China Hands Down Harsh Sentences to Those Linked to Tibetan Self-Immolations

By Irving Feng
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

CHENGDU, China – A Chinese court in Sichuan province handed down severe sentences to two men who have been linked to 3 cases of self-immolation by Tibetans calling for the return of the Dalai Lama, their exiled spiritual leader.

A Tibetan monk holds up a picture of the Dalai Lama in protest of their lack of religious freedom. (Photo Courtesy of Northern Kentucky News)

Lorang Konchok, age 40, and his nephew Lorang Tsering, age 31, were found guilty of intentional homicide by an Aba prefecture court located in Sichuan province.  Konchok was given the death penalty with a two-year reprieve on his sentence.  In practice, this sentence is usually reduced to life imprisonment.

Konchok has also been stripped of all political rights for life.  Lorang Tsering has been sentenced to 10 years in prison and will be stripped of all political rights for 3 years.  Both men were charged because authorities say the two attempted to coerce at least 8 individuals into self-immolating.

Out of the 8 individuals the pair allegedly attempted to coerce into committing the self-sacrificing act, only 3 went through with the act.  Tibetan activists are protesting the sentences and believe that Chinese officials forced confessions out of the two men during detainment.

Local Chinese news sources reported that Lorang Konchok was detained by authorities last August and confessed that his actions were a result of him following orders from the Dalai Lama and his followers.

There was also evidence of Konchok and Tsering passing along information regarding the self-immolations, including pictures, to contacts abroad that were a part of the Tibetan independence organization.

Lorang Konchok is based out of the Kirti monastery in Aba prefecture, Sichuan Province that borders the Tibet Autonomous Region.  This area of Sichuan province has been a hot bed for unrest and has played host to dozens of self-immolations.

After several failed security measures attempting to deter protest, the Chinese government promised to start prosecuting individuals linked to the Tibetan self-immolations.  The Lorang pair is part of the first wave to face the wrath of the Chinese government in this crackdown on Tibetan protest.

Another six Tibetans were sentenced by a court in Gansu province to prison terms ranging from 3 to 12 years for their roles in self-immolations at a shopping center in Xiahe.  The convicted six were reportedly based out of the Labrang Monastery, a key center for Tibetan Buddhism.

Tibetans have expressed outrage and sorrow for all the deaths, but they also reject the course of action the Chinese government has taken in response to the protests.  Tibetans express that they understand the self-immolations because they share the sense of frustration due to a lack of religious freedom and yearn for the return of the Dalai Lama to his rightful place in Tibet.

 

For further information, please see:

BBC – Tibetans guilty of murder for ‘inciting immolations’ – 31 January 2013

The Guardian – Chinese court convicts two Tibetans for ‘encouraging self-immolation’ – 31 January 2013

Northern Kentucky News – China jails 8 Tibetans in self-immolation cases – 31 January 2013

Reuters – China sentences two Tibetans for “inciting” self-immolations – 31 January 2013

British Prime Minister Visits Algeria for Security Talks

By Heba Girgis
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

ALGIERS, Algeria—David Cameron, the British Prime Minister arrived in Algeria today for security talks and negotiations only two weeks after a hostage crisis that took place at a gas plant in the Sahara on January 16. 2013.

Prime Minister Cameron arrives in Algeria for security talks with Algerian President Bouteflika. (Photo Courtesy of The Washington Post)

Following their discussion, Cameron led a press conference where he stressed the importance of a “tough and intelligent” response to the growing threat of Islamist militants in that region of Africa.

He said, “Both Britain and Algeria are countries that have suffered from terrorism and we understand each others’ suffering. What we have agreed to is a strengthened partnership that looks at how we combat terrorism and how we improve security of this region. This should be about our perspectives, about the risks and dangers that there are, but also sharing expertise,” he continued.

The United Kingdom, specifically Britain, was among several other countries with citizens held hostage in the crisis in the Ain Amenas that also was not told in advance that Algeria planned to storm the gas plant. The new security partnership created today, Wednesday January 30,2013, between Cameron and Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, now focuses on cooperation between the two countries and working together for a common goal. Together, they will look more broadly at threats in North Africa and the region known as the Sahel, the region stretching across the Sahara Desert.

British soldiers will also come together with the Algerian army on a certain limited number of operations. Potentially, these operations could include training of the Algerian special forces by Britain’s special forces. This however, has not yet been confirmed by the British government. Cameron commented further that his aim was to help the country “help itself” amid and amongst the ever-growing threat from al-Qaida linked groups in that region of Africa.

Cameron also stressed, “the greatest threat of terrorism in this region is to the countries of this region. Of course there are potential threats to the UK, but the focus is very much on helping these countries to protect their security and protect British people in this region. It is very much about helping the region help themselves,” he added.

At the end of Cameron’s trip, he made a special visit to the monument of the martyrs of the Algerian war of independence. He placed flowers at the monument, showing respect and the growing relationship and link between the two countries.

 

For further information, please see:

Algeria Press Service – Algeria, UK “United” in Fight Against Terrorism Says David Cameron – 30 January 2013

Al Jazeera – UK’s Cameron in Algeria for Security Talks – 30 January 2013

The Independent – Britain Forges New Algeria Alliance to Fight Terrorism – 30 January 2013

The Washington Post – UK’s Cameron Visits Algeria – 30 January 2013

Israel Boycotts UN Human Rights Council Review

By Ali Al-Bassam
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

JERUSALEM, Israel — Last Tuesday, Israel became the first country ever to boycott the United Nations’ human rights forum, which had allegedly planned to scrutinize Israel’s record.

Israel became the first country ever to boycott the U.N. Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review. (Photo Courtesy of Jerusalem Post)

The United Nation’s Human Rights Council (UNHRC) was set to conduct a Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which in every four years reviews the human rights record of the 193 U.N. member states. Israel stopped cooperating with the council after it comprised a committee to review Israeli settlements and their effect on Palestinian human rights. The last time Israel cooperated with the council was in 2008. It is not a member of the 47 member state council.

“I see that Israel is not in the room,” said Council President Remigiusz Henczel to delegates present at the United Nations in Geneva. Henczel was urged by the council to encourage Israel’s participation in the rights review.

Earlier on Tuesday, Israeli Foreign Ministry Spokesman Yigal Palmor made it clear that Israel intended to boycott the review. “We cut all our contacts with the council last March, including the current activity,” said Palmor. “Our policy has not changed.”

Arab states specifically were set to criticize Israel for its naval blockage and settlement expansion of the Gaza Strip. Palestinians see these acts as collective punishment, yet Israel finds them vital for security.

Pakistan’s Ambassador Zamir Akram, speaking on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, said the group is concerned that Israel was creating an “unhealthy precedent” which other countries would follow in boycotting the UPR process. “What is surprising for us, is the level of leverage and understanding that is being extended to Israel by some countries for its behavior in violation of all its international obligations,” Akram said.

Ireland’s representative, speaking on behalf of the European Union said it appealed to Israel to join the review, saying that a phone conversation held earlier with Israel on calling of the boycott was a “positive signal.”

Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, Ambassador to the UNHRC, addressed the council on the matter last Tuesday. She avoided naming Israel, but stressed how essential it is for Washington to ensure that all countries’ human rights records are examined. “The Universal Periodic Review has been a valuable mechanism both becasue it is universally applicable to all U.N. member states on equal terms and because it is conducted in a cooperative and collaborative manner.”

Eight Israeli human rights groups called on Israel to reverse its decision and participate in the UPR. However, United Nations Watch Director Hillel Neuer said that Israel is justified in its boycott, saying that the council had a history of signaling out Israel, and that it had passed more resolutions against Israel then all other countries combined.

