Ghana Bans Traditional Killing of Disabled Children

By Ryan Aliman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

ACCRA, Ghana – Seven communities in the Upper Eastern region of Ghana have officially decided to end the traditional practice of killing “spirit children” on Saturday.

David, formerly a ‘spirit’ child, is among those who were accused of being possessed by evil spirits. (Photo courtesy of The Guardian)

“Spirit children” are usually those who were born with physical disabilities, believed to have been possessed by evil spirits, or thought to cause the family bad luck. Babies labeled as such were then brought to “concoction men” who would give the young ones poisonous herbs to kill them and prevent them from bringing misfortune to their families.

Beginning Saturday, these “concoction men” will have new roles. Because of the ban on the killing of “spirit children”, the “concoction men” of the towns of Kandiga, Manyoro, Mirigu, Nabango, Natugnia, Sirigu and Yua, will now be working with disabled children to promote their rights. Now addressed as “life promoters”, they are tasked to visit various schools and communities to make residents aware of the lives and rights of children with disabilities. However, before they can assume this new role, they have to register themselves under the National Health Insurance – who will also reward them: four goats, a bicycle each and food for turning over a new leaf.

The proclamation to prohibit the practice once and for all is reportedly the result of 12 years of intensive education against infanticide by child rights group Afrikids Ghana. Nicholas Kumah, the organization’s director, attributed the success of Afrikids’ advocacy with the communities’ realization that there is a need to change the local mindset. After more than a decade of rescuing and resettling families of over 67 children affected by the spirit-child phenomenon, involved community leaders finally saw the importance of protecting children especially those with deformities.

“One major achievement is how one child, Paul Apowida, who was accused of being a spirit child and was given infanticide, fought for his life and survived. Today, Apowida is a rifleman in the British Army,” Kumah said. “What this means is that if anyone is caught in the act of accusing a child of being a spirit child and administering infanticide to that child, he will be made to face the full rigours of the law,” he further explained.

Speaking on behalf of the chiefs and people of the seven communities, the Paramount Chief of Kandiga, Naba Henry Amenga-Etego, said that the “spirit children” were “victims” of a “demonizing practice”. “We have lived with this practice for many years but it is a joy that we did not remain in this belief but did all we could to bring an end to it. No child should suffer any form of abuse as a result of whatever circumstances he or she is born with. . . . We will allow the law to deal with anybody who still goes ahead to engage in the practice,” Amenga-Etego added.

 

For further information, please see:

BBC News – Ghanaians ban ‘spirit child’ killing – 29 April 2013

Ghana Business News – Seven communities abolish practice of killing infants with deformities – 29 April 2013

Global Post – ‘Spirit children’ killings banned in 7 Ghana communities – 29 April 2013

GhanaWeb – Killing of ‘spirit children’ abolished in Upper East Region – 28 April 2013

 

Lebanon Registers its First Civil Marriage

By Ali Al-Bassam
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BEIRUT, Lebanon — On April 25, history was made in Lebanon, when the Lebanese Ministry Interior registered the marriage contract of Kholud Succariyeh, a Sunni Muslim, and Nidal Darwishon, a Shia Muslim.  The registration of their contract was regarded as the first civil marriage contract “made in Lebanon.”

The registration of Sukkarieh and Darwish’s wedding is seen as an accomplishment by human rights groups. (Photo Courtesy of Al-Monitor)

Prior to then, Lebanon, a country with more than eighteen different religious sects, had no institutional civil marriage.  The contract was finally registered after a year-long campaign took place in the country to grant such unions.  Institutional civil marriages were banned in Lebanon since 1936, when a French mandate granted religious communities to govern personal matters, also governing marriage.

Just over four months ago,  Succariyeh and Darwishon initiated their campaign to promote institutionalized civil unions to the Lebanese government.  Religious clerics attempted to prevent their marriage, who, on January 28, 2013, issued a fatwa saying: “Every Muslim official, whether a deputy or a minister, who supports the legalization of civil marriage, even if it is optional, is an apostate and outside the Islamic religion.  [Such officials] would not be washed, not be wrapped in a [burial] shroud, would not have prayers for their soul in line with Islamic rules, and would not be buried in a Muslim cemetery.”

After Succariyeh and Darwishon’s union was registered, religious activists quickly denounced the move.  Sheikh Sharif Tutayo of the Islamic Labor Front , considered the Interior Ministry’s approval a “blatant defiance of Islamic and Christian religious references.”

Regardless of the outspoken criticism by clerics and politicians, the couple garnered support for their cause by many public figures, including President Michel Sleiman.  Sleiman even took to Twitter to support the two on their marriage.

Lebanese law never prevented Succariyeh and Darwishon from the registration of their marriage, but since religious communities are in charge of governing the marriage, a legal problem may arise in terms what party or sect will govern the couple’s affairs with regards to inheritance, adoption, and divorce.  Lebanese spouses that come from different sects typically chose to marry outside of Lebanon, and later register their marriage with Lebanese authorities.  Therefore, when conflicts arose, Lebanese courts would settle disputes by applying the personal status law of the country they were married in.

Darwish said of the registration, that it was “the first victory for the civil state in Lebanon, the state we all dream of.”  Sukkarieh added that, “this is Lebanon’s first historic step towards institutionalizing civil marriage.”  Sukkarieh and Darwish’s marriage registration might seem like a small step for a secular Lebanon, but advocates believe it had a major impact.

