Malian and French Forces Take Control of Gao

By Heba Girgis
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

BAMAKO, Mali—The French and Malian forces, working together, pushed forward to the desert town of Timbuktu today, as the two-week-long French mission began gathering momentum against the Islamist extremists, who have been in control of the region for more than nine months.

A French military convoy makes its way toward Timbuktu. (Photo Courtesy of The Guardian)

This move toward Timbuktu comes just a day after the French army announced that they had succeeded in seizing the airport and a key bridge in Gao, which is one of the other northern provincial capitals currently under the control of the Islamist insurgents. Diarran Kone, a spokesman for Mali’s Defense Ministry said, “Since yesterday the Malian army has been in Gao, controlling the airport.” “Police actions are under way,” he continued.

Gao is the largest city in northern Mali. It was seized more than nine months ago, by a mixture of al-Qaida linked Islamist fighters. This group of fighters turned the city into a replica of Afghanistan under the Taliban. The group also has close ties to Moktar Belmoktar, an Algerian national who has been operating in Mali for a long time, and claimed responsibility for the attack on a BP-operated natural gas plant in Algeria.

Gao is one of the main strategic points and represented the biggest move yet in this battle to retake the northern half of the country. The French Defense Ministry spokesman, Colonel Thierry Burkhard, said that Malian, Nigerian and Chadian troops were now deploying in Gao after the French special forces took the airport yesterday. “The taking of control of Gao, which has between 50,000 and 60,000 inhabitants, by Malian, Chadian and Nigerian soldiers, is under way,” he noted.

However, in Paris, a defense ministry official clarified that the city of Gao has not yet been completely liberated. While a lot of progress has been made, the process of freeing the city still continues.

Yesterday, Saturday, January 26, 2013, the United States said that it would provide aerial refueling for France’s warplanes. This decision increases American involvement, which until yesterday had consisted only of transporting French troops and equipment, while also providing some intelligence, including but not limited to satellite photographs.

Since France began its operation, the insurgents have retreated from three small towns in central Mali: Diabaly, Konna, and Douentza. The Islamists continue to control much of the north. This conflict will now dominate the African Union summit in Ethiopia on Monday.

 

For further information, please see:

The Guardian – Mali Conflict: French and Malian Troops Begin Restoring Control in Timbuktu – 27 January 2013

The New York Times – French Troops in Mali Push On to Timbuktu – 27 January 2013

The Wall Street Journal – In Mali, French Troops Step Up Role – 27 January 2013

The Washington Post – French Forces Press Ahead Toward Malian Town of Timbuktu – 27 January 2013

Russian Duma Overwhelmingly Backs “Homosexual Propaganda” Ban

By Madeline Schiesser
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia – On Friday, Russia’s lower house of Parliament, the State Duma, passed the first reading of a bill that would ban spreading “homosexual propaganda” among minors.  Police arrested about 20 protestors outside the Duma after a fight broke out between supporters and opponents of the ban.

Interior Ministry officers detain gay-rights activists for participating in a protest outside the State Duma. (Photo Courtesy of RFE/RL)

Deputies of the Duma passed the first of three required readings with near-unanimous support: 338 voted in favor of the bill, 1 (Sergei Kuzin of United Russia) in opposition, and 1 (Dmitry Gudkov of A Just Russia) abstained.  In addition to passing the readings, the bill must also be approved by the Federation Council, and be signed by President Vladimir Putin to become law.

Although the bill was introduced in the Duma last March by lawmakers from Novosibirsk in Siberia, where locally such laws are already in effect, the bill’s consideration date was pushed back several times.

Echoing laws in St. Petersburg, Arkhangelsk, Novosibirsk, and other regions, the bill would impose fines on individuals and organizations promoting “homosexual behavior among minors.”  Individuals could be fined up to 5,000 roubles (£105; 124 euros; $166) and officials could face a fine of ten times that amount, or 50,000 roubles (£1,050; 1,240 euros; $1,660).  Legal entities, including businesses and schools, could be fined at 100-times the individual limit, resulting in fines of 500,000 roubles (£10,500; 12,400 euros; $16,600) per incident.

Opposition from the gay community has been strong, and gay-rights activists particularly note that the bill fails to define “homosexual propaganda.”  Like its forerunners, the bill also fails to give precise legal definition of homosexuality, bisexuality and transgender.  However, when the LGBT community attempted to challenge this lack of precise language in regional legislation last year, they were turned denied through the Supreme Court.  Accordingly, with the vague language, activities ranging from demonstrating to kissing in public, all in possible view of minors, could constitute “homosexual propaganda.”

Nonetheless, Russia’s state television has reported that members of the gay and lesbian community will be invited to attend the second hearing of the bill, which will most likely be in the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, outside the Duma Friday, gay-rights activists clashed with Russian Orthodox Christians.  The gay-rights activists protested with a “kiss-in,” which drew an angered, violent reaction from the bill’s supporters, some of them holding Russian Orthodox icons or crosses.  A scuffle ensued between the two sides, which was broken up by police from the Interior Ministry, who made several arrests.

