further information, please see:

Mail and Guardian – Kenya’s First Gay Political Candidate Reveals Why He Quit Race – 26 December 2012

Kenya Today – Kenya’s First Gay Political Candidate Reveals Why He Quit Race – 25 December 2012

The Guardian – Kenya’s First Gay Political Candidate Reveals Why He Quit Race – 25 December 2012

Topix – Kenya’s First Gay Political Candidate Reveals Why He Quit Race – 25 December 2012

Former Russian Policeman Sentenced for the Murder of Journalist

By Alexandra Sandacz
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia – A former Russian policeman, Dmitry Pavlyuchenkov, was found guilty for the 2006 murder of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya. Politkovskaya was an aggressive critic of Russian President, Vladimir Putin. Pavlyuchenkov was sentenced to spend 11 years in a high security penal colony.

Dmitry Pavlyuchenkov is escorted into a Moscow courtroom. (Photo Courtesy of RFE/RL)

In addition to 11 years, Pavlyuchenkov was fined 3 million roubles for staking Politkovskaya’s apartment and providing Politkovskaya’s killer with the gun that shot her on October 7, 2006.

Politkovskaya was murdered in the hallway of her Moscow apartment building after returning home from a grocery store. She became a target after reporting on corruption in Russia and on human rights abuses in Chechnya.

The murder caused international outrage. Politkovskaya’s murder became a nationwide symbol of silencing free speech and the corruption of the judiciary since Putin came to power.

Pavlyuchenkov apologized to Politkovskaya’s two adult children and asked the court not to punish him too harshly. He stated, “I want to appeal to the family of Anna Stepanovna [Politkovskaya]; I simply want to ask for their human forgiveness.

Paylyuchenkov plead guilty to aiding Politkovskaya’s murder and asked for a reduced sentenced in return for his cooperation. In addition, the deal allowed Pavlyuchenkov to admit his guilt without testifying, which would prevent the reveal of the murder’s masterminds.

Despite Pavlyuchenkov’s apology, Politkovskaya’s children opposed the plea bargain and thought it would not hold those who ultimately ordered the murder responsible.

The killer and four others were tried separately. Rustam Makhmudov was accused of firing the fatal shots, and his brothers Dzhabrail and Ibragim were accused of acting as the getaway drivers. All three men were tried and acquitted for lack of evidence, but Russia’s supreme court overturned the verdict. The three men will be retried.

The prosecutors also determined Pavlyuchenkov was a member of a gang formed by Chechen crime boss, Lom-Ali Gaitukayev.

Following Politkovskaya’s murder, Putin called for her killers to be punished, however, he also described her work as “extremely insignificant.”

Politkovskaya’s murder is one of many opposition murders. In the past decade, various journalists and rights activists who were critical of the Russian government have been assassinated. Most of the killings remain unsolved.

For further information, please see:

RFE/RL – Ex-Policeman Gets 11 Years Over Politkovskaya Murder – 24 December 2012

Aljazeera – Ex-policeman jailed over Politkovskaya murder – 14 December 2012

BBC – Ex-policeman jailed in Russia over Politkovskaya murder – 14 December 2012

Reuters – Policeman complicit in Putin critic murder sentenced – 14 December 2012

“Provocative” Israeli Settlements Threaten Peace

By Emily Schneider
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

JERUSALEM, Israel – The Israeli government granted initial approval for a total of up to 3,000 homes in Jerusalem, including a 1,500-unit settlement in East Jerusalem. The announcement came a day after the U.S. State Department strongly condemned Israel’s plans for building in East Jerusalem.

An Israeli construction site in n the east Jerusalem settlement of Ramat Shlomo. (Photo courtesy of AP)

The new settlements and expansions to existing ones on land on the Palestinian side of the pre-1967 “green line” was originally announced during Vice President Biden’s visit in 2010. At the time, the announcement resulted in somewhat of a political crisis. It was put on hold because of the controversy it created, but was reinstated and approved this past week. It is one of many plans pushed by Netanyahu to expand into Palestinian territory since November.

Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev told CNN: “The actual construction is of 3,000 housing units, as was decided by the government on November 30, 2012. All these units are in Jerusalem and the settlement blocs that will stay a part of Israel in a future peace agreement. All other announcements regarding construction refer to stages of planning and zoning, a bureaucratic process that takes years to complete. In any case, this process necessitates a separate decision by the government before actual construction can begin.”