For further information, please see:

Al Jazeera — Lebanon Civil Marriage Raises Hope for Change — 2 May 2013

The Voice of Russia — Lebanon’s First Civil Marriage Registered — 30 April 2013

The Daily Star — Qortbawi Lauds Charbel for Civil Marriage Move — 27 April 2013

Al Arabiya — Lebanon’s First Civil Marriage Registered, Agency says  — 25 April 2013

Al-Monitor — Lebanon’s First Civil Marriage A Sign of Change — 25 April 2013

Susan Eisenhower’s Speech at the U.S. Holocaust Museum

The Holocaust Museum at 20: My Tribute to Europe’s Liberators and Survivors

Would you or I have shown the same courage, humanity and enduring spirit? That was the question I asked on Sunday, April 28 at the Holocaust Museum’s 20th Anniversary dinner. I was honored to receive the Elie Wiesel Award on behalf of the World War II veterans who defeated Nazi power and liberated the concentration camps. Many of them were in the audience, as well as hundreds of concentration camp survivors.

This magnificent award gave me the opportunity to reflect on our veterans’ bravery, but also on the many Jews who saved the lives of other Jews during the Holocaust.

***

Chairman Bernstein, Vice Chairman Bolton, Elie Wiesel, distinguished veterans and survivors – I am honored to accept this award on behalf of the World War II veterans. It is especially meaningful that it bears the name of Elie Wiesel.

I am also pleased to be here this evening to help celebrate the Holocaust Museum’s 20th anniversary. A remarkable set of accomplishments have been achieved in the last two decades. And what an appropriate place to think about what happened nearly seventy years ago and to reflect on what it means today.

After the terrorist attacks in Boston much has been written on why, in the face of the explosion, some people rushed in to help while others ran away. It has been rightly pointed out that no one can really know what he or she would do until faced with a crisis. Would one rise to the occasion or back away?

In April of 1945, it was a crucial period at Allied headquarters as General Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of Allied Forces Europe, was engrossed in decisions about Berlin and other crucial matters. On the morning of the 12, Eisenhower visited the salt mines in Germany where the Nazis had hidden stolen art work. Later that evening he received the news that Franklin Roosevelt had died. As Eisenhower wrote in Crusade in Europe:

“The same day, I saw my first horror camp [Ohrdruf]. It was near the town of Gotha. I have never felt able to describe my emotional reactions when I first came face to face with indisputable evidence of Nazi brutality… Up to that time I had known about it only generally or through secondary sources. I am certain, however that I have never at any other time experienced an equal sense of shock. I visited every nook and cranny of the camp because I felt it my duty to be in a position from then on to testify first-hand about these things in case there ever grew up at home the belief or assumption that the stories of Nazi brutality were just propaganda. Some members of the visiting party were unable to go through with the ordeal. I not only did so but as soon as I returned to Patton’s headquarters that evening I sent communications to both Washington and London, urging the two governments to send instantly to Germany a random group of newspaper editors and representative groups from the national legislatures. I felt that the evidence should be immediately placed before the American and British publics in a fashion that would leave no room for cynical doubt.”

Dwight Eisenhower showed extraordinary presence of mind. Instinctively he could imagine, even in the pressure of the moment, that someday — at some distant time— there would be people who might try to deny such heinous crimes. What would you or I have done at such a moment? Most people at the time thought his insistence on documenting the camps was unnecessary. Yet Eisenhower’s immediate response has had a lasting, historic impact. Imagine today trying to counter the Holocaust deniers, including Iranian President Ahmadinejad, without having the historic evidence Eisenhower demanded.

My father, John S.D. Eisenhower, was serving in the European Theater at that time. He saw his father the day after his visit to Ohrdruf. Based on Ike’s account, a few days later John visited Buchenwald to bear witness as well.

A month later, on June 18, General Eisenhower held a press conference at the Pentagon. The press corps asked him about his determination to shine a light on the atrocities.

“When I found the first camps like that I think I never was so angry in my life,” Eisenhower replied. “The bestiality displayed there… and the horrors I really would not even want to describe… I think people should know about such things…I think the people at home ought to know what they are fighting for…”

From North Africa and Italy, to the beaches of Normandy through France and into Germany, those armed forces fought hard, demonstrating legandary courage and tenacity. At the same press conference, Eisenhower spoke in emotional terms about the sacrifice of the American fighting men. He told of the more than 10,000 of them who had volunteered to fill out important divisions before the decisive Battle of the Bulge. 2,600 of them were American blacks.

“These are America’s fighting men!!” They did their duty, the general said, with “cheerfulness under conditions of unbelievable hardship.”

What would you and I have done in their places? And would we have responded, when the call for volunteers had gone out? We honor our veterans, and salute those who are here with us tonight.

There are many other people from all walks of life who exhibited uncommon bravery during the war. But there is a specific group that has not been given the attention it so richly deserves. They are the Jews in the ghettos and in the camps who risked their lives to save other Jews. I was moved by a recent story in the Washington Post by Menachem Z. Rosensaft. He told his mother’s story – of the tragic loss of her parents, her husband and small son in the Holocaust. Despite this, Hadassah Rosensaft never gave up. While at Bergen-Belsen she and her other campmates found countless ways to save lives—by stealing food, smuggling medicine, and nurturing the orphaned children. She and others like her gave those terrified children not just songs and comfort – but more importantly – hope.