According to opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta correspondent and gay-rights activist Yelena Kostyuchenko, “”Some of them threw eggs at us, others chanted prayers. They poured ‘zelyonka’ [‘brilliant green,’ a common antiseptic that is hard to wash off] on us. They tried to attack us several times.”

Sources conflict as to whether, of the 20 people arrested by police, any proponents of the bill were among them.  However, Kostyuchenko, claiming the police were clearly on the Duma’s side, reported, “In our police van, there are only LGBT activists and their friends, people who were protesting the bill. There aren’t any fascists or so-called Orthodox activists among us here.”

Deputy Dmitry Sablin, a member of the ruling United Russia party explained the bill was necessary because “[a]lready 30 percent of children have a more or less positive attitude toward [homosexuality].”  He further stated, “We live in Russia after all; not Sodom and Gomorrah.”  Sablin concluded that defending “traditional values” is “even more important than oil or gas.”

United Russia’s parliamentary faction leader, Vladimir Vasilyev, noted the narrowness of the law in only restricting propaganda “among minors.”  In explaining the goal of the bill, he started “We want our young generation to grow up without this kind of influence.”

By contrast, Amnesty International has criticized the bill as “an attack on the right to freedom of expression,” and cautioned that the bill, which “further stigmatizes and alienates” homosexual people, could be interpreted very loosely.

In Washington, the Obama administration was “deeply concerned” over the bill.  State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the bill will “severely” restrict freedom of expression and assembly for LGBT individuals, and “indeed for all Russians.”  She called on Russia to protect its citizens’ democratic rights, without discrimination.

For related Impunity Watch posts, please see:

Russia Pushes Forward Anti-Gay Law – 22 January 2013

Russia “Gaga” Over Homosexuality Promotion Debate – 12 December 2012

For further information, please see:

France24 – Russia Backs Nationwide ‘Anti-Gay’ Bill – 26 January 2013

RFE/RL – Russian ‘Gay Propaganda’ Bill Passes First Reading Amid Scuffles Outside Duma – 26 January 2013

Amnesty International – Russia’s Anti-Gay ‘Propaganda Law’ Assault on Freedom of Expression – 25 January 2013

BBC News – Russian MPs Back ‘Gay Propaganda’ Ban Amid Scuffles – 25 January 2013

Moscow Times – Duma Passes Anti-Gay Law in First Reading – 25 January 2013

Returns – Russian Police Break up “Kiss-in” Over Anti-Gay Law – 25 January 2013

RT – Russian Duma Gives First Nod to Nationwide Ban on Gay Propaganda – 25 January 2013

U.S. Chides Russia by Leaving Bilateral Group on Human Rights

By Mark O’Brien
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, United States — In a protest of Russia’s repression on civil rights and activism, the U.S. State Department announced on Friday that it was leaving a bilateral group aimed at promoting civil society in both countries.

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for Human Rights and Democracy Thomas Melia announced the U.S. withdrawal from a bilateral group aimed at promoting civil society in the United States and Russia. (Photo Courtesy of Russia Beyond the Headlines)

Thomas Melia, deputy secretary of state in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, said the Working Group on Civil Society of the Russian-American Bilateral Presidential Commission was not working.

“[The group] is no longer an appropriate or effective forum that would facilitate the development and strengthening of civil society,” Melia said in an interview with Interfax.

A spokesperson for Russian President Vladimir Putin called the United States’s decision to withdraw “regrettable.”

But Matthew Rojansky of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace blamed Putin’s government for the U.S. withdrawal.  Rojansky told the Washington Post that the Russian government is not taking any of the necessary steps to ensure a civil society.

“We take these things seriously,” Rojansky said in the Post interview, characterizing the American message.  “And you have shown you don’t take them seriously.”

The American pull out comes amid tense relations between Washington and Moscow.

In the last year, Russia has clamped down on demonstrations amid opposition protests that the government blamed the United States for supporting.  Putin’s government also began prosecuting many political activists, as well as requiring nonprofit electoral and human rights groups receiving money from abroad register as “foreign agents.”

In December, the United States imposed financial and visa sanctions against corrupt Russian officials.  Russia responded by banning American adoption of children from Russia.

Russia also has outlawed the U.S. Agency for International Development.  And most recently, just last month, Putin signed a law that bans American organizations considered involved in political activity.

When asked the U.S. withdrawal from the working group, Melia’s Russian counterpart, Konstantin Dolgov, said he had not received official notice yet.

“We have not yet received any written official documents on Washington’s decision to withdraw from this format of dialogue with Russia,” Dolgov told Interfax.

“We will react officially when we get official notification,” he added.  “We can now say that Russia has made specific proposals to our U.S. colleagues to call another meeting of the working group, which was to be held in Moscow throughout 2013.”

The working group was one of about 20 in a bilateral U.S.-Russia commission started in 2009 by President Barack Obama and Russia’s then-president, Dmitry Medvedev, as relations between the two countries were warming.