For further information, please see:

Israel Hayom — Israel First Country Ever to Boycott UN Human Rights Review — 30 January 2013

Al Jazeera — Israel Boycotts UN Human Rights Council — 29 January 2013

Jerusalem Post — UN Avoids Israel Showdown, Delays Rights Review — 29 January 2013

JTA — Israel Boycotts Scheduled U.N. Review of Human Rights Practices — 29 January 2013

 

Syria Revolution Digest: 29 January 2013

The White House Riddler!

Syrian Revolution Digest – January 29, 2013 

President Obama is right: the United States has given more than any other country to help mitigate the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Syria. For that he deserves our gratitude. But what he remains unwilling to consider, it seems, is that the United States has several options, not to mention a moral obligation, to actually stop this disaster in track before it mushrooms into a regional meltdown. This will be the biggest humanitarian aid package of all. His reiterated commitment to Assad’s removal and to supporting the transition to democratic rule is laudable, but his failure to explain how this could be accomplished and what the U.S. intends to do to achieve this 18-month old objective continues to puzzle.

 

Tuesday January 29, 2013

 

Today’s Death Toll: 228 martyrs (including 13 children and 7 women): 118 in Aleppo (80 of them in Bustan Al-Qasr), 37 in Damascus and Sububs, 25 in Daraa, 23 in Homs, 11 in Hama, 7 in Idlib and 7 in Deir Ezzor (LCCs).

 

Points of Random Shelling: 424 points: 14 points were shelled by warplanes, 4 points by Thermobaric Bombs, 3 points by Cluster Bombs and 1 point by Phosphorus Bombs. The mortar shelling was reported in 187 points, the artillery shelling in 145 points and the missile shelling in 70 points (LCCs).

 

Clashes: FSA rebels clashed with regime forces and its Shabiha in 142 locations. Successful operations included downing a warplane and destroying a loyalist military convoy in Sfeira in Aleppo, liberating Political Security Department in Deir Ezzor City and freeing all detainees and taking control of the Idlib Central Prison (LCCs).

 

News

Dozens of People Are Reported Bound and Shot in Syria Muddied and waterlogged bodies of scores of people, most of them men in their 20s and 30s, have been found in a suburb of Syria’s contested northern city of Aleppo, activists and insurgent fighters reported Tuesday. Videos posted by opponents of President Bashar al-Assad seemed to show that many had been shot in the back of the head while their hands were bound.

Obama Delivers Video Message to Syria as Death Toll Rises “He’s clearly trying to show and tell the people of the Arab world the U.S. is very involved in delivering assistance to Syria,” Danin said. “It may not be lethal, it may not be military, but he went out of his way to point out the U.S. is the single largest contributor of assistance. ‘‘He’s also trying to beat back criticism,’’ Danin said. ‘‘He’s trying to get in front of the story rather than have the story be ‘The United States is standing by while Syrians suffer.’’’

Hillary Clinton: US set up credible opposition in Syria The outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the US has played an indispensable role in working to establish a credible opposition coalition in Syria.

Syria “breaking up before everyone’s eyes:” envoy tells U.N. U.N.-Arab League mediator Lakhdar Brahimi warned the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad may be able to cling to power for now but the country is “breaking up before everyone’s eyes,” diplomats told Reuters. Brahimi appealed to the 15-nation council to overcome its deadlock and take action to help put an end to the Syrian civil war. However, it was not clear whether his latest report – one of his bleakest since his appointment last year – would persuade Russia to agree to support concrete U.N. steps to try to halt the bloodshed.

Palestinian commander who once tried to challenge Arafat dies in Damascus, aged 86 Maragha rebelled against Arafat in 1982, after Israel invaded southern Lebanon and bombed the capital, Beirut, pushing out Palestinian fighters. Arafat and much of the Palestinian leadership fled to establish a base in Tunisia. Other fighters fled to Algeria and Yemen. Maragha wanted Arafat to hold military commanders accountable for fleeing from the fighting. He argued against leaving Beirut, wanting to stay as close as possible to Israel’s borders. A year later, he established a rival group, called “Fatah Uprising.” The group received the backing of the Assad regime in Syria, which sought to weaken Arafat. He ultimately left to Damascus, where he joined the Syria-allied Palestinian National Alliance, a group that rejected negotiations with Israel.

Former US Official: Syria Faces Unclear Future Brent Scowcroft views the two-year Syrian uprising as much more complex than the Arab Spring uprising in Libya. “In Libya, you could see the alternatives if you throw out [Moammar] Ghadafi,” Scowcroft said in an interview with VOA. “[In] Syria, the alternatives are not so clear.”

UN Seeks Major Aid Boost For Syrian `Catastrophe’ The urgency for a dramatic increase in international relief funds for Syria – seeking total pledges of $1.5 billion – will be the central message Wednesday in Kuwait from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other leaders such as Jordan’s King Abdullah II, whose nation is struggling with more than 320,000 refugees and more arriving every day. The meeting also seeks to reorient some of the political calculations among Western nations and allies supporting the Syrian rebels. With the civil war nearing its two-year mark and no end in sight, U.N. officials and others are pressing governments to recognize the potential long-term humanitarian burdens and spread resources and support to both the Syrian opposition and the millions of people caught in the conflict.

 

Special Reports

Syria War-Wounded Flee Across Border To Treatment In Turkey

Syrians are fleeing in record numbers to neighboring countries, and the injured can’t rely on Syrian hospitals because they have often been targeted by the regime’s fighter jets. Targeting civilians, or hospitals, is a war crime under international law. “In Syria, hospitals are sometimes targeted with rockets and shelling and any doctor that they catch treating casualties they immediately execute him and they tell Syrians those are terrorists and you are helping terrorists,” says Yasir Alsyed, the manager of the rehab center.

A Tale of Iran, Syria and a Busy Oil Tanker

Although sanctions have forced Iran to cut back dramatically on its shipping traffic, some Iranian-linked vessels continue to slip through the net. For a brazen example, take the case of an Iranian-flagged oil tanker named the Tour 2, currently off Cyprus, which earlier this month paid a call at the Syrian port of Tartous. The Tour 2 is not on the U.S. sanctions list, though if sanctions are to be the U.S. tool of choice for dealing with Syria and Iran, the Tour 2 comes with a record that should transfix any dedicated sanctions enforcer. Over the past year, it has made at least three circuits between U.S.-sanctioned Iran and U.S.-sanctioned Syria, calling at Syria last March, July and just this month. These trips appear to be part of Iran’s effort to bolster Syria’s regime against the uprising in which more than 60,000 people so far have died. While Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has abetted the Assad regime in the killing, Iranian-controlled tankers have helped the Syrian regime defy U.S. and European Union embargoes on its oil sales by sending ships to pick up Syrian crude, for onward sale that benefits Iran’s embattled ally, President Bashar Assad. The Tour 2 has been one of these ships.

From Aleppo, An Artifact Of A Calmer Age

Aleppo’s present belies a much richer past. It’s Syria’s largest city, and one of the world’s oldest continually inhabited urban areas. Over the centuries, it has served as a major crossroads for trade and commerce. At The Textile Museum in Washington, D.C., there is moving evidence of an earlier, more peaceful time in that now-beleaguered Syrian hub: photographs of 19th century women in gold-trimmed velvet jackets, flowing pants and, on their heads, finely woven skull caps. One such small and brimless cap, made in 1800, is on display at the museum.

The American Surrender on Syria

America’s fears of heavily armed jihadists overrunning the country is already coming to pass, Azm says—a result, in his opinion, of the lack of international support for more moderate and organized rebel factions. “No one supported them,” he says. “Then you had these Islamist groups come in, and they had weapons, and they had guns, and they had money—and people started to drift toward them. And they’re on the loose now anyway.”

 

Has Obama administration gone wobbly on Syria?