In November, the U.N. granted Palestine an upgrade of their status to nonmember observer state status. Although the change in status still does not recognize Palestine as a State, the U.N. decision symbolically created a degree of statehood for Palestine.  Israel was unhappy with the outcome of the U.N. vote and some see this expansion of settlements as a direct reaction to Palestine’s change in status.

The United Nations and many countries in the world consider Israeli settlements illegal and an impediment to the peace process because they inhibit a two-state solution.

“If there is a financial cliff in Washington or the United States today, there is a political cliff over a two-state solution (here), and I think we are already slipping down the cliff, because the implementation of the massive settlement program that Israel has announced just today and yesterday it is putting an end to the possibility of a two-state solution,” Mohammad Shtayyeh, a Palestinian Authority negotiator and minister, told CNN on Wednesday.

Victoria Nuland, U.S.  Department of State spokesperson said, “we are deeply disappointed that Israel insists on continuing this pattern of provocative action,” and said that such actions “run counter to the cause of peace. Israel’s leaders continually say that they support a path towards a two-state solution, yet these actions only put that goal further at risk.”

For more information, please see:

JPost – Analysis: In the Eye of the Beholder – 24 Dec. 2012

CNN- Israel Says it Will Build Settlements in East Jerusalem Neighborhoods – 20 Dec. 2012

Telegraph – U.S. Condemns ‘Provocative’ Israeli Settlement Building – 19 Dec. 2012

Al Jazeera – U.N. Votes to Upgrade Palestinian Status – 29 Nov. 2012

 

 

Syrian Revolution Digest – Thursday, 20 December 2012

The Long Road Ahead!

Syrian Revolution Digest – December 20, 2012 

It’s counterintuitive but it’s true. The road to a political solution in Syria goes through further militarization, while saving the whole require working on stabilizing and securing the pieces. Few will understand this logic and many will see it as a conspiracy, as such, it will have few early adopters on the ground, that’s why a solution may take years to come. 

Today’s Death Toll: 117 (including 5 women and 9 children)

42 in Damascus and suburbs, 23 in Daraa including 6 field executed in refugee camp and 5 in Izra’, 18 in Hama including 7 in Halfaya, 14 in Aleppo, 10 in Homs including 7 in Houla, 5 in Deir Ezzor and 5 in Idlib.

Points of Random Shelling: 274

Clashes: 133

Rebels liberated the check point at Tal Alnasr in Deir B’alba and too control of Al-Ishara Batallion in Homs. In Deir Ezzor, they took control of a military industrial complex. In Hama, they liberated a number of towns and villages including Kafar Naboda, Karnaz, Breidij, Kafar Zeita, Jabin, Alzaka, Alhamamyat, Heyalin, Ellatamneh and Halfaya, and are currently trying to liberate Morek (LCC).

 

News

Syria conflict turns ‘overtly sectarian,’ U.N. reports

U.N. condemns rights abuses in Iran, North Korea and Syria

Putin Defends Position on Syria and Chastises U.S. on Libya

Activists scoff at Putin’s remarks on Syria

As Last Member of NBC Team Escapes Syria, More Details on Hostage Drama Emerge

Russian Speakers Become Prey in Syrian Conflict

AP source: Syria again using Scud missiles on foes

Syria Unleashes Cluster Bombs on Town, Punishing Civilians

Post-ABC poll: U.S. involvement in Syria In general, Americans widely oppose U.S. military involvement in Syria, but majorities support establishing a no-fly zone and direct action rises if chemical weapons are used by the government.

War in Syria: Clashes ease at Damascus Palestinian refugee camp Some of the more than 100,000 residents who fled the brutal violence in the Syrian capital of Damascus began to trickle back on Thursday as the fighting subsided.

Wounded Presage Health Crisis for Postwar Syria Four-month-old Fahed Darwish suffered brain damage and, like thousands of others seriously hurt in the civil war, he will likely need care well after the fighting is over. That’s something doctors say a post-conflict Syria won’t be able to provide. Making things worse, there has been a sharp spike in serious injuries since the summer, when the regime began bombing rebel-held areas from the air, and doctors say a majority of the wounded they now treat are civilians.

Living Conditions Difficult in Rebel-Held Syria The crude oil they’re using to heat one room in the house is expensive. So is the gasoline for the car that Hassan needs for his work as a driver. Food is five times more expensive than last summer, when it was already high.  A week ago, the electricity the 40,000 townspeople rely on for most heat was cut and now they are struggling to keep the bitter winter cold at bay. Hassan and his family only use one room now to eat and sleep – the rest of the house is frigid.