For further information, please see:

RT — Moscow Regrets US Pullout from Bilateral Commission on Human Rights — 26 January 2013

Chicago Tribune — U.S. Quits Bilateral Civil Society Group in Rebuke to Russia — 25 January 2013

Russia Beyond the Headlines — Washington Quits U.S.-Russia Civil Society — 25 January 2013

Washington Post — U.S. Quits Joint Panel with Russia on Civil Society — 25 January 2013

Apple Terminates Contract with Supplier Using Underage Workers

By Karen Diep
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China – Yesterday, Apple terminated its contract with Chinese circuit manufacturer, Guangdong Real Faith Pingzhou Electronics Co. Ltd., after learning that seventy-four (74) workers were underage.

Apple logo on a rainbow backdrop. (Photo Courtesy of Huffington Post)

“Given the high turnover rate in the factories and the production pressure in the peak season, the factories may not strictly comply with labor laws and the code of conduct,” shared Debby Chan, a spokeswoman for Hong Kong-based Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior.

After being criticized for working conditions of suppliers including Foxconn, Apple joined the Fair Labor Association last year.

Apple has conducted three hundred and ninety three (393) audits, a 72% increase from 2011, of its suppliers as part of its investigation of staff working conditions.

Per The Telegraph, Apple has audited both small and subsidiary suppliers and larger ones such as Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co, for working conditions. From the foregoing audits, Apple learned that 95% of the sites conformed with underage labor requirements.

According to BBC News, Apple relayed that a regional recruitment company, Shenzhen Quanshun Human Resources Co., Ltd., provided the underage workers to PZ and even supplied said workers with false identity papers.  As a result, Shenzhen Quanshun Human Resources Co., Ltd.’s business license has been revoked.

Guangdong Real Faith Pingzhou Electronics Co Ltd, or PZ, makes “a standard circuit board component used by many other companies in other industries,” read a report. Moreover, the report stated that 92% of the 1.5 million workers covered by the audit worked a maximum of 60 hours per week.

“We go deep in the supply chain to find it,” explained Jeff Williams, Apple’s Senior Vice-President of Operations.  “And when we do find it, we ensure that the under-age workers are taken care of, the suppliers are dealt with,” continued Mr. Williams.

In October 2012, Foxconn, a China-based iPhone and iPad manufacturer, Foxconn confessed to hiring 14-year-old interns in one of its factories.

“We recognise that full responsibility for these violations rests with our company and we have apologised to each of the students for our role in this action,” read a statement Foxconn issued.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Under-age workers found in Apple supply audit – January 25, 2013

Bloomberg – Apple Says China Agent Forged Papers for Underage Workers – January 25, 2013

The Telegraph – Apple audit finds underage workers in China – January 25, 2013

 

Syria Deeply: 25 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.

Videos

A tank comes under fire in Darya on 25 January 2013.

 

The Forum

Interview: I’m an FSA Battalion Leader –  by Karen Leigh

 

Recent Headlines

Iran Reaffirms Syria, Assad as Key to “Resistance Front” Against Israel – Huffington Post
First Patriot Missile to Defend Turkey Against Syria Goes Active – Rueters
Syria Says Troops Raid Damascus Suburb, Discover Rebel Tunnels – Washington Post

 

Community Op-Eds

Why Syria’s 60,000 Deaths Should Not Shock Us – by Lionel Bechner

Estonian Authorities Have Traced $10 Million of Stolen Russian Government Money Uncovered by Sergei Magnitsky

Press Release
Hermitage Capital

25 January 2013 – Estonian authorities have discovered that $10 million of the $230 million of funds stolen from the Russian government and uncovered by Sergei Magnitsky had been transferred through Estonia according to public prosecutor Piret Paukštys. The discovery of funds was reported by Baltic Business News yesterday (http://balticbusinessnews.com/article/2013/1/24/paper-10m-usd-laundered-in-estonia-in-magnitski-case).

It was also reported that the Estonian authorities had found that ten different companies have been used to transfer the money, according to the Business TASS agency in Talinn (http://www.biztass.ru/news/id/55661).

According to the Estonian authorities, the money was wired via internet banking to various persons in other jurisdictions.

The uncovering of the trail of money is a substantial breakthrough in the investigation of the criminal conspiracy exposed by Hermitage and Sergei Magnitsky,” said Hermitage Capital representative.

In total, $230 million that had been paid in taxes to the Russian government by the Hermitage Fund in 2006 was stolen the following year from the Russian treasury by a group of corrupt Russian officials working together with organized criminals. Sergei Magnitsky discovered and testified about the thefts and was subsequently arrested and killed in Russian police custody at the age of 37. Three years later, no one has been convicted for his death.

 

For further information please contact:

Hermitage Capital
Phone:             +44 207 440 1777
Email:              info@lawandorderinrussia.org
Website:          http://lawandorderinrussia.org
Facebook:        http://on.fb.me/hvIuVI
Twitter:           @KatieFisher__
Livejournal:     //hermitagecap.livejournal.com/

Human Rights Report Criticizes DC Police on Rape Cases

By Mark O’Brien
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, United States — A report out Thursday from the Human Rights Watch accused the Washington, D.C. police department of failing to investigate roughly a third of reported sexual assaults during a three-year period.

