Syrian Revolution Digest: Wednesday 27 February 2013

The Shake!

As world leaders do their version of the Harlem Shake, fighters on the ground do theirs, and theirs seem to be far more spirited, and deadly. A policy on the devolving situation in Syria seems to get outdated by the time it is conceived. Bulletproof vests and night vision goggles in the hands of moderates will not change the dynamics of anything on the ground nor carry you any favor. Alawite and Sunni extremists are now dictating the pace of all developments, and they are not in the mood for conversation.

Today’s Death Toll: 210 martyrs, including 6 women, 10 children and 5 martyrs under torture: 106 in Aleppo with 72 in Sfeira who were field-executed, 61 in Damascus and Suburbs, 12 in Idlib, 11 in Homs, 8 in Hama, 7 in Daraa, 4 in Deir Ezzor and 1 in Raqqa (LCCs).

Points of Random Shelling: 323 points, including 23 points were shelled using warplanes, 3 points using Scud missiles, the regime’s aircrafts used the explosive barrels in 5 points while cluster bombs were used in 2 points, vacuum bombs were used in two points, phosphorous bombs [Correction: more likely incendiary cluster bombs. Local activists often confuse the two] were used in 1 point. Artillery shelling was reported in 131 points, mortar shelling in 81 points, and rocket shelling in 84 point all around Syria (LCCs).

Clashes: 138. Successful operations by FSA rebels included downing a military jet in Eastern Ghouta region in Damascus Suburbs, and targeting a major pro-Assad militia checkpoint in Kafersousseh Neighborhood in Damascus City. To the South, rebels completed their take-over of border point number 48 along the border with Jordan arresting many soldiers (LCCs).

 

News

Kerry: U.S. must help counter aid to Syria opposition from extremistsThe United States is one of about a dozen nations preparing a package of broader financial and practical support for the rebels fighting to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Kerry and other diplomats will frame the new help during meetings with Syrian political opposition leaders Thursday in Rome. The additional aid is expected to stop short of the weapons the rebels have long sought from Western backers.

U.N. Official for Refugees Says Syria Is Near Crisis “We are facing a moment of truth in Syria,” the official, António Guterres, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, told the Council at a closed session in remarks that were later published on his agency’s Web site. “The humanitarian situation is dramatic beyond description. The refugee crisis is accelerating at a staggering pace.” Mr. Guterres was one of three senior United Nations officials who briefed the Security Council, painting what some diplomats later described as a chilling description of the fates of civilian victims of the nearly two-year-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

Britain can give military support to Syrian rebels after EU changes EU sanctions to allow greater assistance but opponents of Assad say they need more from the international community

Tony Blair calls for UK intervention in Syria crisis In the second part of a wide-ranging interview Newsnight presenter Kirsty Wark talks to the former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair about the crisis in Syria, the revolutions across the Middle East, and his role as the Middle East envoy representing the EU, UN, US and Russia. Kirsty begins by asking Mr Blair at what point he realised there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Syrian opposition set to attend Rome talks The Syrian opposition has decided it will attend an international summit in Rome which it initially announced it would boycott. US Secretary of State John Kerry and British Foreign Minister William Hague have successfully convinced Syrian Opposition Council President Moaz Al-Khatib to attend Thursday’s talks. The group had previously announced it would boycott the talks because of “the world’s silence” over the violence, as Jim Muir reports from Beirut.

Syrians Describe Apparent Missile Strikes on Aleppo The new reports come weeks after experts told The Lede that video of a huge explosion at Aleppo University last month suggested that the campus had been hit by a ballistic missile.

Syria humanitarian crisis worsening day by day, warns Oxfam UN ‘worst case’ of more than a million Syrian refugees displaced to neighbouring nations could be reached in weeks, says charity

Syria agrees to renew passports of overseas citizens The state-run news service announced that the Interior Ministry had directed that expired passports be renewed for two years “regardless of the reasons that had earlier prevented their renewal, and without obtaining the necessary authorizations.”

Once a curiosity, captured tanks are a growing part of Syrian rebels’ arsenal The rebel use of captured tanks and armored personnel carriers was first noticed last summer, though the engagements then were often short. One battle that this reporter witnessed in June outside the city of Talbiseh south of Kfar Nbouda ended quickly when government helicopters destroyed two armored personnel carriers the rebels had captured and turned on government soldiers. Since then, however, rebels have captured dozens, if not hundreds, of tanks and armored vehicles and have become adept at using them to attack Syrian government positions. The prevalence of rebel armor – in rebel-held areas it’s now common to see tanks and other armored vehicles parked in alleyways and orchards or covered with foliage to camouflage them from airstrikes – belies the common image of the rebels as vastly outgunned by a superior government force.

 

Special Reports

Elegant Damascus, besieged by both sides
Many feel trapped between an unloved authority in the form of the 43-year-old Assad dynasty and hungry revolutionaries at the gates, who resent the city’s privileged lifestyle.

Criminals cash in on Syria’s chaos with kidnappings and ransoms
Not all of the kidnappings in Syria are politically driven. In lawless areas not held by either the government or opposition, kidnappers are increasingly driven by cold cash.

In Syria, US mission creep with moral creep
President Obama is leaning toward providing nonlethal military equipment to certain rebels in Syria. Doing so runs moral risks. But doing nothing to stop the violence is also a moral risk. Can the US walk this fine line?

Has Syria become Obama’s Rwanda?
As Obama and the senior members of his national security team consider the memoirs they will inevitably write and the speeches they will invariably give after leaving office, they might reflect now on what they will later say about their greatest regrets. At or near the top of that list will likely be “Syria.” So why not do something about it now, before Syria becomes permanently mentioned in historical ignominy alongside Rwanda?

SEN. ROBERT P. CASEY, JR. Ending the Syrian War: It’s time for the United States to do what is necessary to bring down Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
We can and should do more to support the Syrian people and the armed opposition. There are democratically-oriented leaders among its ranks, which we should empower not only against the Assad regime but against the growing threat of radical Islamists in the country.

My new paper, prepared for a briefing in Washington, D.C. that took place on January 15, 2013, is now out and is titled “Syria 2013: Rise of the Warlords.” It should be read in conjunction with my previous briefing “The Shredded Tapestry,” and my recent essay “The Creation of an Unbridgeable Divide.

Washington’s last chance to help Syria
In its latest editorial, the Washington Post argues for real political and military intervention by the Obama Administration. A policy of toe-dipping will not help at this stage.

If the Obama administration is to lead on Syria, it must commit itself to steps that can bring about the early collapse of the regime and its replacement by a representative and responsible alternative. Only direct political and military intervention on the side of the opposition can make that happen.

Personally, and on the basis of available leaks, I don’t believe that the new policy will mark much of a departure from the current do-nothing policy:

In Washington, activists who have lobbied for US support said the latest promises fell well short of the action needed to topple Assad and ensure moderate rebel groups won the day.Ammar Abdulhamid, a Syrian dissident, said: “Bulletproof vests and night vision goggles will help you become a more effective fighter, but they will not protect you from MiGs, tanks and Scuds, or enable you to destroy them.”

Islamists Gain Momentum in Syria: After U.S. Efforts to Bolster Moderates and Subdue Extremists, Terrorist-Designated Group Gains Ground
They control airports, dams and oilfields. They are using confiscated tanks and armored vehicles in their operations, and are in possession of helicopter gunships and MiGs, booty from their recent take-over of Al-Jarrah Airport in Aleppo which they have yet to use. Last weeks, they have reportedly come into the possession of two Scud missiles after taking control of what remains of Al-Kibar nuclear facility, which had been bombed by Israel in 2007. It’s not clear whether they managed to get a launch-pad as well. Islamists affiliated with Jabhat Al-Nusra, the Syrian Islamic Front, and other smaller groupings, are emerging as the dominant force on the ground, and probably make more than half the actual functioning rebel force.

