Egyptian Court bans all Muslim Brotherhood Activities

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan

Impunity Watch, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt –An Egyptian court issued a verdict Monday effectively banning  the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist political party that was  nation’s most powerful political group under the regime of the democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi. The Muslim brotherhood, its supporters and other Islamist groups in Egypt have been involved in protest against the July 3 coup that took President Morsi out of power.

Muslim Brotherhood supporters protesting in Cairo, Egypt, this month. (Photo courtesy of The Guardian)

The Presiding Judge, Mohammed al-Sayed, said “The court bans the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood organization and its non-governmental organization and all the activities that it participates in and any organization derived from it.” According to MENA, the Egyptian state media, The Cairo Court for Urgent Matters decision to issue a ruling “to ban all activities by the Muslim Brotherhood organisation, the group emanating from it and its non-governmental organisation,” effectively amounts to a ban on the political party and any organization with ties to it. The ruling is a temporary action, it amounts to a preliminary injunction banning the activities of the organization. The ruling will stand until a higher court issues a permanent verdict.

The court was unclear about its reasons for deciding to ban the Muslim Brotherhood but the decision was issued after the leftist party, Tagammu, had sought the immediate action. The Tagammu party accused the Muslim Brotherhood of inciting “terrorism” and of exploiting religion for political gain.

The move has essentially returned the Muslim Brotherhood to its status as an illegal political organization it held under former President Hosni Mubarak. The Muslim Brotherhood has been outlawed for most of its 85 year history.

Ibrahim Moneir, a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood, called the court’s ruling a “totalitarian decision.” He said that despite the ruling the organization “will remain with God’s help, not by the orders by the judiciary of el-Sisi.” The “judiciary of el-Sisi” refers to General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who led the military coup that resulted in the overthrow of President Morsi on July 3.

The Muslim Brotherhood stated its belief that it will not be destroyed by the courts ruining on its official twitter feed. The tweet read; “The Muslim Brotherhood is part and parcel of Egyptian society. Corrupt and politically motivated judicial decisions cannot change that,” the Brotherhood said via its Twitter feed, in response to the verdict.

More than 2,000 Egyptian Islamists have been arrested over the past two months, the majority of those arrested have were Brotherhood supporters. Protests organized Pro-Morsi protesters, including Brotherhood supporters, have been violently cracked-down by the military government and many of the organizations leaders and supporters, including Morsi, have been arrested for “inciting terrorism.”

For More Information Please See:

Al Jazeera – Egypt Court Bans all Brotherhood Activities – 23 September 2013

The Guardian – Muslim Brotherhood Banned by Egyptian Court – 23 September 2013

National Public Radio – Egyptian Court Bans the Muslim Brotherhood – 23 September 2013

The New York Times – Egyptian Court Shuts Down the Muslim Brotherhood and Seizes Its Assets – 23 September 2013

Israeli Forces Prevent EU Diplomats From Delivering Aid to Villagers in West Bank

by Tony Iozzo
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

KHIRBET AL-MAKHUL, West Bank – Diplomats from various European countries, representing the United Nations, have spoken out to hold Israel accountable after soldiers from the Israeli Defense Forces prevented them from delivering aid and supplies to citizens in Khirbet al-Makhul in the West Bank.

French Diplomat Marion Fesneau-Castaing being dragged out of her vehicle. (Photo courtesy of BBC News)

The diplomats have reported that as they arrived to the village of Bedouin in Khirbet al-Makhul, they were ordered out of their trucks and instructed not to unload the contents.

Supplies and aid were being delivered by the European diplomats after many homes in the area were demolished pursuant to an order of a High Court. Last Monday, the homes of these villagers were destroyed as Israeli’s High Court ruled that they were built without permits in the first place. Many of the Bedouin villagers have refused to leave the land, however, as their ancestors have lived on the land and grazed sheep there for generations.

The European diplomats reported that a dozen Israeli army jeeps bombarded them when they arrived in the area. A French diplomat, Marion Fesneau-Castaing, said she was forced to the ground from her vehicle.

“They dragged me out of the truck and forced me to the ground with no regard for my diplomatic immunity. This is how international law is being respected here,” Fesneau-Castaing has stated.

A spokesman for the British Consulate General in Jerusalem stated it was “concerned at reports that the Israeli military authorities have prevented the affected community from receiving humanitarian assistance. We have repeatedly made clear to the Israeli authorities our concerns over such demolitions, which we view as causing unnecessary suffering to ordinary Palestinians; as harmful to the peace process; and as contrary to international humanitarian law. 

