Neutral Nation Nixes Immigration from Neighbors by Narrow Margin

By Ben Kopp
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

BERN, Switzerland – By narrow margin, Switzerland passed a referendum that curbs immigration from European Union countries. As several leaders threatened retaliation, others hoped that they might take political office on a wave of anti-immigrant hatred.

Though many were told to ignore anti-immigration advertisements, 50.3 percent of Swiss voters supported a referendum to limit immigration from EU Member States. (Photo courtesy of Washington Post)

On 9 February 2014, Switzerland voted narrowly to limit workers from its European Union neighbors by limiting the country’s open-borders treaty; specifically, by removing EU citizens’ equal footing in the Swiss labor market. Leaders throughout Europe threatened to retaliate, and EU officials warned that the referendum could threaten Switzerland’s access to the bloc’s 500 million consumers.

Anchored by economic powers Germany and France, the bloc stretches from Portugal to Latvia and from Ireland to Greece.

While Switzerland is a neutral non-EU country, the referendum’s motivating hatred toward immigration has been increasing in EU Member States throughout the region.

The vote aroused fear that Swiss citizens might reflect the zeitgeist of Europe, where right-wing populists fill the political spotlight has become with an anti-immigration agenda.

“Switzerland is playing the role of a pioneer for the whole of Europe now,” said Chairman Toni Brunner of the Swiss People’s Party, which backed the referendum measure and has launched an initiative to ban mosque minarets. “EU open borders, in the form they exist in today, will have to be discussed.”

Large Swiss companies argued against the referendum, stating that the country is in desperate need of employable talent from nearby countries. Switzerland’s unemployment rate is currently 3.5 percent. However, the Swiss People’s Party argued that the referendum was necessary to preserve Swiss identity in the face of 80,000 EU citizens moving through the Alps and changing the social fabric of Swiss cities, villages, and towns.

Although polls several weeks ago indicated the referendum would fail, a 50.3 percent vote of support allowed it to pass.

Since the multi-year debt crisis began, hard economic times have persisted in Europe, leaving immigrants the scapegoats. The stream of Syrian refugees into the region—particularly around Bulgaria—has also added to anti-immigrant nationalism.

In Greece, Golden Dawn’s paramilitaries declared war against immigrants, with several well-document attacks taking place in Athens.

Hungary’s far-right Jobbik party, known for its anti-Semetic, anti-Roma, and anti-immigrant positions, has moved from the outer rim of politics into Parliament, with heavy campaigns appearing well ahead of elections.

While binding treaties prevent EU Member States from legally blocking immigration within the bloc, several European leaders have sought ways to curb the flow of immigrants from the EU’s poorest countries, Romania and Bulgaria. Those leaders are expected to take up to one-third of the European Parliament’s seats following the May 2014 elections.

“Immigration is the big theme of 2014 in Europe,” said Director of Open Europe Mats Persson. “One of the big risks is that the European Parliament becomes quite polarized after the May elections, filled with federalists who want a closer union in Europe and nationalists who want exactly the opposite.”

The free movement of people remains under attack. But as history teaches, the constriction into oppression always re-opens and expands into freedom.

For further information, please see:

BBC News – EU to Review Swiss Ties after Immigration Vote – February 10, 2014

Expatica – Swiss Move to Limit Damage after EU Migrant Curb Vote – February 10, 2014

Geneva Lunch – Emotional Swiss Day: Votes, Olympic Medal – February 10, 2014

Reuters – Swiss-EU Power Talks on Hold after Immigration Vote – February 10, 2014

Washington Post – Swiss Vote to Limit Foreign Workers Captures Growing European Fears about Immigration – February 10, 2014

Euronews – EU Warns Switzerland All Treaties Will Be Reviewed after Anti-Immigration Vote – February 9, 2014

Gay Rights Activists Arrested In Russia Ahead of Olympic Opening Ceremony

by Tony Iozzo
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia – Russian police arrested fourteen gay rights protesters in Moscow and St. Petersburg on Friday, shortly before the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympic Games.

Protesters are detained in Moscow’s Red Square on Friday. (Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera)

In the incident Moscow, Russian police detained ten protesters in the City’s Red Square after they had been waiving rainbow flags. In the incident in St. Petersburg, four protesters were waving displaying a banner which included the language of the Olympic Charter which bars any form of discrimination.