Finding a solution in Syria is no longer about arming moderates, although they do need to be armed to remain relevant, if not just to survive, it’s about adopting a political strategy to bring the different parties to the negotiating table, including the extremists from both sides of the growing sectarian divide.

In the two months since the U.S. designation of Jabhat al-Nusra, the group’s fighters took control of one of the Taftanaz air base in Idlib, one of largest government air bases in northern Syria, where they seized tanks, helicopters and ammunition. They also took over the Jarrah airfield outside Aleppo, which gave them access to dozens of warplanes, according to rebels who took part in those battles.

In northern Syria, the Syrian Islamic Front coalition, alongside Jabhat al-Nusra fighters backed by Tunisian, Libyan, Iraqi and Chechen jihadists, continue to score the biggest gains, rebels and U.S. officials said.

The Islamist coalition led the takeover of Syria’s largest dam this month, giving them control over the electricity supply to the rebel-held east and north.

Jabhat al-Nusra, with its own fighters and the foreigners it has attracted, is now seen as the most powerful force in these rebel areas, along the Turkish and Iraqi borders.

Western-friendly opposition leaders said their inability to convince the U.S. and others to intervene in the war has discredited them among fighters and the Syrian public, making it hard to take control. Moderate rebels continue to report occasional battlefield gains, but the group is geographically scattered and far from unified, rebels said.

The Islamists’ December meeting in Turkey, meanwhile, led to the creation of the Syrian Islamic Front, a group that has become the most effective Islamist military coalition.

The meeting was also aimed at making sure the Western-friendly rebels weren’t the only ones with political leaders poised for a post-Assad Syria, coalition members said.

“We have a full political project for a modern Syria,” said a political representative for the Syrian Islamic Front, from the group’s new headquarters in Istanbul. He said Islamist rule was the right of a country with a majority-Muslim population, but that the rights of minorities would be protected.

The U.S. and others in the Friends of Syria will now have a harder time bolstering moderates, analysts said…

Islamists say the Western concept of a secularist Syrian rebel is misguided, in a Muslim nation. “There is no such thing as a secularist fighting on the ground,” said Abu Muhammad, a leader with an Islamist group. “In the next phase, the Syrian people won’t just welcome radicals. They’ll welcome the devil himself if he’ll help in the fight.”

As atrocities pile up, Syrians collect evidence
David Crane has been playing an amazing role supporting the cause of transitional justice in Syria. He does much quietly and behind the scenes, but his efforts have been instrumental in preparing us for the complexity of the task ahead.

A whole range of groups have accelerated a campaign to gather evidence of war crimes including torture, massacres and indiscriminate killings in the Syrian regime’s war against rebels, hoping to find justice if President Bashar Assad falls. Some talk about referring the cases to the International Criminal Court or forming a special tribunal, but many in Syria hope that it’s all laid out in the country’s own courtrooms….

David M. Crane, a former prosecutor at the Sierra Leone tribunal, which indicted former Liberian President Charles Taylor in 2003, said among the challenges is the multitude of inexperienced activists collecting a flood of evidence in an uncoordinated way.

To help with building a case for a future prosecutor, Crane created an organization called the Syrian Accountability Initiative.

“We have mapped the entire conflict, we have built a crime base and we have actually sample indictments for whoever will get the case, be it a Syrian or international prosecutor,” said Crane, an international law professor at Syracuse University in New York state. He said that the information is being shared with the International Criminal Court, the United Nations and the Syrian opposition.

 

Video Highlights

In Damascus City, the pounding of Jobar Neighborhood by pro-Assad militias using missile launchers http://youtu.be/O2E_bSO2xSA ,http://youtu.be/3C8Y7kv4Pkg A sample of the missiles usedhttp://youtu.be/NMVPYbjKcVQ

Meanwhile, in the Yarmouk Camp, Palestinian fighters defect from the ranks of Ahmad Jibril’s loyalist movement to form a pro-rebel unit http://youtu.be/WqY-SNzxXrg

In Idlib, the town of Saraqib came under intense shelling by MiGs and missileshttp://youtu.be/fggMFBjACNY Scenes of devastation http://youtu.be/7-OjIJikR9EIncendiary cluster bombs were used, activists still confuse them with white phosphorous bombs http://youtu.be/JVaTsNSx0ro

In Aleppo City, rebels and loyalist clash in the neighborhoods surrounding the Aleppo Citadel http://youtu.be/pzdcbqOqcHQ , http://youtu.be/OGb1Oz_wYOw ,http://youtu.be/Eq9hK4UGewQ

The pounding of Jabal Al-Akrad region in North Lattakia continueshttp://youtu.be/JacpG9aR_-8

The pounding of Deir Ezzor City continues: Al-Hawiqa neighborhoodhttp://youtu.be/Oc9TWg87Nu4 , http://youtu.be/DPcVH4p8Jg8

Syrian activists in Idlib do the Halrem Shake http://youtu.be/T-v0sT2FG3Y

15-year-old Rape Victim Will Receive 100 Lashes for Pre-Marital Sex

By Karen Diep
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

MALE, Maldives – Yesterday, a Maldivian court sentenced a 15-year-old rape victim to receive 100 lashes for engaging in premarital sex.

Maldives, a popular tourist spot. (Photo Courtesy of International Business Times).

Last year, the Maldivian police examined allegations against the victim’s stepfather for raping and killing their baby.  Authorities subsequently discovered the dead baby buried on the island of Feydhoo in Shavivani Atoll.  If the victim’s stepfather, is convicted, he may face 25 years in prison.  Meanwhile, the victim’s mother is also facing charges for failure to report the incident to the Maldivian police.

After further investigation, the victim admitted to having a sexually consensual relationship with another man.

Maldives’s legal system has attributes of both Islamic and English common law.  Accordingly, in Maldives, sex outside marriage is illegal.

According to BBC News, a spokesperson for the juvenile court, Zaima Nasheed, stated that the court ordered the victim to remain at a children’s home under house arrest for the next eight months. Furthermore, the victim will not receive her punishment until she reaches the age of 18 or consents to an earlier time.

The 15-year-old victim is not the first to face this particular punishment.  In September of last year, a Maldivian court ordered the public flogging of a 16-year-old girl for premarital sex.

Amnesty International censured the punishment as “cruel, degrading and inhumane.”  “We are very surprised that the government is not doing anything to stop this punishment – to remove it altogether from the statute books,” stated Ahmed Faiz, a researcher with Amnesty.

“This is not the only case.  It is happening frequently – only last month there was another girl who was sexually abused and sentenced to lashes,” continued Mr. Faiz.

Furthermore, Human Rights Watch has chastised the punishment and stated that this in reality was a sex crime against the victim.  In addition, the United Nations has continually asked Maldivian authorities to cease using the “barbaric practice” of flogging women.

However,there is hope for the 15-year-old victim. The Maldivian government disagrees with the court’s sentence.  “The President has asked the Attorney-General to appeal against the lower court decision,” stated spokesman Abbas Adil Riza to AFP. “The girl will also be provided with the necessary legal counsel and we hope the case will be concluded in about a month,” continued Mr. Riza.

For further information, please see:

The Globe and Mail – Maldives government to appeal flogging of rape victim, 15, for premarital sex – 28 February 2013

BBC News – Maldives girl to get 100 lashes for pre-marital sex – 26 February 2013

Fox News – Alleged Maldives rape victim, 15, to get 100 lashes for having premarital sex – 27 February 2013

 

 

 

U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Secret Surveillance Case

By Mark O’Brien
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, United States — The U.S. Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit on Tuesday that challenged a federal law giving the government a broader ability to eavesdrop on international communications.