D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier decried a recent Human Rights Report attacking the department’s handling of rape cases, calling the findings “sweeping allegations” that lack factual support. (Photo Courtesy of the Washington Times)

Now, the head of the city’s public safety committee hopes to hold a hearing on the report’s findings.

“This deserves a very cautious and thoughtful review to be sure we don’t respond with window dressing,” said Councilmember Tommy Wells.  “We want to find a way to reassure people that have been victimized through sexual abuse that they have a government that will effectively respond to what they need.”

The New York based human rights group released the 197-page report, called “Capitol Offense,” on Thursday.  It said that Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department failed to take women’s rape claims seriously or to investigate their allegations properly.

The report found that out of 480 sexual assaults reported between October 2008 and September 2011, at least 171 did not have initial police reports filed or file numbers issued for tracking.

“It was really disappointing that in one of our largest cities that police still seem to have the same attitudes toward sexual assault and [do] not actively pursue these cases more aggressively,” said Sara Darehshori, Human Rights Watch’s senior counsel, in an interview with Reuters.

The police department disputed the findings.  D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier released a statement after the report’s release, saying “sweeping allegations that are not backed by facts undermine the credibility of HRW.”

Both sides have requested that federal investigators from the U.S. Justice Department review the report’s findings.  A Justice Department spokesperson confirmed the requests to the Washington Post but said no decision has been made.

The Human Rights Watch report contained summary from more than a dozen women.  Police said that is a fraction of the 1,500 rapes investigated in the three-year period contained in the report.

Still, the department also said it had acted to remedy some reported shortcomings.  Chief Lanier said she wanted police interviews with victims to be recorded to document the detective work.  Prosecutors, however, are not so eager.

“While videotaping victims’ statements can be beneficial in some kinds of cases, we believe that the practice carries a risk of adding to the trauma and discomfort already felt by victims of sexual assaults,” Kelly Higashi told the Washington Post.  Higashi is chief of the sex offense and domestic violence section of the U.S. attorney’s office.

For further information, please see:

Chicago Tribune — Washington, DC, Police Ignored Some Sex Assaults–Rights Group — 24 January 2013

Salon — Report: DC Police Treatment of Sexual Assault Victims “Traumatizing” — 24 January 2013

Washington Times — Rights Group Faults D.C. Police on Rape Cases — 24 January 2013

Washington Post — Public Safety Chair Wants Hearing on Report that D.C. Police Didn’t Investigate Rape Cases — 24 January 2013

Former Nepalese Colonel Appears Before Court for Torture Charges

By Karen Diep
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

KATHMANDU, Nepal – Yesterday, former Nepalese Colonel Kumar Lama, 46, appeared at a 40-minute preliminary hearing before Judge Fulford in London’s Old Bailey Court for two charges of torture.

The Old Bailey where Mr. Lama appeared before Judge Fulford. (Photo Courtesy of The Guardian)

Mr. Lama, a current British resident, is accused of inflicting severe pain or suffering while commanding a Nepalese army barracks in 2005. According to The Guardian, the purported crimes occurred at the Gorusinghe army barracks in Kapilvastu, Nepal, between April 15, 2005 and May 1, 2005.

The charges against Mr. Lama relate to two men, Janak Bahadur Raut and Karam Hussain, under the Criminal Justice Act of 1988, Section 134.

According to France 24, London’s Metropolitan Police clarified that because torture is a crime prosecuted under international jurisdiction, they were required to arrest Mr. Lama. A prior concern was that the alleged crimes occurred in Nepal and therefore, London authorities possessed no right to detain Mr. Lama.

Nonetheless, London’s Metropolitan Police stated that no charges have been brought by the Nepalese authorities, who are currently demanding Mr. Lama’s release.

If jurisdiction holds, Mr. Lama’s case will be the first in Nepal’s history that a serving security officer has been arrested in foreign land in human rights violation case under universal jurisdiction.

The provisional date for the trial is June 2, 2013, in London’s Kingston Crown Court and is an projected to last between four and six weeks. A case management and plea hearing will is set for May 10, 2013. Mr. Lama is currently in custody after the court denied his application for bail.

“We have no option except waiting for the next hearing and subsequent court ruling,” Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs Narayan Kaji Shrestha relayed to The Himalayan Times.

To defend Mr. Lama, Nepal’s embassy in England hired London solicitor on criminal justice, Caplan and his Kingsley Napley firm associate, Barness. Prior to his representation of Mr. Lama, Mr. Caplan defended Former Chilean President Augusto Pinochet.

Neither the police nor the Crown Prosecution Service gave additional information regarding the case’s background or the circumstances until said information arrives in court.

Before his arrest last year, Mr. Lama served as a UN peacekeeper in South Sudan and was to return.

