‘Monster of Grbavica’ Sentenced to Maximum 45 Years

By Madeline Schiesser
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina – On Friday, a war-crimes court in Bosnia- Herzegovina handed down its longest sentence yet of 45 years for the crimes committed by Veselin Vlahovic, 44, during the 1992-1995 Balkan conflict, which killed some 100,000 people and left some 2 million refugees.  Vlahovic, nicknamed “Batko” was a former member of the Bosnian Serb paramilitary forces “White Angels,” allied to the Bosnian Serb Army, and was known to his victims as the “Monster of Grbavica” and “Master of Life and Death.”

Known as the ‘Monster of Grbavica’ for his 1992 killing rampage during the Bosnian War, Veselin Vlahovic has received the maximum sentence of 45 years in prison. (Photo Courtesy of BBC News)

Prosecutors presented the court with a 66-count indictment against Vlahovic, which was also the most extensive list for 1992-95 Bosnian war crimes.  Prosecutor Behaija Krnjic said of the indictments, during his closing arguments, “He killed 31 people, took 14 people who have still been considered missing, raped 13 women,” having earlier stated Vlahovic’s “name was the synonym for evil”.  Vlahovic pled “not guilty.”

In a verdict that took two hours to read, Vlahovic was found guilty on 60 of the counts (and acquitted on 6 due to lack of evidence) for 31 murders, rapes of at least 13 women and torture and robbery of dozens of civilians in Grbavica and Vraca, Serb-occupied areas of Sarajevo, in 1992.

The verdict drew loud applause from victims’ associations in the heavily guarded and packed courtroom, while Vlahovic sat emotionless through the proceedings.  Earlier, he had insulted a witness, a local journalist who reported on his crimes during the war, and according to the prosecution, sent an intimidating letter to a victim’s family.

The 45-year sentence is the maximum that can be given for such crimes.  Bosnia-Herzegovina does not practice indefinite imprisonment or the death penalty.  Both sides intend to appeal.  Although the prosecution received the maximum sentence as requested, it wishes to readdress some of the specific points of the verdict.

Vlahovic is from Montenegro, which was united with Serbia during the Balkan wars.  During the war, many Montenegrins supported the Serbs against the Bosnian Muslims, Croats and Kosovo Albanians.

Judge Bozic said Vlahovic’s horrific acts took place between May and July 1992 in three districts of Sarajevo controlled by Serb forces – Grbavica, Kovacici, and Vraca.  The judge graphically described several of Vlahovic’s crimes.

Bozic said Vlahovic would often demand ransoms of money or gold for his captives and, “Victims who could not pay for their lives would be typically taken to a recognizable location on Trebevic hill and shot in the head.”

“It was a typical pattern [of his] behavior.  Those who had nothing to offer in turn for their lives were typically killed by a shot in the forehead, mouth or temporal bone, according to forensic accounts,” said Judge Bozic.

In one particularly brutal example, “In June 1992, he forced 13 members of the Pecar family out of their home and ordered three male relatives to run across a front line street planted with mines.”  Vlahovic ordered his soldiers to open fire, which he knew would result in return fire from the combat lines.  In the cross-fire, one woman died and three family members, including a girl, were wounded and left on the street.

Judge Bozic further described Vlahovic’s rape of a seven month pregnant woman in front of her young daughter in their apartment, and another sequential rape in which Vlahovic raped a daughter and then her mother as the daughter was forced to watch.

Judge Bozic concluded that Vlahovic carried out “horrid, cruel and manifold criminal acts”.

Vlahovic has been sent to prison before, only to escape.  12 years ago in Montenegro, he was jailed for robbery, but went on the lam.  He then hid in Spain under a Bulgarian passport until 2010 when he was arrested and extradited in August to Bosnia-Herzegovina.  Vlahovic is also wanted for armed robbery in Spain, and murder in Serbia.

Perhaps this time, the monster will stay locked away.

For further information, please see:

24 Sata – FOTO: Tužilaštvo i odbrana ulažu žalbe na presudu Veselinu Vlahoviću [PHOTO: Prosecution and Defense are Appealing the Veselin Vlahovic Ruling] – 29 March 2013

24 Sata –  VIDEO / Maksimalna kazna za “Monstruma sa Grbavice”: Batko osuđen na 45 godina [VIDEO / The Maximum Penalty for the “Monster of Grbavica”: Batko Sentenced to 45 Years] – 29 March 2013

Al Jazeera – Bosnia’s ‘Monster of Grbavica’ Gets 45 Years – 29 March 2013

BBC News – Bosnia Jails Serb Veselin Vlahovic for War Crimes – 29 March 2013

RFE/RL – Bosnia’s ‘Monster of Grbavica’ Gets 45 Years For War Crimes – 29 March 2013

Sky News – Warlord ‘Batko’ Jailed For Sarajevo Killings – 29 March 2013

Angola Breaks Up Peaceful Youth Protest and Detains 18

By Ryan Aliman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

LUANDA, Angola – Angolan police arrested rallyists who were holding a demonstration in the capital on Saturday.

 

Considered as Africa’s second-longest serving head of state, President Jose Eduardo dos Santos has been in power for more than three decades. (Photo courtesy of BBC News/AFP)

18 activists were brought into police custody. Two of them were later released without charge while the others remain in prison.

Held near the Santa Ana cemetery, just meters away from the Luanda police headquarters, the protest aimed to pressure the government to recognize and uphold the “dignity and the right to life for those who think differently”. Protesters demanded answers over the disappearance of two government critics, Alves Cassule and Isaias Kamulingue, who have been missing since last year.

“We have already waited too long, Cassule and Kamulingue waited too long . . . and so many others that are being pushed into the limbo of oblivion, citizens who do not even enjoy the posthumous right of investigation to cast light on the events that led to their physical disappearances,” said one of the rallyists.

“We will continue to push until they reappear or the truth is told,” Adolfo Campos, another protester told AFP.

Saturday’s protest was also meant to express the public’s dissatisfaction towards the administration of President Jose Eduardo dos Santos who has been the country’s ruler since 1979. Activists at the rally accused the President of “mismanaging Angola’s oil revenues, suppressing human rights and doing too little to end corruption and poverty.”

According to Central Angola 7311, the organizers of the demonstration, they ensured that the rally met all legal requirements before carrying it out. “The protest, which fulfilled all legal requirements, was the target of the usual repression by the regime, using the Angolan police,” the youth protest movement posted on its Twitter feed.