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected a challenge on Tuesday to a federal wiretapping law that allows the government to eavesdrop on international calls and emails. (Photo Courtesy of RT)

In a 5-to-4 ruling split along ideological lines, the Court shielded a government anti-terrorism program from ever facing a constitutionality challenge, at least according to court observers.

“[The decision] insulates the statute from meaningful judicial review and leaves Americans’ privacy rights to the mercy of the political branches,” said American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Jameel Jaffer in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.

The law is called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, or FISA.  Congress amended FISA in 2008, giving the National Security Agency broader authority to secretly monitor emails and phone calls of any U.S. citizens, so long as they are suspected of communicating with anyone located outside of the United States.  The amended provision was set to expire at the end of last year, but Congress renewed and reauthorized the bill for another five years.

In the now-rejected case, Clapper v. Amnesty International USA, journalists, lawyers, and human rights advocates challenged the constitutionality of the law on the grounds that they might be subject to future wiretapping.  But Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the Court’s majority, held that such fear was too speculative for the case to proceed.  In other words, they could not show that the law harmed them, so they lacked standing to sue.

“They cannot manufacture standing by incurring costs in anticipation of nonimminent harms,” Alito wrote.  The plaintiffs claimed that the reason they had not been harmed yet was because they had taken steps to avoid the surveillance — for example, traveling out of their ways to meet sources and clients in person rather than sending emails or talking on the phone.

Alito reasoned that the plaintiffs had the burden of showing they had standing.  To do that, the Justice wrote, they must point “to specific facts.”  The government had no burden to disprove the plaintiffs’ standing.

Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the Court’s dissenting opinion.  He agreed with the plaintiffs that, if they had not shown harm already, it was only a matter of time.

“Indeed, it is as likely to take place as are most future events that common-sense inference and ordinary knowledge of human nature tell us will happen,” Breyer wrote.

To the dissent, the fact the plaintiffs had to alter their work practices to avoid having confidential calls overheard indicated some harm already.

“In my view, this harm is not ‘speculative,’” Breyer added.

For further information, please see:

Supreme Court of the United States — Clapper v. Amnesty Int’l USA — 26 February 2013

GlobalPost — Supreme Court Blocks Warrantless Wiretapping Lawsuit — 26 February 2013

Los Angeles Times — Supreme Court Rules out Secret Surveillance Lawsuits — 26 February 2013

The New York Times — Justices Turn Back Challenge to Broader U.S. Eavesdropping — 26 February 2013

RT — US Supreme Court Refuses to Let Americans Challenge FISA Eavesdropping Law — 26 February 2013

Syrian Revolution Digest: 26 February 2013

Too Little Too Late?

Syrian Revolution Digest – February 26, 2013 

I fear that by the time any agreement on Syria is reached in international policy circles, unfolding events on the ground will have rendered it completely irrelevant. The turtle of disintegration is about to cross the finish line, but the rabbit of intervention is still foraging for carrots.

 

Tuesday February 26, 2013

 

Today’s Death Toll: 111 martyrs, including 13 children, 4 women, and 5 martyrs under torture: 51 martyrs in Damascus and Suburbs, 50 in Aleppo, 11 in Idlib, 10 in Hama, 7 in Homs , 6 in Deir Ezzor, 4 in Daraa, 1 in Raqqa and 1 in Swaida (LCCs).

 

Points of Random Shelling: 374 points, including 20 points that were shelled by regime warplanes, 3 points using Scud missiles, 4 points with barrel bombs, 6 points with cluster bombs, 2 point with Thermobaric bombs, 150 points using heavy caliber artillery, 98 points using rockets and rocket shelling in 91 points across Syria (LCCs).

 

Clashes: 154, with the fiercest clashes were reported in Damascus and Suburbs where FSA rebels successfully liberated the Operations Command Building in the Police Academy in Khan Aasal. In Aleppo, FSA rebels continued their shelling of the local Police Academy setting parts of it on fire. In Hama, rebels targeted the 47th Brigade using mortar shells. And in Daraa, rebels liberated a police station located on the Jordanian-Syrian borders (LCCs).

 

News

U.S. considers direct aid to Syrian rebels The Obama administration is moving toward a major policy shift on Syria that could provide the rebels with equipment such as body armor, armored vehicles and possible military training and could send humanitarian assistance directly to Syria’s opposition political coalition, according to U.S. and European officials.

Rome talks unlikely to break Syria conflict deadlock Whatever exactly emerges from the Friends of Syria meeting in Rome on Thursday, one thing is clear: the parameters of the Syrian conflict – a brutal, slow-moving slugging-match on the ground, and deadlocked international diplomacy – have not changed, nor are they likely to for some time.

Ballistic missile strikes on Aleppo signal new escalation in Syria war The Syrian government denied this week that it is using Scuds in its battle to crush the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad, in which as many as 70,000 people have been killed. But military experts say all the available evidence, including the scale of the devastation from the explosions and the sightings — captured on video — of missiles being fired from bases outside Damascus shortly before the blasts, points to them being Scuds. The Russian-designed missiles carry about 2,000 pounds of explosives and are manufactured by Syria using parts imported from Russia, North Korea and Iran. The Obama administration also thinks the missiles are most likely Scuds.

Will Kerry Convince Ankara on Syria? Although the two countries have closely coordinated on Syria in the past, differences have started to emerge on how the crisis should end, a fact that will no doubt focus added attention on the talks Kerry has with his Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoglu.

Russia wants U.S. to urge Syria rebels into peace talks The crisis in Syria made up “the bulk of the conversation” between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at talks in Berlin on Tuesday, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. After talks she characterized as “really serious and hard-working”, Moscow and Washington sounded a rare note of accord over efforts to launch talks to end the nearly two-year-old conflict, in which 70,000 people have been killed.

Displacement in Syria giving way for serious gender-based crimes, warns UN official “This displacement is not only about loss of homes and economic security. It is also, for many, accompanied by gender-based crimes, deliberate victimization of women and children and a frightening array of assaults on human dignity,” the Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Erika Feller, told the Human Rights Council in Geneva. “Reports are revealing that the conflict in Syria is increasingly marked by rape and sexual violence employed as a weapon of war to intimidate parties to the conflict destroying identity, dignity and the social fabrics of families and communities.”

Syria needs grow, rebel-held north out of reach: U.N. The rebel-held north of Syria remains largely out of reach to aid operations, even though they have been stepped up elsewhere in the country torn by civil war, U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said on Tuesday. “We are watching a humanitarian tragedy unfold before our eyes,” Amos told a news briefing. “We must do all we can to reassure the people that we care and that we will not let them down.”

Syria: Unlawful Missile Attacks Kill More Than 140 The Syrian government launched at least four ballistic missiles that struck populated areas in the city of Aleppo and a town in Aleppo governorate during the week of February 17, 2013. The attacks killed more than 141 people, including 71 children, and caused immense physical destruction.

Syria troops, rebels battle in Aleppo’s old city The rebels seized the centuries-old Umayyad Mosque, which for months has been used as a military encampment and checkpoint by regime forces, after a day of fighting, Aleppo activists said. The mosque sits near the medieval citadel, the city’s signature landmark and a strategic site high above the surrounding neighborhood, which remains in the hands of the military.