 

As the Syrian Tragedy continues to unfold, it is proven much more of a serious challenge to lawmakers all over the world than many of us had expected. It is denuding us all, and revealing weaknesses not just in the structure of decision-making in the UN, but also in several important countries around the world, including the United States, as we can deduce from this article by Bennett Ramberg:

 

Congress should reconvene the hearings begun last session. This time, however, it must press for details about the administration’s assumptions about intervening or not. In addition, all the hearings should be public – not secret, as the administration prefers. This will give the American people confidence in the decision-making. Among the broad questions the hearings should explore:

 

•          Why should Syria’s use of chemical weapons be more concerning than the conventional arms that have killed many tens of thousands and wounded countless others?

•          Have policymakers exaggerated chemical weapons’ effectiveness to kill, injure and terrorize?

•          Given concerns that terrorists could get hold of these weapons, what challenges would they confront to transport and detonate the toxic material in and out of Syria?

•          Why can’t Syria’s neighbors, Turkey, Jordan and Israel – all substantial military powers in the region – deal with this challenge?

•          How many and what kinds of U.S. forces would operations require –with and without allies – to lock down the Syrian chemical arsenal? Would air power be enough? Would boots on the ground be required to secure secret sites? Could rebel militias serve this purpose?

•          If the United States intervenes, what is the game plan and exit strategy to prevent another quagmire?

 

Congress should mold its findings into a joint House and Senate resolution – still plausible on national security issues even as legislators divide on budgetary matters – unblemished by executive branch drum-beating or quaking.

 

If Congress does this, it won’t just be addressing the Syrian challenge. It will finally begin to right the imbalance of power between the executive and lawmakers that for too long has dominated American war deciding.

 

This will begin to fulfill what the War Powers Resolution intended – to “insure that the collective judgment of both the Congress and the president will apply to the introduction of United States Armed Forces into hostilities.”

 

Frederick C. Hoff – Syria: Transitional Government and US Choices

 

What makes these points particularly important is that they are made by someone who used to be the Obama Administration’s point man on Syria just until the end of last year:

 

Indeed, the United States’ recognition of the Syrian Opposition Coalition in December 2012 as “the legitimate representative of the Syrian people” would be meaningless without the implicit understanding that those who legitimately represent 22.5 million Syrians have the right to constitute a government. And yet, were such a government to establish itself on liberated Syrian territory, would the United States recognize it as the Syrian government? Would it help to defend that government against the Assad regime’s likely efforts to strangle it in the cradle? Would it enter into a security assistance relationship with the new Syrian government? Would it organize an international effort to fund the new government at levels that would enable it to meet the humanitarian, essential services, and law-and-order needs of its constituents? These questions must be answered—and answered definitively—before the Syrian Opposition Coalition can reasonably undertake the establishment of such a government…

 

The possibility of the Syrian opposition forming an alternative government offers the Obama administration a choice it does not welcome: either reconsider its basic strategy or tell the opposition (and our allies and friends) not to count on the United States to do the things that would give a new government the chance to succeed.  The former could be wrenching, as key administration officials see Syria as a beckoning morass: the mother of all distractions for a second Obama term dedicated to accomplishing an ambitious agenda at home and creating a sustainable and stable security architecture in Asia. Yet the latter could be disastrous; given enough rope Assad will take Syria straight to the gallows, and the consequences of that hanging will be felt by 22.5 million Syrians and all of their neighbors for decades to come.  Will the United States be able to avert its glance as the tsunami of Syrian state failure washes refugees, terrorists, and weapons of mass destruction over the region?

 

The Syrian revolution is not America’s to win or lose. The American Revolution was not France’s to win or lose. Yet without the support of France, American independence could have been deferred indefinitely and disastrously. Without American support, the uprising of Syrians against a regime willing to assault their dignity and take their lives in addition to picking their pockets, might have died an early death. Yet now a point of decision has arrived. For the Syrian opposition to form a government offering all Syrians a credible and convincing alternative to the Assad-Makhluf family clique, the United States will have to step up its game. Reluctance to do so is understandable. Failure to do so could be disastrous.

 

Video Highlights

 

Video of President Obama’s message to the Syrian people http://youtu.be/15Ldu9dZKHY

 

Videos from the massacre at Boustan Al-Qasr, Aleppo City: activists found dozens of bodies of people who seem to have been summarily executed by pro-Assad militias – The moment of discovery http://youtu.be/mlOSRzKNhZI Pulling the bodies from the river banks http://youtu.be/2inMpA_h6lY , http://youtu.be/O-YtyxA3zxo Collecting the bodies http://youtu.be/KuOTQxd84VQ , http://youtu.be/O4y8gQV4DO8 Angry Locals http://youtu.be/YqyccUDdlCo , http://youtu.be/1mCSVNbijRs Impromptu funeral for one of the over 80 victims http://youtu.be/NDTgCMEV-Mg Bodies lined up in rows http://youtu.be/AfqHEQQuuGs

 

The Massacre in pictures.

 

Rebels in Sfeirah, Aleppo, repel an attack on their town by loyalist militias http://youtu.be/YNoRW9RLVHQ destroying a number of vehicles http://youtu.be/AfqHEQQuuGs

 

Hundreds of defected soldiers arrive in Idlib http://youtu.be/pHn0aqLHWIU

 

Video produced by the Islamist Ahrar Al-Sham Brigades showing their participation in the liberation of the Central Prison of Idlib http://youtu.be/iI_j-u_PTrc A tour of the compound http://youtu.be/_-Gtr9EY9N8

 

In Deir Ezzor City, rebels take over the local branch of the political security and free the prisoners http://youtu.be/ZJvRIH4FuKc , http://youtu.be/u–S4nilBAs , http://youtu.be/v3ELTMnBj7E , http://youtu.be/APYr5JZiBtY , http://youtu.be/fYWayv25WLk The dead in here are pro-Assad militias who were killed during the operations http://youtu.be/HWPwHtPn950 And the clashes continue: Destroying a tank http://youtu.be/IPpDIF2j-zE , http://youtu.be/UGMnfRBfkiA Rebels take control of a tank http://youtu.be/zBVoVrhWR9I

 

Rebels have managed to confiscate some formidable rockets from certain regime storage facilities, especially in Aleppo, but they don’t have any launchers http://youtu.be/7wtVi0KN4yw

 

A Russian journalist is hit by a sniper and rescued and treated by locals http://youtu.be/VDN0qkJGVPg

 

Rebels in Karnaz, Hama, use improvised rockets to attack loyalist positions http://youtu.be/vRYV5Girsk0 As the clashes continue http://youtu.be/G_fbsagHnDk and the aerial bombardment http://youtu.be/B12BxJOtptE Regime forces respond with tanks http://youtu.be/-HQ6QIr6t00 , http://youtu.be/pHnQsBn4Pgc


In Damascus, the pounding of the town of Daraya continues http://youtu.be/2TW8BVtaIQU , http://youtu.be/zWws2H9tplA , http://youtu.be/XvCZa8eUa_U

 

Establishment of “National Preparatory Committee for Transitional Justice” Announced in Istanbul, Turkey: Syrian Judges, Lawyers, Activists to Prepare Plans for Post-Assad Judicial System and Reconciliation

Press Release

30 January 2013 – The Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies (SCPSS) held its second conference on the post-Assad political transition in Syria. The conference, entitled “Transitional Justice in Syria: Accountability and Reconciliation,” was held in Istanbul, Turkey on January 26 and 27, 2013.

The Assad regime continues committing war crimes and crimes against humanity against Syrian civilians, as acknowledged by The United Nations Human Rights Council, along with the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, both of which have published multiple reports documenting these crimes. However, thus far, the United Nations Security Council has failed to refer these crimes to the International Criminal Court in order to hold the perpetrators accountable.

As a result, the responsibility falls on the post-Assad government and Syrian civil society to prosecute those responsible for human rights violations. Whether on the national or international level, justice must be sought on behalf of the victims of the Syrian revolution. The culture of impunity that has thrived under the Syrian regime for the last forty years must finally be brought to an end.