In their defense, however, the police told the press that the protesters were causing “embarrassment and indignation” to those who were preparing for funerals at the nearby cemetery.

Nevertheless, local human rights groups denounced the way the police handled the situation. “It is sad to see the police use such violence against young people who are demonstrating peacefully,” said Jose Patricinio, the president of an Angolan human rights group. He added that staging a rally is a constitutionally guaranteed right which law enforcers must respect.

A few days before the protest, the U.N. Rights Committee expressed its concerns about reports of the disappearances of protesters in Luanda for the past two years, urging the government to “take practical steps to put an end to impunity by its security forces regarding arbitrary and extrajudicial killings and disappearances.”

 

For further information, please see:

Africa Review – Angola police break up protest over missing youths – 31 March 2013

Independent Online News – Angolan cops break up youth protest – 31 March 2013

Global Voices Online – Angola: Arrested and Disappeared for “Thinking Differently” – 31 March 2013

News 24 – Angolan police detain 18 – 31 March 2013

Global Post – Police break up youth protest in Angola – 30 March 2013

Reuters – Angola police detain 18 at rights rally: activists – 30 March 2013

TSF – Angolan police confirm arrest of 12 people organizing demonstration speech – 30 March 2013

Egyptian Jon Stewart Released on Bail

By Dylan Takores
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

 

CAIRO, Egypt – Egyptian authorities released satirist Bassem Youssef on bail after questioning him for allegedly degrading Islam, insulting President Morsi, and spreading false news.

Bassem Youssef. (Photo Courtesy of Getty Images)

Youssef, often referred to as the Egyptian Jon Stewart, voluntarily turned himself in to police after a warrant was issued for his arrest.  He was questioned for five hours then released for 15,000 Egyptian pounds (approximately $2,190).

The government also issued arrest warrants for four other prominent anti-government activists in addition to Youssef.  The activists are accused of inciting violence and anti-government sentiments among Egyptian citizens.

The arrest raised questions regarding freedom of speech under the current political regime.  Youssef hosts a weekly talk show, “Al-Bernameg” (“The Show”), on which he mocks Egyptian politics. The satirist often imitates the President as well as members of opposition parties.

In a statement to Ahram, the prosecutor, Mohammed el-Sayed Khalifa, reported that the case is a civil action brought on behalf of twelve plaintiffs.  The plaintiffs alleged that Youssef insulted President Morsi, denigrated Islam, mocked prayers, spread false news, and intended to incite public disorder.

International Business Times reported that the charges carry heavy penalties in Egypt.  The Egyptian Constitution, drafted in 2011, permits a sentence of up to three-years imprisonment for insulting the president.  However, despite the serious nature of the crimes in Egypt, IBT wrote that the charges would not likely be successful or even pursued in less conservative countries.

Supporters of Youssef gathered outside the prosecutor’s office in solidarity with the satirist during his detention.  During an interview on CBC, Youssef denied the allegations.  He explained, “We don’t insult religion.  What we do is expose those so-called religious and Islamic stations which have offended Islam more than anyone else.”

Youssef tweeted several sarcastic and satirical remarks while in the prosecutor’s office.  One tweet quipped, “They asked me the color of my eyes. Really.”  He also tweeted that the bail money will pay for three separate pending charges.

Youssef’s defense lawyer, Montasser al-Zayyat firmly denied the charges against his client.  In addition to the three stated charges – insulting President Morsi, ridiculing Islam, and reporting false news – the attorney reported that Youssef has been accused of a fourth unannounced charge.

 

For further information, please see:

Ahram – Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef released on LE 15,000 bail – 31 March 2013

BBC News – Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef released on bail – 31 March 2013

Huffington Post – Bassem Youssef, Egypt’s Jon Stewart, Released on Bail – 31 March 2013

International Business Times – Bassem Youssef, Egypt’s Version of Jon Stewart, Released on Bail – 31 March 2013

Buddhist Monks Attack Muslim-Owned Warehouse in Sri Lanka

By Karen Diep           
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – On Thursday, hundreds of Buddhist monks threw stones at a Muslim-owned warehouse injuring several people in Colombo. The incident occurred a day after Sri Lankan authorities set up a hot-line informing them of anyone “inciting religious or racial hatred.”

Sri Lankan Police standing in front of the warehouse. (Photo Courtesy of France 24)

Televised news covered showed broken glass and clothing from the warehouse scattered in the street. Although five or six people were injured, including the store manager and journalists, no arrests have been made.

According to BBC News, this recent event by the monks was part of their campaign against the “Muslim lifestyle.”

The Buddhist monks targeted a Muslim-owned clothing chain, Fashion Bug, which operates throughout Sri Lanka.

According to France 24, the monks throughout the assault “yelled insults against Muslims.”

Prior to Thursday’s attack, these Buddhist monks sent texts advising people to boycott Muslim shops when preparing for the upcoming Sri Lankan New Year festival.

On Friday, Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), the most prominent Buddhist organization, issued a statement claiming that it was not involved in Thursday’s attack against the warehouse. Two weeks ago prior to the assault, BBS’s general secretary accused Fashion Bug and No Limit, another Muslim-owned clothing chain, of converting Buddhist employees.

Eyewitnesses claimed that Sri Lankan authorities initially stood and watched the event until the incident spread.

“There was a crowd of about 500 people, led by about a dozen monks,” stated Azzam Ameen, a journalist in Colombo. “About 25 to 30 policemen were on the scene, but were clearly overwhelmed. Most of the crowd was made up of young men, in their early twenties or even younger,” continued Mr. Ameen.

The attack allegedly lasted approximately an hour and a half before the fire brigade arrived.  However, many took refuge in the Buddhist temple across the street to continue hurling stones at the warehouse from there.

However, Sri Lankan authorities believed sufficient protection existed.

“We have deployed extra units of STR [Special Task Force commandos] and police to guard the area,” relayed police spokesman Buddhika Siriwardena to the Agence France-Presse news agency. “The situation was brought under control within a few hours,” continued Mr. Siriwardena.  

Sri Lanka’s Minister for Justice Rauff Hakeem, a Muslim, requested that the prime minister call a crucial cabinet meeting to plan the safety and security for Muslims subsequent to the assault on Thursday.

Sanjana Hattotuaw, a human rights activists and journalist, is weary of the government response. “What’s disturbing is that our defense secretary is openly associating with Buddhist extremists.”