 

Special Reports

Syria rebels bolstered by new arms but divisions remain

Several rebel commanders and fighters told Reuters that a shipment which reached Syria via Turkey last month comprised shoulder-held and other mobile equipment including anti-aircraft and armor-piercing weapons, mortars and rocket launchers. Rebels told Reuters the weapons, along with money for cash payments for fighters, were being distributed through a new command structure, part of a plan by foreign backers to centralize control over rebel units and check Islamists linked to al-Qaeda. However, in a sign of the difficulty in uniting disparate fighting groups, some rebels said they had turned down the arms and refused to submit to the new command.

The Russia Gambit: For the sake of Syrian lives, John Kerry’s got to play hardball with Moscow.

Is this John Kerry, now traveling in Europe and soon the Middle East for consultations about Syria, or is it Warren Christopher, who embarked on a similar mission 20 years ago to bring the bloodshed in Bosnia-Herzegovina to an end? The parallels between the two missions are striking — and we should hope that Kerry has learned the lessons from Christopher’s tragically failed bid.

Give Me Shelter: Syrians brave bombs and bullets to deliver aid to their war-torn country.

With security concerns and bureaucratic hurdles keeping most international aid workers from actually entering this war-torn country, NGOs rely on Syrians like Mahmoud to make the hazardous trek across the border to assess the needs for assistance and deliver aid to the local population. Syrian “implementing partners” pick up the supplies at warehouses in southern Turkey, near the border, and drive them into Syria — avoiding major highways to mitigate the risk of being attacked by a plane or helicopter. “The roads are bad because there are many parts of the road that are destroyed because of the shelling,” Mahmoud said.

Assad’s Big Ally: How Deeply Entrenched Is Iran in Syria?

Though Western and Iranian officials will not discuss Syria when they sit down for talks on Iran’s nuclear program in Kazakhstan on Tuesday, Iran’s ability to shape that conflict will hang over the negotiations, strengthening both Tehran’s perception of its position and the West’s resolve to deny Iran meaningful sanctions relief.

 

My new paper, prepared for a briefing in Washington, D.C. that took place on January 15, 2013, is now out and is titled “Syria 2013: Rise of the Warlords.” It should be read in conjunction with my previous briefing “The Shredded Tapestry,” and my recent essay “The Creation of an Unbridgeable Divide.

 

Video Highlights

 

A video found on the mobile of an Assad supporter captured by rebels during a battle in Daraa Province shows pro-Assad troops torturing two detainees to death and beyond, including cutting off their genitals (gruesome) http://youtu.be/oRvN3v01oiA

 

This just released video shows the prisoner exchange that took place a few weeks ago involving Iranian hostages held by rebels http://youtu.be/_1H6fjKzG_8

 

These videos are from February 12, they take us on a tour of Al-Jarrah Airport, Aleppo, after its liberation by rebels http://youtu.be/YXkoqFnkAJ0 , http://youtu.be/1jt65bMim10

 

In Damascus Suburbs, pro-Assad militias continue their pounding of rebel strongholds: Moadamiyeh http://youtu.be/w1CQx3aOzr0 , http://youtu.be/wKZSxXfIxGI Daraya http://youtu.be/T3UHp1jx6Vs

 

In Damascus City: Jobar locals rush to put out a fire started by a missile attack http://youtu.be/T4k0hDSC6TA , http://youtu.be/uOhEDFQe-NQ Yarmouk http://youtu.be/tnTdipCsJtA

 

The pounding of Daraa City by pro-Assad militias continues http://youtu.be/BL8lNSBedyo

 

In Idlib, the pounding of the town of Ariha by pro-Assad militias continues http://youtu.be/r078Dyu73HY

 

U.N. Officials Call for the Release of Judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni

By Pearl Rimon
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela – Human rights officials from the United Nations are asking for the government of Venezuela to free Judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni, who is currently on house arrest. Afiuni has been charged with corruption, abuse of authority and aiding an inmate’s escape. U.N. officials are also asking for Afiuni to be offered adequate compensation and to investigate her accusations of acts of violence against her.

Judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni. (Photo Courtesy of AP)

Margaret Sekaggya, the U.N’s Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders and other U.N. officials in an appeal to reverse Afiuni’s conviction. “Judge Afiuni’s situation represents an emblematic case of reprisal,” Sekaggya said in a statement issued by the United Nations.

In 2009, Afiuni infuriated Chavez in 2009 by freeing a banker, Eligio Cedeño,from prison as he waited trial after being accused on charges of flouting currency exchange controls. She says that he was being held in prison awaiting trial longer than law generally permitted.

“Reprisals against a judge for enforcing an opinion of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and withholding her waiting for a process for more than three years is like opening the door to further abuses and has a widespread intimidating effect,” independent expert and current chair of the UN body, El Hadji Malick Sow, stressed.

President Hugo Chavez said on national television that Afiuni should face the maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.

Aifuni accused state authorities of rape and other grave acts of sexual violence while in the infirmary of a women’s prison in 2010. These allegations went public in November when a book by Francisco Olivares was published that detailed her arrest and detention. She claims that she got pregnant from the crime. “After that episode was when I got sick and they removed my uterus,” Afiuni is quoted as saying in the book.

“It is unacceptable that Venezuelan authorities are not acting with due diligence to investigate the acts perpetrated against Judge Afiuni in an immediate and impartial manner, and severely punish those responsible,” said Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Rashida Manjoo.

Aifuni is currently on house arrest due to medical problems following the abortion she had from the prison rape. In December, her lawyer requested for her to be freed, but this was denied by the government the following month.

U.N. Special Rapporteurs are appointed by the Human Rights Council to examine and report on a country situation or a human rights theme.

 

For more information, please see:

Nuestra Tele Noticias — Hermano de María Lourdes Afiuni denuncia “traslado relámpago” de tribunal de la jueza venezolana –20 Feb 2013

Ghana New-Spy Ghana — UN Ask Venezuela To Release Judge María Lourdes Afiuni. – 15 Feb 2013

El Universal — UN: Having Afiuni imprisoned is like opening the door to further abuses –14 Feb 2013

Huffington Post — UN Human Rights Officials Urge Venezuela To Free Judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni – 14 Feb 2013

 

Egyptian Opposition Party to Boycott Upcoming Elections

By Dylan Takores
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt – The National Salvation Front (NSF) stated today, February 26, that it will boycott the upcoming Parliamentary elections.  The NSF contends that the elections will unfairly favor the current Islamist majority party.

 

Egyptian protestors near Tahrir Square, Cairo. (Photo Courtesy of AP)

 

In January 2012, Mohammed Morsi of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) narrowly won Egypt’s first free presidential election.  The FJP is the political branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, a prominent Islamist group.  Islamist parties also won most of the Parliamentary positions in addition to the presidency.

Led by Mohamed ElBaradei, the NSF is an umbrella group encompassing many liberal and leftist parties that oppose the Muslim Brotherhood.  The NSF successfully brought together a wide range of opposition parties including the Egyptian Popular Current, al-Dustour, al-Tajammu, Free Egyptians, and New Wafd among others.

President Morsi announced on February 22 that a new round of elections will be held in four stages between April 27 and late June of this year.  ElBaradei immediately called for a boycott, and today, members of the NSF unanimously affirmed the decision to boycott the elections.

The purpose of the boycott is to undermine the legitimacy of the elections.  Sameh Ashour, a spokesman for the NSF, stated in a press conference, “there can be no elections without a law that guarantees the fairness of the election process.”  Ashour added, “real independence of the judiciary” is required to ensure fairness.

In recent months, the NSF insisted on several preconditions to ensure fairness and freedom in future elections.  The group believes that elections under the current system skew favor to Islamist parties. However, due to its overwhelming majority, the FJP disregarded the NSF objections and the Parliament voted to hold new elections with near unanimity.