Hadassah Rosensaft and a handful of campmates helped to keep as many as 149 children alive throughout the winter and spring of 1945.

Later, she reflected on the inmates of Bergen-Belsen:

“For the greater part of the liberated Jews of Bergen-Belsen there was no ecstasy, no joy at our liberation. We had lost our families, our homes. We had no place to go, nobody to hug, and nobody who was waiting for us, anywhere. We had been liberated from death and from the fear of death, but we were not free from the fear of life.”

What would you and I have done? With courage and conviction, survivors of the Holocaust rebuilt their lives, and those same people worked hard to help make the United States the free world’s global superpower.

I cannot say it strongly enough: this Museum is more than a place for the remembrance of the victims of the Holocaust and those who liberated them. It is a monument to the indomitable human spirit.

U.S. Demands the Release of a U.S. Citizen Currently Detained in North Korea

By Irving Feng
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PYONGYANG, North Korea – The U.S. demanded North Korea to release a captive American citizen who was recently sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for the alleged crime of attempting to overthrow the central North Korean government.

Pictured above, a photo of the detained, Kenneth Bae. (Photo Courtesy of Reuters)

Kenneth Bae (44), also known as Pae Jun-Ho, was born in South Korea, studied psychology for two years at the University of Oregon, and is a naturalized citizen of the United States.  Mr. Bae has been detained by the North Korean government since he entered the north as a tourist last year.

He was arrested in November of last year after entering North Korean through the north eastern port city of Rason which is part of a special economic zone near the North Korean-Chinese border.  There is speculation that Mr. Bae was acting as a tour operator when he was taken into custody by authorities.

South Korean activists speculate that Mr. Bae was detained by North Korean authorities because he had been taking photographs of starving children.  Patrick Ventrell, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department expressed concerns regarding the due process aspects of North Korea’s legal system.

One of the gravest concerns is whether or not North Korea’s legal system is actually providing defendants with a fair trial due to the lack of transparency that surrounds their courts.  Reports state that Mr. Bae had received legal counsel from Sweden since Sweden represented the U.S. in their absence in this ordeal due to a lack of diplomatic ties with North Korea.

Now that Mr. Bae has run the full gauntlet of the DPRK’s legal system, the U.S.is asking that Mr. Bae be granted amnesty for the alleged anti-government crimes that he has committed against the communist state.  The U.S. demands that Mr. Bae be released immediately.

Mr. Bae’s April 30th sentence could not have come at a worse time since the U.S. and North Korea have been deadlocked in a diplomatic quagmire regarding Pyongyang’s third nuclear test.  The U.S. doled out harsher sanctions on Pyongyang after its latest nuclear test in February which followed a December long range rocket test.

Pyongyang responded to the U.S. sanctions by threatening to launch a full scale military attack on U.S. military bases and also cut shaky ties with their democratic, southern brother.  Pundits suggest that North Korea is holding Mr. Bae hostage as leverage in future negotiations.

Though Mr. Bae has been sentenced to 15 years in a hard labor camp, he will most likely be housed in a separate, less harsh facility, designed specifically for foreign detainees.

For further information, please see:

BBC – US urges N Korea to grant amnesty to Kenneth Bae – 2 May 2013

Reuters – U.S. seeks North Korean amnesty for American jailed for 15 years – 2 May 2013

The Telegraph – US demands ‘immediate release’ of American imprisoned in North Korea 2- May 2013

Al Jazeera – North Korea to put US citizen on trial – 27 April 2013

Syrian Network for Human Rights: Death Toll in April 2013

The highest rate of torture murder and children killed this month: 123 citizens were tortured to death, 3313 citizens were killed (an average of 138 people a day, 6 people an hour), 377 children killed (an average of 13 children a day), and 176 tortured to death (an average of 6 people a day).
The Syrian government’s Armed Forces through the daily shelling, raids, massacres and torturing of detainees to death, in addition to causalities of armed rebels through clashes killed 3313 citizens, included 176 people who were tortured to death. Among the 3313 citizens: 2330 civilians, 983 Armed rebels. And Among the 2330 civilians SNHR documented:
1-     337 child victims with an average of 13 children a day, and the proportion of children killed is 16%, a very high rate and strict evidence that the Syrian Government’s Armed Forces target civilians;
2-      226 female victims, where the proportion of the women victims is 9%, another high rate and strict evidence that the Syrian Government’s Armed Forces targeting the civilians;
3-     176 tortured to death, an average of 6 people a day tortured to death in official or unofficial detention centers.
SNHR would like to indicate that this what we could document by our deployed members in all of the Syrian provinces classified by names date and place, photo or video .
We couldn’t document many cases of massacres and killing for many reasons, including procedures repeatedly and systematically made by Syrian Government’s Armed Forces, who disconnect our communications and blockade areas for many days.  This makes the aforementioned statistics higher than stated, not to mention, the Syrian government has prevented human rights organizations from performing their duties on its territory.
The total numbers of victims dispersed all across  provinces of Syria as follows:
Damascus and countryside: 1141
Aleppo: 633
Homs: 427
Daraa: 316
Idlib: 269
Hama: 225
Deir Alzour: 159
Hasaka: 56
Raqqa: 41
Qunaitra: 31
Lattakia: 10
Tartous: 3
Swidaa: 2
Legal conclusions
1-     SNHR is certain that Syrian Government’s Armed Groups and Shabiha violated Previsions of Human Rights International Law which protects the right of life, in addition to dozens of cases considered to be war crimes (murder cases).
Undoubted Evidence of hundreds of eyewitness stories, that more than 90% of expanded and individual attacks directed against civilians, all contrary to the Syrian Government’s claims that they are fighting Al-Qaeda and other terrorists cells.
2-     SNHR also indicates the documented events to be crimes against humanity, where the condition of widespread and systematic direct attacks against civilian population groups in most cases of murder were achieved.
Condemnation and Responsibilities:
Responsibility of states for internationally wrongful acts, similarly Customary IHL, states that the state is responsible for all acts committed by a members of its military and security forces. Thus, states are responsible of wrongful acts committed by its military and security forces, including crimes against humanity.
SNHR holds the Syrian President and Commander in Chief of the Syrian army, Bashar al-Assad, responsible for all acts of homicide, torture, and massacres perpetrated in Syria, as he holds the primary responsibility for giving the orders for these acts. SNHR considers all Syrian regime members and heads of the security and military bodies directly complied in those acts. By the same token, SNHR considers the Iranian government and Hezbullah as direct partners in the acts of homicide, and are legally and judicially liable,  along with anyone who funds and supports the Syrian regime which systematically commit massacres on a daily basis. SNHR holds all aforementioned parties responsible for all consequences and potential reactions from the Syrian people in general, and the families of the victims in particular.
Recommendations:
Human rights council
 