For further information, please see:

Asia News – Sri Lanka, hundreds of radical Buddhist attack Islamic community – 29 March 2013

BBC News – Sri Lanka crowd attack Muslim warehouse in Colombo – 29 March 2013

France 24 News – Sri Lanka police stand by as Buddhist monks attack Muslim-owned store – 29 March 2013

 

 

 

 

DRC: UN Security Council Approves Unprecedented “Intervention Brigade”

By Hannah Stewart
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

UNITED NATIONS — On Thursday, the UN Security Council approved the creation of a unique new combat force that will conduct “targeted offensive operations” to neutralize armed groups in conflict-torn eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Recently displaced Congolese refugees at a camp in South Kivu. (Photo Courtesy of The New York Times)

By way of response, the Congolese government has welcomed the UN’s decision in hopes of subduing rebel groups along its border with Rwanda.  Spokesman Lambert Mende said the brigade of at least 2,000 troops would “bring some hope of peace.”

This is the first time any UN peacekeeping force has been given such an offensive mandate.  However, the ongoing conflict in the DRC has seen various armed groups creating havoc in the mineral-rich eastern region for two decades.

The brigade will be part of the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC.  At present, the UN has more than 17,700 peacekeepers and more than 1,400 international police in the DRC; however, they have been accused of not doing enough to stop the violence in the eastern provinces.  The latest rebellion, from 2012 to present, has displaced an estimated 800,000 people in the DRC from their homes.

The UN Security Council resolution stated that the new Intervention Brigade will “carry out targeted offensive operations” to “neutralize” armed groups. In July, forces will be deployed and will include troops from South Africa, Tanzania and Malawi.

The resolution will give the brigade a mandate to operate “in a robust, highly mobile and versatile manner” to ensure that armed groups cannot seriously threaten government authority or the security of civilians.

UN peacekeepers were unable to protect civilians from M23 rebels, whose movement began in April 2012 when hundreds of troops defected from the Congolese armed forces.  Likewise, the resolution strongly condemns the continued presence of the M23 in the immediate vicinity of Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, and its attempts to establish “an illegitimate parallel administration in North Kivu.

Moreover, the Resolution demands that the M23 and other armed groups, including those seeking the “liberation” of Rwanda and Uganda, immediately halt all violence and “permanently disband and lay down their arms.”  It also strongly condemns their continuing human rights abuses including summary executions, sexual violence and the continued conscripting and use of children.

But the resolution states clearly that it will be established for one year “on an exceptional basis and without creating a precedent or any prejudice to the agreed principles of peacekeeping.”  The resolution, sponsored by France, the United States and Togo, says the “intervention brigade” must have “a clear exit strategy.”

It says the Security Council will determine its continued presence based on its performance and according to whether the DRC has made sufficient progress in improving its security.  Moreover, the Congolese are set to form a “rapid reaction force” that can assume responsibility for neutralizing armed groups and reducing the threat they pose to civilians and the government’s authority.

The resolution extends the mission’s mandate until March 31, 2014, and the brigade will be headquartered in Goma.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – UN Approves DR Congo “Intervention Brigade” – 29 March 2013

BBC – DR Hails UN Attack Force – 29 March 2013

Reuters – U.N. Approves New Combat Force to “Neutralize” Congo Rebels – 28 March 2013

The New York Times – U.N. Approves New Force to Pursue Congo’s Rebels – 29 March 2013

Syrian Revolution Digest: Friday, 29 March 2013

Killer Rumor!

It doesn’t really matter if he is still physically alive, politically Assad is dead. The revolution shrunk him into insignificance. He is not even a zombie at this stage, he is simply irrelevant, his fate sealed by a rumor.

 

Today’s Death Toll: 150 martyrs, including 6 women; 17 martyr under torture and 10 children: 52 in Damascus and Suburbs including 15 under torture in security branch 215; 39 in Aleppo, most martyred due to a SCUD missile attack in Hreitan; 18 in Daraa; 16 in Homs; 8 in Deir Ezzor; 5 in Raqqa; 7 in Hama; and 5 in Idlib (LCCs).

Points of Random Shelling: 283. Shelling with warplanes reported in 19 points; Scud missiles were reported in 3 districts; Surface to Surface rockets reported in 9 districts, the heaviest one was in Aleppo; explosive barrels reported in 6 points; phosphoric bombs reported in Deir Ezzor; cluster bombs reported in Hreitan, Aleppo. Shelling with mortars reported in 102 points, while artillery shelling was reported in 98 point; rocket launchers shelling reported in 99 points (LCCs).

Clashes: 130. Successful rebel operations included shooting 3 warplanes in the town of Alboukamal in Deir Ezzor Province, 1 plane in Khan Al-Sheeh in Damascus Suburbs and another in Jabal Al-Zawyeh in Idlib. In Raqqa, rebels entered the town of Ein Issa after liberating all loyalist checkpoints. In Aleppo, rebels took control of the Sheikh Maqsood Neighborhood (LCCs).

 

News

Southern Town in Syria Is Seized by Rebel Fighters The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an antigovernment group in Britain with contacts throughout Syria, said rebel fighters secured the town, Dael, after more than a day of clashes in which three military checkpoints were destroyed and more than 24 combatants and at least nine civilians were killed. The town, with a population of about 40,000, sits on an important north-south highway that connects Damascus to Dara’a, the southern city that was the birthplace of the March 2011 uprising against President Bashar al-Assad that turned into a civil war. “The entire town, which is on the Damascus-Dara’a road, is now outside the control of government forces,” the Syrian Observatory said in its daily dispatch on the fighting.

20 dead in Scud missile attack in Syria, activists say The missile landed in a populated neighborhood of Hretaan, injuring 50 people and destroying more than 30 homes, the activists said. Videos reportedly recorded afterward showed residents pulling out dozens of bodies from the rubble of flattened buildings. There was no immediate response from Syrian officials to the charge, which could not be independently verified because of restrictions the government places on outside media.

U.S. considers no-fly-zone over Syria The U.S. administration is studying in depth all options that could lead to a peaceful settlement in Syria, Nuland added. On Wednesday, the former head of a U.N. monitoring mission, who tried in vain to secure a ceasefire in Syria’s civil war, said it was now time to consider imposing a no-fly zone over the country. The comments from Norwegian General Robert Mood came after NATO Chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen ruled out Western military intervention and called for a political solution to the two-year-old crisis which has claimed an estimated 70,000 lives. “I have come to the conclusion there has to be a leveling on the playing field,” Mood, who headed the U.N. mission in Syria until last July, told Britain’s BBC TV. “To level the playing field now in the military terms would be to consider no-fly zones, to consider whether the Patriots in Turkey could have a role also in taking on some responsibility for the northern part of Syria.”