The implementation of transitional justice is the only way to ensure redress for the Syrian people and at the same time open up a path toward national reconciliation, without which Syria may be vulnerable to further destruction and bloodshed. In fact, reconciliation is a form of transitional justice that is extremely necessary to establish a new Syrian state on a basis of legal legitimacy, pluralism and democracy.

Syria needs to establish a new culture of legitimacy and overcome the legacy of the past by engaging in a national reconciliation carried out through social reconstruction, the establishment of truth commissions, compensation for victims, and the reform of the State’s institutions, especially the security services and the police.

Therefore, the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies announces the establishment of the “National Preparatory Committee for Transitional Justice,” to build programs and future plans for transitional justice in Syria. Committee members include judges, lawyers, former political prisoners, and Syrian human rights activists. The following are the names of the members (some of the members currently living inside Syria have not been named for security reasons):

Mr. Jamal Suliman (Actor and Public Figure)
Dr. Hazim Nahar (Human Rights Activist)
Mr. Radeef Mustafa (President, Kurdish Organization for Human Rights)
Ms. Rajaa Al-Tally (Center for Civil Society and Democracy in Syria)
Dr. Radwan Ziadeh (Director, Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies)
Judge: Talal Houshan (Council of Free Syrian Judges)
Lawyer: Muhannad Alhosni (President, Syrian Organization for Human Rights)
Mr. Walid Saffour (Chairman, Syrian Committee for Human Rights)

For additional information about the conference or the National Preparatory Committee for Transitional Justice, please contact Dr. Radwan Ziadeh, Executive Director, SCPSS. Tel: 00905369852396 , Email: radwan.ziadeh@gmail.com

Media attendees, please contact Mr. Hart Uhl at hartuhl@scpss.org

Syrian Revolution Digest: Monday, 28 January 2013

Virile Yet Doomed!

Bashar Al-Assad is still capable of producing unwanted heirs to a crumbling throne, but neither his continued virility nor his wife’s continued fertility will save this most unlikely of dynasties. This Czar, his family and his ministers have long sealed their fate. Deep down they must know it, which is why they are trying to seal ours as well.

 

Today’s Death Toll: 129 martyrs (including 6 women and 16 children)

33 in Damascus and Suburbs, 28 in Aleppo, 24 in Idlib (most in Ariha), 19 in Hama (most in Hawejah), 11 in Homs, 8 in Daraa, and 6 in Deir Ezzor  (LCCs).

Points of Random Shelling: 286 points

including 12 by war planes, 1 by cluster bombs, 2 by vacuum bombs and 1 by explosive barrels mortar shelling hit 129 locations, Artillery Shelling hit 102 and rocket shelling hit 40 locations allover Syria  (LCCs).

Clashes: 119

including rebel operations that targeted Manag Airport in Aleppo and the Damascus International Airport. FSA rebels also targeted Shabeeha headquarters in the Sumariyeh suburb of Damascus, and the town of Al-Yaakoubia in Idlib. In Hama, rebels targeted a military convoy heading to storm the town of Karnaz killing more than 50 Shabeeha. In Hassakeh, rebels blew up the civil defense center used as headquarters for loyalist militias in town (LCCs).

 

News

Syria’s Bashar al-Assad says his wife is pregnant Bashar al-Assad let the news slip in a recent talk with mysteriously anonymous “visitors,” who relayed his comments to the Beirut-based al-Akhbar newspaper, an aggressive outlet often described as aligned with such anti-Western movements as Hezbollah.

France Warns Extremists Could Prevail In Syria The warning from French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius reflects growing concern over the rising power of Islamic militant groups that have joined the rebels fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime… “Chaos is not tomorrow, it is today, and we need to end it. We need to end it in a peaceful way and that means increased and concrete support to the Syrian National Coalition,” an umbrella group for the opposition.

Armenia: Syrian Refugees Resettling in Occupied Azerbaijani Territory Since early 2012, Armenia has been accepting diaspora members seeking to escape Syria’s civil strife. In recent months, 29 refugee families, roughly 90 people overall, have found new homes in what Armenians call the Kashatagh district. The territory is known as Lachin internationally and in Azerbaijan, and it serves as a land bridge between the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia. The area was overrun by Armenian forces during the hot phase of the Karabakh conflict in the early 1990s, and remains in Armenian possession today.

 

Special Reports

Syria crisis: Solidarity amid suffering in Homs
The city of Homs has seen some of the worst fighting in Syria. More than a third of the estimated 60,000 deaths in the 23-month conflict have happened in the strategically important city of Homs. As the fighting continues, thousands have been forced to abandon their homes and are struggling to survive.

Newlyweds fight together on Syria frontline
A couple fighting against government forces discover love and tie the knot amid death and destruction.

Syria’s Humanitarian Crisis: A Moral and Strategic Issue
Syria has already fractured into parts with various types of political and military control — a situation that will probably persist for years to come. Aid provision will therefore remain a major problem going forward, in both logistical and legal terms. Failure to address this moral imperative will not only lead to more human suffering, but also allow the regime to use aid as a soft-power weapon against the opposition. Only by finding creative legal solutions — that is, opening credible and accountable avenues outside regime-dominated aid channels — will the United States achieve its objectives of easing human suffering, getting Assad to “step aside,” and creating a more peaceful and democratic post-Assad Syria.

Inside the war for Syria’s mountains
Rebels are occupying Alawite houses in a region known for its tradition of sectarian coexistence in an offensive that looks likely to determine the fate of the country’s cosmopolitan heart. Locals forced to chop nearby forests for wood:

Syrians turn to forests as fuel shortages bite.

 

 

Video Highlights

Loyalists pound the town of Karnaz, Hama http://youtu.be/v3KJRVHSlwM , http://youtu.be/eVgPu31-r34 ,http://youtu.be/ocJ6IxzwtXI But rebels remain entrenched http://youtu.be/heOk4KXiJcU ,http://youtu.be/Yts1Mt8U75o , http://youtu.be/6UzcbEjPzLU

Scenes from the clashes in Al-Qadam Neighborhood, Damascus City http://youtu.be/sk1rpqxaHdY ,http://youtu.be/OfM2-GDgtUE , http://youtu.be/v1OX5WIW8Vc , http://youtu.be/n9E878vgajI ,http://youtu.be/5IlTg4CN2G4 Regime tanks go through the Midan neighborhood on their way to Al-Qadam http://youtu.be/RhuJiKZh4u4 Rebels end up controlling the oldest train station in Syria which is based in Al-Qadam http://youtu.be/_nHqjEQp3Ck , http://youtu.be/diJBsfyXk7s , http://youtu.be/Tby76tHm63g Soon afterwards, the station and surrounding buildings gets pounded with heavy artillery http://youtu.be/MGa5M2t-jqo Then MiGs take their part http://youtu.be/o1YdFEh2Nvc

More clashes take place in the suburbs of Eastern Ghoutah http://youtu.be/ZLY-fz0AQ1M ,http://youtu.be/qOqgSGF4Vhc Aerial bombardment continues: Saqba http://youtu.be/5_r3s54B-Zk Kafar Batna http://youtu.be/0rJZuejAPWI

To the West, in the suburb of Daraya, regime tanks try to pound their way in http://youtu.be/SHOO3LnOOzY

Clashes in and pounding of Deir Ezzor City intensify: Huwaiqah http://youtu.be/_vo_QzaWY_A ,http://youtu.be/kaVGoOAIjhQ , http://youtu.be/n9EwzCzA6nU , http://youtu.be/ARnqMClIzWc

In Aleppo City, children gather wood for fire http://youtu.be/zYW0FNWt7Mk

MiGs target rebel strongholds in Homs City http://youtu.be/4-Cl8mBstVQ

U.S. to Establish Drone Base in Niger

By Hannah Stewart
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

NIAMEY, Niger — The United States signed an agreement with the central Africa nation of Niger that will allow for the deployment of surveillance drones to monitor Islamic militants in the region.  Currently, reports state that United States seeks only to deploy surveillance drones to Niger; however, the agreement could lay the legal groundwork for armed drones in the future.