A Russian law banning gay “propaganda” from reaching minors has elicited international criticism since its passing, with some calling for a boycott of the Sochi Olympic Games. Russian law also bans any unsanctioned protests.

Anastasia Smirnova, one of Russia’s leading gay activists and an arrestee in the St. Petersburg protest, posted a thank-you to supporters on her Facebook page, writing, “Can’t write much as phones are not permitted, and they are now calling us to sign papers. Cosmic hugs to you from our police station … Detention for a photo with a banner — isn’t it an amazing way to celebrate the Opening of the Games?”

Western powers have been urging Russia to rescind its anti-gay laws since before the commencement of the Sochi Games. On Friday, President Putin met with Dutch authorities who challenged the country’s gay laws, but President Putin opined that the Winter Olympic Games should be about sports and not about discussing political views.

Some world leaders, such as U.S. President Barack Obama, have chosen to stay away from the Games completely, while other world leaders appeared less troubled by the issue. Chinese President Xi Jinping congratulated Putin on the Olympics and praised their countries’ growing alliance. China’s state-controlled media has barely reported on the Russian anti-gay propaganda law.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is also in attendance at the Games, and has advocated for gay equality in sports. “Many professional athletes, gay and straight, are speaking out against prejudice. We must all raise our voices against attacks on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex people. We must oppose the arrests, imprisonments and discriminatory restrictions they face.”

Corporations have spoken out, either explicitly on the issue, as well. Google changed its homepage logo to depict illustrations of athletes skiing, sledding, curling and skating against a rainbow-colored backdrop and language from the Olympic charter that bans discrimination. The company has stated that it wanted the illustration to speak for itself. The logo has widely been interpreted as support for gay rights and a rebuke of Russia’s propaganda law.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Russian LGBT Activists Arrested on First Day of Sochi Games – 7 February 2014

The Independent – Winter Olympics 2014: Sochi Protesters Arrested Over Banner Citing Olympic Charter’s Words Against Discrimination – 7 February 2014

New York Times – Scores Detained in Russia Before Olympic Ceremony – 7 February 2014

Reuters – Gay Rights Protesters Detained in Russia as Games Start- Activists – 7 February 2014

 

Violence Forces Muslim Population Out of CAR

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

BANGUI, Central African Republic – Religious violence in the Central African Republic (CAR) could force its entire Muslim population to flee, a senior human rights worker has told BBC.

A woman on the truck fleeing CAR attacked by looters before the last checkpoint (photo courtesy of AP).

Human Rights Watch (HRW) emergency director Peter Bouckaert said this could affect the economy, as Muslims control the livestock market and other businesses.

HRW has called for a UN peacekeeping mission as Muslims are dying by the thousands and many are fleeing.

“We are in a moment where immediate action is needed to stop the killings,” Bouckaert said, calling for a full-fledged UN peacekeeping mission. “Otherwise the future of the Muslim community of this country will be gone.”

The violence has reached an intolerable level. Many of the Muslim population have fled to Chad or Cameroon.

Muslims make up about 15% of CAR’s 4.6 million people. More than 800,000 people have fled their homes – about half of those from the capital, according to the UN.

“There are some who don’t want Muslims in this country,” Prime Minister Andre Nzapayeke said on the local radio on Saturday. “But when the Muslims have left the country, what happens next? The Protestants will throw out the Catholics, and then the Baptists against the Evangelists, and finally the animists? It is time we regain control and stop ourselves from plunging into an abyss.”

Bouckaert has said that at least 10 people had died this past week in the capital.

He said he had personally witnessed a Muslim being hacked to death in Bangui, in retaliation for the reported killing of 6 people by Muslim fighters.

Thousands of Muslims left Bangui in a massive convoy on Friday that was jeered by crowds of Christians. One Muslim who fell off of a truck was quickly killed by the mob.

Muslim people who could not get on the trucks tried to hand their children to strangers aboard the vehicles.

Whole neighborhoods are abandoned and Muslims who cannot leave are hiding inside mosques that have not already been set ablaze or destroyed by angry crowds.

Entire Muslim communities also have left towns in the rural northwest, sometimes only to come under attack from Christian militiamen and die while trying to get out of the anarchic country.