An Unlikely Jihadist, Denouncing Assad in Mandarin He spoke in Mandarin. He called himself Yusef, but a subtitle in English said his Chinese name was Bo Wang. On the surface, he appeared to be an extremely rare — perhaps the only — example of an ethnic Han citizen of China joining a jihadist group in the Arab world. The bizarre video first got the attention of some Chinese last week, when it was posted on YouTube and then on Youku, a popular video-sharing site in China. It was quickly deleted from there, possibly by censors aware that the material was too delicate for the sensibilities of Chinese officials. In the video, the man told the Chinese government to drop its support of Mr. Assad or “all Islamic countries of the world will unite to impose economic sanctions against the Chinese people.”

Syria’s Red Crescent caught in the middle of bloody civil war Caught between warring factions as violence continues to rip apart Syria, the agency — Syria’s equivalent of the Red Cross — has had to contend with looting, threats of violence, arbitrary arrests and the killing of 17 staff members. The organization has also found its reputation under fire from Syrian-Canadian groups and others who have accused it of being little more than a puppet for Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.

Has Bashar Al Assad been killed? Two videos that are circulating on social media over the past hours are once again alleging that Bashar Al Assad has either died or fled the country. “The Brigade of Martyrs of Douma conveys to you the news the Syrian people have waited for for a long time, namely the assassination of the despot Bashar Al Assad, which was carried out in coordination with one of the honorable officers from inside the Palace,”  the chief of the Brigade said in a video posted on YouTube. “I challenge Bashar to make a media appearance within the next 12 hours if he is still alive”, he added.

 

Special Reports

Syria’s cultural heritage under attack during bloody civil war Aleppo – one of the most beautiful cities in the Middle East and a crossroads of Christian, Jewish and Arab cultures – is among the hardest hit by the fighting between regime forces and rebels. In the nation’s capital of Damascus, once described by Mark Twain as the city that “has seen all that has ever occurred on earth,” historic buildings and landmarks are at increasing risk of damage.

Syria: Rebuilding education One brave teacher, Nour Al-Haq, is fighting her own war, determined to teach come what may. She explained: “We wanted to reorganise this school for the kids of Salaheddine who are coming back to their own neighbourhoods. “Families are coming back to their own houses. That is why we wanted to open this school here. “The four biggest schools in Salaheddine have been bombarded. We will have to rely on schools like this one for many years. “We are recovering books, and chairs from the damaged schools. We went to those schools even though we were targeted by a sniper who shot at us.”

Revolution or civil war? The battle of narratives in Syria The battle of narratives in Syria can be encapsulated as that between two tales from two cities: Paris and Geneva, where two parallel conferences were held in the last week of January 2013. These two meetings broadly represent two opposing narratives with little common ground and with each having its international backers both in policy circles and in the media. The Geneva meeting was organized with Scandinavian support and brought together several of the so called internal opposition groups and parties, most prominent of which were the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change and the Building the Syrian State Current. The conference also formed the Democratic Civil Alliance, a coalition of like-minded groups calling for a peaceful solution through dialogue. The Paris conference was organized with French support and included the two main opposition groupings outside Syria: the Syrian National Council and the National Coalition headed by Moaz al-Khatib. The main difference between the two meetings is that Geneva called for stopping the violence and for dialogue with the regime whereas Paris called for arming the opposition and rejected any idea of dialogue with the regime. But there are also other significant differences in the narratives.

The complications of dispersing aid in Syria According to Medecins Sans Frontiers, by the end of January 2013 over 60 countries had expressed a commitment to providing $1.5 billion in aid to the Syrian population. However such substantial figures, in reality, amount to much less. The urge to donate and distribute humanitarian aid is complicated by the complex international laws and bureaucratic labyrinths, and ultimately dictated by the host government’s willingness to grant international access to a country. Those few international organizations (less than 10) given permission to enter Syria face extreme difficulties in moving between government and rebel controlled areas. These realities and the Assad regime’s continued shelling of hospitals and bakeries merely add to the growing humanitarian crisis. Accordingly, international aid organizations are often forced to rely on third parties within Syria to disperse aid.

Syria: freedom is economics too Before any elections, the first stone will have already been laid – with reconstruction. On which policies will Syria be rebuilt? Which checks and balances will be organized around an international aid campaign driven by vested interests? Who will plan it? What can work, and what doesn’t, in Syria?

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.

 

Quickly Noted

* Rebels from the Douma Martyrs Brigades, one of the main rebels groups fighting in Eastern Ghoutah in Damascus Suburbs, “confirm” through its leader Abu Ali Khibyeh the assassination of Bashar Al-Assad by one of his Iranian bodyguards and call on his officials and officers to surrender promising a fair trial to all. “The one you were fighting for has been killed, save yourselves by refraining from further bloodshed,” he told them. Abu Ali also says that the news was confirmed by an officer in Bashar’s entourage who works for the rebels http://youtu.be/7oipjyvqAz4. Abu Ali reiterates his statements in this Skype interview with a rebel network http://youtu.be/g0se3fVcDKQ. But while some rebels are so sure that Assad has been killed as to risk making such a categorical announcement, others claim that he was only injured, and that he was now replaced by a security commission led by the person who was in charge of Assad’s secret service: Salim Al-Ali (Abu Ibrahim), the son of an Alawite father and a Sunni Lebanese mother, a man whose own son was kidnapped by rebels a few months ago and was released following a deal.

 

Video Highlights

The town of Hreitan, Aleppo Province: the aftermath of a Scud attack http://youtu.be/rJ5qbCdNJZI panic after the attack http://youtu.be/XAq_HzB4Z5w

Assad’s tanks keep pounding Jobar neighborhood in eastern parts of the Damascus City http://youtu.be/lJr7tB-tr8o , http://youtu.be/AICVFcSxe-c

Scenes from the clashes that ended with the liberation of the town of Da’el, Daraa Province http://youtu.be/tOTuPB2cz5U , http://youtu.be/wfMR9QdOuc0 , http://youtu.be/Lxv_q9mX6ww

In Damascus, rockets launchers from the Mazzeh Military Airport in action http://youtu.be/tAdVS23rbwU

China’s Push for Accelerated Urbanization is Pushing Migrant Workers Toward Homelessness

By Irving Feng
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

SHANGHAI, China – Dozens of migrant Chinese workers are being evicted from their makeshift homes in old shipping containers in Shanghai due the new Chinese leadership’s desire to accelerate urbanization in the outskirts of the country’s “mega” cities.