 

Special Reports

The Salafi Emirate of Ras Al-Ain
The city, as many Kurdish cities, acted as a sanctuary, free from the spread of the Assad regime’s forces. Today, Ras al-Ain is under the grip of jihadis and young men with black beards and black flags circling the streets under the banner of the FSA. Tunisians, Moroccans, Afghanis, Iraqis, Saudis, and Syrians are in the squares, raising the Turkish flag alongside the black flag, and the flag of independence. They distribute bags of rice, flour, and sugar to poor and terrified residents, after seizing many grain warehouses, with the goal of garnering local support and using residents under the guise of freedom and toppling the regime.

Could an Alawite State in Syria Prevent Post-Assad Reprisals?
What remains unanswered is whether the Alawites could survive as a military power in the mountains. Landis says that would depend on two factors:  “Whether Iran is willing to continue to invest and support them militarily by sending weapons and money, and whether the Sunni Arabs overcome their deep factionalism and unify.”

Local Opposition Councils Act As Government In Parts Of Syria
Now that the U.S. and more than 100 other countries have recognized Syria’s opposition coalition, the dynamics are changing for local councils in provinces under rebel control. These councils are going to get money and become humanitarian aid organization and now they have to figure out how to deliver 1,200 tons of bread a day for a population of 6 million people in Aleppo province. Melissa Block talks to Deborah Amos.

Iliana Mourad: ‘Schizophrenic Life’ in Syria
“In Syria, life can be schizophrenic at times. I was travelling with colleagues outside Damascus one day. We were riding in office vehicles, and on one side of the road we could see people shooting while on the opposite side others were going about their normal business as if nothing was happening. It was like a sci-fi movie.”

 

Syria Deeply

Conversations: On Aleppo University
As part of our effort to highlight civilian stories, below is a conversation between Syria Deeply and a law student at Aleppo University. He stopped going to class after the regime crackdown on student protests earlier this year. The student, originally from Raqqa, allowed us to reveal his full name but Syria Deeply decided to keep it private. Last week his classmate was abducted by regime agents after speaking to the press, revealing his true identity.

Send Austin Home

Missing American journalist’s parents: Send our son home from Syria for Christmas

The Sectarian Turnabout

The crackdown in Syria was sectarian in nature from the very beginning, as evidenced by the statements of various Syrian officials at the time including those of Assad himself. Still, thanks to the goodwill and hard work of the country’s pro-democracy activists, it took almost 18 months to transform the revolution into a sectarian uprising. The tide began to turn in the Summer of 2012, during which the overwhelming brutality of the Assad regime, the cynical indifference of western powers, the competing agendas of regional players, and the shameful inadequacy of traditional opposition groups combined to feed the most extremist tendencies on the ground, and Syria began to fracture.

By August 2012, and as I noted in my report at the time, The Shredded Tapestry, the point of no-return in the devolution of Syria seems to have been reached. Only a massive intervention can save the country now, and there are no takers. We may not be able to save the whole anymore, but we might be able to stabilize the pieces so that humanitarian conditions are improved and spillover effects are contained. It will take many years to put the pieces back together. But these processes will not be possible until all sides realize that they cannot have it all.

A combination of pain, anger and ideology will make selling this vision at this stage a well-nigh impossible task.

But, and as my colleague, Amr al-Azm, argues, getting to a point where dialogue over these issued is made possible, requires serious investments in militarization. Indeed, a political solution requires changing the military realities on the ground.

Entering negotiations to hand over power to the opposition requires the regime’s loss of one or more major urban cities. The potential ability to seriously threaten core areas of Alawites, Assad’s tribesmen, and Damascus simultaneously would be significant game changers. The loss of Aleppo and Idlib would put opposition forces within reach of the Homs and Hama hinterlands, core areas of the Alawite communities. The loss of Deir Al-Zor would lay open the desert road Tariq Al-Badiya that swings across the eastern steppe through Palmyra and opens up the eastern and southern approaches to Damascus, where fighting is on-going.  Such a threat would force the regime and its Iranian and Russian mentors to reconsider their calculus regarding the containment of the crisis, making them more likely to seriously engage in alternative options, such as negotiations for a transition.

Meanwhile, we should always be weary of Russian leaders waxing wise and reasonable, as Russian President Putin just did:

“Our position is not for the retention of Assad and his regime in power at any cost but that the people in the beginning would come to an agreement on how they would live in the future, how their safety and participation in ruling the state would be provided for, and then start changing the current state of affairs in accordance with these agreements, and not vice versa.”