Heba Yassin of the Egyptian Popular Current explained that the purpose of the boycott is “to protest against the election that we did not participate in drafting, and about which our opinion was not taken.”

January 25 marked the second anniversary of the Egyptian independence movement that successfully ousted former Prime Minister Hosni Mubarak.  In the wake of the anniversary, tensions resurfaced and clashes broke out.  An estimated seventy people have died and hundreds more wounded in the past month as a result of the clashes.

The NSF also announced its intention to boycott a dialogue set to take place between President Morsi and leaders of opposition parties.  Ashour asserted, “no dialogue should be held over the dead bodies of our martyrs.”  He continued that until President Morsi adequately addresses the present crisis, the NSF will not participate in any open dialogue.

Following the NSF’s announcement, State Department Spokesman Edgar Vasquez made a statement on behalf of the United States.  He referred to the current political situation as a “critical” moment for Egypt.  He encouraged the NSF to reconsider its decision and emphasized that it is important for all Egyptian parties to participate in the elections.

 

For further information, please see:

ABC News – Egypt’s Main Opposition Coalition to Boycott Vote – 26 February 2013

Ahram – Egypt’s NSF to Boycott Elections, Dialogue – 26 February 2013

BBC News – Egypt Opposition to Boycott Polls – 26 February 2013

Egypt Independent – NSF to Boycott Parliamentary Elections – 26 February 2013

Haaretz – Egyptian Opposition Alliance to Boycott Parliamentary Election – 26 February 2013

Syrian Revolution Digest: Monday, 25 February 2013

Getting It Right!

As the U.S. seems to be inching its way towards providing military assistance to rebel groups, the importance of having an overarching strategy that goes beyond throwing weapons at the problem is now more urgent than ever. Since the main challenge ahead is now clearly more about putting pieces of the puzzle back together than managing a top-down transition, the U.S. needs to come up with a sophisticated strategy for working with local councils and local rebel groups to develop micro transition plans that can ensure rapid stabilization of their areas. The U.S. should also work with the Syrian National Coalition to develop a more detailed bottom-up vision for managing the transition period ahead.

Today’s Death Toll: 135 martyrs, including 8 children and 12 women and 1 martyr under torture: 40 martyrs in Damascus and Suburbs, 25 in Aleppo, 21 in Idlib, 14 in Raqqa, 14 in Homs, 10 in Deir Ezzor, 7 in Daraa, 3 in Hama and 1 in Hasakeh(LCCs).

Points of Random Shelling: 384 points, including 26 points that were shelled by regime warplanes, 4 points using Scud missiles, 2 points using surface-to-surface missiles, 3 points using barrel bombs, 3 point with vacuum bombs, 157 points using heavy caliber artillery, 93 points with mortars and 99 with rockets (LCCs).

Clashes: 162, with the fiercest clashes took place in Damascus and Suburbs(LCCs).

 

News

Syria opposition to join Rome talks after foreign aid pledge The Syrian opposition has agreed to attend an international summit in Rome, after the US and UK “promised specific aid” to the Syrian people. The group had previously announced it would boycott the talks because of “the world’s silence” over the violence. US Secretary of State John Kerry and British Foreign Minister William Hague earlier confirmed there would be more support for Syria’s opposition.

Syria rebels fight for key Aleppo buildings Rebels launch new offensive for government complex housing a police academy

Syria opposition chief: no contact yet about government talks “We have not been in contact yet, and we are waiting for communication with them,” Syrian National Coalition leader Moaz Alkhatib told reporters in Cairo after Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said Damascus was ready to talk. Alkhatib also said opposition visits to the United States and Russia had been delayed “until we see how things develop”. But he added: “We will go to any place that could lead to the removal of the suffering of our people.”

Kerry Vows Not to Leave Syria Rebels ‘Dangling in the Wind’ “We are determined that the Syrian opposition is not going to be dangling in the wind wondering where the support is or if it’s coming,” Mr. Kerry said at a news conference in London. “And we are determined to change the calculation on the ground for President Assad.”

UN Security Council has ‘failed’ Syria: rights chief “Two important situations, Darfur in 2008 and Libya in 2011, have been referred” by the Security Council,” Pillay said, but it had not done the same for Syria, “despite the repeated reports of widespread or systematic crimes and violations by my office,” and a wide range of other sources, she said. The ICC can only probe war crimes if asked to by the Security Council.

UN Staffer Missing on Israel-Syria Border U.N. deputy spokesman Eduardo del Buey would not say whether the missing person was a military or civilian member of the international or local staff. “We can confirm that a staff member is not accounted for and we are in touch with the relevant parties to determine what has happened,” del Buey said. “We have no further comment at this time.”

Photographer Killed in Syria Spoke of Adrenaline Olivier Voisin listed work in 15 countries, half of them war zones. He described the rush of bearing witness to a conflict that otherwise could go unrecorded. On Sunday, the 38-year-old French freelance photographer became the 23rd journalist killed in fighting in Syria after he died of shrapnel wounds sustained days earlier.

Turkey, Qatar denounce Syria’s war on own people Turkey and Qatar accused Syria on Monday of attacking Syrian towns with bombs, shells and Scud missiles and called at the main U.N. human rights forum for perpetrators of atrocities to be brought to justice. Britain and Switzerland urged the United Nations Security Council to refer war crimes in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for prosecution.

 

Special Reports

Syria: The Growing Power Of Jihadist Groups
The number of Jihadist groups flooding into Syria two years after the start of the uprising is threatening to eclipse the power of mainstream opposition groups as well as the authority of the Free Syrian Army. One of the increasingly influential groups, Jabah al Haq (The Front for Justice) [Correction: the name is Jabhat Al-Haq which means The Front for Truth], told Sky News that Jihad is spreading across North Africa and the Middle East and will not stop at Syria but will include Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and even Israel.

Al Nusra: Al Qaeda’s Syria Offensive
Estimates of the size of the al Nusra organization vary, but they may now account for up to a quarter of the opposition fighters in Syria. The al Qaeda presence is stronger around Aleppo and the north than around Damascus, but it is becoming a national phenomenon. Without doubt, they are among the most effective fighters in the resistance to the Assad regime and the most willing to use multiple simultaneous suicide bombings, an al Qaeda trademark. Al Qaeda in Iraq has a wealth of experience in developing large sophisticated bombs—experience that has been exported into Syria.

BBC Close Up: Syrian Diaries: Women of the Uprising.
Five Syrian women tell their personal stories of revolt and war. Filmed mostly by the women themselves over a period of seven months in 2012, this documentary provides unique insights into how Syria’s conflict has transformed their lives. This film was transmitted on BBC Arabic as ‘Souriyyat’, and on BBC World News in a two-part series entitled ‘Inside Syria’.

How Syria Is Becoming Bosnia
Typhoid and hepatitis outbreaks are spreading. An estimated 70,000 people are dead, and another 850,000 are refugees. After covering the battle for Damascus for a month, photographer Goran Tomasevic of Reuters declared the situation a “bloody stalemate.” “I watched both sides mount assaults, some trying to gain just a house or two, others for bigger prizes, only to be forced back by sharpshooters, mortars or sprays of machine-gun fire,” Mr. Tomasevic, a gifted and brave photographer, wrote in a chilling first-hand account. “As in the ruins of Beirut, Sarajevo or Stalingrad, it is a sniper’s war.”

