UN Says Syrian Asylum-Seekers Need More Acceptance in Europe

By Ben Kopp
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

BRUSSELS, European Union – The United Nations called for European countries to cease refusal of entry to asylum-seekers.

Of the few Syrians who enter Bulgaria, most are located in crowded camps and other facilities. (Photo courtesy of AFP)

Since March 2011, nearly 2.2 million people have fled Syria.

On 3 November 2013, Bulgarian skinheads warned the government in Sofia to clear the streets of “illegal immigrants”, or they would do it themselves. The next day, two Bulgarian men stabbed and killed a Syrian boy near a school where 8000 refugees are housed.

On 15 November 2013, the United Nations (UN) refugee agency expressed concern that European Union (EU) countries have allegedly denied or forcibly returned Syrian and other asylum-seekers.

In Bulgaria and Greece, reports indicate that authorities have deployed to the border regions hundreds of police, who turned away migrants attempting to enter the countries. While Bulgaria allowed approximately 85 people per day into the country during the summer, that number is now 10-15 per day.

The UNHCR asked Greek authorities to investigate the fates of 150 Syrian refugees, following a 12 November 2013 incident in which Evros villagers reported that the refugees were detained and transported by police to an unknown location.

“Introducing barriers, like fences or other deterrents, might lead people to undertake more dangerous crossings and further place refugees at the mercy of smugglers,” said the spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Adrian Edwards.

“UNHCR is calling for a global moratorium on any return of Syrians to neighbouring countries. This would represent a concrete gesture of solidarity with these countries that currently host over 2.2 million Syrian refugees.”

Edwards called for genuine burden-sharing outside existing EU mechanisms, stating that returning Syrian refugees only increases the challenges faced by countries who accept them, and that EU countries with external borders should not be the only countries accepting refugees in the EU.

UNHCR commended some EU countries that did not to return all asylum-seekers to their first point of entry in the EU. To encourage solidarity with EU border countries, UNHCR appealed to others to follow suit.

“Two weeks ago the EU allocated €85m for Syrian refugees bringing the total humanitarian support so far to €400m,” said EU Ambassador-designate to Israel Lars Faaborg. “About half of this sum will be spent inside Syria to help civil society groups provide basic services while the other half will be used to help Jordan cope with the 500,000 Syrian refugees on its territory.”

Faaborg recently visited the Ziv Medical Centre in Israel, where he witnessed “the wonderful treatment the hospital is providing injured Syrians.”

“The commitment to the welfare of other human beings, regardless of the fact that they belong to an enemy nation, should be a source of pride to all Israelis,” Faaborg said.

That commitment should also be a source of pride for all people of all countries worldwide, and the first step is accepting those who seek asylum.

For further information, please see:

TIME – Syrian Refugees Find Discomfort and Unrest in Bulgaria – November 16, 2013

AFP – UN Warns over Refugees Turned Away in Greece, Bulgaria – November 15, 2013

European Jewish Press – EU Ambassador Lauds Israel for the Medical Treatment of Wounded Syrians – November 15, 2013

UN News Centre – UN Concerned That European Union Countries May Be Denying Entry to Syrians, Other Asylum-Seekers – November 15, 2013

Rival Libya Militias Clash Near Tripoli

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

TRIPOLI, Libya – Renewed fighting between rival militias have erupted on the outskirts of the Libya capital of Tripoli. So far about 43 people have died because of these clashes.

Many died and hundreds were wounded due to fighting (photo courtesy of Reuters)

On Friday more than 450 were injured due to clashes. The militias, however, have continued fighting. Government repeats calls of restraint.

Libya’s Prime Minister Ali Zeidan has appealed for calm as government forces struggle to control militias, Islamist militants, and other former fighters who refuse to surrender their arms after helping to oust Muammar Gaddafi.

The Foreign Ministry spokesperson has stressed the need for strengthening national unity and solidarity, as well as disarming the armed and irresponsible groups there.

Friday’s clashes occurred after protesters marched on the headquarters of the Misrata militia to demand it leave Tripoli, and were fired upon.

Zeidan urged that “No forces from outside Tripoli should attempt to enter the city because the situation is very tense and could escalate further.”

“The coming hours and days will be decisive for the history of Libya and the success of the revolution.”

Late on Saturday, local authorities in Tripoli announced a “three-day general strike in all public and private sectors starting Sunday” in response to the violence.

Misrata militiamen remained in a base near Tripoli airport on Saturday in a standoff with government forces and local pro government offices. But fighters often battle for control of local areas and remain loyal to their own commanders.

A militia group calling itself the Shield of Libya said on Saturday it had secured Ghargour and that the Misrata fighters had withdrawn.

There have been increasing demands from civilians that the militias – which emerged during the 2011 revolution – disband or join the army, in line with an end-of-the-year deadline set by the interim government in Tripoli.

Some militiamen have been given salaries and taken into the government security forces but many still remain loyal.