The question is here: what did Putin do to get Assad to accept sitting down with the opposition to discuss these issues? The Obama Administration was willing to give Putin the lead in this matter for many months, but he produced nothing. Rather he and his officials refused to put any kind of pressure on Assad, whether through the UN or their own outreach. Moreover, in their media coverage and official statements, they wholly adopted Assad’s version of events, and in all their discussions with opposition figures, they put the burden for halting ongoing violence on them! Their strategy was to beat down the victims into submission and prep them to accept whatever pittance Assad chooses to offer them. Meanwhile they kept arming Assad. The net effect of their activities: giving Assad enough time to tear the country apart.

So, pardon us for not buying whatever offer Putin seems to be peddling.

Video Highlights

Fierce clashes took place in the plush Mazzeh Neighborhood in Damascus City at night http://youtu.be/cXAoMFeUtKk , http://youtu.be/X5LM3BFKEHk Earlier in the day, missile launchers from the nearby military airport were busy pounding surrounding suburbs http://youtu.be/79Sc_YELW5

Towns and communities around Damascus continue to come under heavy shelling: Deir Al-Assafeer http://youtu.be/hB1eeGOuilY

Rebels in Damascus Suburbs use their confiscated tanks to pound pro-regime positions around Damascus International Airport http://youtu.be/ZvOlzAEBi6c Clashes also take place near Agraba http://youtu.be/M2Bor8k1EIg

Leaked video shows pro-Assad militias abusing women detainees in Haffeh, Lattakia http://youtu.be/SJMg5SB042c

Syrian Revolution Digest – Wednesday, 19 December 2012

What Order?

Syrian Revolution Digest – December 19, 2012 

While world leaders keep foraging for a policy, Syria’s increasing refugees are foraging for the basics of life: food, shelter and security. Where does the buck stop in our contemporary world? Where do we go to plead our case with a reasonable expectation of a just hearing?

Today’s Death Toll:161 (including 7 children and 3 women)

67 in Damascus and suburbs including 6 field executed in Kafar Sousseh, 50 in Aleppo including 40 in a car explosion in Marjeh neighborhood, 19 in Daraa, 8 in Hama, 8 in Deir Ezzor, 5 in Homs, 3 in Idlib and 1 in Suweida.

Points of Random Shelling: 246

Clashes:104

Rebels downed a plane in Albal’as mountains in Hama, launched an assault against the Koris Military Airport in Aleppo, took control of the checkpoint at Alsoyouf Square in Deir Ezzor City, and liberated the checkpoint at Mjaimar in Suweida City (LCC).

News

U.N. Seeks New Aid for Syria Crisis and Predicts 1 Million Refugees by Mid-2013

New Syria Rebel Chief Describes Clandestine Life

Rebels seize towns in central Syria

Syria Interior Minister Wounded by Bomb Last Week Syria’s interior minister suffered a serious back injury in the bombing of his ministry last week and was brought to Beirut on Wednesday for treatment, Lebanese security officials said.

Syrians Pack Up to Flee Damascus as Battle for Capital Escalates

Abbas Urges UN to Help Palestinian Refugees in Syria

As Last Member of NBC Team Escapes Syria, More Details on Hostage Drama Emerge

U.N. warns Lebanese against meddling in Syria conflict

Lebanon’s Shiites and Sunnis Battle in Syria, but Not at Home

Drogheda man killed fighting regime in Syria

Online pirate army fights for downfall of Assad

Amman warns: Jihadists are hijacking Syrian revolution, may target Israel, Jordan next

Jordanians saw the first signs two months ago when their intelligence service caught a cell of 11 Jordanian Salafists who had assembled in Syria and were planning, under the aegis of Al-Qaida, to attack shopping centers and Western embassies in Jordan.

 

Special Reports

FREDERIC HOF: Syria’s Time Is Running Out
The country tears itself further apart with each passing day. This is the moment to do something about it… In these circumstances, time is the enemy of humanity. The longer the regime has to break the Syrian people into combustible categories of sect and ethnicity, the greater the chance that Syria will become a stateless, chaotic and expanding black hole in a region where stability is a challenge in the best of circumstances. Lebanese, Turks and Jordanians already feel Syria’s agony — and share in it. Time, in this case, is not the great healer. Time is the deadliest of enemies… Time is the enemy. Time is of the essence. Time, for Syria and its neighbors, is running out.