U.S. Predator drone that can be used for surveillance or air strikes. (Photo Courtesy of The Guardian)

The use of drones, even if solely for surveillance purposes, remains controversial given the deadly drone strikes in countries such as Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan and Somalia.  The use of drones by the United States has caused outrage among civil liberties groups over the secrecy that surrounds their operation and the high incidence of civilian casualties.

The drones could be stationed in Niger’s northern desert region of Agadez, which borders Mali, Algeria and Libya.  The goal is to improve intelligence on al Qaeda-linked Islamist fighters in northern Mali and the wider Sahara.  The United States has drones and surveillance aircraft stationed at several points around Africa.

Niger government sources reported that U.S. Ambassador Bisa Williams asked Niger’s president, Mahamadou Issoufou, for permission to use surveillance drones and had been granted it.  The United States has reportedly been negotiating with Niger for some time, but France’s intervention in Mali increased the urgency of the deal.

Earlier this month French forces intervened to stop Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) move toward Mali’s capital.  AQIM originated in Algeria and remains active in northern Mali.  AQIM has been connected to the recent assault on the natural gas facility in Algiers.  Moreover, the group has been linked to the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

On Monday, French and Malian troops retook control of the ancient trading town of Timbuktu, as they pushed deeper the desert region seized by Islamist fighters last year. Currently, the U.S. is aiding France by sharing intelligence, flying French troops to neighboring countries, and refueling French jets.

Proponents of the agreement argue that in the short run, a drone base in Niger would allow the U.S. to aid France by supplying intelligence on the militant troops in Mali.  In the long run, the drone base would bolster American intelligence gathering and help strengthen Niger’s own security forces.

For more information please see:

CNN – U.S. to Base Surveillance Drones in Niger, Ambassador Says – 29 January 2013

Fox News – US Planning to Establish a Drone Base in Africa for Better Surveillance of Region’s Militants – 29 January 2013

The Guardian – US Signs Deal with Niger to Operate Military Drones in West African State – January 29 2013

Huffington Post – U.S. Drone Base in Africa Approved by Niger – 29 January 2013

Syria Deeply: 28 January 2013

All information and videos contained in this post are original content posted with permission from Syria Deeply, an independent digital media project.  For further information, please visit their website.

Video

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The Forum

Social Media Buzz: Women’s Brigade Behind Assad, Patrols Syrian Streets – Mohammed Sergie

Recent Headlines

UN in Funding Call as Conflict Rages – Aljazeera

Dozens of People are Reported Bound and Shot in Syria – NY Times

A Tale of Iran, Syria, and a Busy Oil Tanker – Forbes

 

Community Op-Eds

Social Media Buzz: Women’s Brigade Behind Assad, Patrol Syrian Streets – Mohammed Sergie

Former Guatemalan Dictator Faces Trial for Genocide

By Mark O’Brien
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala — A former dictator who ruled during one of the bloodiest periods of Guatemala’s 36-year civil war will stand trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.

On Monday, a Guatemalan court ordered former dictator Efrain Rios Montt to face trial for genocide, accused of ordering the deaths of 1,700 indigenous people during a blood period of the country’s civil war. (Photo Courtesy of Latin American Herald Tribune)

A Guatemalan court ruled on Monday that the trial of Efrain Rios Montt would convene this week.  Montt, 86, is accused of ordering the murder, torture, and displacement of more than 1,700 indigenous people between March 1982 and August 1983.

Judge Miguel Angel Galvez also threw out 13 appeals presented by Montt’s defense, finding sufficient evidence to prosecute Montt and retired Gen. Jose Mauricio Rodriguez for the killings.  Rodriguez is accused of ordering the mass killings, known as the “scorched earth” campaign.

Neither defendant reacted to the judge’s ruling, but families of victims, along with human rights workers, cheered and applauded before setting off fireworks outside, according to the Latin American Herald Tribune.

Human rights advocates called the Montt’s prosecution a symbolic victory for victims of one of the most devastating and horrific conflicts in Central America.

“Until recently, the idea of a Guatemalan general being tried for these heinous crimes seemed utterly impossible,” said Jose Miguel Vivianco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch.  “The fact that a judge has ordered the trial of a former head of state is a remarkable development in a country where impunity for past atrocities has long been the norm.”

Montt, who became de facto president during a coup in 1982 before being ousted in another coup in 1983, is the first former president to be charged with genocide by a Latin American court.

“It’s the beginning of a new phase of this struggle,” said Paul Seils in an interview with the Associated Press.  Seils is vice president of the International Center for Transitional Justice, which has worked on war-crimes cases in Guatemala.  He said the decision to prosecute was “a good step forward,” but he expected the trial would face stiff resistance from loyalists to government-allied forces during the civil war.

A United Nations commission estimated 200,000 people were killed during the war, which lasted from 1960 to 1996.  The commission attributed 93 percent of the human rights abuses it documented to government forces, concluding the military committed “acts of genocide.”

Montt will stay under house arrest until his trial, according to the Judge Galvez’s order.  He is currently in custody at a military hospital, where he was admitted last year for health problems.

The trial is scheduled to convene on Thursday.

For further information, please see:

Human Rights Watch — Guatemala: Rios Montt Trial a Milestone for Justice — 28 January 2013

Latin American Herald Tribune — Guatemalan Ex-Dictator to Stand Trial for Genocide — 28 January 2013

National Public Radio — Guatemala Ex-Dictator to Stand Trial on Genocide — 28 January 2013

Reuters — Guatemala Court Orders Trial of Former Dictator, Rejects Appeals — 28 January 20

Vicious Murder Emphasizes Need For Domestic Violence Law In Russia

By Alexandra Sandacz
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia – On January 3, Alexei Kabanova murdered his journalist wife, Irina, after a fight. Kabanov, a well-known opposition figure, confessed that during a state of anger, he murdered his wife, dismembered her body in the heat of passion, and could not remember anything of what he had done.

Irina Kabanova’s murder raised awareness for domestic violence victims all over Russia. (Photo Courtesy of RFE/RL)

Irina is just one of thousands of women in Russia who are killed in domestic violence incidents every year. An estimated 10,000 to 14,000 women die each year from spousal abuse.

Currently, Russia has no law concerning the issue of domestic violence. Specifically, police cannot intervene in a dispute until a crime has been committed. However, publicity of Irina’s murder generated awareness to an issue that is widely belittled and ignored.

Olga Kostina, head of the Moscow-based group Resistance, which advocates for domestic-violence victims, said, “The key is for us to battle for a law to defend the victims of these crimes and to provide them with social guarantees that in any case are supposed to be ensured by the Russian Constitution.”

A proposed legislation, which has been in creation since September, recognizes domestic violence as a crime, empowers police and courts to issue restraining orders, and requires offenders to undergo counseling.

Mari Davtian, an attorney with the ANNA Center, which assists victims of domestic violence, said, “A woman herself has to file a case to the court and prove that she was subjected to a crime. As you understand, that is practically impossible in conditions of domestic violence. If a woman lives with the person she is taking to court, then she is in danger.”

Although there have been few attempts to introduce domestic violence legislation in Russia over the past few decades, each time failed.

United Russia lawmaker Saliya Murzabayeva, believes each failure stemmed from a lack of understanding of domestic violence issues. She states, “There probably is not enough awareness of this problem. And there are those who believe that the government should not interfere in family matters.”

Kabanov is charged with murder and faces a maximum punishment of 15 years in prison. If convicted, Kabanov will also be deprived of his parental right.