For further information, please visit:

BBC News – Rival Libya militias in fresh clashes near Tripoli – 16 November 2013
Kenya National Broadcaster – Fresh militia clashes erupt in Libya – 17 November 2013
The Telegraph – Death toll rises as fighting continues in Tripoli – 17 November 2013
The Independent – Fresh gun battles erupt in Tripoli as rival Libyan militias clash – 17 November 2013
IRNA –
Iran: Strengthening national unity, disarming armed groups needed in Libya – 17 November 2013

 

Missing Pussy Riot Member Found in Western Siberian Hospital

In 2012, Pussy Riot staged an anti-Putin protest imploring Virgin Mary to “throw Putin out”, as they sang in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral. Following charges of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred, three band members were sentenced to two years in jail. Western governments and activists objected, saying the sentences were disproportionate.

In October 2013, Russian courts released Yekaterina Samutsevich on appeal.

Convicted Pussy Riot band member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova staged a hunger strike when her own appeal failed. Tolokonnikova alleged that Mordovia prison staff forced inmates to work long hours, and denied her drinking water. She demanded a transfer, if not release.

About 26 days ago, Tolokonnikova went missing following a stay in the medical unit of the Mordovia penal colony. On 14 November 2013, her husband, Pyotr Verzilov announced that he finally spoke with her. The next day, Verzilov had a video conversation with his wife. Verzilov learned that Tolokonnikova arrived at a prison hospital in Krasnoyarsk, of western Siberia, where she is undergoing several tests. He hopes to visit her next week in Krasnoyarsk.

While Tolokonnikova’s hospital is known as the “Tuberculosis Hospital No 1”, Verzilov emphasized that she does not have tuberculosis.

“She feels more or less well, she told me yesterday on the phone,” Verzilov said. “It was the first phone call allowed in 26 days, ending this lengthy, almost month-long isolation that started in Mordovia and then continued throughout her lengthy transit, which spanned 4,000 kilometers across the whole of Russia.”

Verzilov added, “She thinks the conditions of this hospital are fairly good. She is surprised by how different it is here compared to Mordovia and other prison facilities she has encountered since her stay in the Moscow detention center. She is in a good mood now.”

While she was treated relatively well, prison authorities kept her in isolation during the trip between penal colonies.

Russian authorities corroborated that “convict Tolokonnikova has arrived to the institution of the Russian prison service in the Krasnoyarsk region.” However, her exact location was given to her lawyer with instructions not to tell anyone else. Russian law required authorities to inform Tolokonnikova’s family about the transfer within 10 days of her arrival at the new facility.

Aleksandr Nazarov, an official of the state agency supervising penitentiaries, stated that Tolokonnikova could potentially stay in the hospital until her sentence is served.

On this path, it seems that Russia is making good efforts to treat prisoner complaints with respect.

For further information, please see:

CNN International – ‘Missing’ Pussy Riot Inmate Tolokonnikova in Siberian Prison – November 15, 2013

RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty – Husband of Jailed Pussy Rioter Hopes to See Her Next Week – November 15, 2013

Telegraph – Pussy Riot’s Nadezhda Tolokonnikova ‘May Serve Rest of Jail Term in Hospital’ – November 15, 2013

BBC News – Jailed Pussy Riot Singer ‘Found in Hospital’ – November 14, 2013

Impunity Watch – Report Says Russian Pussy Riot Prisoner Transferred to New Penal Colony – November 4, 2013

 

Historic meeting in Cairo between Egyptian and Russian officials signals a warming of relations between the two states.

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East CAIRO, Egypt – Egypt’s top military general hailed a visit by Russian officials as the beginning of a new era of defence co-operation between the Egyptian State and the Russian Federation. Russia’s defence and foreign ministers met with Egypt officials in Cairo this week in a trip that has been called historic, though the delegation left Egypt yesterday without announcing a deal for any new defence deals between the Egypt and Russia.

Historic meetings between Egyptian and Russian officials in Cairo marked the first time a Russian Foreign Minister has visited the country since 1971. (Photo Courtesy of The Washington Post)