1-    Request the security council and relevant organizations to take upon their responsibility towards what’s happening to the Syrian children, who are consistently victimized by the Syrian government’s acts of  nonstop killing even;
2-    Exert pressure on the Syrian government to stop random and deliberate shelling on civilians;
3-    Hold the allies and supporters of the Syrian government: Russia, Iran, China, for their moral and physical responsibility for the killings in Syria;
4-    Heed serious attention to the disastrous situation and give it high priority, and try to take care of victims’ children and families.
Security Council :
1-    Refer all the criminals and others involved to the ICC;
2-    Warn the Syrian Government of the repercussions of using brutal methods and systematic killing and send clear messages to show that they will not be tolerated.
Arab League  :
1-    Demand the Human Rights Council and United Nations to give this serious issue the right attention and to follow up;
2-    Apply political and diplomatic pressure on the Syrian Government Government’s Armed Forces and it’s central allies – Russia, Iran, and China – to prevent them from continuously providing cover and international and political protection for all the crimes committed against the Syrian people, and hold them morally and physically responsible for all the excess violence brought about by the Syrian Government’s Armed Forces.

A Guantanamo Detainee’s Perspective

From the Americas Section of the International Committee of the Red Cross:

Sami El-haj was working as a cameraman with Al Jazeera when he was captured and consequently detained at Guantanamo. He spent six years at the facility and is now the Manager the of Public Liberties and Human Rights Department at Al-Jazeera Network. 

This article by Mr. El-haj was originally published by theInternational Review of the Red Cross earlier this Spring.

My story of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is not exceptional. It more or less reflects the situation of all those who have languished or are languishing in the depths of Guantanamo or any dark prisons of injustice. However, it is my hope that, by telling this story and by clarifying certain notions and presenting some proposals, I may help to improve the ICRC’s humanitarian services and its relations with detainees.

Photo Courtesy of ICRC.

The history of this time-honoured organization and its role in alleviating the suffering of victims of war, torture, and imprisonment are too well known to require an introduction. As for me, I regard the ICRC as having been born on the day that I came to know it and it came to know me, when I came to accept it – after rejecting it for a long time, because I was unaware of what it did and how, when it presented to me its system of values, which I had previously failed to understand.

Thus, my story began in January 2002, with a blank sheet of paper handed to me by the American investigator at Bagram who requested that I write a letter to my family and specify their address. I distrusted this request because I thought it was part of the investigation. My fellow prisoners and I felt the same distrust for the second time that year during our encounter with the ICRC in Kandahar prison when its delegates asked us to give them an account of how we had been detained and transferred there. The first instance of positive appreciation came shortly before the Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice) when the ICRC presented us with copies of the Holy Qur’an that it had brought to Kandahar prison. It also brought us dishes of mutton from ritually sacrificed sheep, which had a highly positive effect on us. Someone had remembered us during the Eid and compensated us to a certain extent for our privation on that great occasion.

I received the first letter from my family, through the Qatar Red Crescent, in September 2002. It enclosed a photograph of my baby son Muhammad, whom I had left while he was taking his first faltering steps. The feeling was indescribable: a strange mixture of solace and sadness; tears were my first reaction. All my fellow prisoners in the neighbouring cells also broke into tears because they thought that something bad had happened to my family. This continued for more than an hour during which time I was unable to explain the situation or even to read the letter. The mere fact that I had received it, together with that photograph, had a tremendous impact, and not only on me!

Subsequently, there was a regular exchange of letters with my family through the ICRC, and my trust in it, and in its role, increased with the arrival of the first Arab delegate, from the Arab Maghreb, in whom we had even greater confidence when we found that he knew the Qur’an by heart. My reason for mentioning this is to draw attention to the prevalent notion among the detainees that an organization displaying a cross as its emblem must be a crusader organization. The fact that the ICRC delegate was a Muslim who had memorized the Qur’an rectified the misconceptions that we were harbouring concerning the organization with which we had not previously had any dealings in our countries.