The Israeli Defense Forces have contended that the diplomats may have abused their privileges, and reported that that dozens of Palestinians, foreign activists and diplomats had tried to set up tents, which it called a “provocation.”

UN Humanitarian Coordinator James Rawley stated that the Israeli authorities should “live up to their obligations as occupying power to protect those communities under their responsibility.”

Last month, the first Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in three years were held in Jerusalem.

In 2010, the discussions disintegrated amid disagreement on the issue of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Israel has occupied the West Bank since the 1967 Middle East war, and the talks are aimed at reaching a permanent peace settlement with the Palestinians.

For more information, please see:

Russia Today – EU Calls for Explanations From Israel Over Diplomat Scuffle – 22 September 2013

Fars News Agency – Israeli Troops Attack EU Diplomats, Seize West Bank Aid – 21 September 2013

BBC News – Diplomats Protest Over West Bank Clash With Israeli Troops – 20 September 2013

Reuters Canada – Israeli Forces Manhandle EU Diplomats, Seize West Bank Aid – 20 September 2013

Brazilian Rancher Convicted for 2005 Murder of an American

By: Brandon Cottrell
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

BRASÍLIA, Brazil – In 2005, Dorothy Stang, age 73, was murdered after being shot six times near the northern state of Para, Brazil.  Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura, a rancher who had been arguing with Stang at the time over land use, was convicted and sentenced to thirty years in prison for the third time.

Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura sits in a courtroom during his trial for the murder of U.S.-born nun and activist Dorothy Stang. (Photo Courtesy Reuters)

Prior to her death, Stang spent over thirty years trying to save the rainforests in Brazil.  In particular, she wished to prevent wealthy landlords from exploiting the rainforests.  She also defended the rights of the poor settlers, who were being confronted by ranchers trying to take their land. Her continually campaigning resulted in an attempt to prevent Moura from seizing land.

Prosecutors say that Moura is one of several who hired gunmen to kill Stang.  This is also not the first time that violence has plagued a conflict involving Brazil’s natural resources.  Over the past thirty years, at least one thousand people have been murdered and many others have been kidnapped, with many of these crimes occurring in Para.  These crimes, which are generally carried out by gunmen hired by the loggers, ranchers, and farmers who wish to silence protestors like Stang are very rarely prosecuted and those that are prosecuted rarely result in convictions.

While prosecutors were able to convict Moura of murder in 2007 and in 2010, Moura’s lawyers were able to get the conviction overturned both times.  Moura’s lawyers argued that there was not sufficient evidence linking him to the crime in 2007 and that they did not have enough time to prepare his defense in 2010.

Of the others involved in the murder of Stang, one is appealing his thirty-year sentence and the self-confessed killer is serving the remainder of a twenty-seven year sentence under house arrest.  Another suspect, however, is still at large.

Barbara Richardson, Stang’s sister, said that while the repeated trials have been upsetting that it at least “keeps the injustice of the system before the people’s eyes.”  Additionally, many of Stang’s fellow activists were happy to see justice in this case, as they have “fiercely criticized Brazil’s judiciary system as moving to slowly and being too lenient.”

Others also tout the conviction as “a symbol of the end of impunity for the killings of landless squatter farmers who often have clashed with big landowners.”

 

For more information, please see:

BBC – Rancher Convicted Over Murder Of US Nun Dorothy Stang – 20 September 2013

Global Post – Brazil Rancher’s Conviction Upheld In US Nun’s Death – 20 September 2013

Reuters – Brazilian Rancher Found Guilty Of Ordering American Nun’s Death – 20 September 2013

USA Today – Rancher Gets 30 Years In Death Of U.S. Nun – 20 September 2013

 

Russia Accuses the West of Exploiting Syrian U.N. Deal

By Darrin Simmons
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

 DAMASCUS, Syria-Accusations of exploitation have been directed towards the U.S. and other major Western players involved in dealing with Syria’s chemical weapons.  Russia has claimed that the West is using the chemical weapons deal in the United Nations to threaten force against President Bashar al-Assad.

Lavrov and Kerry discussing Syria on Sunday.

The U.S., France, and Britain are pushing for a council resolution of the United Nation’s Charter, which if passed would authorize military intervention or sanctions if Damascus were to back out of its commitments.