DIY Weapons of the Syrian Rebels
Nearly two years after the start of Syria’s popular uprising, the conflict has evolved into a slow-moving, brutal civil war with many players and no clear end in sight. Multiple rebel groups across the country continue to fight President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, using any weapons they can get their hands on. While the rebels are using many modern weapons, they’ve also come up with their own makeshift solutions. In these weapons workshops, anti-aircraft guns are welded to pickup trucks and armor shields are attached to machine guns and cars. Mortar shell nose cones are turned on lathes and explosives are mixed by hand. Homemade grenades are launched by jury-rigged shotguns or giant slingshots in the urban battlefields of Aleppo and Damascus. Gathered here are a few examples of the hand-built munitions of the Syrian rebels.

Saudis Step Up Help for Rebels in Syria With Croatian Arms
The weapons began reaching rebels in December via shipments shuttled through Jordan, officials said, and have been a factor in the rebels’ small tactical gains this winter against the army and militias loyal to Mr. Assad. The arms transfers appeared to signal a shift among several governments to a more activist approach to assisting Syria’s armed opposition, in part as an effort to counter shipments of weapons from Iran to Mr. Assad’s forces. The weapons’ distribution has been principally to armed groups viewed as nationalist and secular, and appears to have been intended to bypass the jihadist groups whose roles in the war have alarmed Western and regional powers… Washington’s role in the shipments, if any, is not clear… But one senior American official described the shipments as “a maturing of the opposition’s logistical pipeline.” The official noted that the opposition remains fragmented and operationally incoherent, and added that the recent Saudi purchase was “not in and of itself a tipping point.”

My new paper, prepared for a briefing in Washington, D.C. that took place on January 15, 2013, is now out and is titled “Syria 2013: Rise of the Warlords.” It should be read in conjunction with my previous briefing “The Shredded Tapestry,” and my recent essay “The Creation of an Unbridgeable Divide.

 

Video Highlights

Rebels bring down a helicopter gunship over Minnigh Airport, Aleppohttp://youtu.be/_y0-qQomARI

The pounding of rebel strongholds in Eastern Ghoutah, Damascus, continues, using missiles, heavy artillery and MiGs: Douma http://youtu.be/hj9XJcuSqdM Jisreenhttp://youtu.be/JDWSH9RbEsA Arbeen http://youtu.be/HJ0Skrm_OgQ

Tanks take part in pounding rebel strongholds in Damascus City: Jobarhttp://youtu.be/edo3YC1UnJ8 , http://youtu.be/xf6sbMVykXg Clashes between rebels and loyalists continue at night http://youtu.be/iGofhWsD3yM ,http://youtu.be/8EdmObCKF2k

The pounding of rebel strongholds along the border with Lebanon, Damascus:Boucain http://youtu.be/rYrhNpKh3vU Madaya http://youtu.be/oZvXMGHqfO0  ,http://youtu.be/GZubaTJFdUk

The pounding of Deir Ezzor City continues http://youtu.be/KWHT5-wp_Dg

Britain Warns Against Travel to Nigeria

By Heba Girgis
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

ABUJA, Nigeria—Britain today advised its citizens against traveling to several regions of Northern Nigeria after a recent increase in attacks that have been blamed on Islamist militants and the kidnapping of several foreigners earlier this month.

Crowds fill the central market after authorities relaxed a 24 hour curfew in northern region of Nigeria. (Photo Courtesy of Reuters).

The country also advised against “all-but-essential travel” to the Kaduna, Kano, Jigawa and Katsina states of Nigeria. These attacks by Islamist groups in this region have become the biggest threat to stability in Africa’s top oil producer.

Most recently gunmen killed a security guard and abducted a Brit, an Italian, a Greek and four Lebanese workers after storming and attacking the compound of a Lebanese construction firm in the Bauchi state of Northern Nigeria on February 16. This kidnapping was considered the worst case of foreigners being kidnapped in this region.

Western governments are also concerned that the militants may link up with other groups in the region including al Qaida’s North Africa wing, especially given the conflict in nearby Mali.

The Islamist group Ansaru claimed responsibility for the attack on the Lebanese compound, Setraco. The raid was “based on the transgression and atrocities done to the religion of Allah by the European countries in many places such as Afghanistan and Mali,” said the group which has also kidnapped other foreigners in Nigeria in the past. The group’s full name is Jama’atu Ansarul Musilimina Fi Biladis Sudan, which translates roughly to “Vanguards for the Protection of Muslims in Black Africa.” The group is also believed to be a breakaway group from the better-known Islamist sect Boko Haram. The Boko Haram group has killed hundreds in recent months in its own attempt to carve out an Islamic state in Nigeria which is a country truly split roughly equally between Christians and Muslims.

In November, Britain had put the Ansaru group on its official “terrorist group” list, noting that it was aligned with al Qaida and was behind the kidnapping and abduction of two Europeans killed last year during a failed rescue attempt.

This violence is not only affecting travel, but is also stunting economic development in North Nigeria and risks increasing the divide with the wealthier and largely Christian south, which is also the home to the commercial hub Lagos and the oil-producing Niger Delta region.

 

For further information, please see:

Business Day – Britain Warns Citizens Against Visits to Northern Nigeria – 27 February 2013

Reuters – Britain Warns Against Travel to Northern Nigeria After Islamist Raids – 27 February 2013

Channels – France Says Will Not Negotiate With Boko Haram Over Family Hostage – 26 February 2013

Daily Nation – Nigeria Military Claims It Kills 17 Islamists in Raid– 2 February 2013

Syria Revolution Digest: 24 February 2013

Autocrat Gone Wild!

Syrian Revolution Digest – February 24, 2013 

Is it good for international stability, and for the credibility and viability of the existing international order to allow mayhem in Syria to continue? To allow for the likes of Assad to get away with the systematic destruction of a whole country, with the systematic decimation of an entire population? Forget about the disintegration of Syria and the eventual spillover of ethnic violence and instability into neighboring countries, there are other hotspots in this world, with other dictators and other rebels, watching, waiting… What lessons would they draw, I wonder, from international inaction on Syria? Hint: don’t think in too rational terms while looking for an answer, because reason often takes a backseat when identity conflicts are involved. In short, the only thing more criminal than what Assad and his sectarian militias are doing in Syria, is Russian and Iranian connivance, and the dithering of Western leaders.

 

Sunday February 24, 2013

 

My new paper, prepared for a briefing in Washington, D.C. that took place on January 15, 2013, is now out and is titled “Syria 2013: Rise of the Warlords.” It should be read in conjunction with my previous briefing “The Shredded Tapestry,” and my recent essay “The Creation of an Unbridgeable Divide.

 

First, let me apologize for failing to provide any updates for the last 10 days, but traveling and conferencing allow little time for serious blogging. But a quick roundup of main events seems in order before returning into the full swing of things…

 

Death of a Country

 

The Economist declares the death of Syria in an editorial that might as well be a summary of my own recent take on the subject.

 

As the world looks on (or away), the country jammed between Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Israel is disintegrating. Perhaps the regime of Bashar Assad, Syria’s president, will collapse in chaos; for some time it could well fight on from a fortified enclave, the biggest militia in a land of militias. Either way, Syria looks increasingly likely to fall prey to feuding warlords, Islamists and gangs—a new Somalia rotting in the heart of the Levant.

 

If that happens, millions of lives will be ruined. A fragmented Syria would also feed global jihad and stoke the Middle East’s violent rivalries. Mr Assad’s chemical weapons, still secure for now, would always be at risk of falling into dangerous hands. This catastrophe would make itself felt across the Middle East and beyond. And yet the outside world, including America, is doing almost nothing to help.