The historic meeting came just weeks after the Obama administration announced that the United States would cut military aid to Egypt in response to growing concerns about the actions taken the military government against supporters of ousted President Morsi. While the United States did not cut all of the annual aid to Egypt, the cuts represented a significant shift in relations with Egypt’s interim government, the United States cut aid not connected with the promotion of democratization or counterterrorism efforts carried out by the Egyptian military. The meetings may have been meant as a sign to the United States. Yasser El-Shimy an Egypt analyst with the International Crisis Group said  the meetings were “meant to send a message to say Egypt has options, and that if the United States wishes to maintain its strategic alliance with Egypt, it will have to drop the conditions it attaches to the military aid.” The United States has said it will consider renewing feign aid if the Egyptian states shows signs of progress towards democratization. However, Egypt’s warming relations with Russia may be a sign that the United States has lost some of the coercive power its funding of the Egyptian military once held. As the United States cut funding to Egypt the Egyptian state showed that it is willing to look elsewhere to fill the vacuum left by aid cuts. Egypt has downplayed suggestions that the meetings with Russian officials signify a further cooling of relations between Egypt and the United States.  “We are not replacing one party with another,” said Badr Abdel­atty, an Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman. “We want to strengthen the independence of our foreign policy. We want to diversify. And Russia is a very important global power.” While support for the United States by the public, which perceived the United States as supporters of a military dictatorship though its support of former President Hosni Mubarak, and the military, which now sees the United States as an unreliable ally, has fallen in Egypt Russia and Vladimir Putin have become increasingly popular. The state-run Al-Ahram newspaper has published posters on Thursday reading “Thanks, Putin.” These developments came as the Egyptian military government continues to crack down on Islamist supporters across the country. Earlier this week an Egyptian court sentenced twelve protesters who demonstrated in support of ousted President Mohamed Morsi to 17 years in prison for taking part in a violent student-led protest. For more information please see: Al Jazeera – Egypt Hails Renewed Military Ties with Russia – 14 November 2013 The Washington Post – Egypt Hosts Top Russian Officials, A Sign it is Turning Further Away from Alliance With U.S. – 14 November 2013 Al Jazeera – Egypt Warms to Russia as US Ties Cool – 15 November 2013 Al Jazeera – Pro-Morsi Protesters Sentenced to 17 Years – 13 November 2013

Secret Service Supervisor Reassigned After Hotel Sex Scandal

by Michael Yoakum
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, D.C., United States – Two members of President Obama’s Secret Service protective detail are under investigation for sexual misconduct by federal law enforcement agencies. This news come just 18 months after a prostitution scandal came to light involving Secret Service agents in South America.

Scrutiny into the procedures of the Secret Service began after the scandal in Cartagena last spring, which prompted an investigation and inspectors general report. (Photo courtesy of the Washington Post)

The most recent incident began in the spring of this year when a call from the Hay-Adams hotel to authorities described Secret Service agents attempting to break in to a woman’s room.  Just a month prior to that event, the service named its first female director, Julia Pierson, in an attempt to dispel the the perception of a male-dominated culture within the agency.

According to the Washington Post, the hotel incident started when a Secret Service agent began removing bullets from his service weapon and left a round in the room of a woman whom he met at the hotel bar.  The agent later tried to reenter the room in order to recover the bullet, identifying himself to the hotel staff as a member of the Secret Service.

The agent was identified by the Post as Ignacio Zamora, Jr. a supervisor of at least two dozen agents on the President’s personal protective detail.  Since news of the incident went public Wednesday, Zamora has been reassigned off the President’s detail.

A government source reported that the internal investigation into this incident was started because of the inquiries made by the Post. Representatives of the Secret Service were quick in telling the press that they would investigate the matter fully, taking necessary steps to correct the actions of that agent.

“Any misconduct is regrettable, but when it is identified, appropriate action is always taken based on established rules and regulations,” said Edwin Donovan, deputy assistant director of the Secret Service.

The inspector general report on this incident is expected to be available within the next few weeks.

For more information, please see:

ABC News – Report: 2 Secret Service Supervisors Under Probe – 14 November 2013

CNN – 2 Secret Service supervisors under investigation in misconduct probe – 14 November 2013

NBC News – Secret service agent removed after leaving bullet in woman’s hotel room – 14 November 2013

USA Today – 2 Secret Service supervisors axed from Obama detail – 14 November 2013

Washington Post – Two Secret Service agents cut from Obama’s detail after alleged misconduct – 13 November 2013

 

Suicide Bombings Killing Worshipers on Iraqi Religious Holiday

By Darrin Simmons
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq-Heightened security could not prevent an explosion in a town south of Baghdad during the Ashura commemoration rituals.  The attacks hit in the town of Hafriya, in the Wasit province, on early Thursday.

The reenactment of the Battle of Karbala (photo courtesy of CNN)

The near-simultaneous bombings targeted a Shiite religious procession killed at least eight people while wounding dozens of others.  Worshippers were gathered inside a tent performing rituals to commemorate the death of Inmam al-Hussein when the attack struck.

During the religious event, regional authorities expect two million pilgrims, at least 200,000 from outside Iraq, will visit the city of Karbala for the ten days leading up to Ashura.  In an attempt to be prepared, 35,000 soldiers and policemen have been deployed to Karbala.

However, late Thursday another suicide bombing ripped through Karbala during the religious process, killing 43 people.  The bomber was disguised in a police uniform, as he made his way through the crowd.

Iraq suffered a third attack on its holiest day when a bombing targeting an army patrol in a predominantly Sunni town north of Baghdad killed two soldiers.

The commemoration of Inmam al-Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, is held to show remorse for not defending him during his death.  Tradition holds that he was decapitated and his body mutilated.  Worshipers display remorse by beating their heads and chests with some making incisions on their scalps as an act of self-flagellation.