He was followed by a succession of Arab delegates, which had a very positive effect on our attitude towards the ICRC insofar as their presence made us feel comfortable and confident since they were fellow Arabs with whom we could communicate more easily. At the very least, we could understand their facial expressions in which we perceived genuine feelings and a sympathy that seemed more authentic to us because of cultural similarities.

Later, the ICRC brought specialists and doctors. The availability of medical care gave us a feeling of relief and this feeling became stronger with the arrival of jurists who answered our questions. The provision of a library was even more welcome since the ICRC supplied more than 10,000 books, ranging from the principal Islamic reference works to the best detective stories. We were able to take advantage of this store of knowledge in order to organize a programme between the sunset and evening prayers. During these evening sessions one of us would read a book and summarize it for the others. We read to those who did not know how to read, and some of them began to master the Arabic language. Even more importantly, reading and exercising our imagination was very helpful in enabling us to preserve our sanity. In this connection, it is noteworthy that a consultant from the prison’s administration – this time of Arabic origin – deprived us of these books by warning the prison administration that it was ‘training theologians’. After that we started receiving Tintin and Milou stories and books bearing offensive titles such as A Donkey from the East!

The ICRC improved its interaction with the detainees by developing the means of communication between them and their families to include the Internet and a telephone line.

In the light of my above-mentioned experiences, I can point out some negative aspects that could have been avoided in the ICRC’s contacts with the detainees:

1. The dispatch of non-Arab delegates created a psychological barrier because of cultural and linguistic differences, resulting in a lack of trust in the ICRC on the part of the detainees.

2. Regarding the ICRC’s emblem, it would obviously be unreasonable to ask the organization to change its emblem in order to build bridges of confidence with the recipients of its humanitarian services. However, it would be extremely helpful if the ICRC could pay attention to this point and endeavour to clarify the issue of the emblem by giving a historical explanation in order to dispel people’s misconceptions, and especially those of people from Islamic backgrounds who might be unaware of the true facts.

In accordance with its confidential approach, the ICRC does not make public its observations from inside Guantanamo. At first sight, the services that the ICRC has succeeded in providing for the detainees seem to merit this heavy price. However, as a former detainee, I would venture to suggest that the ICRC’s silence should be limited and not absolute since there are aspects that could and should be criticized frankly and openly in the media. Clear examples of this are the refusal to allow the detainees at Guantanamo to benefit from the privileges provided for in the Geneva Conventions, including the right to study and receive appropriate medical care. It is paradoxical that we sometimes felt that we were the ones who were protecting the ICRC delegates and not vice versa. Their silence rendered them weak in the eyes of our jailers, while we wanted them to be accorded respect as persons of note.

The ICRC should therefore establish a mechanism for fruitful cooperation with the international media in order to expose all violations of the Geneva Conventions that degrade human dignity. Although we certainly applaud the Red Cross’s success in gaining access to Guantanamo, at a time when leading personalities are loudly advocating for democracy and human rights, it is no longer acceptable to remain silent about Guantanamo’s very existence, let alone what is happening inside its walls.

Syrian Revolution Digest: Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Beware the Fallouts!

Isolationism might be the popular choice for Americans today, but what’s popular and what’s right are not exactly the same, which is why American culture has often embraced the maverick. It’s time to do so again today. Intervention in Syria may not be popular, but it’s the right thing to do. It’s even the American thing to do, even if most Americans may fail to see it at this stage. We cannot blame the weary, but we can surely blame their leaders for hiding behind their peoples’ weariness and for failing to explain to them the consequences of inaction. 

Death Toll: 173 martyrs, including 6 women, 9 children and 14 martyrs under torture: 53 reported in Hama; 49 in Damascus and Suburbs including 13 in the Marjeh can bombing; 19 in Aleppo; 17 in Idlib; 13 in Homs; 11 in Daraa; 8 in Deir Ezzor; 2 in Raqqa; and 1 in Lattakia  (LCC).

 

News

Obama moving toward sending lethal arms to Syrian rebels, officials say Yet even as Obama voiced caution in responding to what he has called the “red line” on chemical weapons use, officials described him as ready to move on what one described as the “left-hand side” of a broad spectrum that ranged from “arming the opposition to boots on the ground.” “We’re clearly on an upward trajectory,” the senior official said. “We’ve moved over to assistance that has a direct military purpose.” Officials did not specify what U.S. equipment is under consideration, although the rebels have specifically requested antitank weapons and surface-to-air missiles.

Leader of Hezbollah Warns It Is Ready to Come to Syria’s Aid The leader, Hassan Nasrallah, declared in a televised speech that Hezbollah could become more deeply involved in the future, and warned that Syria had “real friends” who would not allow it “to fall into the hands” of America, Israel and Islamic extremists, the forces that the Syrian government routinely blames for the two-year uprising against it. He appeared to be referring to Iran, a patron of both Hezbollah and the Syrian government, as well as Hezbollah itself, whose well-organized guerrilla fighting force, honed by past battles with the Israeli military in southern Lebanon, is widely considered more effective than Lebanon’s army. Hezbollah relies on Iran and Syria to supply its arms. “You won’t be able to bring down Damascus and you cannot bring down the regime, militarily,” Mr. Nasrallah said. “The battle will be long.”