A subdivided tenement awaits demolition in Huabei province of China. (Photo Courtesy of Reuters)

Neighborhoods like the shipping container village, about twenty minutes away from Shanghai’s wealthy financial district, have sprung up in the last twenty years to fulfill China’s desperate need for cheap housing.  Other unusual housing solutions include using tents, repurposing old industrial buildings, and subdividing farm houses to accommodate the droves of migrant workers that flock to urban centers.

China plans on spending roughly $6 trillion on improving domestic infrastructure, like building more housing, in order to serve the projected 400 million people that are estimated to move to urban centers in the next decade.

Though China plans on building more housing to fulfill their desperate housing needs, by destroying the makeshift neighborhoods like the shipping container village in Shanghai, the government is leaving thousands of poor, migrant workers without any housing.

Migrant workers, like Li Yanxin who runs a convenience store out of his shipping container to earn money, cannot afford regular apartments, which can cost as much as 2000 yuan per month (roughly $320 U.S.).  The poor must resort to renting smaller properties, like 12 square meter subdivided rooms, at the more affordable rate of 500 yuan per month (roughly $80 U.S.).

Around 130 million migrant, Chinese workers live in subdivided rooms in old farmhouses, which land owning farmers in villages have repurposed.  After the government usurps the land the old farmhouses sit on, the land will be rezoned and repurposed for development purposes.

The newly rezoned land can be sold at a very high price for lucrative commercial development.  These lands, in theory, will be repurposed for fulfilling the desperate housing needs; however, the evicted migrant poor will be unable to afford the luxury apartments that will most likely sit atop of the newly developed lands.

Other cities, like Beijing, are attempting to clean up crowded tenements, like the shipping container village and farmhouse subdivision tenements, by usurping the land, repurposing it, and raising rents.  This effectively prices out the poor who will no longer be able to afford the properties.

Beijing also will not allow migrant poor to purchase the new properties the city plans to build.  The migrant workers will only be allowed to rent, however, the number of available apartments to rent usually falls short of public need.

For further information, please see:

Reuters – China’s urbanization drive leaves migrant workers out in the cold – 30 March 2013

China Daily – Migrants: linchpin of China’s urbanization – 27 March 2013

New Tang Dynasty – China’s Urbanization Drive Puts Trillions into Officials’ Pockets – 27 March 2013

South China Morning Post – Managing China’s urban spread – 21 March 2013

Easter in Libya, not as Joyous as Usual

By Justin Dorman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

TRIPOLI, Libya – Earlier this month, smoke billowed from Benghazi’s Coptic church, but it had nothing to do with the coming of a new pope. A group of jihadist militants set the church on fire while the church’s priest was still inside. Some local Muslims rushed in to save the priest, but the church was successfully scorched. Do not expect the church to be resurrected this Easter, because currently any action that can be perceived to threaten Islamic culture is being met with plenty of hostility in Libya.

St. Mark’s Coptic church in Benghazi was set ablaze and is now a blackened ruin. (Photo Courtesy of the Guardian)

Hide your bibles, hide your faith, because the Islamic militants and Office of Preventive Security are getting every Christian. Whether a Coptic Christian or one of the Greek Orthodox faith, it has been recommended that you keep your Easter celebration low key. While many Muslims in Libya are very friendly with their Christian neighbors, others get very offended by anything non-Islamic.

Besides the burning of Benghazi’s Coptic church, there was a bombing of a Coptic church in Misrata killing two, and a shooting of a Greek Orthodox priest outside of his home. Additionally, at least fifty-one Christians, forty-nine of which were Copts, have been arrested. One of the Copts died while being held in detention. An evangelist warehouse was also raided, which resulted in the seizure of approximately fifty-five thousand Bibles and Christian tracts.

The surviving arrested Copts were released as a “diplomatic gesture.” Preventive security commander Abdul Salam Barghathi was amazed that the bibles were being printed in the city of Benghazi and that they were even being given to children.

The official causes of the arrests have come under charges of proselytizing and spreading Christian literature. Barghathi said that, “Libya is 100 per cent Muslim, we don’t have Christians and Jews, and nobody will accept any other religions.” He added that, “anything that comes from abroad can be an invasion against our ideas and our thoughts, which can be a danger to homeland security.”

Reverend Vasihar Baskaran of Tripoli’s Christ the King church stated that, “we usually celebrate [Easter] with pomp, but I said no. . .I thought it was better not to attract the attention of bad elements. I told the congregation: when the service is finished, don’t stand in the churchyard and drink tea on the church steps.”

An Egyptian Christian living in Benghazi, Meged Labib, said that she will have her Easter services in her home since her priest has ran back to Egypt.

For further information, please see:

Scotsman – Libyan Christians Spending Easter in Fear – 30 March 2013

Bloomberg – Libya’s Christians Tense as Easter Celebrations Commence – 29 March 2013

Guardian – Christians in Libya Braced for Easter Trouble from Islamists – 29 March 2013

Radio Vaticana – Libyan Christians Prepare for Holy Week Amid Persecution – 25 March 2013

Human Rights Group Urges Malian Government to Investigate Torture Allegations

By Ryan Aliman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

BAMAKO, Mali – New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a statement on Tuesday urging the Malian government to look into allegations that soldiers tortured several detainees.

Reports say that Malian soldiers have tortured detainees as punishment for allegedly supporting rebel groups. (Photo courtesy of AP Photo /Pascal Guyot, Pool/Windsor Star)

In a study conducted by the group, it is revealed that seven men who are suspected members of rebel groups were “beaten and kicked, burned, injected with a caustic substance, and threatened with death” while in the custody of Malian troops.

From March 11 to March 23, HRW gathered testimonies from detainees about the harsh treatment they received from the army. Tuareg in ethnicity, all seven detainees recalled being taken from Léré to an ad hoc military headquarters in Markala where they were questioned about their suspected affiliation with rebel groups. After denying such accusations, one detainee recounted how they were hogtied and hurled onto the ground “like [they] were bags of rice”.

According to the report, the soldiers also injected two detainees with an unknown caustic substance which damaged their skin. One of the detainees said, “I came to[,] while being dragged along the ground after my hands had been bound with my turban. The next day near sundown a soldier came in, took my arm and injected a substance. I thought it might have been for the pain. . . . I didn’t speak his language so couldn’t ask him. Then he injected my friend who was sharing the cell with me. It started blistering and by the next morning had eaten my skin. I felt as if I would die from the pain. . . . All I want is to return to my village.”