The first commitment issued to Assad by the U.S.-Russia accord was met with compliance when he provided information about Syria’s chemical arsenal to the United Nations.  However, major powers on the U.N. Security Council have been in disagreement with how to further proceed.

Russia and China have blocked three draft resolutions on Syria since the start of the 2011 uprising against Assad.  Both countries oppose Western threats against an ally which Moscow has continually armed and supported during the civil war.

“They [the West] see in the U.S.-Russian deal not a chance to save the planet from significant quantities of chemical weapons in Syria, but as a chance to do what Russia and China will not allow, namely to push through a resolution involving the threat of force against the regime and shielding the opposition,” stated Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Lavrov further claimed, “An international presence is needed on the perimeters of the areas where the experts will work.  We are willing to send our troops and military police to participate.”

Lavrov concluded saying, “I do not think that there is a need for a major contingent.  I think military observers will be sufficient.”

In responses, a U.S. State Department official reported that other council member states of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons had not yet seen the information regarding the chemical weapons status in Syria.  “We will make an evaluation of the document after it has been distributed to member states,” said the official.

Should the council resolution be passed, the world would see the destruction of nearly 1,000 tons of mustard gas, VX, and sarin which are believed to be in the possession of Syria.  The U.S.-Russia accord has also shown promise of a revised international political solution to the Syrian conflict as a whole.

For more information, please see the following: 

Aljazeera-Russia says West exploiting Syria deal-September 22, 2013

Reuters-Russia says West exploiting Syria deal to threaten force-September 22, 2013

Voice of America-Lavrov: US Trying to Blackmail Russia on UN Syria Resolution-September 22, 2013

Voice of Russia-Russian foreign chief Sergei Lavrov says US ‘overtly blackmailing’ Moscow on Syria-September 21, 2013

Most Nairobi Mall Hostages Rescued

By: Danielle L. Gwozdz
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Africa

NAIROBI, Kenya – Most of the hostages caught in the Nairobi mall attack in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, have been rescued. Kenya’s military reported that it has secured “most parts” of the upscale shopping mall where al-Qaeda linked militants armed with assault rifles and grenades killed 68 people in an attack and two-day siege.

Military and police trying to capture the gunmen (photo courtesy of AP)

The assault began before sundown on Sunday.

The militants are believed to be from Somalia’s al-Shabab movement. Now only a small number of hostages remain under the control of the militants.

“All efforts are underway to bring this matter to a speedy conclusion,” the government’s defense forces statement reported.

Officials have not immediately released the number of hostages that were rescued or the number of hostages that remain in the mall. Four Kenyan military personnel were wounded in the rescue operation, the military said.

Many of the rescued hostages, mostly adults, were suffering from dehydration, a military spokesman told The Associated Press. The military spokesman, Col. Cyrus Oguna, also refused to release the number of hostages rescued or that remained, but did state that some of the attackers had “most probably” been killed in the operation.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called the attackers “ruthless and completely reckless terrorists.” Kerry spoke Sunday with Somalia’s foreign minister and U.N. ambassador.

There are now reports that the gunmen are currently holed up in a supermarket. Civilians in the complex are believed to be held as hostages or in hiding.

Correspondents say the full extent of the attack will not be known until the military is back in control.

The BBC’s Gabriel Gatehouse says he cannot see or hear anything that suggests a “final push” by security forces that surround the complex.

The Somali militant group al-Shabaab claimed responsibility on Twitter for Saturday’s attack, which was allegedly carried out by 10 to 15 gunmen with AK-47s and other sophisticated weapons. Al-Shabaab, which said the attack was retribution for Kenyan forces’ 2011 push into Somalia, threatened more violence.

“The Mujahideen entered #Westgate Mall today at around noon and are still inside the mall, fighting the #Kenyan Kuffar inside their own turf,” the group said on Twitter.

“What Kenyans are witnessing at #Westgate is retributive justice for crimes committed by their military,” the group said.

Some witnesses said the militants released Muslims, but non-Muslims were targeted.

This is one of the worst incidents in Kenya since the attack on the U.S. embassy in 1998.