For further information, please see:

RFE/RL – Brutal Killing In Russia Highlights Lack of Domestic Violence Law – 28 January 2013

The Moscow Times – Another Day, Another Dismembered Body – 21 January 2013

Pravda – Journalist Brutally Strangled and Dismembered by Her Husband – 15 January 2013

The Moscow Times – Project O.G.I. Co-Founder Charged with Wife’s Murder – 13 January 2013

Prison Riots Leaves 57 Dead In Overcrowded Venezuelan Prison

By Brendan Oliver Bergh
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela – 57 prisoners were killed in one of the bloodiest prisoner riots to strike Venezuela.in a routine and peaceful inspection prison guard met armed resistance from irate prisoners in the Uribana prison in Venezuela’s Lara province.

The National Guard taking action against rioters in Venezuela’s Uribana prison. (Photo Courtesy of CNN)

Early Friday prison guards and the National Guard planned an operation in an attempt to disarm prisoners from the violent prison facility. Sparked by a surge of prison violence earlier in the week as internal gangs battled for control, the guards had hoped for a peaceful inspection. Instead, as the sun rose Guardsmen were met with gunfire from an entrenched inmate position. When the dust settled and the National Guard had quelled the riot Nearly 60 people were dead, with another 120 wounded. While the official reason for this uprising is being investigated, human rights experts note that Venezuelan prisoners are notoriously overcrowded and filled weapons and drugs that have been smuggled in by corrupt prison guards and gang ‘mafias.’ Beyond the dead inmates, two protestant pastors and one soldier was killed in firefight.

Originally designed in 1997, the model prison of Uribana was built to hold 850 prisons, however when violence erupted the 23,500 square meter penal colony was holding 2,400.

Criticism has been levied on the nature of the inspections and the administration itself. Humberto Prado, leader of the activist group Venezuelan Prisons Observatory stated “It’s clear that the inspection wasn’t coordinated or put into practice as it should have been. It was evidently a disproportionate use of force.” He continued that while necessary, they should not be carried out in the warlike attitude that they have been.

Since peace has been restored, the surviving 2003 male and 132 female inmates have been moved to nearby prisons, and while another 49 inmates were discharged, 46 prisoners remain hospitalized.

The National Assembly has since begun investigating the causes of the riot at Uribana and what protocol steps can be taken in the future.

With allegations from abuse from prisoners, Correctional Service Minister Iris Varela has officially denied any allegations that inmates were run over by the National Guard, or that the population was naked while the National Guard was hitting them. Henrique Capriles, opposition leader against President Chavez’s levied heavy criticism on the administration. Stating that the vice-president ordered an investigation and then went to summit in Chile in contrast to President Rousseff of Brazil cancelled his trip. Taking advantage of the situation Capriles continued “Here, they go away to a summit. They dispose of it as if it were one more matter, one more little problem.”

For more information, please see:

Venezuela Al Dia – Parliament Began Research On Violent Events In Uribana – 28 January 2013

El Universal – Uribana Was Designed As A Model Prison – 28 January 2013

US News – Inmates Moved After Bloody Venezuela Prison Clash – 27 January 2014

El Nacional – Varela Announced That 58 Prisoners Were Killed By Violence In Uribana – 27 January 2013

CNN – Report: Prison Riot Kills Dozens In Venezuela – 26 January 2014

Israel’s Health Ministry Ceases Distribution of Injectable Contraception to Ethiopian Jewish Women After Outcry

By Ali Al-Bassam
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

JERUSALEM, Israel — The Israeli Health Ministry recently came under heavy criticism for giving Ethiopian Jewish Women an injectable contraceptive called Depo Provera unknowingly and without their consent.

The Israeli Health Ministry recently ceased the distribution of Depo Provera to Ethiopian Jewish women after allegations arose that they were being distributed to them without their knowledge or consent. (Photo Courtesy of Jerusalem Post)

Suspicions of the act’s occurence arose a few years ago and most recently after a television documentary, “Vacuum,” linked the community’s declining birth rate to an over-prescription of the drug.  The population of Ethiopian Israelis has declined by 50 percent in the last decade. According to a report by the women’s rights organization, Isha le’Isha, Ethiopian Jews makeup the majority of people given Depo-Provera in Israel.

After falling under scrutiny, Israel’s Health Ministry on Sunday ordered four public health maintenance organizations to cease providing Ethiopian Israelis the drug without the administration’s explicit consent. It is the first time that an Israeli official acknowledged that Ethiopian Israelis were being given the drug. The order came after The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) investigated the allegations.

The letter written by the Health Ministry asks doctors “why contraception is being used in general and this one in particular (Depo Provera) and if she (the patient) is asking of her own free will to prevent pregnancy and if she understands the side-effects.” No where in the letter does the Health Ministry admit to administering Depo Provera to Ethiopian Israelis without their consent, however, the ACRI found the ministry’s order to cease the administration of the drug to be an implicit admission of guilt.

“We believe it is a method of reducing the number of births in a community that is black and mostly poor,” said Hedva Eyal, who authored a report which revealed that 57 percent of all Depo Provera users in Israel were of Ethiopian origin even though their community accounted for less than two percent of the population. “It is indeed the first time that the state actually acknowledged that this procedure of injecting immigrant women with this drug, when they do not know the side effects and are given no other choice, is wrong.”

Allegations of racism in Israel have been made not just by the Ethiopian community in the country, but also by other African migrants and asylum seekers. In May, dozens of asylum seekers were injured during the Tel Aviv riots, which were encouraged by politicians who blamed Sudanese and Eritrean communities in Tel Aviv who entered the country illegally.

Claims of illegal discrimination against Ethiopian Israelis specifically reached a boiling point in 2006, when it was made public that blood donations by the community were being routinely disposed of out of fear of disease. Complaints were also raised about discrimination in jobs and education.

For further information, please see:

Al Arabiya — Outcry in Israel Over Injection of Ethiopian Jews With Birth Control Drug — 28 January, 2013

Jerusalem Post — Health Ministry: Halt Ethiopian ‘Birth-Control Shot’ — 28 January 2013

JTA — Israel’s Health Ministry Orders Halt to Injectable Contraception for Ethiopian Women — 28 January 2013

The National — Israel Accused of Forcing Birth Control on Ethiopians — 28 January 2013

Syria Revolution Digest: 27 January 2013

He Speaks, But Will He Act!

Syrian Revolution Digest – January 27, 2013 

President Obama just regained his voice on things Syrian. Now we wait for him to acquire some willpower to act. True, contemplating intervention is never easy, and the U.S. is not meant to be the keepers of world order, but with great power comes great responsibility, there is no avoiding that, and what is unfolding in Syria today is a great humanitarian disaster that needs to be mitigated. The U.S. cannot turn its back on that indefinitely. At one point, it will be called upon to act. Its failure to do so earlier only served to make the task more complex, dangerous and thankless. The fact that a nonviolent protest movement was allowed to turn into an armed insurrection paving the way for civil war only increases the culpability of international leaders, including President Obama, and turns intervention, as complex and hazardous as it is bound to be, into an even greater moral must. I can only hope President Obama sees the light soon.

 

Sunday January 27, 2013

 

Today’s Death Toll: 106 martyrs including 5 women, 11 children, and 3 who were tortured to death: 41 fell in Damascus and suburbs, 18 in Homs, 16 in Aleppo, 10 in Daraa, 9 in Idlib, 7 in Hama, 2 in Hasakeh, 2 in Deir Ezzor and 1 in Latakia (LCCs).

 

Points of Random Shelling: 337 points were shelled by regime forces, including 21 points that were shelled using warplanes, 4 points using phosphorous bombs, 3 points using vacuum bombs, 2 points using cluster bombs, 116 points using artillery shelling, 94 points using mortal shelling, and 85 points using missiles (LCCs).