For more information, please see:

The Guardian – Nepal torture suspect appears in court – January 24, 2013

The Himalayan Times – London court dismisses Col Lama’s bail plea – January 24, 2013

France 24 – Nepalese colonel to face torture trial in London – January 24, 2013

Zimbabwe: Helicopter Donations and Diamond Fraud Affect Party Politics

By Hannah Stewart
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

HARARE, Zimbabwe — The last Zimbabwean elections, held in 2008, were marred by violence and allegations of rigged voting.  With presidential elections on the horizon, Zimbabwe has had an interesting week between diamonds and helicopters.  As South Africa prepared to ship a surplus of military helicopters to Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe’s party called for the investigation of multiple provincial leaders’ diamond fraud.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe (R) and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. (Photo Courtesy of Voice of America)

The announcement that the South African military had agreed to donate its surplus of aging French-designed Alouette helicopters to Zimbabwe for “imminent delivery” was met with protests from regional civic campaign groups.

AfriForum, a human rights group, protested South Africa’s military donations.  And today a court in South Africa has temporarily halted a delivery of helicopters to the Zimbabwean military.  High Court Judge N. B. Tuchten prohibited South Africa’s government from exporting any Alouette helicopters or spares to Zimbabwe until a full hearing could be held on February 19.

Willie Spies, AfriForum’s legal spokesperson, was confident that the order would be upheld next month. “We know that Zimbabwe has got a record of human rights abuses,” Mr. Spies said.  Moreover he stated, “We know what happened during 2008 with the second round presidential elections.  We know the Zimbabwe Defense Forces are not a neutral defense force committed to defending the Zimbabwean state.”

Furthermore, Mr. Spies said, “[The military is] an aggressive force that’s been used against the people of Zimbabwe to suppress the opposition.”

Earlier on Friday, South Africa’s Mail and Guardian newspaper reported that it had seen confidential minutes of a meeting held two months ago between the defense chiefs of South Africa and Zimbabwe detailing the “disposal of Alouette helicopters and spares”.  South Africa’s defense department told the paper the donation was part of an agreement that dated back to 1997.

Coinciding with the controversy surrounding South Africa’s military donation are Mugabe’s efforts to “clean up” his party image.  President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party launched an investigation into alleged diamond fraud involving five of its officials, who have exposed the party’s control of the Chiadzwa diamond fields.  The case involves more than $750,000 that the five party members allegedly “swindled” from mining companies for ZANU PF activities.  The money was then reportedly used in part to finance the officials’ personal lives.

It is already widely speculated that ZANU PF has been using the diamonds fields to generate cash for the party.  ZANU-PF has endorsed Mugabe, 88, as its candidate for the presidential vote.  The coming election is expected to be hotly contested as it is widely believed that Mugabe’s policies ruined Zimbabwe’s economy.

For more information, please see:

All Africa – Zimbabwe: Zanu-PF Investigating Party Diamond Fraud – 18 January 2013

BBC – South Africa Court Halts Zimbabwe Helicopter Donation – 25 January 2013

Reuters – Zimbabwe Order Diamond Fraud Probe as Elections Looms – 25 January 2013

The Washington Post – Campaigners Try to Stop Zimbabwe Helicopter Gunship Delivery from Neighboring South Africa – 25 January 2013

Egypt Celebrates Anniversary of Revolution with More Protests

By Justin Dorman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt – Exactly two years ago, on January 25th, the Egyptians underwent a revolution to oust the military dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak. On the second anniversary of this revolution, thousands of Egyptians have taken to the streets to demonstrate against the country’s Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi.

Thousands of Egyptians rallied in the streets to protest President Morsi on the anniversary of the Mubarak uprisings. (Photo Courtesy of Al Arabiya)

Demonstrations became clashes with stone-throwing, gunfire, and tear gas between protestors and police in Cairo, Alexandria, Suez, and Port Said. Two state-owned buildings, one in Damietta and another in Kafr el-Sheikh, and one office used by the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood were also set ablaze by arsonists.

So far nine individuals have been killed. Seven of which were protestors and the other two were police. As reports are updated, the numbers continue to change, however, at the moment approximately two-hundred and eighty civilians have been injured, while another fifty-five security personnel have been hurt.

Many of the protestors present at these rallies were not shy to speak ill of their current president, Mohamed Morsi. Senior member of the Free Egyptians, Karim Abadir, stated that, “there’s no military dictatorship any more, but there are the beginnings of a theocratic one.”

Hisham Abdel-Latif, a protestor from the Cairene suburbs remarked that Egyptians are, “now ruled by a gang that is exactly the same as the Mubarak gang, except they now have beards.”

Protestor Moustapha Magdi said, “I’m here to get rid of Morsi. . .First Mubarak, then Tantawi, now Morsi. We are only ruled by bastards.”

Others chanted the mantra of 2011’s revolution, yelling as they marched, “the people want to bring down the regime,” and “Leave! Leave! Leave!”

The main complaints against Morsi are that he is only concerned with instituting Islamic law and that he has failed to address Egypt’s struggling infrastructure.