For more information, please visit:

BBC News – Nairobi Westgate attack: ‘Most hostages are rescued’ – 22 September 2013
Huffington Post – Most Nairobi Mall Hostages Rescued, Kenyan Army Says – 22 September 2013
USA Today – Kenya military says most hostages rescued in mall siege – 22 September 2013
Ryot – Kenya Military Says Most Hostages Have Been Rescued Following Bloody Attack at Westgate Mall (GRAPHIC PHOTOS) – 22 September 2013
Chicago Tribune – Kenya says it’s in control of Nairobi mall, ‘most’ hostages freed – 22 September 2013
CNN – 39 killed and more carnage feared as Kenya mall attackers face off – 21 September 2013

Dozens Killed in Nairobi Mall Attack

By Erica Smith
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

NAIROBI, Kenya — At least 68 people were killed and 200 wounded in a terror attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi this Saturday and Sunday.

Kenyan police officers search for gunman in the Westgate Mall (photo courtesy of The Guardian)

The attack started around lunch time yesterday when grenades were thrown into the crowd. Lunch time is peak foot time traffic at the mall. After the grenades were thrown gunman started firing indiscriminately into the panicked crowd. Shoppers took cover and hid in shops and under tables, the grocery store that spans most of the mall was a main hiding place for many people, and the main scene of a fire fight between security forces and attackers.

Reports indicate that different groups of armed men attacked the mall in coordinated groups. Kenyan officials say that about 10,000 people shop at the mall on the weekend and that it is a popular destination for the wealthy and foreigners.

Al-Shabab, an Islamist group from Somalia, has claimed responsibility for the attacks. The attackers also took hostages and a standoff  has ensued.

“Waiting ambulances are parked outside while sporadic gunfire can be heard coming from inside Westgate Mall,” NPR’s Gregory Warner reported from Nairobi early Sunday. “Kenyan police said that the gunmen have been ‘contained’ but there are still hostages in unsecured locations. Special police forces are securing the building.”

As of the writing of this article, there are still hostages in the mall and the standoff  between the attackers and security forces is still ongoing. Kenyan security forces are reporting that the mall is mostly under their control and that most of the hostages have been rescued.”Our concern is to rescue all hostages ALIVE and that is why the operation is delicate,” the Kenya Defense Forces said on Twitter.

For further information, please see:

Guardian —  Nairobi siege: some hid, others played dead as gunmen stalked the mall — 22 September 2012

NPR — Nairobi Mall Attack: Civilians Remain Hostages; Dozens Dead — 22 September 2013

Yahoo News — Most hostages rescued, shopping mall mostly secure: Kenyan army — 22 September 2013

BBC News — Nairobi Westgate shoot-out kills 11 in Kenya — 21 September 2013

Guardian — Nairobi mall attackers could not have picked a better target — 21 September 2013

 

Presidents Obama and Rouhani Open to a Face to Face Meeting

by Michael Yoakum
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, D.C., United States – President Obama faces potential diplomatic inroads with Iran, Syria, and Palestine as he prepares to head to the UN General Assembly Monday. With a new President of Iran, progress towards a peaceful disarming of Syria, and restarted talks in Palestine, things are looking much different than last year.

Hassan Rouhani ousted Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last month on the promise of greater personal freedoms for the Iranian public. (Photo Courtesy of The Guardian)

The biggest change is the newly elected President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, who has reopened communication with the United States through his Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif.  While President Obama is not scheduled to meet directly with Rouhani, the two have left open the possibility of talking during the gathering.  Rouhani recently expressed his willingness to meet with the US in an interview.

“The problem won’t be from our side,” Rouhani stated, adding “We have sufficient political latitude to solve this problem.”

Some western diplomats believe Rouhani is taking a big risk by favor diplomatic talks with the US over anti-American rhetoric.  There are concerns that Rouhani could face resistance from hard-liners in Tehran if his approach does not yield an easing of sanctions on Iran.

Ben Rhodes, a deputy White House national security adviser, told reporters that he still believes there is time for a diplomatic solution to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

In line with Rhodes’ view, Rouhani said in an interview with NBC that Iran would never seek to acquire nuclear weapons and he had “sufficient political latitude” to discuss Iran’s nuclear program.  Rouhani derives his new political latitude from statements by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali- Khamenei, who said that diplomacy sometimes calls for “heroic flexibility.”

If Presidents Obama and Rouhani were to meet at the General Assembly, this would be the first time for the US and Iranian heads of state to meet face to face since the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

For more information, please see:

The Washington Post – On eve of UN session, Obama finds unexpected diplomatic openings on Iran, Syria, Mideast peace – 22 September 2013

ABC News – 4 Things to Watch for at the UN General Assembly Next Week – 21 September 2013

The Guardian – White House indicates Obama could meet Iran president Rouhani at UN – 20 September 2013

Fox News – Iran’s Rowhani makes new overtures towards the West – 19 September 2013

Reuters – Analysis: Obama may extend his hand to Iran’s Rouhani at U.N. – 19 September 2013

Terror Suspect Escapes Indian Court

By Kevin M. Mathewson
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

MUMBAI, India — A manhunt has been launched in Mumbai, India after a suspected member of the militant group Indian Mujahideen (IM) escaped from court on Friday.