Aleppo’s History Under Threat
Aleppo has been designated a World Heritage site since 1986, recognized for its ancient market, citadel and mosques, and the United Nations in recent months has called several times for its protection while emphasizing the tremendous toll the war has taken on civilians.

SYRIA: IDPs brace for winter in rebel-controlled camps
Cold and afraid, many here say they want desperately to leave Syria’s nearly two-year conflict behind and cross into Turkey. But for the moment, their northern neighbour has refused to accept them, citing overcrowding. Fourteen Turkish camps, hosting 141,000 people, are already well over capacity, with thousands of people sleeping in communal tents or in neighbouring villages for lack of space.

The humanitarian crisis in Syria, everyone is responsible
Lack of cooperation on all sides has left the doors open to the most extremist financiers from the Arab Gulf countries to force their own agendas on the brigades they are financing, agendas that have nothing to do with Syria’s cause of freedom and dignity.

 

Syria Deeply

Conversations: A Frustrated Assad Supporter

The last thought that doesn’t let me sleep at night is the decision by the government to move the vital enterprises, facilities and factories to the “safe” provinces. What do they mean by safe provinces, are they the coastal area? And what a coincidence, because after Damascus airport wasn’t available for several days last week, the governor of Tartous announced that the agricultural airport in Tartous will start operating as a commercial airport. Are we moving towards separation? This is my worst nightmare…no Syrian can afford this.

Has the Arab Spring Lived Up to Expectations?

My contribution to a just released briefing by Woodrow Wilson Center.

For those who expected a fast and smooth transition to liberal democratic norms, the Arab Spring has certainly failed to deliver. But for those who simply wanted to push their countries into taking one important and necessary step in the right direction by breaking the prevailing political stalemate in their societies, then, the Arab Spring has definitely lived up to expectations.

The fear barrier is now broken; the anciens régimes are gone; and pent-up political forces, with their good, their bad, and their downright ugly, have been released. The Islamists might have the upper hand at this stage on account of their stronger organizational capabilities, but the more secular elements are not giving up and have, in fact, made it clear that they, too, have strong grassroots connections and support—and not only among minority communities but within the larger Arab Sunni community as well.

No longer can any of the sides dismiss the other as irrelevant. The choices confronting all are now stark and clear: accommodation, civil war, or civil war eventually ending in accommodation. A return to the autocratic past with one side dominating the other and imposing its ways is not feasible. Each side of the divide has enough regional and international backers to ensure the near impossibility of such an outcome. The sooner the representatives of the different political forces realize this, the better for all. For only when accommodation is reached can democracy finally begin to take root in our region.

 

Video Highlights

Leaked video from the Damascene suburb of Daraya shows wounded loyalist militias receiving treatment in the field, before being forced to withdraw with their tanks when MiGs showed up to bomb rebel positions http://youtu.be/uuIWEk6UT_4

Another leaked video documents the use of missile launchers by pro-Assad militias http://youtu.be/4xsjog7ZZP8

Rebels take a stand in Yarmouk Camp in Damascus City http://youtu.be/8Ly_9baT4u4 In Ain Terma, pro-Assad militias pound the community with tanks http://youtu.be/EgR2CePNc1g Residents of nearbyMleihah evacuate their town http://youtu.be/rMtNuJvJOfc As MiGs continue their raids on the region of Eastern Ghoutah: Hamouriyeh http://youtu.be/8lhjVXWhiNw Kafar Batna http://youtu.be/VyTitCfcSAY

ICC Acquittal on Tuesday of Ngudjolo of War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity

by Emilee Gaebler
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo – Earlier this week on Tuesday, the International Criminal Court, Trial Chamber II, handed down their decision in the case against Mathieu Ngudjolo.  Ngudjolo was charged with committing crimes against humanity in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in 1993.

Mathieu Ngudjolo sits in the courtroom during his ICC trial. (Photo Courtesy of The Guardian)

The judges unanimously acquitted Ngudjolo of the charges, with one filing a concurring opinion.  Presiding Judge Bruno Cotte (France) said that the prosecution’s case was unable to present the evidence that made it possible for the court to find that Ngudjolo was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Ngudjolo was charged with three counts of crimes against humanity and seven counts of war crimes, stemming from the destruction of the village of Bogoro on 24 February 2003.  It was alleged Ngudjolo was the leader of the Lendu group that murdered and raped some 200 people, including women and children.