Not all of Egypt feels this way. A recent poll revealed that Morsi boasted an approval rating of sixty-three  percent. There are also other individuals who believe that Morsi has not been given a chance.

The Muslim Brotherhood does not believe that these violent protests are beneficial to the fragile country. Additionally, the Brotherhood notes that its rivals are refusing to properly adhere to the results of the free elections of the new democracy that placed the Brotherhood at the helm of the country.

Morsi, himself, took to Twitter to criticize the stone throwing protestors. He tweeted that, “the ugly violence aims at tainting the civilized nature of Egypt’s revolution. . . I call on all citizens to hold onto the noble principles of the Egyptian revolution to peacefully and freely express their views.”

For further information, please see:

Ahram – Live Updates 2: Nine dead on Egypt’s Uprising Anniversary as Morsi Offers Condolences – 25 January 2013

Arabiya News – Egypt Protesters Attack Official Buildings, Torch Brotherhoods HQ – 25 January 2013

Al Bawaba – Clashes Across Egypt on Second Anniversary of Revolution – 25 January 2013

Guardian – Violence Flares in Egypt on Anniversary of Revolution – 25 January 2013

Reuters – Five die in Egypt Violence on Anniversary of Uprising – 25 January 2013

Britain Introduces Law To Legalize Same Sex Marriage

By Alexandra Sandacz
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

LONDON, United Kingdom – On Friday, the British government created a bill to legalize same-sex marriage. The Marriage Bill extends marriage to gay couples; however, also prevents clergy in the Church of England from having to carry out the ceremonies.

British government will vote next month to legal same-sex marriage. (Photo Courtesy of Irish Examiner).

Since 2005, gay couples in Britain were permitted to form civil partnerships, which give them the same legal protection, adoption and inheritance rights as heterosexual married partners. However, their partnerships lacked the label of marriage.

The new bill will allow couples who previously entered into civil partnerships to convert their relationship into a marriage, while also including specific provisions that intend to satisfy religious opponents of same-sex unions while simultaneously stopping religious leaders from criticizing the bill.

Equalities Minister, Maria Miller, stated, “We feel that marriage is a good thing and we should be supporting more couples to marry and that is exactly what the proposals being brought forward today do.”

However, she continued, “We are trying to make sure that there are the protections there for churches who feel that this isn’t appropriate for their particular beliefs. We know that there are churches who do want to take part in same-sex marriages, so we have made sure that there are provisions there so they can.”

Additionally, Maria Miller rejected claims that teachers could face disciplinary action if they refuse to “promote” gay marriage in schools. She says, “Teachers are able to, and entitled to, express their views about same-sex marriage and there is no requirement at all for them to promote it. But obviously we wouldn’t expect teachers to be offensive or discriminate in any way about anything.”

She concluded, “Of absolutely paramount importance to me is that when it comes to civil society, we should be treating people equally and fairly and the measures we are putting forward today are doing that.”

The Bishop of Leicester, the Right Reverend Tim Stevens, stated his opposition; marriage should continue to be “a union between one man and one woman. It is a social institution that predates both church and state and has been part of the glue that has bound countless successive societies together.” The “absence of an overwhelming public consensus for change ought at least to give pause for thought.”

While some traditionalist Conservative lawmakers say they will vote against it, conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, many members of his Cabinet, and most Liberal Democrat and Labour lawmakers support the new marriage bill.

The first debate and vote are scheduled for Feb 5.

For further information, please see:

Associated Press – Britain Introduces Same-Sex Marriage Bill – 25 January 2013

BBC News – Gay marriages: Government Publishes Legislation – 25 January 2013

Irish Examiner – British Govt Publishes Gay Marriage Bill – 25 January 2013

USA Today – Britain Considers Same-Sex Marriage Bill – 25 January 2013

Change of Rape Law in Morocco

By Justin Dorman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

RABAT, Morocco –There once was a time in Morocco where a rapist could avoid any charges against him, if he were to marry his victim. The times, they are changing, as is Moroccan rape law.

Amina al-Filali’s suicide triggered protests that would eventually lead to the amending of Article 475. (Photo Courtesy of Al Jazeera)

The tradition that safeguarded the rapists was codified in Article 475 of the penal code which stated that those who were found to have “corrupted” or “kidnapped” a minor could go free if they married the victim. This practice was encouraged by the courts of Morocco because of the antediluvian judgment that a woman’s loss of virginity out-of-wedlock would tarnish the respect of the family.

The strict translation of Article 475 from French reads, “When a minor removed or diverted married her captor, the latter cannot be prosecuted on the complaint of persons entitled to apply for annulment of marriage and cannot be sentenced until after the cancellation of marriage has been pronounced.”

This effort to change the law comes approximately a year after sixteen-year-old Amina al-Filali killed herself with rat poison after she was forced into an abusive marriage with Moustapha Fellak, whom had previously raped her.

Women’s rights activists are happy to see reform in this law, but are still calling for many more changes to be made. President of the Democratic League for Women’s Rights, Fouzia Assouli, explained that, “the code only penalizes violence against women from a moral standpoint, ‘and not because it is just violence’.”