 

Death of a Comedian

 

But, as fate would have it, we are bound to continue mourning this country, one figure at a time:

 

A prominent Syrian comedian has been killed in Damascus after apparently being caught in the crossfire between rebels and government troops. The SANA state news agency says Yassin Bakoush was killed Sunday by a rebel mortar round that landed on his car in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in southern Damascus. The anti-regime Syrian Observatory for Human Rights activist group says Bakoush was killed when a rocket-propelled grenade launched by government troops slammed into his car. The part of Damascus where Bakoush was killed has been hit by fierce clashes between rebels and regime forces in recent months. The 75-year-old Bakoush was known for playing characters that were likeable but naive and dim-witted.

 

Videos: Bakoush is greeted at a rebel checkpoint in Yarmouck Camp in late January http://youtu.be/lgpwYDyl4-M Rebels show Bakoush’s body shortly after his car was hit with an RPJ round http://youtu.be/850vzLa6a2c

 

The New Toy

 

And how could a country avoid death, when Scuds are now being used to punish rebel areas? This is the kind of devastation the first Scud attack has caused

 

 

 

Videos: the aftermath of a second Scud hit on Al-Hamrah http://youtu.be/2xW09AZanPk

 

Enter the Mullas

 

As Syria disintegrates, Iran continues to reassert its commitment to remain relevant there, with Mahdi Taeb, a senior hardline cleric claiming Syria as Iran’s 35th province. Of course, he was speaking figuratively and by way of stressing the strategic importance of Syria to Iran, or at least one hopes, but the point is made.

“Syria is the 35th province [of Iran] and a strategic province for us. If the enemy attacks us and wants to take either Syria or Khuzestan [in western Iran], the priority for us is to keep Syria….If we keep Syria, we can get Khuzestan back too, but if we lose Syria, we cannot keep Tehran.” Hojjat al-Islam Taeb, the head of the Ammar Strategic Base (an organization established to fight the “soft war” against the Islamic Republic of Iran) said.

 

Khuzestan province provides 90 % of the Iranian oil . It is about 6.5 times the size of Lebanon and has a population of about 4. 5 million. The inhabitants of Khuzestan are usually referred to as Ahvazi or ( Ahwazi) Arabs . They speak Arabic but are not allowed to have Arabic language teaching schools .

 

Iran actually has 31 provinces, but Taeb may have considered each of the three UAE islands that were occupied by Iran as a province and that is how he may have come up with the number 35 after adding Syria.

 

Iran occupied in November 1971 the three UAE islands of Greater and Lesser Tunb and Abu Musa.

 

Taeb also pointed to the Islamic Republic’s support of Syrian militias through Iranian advisors inside the the country. He explained:

 

Syria had an army, but did not have the ability to manage a war inside Syria’s cities. It is for this reason the Iranian government suggested that, to manage an urban war you must form a Basij …The Syrian Basij was formed with 60,000 [members] of Hezbollah , who took over the war in the streets from the army.”

 

The Hezbollah Intervention

 

Well, while a figure of 60,000 Hezbollah fighters sounds like an exaggeration, local reports from the Lebanese-Syrian borders near the town of Qusayr speak of a 15,000 member Hezbollah contingent planning an incursion into Syrian territory to take over the restive town and protect the Shia villages there. Already 6 villages inside Syrian territory have now come under Hezbollah occupation.

 

The Lebanese news site al-Kalima Online reported last week that the Free Syrian Army accused Hezbollah of occupying six Syrian villages on the Lebanese border. The occupation of the villages, according to an FSA spokesperson, followed clashes between Hezbollah and FSA forces along the border.

 

The FSA on Thursday lashed out against what it said were Hezbollah hostilities and bombarded the group’s positions inside Lebanon for the first time. Earlier last week, Hezbollah and Syrian rebels clashed on the Lebanon-Syria border, leaving at least one Hezbollah fighter and five rebels dead.

 

More Videos

 

Meanwhile, the bloodshed continues: rebels arrive too late to rescue prisoners held at a prison in Marrat Al-Nouman, Idlib. Pro-Assad militias had executed all prisoners before leaving (Feb 19) http://youtu.be/4U25hEiLz5Q

 

MiGs continue to pound cities, including Rastan http://youtu.be/mQ19hX6SS4g

 

In Daraa, more sophisticated weapons are allowing rebels to score more hits and to push back pro-Assad militias by destroying their tanks: Sahwah http://youtu.be/D4XJdvM7EMM

 

In Deir Ezzor Province, battles intensify, and so do the defections. Here is a video showing the defection of an entire unit http://youtu.be/DxEbEhU-EK0

 

A video found on the cellphone of an arrested pro-Assad militiaman shows how his particular group divided up their loot http://youtu.be/nRbQzs_pxro

 

Wyoming to Become Last State to Ban Human Trafficking

By Mark O’Brien
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, United States — Wyoming is expected to become the last state in the nation to ban human trafficking when the governor signs legislation into law by the end of the month.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead is expected to sign a human trafficking ban into law this week, making the state the last in the nation to do so. (Photo Courtesy of The Huffington Post)

Gov. Matt Mead will sign the law this week, according to the Huffington Post, once the state attorney general finishes a review.  The bill would outlaw human trafficking, given local police the ability to arrest anyone breaking the new law.

“We did not want to be the only state without that,” Mead told the Huffington Post.

International anti-human trafficking advocates made a last-week push before state lawmakers passed the law on Feb. 20.  According to the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, the law passed nearly unanimously with a 29-to-1 vote.

The law would make it a felony to knowingly recruit, harbor, receive, or participate in any other way in forced labor or sexual servitude.  A similar ban already exists on the federal level, but supporters of the Wyoming law said a state ban was essential to punish perpetrators and help victims.

“In committee, we heard testimony of cases where human trafficking is happening and where law enforcement doesn’t have the ability to prosecute it as they should,” Rep. Kendell Kroeker (R-Evansville) told the Casper Journal.  “I think this legislation will fix that and give us a chance to bring justice to the victims by prosecuting the criminals.”

Lawmakers modeled the bill on laws already in place in other states, and they said the time for this type of law was now.

“In Wyoming, we don’t consider ourselves as a place where trafficking happens,” Rep. Cathy Connolly (D-Laramie) told the Huffington Post.  “This is a recognition that it does happen here.”

Fellow State Rep. Tom Walters (R-Casper) agreed.

“If all the other states have a law, it makes Wyoming a safe haven for this type of activity,” Walters told the Casper Journal.

“Like anything, there may be issues that come up that need to be ironed out, but this bill is good for the state of Wyoming,” Walters added.

Among those who pressed Wyoming for the law change was Academy Award-winning actress Mira Sorvino, who is a United Nations goodwill ambassador focused on human trafficking.  In December, Sorvino criticized Wyoming while speaking at the National Conference of State Legislatures.  She urged State Sen. John Hastert (D-Green River) for a change during a meeting at the conference.

For further information, please see:

The Huffington Post — Wyoming Human Trafficking Ban to Become Law Next Week — 23 February 2013

KULR8 — Wyoming Senate Passes Human Trafficking Bill — 21 February 2013

Casper Star-Tribune — Wyoming Legislature Passes Bill to Outlaw Human Trafficking — 20 February 2013

Casper Journal — Human Trafficking . . . in Wyoming ­– Bill Would Outlaw Nasty Crime — 18 February 2013

Boko Haram Posts Video of French Family Hostages

By Hannah Stewart
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

ABUJA, Nigeria — France will not negotiate with gunmen claiming to be from the Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram who kidnapped a French family of seven, Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Tuesday.  Moreover, while Le Drian deplored the fact children were among the hostages, he stated: “We do not play this bidding game.”

Cameroonian security stands at the French family’s vehicle that they drove before being abducted last week.
(Photo courtesy of CNN)

He went on to say, “we will use all [other] possible means to ensure these and other hostages are freed.”