Another detainee described how he was subjected to “waterboarding”. “They told me to crouch down, slammed my head hard against a wall, pulled it back then grabbed a bucket of water and poured it down my nose and into my mouth. . . . While doing this they asked me, ‘Tell us what job you were doing with them and why you had money on you,'” he explained.

HRW’s Senior West Africa researcher Corinne Dufka told the press that the army’s use of torture will only exacerbate the crisis in the country unless the government does something about the issue. “The Malian government should promptly and impartially investigate these and other allegations of abuse or face an increasingly unaccountable military and deepening communal tensions,” she advised.

Last week, the U.N. Human Rights Council adopted a resolution to appoint an independent monitor for Mali which was met with partial criticism from HRW. According to the human rights group, this resolution fell short of addressing reports of abuses by Malian troops. “While we welcome this resolution, the Council’s failure to clearly condemn serious violations recently committed by members of the Malian army is a disservice to the Malian people,” HRW said in a statement.

 

For further information, please see:

Global Post – Malian soldiers get human rights training – 27 March 2013

Human Rights Watch – Mali: Soldiers Torture Detainees in Léré – 26 March 2013

The Windsor Star – Human Rights Watch: Malian soldiers inject suspected extremists with acid – 26 March 2013

Daily Maverick – UN Condemns Mali Rights Abuses, To Step Up Monitoring – 22 March 2013

Syrian Opposition Opens its First Embassy

By Ali Al-Bassam
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DOHA, Qatar — The Syrian National Coalition (SNC) opened the doors to its first “embassy” in Qatar last Wednesday, just a day after the Arab League granted it recognition by giving it Damascus’s seat in the league.

SNC leader al-Khatib was in Doha, Qatar for the ribbon cutting ceremony of the Syrian rebel’s embassy. (Photo Courtesy of Al Jazeera)

The head of the SNC, Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, and Qatari State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Khaled Al-Attiya, were at the embassy in Doha for the inauguration of the representative office, dubbed the “Embassy of the Syrian National Coalition.”  “This is the first embassy of the Syrian people,” said al-Khatib.  Al-Khatib said that the SNC’s next goal is to assume Syria’s seat in the United Nations.  Al-Khatib also used the ribbon cutting ceremony as a platform to voice his frustration with global powers for failing to do more to assist the SNC with toppling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.  “There is an international willingness for the revolution not to triumph,” said al-Khatib.

NATO Chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said last Wednesday that a political solution to the Syrian crisis must shapen, but ruled out Western military intervention despite Khatib’s plea.

The SNC named Nizar Haraki as its first ambassador to Qatar.  Haraki said that he will “soon” present his accreditation letter to the Emir of Qatar.  The SNC also named envoys in several countries including Britain, France, Libya, Turkey, and the United States, but has not yet proceeded with opening diplomatic missions in those countries.

Russia scolded the Arab League for taking “another anti-Syria step,” when the league recognized the SNC.  Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich said, “In terms of international law, the decisions taken by the Arab League in respect of Syria are illegal and void because the government of the Syrian Arab Republic was and will remain the legitimate representative of the UN member state.”  Russia also said that the Arab League is supporting a “military solution” to the conflict instead of peace talks.

Iran also criticized the move, calling it illegitimate, and a “dangerous precedent” set by the Arab League.  “Handing Syria’s seat to the so-called provisional government is a danagerous precedent by the memberes of the Arab League,” said Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi.

The original Syrian embassy’s doors were closed in November 2011, when diplomatic ties with the Gulf countries were severed after Syria rejected the Arab League’s peace proposal to end its campaign of violence against demonstrators, and instead resorted to a bloody crackdown on the rebellion.  The embassy continues to remain inactive.

For further information, please see:

Al Jazeera — Syria Opposition Opens Embassy in Qatar — 28 March 2013

Arab News — Syrian Opposition Opens ‘Embassy’ in Qatar — 28 March 2013

Global Times — Coalition Opens Syrian Embassy — 28 March 2013

Al Shorfa — Syrian Opposition Opens Office in Qatar — 27 March 2013

All Voices — Syrian Rebels Open new ‘Embassy’ in Qatar — 27 March 2013

Global Post — Syria Rebels Open ‘Embassy’ in Qatar — 27 March 2013

Ya Libnan — Syrian Opposition gets the Embassy in Qatar — 27 March 2013

Three British Women Kidnapped and Sexually Assaulted During Aid Convoy in Libya

By Alexandra Sandacz
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

LONDON, United Kingdom – Two Libyans were arrested after allegedly sexually assaulting three British aid workers. The three women were abducted at a checkpoint near the city of Benghazi and held for hours. The British women were finally released on Wednesday.

Three British women, who were part of an aid convoy, were believed to be kidnapped and sexually assaulted in Benghazi. (Photo Courtesy of The Guardian)

This attack is the latest in a series of vicious assaults on aid agencies and diplomatic missions in Benghazi, which is considered a controversial area for most foreigners.

Libyan security officials believe the attacks happened Tuesday morning. A British-Pakistani family – a father with his two daughters – and another man and a woman decided to leave the convoy, which was delayed at the Libyan-Egyptian border. They intended to return to the UK.

The group took a taxi back to Benghazi, but they were stopped at the Sidi Al-Faraj checkpoint. From there, they were kidnapped and taken to a farm in the Sellouk area, which is where it is believed that the three British women were sexually assaulted.

Four Britons managed to escape and located a local police station. Subsequently, the fifth was rescued.

Deputy Prime Minister, Awadh al-Barassi, stated, “It is not clear how many of the three kidnapped women were abused. It has been reported that one was raped. I express my very deep sorrow at what happened. This heinous incident does not under any circumstances reflect the genuine generosity and morality of the Libyan people or the traditions of Arab-Islamic culture, and I demand the authorities to take the necessary action.”

However, Abdul Barghathi, commander of preventative security in the Libyan defense ministry, said the women were sexually assaulted; however, they were not raped. He also stated that it did not appear that the three women badly wounded, and consular staff is attending them from the UK.

He stated, “There was no rape, just touching (sexual assault). Because there is no British consulate here they were handed to the Turkish consulate.”

Four Libyan soldiers, who are understood to be members of the First Infantry Brigade of Libyan regular army, were arrested in connection with the abduction and rape. Another is wanted.