For instance, the new article that was just proposed carries a twenty-year penalty for consensual sex that follows the corruption of a minor that results in “deflowering,” but carries only a ten-year penalty if no “deflowering” occurs. Similarly, there are no penalties for conjugal or marital rape, whereas nearly fifty percent of all attacks against women take place between married couples.

Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane defends his country and its practices by insisting that the change in law is more a formality than a dramatic departure from current practices. He claims that, “in five-hundred and fifty cases of corruption of minors between 2009 and 2010, only seven were married under Article 475 of the penal code, the rest were pursued by justice.”

Before the amended article becomes law, it must be passed by both houses of parliament. Parliament has been slow in the past at passing laws on women’s rights, as a law to combat violence against women has been neglected by parliament for the past eight years.

For further information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Morocco to Change Rape Marriage law – 24 January 2013

Feminist – Morocco to Change Rape law that Forces Marriage – 24 January 2013

Jurist – Morocco to Change Rape law Allowing Marriage – 24 January 2013

National Sexual Violence Resource Center – Morocco Plan to Change Rape Marriage law – 23 January 2013

Masked Serbian Police Remove Albanian Rebel Memorial

By Madeline Schiesser
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

PRESEVO, Serbia – By order of the Serbian government, 200 heavily armed special police officers, their faces covered, removed a memorial from the ethnically mixed Presevo Valley that bore the names of 27 ethnic Albanian guerrillas killed during a 2000 insurgency in the region.

An armed officer stands by while the Presevo war memorial is loaded into a truck. (Photo Courtesy of France24)

During and after the Kosovo war (1998-1999, with insurgency in the southern Serbian regions of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac continuing though 2001), Albanian rebels fought against Serbia.  The Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac (LAPMB) hoped to free these regions from Serbian control and unite with Kosovo.  To Serbian authority, these rebels were seen as terrorists.  However, to ethnic Albanians, they were heroes.  However, the LAPMB laid down their arms under a NATO-brokered peace deal in 2001 in which Serbia agreed to greater rights and economic opportunity for the impoverished South.  Such progress has been slow.  Furthermore, Serbia has never recognized Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence in 2008, and still considers it to be a southern province.

The Presevo Valley memorial held particular significance to the Albanian community.  Although there are other memorials in the area, the two-meter (six-foot) rectangular stone monument stood with pride in Presevo’s central square, in front of the local council building.  The slab bore the LAMPB insignia and the inscribed names of the 27 guerillas who died in the insurgency.  It had been erected in December by the primarily ethnic Albanian local council, and local officials refused an order from the Serbian government to remove it by Thursday at 11pm.

In January, several attempts were made to reach a resolution between the government and Presevo authorities, but all were rejected by the Presevo city Hall

Then on Sunday January 20, beginning overnight and backed by armored personnel carriers, 200 heavily armed, masked police officers moved in on Presevo and removed their war memorial.

Declaring that the monument had been erected illegally, Prime Minister Ivica Dacic said, “We showed enough patience. Our clear and strong message is that the law should be respected and that no one is stronger than the state.” He further stated that “no one has the right to humiliate Serbia.”

The removal came only days after the European Union had praised Serbia for making progress in normalizing relations with Kosovo.  Kosovo warned that the removal could hurt EU-mediated talks aimed at such normalizing.

The head of the Albanian National Council in Presevo, Galip Beqiri, called the removal “an unacceptable act of vandalism” and said that plans to launch protests were being discussed.

Accordingly, at least 2,000 ethnic Albanians in Presevo took to the streets on Monday in protest.  They waved Albanian flags and banners that read “Stop discrimination” and “Europe, open your eyes”.

Although both the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the United Nations have appealed for calm, several acts of vandalism were reported in Serb cemeteries in Kosovo.  Furthermore, police reported shots fired near a Serbian memorial for the Kosovo war in the western town of Gorazdevac, as well damage to a World War II monument in the eastern town of Vitina.

Albania and Kosovo, both having majority ethnic-Albanian populations, condemned the memorial removal.  The government of Kosovo, in addition to saying the decision would undermine normalization talks, further said in a statement, “This action by the government of Serbia is another proof that the hate against Albanians that live in the Presevo Valley is still alive.”

For further information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Protests After Serbia Removes Memorial – 21 January 2013

RFE/RL – Albanians Protest Removal Of Presevo Monument – 21 January 2013

France24 – Police Remove Monument to Albanian Rebels in Serbia – 20 January 2013

RFE/RL – Serbia Removes Ethnic Albanian Memorial – 20 January 2013

Returns – Police remove Albanian Rebel Memorial in South Serbia – 20 January 2013

Syrian Revolution Digest: Wednesday, 23 January 2013

“Kleptocrats of the World, Unite!”

Russian FM cannot make head or tail of that “obsession” prevalent in rebel circuits with Assad’s removal. His own obsession with defending kleptocratic regimes, on the other hand, makes perfect sense, being a card-carrying member of one such regime himself. And that’s a far greater obstacle to peace than our insistence on Assad’s removal.