 

Clashes: The Free Syrian Army clashed with regime forces in 141 points. Operations included freeing of dozens of detainees from the Military Security branch in the areas of ‘Assas in Damascus Suburbs and targeting the Security branch in Harasta with mortars. Also, the Air Force Headquarters in Sahnaya were struck and a number of tanks were destroyed in the heart of Damascus. FSA rebels also targeted shabiha militias stationed on the outskirts of the city in Deir Ezzor. In Homs, FSA rebels stormed the Political Security intelligence branch in Deir Baalbeh District. In Daraa, rebels repelled a loyalist attack on the town of Basr Al-Harir (LCCs).

 

News

Obama says struggling over whether to intervene in Syria “In a situation like Syria, I have to ask: can we make a difference in that situation?” Obama said in an interview with The New Republic published on the magazine’s website… “And how do I weigh tens of thousands who’ve been killed in Syria versus the tens of thousands who are currently being killed in the Congo?” he said…. “We do nobody a service when we leap before we look, where we … take on things without having thought through all the consequences of it,” Obama told CBS. “We are not going to be able to control every aspect of every transition and transformation” in conflicts around the world, he said. “Sometimes they’re going to go sideways.”

 

Children die in Syria air raid as patriots go active

UN Humanitarian Chief in Syria for Talks

More Lebanese Sunnis are crossing into Syria to aid rebellion, officials say

Iran Official: Attack on Syria is Attack on Iran

Jordan’s King Abdullah: “The New Taliban Are In Syria”

Medvedev says Syria’s Assad running out of time, must negotiate

Al-Assad’s grip on power “slipping away,” Medvedev says

NATO: Patriot missile battery operational on Syrian border

MSF: Syria: All Parties To The Conflict Must Respect Medical Facilities

Oxfam launches £12m Syria appeal as refugees contend with brutal winter

 

Israel Girds For Attacks As Syria Falls Apart At least one Iron Dome missile defense battery was deployed Sunday in northern Israel amid reports of intense security consultations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regarding Syria and the possibility of chemical weapons falling into the hands of Islamist rebels or being transferred to the militant group Hezbollah.

Palestinians fleeing Syria are double refugees Syria provided tens of thousands of Palestinians with a livable sanctuary after what they refer to as the Nakba or catastrophe of 1948. Over the decades they built a city from the original tents in Damascus’s Yarmouk camp, which until recently housed about 150,000 people. When anti-regime protests broke out in 2011, even those sympathetic to the opposition in Yarmouk were wary, conscious of their guest status. Late last year however, the war came to them. “It’s the Nakba of Yarmouk,” says Um Mazen.

Mined area in Syria border promises oil “This region has considerable natural and cultural heritage as well as areas to be used for energy. There are resources for oil and natural gas production. A method for exploiting the cleared terrain regarding all finds will be elaborated on and announced to the public,” Karahocagil said, adding that mine clearance falls under the jurisdiction of the National Defense Ministry.

 

Special Reports

The creation of an unbridgeable divide

Ammar Abdulhamid: Syria’s civil war is now strongly characterised by militias identifying along sectarian lines. The growing divide between Sunnis and Alawites has profound implications for Syria, and the Middle East.

Syria’s female revolution

Hundreds of women took to the streets of Banias early on in the uprising, demanding the release of thousands of men who had been rounded up by security forces loyal to the regime. Activist Nadja Mansour told NOW that women back then led many of the peaceful movements. But as the violence increased, peaceful activities decreased, and the role of women also diminished.

Inside Damascus: Risking life and limb for a loaf

Daily life in the suburbs of Damascus is getting harder, writes Bill Neely, as the bitter and bloody battle for control of the Syrian capital grinds on.

Kurds Caught Between Islamists and the PKK

There is also a sectarian reason why the Assad regime backs the PKK, according to Othman. Most of the PKK’s leadership hails from a rarified minority: Alawite Kurds. Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK’s founder who is now in Turkish prison, is an Alawite from Maabatli, a town from which most of Syria’s Alawite Kurds, perhaps 200,000, hail. Kurds make up more than 10% of Syria’s 23 million citizens, and the vast majority of them adhere to a moderate version of Sunni Islam.

Syria war leaves ghost towns in Kurdish region

… regime officers are afraid that their platoons of conscripts could desert at the first opportunity, while the rebels are too low on weapons and ammunition to forge ahead. The result is a stalemate which has made life impossible for the Kurdish civilians who used to live in the 60 villages in the area, in the northern reaches of Latakia province. Almost all have left, moving farther north toward the Turkish border where they feel safer. For now, they are crammed into small houses left vacant by better-off Syrians near the border and who are now waiting out the war in Turkey. But more arrive each day, putting a strain on both lodgings and charity.

 

The Meltdown

 

The Islamist-Kurdish Divide

 

New fronts in Syria’s civil war are now emerging. The first pits Islamist rebels against Syria’s Kurdish population. The current flashpoint is the Kurdish-majority town of Ras Al-Ain/Sere Kanye, currently under attack by over 1,500 Islamist fighters belonging to 16 different groups. Rebels are using tanks and RPGs in their assault and are showing the same kind of disregard to civilian populations that pro-Assad militias tend to show.

 

Meanwhile, the town is being defended by an assortment of Kurdish fighting units led by the YPG (Kurdish local defense committees which are ideologically lined to PKK). But other Kurdish groups are now involved, with Kurds fearing that the current attack comes as part of an Islamist/Arab strategy to take over and/or isolate all Kurdish-majority towns in the northeast. The fighting is fierce, Arab tribal are involved, and certain tribal members of the Syrian National Council seem involved in directing the fight against the Kurds, including ranking member Ahmad Hamad Al-Assad Al-Milhem. The fighting has been ongoing for ten days now, with over 150 dead on both sides. Turkish involvement is not clear, but protection afforded to the wounded from Islamist rebel groups when treated in Turkish hospitals indicate sympathies with Islamists. Many

 

Islamists rebels bury one of their own, as sounds of clashes can be heard in the background http://youtu.be/ZMErs-wQCCo

 

The Secular-Islamist Divide

 

A second front that is also developing slowly is one that pits Islamists fighters, including members of Jabhat Al-Nusra, against secular activists.  Recent developments in the town of Saraqib, Idlib Province, give an accurate ideas as to what is involved at this stage.

 

Jihadists and Secular Activists Clash in Syria: “The dispute in Saraqib began when a group of masked men raided two organizations run by local activists, a new cultural club and a social work office, the activists said. At the second office, where Danish journalists and two visiting female Syrian activists were staying, the men seized fliers advocating nonviolence and ordered the group to leave town by sunrise, according to activists and one of the journalists, a filmmaker. The masked men were angry, the witnesses said, in part because the visiting Syrian activists were not covering their hair in accordance with the practice of many pious Muslims. The men also declared that they preferred foreign journalists entering the country to be men.”

 

On Friday, secular activists marked their rejection of the tactics of Jabhat Al-Nusra in their city, chanting “the Syrian people are one,” “God, Syria, Freedom and nothing more,” and hosting banners asserting the “civic” nature of the city irrespective of the number of guns now in it, and rejecting the presence of “masked men” in their midst http://youtu.be/CSiPub7Bgec

 

Salamiyeh

 

Meanwhile, criticism of Jabhat Al-Nusra’s tactics continues to mark a widening divide between secular and Islamist groups. Jabhat Al-Nusra has just adopted a suicide attack against a pro-Assad militia headquarters that took place in Salamiyeh, Hama, on January 21. The attack was controversial because it generated many civilian casualties as well, and on account of the highly mixed character of the City, where Christians, Alawites, Ismailites and Sunnis live. The announcement by Jabhat Al-Nusra was received with much naysaying on part of secular activists writing on their Facebook posts and on their blogs, and is bound to increasing tension between secular pro-democracy activists and Islamists rebels on the ground in many flashpoints across the country, but especially in so-called liberated areas.

