SNHR: Humanitarian Rights and the Humanitarian Situation in Al-Qusayr City

Al-Qusayr city is located about 35 KM south of Homs, and previously had a population of nearly 30,000 people.

Since May 18, 2013 to this moment, Al-Qusayr has been exposed to the heaviest military attack by the Syrian Government’s Armed Forces, supported by the direct intervention of Hezbollah, the extremist militia.

Syrian Government Armed Forces are currently shelling the city with warplanes, while Hezbollah is shelling the city with surface to surface rockets.  In addition to shelling from artillery positions near a water refinery, which Hezbollah occupies,  it has cut the waterline to all of Al-Qusayr and Hama city in a deliberate attempt to prevent families from accessing water.

Bombardment rates were increased to nearly 50 shells per minute, and resulted in the death of 183 victims, and wounded more than 1,300 people.

In the middle of a shortage in medical equipment, and due to the Syrian government’s prevention of allowing aid to the city, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) could not visit al-Qusayr, and provide any kind of relief at all.

In addition to preventing relief to the city, the Syrian Government’s Armed Forces deliberately shelled the field hospital, completely destroying it.

Supplies and food materials are scarce, because there is no way to provide any grain flour to the city’s residents.

Residents cannot flee or escape due to the siege of the city.  Residents have tried repeatedly, but Hezbollah’s snipers had targeted and wounded a number of them.

Prepared by the Syrian Network for Human Rights

Guatemalan High Court Overturns Rios Montt’s Genocide Conviction

By Michael Yoakum
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America


GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala – The trial of former Guatemalan dictator General Efrain Rios Montt took a surprising turn on Monday when the Constitutional Court overturned Montt’s 80-year sentence for genocide. Citing illegal proceedings at the trial level, the Constitutional Court struck all proceedings in the trial subsequent to April 19.

Rios Montt’s time as dictator of Guatemala is believed to be the most violent period of the Guatemalan Civil War. (Photo Courtesy of BBC News)

Trial judges dismissed Rios Montt’s attorney, Francisco Garcia, multiple times throughout the trial for attempting to have the judges recused “for bias”. The Constitutional Court noted that the trial should have been suspended to hear appeals rather than delaying them until after a conviction. Following the Court’s decision, Rios Montt’s attorney told a Washington Post reporter that he would be seeking his client’s freedom on Tuesday.

Rios Montt was on trial for the deaths of 1,771 Ixil Mayans during his 18-month rule as dictator from 1982-83. He originally gained power after a military coup during the 36-year Guatemalan Civil War. Over 100 witnesses came forward to testify at trial about rapes, killing of women and children, and other human rights violations committed by government forces during the period when Rios Montt was in power. The Civil War is estimated to have resulted in more than 200,000 deaths and over a million refugees. However, Rios Montt’s time in power is believed to have been the most violent of the War.

Rios Montt’s conviction marked the first time in history that a head of state was tried and convicted of genocide in a domestic court. His trial was met with heavy opposition from the Foundation Against Terrorism and the Coordinating Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial and Financial Associations (CACIF). Both groups ran advertisements denouncing both the trial and it supporters. The Foundation also brought hundreds of supporters from the Ixil region, including former military and indigenous people, to protest the trial.

Mario Polancko, director of a Guatemalan human rights group, told CNN that the Constitutional Court’s decision had “served the interests of those in power, and when it is one of the representatives of those in power who is on trial, they will resort to any means.” Polancko added, “I think there has been an abuse in the interpretation of the law.”

The Constitutional Court’s ruling does not signal the end of Rios Montt’s legal battle, however. The Court’s Secretary, Martin Guzman, told the Washington Post that the trial must be rolled back to April 19 to address the numerous appeals. Both sides will now have to return to court to redo the final weeks of the trial.


For more information, please see:

BBC News – Guatemala annuls Rios Montt’s genocide conviction – 21 May 2013

CNN – Guatemala genocide conviction overturned – 21 May 2013

The Washington Post – Guatemala’s top court overturns genocide conviction of former leader Efrain Rios Montt – 21 May 2013

Al Jazeera – Guatemala: Rios Montt genocide trial ends with historic verdict – 15 May 2013

Raid on Bahrain Sheikh’s Home Fuels Tension

By Darrin Simmons
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

MANAMA, Bahrian – Angered by a security forces raid on the home of Ayatollah Sheikh Issa Qassim, hundreds of Bahraini Shi’ite Muslims participated in a sit-in protest against their Sunni-led government on May 24th.  Sheikh Qassim, the most senior Shia cleric in the Gulf state, was not present in his home at the time of the raid.  Security forces seized documents but made no arrests.

Protesters carrying images of Sheikh Isa Qassim walk in Diraz 24 May 2013
Protesters carrying images of Sheikh Isa Qassim following a raid on his home. (Photo curtesy of BBC)

Shias make up the majority population in Bahrain, but most of the money and power is controlled by the Sunnis and the Sunni Royal Family.  Tensions and discrimination from this religious sectarianism have long been escalating. Lack of accountability has been regarded as the biggest problem for increasing tensions by Bahrain’s allies.