Afzal Usmani was arrested in September 2008. (Photo courtesy of Mumbai Police)

Afzal Usmani, a Mujahideen operative accused in the 2008 Ahmedabad bombings, escaped from a special Maharashtra Control of Organized Crime Act (MCOCA) court after a major security lapse.

Usmani had erlier tried to escape from a crime branch headquarters after his initial arrest in 2008.

Sometime after lunch on Friday, drama unfolded in the courtroom. As a lawyer began his argument, a police escort rushed in and informed the special judge that Usmani was missing. The court then decided to defer the framing of charges till September 25. Arrest warrants have been issued for Usmani’s arrest.

Along with Usmani, four other suspects accused in the Ahmedabad bombings, who are currently out on bail, also appeared before the court.

Special Judge AL Pansare termed the escape a “serious offense”. “It is negligence on the part of the escort team which brought the accused to court,” the judge said.

Usmani was one of 21 IM members arrested on charges of criminal conspiracy after the 2008 bombings in Ahmedabad and Surat. It’s alleged that Usmani was involved in stealing four cars that were used to transport the explosives to Ahmedabad and Surat. Nearly 50 people died in 17 blasts in Ahmedabad.

Faiz Usmani, Afzal’s brother, died after questioning by police in connection with the Mumbai blasts of 2011. The Usmani family alleges that he had been tortured, but an autopsy determined that he died of a heart attack.

The escape of Afzal Usmani raises serious question about police negligence and the security system in place for transporting inmates to and from jail.

For further information, please see:

BBC News – India hunt as terror suspect Afzal Usmani flees Mumbai court – 20 September 2013

The Indian Express – Indian Mujahideen operative, arrested in Guj blasts case, escapes from Mumbai court – 20 September 2013

The Times of India – Usmani, who fled from court, helped crack IM module in Mahrashtra – 20 September 2013

The Economic Times – Indian Mujahideen operative Afzal Usmani escapes from Mumbai court – 20 September 2013

Hindustan Times – Terror suspect Afzal Usmani escapes from court in Mumbai – 20 September 2013

EU Pressures Ukraine to Release Imprisoned former Prime Minister Tymoshenko or Face Treaty Trouble

By Ben Kopp
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

KYIV, Ukraine – European leaders have conditioned a treaty between Ukraine and the European Union on the release of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. The treaty is an important for both sovereign bodies.

Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko is serving a seven-year sentence for abusing her power via fraud and embezzlement. (Photo courtesy of Telegraph)

In 2011, Yulia Tymoshenko was convicted of embezzlement and fraud while she was prime minister between 2007 and 2010. She had been current Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s strongest opponent in the 2010 election. Currently, she is serving a seven-year sentence. Since her conviction, European leaders have pressed Yanukovych to free her.

On 20 September 2013, Yanukovych said that he is inquiring how Tymoshenko, his political opponent could be released from prison. However, Yanukovych made clear “we have not said ‘yes’ or ‘no’” to an early release because the courts must decide the legal issues.

“Nobody has a bigger interest in solving this issue than I,” said Yanukovych. “But there are obstacles. An answer has to be given to … the courts. Only the court can give an answer or (there can be) a voluntary decision by Tymoshenko. The answer lies in finding a compromise with the participation of Tymoshenko.”

European Union leaders told Yanukovich that he may sink the opportunity for Ukraine and the 28-member bloc to enter an “Association Agreement” that would create extensive trade and commercial cooperation between them. While Ukraine’s 46 million population and strategic position next to Russia make the treaty a significant act of enlargement for the EU, for Ukraine, it would mark a major shift westwards away from the orbit of Russia.

Stefan Fule, EU commissioner for enlargement said, “I want to underline how important this is. Progress has been made and there are talks with the Ukrainian authorities on this issue of selective justice.”

At a Crimea gathering of European leaders and officials, Yanukovich declared his ex-Soviet republic’s dedication to signing key agreements at the EU’s November summit in Vilnius, Lithuania.

Lithuania holds the rotating EU presidency. Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said that before deals on association and free trade agreements would be signed, Ukraine must meet three criteria, including freeing Tymoshenko.