 

Predictions

 

Bearing all these divides in mind, and the one I just pointed out in my recent article in openDemocracy, the one that goes to the heart of the current situation, the dire predictions of Christian Caryl that the international community’s failure to act so far has set the scene for more killing to come in the near future seem quite logical…

 

“Because the fateful wheel of atrocity and reprisal, so familiar from past civil wars, is gathering momentum. It could hardly be any different, considering the scale of the killing so far. The Assad regime bears full responsibility for launching the carnage. But it does not bear sole responsibility for all the crimes that have been committed, and it will not bear sole responsibility for the crimes that are yet to come.”

 

The real long-term impact of this is something Lara Setrakian of Syria Deeply seems to get:

 

We have lost Syria — we’ve lost the good faith of its people and lost the opportunity to stem its decline. Everyone, everywhere we’ve reached has said the same thing: Stop the bleeding. This message speaks to wounds we cannot see and stories we can hardly fathom. But they will shape the Middle East for generations to come.

 

Video Highlights

 

The battle for control over Idlib City’s Central Prison as seen from the point of view of a rebel unit affiliated with Suqur Al-Sham http://youtu.be/5RcNRPcFCkI

 

Rebels in Deir Ezzor City use a confiscated tank in an attack on a loyalist checkpoint http://youtu.be/Qt1FlvxYrW4 , http://youtu.be/UDYEstII6sE

 

A rebel attack against a loyalist headquarters in Mseifrah, Daraa http://youtu.be/c9NfAi_vNMM , http://youtu.be/QO4Nk41Ol90

 

The pounding of rebel suburbs in Homs City continues: Jobar http://youtu.be/5BX_WRWAGAs

 

Aerial bombardment of rebel suburbs in Damascus continues: Arbeen http://youtu.be/fcu76jeMCLY Al-Qadam http://youtu.be/4n5P3yG7IpM , http://youtu.be/sFBjX8DNJIQ Saqba http://youtu.be/gut9Fry2kJM

 

Rebels in Sheikh Saad Suburb in Aleppo City capture a number of key locations http://youtu.be/3AokMi6qr04 , http://youtu.be/CoNqC0pGnH0 , http://youtu.be/o3wRy-JLrJ8 , http://youtu.be/IUSjph9GnLQ

 

TV Director Convicted for Criticizing President

By Ryan Aliman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

PORTO-NOVO, Benin – Last Thursday, human rights groups and press organizations demanded the Benin government to release a TV director who was imprisoned for airing a program that criticized President Boni Yayi.

President Yayi Boni accused several TV stations of disturbing public order after they criticized his administration for corruption last year. (Photo courtesy of Afriqueenelles)

On September 18, 2012, TV station Canal 3 broadcasted a press conference where former Presidential Adviser and Spokesperson Lionel Agbo accused the President of enabling his cabinet members’ corrupt practices.

The following day, President Yayi filed a complaint against the director of Canal 3, Berthe Cakpossa, before the High Authority for Broadcasting and Communication (HAAC), Benin’s media regulatory body. In the complaint, President Yayi denied all of the accusations Agbo made against him, claiming that these were mere fabrications. According to him, by airing the press conference, Canal 3 “disturbed public order” and “undermined national cohesion”. Two months later, the HAAC suspended two of the TV station’s programs:  “Actu matin” and “Arbre à Palabre” for two weeks and three months, respectively.

On January 16, a Cotonou court found Cakpossa guilty of “offending the head of state”, sentencing the director to three months in prison with hard labor. Cakpossa was also ordered to pay a fine of 500,000 francs CFA (US$1,000), and symbolic damages of 1 franc CFA. In its decision, the Cotonou court cited the country’s 1997 press law which states that journalists are considered the author of third-party statements they report.

Agbo was likewise arrested for the same charges.

According to Cakpossa’s lawyer, Claret Dedie, they recently appealed the court’s decision which they hope will suspend the execution of the sentence. In an interview with the local news, Dedie said that she was surprised to learn about her client’s arrest since prison terms of less than six months do not require immediate incarceration in Benin. She also found it peculiar that out of all the cases filed against Cakpossa in connection with the controversial broadcast, Cakpossa had been convicted only in the case in which the complainant was the President.

“President Yayi retaliated against a journalist who conveyed a message he did not like and then pressured the courts to impose his will. He is sending a message that his government is off-limits to critical scrutiny,” noted Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ) Coordinator Mohamed Keita. “We call on the appeals court to overturn this verdict, which is a stain on Benin’s image as a free, democratic nation.”

Other human rights and media organizations such as the Media Foundation for West Africa (MWFA), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), and the Union of Media Professionals of Benin (UPMB) have joined the CPJ in urging the appeals court to set Cakpossa free.

 

For further information, please see:

Horn Portal – Benin TV chief jailed for program slamming presidential palace – 26 January 2013

Spy Ghana – Berthe Cakpossa sentence was illegally motivated by the Benin government – William Gomes – 26 January 2013

IFEX – TV station director sentenced to hard labour in Benin – 25 January 2013

Committee to Protect Journalists – Benin TV director convicted for offending president – 24 January 2013

 

Factory Fire in Bangladesh Kills 7 and Brings Into Question the Country’s Commitment to Labor Rights

By Irving Feng
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

DHAKA, Bangladesh – Questions of worker safety and possible foul play are raised after seven workers die in blaze at a small factory in Bangladesh.

Survivor, Laiju, stands inside the damaged factory after the fire claimed the lives of her fellow employees. (Photo courtesy of The Times of Northwestern India)

On Saturday, a fire ravaged a small factory owned by Smart Exports Garment Ltd in the Dhaka metropolitan area.  Roughly 50 people were injured in the stampede, 6 had to be rushed to the hospital and at least 7 women workers were found trampled to death amidst the chaos.

Executive Director of the Bangladesh Center for Workers Solidarity, Kalpona Akter, reported that Smart Exports Garment Ltd had been subcontracted to fill orders by other garment factories.  This particular company was not a member of the Bangladesh garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association.  Lacking membership, the company was unlicensed by fire prevention and labor governing bodies.

Factory worker, Raushan Ara, reported to a local newspaper that the emergency exit was locked when workers tried to flee the blaze.  Spectators reported that some of the trapped workers attempted to jump out of second story windows.

Jahangir Kabir Nanak, a government official, has been assigned to investigate the possibility of foul play due to the allegations that the emergency exit was locked, trapping many of the workers inside the factor during the fire.

Altaf Hossain, father of one of the casualties sustained in the fire, is seeking legal action, bringing cases of negligence against three of the directors of the factory.  The police have begun their own independent investigation into the alleged crimes.

Abdul Halim, a fire official, has reported that the actual cause of the fire continues to remain a mystery as the fire department continues their investigation.  Preliminary findings suggest that the fire was caused by electrical short circuit in the upper floor of the two-story building.

International labor rights groups, including The Worker Rights Consortium, Clean Clothes Campaign, the Institute for Global Labor and Human Rights, and the International Labor Rights Forum, have called for better accountability in the apparel industry to improve garment workers’ rights in this part of the world.

The large brand companies that contract these factories to make their clothing continue to keep their internal audit and investigation results secret, marginalize trade unions, and simply walk away from these types of tragedies when convenient.

Bangladesh currently operates roughly 4,500 garment factories and is one of the world’s largest exporters of clothing.  The garment manufacturing industry currently makes up about 80% of Bangladesh’s $24 billion in annual exports.

It is unclear whether or not the clothing made in this particular factory was destined for western markets as initial reports have been conflicting.  This tragedy comes merely two months after one of Bangladesh’s worst factory fires which occurred in the Tazreen Fashions Ltd factory, killing 112 workers and injuring 150 others.

For further information, please see:

The Global Times – Foreign labels found in latest Bangladesh factory fire – 27 January 2013

The Times of Northwestern India – Bangladesh probing if factory’s 1 exit was locked – 27 January 2013

Reuters – Labor rights groups seek action after Bangladesh factory blaze – 27 January 2013

Belfast Telegraph – Bangladesh factory fire kills seven – 26 January 2013