Obama balks on Syria chemical arms threat With the U.S. disengaging from the unpopular war in Afghanistan and still smarting from the difficult conflict in Iraq, Obama has been reticent to unleash American military power in the Syrian fighting, a civil war that has killed tens of thousands of people. The president said the conflict is a “blemish on the international community generally.” But he added that he was not prepared to rush to respond to growing evidence that chemical weapons had been used in Syria, something he had termed would mark the crossing of a “red line” and a game-changer. “I meant that we would have to rethink the range of options open to us,” Obama said. But when measuring additional action, Obama said, “I’ve got to know I’ve got the facts.” “We don’t know who used them. We don’t have a chain of custody that establishes” exactly what happened. Obama further declared that the international community had to be completely confident in the assessment that chemical weapons have been used. Syria urged the United Nations to send scientists to investigate its claim of a chemical attack by rebels in Aleppo, but said it does not trust U.S. accusations that such arms were used elsewhere in the country.

Bombings Hit Syria as Obama Urges Caution on U.S. Role The blasts in Syria, which killed at least 13 people in Damascus and at least five at the Bab al-Hawa crossing in northern Syria, came a day after an attempted assassination of Syria’s prime minister in central Damascus from a bomb aimed at his motorcade. The prime minister, Wael Nader al-Halqi, survived the attack but at least five others including a bodyguard were killed, Syria’s state news media reported. In a news conference in Washington, Mr. Obama said that despite an American intelligence assessment last week that there was evidence that chemical weapons had been used in Syria, the evidence had not yet surpassed his “red line” for a change of American strategy regarding the conflict, in which President Bashar al-Assad is fighting an increasingly violent insurgency.

Rebel advocate: Obama’s call for Syria probe ‘a bluff’ “Obama will never get the concrete evidence he wants unless there’s a full U.N. investigation, to which Assad will not agree,” said Abdulwahab Omar, a Syrian anti-Assad activist based in London. “That means Obama will never be obliged to do anything,” he said. “You can call it a bluff. He tried to show that the United States would be prepared to intervene when things get serious, when in reality, the U.S. is not prepared to intervene unless its own interests are directly affected.”

Syria War Draws Caution From U.S. Joint Chiefs The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, said Tuesday he is “cautious” about U.S. military intervention in Syria because of doubts that it would halt the violence or achieve political reconciliation. He cast doubt on the effectiveness of establishing a no-fly zone, saying that only about 10 percent of the casualties suffered by anti-regime forces are caused by air strikes. He said 90 percent are caused by small arms and artillery, which would be unaffected by a no-fly zone. Dempsey, an Army officer who is the nation’s most senior military commander and chief military adviser to the president, also said the Joint Chiefs have “not yet” been asked to look at options for putting American ground forces inside Syria.

Russia bans passenger flights over Syria The federal agency Rosaviation said the ban on flights over Syria went into force on Monday and will remain until further notice. “The federal air transport agency believes that in this situation commercial interests cannot prevail over the safety of people who use the services of Russian airlines,” it said in a statement. The ban comes after the crew of a charter plane flying from the Egyptian resort of Sharm-el-Sheikh to the Russian city of Kazan on Monday said it had come under threat when it flew over Syria.

Activists: 15 Syrian rebels die in battle for base The Britain-based Observatory for Human Rights said the rebels tried to storm the Mannagh base in the northern province of Aleppo late Monday but the regime deployed fighter jets to the area. The jets pounded rebel positions around the helicopter base, which is located near Syria’s border with Turkey, said Rami Abdul-Rahman, the Observatory’s director. On Tuesday, 15 rebels were killed in a hit on the base, said Abdul-Rahman, whose group relies on a network of activists on the ground.

 

Investigative Reports

Running the gauntlet: delivering food in Syria Matthew Hollingworth said in an interview last week that WFP is trying to feed 2.5 million people every month inside Syria – a tenth of the population – and a million outside, in a conflict that has left 70,000 dead. He says his organization will need to almost double the number of people it reaches by the end of the year. “It’s no secret that the conflict is intensifying, or has been intensifying over the last month,” said the WFP’s deputy regional emergency coordinator. “The two parties of the conflict are digging in.” “We are trying to keep up with the enormity of the crisis and the impact of the brutality,” he said.

At least 500 Europeans fighting with Syria rebels, study finds, stoking radicalization fears The EU’s Gilles de Kerchove told the BBC there were at least 500 Europeans taking part in Syria’s civil war, and it was “likely many of them will be radicalized” fighting alongside some of the known Muslim extremist militias in the country, and that the returning EU nationals would pose, “a serious threat” to security in European nations. Peter Neumann, Director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization (ICSR) at London’s King’s College, was led the report. He believes the number of fighters from countries including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Sweden and Belgium to be “at least in the mid-hundreds to high-hundreds.”

Already unable to cope with refugees, Syria’s neighbors brace for more The United Nations says about 1.5 million Syrians have fled to the countries that border Syria, and just as on the Lebanese border, more are waiting to enter Jordan and Turkey as well. Aid agencies already have said they cannot cope with the problem in its current state, let alone the arrival of more Syrians, a trend that appears inevitable as Syrian government troops push to regain territory lost to rebels along the Lebanese and Jordanian borders. Many of those fleeing now have been displaced inside Syria multiple times, and officials in Aarsal, which lies on a longtime smuggling route between the countries, say they’re expecting the biggest influx yet.