“I have been coming since I was young, every year, even during the time of the tyrant Saddam,” said Abu Ali, a 35-year-old pilgrim who visits from Basra, a southern port city.  “I challenge anyone not to cry,” said Ali, in referring to the strong emotions emanating from the ritual.

Imam al-Hussein’s death is one of the events that created the division between the Sunni and Shiite Islam, which dates back to a battle in 680 A.D.

Shiites are the majority in Iraq, Iran, and Bahrain, making up about 15 percent of Muslims worldwide.  Sunni militants that are linked to Al-Qaeda, regard Shiites as apostates and typically target them during religious holidays like Ashura and Arbaeen.

The increased violence against Shiites is the latest in Iraq’s deadliest unrest since 2008.  Prime Minister Nuri-al-Maliki, a Shiite, has appeadled to the United States for help by way of intelligence sharing and the supplying of new weapons systems.

For more information, please see the following: 

Al Jazeera-Deadly blasts hit Iraqi religious procession-14 November 2013

Al Arabiya-Blasts hit Iraq as millions mark Ashura-14 November 2013

CNN-36 killed in blasts targeting Iraqi Shiite Muslims on holy day-14 November 2013

Global Post-Iraq bombers kill 43 as millions mark Shiite holiday-14 November 2013

China Criticized for Meager Aid Efforts in Phillippines

By Brian Lanciault
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China–China responded to criticism Thursday, and announced that it would increase its aid to the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan. Some Chinese bloggers have called for no help at all. 

Survivors erected a sign begging for help and food after Typhoon Haiyan ripped through the Phillippines earlier this month. (Photo Courtesy of Reuters)

The two countries remain knotted in a longstanding dispute over islands in the South China Sea, which Beijing claims almost in its entirety. Manila has accused Beijing of aggressively asserting its claims and says Chinese vessels have occupied the Scarborough Shoal, which Manila has claimed as its own since last year. 

China, enjoying an almost decade long economic boom, announced a $100,000 cash donation on Monday. The donation was to be matched by the Chinese Red Cross. The sum of $200,000 is far less than other countries, and sparked intense criticism overseas. It also stands in sharp contrast to China’s other recent donations: over $10 million for Japan in the wake of its tsunami two years ago and almost $40 million for countries affected by the 2004 Asian tsunami. 

The amount would be low even if China, the world’s second largest and fastest growing economy, were a much smaller or poorer nation: Malaysia, population 29 million, has pledged $1 million in cash, as well as food aid; New Zealand, population 4.4 million, has pledged another $1 million.  

The US magazine Time reported Wednesday under the headline “The world’s second largest economy off-loads insultingly small change on a storm-battered Philippines”. 

“The Chinese government has been made to look mean-spirited in front of the world community,” said the article.

Foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said Thursday that the country decided “just days ago” to provide an additional 10 million yuan ($1.6 million) for relief efforts in the form of blankets, tents and other materials. 

“There will be thousands of tents and tens of thousands of blankets,” he told reporters. 

“We hope that these supplies will be delivered to the disaster-stricken areas as soon as possible to show our sympathies with the Philippines.” 

Typhoon Haiyan swept through the central islands of the Philippines Friday, leave mass destruction in its wake. 

Chinese media and Internet users — many of whom are intensely nationalistic — were divided on how the country should respond to the disaster. 

“If (the Chinese government) was generous to the Philippines, it would hurt the Chinese people completely,” wrote a user of Old Beijing on Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter. 

Another user said: “I think what China has done was rational — facts have long showed the wickedness of the Philippine regime. It will not be grateful even if we hand them much money. Instead, it could use the cash to buy weapons from the US to attack us.” 

Others argued that China was a victim of the storm itself, and had its own disaster relief needs at to be concerned with. 

The typhoon brushed three provinces and regions in south China this week, leaving at least 13 dead or missing and 252,000 people displaced, according to the latest data.

Nevertheless some experts warned that it was not in China’s best interests to minimize its humanitarian aid to the Philippines, particularly with the international community heavily scrutinizing every move the economic giant takes.  

“A country’s status on the world stage does not only rely on its economic and military strength. It is also determined by how much soft power it can master, which includes its approach to humanitarianism,” said a commentary in the state-run Global Times. 

Qin attempted to diminish the value of the online nationalist sentiment, saying that an “overwhelming majority” of Chinese people “understand and sympathize with the sufferings of the Philippines”.

For more information, please see:

BBC News– China’s Phillippine aid controversy — 14 November 2013

ABC News– In Phillippine Relief Effort, China Beat by Ikea — 14 November 2013

Reuters– China says people sympathetic about Phillippines, online criticsm unrepresentative — 14 November 2013

Quartz– China’s paltry response to Typhoon Haiyan illustrates the limits of its soft power — 13 November 2013

Global Post– China to step up aid to Phillippines amid controversy — 14 November 2013

European Court of Human Rights Orders Sweden to Pay Girl Filmed in Bathroom by Stepfather

by Tony Iozzo
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

STRASBOURG, France – The European Court of Human Rights      ruled Tuesday that Sweden must pay compensation to a woman for failing to protect her right to privacy after her stepfather was acquitted of sexual molestation charges.