In February 2011, thousands of pro-democracy protesters gathered in the Capital Manama but were later cleared out by the police force.  Those mostly affected by the police brutality were Shia Bahrainis where more than fifty people died, hundreds were jailed, and thousands lost their jobs.

Over the past two years, Bahrain has experienced numerous democracy protests in a battle for influence between Shia power Iran and Sunni Arab states including Saudi Arabia.  Many mass protests have been abolished, but smaller demonstrations continue where the Bahraini Shia majority wants the Sunni rules to raise elections and create a constitutional monarchy.

Al-Wefaq, Bahrain’s largest opposition political society, organized the May 24th sit-in protesting the raid on Sheikh Qassim’s home and announced that it would withdraw from reconcilliation talks with the Bahraini government.  Jasim Husain, a senior al-Wefaq member, stated that the raid “deeply offended” the Shia community.  The government’s promises to reform the human rights violations and police brutality against protestors have failed, claimed al-Wefaq.

The sit-in was held in Diraz near Sheikh Qassim’s mosque. Protestors waved Bahraini flags and held up images of Sheikh Qassim.  The protest was authorized by the government and the police did not attempt to stop protesters from entering the town.  However, one witness recounted that violence went on for more than an hour.  Protestors threw stones at riot police who then responded with tear gas and water cannons.

Three Sunni political societies issued a statement denouncing a meeting Sheikh Qassim had with Rashad Hussain, a senior U.S. state department official.  These societies have claimed that the Sheikh is responsible for the ongoing unrest in Bahrain and that this meeting was evidence that the position of the American government is “increasingly exposed in its support for terrorist operations in Bahrain.”

Bahraini Shias claim that the Sheikh’s meeting with Rashad Hussain was the driving force behind the raid on his home.  The police rejected notions of the raid on the Sheikh’s home being targeted and claimed that it occurred during a security operation in the same neighborhood.

For further information, please see:

Aljazeera – Bahraini protesters clash with police – 25 May 2013

Reuters – Bahraini protesters clash with police over raid on cleric’s home – 25 May 2013

BBC – Raid on Bahrain cleric’s home draws thousands to sit-in – 24 May 2013

BBC – Bahrain tensions a trigger for Gulf turmoil – 13 December 2013


French Soldier’s Stabbing Believed to be Act of Terrorism

by Tony Iozzo
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

PARIS, France – A French soldier was stabbed while on patrol in La Defense, a business district west of Paris, on Saturday. Private First Class Cedric Cordier, 23, was approached from behind and stabbed in the neck with a small-bladed knife.

23-year-old Cordier was stabbed while on duty on Saturday. (Photo courtesy of The Local)

The suspect, described as being a bearded, athletically-built man of North African origin, was captured on security cameras before fleeing into a crowded shopping area and evading detention by police and the other patrolling-soldier.

Reports indicate that the suspect was seen “praying” before the knife attack, increasing fears that the attack was an act of terrorism.

French Interior Minister Manuel Valls told reporters, “…there are components which could lead you to think we’re dealing with an act of terrorism.”

Last Wednesday, a British soldier was killed on a London street by two men allegedly acting out of revenge for violence against Muslims.

Valls told reporters that, “there are elements- the sudden violence of the attack- that could lead one to believe there might be a comparison with what happened in London…But at this point, honestly, let us be prudent.”

Similarly, French President Francois Hollande said there was no sign of a direct link with the London killing, but that authorities are “exploring all options.”

France is on high alert for attacks by Islamic militants following its military intervention in Mali in January, which prompted threats by the North African wing of al Qaeda. Jihadist rebels threatened to “strike the heart of France.” France’s Vigipirate anti-terrorist alert system was raised to “reinforced red” as a result.

The higher state of alert is one of the reasons why some 450 soldiers are on patrol at metro and train stations and other vulnerable locations in Paris. The Vigipirate scheme sees troops deployed at high-profile tourist, business and transport sites.

Cordier, who was in uniform patrolling the underground corridors where shops and crowded public transport lines converge under the Arch of La Defense, was released from a military hospital on Monday morning. The stab wound was reportedly just two centimetres away from his carotid artery. The 23-year-old soldier had lost a considerable amount of blood, but remained stable.

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian vowed to continue France’s “implacable” fight against terrorism. Anti-terrorism investigators are handling the case.

Currently, a police hunt is under way for the suspect. He is described as being 1.90 metres tall, and though initially thought to be wearing a djellaba (a traditional North African robe), later reports indicated he was wearing a black pullover.

For more information, please see: 

The Local – Suspect ‘prayed’ before knifing French soldier – 27 May 2013

Al Jazeera – French anti-terrorism police probe stabbing – 26 May 2013

BBC News – Knife attack on soldier in Paris treated as terrorism – 26 May 2013

France 24 – French soldier stabbed on patrol outside Paris – 25 May 2013