The group is currently safe in the Turkish consul and expected to return to the UK.

For further information, please see:

BBC – Libyans Held for “Sex Attacks’ On Britons in Benghazi – 29 March 2013Br

SkyNews – British Women in Aid Convoy Rapped In Libya – 29 March 2013

The Guardian – Britons in Aid Convoy Kidnapped and Sexually Assaults in Libya – 28 March 2013

Libya Herald – Kidnap and Sexual Assault of Aid Convoy Britons in Benghazi – 28 March 2013

Ahwazi Arabs Hunger Strike After Death Sentence

By Justin Dorman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

TEHRAN, Iran – It is not easy to be an Ahwazi Arab in Iran. Negative treatment in the arenas of education, employment, and culture have led many angered Ahwazis to demonstrate and some to call for separation. Iranian authorities have not appreciated such protests and have sentenced to death and killed a handful like Abd al-Rahman Heidarian, Taha Heidarian, and Jamshid Heidarian after an allegedly unfair trial. Five more men, Mohammad Ali Amouri, Hashem Sha’bani Amouri, Hadi Rashidi, Sayed Jaber Alboshoka, and Sayed Mokhtar Alboshoka have recently been sentenced to death after another highly questionable trial.

The five Ahwazi men pictured above have been sentenced to death and are now in the midst of a dry hunger strike in efforts to get an appeal. (Photo Courtesy of Payvand Iran News)

The Amouris, Alboshokas, and Rashidi, a few of which are teachers, all co-founded the cultural institute known as Al-Hiwar. The group organized conferences, poetry recitals, and arts and education classes before being banned in 2005. Since its ban, many former Al-Hiwar members have been arrested.

The five men have been charged under the vague claims of “enmity against God and corruption on Earth”, “gathering and colluding against state security”, and “spreading propaganda against the system.” These charges arise as of an alleged linkage between the men and a terrorist group who was involved in a shooting around Ramshir. Currently, no evidence was ever made public which showed any support of the allegations these five men faced. Additionally, their trials were held completely behind closed doors.

In an effort to protest their hunger strike and previous mistreatment while being detained in Karoun prison, the five men began a hunger strike. While being held, despite their requests, the men were denied medical examination and treatment. The need for treatment is believed to be as a means to treat injuries resulting from torture.

The torture was believed to be used to coerce confessions, false or true, out of the detained. These confessions are also often broadcast on television before a trial even begins. Such actions violate Article 38 of the Iranian Constitution and Article 9 of the Law on Respect for Legitimate Freedoms and Safeguarding Citizen’s Rights. The broadcasts violate trial obligations under Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a party.

Hunger strikes often lead to negative publicity for the authoritarian regime which often has its hand forced to undo its previous action. To prevent that from happening, prison authorities banned the hunger striking Ahwazis from making or receiving phone calls. Eventually, families of the strikers were allowed to visit and were able to convince the detained men to begin drinking water again. Currently, they are still refusing to eat solid food.

For further information, please see:

Ahwaz News Agency – Profile of a Hero: Mohammad Ali Amouri – 28 March 2013

Guardian – Iranian Ahwazi Arabs on Hunger Strike Over Death Sentences -27 March 2013

Amnesty International – Urgent Action Dead row Ahwazi Arab men on Hunger Strike – 26 March 2013

Payvand Iran News – Iran: Death row Prisoners in Ahwaz Begin Hunger Strike – 9 March 2013

China Denies Firing Weapons at Vietnamese Fishing Boats

By Karen Diep
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

HANOI, Vietnam – On Tuesday, China responded to Vietnam’s accusation of unlawfully firing on one of its fishing boats near the Paracel islands as a legitimate action.

Vietnamese soldier in the Spratly islands, another area of dispute. (Photo Courtesy of BBC News)

According to BBC News, China claimed that its patrol boats acted “reasonably” in an alteration with the Vietnamese fishing boat in the South China Sea last week.  Furthermore, China states that it fired flares, not weapons, at the fishing boats.

“It [was] necessary and legitimate for China to take action against a Vietnamese shipping boat that has entered China’s waters for illegal activity,” stated Hong Lei, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman.  “No damage was caused to the fishing boat from Vietnam at the time,” continued Mr. Lei.

Both China and Vietname claim the Paracel islands, a region China has controlled since a brief war with South Vietnam in 1974.

A Xinhua news agency report quoted an unidentified Chinese navy official characterizing Vietnam’s allegations as “sheer fabrication.”

“After the dissuasion by means of whistle-blowing, shouting and hand-flag guiding was of no avail, the Chinese naval vessels fired two red signal shells into the sky as a warning, and the signal shells burned out and extinguished in the air,” relayed the unidentified Chinese navy official.

However, Vietnam has filed a formal complaint with the Chinese embassy in Hanoi.

“Vietnam strongly protests, urging China to investigate and seriously deal with the wrongful and inhumane act, and compensate Vietnamese fishermen for their loss,” said Luong Thanh Nghi, a Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokesman.

The South China Sea is a disputed area and has been the root of controversy.  According to China, it possesses the U-shaped strip of the sea and points to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) for its authority.

Philippines, Malaysia, and Taiwan also have coinciding claims with China.  For instance, last year, the Philippines and China engaged in an extensive “stand-off” over another disputed area, the Scarborough shoal, straining their diplomatic relations. However, the Philippines is not the only country in the region whose relationship with China is deteriorating.

According to BBC News, this recent incident is fueling the existing anti-China feeling in Vietnam.  Before last week’s occurrence, a Chinese marine ship in the South China Sea chased two Vietnamese fishing boats.  Moreover, in recent months, China has increased its patrolling of the area.

The Chinese navy “are determined to safeguard the country’s sovereignty with their services on the South China Sea,” read the Xinhua report.

For further information, please see:

BBC News – China ‘fired flares’ at Vietnam boat in South China Sea – 27 March 2013

The Guardian – China denies starting fire on Vietnamese fishing boat – 27 March 2013

BBC News – China and Vietnam row over South China Sea clash – 26 March 2013

Special Election In Venezuela Hints At Electoral Misgivings

By Brendan Oliver Bergh
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela – Despite losing last year to Hugo Chavez in the Presidential election, Henrique Capriles is rising to call again as he faces hand-picked and acting interim president Nicolas Maduro in the special election for Venezuela’s Presidency.