The girl found the hidden camera back in 2002 in a laundry basket. (Photo courtesy of BBC News)

Eliza Soederman’s stepfather attempted to film her naked in the bathroom when she was 14 years old. Soederman found the hidden camera in the bathroom in 2002. Her mother burned the film and reported the incident to police two years later, according to a court statement.

Soederman had found a video camera that her stepfather had hidden in the laundry basket in the bathroom. The European Court of Human Rights published a summary of the case on its website:

“The camera was directed at the spot where the applicant had undressed before taking a shower. [She] explained that on the relevant day, just before she was about to take a shower, her stepfather had something to do in the bathroom. When she discovered the camera, it was in recording mode, making a buzzing sound and flashing.”

The Court stated that Swedish law failed to protect her privacy because covert filming was not a punishable offense at the time. A Swedish law covering privacy rights came into effect in July earlier this year.

The stepfather was charged and convicted of sexual molestation over the incident. However he was later acquitted of the charges because Swedish molestation law did not extend to cases of covert filming.

The Court of Human rights ordered Sweden to pay Soederman 39,700 euros in damages, including compensation for legal costs.

The European Court judges stated that the man could not possibly have been convicted of attempted child pornography. The gap in Sweden’s sexual molestation law resulted from the lack of a definition for “pornographic picture” in the Swedish penal code.

Soederman, now 25, took her case to the European Court of Human Rights after the Swedish court of appeal acquitted the stepfather in 2007. He contended that he never intended his stepdaughter to know about the covert filming.

For more information, please see:

ABC News – Court: Sweden Failed Girl Filmed by Stepfather – 12 November 2013

BBC News – European Court Fines Sweden Over Girl Video Case – 12 November 2013

Fox News – Rights Court: Sweden Failed to Protect Girl Filmed Nude by Stepfather – 12 November 2013

The Local – European Court to Rule on Swedish Shower Case – 12 November 2013

The Washington Post – Rights Court: Sweden Failed to Protect Girl Filmed Nude by Stepfather – 12 November 2013

Mozambique Officers Arrest Child Smugglers

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

MAPUTO, Mozambique – Mozambican officers have rescued 27 children being smuggled to South Africa.

South Africa is the wealthiest country in the region (photo courtesy of BBC)

The children were between the ages of 1 and 7.

Seven people were arrested for attempting to smuggle these children across the border to South Africa.

Children end up in the hands of smugglers when parents send their children to stay with relatives in South Africa during school holidays. Instead of going to their relatives, many of them end up being smuggled.

Many of the children also end up in the hands of criminal networks.

When parents send their children to South Africa, they risk the potential for the children to be smuggled and forced into prostitution, child labor, illegal adoption, or used in “witchcraft,” BBC reports.

One of the mothers, whose child was smuggled, denies any criminal intentions when she sent her child on a minibus with the group. This group was later arrested for smuggling.

“I always took my child with me to Johannesburg because she was attached to my now-expired passport. This time I could not secure money to get a passport for my child,” said the mother, who has not been named in the local media.

One of the arrested men alleged of trafficking the children denies they were smuggling children. He claims they were paid to bring the children to South Africa to spend the holiday season there.

However, the police are confident they were dealing with child trafficking.

“We are talking about children who are not authorized to cross the border without being accompanied by a relative,” police spokesman Emidio Mabunda said.

“Even with a relative, the child must have a passport or must be attached to a passport of a parent.”

Some of the children found were sent back to their families, whereas others were put into the care of the social welfare department.

For more information, please visit:

BBC News – Mozambique ‘child smuggling’ arrests at South Africa border – 12 November 2013
Ghana Visions – Mozambique Child Smuggling Arrests At South Africa Border – 12 November 2013
Local UK News – Mozambique ‘child smuggling’ arrests – 12 November 2013
NewsForAfrica.com – Mozambique ‘child smuggling’ arrests – 12 November 2013

Thousands of Bulgarians Protest Incumbent Government After Ousting Previous Government in May

by Tony Iozzo
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

SOFIA, Bulgaria – Approximately 4,000 Bulgarian protesters marched in the country’s capital on Sunday, demanding that the current ruling party of the government step down to give rise to premature elections.

Thousands protested the country’s education system and current government over the weekend. (Photo courtesy of Novinite)

 

The protesters called for an end to the “rein of the oligarchy,” on a day exactly twenty-four years after the fall of the Communist Party in Bulgaria. Demonstrators gathered outside of government buildings in central Sophia, protesting that Bulgaria was still not a stable, prosperous country.

The protesters congregated at major intersections in the city, and were focusing their chants on pressuring incumbent Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski to resign. Many protesters toted images of Oresharski depicted as a zombie. A few protesters went so far as to burn their pictures. The Prime Minister recently took office in May but has already faced pervasive pressure to resign.