Prosecutors presented witnesses who described the day, relating that babies were thrown against walls, women raped and villagers hacked to pieces with machetes.  The three key prosecution witnesses, used to show Ngudjolo was the leader of the attack, were found by the judges to be unreliable.  Their testimonies were too vague and contradictory for them to prove the prosecution’s claim of Ngudjolo being the leader.

The ICC judges stressed that they did not, “question what the people of this community have suffered on that day … If an allegation has not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt … this does not necessarily mean that the alleged fact did not occur.”

The acquittal is only the second verdict handed down by the ICC since it opened its doors 10 years ago.  Earlier this year, the court’s first verdict found Thomas Lubanga, another Congolese rebel leader, guilty of using child soldiers and sentenced him to a 14 year prison term.

As the verdict was read, Ngudjolo showed no emotion.  His defense team, whose case rested on the claim that Ngudjolo was not even present in the village that day and only heard about the attack in the days after, was sure the court’s verdict was correct.  Jean-Pierre Kilenda, one of his lawyers said that the judges properly showed that they respected the rights of defendants.

Experts in international law are worried what this verdict will do for the faith the public has in the prosecution team.  Eric Witte of the Open Society Justice Initiative said that Chief Prosecutor, Fatou Bensoda and her team might need to rethink the way that cases are built as, “a pattern of prosecution failures could undermine support for the court as a whole.”

 

For further information, please see:

All Africa – Congo-Kinshasa: ICC Acquits Mathieu Ngudjolo in Second Verdict – 18 December 2012

Congo Planet – International Criminal Court Acquits Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui – 18 December 2012

The Guardian – ICC Acquits Congolese Militia Leader Over Atrocities – 18 December 2012

NY Times – Court Acquits Congo Rebel Leader of War Crimes – 18 December 2012

Extremist Group Acknowledged as Malian, Not Foreigners in Mali

By Heba Girgis
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

BAMAKO, Mali—Just yesterday, on December 19, 2012, the Malian President said that the Islamist group struggling to take control of the region is made up of mostly Malian citizens and not foreigner. The group has carried out public executions and amputations in the northern regions of the country. This is the first time that the country’s leader has acknowledged that the group, Ansar Dine, is not made up of foreign citizens.

The group claims to have carried out the attack on U.S. facility in Benghazi. (Photo Courtesy of WND World)

The government previously maintained that the group was made up of militants from Al-Qaida’s North Africa branch along with other foreigners who had moved to the region from Libya. On Wednesday, however, the President, Dioncounda Traore, noted that Ansar Dine fighters “are mainly made up of our fellow countrymen.”

Ansar Dine, or “Defenders of the Faith,” continues to control regions of Mali, including the towns of Kidal and Timbuktu in Northern Mali. The group has decided to impose a strict form of Islamic Sharia law in the regions under their control.

John Guandolo, former FBI counterterrorism officer and terrorism and security analyst, said that Ansar Dine’s Sharia movement confirms a dangerous trend for the region. He also noted that, “Northern Mali is a major transit area for all kinds of criminals, terrorists, and other operatives of all kinds.”

It also turns out that the cousin of Ansar Dine’s leader is one of the people in charge of an AQIM (Al-Qaida in Islamic Maghreb) brigade in Kidal. The Islamic group emerged as a dominant group in Mali after a military coup in the country’s old capital creating a power vacuum. In recent weeks, as reported, the leaders of the group made efforts to make concessions—including distancing themselves from terrorist activities—however many analysts questioned their sincerity.

Moran Roach, analyst for the Heritage Foundation Africa, further confirmed that Northern Mali is quickly becoming a haven for terrorist groups. “Ansar is not limited to eastern Libya, but if present throughout North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula,” Roach said. Roach also continued saying, “Ansar has reportedly put out a hit list in Egypt. The Coptic pope was reportedly on it. Ansar claimed responsibility for the attack on the U.S. facility in Benghazi and is certainly a threat to U.S. security and interests in the region.”

Because of the vast empty space that northern Mali encompasses, the region provides any group a safe haven with hundreds of square miles of open territory.

 

For further information, please see:

ABC News – Mali Leader Acknowledges Extremists Not Foreigners – 19 December 2012

Fox News – Mali President Acknowledges that Extremist Group Ansar Dine Made up of Mostly Malians – 19 December 2012

Long War Journal – Ansar Al Sharia in Mali – 18 December 2012

WND World – Benghazi Terrorists Setting Up Shop in Mali – 18 December 2012