Interim President Nicolas Maduro is defending his judicial appointment in a special election accused of electoral fraud. (Photo Courtesy of Venezuela Analysis)

While Venezuela gathers its base after the death of their President, Hugo Chavez, the country has been taking a hard pressed stance against the United States and their Western allies. After subtle accusations blaming the U.S. for assassinating Chavez – with an injection to give him cancer – interim president Maduro and the remaining cabinet have halted all official channels of communications between the countries. Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua states that “until there is a clear message on what type of relationship the United States wants with Venezuela, it makes no sense to continue wasting time.

While U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson called for open, fair and transparent elections in Venezuela there may be indications that the quick turnaround is hardly fair. The campaign of Henrique Capriles has accused the government of abuse of power and constitutional fraud in inaugurating Maduro as president. Capriles denounced the supreme court which allowed Maduro to become President and then run again in the special election. He has stated that “What the supreme court did I’ve qualified as an electoral fraud,” and insisted that the 60 day election opening, from the time of Chavez’s death to the April 14 election is likely to lead to a favored bias towards Maduro.  They have accused Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) as “no more than a tool of the regime to maintain its power.” This of course a massive description from the regimes coalition calling it “an excellent example of democratic institutions in the country.”

In order to adhere to fair elections the CNE has signed an agreement with the Union of South American Nations, in which they would send electoral teams in order to “witness the electoral process “ and hopefully ensure fair elections. Several Venezuelan electoral NGO’s have been invited to augment and observe the upcoming election.

Mr. Capriles has stated that “I feel that this fight… has become a spiritual struggle of a divine character, because those who live in Venezuela feel that this has become a struggle to break down a wall of evil.”

Despite allegations of electoral misgivings, polls have Mr. Capriles at 22%.

For further information, please see:

Telegraph – Capriles Says Venezuela Election Is A War Of  ‘Good And Evil’ – 25 March 2013

Venezuela Analysis – Maduro Counters Campaign To Discredit Venezuelan Electoral System – 25 March 2013

Press TV – Venezuela Suspends Communications With US Top Diplomat Ahead OF Election – 20 March 2013

Huffington Post – Venezuela Election Candidate Nicolas Maduro Has Upperhand As Chavez’s ‘Heredero’ – 14 March 2013

Guardian – Venezuelan Opposition Challenges Nicolas Maduro’s Legitimacy – 8 March 2013

 

Russia Raids NGOs, Rights Groups

By Madeline Schiesser
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia – The Justice Ministry’s inspections of Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) this week have been compared to the Great Terror during the Soviet government’s campaigns in the 1920s-30s that closed down religious institutions and foreign organizations.  It is estimated that at least 100 organizations from 25 regions across Russia have been inspected so far, and the inspections are expected to continue.

A worker at Memorial, one of Russia’s oldest and most respected rights groups, prepares some of the 600 documents demanded in the government raids. (Photo Courtesy of the Moscow Times)

Authorities in Russia have claimed that the purpose of the checks is to ensure that the activities of the NGOs match those the organizations have declared.  Justice Ministry stressed in a press release the legality of the Ministry’s actions and the importance of the checks in light of a November law requiring NGOs in Russia that receive forging aid to register as “foreign agents.”

While the Prosecutor General’s Office says that the inspections are scheduled, several groups have reported surprise inspections by the Justice Ministry, the fire-safety service, the Health Department, prosecutors, and tax police.  It is possible as many as 2,000 organizations have been visited in the last month for the collection of registration and financial documents.

Lev Ponomaryov, director of For Human Rights, believes the raids are illegal, and would only be permissible “only if there is information about the organization violating existing laws and no grounds for [such accusations] were presented to us.”

Memorial, one of Russia’s oldest and most respected rights groups, which was required to submit over 600 documents, called the audits “worrying and unprecedented.”  Amnesty International and the movement For Human Rights say that officials requested documents that should already be on file with the government.  The inspections have slowed the effectiveness of some top rights watchdog groups in Russia, and some activists fear that audits will eventually force them out of the country.

The term “foreign agent” which the law passed in November requires NGOs receiving foreign funding to identify themselves as, has its roots in the Stalin Era, when it was used to discredit enemies of the state.  Many NGOs, including Amnesty International, believe the label will be used to “to harass and seek closure of those [organizations] highlighting abuses and critical of the government.”  In spite of the law, all NGOs have refused to register as “foreign agents.”  It is estimated that in 2011, Russian NGOs received about $613 million (19 billion rubles) in foreign funding.

A wide variety of organizations have been raided by the Justice Ministry and others, including women’s rights groups, environmental advocates, and Roman Catholic parishes.  A number of rights groups known for their criticism of the government have also meet with various inspectors.  These groups include: Transparency International, Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International, the movement For Human Rights, the Public Verdict Foundation, the Agency for Social Information, Memorial, Agora, the Moscow Helsinki Group, and two German NGOs: the Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS) and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES), which caused backlash in Berlin.

Analyst Dmitry Oreshkin say the raids are an attempt by Putin’s (who described the ongoing inspections as “routine measures”) government to regain clout.

“It reflects the intense nervousness of authorities over the fact that their popularity is falling, that Putin’s popularity is falling, that United Russia’s popularity is falling,” says Mark Urnov, head of the Political Behavior Department at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics.  “Authorities are very scared of all organized protests and groups that gather information to this effect, on issues such as corruption, for instance. This is why these organizations are being targeted. This is the behavior of a regime that is becoming increasingly insecure.”

“The State Duma has been passing laws that contradict the spirit of the constitution, the spirit of the law,” said Lev Ponomaryov, emphasizing the tactics that the government has taken to boost its power. “The new law on high treason, in particular, has transformed the legal system. It is a Soviet-style law. What is now happening with nongovernmental organizations is a continuation of this. Hundreds of nongovernmental organizations are being subjected to unlawful actions by the Prosecutor-General’s Office.”

For further information, please see:

The Moscow Times – NGO Checks ‘Unprecedented’ in Post-Soviet Russia – 29 March 2013

RFE/RL – Russian Rights Council Members Criticize ‘Unprecedented’ NGO Searches – 28 March 2013

BBC News – Fears for NGOs in Russia as Tax Raids Multiply – 27 March 2013

RFE/RL – Raids On NGOs In Russia Suggest ‘Increasingly Insecure’ Kremlin – 26 March 2013

RFE/RL – Russian NGOs Subjected To Continuing Searches – 25 March 2013

RT – Amnesty International Probe Lawful, Pre-Scheduled – Ministry – 25 March 2013