The previous administration was brought down by similar popular protests, but the new Socialist-led administration is already facing the same pressure to resign, as citizens are alleging corrupt ties with business groups.

Protesters are charging that the current government is “connected to the oligarchy” just like the previous administration. Sunday’s protest was the latest in a five-month-old anti-government movement that accuses its leaders of having ties with shady businessmen.

Sunday’s demonstrators carried banners stating, “Down with the mafia”, and “We stay, you emigrate.” Many signs referenced the twenty-four year anniversary of the fall of Communist dictator Todor Zhivkov, as many citizens do not believe the country has achieved true democracy.  “24 years of sham democracy is enough.”

Bulgarian students had also protested the previous day on Saturday, calling for changes to the country’s education system, which they said should develop “independent people with a critical mind, instead of conformists.” “We are protesting against poverty and unemployment”, the students stated in a written declaration. “We are protesting before we become beggars with a higher education.”

Bulgaria is one of the poorest countries in the European Union, and has been politically unstable this year with protests against poverty and corruption in February prompting the previous government to resign. The average monthly wage in Bulgaria is the lowest in the EU at 400 euros and the average pension just 130 euros.

A concert has already been organized for Sunday, also in Sofia, set to headline protest songs from the first anti-communist demonstrations in 1989-1990.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Bulgaria Protests: Clashes Outside Parliament – 12 November 2013

Novinite – Students Reignite Popular Anti-Corruption Protests in Bulgaria – 12 November 2013

The Republic – Protesters Block Bulgarian Parliament, Hoping to Oust Demanding Early Elections – 12 November 2013

Al Jazeera – Bulgarians Protest Against Government Policy – 10 November 2013

An Op-Ed by Colonel Morris Davis: On Guantanamo, Time to Face the Truth

Sen. Kay Hagan and I were born in Shelby, N.C., a city of about 20,000 people between Charlotte and Asheville. The city got its name from Col. Isaac Shelby, a hero of the Revolutionary War best known for his role in the Battle of Kings Mountain that took place about 15 miles southeast of the city that bears his name.

Hagan moved away from Shelby when she was a child. I left years later after I graduated from law school and joined the Air Force.

I moved to Washington in September 2005 when I was appointed chief prosecutor for the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. I stepped into the role believing the narrative we had been told by senior Bush administration officials: The men at Guantanamo were all the “worst of the worst,” the kind of fanatics who would chew through the hydraulic lines of the aircraft flying them to Cuba just to kill Americans.

For the most part, the narrative was false.

About 80 percent of the 779 men ever held at Guantanamo are no longer there; more than 500 left while President Bush was in office. Half of the 164 detainees still imprisoned were cleared for transfer in January 2010 by representatives of the CIA, FBI, Department of Defense and Department of Justice who unanimously agreed that they posed no imminent threat and the U.S. did not need to keep them.

Nearly four years later, 84 men the government says it has no need to keep remain in custody at an estimated cost of $2.7 million per man per year. If Sen. William Proxmire were still alive and in office, hundreds of millions of dollars wasted on needless imprisonment at Guantanamo would win a Golden Fleece Award.

Since 2004, the Supreme Court has decided three Guantanamo related cases: Rasul, Hamdan and Boumediene. The United States got a black eye in all three. In October 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit – the court Congress chose to review Guantanamo military commission cases – ruled that providing material support for terrorism was not a valid war crime for conduct that predated the Military Commissions Act of 2006. In the dozen years since President Bush authorized military commissions in November 2001, just seven detainees have been convicted. All seven were convicted of providing material support for terrorism, the offense the Court of Appeals concluded was not a valid war crime, and for two of them it was the sole charge.


There is just not much good that can be said about Guantanamo.

During their campaigns for the White House in 2008, Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain both pledged to close Guantanamo. After Obama won and the GOP adopted its “if he’s for it, we’re against it” strategy, closing Guantanamo became an early casualty. Beginning in 2011, Congress placed statutory obstacles in the way of the president’s efforts to close the facility, leaving some suspended in a Wonderland-like world where being convicted of a war crime can be a ticket home and never being charged can result in confinement for life.

Some members of Congress have taken steps recently to permit President Obama to begin winding down Guantanamo. In June, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted 23 to 3 to report the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 to the full Senate for debate and approval. Hagan was one of the 23 committee members who supported the bipartisan bill.

The bill gives the executive branch greater authority to manage the detainees held at Guantanamo. This includes allowing the military to transport detainees in need of urgent medical care to military medical facilities in the U.S. The Secretary of Defense would also receive the authority to bring detainees to the U.S. for trials if he finds it is in the interest of national security and can be done without compromising public safety. These provisions will face sharp opposition, and it will take courage to see them through.

In October 1780, a band of Patriot volunteers commanded by Col. Isaac Shelby and others defeated the British at the Battle of Kings Mountain. The victorious Patriots wanted revenge for atrocities they had suffered and chose 36 men from the hundreds of prisoners they had captured. The British loyalists were given summary trials and all 36 were sentenced to die by hanging. Nine men were strung up in a tree, three at a time, before Shelby stepped up in front of the vengeful mob and ordered the killing to stop.