The three adults and four children were abducted in Cameroon last week.  The father reportedly works for the French company G.D.F. Suez, which is based in Yaounde, Cameroon.  G.D.F. Suez is currently developing a natural gas liquefaction project in Cameroon.  Reports state that the family is being held in Nigeria.

In a video posted on YouTube on Monday, gunmen threatened to kill the family unless authorities in Nigeria and Cameroon release prisoners held there.  The masked man, who identified himself as a Boko Haram agent, states that French President Francois Hollande “started war against Islam, and we must fight him everywhere.”

Boko Haram is believed to have killed at least thousands since 2009 in an attempt to establish an Islamist state in Nigeria.

The kidnapping has illustrated the heightened risk to French citizens in Africa due to France’s involvement in Mali combating Islamic militants.

However, the abduction was the first case of foreigners being seized in the predominantly Muslim north of Cameroon.  This region – with typically porous borders – is considered to be within the operational sphere of Boko Haram and other Nigerian militant groups.

Simultaneous to this abhorrent event, the conflict between Nigerian troops and Boko Haram continued this week in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state and main base of Boko Haram.

Nigerian troops reportedly killed a suspected Boko Haram commander and three of his lieutenants during a recent operation.  The operation was conducted in order to apprehend Boko Haram fighters thought to be involved in attacks that killed three civilians and left six soldiers wounded last week.

For more information, please see:

BBC – French Family Kidnapped in Cameroon “Shown in Video” – 26 February 2013

CNN – France Blasts “Cruelty” as Boko Haram Displays Kidnapped Family – 26 February 2013

News.com.au – Nigeria Kills Boko Haram Commander – 26 February 2013

Reuters – France Says Will Not Negotiate with Cameroon Hostage-Takers – 26 February 2013

Declassified Documents Reveal Late General Pinochet Planned on Overturning 1988 Referendum Results

By Pearl Rimon
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

SANTIAGO, Chile — Recently declassified documents revealed that the late Chilean military leader, Augusto Pinochet, wanted to stay in power despite losing a referendum in 1988. Pinochet died in 2006, before he could be brought to trial for numerous charges for corruption and various human rights abuses.

General Pinochet. (Photo Courtesy of AP)

The documents reveal that Pincohet urged his closest military allies in his attempt to overthrow the results. Pinochet’s allies refused and he was forced out of office. His plan was to use military force to seize the country’s capital, Santiago.

In 1990, citizens elected a civilian government to replace Pinochet. The documents released from the U.S. National Security Archive reveal that Pinochet said he would do “Whatever was necessary to stay in power.” He confided in his advisers, “I’m not leaving, no matter what.” U.S. officials warned Chilean leaders against violence if Pinochet used force to stay in office.

The declassified papers reveal that Pinochet was angered after the October 5th 1988 referendum and attempted to overturn the results by summoning members of the military government.  Air Force commander, Fernando Matthei rejected Pinochet’s plans for throwing out the results, and other generals followed suit. A CIA informant present at the meetings said, “Pinochet was prepared on the night of 5 Oct to overthrow the results of the plebiscite,” this information is located in a report by the State Department titled: “Chilean junta meeting the night of the plebiscite.”

The papers also reveal that the anti-Pinochet referendum campaign was supported by the U.S. government despite its early support of the military government due to its overthrow of former president Salvador Allende.

The country voted for a civilian government in 1989, and in 1990, Patricio Aylwin became the country’s first democratic president.The former military government of Chile is estimated to have killed more than 3,000 people between 1973 and 1990.

Pinochet died while under house arrest. The country is divided on how to view Pinochet’s regime, to some he is seen as a violator of human rights due to outlawing political parties, forcing thousands into exile, and having a brutal police force. Pinochet’s loyalist see him in a positive light due to Chile’s growth in economic prosperity.

The newly declassified papers were released at the same time as the movie “No”,  centering on the campaign that caused Pinochet’s downfall. The film was nominated in Sunday’s Academy Awards for Best Foreign Film.

For more information, please see:

Global Post — US pressed Pinochet to accept defeat: documents – 24 Feb 2013

South China Morning Post —

Declassified papers show Pinochet tried to ‘cling on to power’ in 1988 – 24 Feb 2013

 BBC News — Chile’s Gen Pinochet ‘tried to cling to power’ in 1988 – 23 Feb 2013

Times Standard — Report: Chile’s Pinochet wanted anti-vote violence – 23 Feb 2013

 

Qatari Poet’s Life Sentence Reduced to 15 Years by Qatari Court of Appeals

By Ali Al-Bassam
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DOHA, Qatar — Last Monday the Qatari Court of Appeals ruled to reduce the life sentence of poet Muhammed Rashid al-Ajami, who goes by the name ibn al-Dheeb in his poetry, to fifteen years.

The Qatari Court of Appeals reduced Al-Ajami’s (pictured here) life sentence to 15 years. (Photo Courtesy of Al Arabiya)

Originally, al-Ajami was sentenced to life last November for composing and reading out a poem which allegedly incited “the overthrow of the ruling system.”  The poem, written in 2010, allegedly criticized the Emir, Sheikh Hamad al-Thani.

Human rights activists however claim that the actual poem that angered authorities was written in 2011, in which al-Ajami wrote about authoritarian rule in the region.  His poem, titled “Tunisian Jasmine,” which al-Ajami recited and later uploaded to the internet in January 2011, expressed support for the uprising that occurred in Tunisia, saying: “We are all Tunisia in the face of the repressive elite.” In the poem, he also denounced “all Arab governments” as “indiscriminate thieves.”  In a clear reference to Qatar, a home to a major U.S. base, al-Ajami wrote “I hope that change would come in countries whose ignorant leaders believe that glory belies in U.S. Forces.”

Dr. Nejib al-Naimi, al-Ajami’s lawyer, said that the five judges were unanimous in their decision, but he plans to take the case to the Court of Cassation, Qatar’s highest court, where a final hearing will be held on al-Ajami’s sentence.  During the case, al-Naimi asserted that “there was no evidence al-Ajami had recited the poem he is being tried for in public,” which was the central claim that the prosecution raised, and that he only read it “at his apartment in Cairo.”

Al-Ajami was said to have been visibly disappointed with the court’s ruling and looked agitated while he was escorted out of the courtroom.  Reuters reported that al-Ajami shouted out “there is no law for this,” as he was led out.  Al-Naimi said that “the appeals court was apparently politicized and does not differ much from the court of first instance.”

Dr. Ali bin Fetais al-Marri, Qatar’s Attorney General, said that he was also “not happy” with the judgment.  “As a chief prosecutor, I look forward to restoring the sentence to a life term.”

Human rights officials, who attended al-Ajami’s appeal, criticized the conviction, saying that “his trial was marred by irregularities, with court sessions held in secret.”

Qatar, whose human rights record has been criticized in the past, insists that the sentence was not an abuse of freedom of speech but is punishable because it is an “illegal call to overthrow political regimes.”  Under Article 130 of the Qatari Penal Code, the charge for inciting to overthrow ruling systems is punishable by death.  Naimi, a former Qatari Justice Minister who also was a member of Saddam Hussein’s defense team, said that according to the charges, his client should have faced a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

The Court of Cassation will make its final ruling on Al-Ajami in 30 days.

For further information, please see:

Al Arabiya — Qatar Cuts Jail Term for Maverick Poet to 15 Years: Lawyer — 25 February 2013

BBC News — Qatari Poet Life Sentence Reduced to 15 Years — 25 February 2013

Gulf News — Qatar Slashes Life Term Against Poet to 15 Years — 25 February 2013

Al Jazeera — Qatari Poet’s Sentence Reduced to 15 Years — 25 February 2013

 

This Week in Syria Deeply: 24 February 2013