“The request from the European Union on Tymoshenko’s case is still on the table and, without a solution, I do not see a possibility for the signature,” she said.

Since 2012, Tymoshenko has been confined to bed in a hospital, under constant video surveillance. As a concession, she has been granted all-female medical staff on her corridor. From distrust of Ukrainian authorities, she refuses injections and all other invasive procedures.

Once free, Tymoshenko would be able to receive surgery in Germany for herniated discs.

Critics claim that Yanukovich is concerned that, if released, Tymoshenko challenge him in the 2015 election.

With two months until the EU summit in Lithuania, Yanukovich must decide whether leaving Tymoshenko without a pardon will be as damaging to his political career as allowing her to run against him in 2015.

For further information, please see:

RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty — Moscow Again Warns Kyiv Over EU Deals – September 22, 2013

Euronews – EU leader and Ukraine president clash over potential trade agreement – September 20, 2013

RadioFree Europe/RadioLiberty – Ukraine’s Yanukovych Says Searching for Way to Release Tymoshenko – September 20, 2013

Reuters — EU Presses Ukraine Leader over Tymoshenko, He Stalls – September 20, 2013

Reuters – Ukraine Leader Says on Course for EU Deals, Stalls on Tymoshenko – September 20, 2013

Telegraph — EU to Kiev: Free Yulia Tymoshenko, or No Pact – September 20, 2013

Rouhani takes steps to improve Iran’s image ahead of visit to the UN General Assembly

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan

Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

TEHRAN, Iran – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has called upon world leaders to “seize the opportunity” that his election has created for leaders to engage with the Islamic Republic. In an opinion piece published in the Washington Post on Thursday ahead of next week’s meeting of the General Assembly at the United Nations, Rouhani described his approach to diplomacy as a foreign policy that “seeks to resolve these issues by addressing their underlying causes.” He called on international leaders to “work together to end the unhealthy rivalries and interferences that fuel violence and drive us apart.” Calling on leaders to “pay attention to the issue of identity as a key driver of tension in, and beyond, the Middle East.”

Nasrin Sotoudeh was reunited with her family after being released from prison in Iran ahead of the Iranian president’s trip to the United Nations. (Photo courtesy of the New York Times)

Rouhani’s call for international engagement came just a day after eleven prominent political prisoners, who were detained following the Green revolution protests against the disputed 2009 presidential elections, were released from prison, including Nasrin Sotoudeh. Nasrin Sotoudeh is an internationally renounced human rights layer known for taking on high-profile political cases, she is the winner of the European Parliament’s 2012 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. While in prison she went on hunger strike to protest her prison conditions as the sanctions that were imposed on her family by the Iranian government.

Sotoudeh, who was serving a six year sentence for acting against national security, said “I don’t know why they released me. I don’t know under what legal basis they released me. But I am free.” She had been convicted of spreading propaganda and conspiring to harm the state after she was arrested by authorities in 2010.

The freed prisoners reportedly include eight women and three men including the reformist politician Mohsen Aminzadeh, who was the former deputy foreign minister under President Mohammed Khatami. During the 2009 elections, Aminzadeh was a prominent supporter of Mir Hossein Mousavi, whom many Iranians believe won the popular vote in the disputed elections. Aminzadeh was arrested in 2010 for organising protests and allegedly spreading propaganda against the state system.

There has been no official comment on why the Iranian government made the decision to release these political prisoners. Iran denies that anyone detained in Iran is a political prisoner, and the government claims that all people jailed in Iran are done so in accordance with the state’s laws. However, the release of the prisoners comes just days before Iran’s new President, Hassan Rouhani, visits New York City to for his first speech before the United Nations General Assembly.

Since taking office, he has taken several steps to improve Iran’s global image and has reached out to the Obama Administration in an attempt to build diplomatic ties between Iran and the United States. President Rouhani recently tweeted that while visiting the United Nations, he would like to meet one-on-one with President Obama.