In 2008, in his argument for closing Guantanamo, McCain said, “Our great power does not mean that we can do whatever we want, whenever we want.” That sentiment – just because we can, does not mean we should – reflects what Shelby must have felt when he stood up in front of his Patriots and said enough is enough.

Given the many false perceptions about Guantanamo and most of the men held there, it will take courage for members of Congress to stand up for the long-overdue provisions that will help bring it to a close. I hope Hagan will be counted among that number. I hope she recalls her Isaac Shelby roots.

Morris Davis is a retired U.S. Air Force colonel. He is an assistant professor at the Howard University School of Law in Washington and a member of Amnesty International USA.

Parliamentarians from 21 Countries Pledge to Advance Magnitsky Sanctions Worldwide

PRESS RELEASE
For Immediate Distribution

11 November 2013 – In a powerful multi-country move, parliamentarians from 21 countries have pledged their support to further the Magnitsky cause and Magnitsky sanctions around the world. Those sanctions include targeted visa bans and asset freezes on the Russian officials responsible for the torture and death of Sergei Magnitsky as well as other gross human rights abusers.

The newly formed Inter-parliamentary Group formed under the title “Justice for Sergei Magnitsky” will hold its inaugural meeting at the European Parliament on 13 November 2013.

“The Magnitsky case has come to represent all that’s wrong with Putin’s Russia. By forming the inter-parliamentary group on the Magnitsky case, we hope to give expression to the best initiatives from parliaments around the world and implement them across the countries represented by parliamentarians participating in this group,” said Hon. Irwin Cotler, MP, the chair of the Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Inter-parliamentary Group, who was counsel to Nelson Mandela and Natan Sharansky during their long periods held behind bars. He also served as Attorney General and Justice Minister of Canada.

The first parliamentary meeting of the Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Group will take place on the eve of fourth anniversary of Magnitsky’s murder in Russian police custody, which took place on the 16th of November 2009. The parliamentarians are committed to advancing the campaign for Magnitsky sanctions in Europe, Canada and other parts of the world.

“This will be the inaugural launch of a global, coordinated campaign to impose Magnitsky sanctions internationally,” said Hon. Irwin Cotler, MP.

Magnitsky sanctions are already in place in the United States under the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act signed by President Obama into law in December 2012.

In the EU, the European parliament has passed three resolutions calling on the Council of Ministers of the EU to implement a similar approach. Up to now, the Council of Ministers has stalled the implementation of sanctions fearing Russia’s retaliation. Now, with the new inter-parliamentary initiative, the legislators hope to make the Magnitsky Law a reality in Europe and overcome the resistance from the European Council.

The Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Inter-parliamentary group (IPG, website:http://ipg-magnitsky.org/) consists of members of parliament from 21 countries, including Kristiina Ojuland, an Estonian MEP, who initiated the latest Magnitsky resolution at the European parliament; Senator Jim Walsh, who spearheaded the Magnitsky resolution in the Irish Parliament; Dominic RaabMP, who authored the  Magnitsky Motion at the British Parliament; Barbara Lochbihler, German MEP and chair of the Human Rights Subcommittee of the European Parliament; Marek Migalski, a Polish MEP, and Jose Ignacio Sanches, a Spanish MP, who took upon the Magnitsky case in their respective roles. The Magnitsky Inter-Parliamentary Group also comprises an advisory board of Russian activists and campaigners involved in human rights and civil advocacy. It aims to build momentum around the initiatives that developed organically in different countries around the Magnitsky legislation.

For further information, please see:

Law and Order in Russia

UN Official: Qatar must reform Labour Relations

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DOHA, Qatar – Francois Crepeau, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, called on Quarter to improve labour relations and respect the rights of migrant workers in the country, which is preparing to host the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup.

Working conditions for migrant workers have been under scrutiny in Qatar, which has the highest percentage of migrant workers in the world (Photo Courtesy of Al Jazeera)

 

According to the United Nations Qatar should allow workers to organize into unions, abolish the discriminatory “kafala” system, adopt legislation to protect labour rights, and properly enforce existing legislation, to protect workers in the country.

Crepeau said on Sunday that there have been some positive developments for migrant workers but argued that the state must adopt reforms in order to protect the rights of migrant workers in the Country which has the highest ratio of migrant workers in the world.

Migrant workers make up approximately 88% of Qatar’s population. Qatar currently has a high demand for construction workers as the country undertakes several massive development projects including construction projects connected with the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Crepeau’s speech came at the end of an 8 day visit to Qatar to investigate allegations of abuses of the rights of migrant workers. The plight of migrant workers in Qatar gained international attention after The Guardian published a report on the issue earlier this fall. During his visit, Crepeau met with government officials, migrant workers, academics, and members of Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee.