Today’s Death Toll: By end of Wednesday, the LCC documented 146 deaths, including 15 children and 13 women: 74 martyrs fell in Aleppo, 23 martyrs in Damascus and its Suburbs, 12 martyrs in Homs, 11 martyrs in Daraa, 9 martyrs in Hama, 6 martyrs in Hasakeh, 2 martyrs in each of Deir Ezzor and Lattakia, and one martyr in each of Raqa and Swaida (LCCs).

Points of Random Shelling: The LCC also documented 253 different points of shelling, 19 of which were hit by aerial strikes from war planes and choppers, 2 were hit by thermobaric bombs, and one area was hit by both thermobaric and phosphorus bombs. Artillery shelling targeted 112 points: 75 of which were hit by mortars and 66 by missiles (LCCs).

Clashes: Free Syrian Army rebels clashed with regime forces in 109 different points, liberating police station No. 25 at the Jordanian borders, and seizing the Samad and Mothalath checkpoints in Daraa. They also managed to push back a military attack on Mleiha town in Damascus Suburbs (LCCs).

 

News

Russia says diplomats’ families out of Syria, denies large-scale evacuation as fighting rages

Russia Criticizes Syria Rebel ‘Obsession’ With Assad Exit

Syria’s food shortages worsening, U.N. says

Syrian civil war devastates farming: U.N.

NATO to activate Turkey’s missile system near Syria border

Syria rebels accused of looting churches Rights group says fighters have burned and looted Christian and Shia places of worship, increasing sectarian fears.

Walkie-talkies as lifeline in wartime Syria Hand-held transceivers help residents to communicate and also keep track of impending attacks in absence of other means.

Video report on casualties in the ranks of pro-Assad militias

 

Special Reports

Syrians Struggle With Shortages as Economy Buckles
Syria’s economy is buckling under the twin strains of violence and sanctions that have sapped the government’s finances, devastated the nation’s cities and left its industry and infrastructure in ruins… With the economy in tatters and work hard to come by as the war grinds on, many families don’t have the deep pockets for anything other than the cheapest option. One woman said she waited for four hours to get a pack of subsidized bread.

The Economist: The axis power
Almost two years into Syria’s uprising, now a full-blown civil war, misery and despair are growing across the land. Lakhdar Brahimi, the joint envoy of the UN and Arab League who is trying to mediate, is making no progress. A military solution looks far off too. Though rebel fighters continue to make advances in the north and east of the country, Mr Assad’s forces are consolidating along the north-south axis from the capital, Damascus, to the coastal heartland of his Alawite sect. “This is never going to end,” says a usually hopeful rebel commander from the eastern province of Raqqa.

Remember The War In Syria?
More and more groups are being dragged into a conflict that no-one is destined to win… The Christians and Druze minorities would have preferred to stay on the side lines, but the lines have been crossed and the war taken to them.

Robin Yassin-Kassab: Fund Syria’s Moderates
We can’t say that helping the Syrian rebels didn’t work, because it has never really been tried.

 

Video Highlights

Russian TV shows a reportage on the training of an all-female pro-Assad militias “We will only choose: God, Syria and Bashar.” http://youtu.be/f8q5ocsksuY

Regime tanks pound rebel strongholds and residential neighborhoods in Daraa City http://youtu.be/NZw3i6y_lzY ,http://youtu.be/6WHM5BK-ggA Still, local rebels managed to destroy this loyalist headquarters http://youtu.be/uBLCp_L0fH0

Meanwhile, pro-Assad militias pounded mercilessly the nearby town of Basr Al-Harir http://youtu.be/dQFSv99AnmgBut rebels remained dug in http://youtu.be/UXiDOoVvMEY

Elsewhere in the province, rebels manage to liberate huge sections of the town of Bosra Al-Sham http://youtu.be/kmE6pVgtc7g

The pounding of the towns of Eastern Ghoutah in Damascus Suburbs continues: Dhiabiyeh http://youtu.be/b5efuotQMiI Hamouriyeh http://youtu.be/fuVZ2BfRU-0

To the West, the pounding of the town of Daraya with MiGs continues http://youtu.be/rM76SwIF8Ow

To the north, the town of Yabroud was also pounded http://youtu.be/MyonpSp3VOg

MiGs continue their pounding of the restive neighborhoods in Homs City, including Jobar http://youtu.be/IhukvvlOB74http://youtu.be/36T4DaoJgMI Elsewhere, activists carry out a series of interviews with the older generation still eking out a haphazard subsistence in the city despite all the violence taking place http://youtu.be/_YuMLfLa9m0

In Aleppo City, rebels and loyalists clash in Sheikh Saeed neighborhood http://youtu.be/nQHyZgtaSMY ,http://youtu.be/3X4xFgraTTI  A rocket falls on the inhabitant of Al-Sukkari Neighborhoodhttp://youtu.be/CgyZQT02x2k