For more information please see;

BBC News – Iran: Nasrin Sotoudeh ‘Among Freed Political Prisoners’ – 18 September 2013

National Public Radio – Iran Frees Political Prisoners – 18 September 2013

The New York Times – Iran Frees Political Prisoners on Eve of President’s Visit to U.S. – 18 September 2013

Al Jazeera – Iran Releases Prominent Political Dissidents – 19 September 2013

The Washington Post – Hassan Rouhani: Why Iran Seeks Constructive Engagement – 19 September 2013

Al Jazeera – Rouhani Urges Leaders to Engage With Iran – 20 September 2013

 

Increased Diplomatic Opportunity for U.S. in Iran and Syria

By Brandon Cottrell
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, D.C., United States –  Just weeks after the United States debated whether or not to commence a unilateral military strike on Syria, diplomatic initiatives with Syria, as well as with Iran, have begun.  First, in Syria there are strict deadlines that have Syria surrendering its chemical weapons.  Then, in Iran, there are new talks that would limit the amount of nuclear fuel that Iran could produce.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (Photo Courtesy MSNBC)

The White House credits the diplomatic initiatives to luck, years of sanctioning Iran, and “chess moves” executed by President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, and Iran’s mullahs.  Benjamin Rhodes, a U.S. deputy national security adviser, agrees but also credits the U.S.’s selective use of coercion, stating, “that you don’t achieve diplomatic progress in the Middle East without significant pressure.”

Others, however, remain skeptical.  They think that there is a risk of “long negotiations and constant games of hide-and-seek that, ultimately, will result in little change.”  Additionally, they maintain that Syria and Iran believe the U.S.’s reluctance to strike Syria signals “that if diplomacy fails, the chances of military action . . . are slight.”

President Obama, who may meet with Iran’s new president Hasan Rouhani this week said in a recent interview that, “Negotiations with the Iranians is always difficult . . . but, you know, my view is that if you have both a credible threat of force, combined with a rigorous diplomatic effort, that, in fact, you can strike a deal.”  However, It appears that Iran may only be open to coming to an agreement regarding its nuclear capabilities if the international sanctions against it are eased.

Additionally, whether any progress is made, will depend largely on how the U.S. and Iran handle upcoming negotiations that revolve around dismantling Syria’s chemical weapons supply.  Dennis Ross, who is President Obama’s lead adviser on Iran, stated that, “These two situations (Iran and Syria) are deeply intertwined . . . if the Syrians are forced to give up their weapons, it will make a difference to the Iranian calculation and would raise the prospects of some deal with [Iran].”

While it will take some time to truly know if Iran’s interest in diplomacy is real or a mirage, it seems that Syria’s interest is legitimate.  For example, Syria, who had to declare their chemical stocks by this weekend, have already done so, which indicates that there is a real chance for a lasting and successful diplomatic relationship.

 

For more information, please see:

ABC News – US and Iran Eye Diplomatic Defrosting at UN – 20 September 2013

New York Times – Quick Turn of Fortunes as Diplomatic Options Open Up With Syria and Iran – 19 September 2013

UPI – Diplomatic Options Opening For U.S. In Syria And Iran – 20 September 2013

World News – Syria Declares Its Chemical Weapons Arsenal, First Step In US-Russian Deal – 20 September 2013

Gadhafi Son Held by Militia Misses Court Date in Tripoli

By Erica Smith
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

TRIPOLI, Libya — The son of Libya’s former dictator, Moammar Gadhafi, missed a court hearing Thursday because the militia holding him refused to send him to Tripoli. The militia is reluctant to give up Gadhafi’s son because they view him as a trophy and bargaining chip with a central government that they do not trust and view as failing.

Saif al-Islam Gadhafi in court in Zintan. (Photo courtesy of Voice of America)

Seif al-Islam Gadhafi appeared at a separate hearing held in the town Zintan where the militia has been holding him since the end of the civil war. A judge at the hearing in Zintan postponed the trial until December due to a lack of evidence.

The charges Gadhafi faces in Tripoli are separate from the charges facing him in Zintan. In Zintan he is charged with “harming state security” because he gave sensitive information to an ICC attorney. In Tripoli and the Hague the charges are the more serious crimes against humanity related to events during the eight month civil war in 2011. The Tripoli trial also involves 38  former regime members including spymaster Abdallah Senoussi.

Al-Seddik al-Sur of the state prosecutor’s office told news media Thursday that authorities have asked for “justification” as to why Gadhafi was not transferred from Zintan.

Gadhafi has said that he wishes to stay in Zintan as

International rights groups have voiced concern about trial conditions facing Gadhafi. Amnesty International issued a plea on Wednesday that Gadhafi be handed over to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to face charges there.

“It is understandable that the authorities may want to proceed promptly and try these individuals in Libya. But such trials today will not serve justice…Libya’s justice system is in desperate need of an overhaul. There are serious concerns about the authorities’ ability to ensure fair trials compounded by the precarious security situation in the country. Both men should be handed over to the ICC immediately,” Amnesty said in their release.

