Venezuela Deaths Rise as Police and Opposition Activists Clash Again

By Ellis Cortez
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela – Police and opposition demonstrators have clashed at the end of a march that gathered tens of thousands of people in Caracas on February 22. Police fired tear gas and activists hurled stones in the Altamira district where several people were injured.

Demonstrators run from police firing tear gas and rubber bullets during a protest against the government of President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, February 22, 2014. REUTERS-Jorge Silva
Demonstrators run from police firing tear gas and rubber bullets during a protest against the government of President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas on February 22, 2014. (Photo Courtesy of Reuters/Jorge Silva)

Since the protests began, 10 people have died, 137 have been injured and 104 arrested, according to government figures. Demonstrators are accusing troops and pro-Maduro militants of attacking peaceful demonstrators.

A female student and a young supermarket worker were the latest fatalities from Venezuela’s political unrest. Geraldin Moreno, a 23-year old student, died in a hospital on Saturday after being shot in the face with rubber bullets as security forces broke up a protest on February 19. Santiago Enrique Pedroza, a 29 year-old man was killed late on Friday when he rode his motorcycle into a cable strung across a main road in the eastern neighborhood of Horizonte.”He was on his way home, he couldn’t see the cable because of the darkness, and it slit his throat,” Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres told state television.

Maduro reiterated that the events of the last two weeks are a coup-in-the-making backed by the United States and financed by Colombia’s ex-president Álvaro Uribe, whom Maduro accuses Leopoldo Lopez of working closely with.

Anti-government protesters have repeatedly blocked streets in the area with trash, which they sometimes set on fire. Police and National Guard troops have often used teargas to separate demonstrators.

According to locals in San Cristobal, the state-capital of Tachira, the internet remained down until Friday. In another effort to neutralize mounting tensions, the minister of energy, Rafael Ramirez, has banned fuel distribution to areas he considers “under-siege”.

Private and public TV stations in the country have given little coverage to the street protests, or even to the incarceration of Lopez, who now awaits trial in a military prison. Several members of a CNN team had their journalist accreditation revoked and left the country amid accusations of “contributing with their coverage to psychological warfare.”

Human Rights Watch has issued a statement condemning the systematic violation of personal freedom and the unlawful imprisonment of civilians.

On Friday, Maduro urged U.S. President Barack Obama to hold talks with his government and suggested the two nations restore ambassadors. “Accept the challenge and we will start a high-level dialogue and put the truth on the table,” Maduro said in a nationwide TV address.

The opposition is demanding that the president resign over rampant crime, high inflation, shortages of basic products, and what opposition members see as repression of political opponents.

The current wave of protests began on February 12. Three people were shot dead at the end of those marches in Caracas by unknown gunmen. Daily protests have been held in the capital for the past eleven days.

For more information please see:

Reuters Venezuela deaths rise as unrest claims student and biker 22 February 2014

BBC Venezuelan police and opposition activists clash in Caracas 22 February 2014

The Guardian – Venezuelans on streets again as protest leader awaits trial arrest – 22 February 2014

CNN Venezuela’s Maduro wants talks with Obama 21 February 2014

Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill is on Hold

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

KAMPALA, Uganda – President Yoweri Museveni is asking the U.S. to advise Uganda’s scientists about homosexuality. The Ugandan President is currently considering whether to sign the law, which would increase punishments.

Gay Rights Activists have strongly condemned the Bill (photo courtesy of AP)

Museveni wants to discover whether people are born gay.

Museveni’s change of heart, which he was going to sign the Bill, seems to be due to the money the UK and United States gives to Uganda.

Homosexual acts are illegal in Uganda. The proposed legislation passed by parliament toughens the penalties, including imprisonment for certain acts.

Previously, Ugandan scientists had determined there was no gene for homosexuality.

“It was learned and could be unlearned,” Museveni said.

Shortly after Museveni announced he would sign the Bill, U.S. President Obama warned Museveni that enacting the bill would affect relations between the two nations. He described the proposal as an “affront and a danger to the gay community” in Uganda.

The hold will determine whether homosexuality could be triggered by genes and is not a “lifestyle choice.”

Homosexuality is also illegal in 37 African countries. Few Africans are openly gay because they fear imprisonment, violence, and loss of jobs.

Museveni made a statement on February 18 that he “want[s] . . . [the United States] to clarify whether a combination of genes can cause anybody to be a homosexual. Then my task will be finished and I will sign the bill.”

Museveni had originally refused to sign the Bill, saying it was wrong to punish people born “abnormal.”

Scientists, however, advised him that homosexuality was a behavioral choice. They told him that there was no gene for homosexuality but it was not an “abnormality” and it could be influenced by environmental factors.

The report said: “The practise needs regulation like any other human behaviour, especially to protect the vulnerable.”

The Bill was first introduced in 2009, with the death penalty as a sanction. This was scaled back to life in jail when the Parliament voted in December.

The Bill also proposed years in prison for anyone who counsels or reaches out to gays and lesbians, a provision that would ensnare rights groups and others providing services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

For more information, please visit:
BBC News – Uganda: Museveni ‘seeks US advice on homosexuality’ – 21 February 2014
The Huffington Post UK – Uganda’s Gay Laws Put On Hold As President Asks For Advice From Scientists – 23 February 2014
Ugandan President says he’s asked U.S. scientists for advice on homosexuality – 22 February 2014
Reuters –
Antigay law put on hold in Uganda – 21 February 2013

Ukraine Ushers Overwhelming Change, Opposition Victory as Parliament Ousts President

By Ben Kopp
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

KYIV, Ukraine – A historic chain of events found Ukrainian protesters in control of the capital Kyiv, opposition icon Yulia Tymoshenko free from prison, and President Viktor Yanukovych defiantly claim to still wield power after Parliament voted to dismiss him.

Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko praised protestors following her freedom from prison. (Photo courtesy of TIMES World)

Since November 2013, Ukrainian protests escalated into a Cold War-style confrontation, as Russia attempted prevent EU and US efforts to strengthen relations with Ukraine.

On 22 February 2014, security forces abandoned President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled Kyiv. Tens of thousands of protestors who occupied Independence Square discovered nearly-abandoned government and presidential buildings.

Inside Yanukovych’s private estate, Ukrainians found luxuries ranging from a private zoo to a replica galleon floating on an artificial waterway.

“I am in shock,” a retired military servicewoman named Natalia Rudenko said as she inspected the president’s rare pheasant collection and a banquet hall built inside the galleon replica. “In a country with so much poverty, how can one person have so much?”

As Yanukovych gave a television interview from the pro-Russian eastern bastion city of Kharkiv, he denounced the “coup” against him and branded his political foes “bandits.”

In Yanukovych’s absence, Parliament stepped into the power vacuum , voted to oust President Yanukovych, and set new elections for 25 May 2014. Next, Parliament ordered Yanukovych’s pro-EU rival, Tymoshenko free from prison. United States officials applauded Tymoshenko’s release, and wished her “a speedy recovery as she seeks the appropriate medical treatment that she has long needed and sought.”

Tymoshenko appeared in a wheelchair to 50,000 protestors, saying, “You are heroes, you are the best of Ukraine.”

Later, deputies named Tymoshenko ally Arsen Avakov as interior minister in place of Vitaliy Zakharchenko, who is blamed for ordering the police to open fire on unarmed protesters.

The army issued a statement that it “will in no way become involved in the political conflict.” Additionally, the police force declared itself in support of “the people” and “rapid change”.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said, “Events in the last 24 hours show the will of Ukrainians to move towards a different future, and ensure that the voices of those who have protested courageously over several months are heard.”

“This is a political knockout for Yanukovych,” charismatic opposition leader Vitali Klitschko said in a statement. “Yanukovych is no longer president.”

In a firm voice, Yanukovych vowed to fight any attempt to oust him: “I am not leaving the country for anywhere. I do not intend to resign. I am the legitimately elected president.

However, government buildings stood without police protection as baton-armed protesters dressed in military fatigues wandered freely across his once-fortified compound.

Russia’s foreign ministry accused the opposition of “submitting itself to armed extremists and looters whose actions pose a direct threat to the sovereignty and constitutional order of Ukraine.”

Only time will tell how well the waters of this Ukrainian spring have cleansed a country following months of turmoil.

For further information, please see:

AFP – Protesters Hail Freed Tymoshenko But Ukraine Leader Defiant – February 22, 2014

Aljazeera – Freed Tymoshenko Addresses Ukraine Protesters – February 22, 2014

Euronews – Ukraine: New Parliamentary Speaker Elected – February 22, 2014

New York Times – Ukraine’s Leader Flees the Capital; Elections Are Called – February 22, 2014

TIME World – Freed Ukrainian Opposition Leader Yulia Tymoshenko Addresses Protestors – February 22, 2014

Australian Missionary Detained in North Korea

By Kevin M. Mathewson
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PYONYANG, North Korea – John Short, an Australian missionary who has been working in Asia for 50 years, has been detained in Pyonyang after apparently disseminating Christian pamphlets at a tourist site.  The 75-year-old carried Korean-language pamphlets advocating Christianity into the East Asian nation, which were later discovered by security personnel.

John Short was detained on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of Times)

Australia has no representation in North Korea, leaving diplomats scrambling to prevent a potentially lengthy detention in the secretive regime. A spokesman from the Seoul embassy said he was seeking more information about his case.

“We are in close contact with Swedish officials in Pyongyang to seek their assistance in confirming the well being of Mr. Short,” the spokesman said.

With no representation in the authoritative country, the Australian government is essentially powerless to help Short directly. Instead, it is left to rely on Swedish officials in the North Korean capital to check on Short’s well being.

“John is still in North Korea in detention and being questioned as to why he was carrying Korean-language Christian materials,” Karen Short said via telephone in Hong Kong, where she co-owns a Christian publishing firm with her husband.

“He wanted to go as a Christian but not do anything untoward or unwise, because it’s a very closed country, the world knows that. He’s not cavalier in any way, but he is a man of faith.”

She said it was her husband’s second trip to North Korea and that he knew it was not a tourist destination, but said he “cares about the people and wants to help.”

It is unclear what charges, if any, Short may face. However, last year North Korea sentenced American missionary Kenneth Bae to 15 years hard labor after convicting him of trying to overthrow the state. Efforts from Washington to secure his release have proven unsuccessful.

Karen Short says that her husband is fit and healthy and has not yet suffered any physical harm.

Short is no stranger to testing circumstances. A former soldier in the Australian military, he arrived in Hong Kong in 1964 and worked at a refugee clinic during the turmoil of China’s Cultural Revolution. Even so, there is no disputing the tremendous peril he currently faces, including a possible 15-year prison sentence similar to Bae’s. “I pray for my husband to come back soon,” says Karen Short, “I miss him dearly.”

For more information, please see:

TIME – Concern, Little Sympathy, for Australian Missionary Detained in North Korea – 20 February 2014

The Australian – Visiting missionary arrested in North Korea – 20 February 2014

BBC News – North Korea detains Australian missionary – 19 February 2014

The Sydney Morning Herald – South Australian man detained in North Korea on suspicion of doing missionary work – 19 February 2014

abc NEWS – Family: Australian Missionary Held in North Korea – 19 February 2014