While Qatar has announced plans to improve conditions of labourers in the country the state has been criticized for failing to enforce existing labour laws meant to protect worker rights. Qatar has fought to keep the images of labour conditions in the country from being seen by the international community. In October the Guardian reported that two German film makers, Peter Giesel the head of a Munich-based production company, and his cameraman Robin Ahne were detained for 27 hours after filming the working conditions of workers in Qatar from the balcony of the Mercure Grand hotel in Doha.

Despite continued concerns about the labour rights situation in Qatar the Fédération Internationale de Football Association organizations has remained committed to house the 20202 World Cup in Qatar. According to FIFA President Sepp Blatter has said that the decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar is “not reversible”.

On Saturday Blatter told reporters in Doha after meeting the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani that “There is no doubt that the World Cup in 2022 will be organised in Qatar.”

For More Information Please See:

Al Jazeera – UN official urges Qatar labour reforms – 11 November 2013

Al Jazeera –  UN recommendations on Qatar migrant rights – 10 November 2013

Al Jazeera – Blatter: World Cup in Qatar is not reversible – 9 November 2013

The Guardian – Qatar detained two Germans who filmed World Cup labour conditions – 14 October 2013

San Salvador Archbishop Closes Human Rights and Legal Aid Office

By Ellis Cortez
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador – The Roman Catholic Church in El Salvador has abruptly closed its important human rights and legal aid office, which for years denounced and investigated the most egregious massacre cases of the 1980’s civil war.

Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes, responding to the closure of the Tutela Legal office in San Salvador, said he was “worried about the bad signal this sends.”
Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes, responding to the closure of the Tutela Legal office in San Salvador. (Photo Courtesy of Roberto Escobar / European Pressphoto Agency)

The closure triggered national and international condemnation from faith, human rights and solidarity groups. They called for the preservation of Tutela Legal’s extensive archive, which contains evidence for unresolved criminal cases.

On September 30, employees showed up for work at the Tutela Legal office and found the locks changed on the doors and armed guards at the door. They were allowed 10 minutes to clear their desks. Attorneys who have worked with survivors and victims’ families for decades now have no access to evidence in the cases.

The current Archbishop, José Luis Escobar Alas, had closed Tutela Legal and issued a statement saying its work was “no longer relevant.” Employees said they were told that, with the war long over, the office was no longer necessary.

“We had no idea this was going to happen,” Tutela’s director, Ovidio Mauricio Gonzalez, said. “It is a strange coincidence. Just as they are talking about the amnesty, they close Tutela Legal, they close access to the archive, and abandon it to its fate,” he said.

The timing of the closure has caused widespread suspicion. The closure of Tutela Legal comes in the wake of a Supreme Court decision to consider vacating an “Amnesty Law” that has long protected perpetrators of war crimes.

The amnesty law, passed in 1993 by the military-allied Nationalist Republican Alliance government, protected numerous government officials, military officers and guerrilla leaders from prosecution for acts committed during the civil war that took place between 1980 and 1992, in which approximately 80,000 people died.

The court’s decisions renewed hope of the amnesty law being repealed and the possibility of reopening several prominent human rights cases that were investigated and documented by Tutela Legal. 

Late last year, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that the law cannot be used to protect those who ordered and carried out the single largest massacre in the war: the 1981 El Mozote massacre in which at least 800 peasants, including children, were killed by the army.

“I am worried about the bad signal this sends,” President Mauricio Funes said in a news conference, adding he did not know the reasons behind the closing. “The Catholic Church, and especially the archbishop of San Salvador, are not determined to accompany the just causes of the people,” Funes added.

Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero founded the Human Rights Office, originally known as Socorro Juridico (Legal Relief) in 1977, in order to document human rights violations from across the country. In addition to counselling the poor and oppressed, it was one of the only places people could go to report state-sponsored crimes. Every Sunday until his assassination in March 1980, Romero would broadcast a homily from the grand cathedral in San Salvador which included the latest denunciations.

Since then, Tutela Legal has documented more than 50,000 cases of human rights abuses. It holds the most comprehensive archive of El Salvador’s bloody history and its lawyers continue to represent survivors of notorious massacres including El Mozote and Rio Sumpul.

In the past two decades Tutela Legal’s work has proven crucial in cases brought against senior military figures living in the United States.Tutela Legal was also active in new cases, such as the 2007 Red car battery factory lead-poisoning case, and ran education programs and human rights training across El Salvador. Tutela’s work has recently included studies of gang violence, abuses tied to the expanded role of the military in policing, and important legal work for the poor.

Members of the Tutela Legal staff have been examining alternatives. There were suggestions that the office reopen as an independent human rights organization, without the auspices of the church.

For more information please see:

Al Jazeera El Salvador shutters historic rights clinic 12 October 2013

National Catholic Reporter Salvadoran archbishop closes legal aid office 4 October 2013

Los Angeles Times Catholic Church in El Salvador shuts down rights and legal office 2 October 2013

Center for Democracy in the Americas San Salvador Archbishop shuts down historic human rights office, Tutela Legal 2 October 2013