Syrians deserting the FSA: Faust wants his soul back In the midst of this harsh war, Syrians have found themselves at a crossroads: obliged to choose between either their personal interest and life or the country’s freedom. A question occurs to me here – Is it possible for fighters who quit the FSA to go back to their old lives? It seems highly improbable, given that Syria has been ripped into so many different pieces with different authorities holding sway over particular areas – here the regime, there such and such battalion. The country is now a hotchpotch of hot and cool areas. Families have been displaced across the country in their millions. Most fighters are wanted by intelligence forces and they can’t go back to their original villages and towns, nor can they meet their families who were forced to flee. This is how our lives – and not just that of FSA fighters – have been trapped, in the eye of a tornado that is hurtling at breakneck speed. Where and how we get off is anyone’s guess. One thing is for sure – it won’t be an emerald city.

Did someone fire missiles at a Russian jetliner flying over Syria? R ussia’s foreign ministry said in a statement that it will “take the necessary emergency measures to clear up the details of the story and work in cooperation with the Syrian authorities.” But some aviation experts say they are skeptical that anything of the kind could have happened, and suspect the event may have been “staged,” perhaps for political reasons. “This is a fairy tale. Nothing like that could have happened, it’s just been staged,” says Magomed Tolboyev, one of Russia’s most famous test pilots. “It’s too silly to discuss.” But others say it could have happened and, if so, it’s a very serious warning for civilian aircraft to avoid flying over Syria. “A passenger plane has no means of preventing a missile attack, but it does have a system that warns of approaching objects and automatically makes the plane go up or down in response,” says Valery Entanaltsev, executive director of the Fund for Developing Aviation Infrastructure, an industry-supported public organization. “It’s not clear who was behind this shooting, but it needs to be thoroughly investigated. Maybe it was a provocation. It’s a very worrisome development,” he says.

 

Analyses & Op-Eds

Max Boot: Red Line or Punch Line? Instead of doing something about Assad’s war crimes, Obama prefers to ask for a full United Nations investigation, which could take years–if ever–to reach a definitive finding. This is rapidly turning the U.S. into a global joke: the superpower that issues ultimatums it has no intention of enforcing. But the consequences of inaction are no joke because they are, as former U.S. army officer Joseph Holliday argues, a virtual invitation for Assad, now that he has seen the world will do nothing, to expand his use of chemical weapons.

David Ignatius: Frustrated by Obama’s caution on Syria Obama said in the televised news conference that he wanted solid evidence of chemical weapons that could prompt international action against Bashar al-Assad. “If we end up rushing to judgment without hard, effective evidence, then we can find ourselves in a position where we can’t mobilize the international community to support what we do,” Obama said. But Idriss countered that his forces have enough information now to answer Obama’s questions of how, where and when the weapons were deployed on four separate occasions. He welcomed U.S. plans to train his forces but said this strategy will be useless if Assad continues the chemical attacks. Idriss claimed the regime could deliver the chemical weapons with planes and Scud missiles, which he said must be destroyed.

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.

 

An Appeal

 

A Kickstarter project worthy of support: Black comedy movie from Syria 2013. While the director was shot dead we want to continue with your help!

 

Quickly Noted

1.  Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey argues “that only about 10 percent of the casualties suffered by anti-regime forces are caused by air strikes” and that “90 percent are caused by small arms and artillery, which would be unaffected by a no-fly zone.” The problem with this logic is its failure to note the 10% of the casualties caused by air strikes are happening in those liberated parts of Aleppo, Raqqah, Deir Ezzor and Idlib where local elections can take place and local legitimate governing bodies can truly emerge should there be a no-fly zone.

No one in the opposition has advanced the argument that a no-fly zone will stop the killing everywhere in Syria. Our argument has and continues to be focused on the need for allowing legitimate local governments to emerge and actually govern in liberated areas, because it will be mostly up to these governments to legitimize a political process meant to put an end to this crisis. A no-fly zone will go a long way in allowing this to happen.

2.  Micah Zenco argues that “Advocates of military intervention need to define their strategic objectives in Syria and outline how the use of force can accomplish it. So far, no one has done so.” Let’s assume he is correct, that o one has done so, but let’s ask this as well: have people like him who advocate nonintervention outlined the risks that this policy entails for the future of the region and the global order, including potential impact on the national security? Have they tried to inform the American people of these risks? Let Sunni and Shia extremists carve out havens for themselves throughout the Middle East. Then let’s see if American and Western officials try to keep their countries safe from the fallouts.

 

Video Highlights

Battles on the outskirts of Hama City continueshttp://youtu.be/c_w9H6TmVBM Locals dig through the rubble in search of the dead and wounded http://youtu.be/c_w9H6TmVBM

Homes catch fire in Moadamiyeh Suburb in Damascus on account of the continuous pounding http://youtu.be/UlA4-1eZSbQ

Shelling of neighborhoods inside Damascus City often takes place from artillery positions on top of Mount Qasayoun http://youtu.be/U_KOwtSgH1g This leaked video shows a sample of the soldiers taking part in the pounding, while accusing rebels of using drugs, it’s regime soldiers who often dohttp://youtu.be/iSb4ol6PJtQ

Missile launchers are also used, especially in targeting rebel strongholds in Eastern Ghoutah: Kafar Batna http://youtu.be/9A0ieqk_-uw

Clashes between loyalists and rebels in the town of Mta’iyeh, Daraa Provincehttp://youtu.be/YcLdVStar9M

