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