This summer, judges at the ICC ruled that Gadhafi could not have a fair trial in Tripoli and asked that he be handed over to the Hague. Libya is appealing the ruling.

For further information, please see:

CNN — Libya Civil War Fast Facts — 20 September 2013

Fox News — Libya trial of Gadhafi’s son over “harming state security” postponed until December — 19 September 2013

Voice of America — Gadhafi Son Appears in Court in Tribal Stronghold — 19 September 2013

Abc News — Held by Militia, Gadhafi Son Misses Libya Hearing — 18 September 2013

Narharnet — Amnesty Urges Gadhafi Son Handover before Libya pre-Trial — 18 September 2013

 

 

EULEX Officer Shot and Killed by Unknown Assailants in Northern Kosovo

By Ben Kopp
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

PRISTINA, Republic of Kosovo – Unknown gunmen killed a EULEX police officer after shooting at his vehicle. A murder investigation has been opened in the northern region of Kosovo, where the death occurred.

EULEX vehicle fired upon, killing one officer. (Photo courtesy of Reuters)

In 1999, NATO ended the massacre and expulsion of ethnic Albians from Kosovo. Although 2008 saw Kosovo declare independence from Serbia, the Serb government rejected the secession and exerted control over the northern strip of Kosovo, which consists of 50,000 Serbs. Around the time of Kosovo’s independence, the EU deployed its largest ever civilian mission: the EU Rule of Law Mission (EULEX).

Approximately 100 countries and the United States recognize Kosovo as an independent country. However, UN Security Council veto-holder and Serbian ally, Russia has continued to block Kosovo’s entry to the United Nations.

In April 2013, Serbia agreed to cede its control over Kosovo’s northern Serbs in order to boost its status with the EU. In that region, the ethnic Serb minority has grown increasingly nervous over their anticipated integration with the rest of Kosovo and its Albian majority. As such, Serb leaders in northern Kosovo have called for a boycott of the November elections.

On 19 September 2013, in a northern region of Kosovo near Municipality Zvecan, gunmen opened fire on two EULEX vehicles and fatally shot Audrius Senavicius, a Lithuanian man serving with EULEX. A Czech officer with Senavicius was hospitalized. This is the first death in the EU’s mission since it began in 2008, even though recent years have seen criminal gangs working with near-impunity. Indeed, EU officials reported that recent months have been calm.

The attack follows the acquittal of Fatmir Limaj and nine others accused of war crimes related to the 1998 killings of Serbian and Albanian civilians. Two EULEX judges and one Kosovo judge ruled that a diary on the alleged war crimes was unreliable because it contained inconsistent and contradictory information.

According to the Serbian government’s pointman for Kosovo, Aleksander Vulin, those responsible for the officer’s death are “the greatest foe of the Serbs and the Serbian state.”

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his top envoy in Kosovo strongly condemned the attack, and urged that those responsible be brought to justice. In a statement, Ki-moon stressed “the importance for all concerned to cooperate with the investigation and ensure security and freedom of movement of EULEX and other international presences in the implementation of their respective mandates.”

Farid Zarif, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Kosovo, stated that “this abhorrent act of violence is a direct assault on the principles of peace, justice and civility that international missions are in Kosovo to serve. Any attack against representatives of the international community is an attack on the international community as a whole.”

Additionally, to ensure that investigators do their work unobstructed, the Secretary-General’s envoy urged the world to avoid speculation about motives or identities of those responsible.

For further information, please see:

BBC News – EU Police Officer Killed in Kosovo – September 19, 2013

CNN International – EU Officer Killed in Kosovo Shooting – September 19, 2013

InSerbia – Kosovo: EULEX Staff Member Audrius Šenavičius Killed Near Zvecan – September 19, 2013

Reuters – EU Police Officer Shot Dead in Kosovo, Testing Fragile Accord – September 19, 2013

UN News Centre – Kosovo: UN Officials Strongly Condemn Fatal Attack on European Union Convoy – September 19, 2013

Wall Street Journal – EU Customs Officer Dies Amid Gunfire in Kosovo – September 19, 2013

Human Rights Watch – Dispatches: For Kosovo Victims, No Justice Yet – September 18, 2013

RadioFreeLiberty/RadioEurope – Former Kosovo Rebel Commander Cleared of War Crimes – September 17, 2013