Regime forces pound the border point of Bab E-Hawa on the border between Aleppo and Turkey http://youtu.be/dXdV3NspPkE ,http://youtu.be/ZJ3p7S_Ywig cluster bombs have been used, and people are scurrying in all directions http://youtu.be/ykWG1PSJlLY ,http://youtu.be/nwmwAwtqbhk , http://youtu.be/5iVgeyWRdNk

Norwegian Politicians From Four Major Political Parties Call on Foreign Minister to Implement Magnitsky Sanctions

PRESS RELEASE

30 April 2013 – Representatives of four out of seven the majorNorwegian political parties in the Norwegian parliament wrote to theMinister of Foreign Affairs, Espen Barth Eide, urging him to consider sanctions on Russian officials in the Magnitsky case. They specifically asked the Minister to replicate actions taken by the US government to cancel visa and freeze assets of those officials in Russia who were complicit in Sergei Magnitsky’s unlawful killing.

“We ask the Foreign Ministry to consider whether Norway can also freeze any assets in Norway and deny access to the country those who were complicit in the imprisonment, torture and murder of Sergei Magnitsky,” said representatives of four political parties of Norway, including the Progress Party, the Conservative Party, the Christian Democrats and the Liberals (http://petergitmark.no/index.php/menneskerettigheter/demokrati/803-magnitsky-letter).

This case [the Magnitsky case] has become a symbol of the significant shortcomings in Russian democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law,” said the Norwegian politicians in their letter.

The politicians also stressed the importance of protecting the rights of those accused of complicity in the Magnitsky case, and the need to give an opportunity to appeal and come forward with information that “sheds light on the matter seen from the accused side”.

For further information, please see:

Law and Order in Russia

Canadian Guantanamo Convict to Appeal

By Mark O’Brien
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

OTTAWA, Canada — Omar Khadr is appealing his conviction for killing a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan more than a decade ago, but Canadian officials say that an overturn will not automatically guarantee his freedom.

Canadian-born Omar Khadr, now 26, plans to appeal his war crimes convictions for the murder of U.S. Army Sgt. Christopher Speer in Afghanistan in 2002. (Photo Courtesy of Sun News)

Khadr, now 26, spent 10 years in the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay following his arrest in Afghanistan as a 15-year-old in 2002.  In 2010, he confessed to five war crimes before a military tribunal, including the murder of U.S. Sgt. First Class Christopher Speer, an army medic, during a 2002 firefight in Afghanistan.

Last September, Khadr was repatriated in Canada to a high-security prison as part of a plea deal that included an eight-year sentence and a waiver of his right to appeal.

But Khadr and his attorneys say that the court that convicted him had no jurisdiction to do so, and they want his terror convictions overturned.

“You can’t make a crime a crime retroactively,” lawyer David Frakt told the Global News.  Frakt, who has represented prominent Guantanamo detainees in the past, believes Khadr has good odds that two of his convictions will be overturned.

But reversing the murder conviction in violation of the law of war might stand no chance.  When Khadr pled guilty, the agreement outlined his killing Sgt. Speer.  To overturn that, Khadr’s attorneys would have to argue that the entire plea deal is invalid, as well as everything that resulted from it.

“It’s all about keeping Omar’s options in a difficult political climate,” Khadr’s Canadian lawyer, Dennis Edney, told the Global News.  “If successful, Omar Khadr will finally be free and able to put to rest our government’s descriptors of him as a ware criminal and a terrorist.  This is a common misconception that needs to be corrected.”

Canadian authorities insist, however, that even if Khadr’s convictions are overturned in the United States, the Parole Board of Canada will decide what ultimately happens to him.

“Omar Khadr is a convicted terrorist,” said Julie Carmichael, an aide to Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, in a statement emailed to the Globe and Mail.  “He pleaded guilty to the murder of Christopher Speer, an American Army medic.  Decisions related to his future will be made by the Parole Board of Canada.”

Since being transferred to Canada from Guantanamo last fall, Khadr has been held at Millhaven Institution, a maximum-security prison in Bath, Ontario.  He will be eligible for a parole hearing this summer.  At least one Canadian member of parliament is upset by the appeal.

“While this individual attempts to take back his own words and recant his guilty plea, he is simply re-victimizing the family of Sgt. Speer,” Toronto Member of Parliament Roxanne James told the Commons on Monday.

The appeal, which Khadr’s American lawyer, Sam Morrison, said would be filed “as soon as possible,” will be heard in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

“[U]ltimately it can go to the Supreme Court,” legal expert Jeffrey Addicott told Sun News.  Addicott, who has advised the U.S. government on Guantanamo-related cases, is director of the Center for Terrorism Law in San Antonio, Texas.

“[W]e’re talking a period of years before anything will be resolved one way or the other,” he added, saying that Khadr’s appeal is unlikely to succeed.  “In my opinion, this appeal is dead on arrival.  He didn’t have the standing to engage in combat.  Therefore, if you kill another person, it’s murder.”

For further information, please see:

Global News — Omar Khadr May Win Appeal, But No Ticket Out of Prison — 30 April 2013

Sun News — Khadr ‘Re-Victimizing’ Murdered Medic’s Family, Says Tory MP — 29 April 2013

AFP — Canadian-Born Guantanamo Convict Plans Appeal: Report — 28 April 2013

Globe and Mail — Omar Khadr’s Freedom in Ottawa’s Hands Despite U.S. Appeal, Safety Minister Insists — 28 April 2013