No one knows the true death toll from the two months of the worst inter-communal violence in this country’s history. It is often too dangerous for crews to recover the corpses.

More than 1,000 people were killed during several days of fighting in early December, when a Christian militia attempted to overthrow the Muslim rebel government then in power.

For more information, please visit:
BBC News – Violence could force out CAR’s Muslim population – HRW – 9 February 2014
Mail & Guardian – CAR Muslims targets of mob violence – 9 February 2014
The Frontier Post –
\”CAR\’s Muslim civilians\” \’at risk\’ – 9 February 2014
The Denver Post – Thousands of Muslims are fleeing Central African Republic amid mob violence – 9 February 2014

 

Iran Schedules Warships to Approach US Maritime Borders

By Darrin Simmons
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

TEHRAN, Iran-An Iranian naval officer has said that a number of war ships have been ordered to approach U.S. maritime borders in response to U.S. vessels in the Persian Gulf.

Iran’s Jamaran-2 guided missile destroyer is docked during its inauguration in the port city of Anzali, northwest of Tehran, March 17, 2013 (photo courtesy of Voice of America)

Admiral Afshin Rezayee Haddad, stated “Iran’s military fleet is approaching the United States’ maritime borders, and this move has a message.”  Haddad, known as the commander of the Iranian navy’s northern fleet, further said the vessels began their voyage towards the Atlantic Ocean by way of waters near South Africa.

“A destroyer and a helicopter-carrying supply ship have already entered the Atlantic Ocean via waters near South Africa,” stated Haddad.  The ships reportedly set sail last month from the southern Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas, carrying some navy academy cadets for training along with their regular crews.  The ships are on a three-month mission.

A U.S. defense official responded by casting doubt on any claims that the Iranian ships were approaching the U.S. maritime borders, but added that the ships are free to operate and sail within international waters.

Iran views the Persian Gulf as its own “backyard” and believes that it has a legitimate interest in expanding its influence in the Gulf. However, the U.S. and its allies regularly hold naval exercises in the Gulf in order to ensure freedom of navigation where 40 percent of the world’s seaborne oil exports pass through

Iran has made claims that they could block the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Gulf and has been under military attack due to its disputed nuclear program.  As such, Iran has been developing its presence in international waters, regularly launching vessels in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden to protect Iranian ships from Somali pirates within the area.

Iranian Members of Parliament have accused President Hassan Rouhani of stopping a scheduled missile exercise.  IRNA has reported that 24 members of parliament stated that the Supreme National Security Council, headed by President Rouhani, stopped the annual test while not approving its budget.

For more information, please see the following:

 Al Jazeera-Iran says warships to approach US borders-09 February 2014

Payvand Iran News-Iran: Warships to Approach US Maritime Borders-09 February 2014

Reuters-Iran says warships sailing towards U.S.: agency-08 February 2014

Voice of America-Iran: Warships to Approach US Maritime Borders-08 February 2014

 

Iraq Accused of Women Prisoners Abuse

By Darrin Simmons
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq-Thousands of women have suffer torture and other forms of abuse, including sexual assault, while being illegally held in Iraqi prisons, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Thursday.

More than 4,200 women are currently being held in prisons across Iraq (photo courtesy of BBC)

The allegations were based on a report containing the testimony of the female detainees, their relatives and lawyers, prison medics, court documents and meetings with official.  Thus, giving credit to one of the central claims made by disaffected Sunni Arabs frustrated with the Shiite-led government.

The minority community has taken issue with the dominating long-running protests in Iraq’s Sunni-dominated areas, saying it is unfairly targeted by the authorities and security forces, and points in particular to the treatment of women in prisons.

One of the 27 women interviewed by the New York-based watchdog had to walk on crutches because she said she had suffered nine days of beatings, electrical shocks and other forms of abuse leaving her disabled.

HRW reported that that woman was later executed despite a medical report supporting her allegations of torture.

A vast majority of the women prisoners have reported being beaten, kicked, and slapped, given electric shocks, and raped, while others have been threatened with sexual assault, sometimes in front of male relatives.

The women were often arrested either in order to question their male relatives’ alleged support for militants or to harass male family members or the community more generally.

“Iraqi security forces and officials act as if brutally abusing women will make the country safer,” HRW deputy Middle East and North Africa director Joe Stork said in a statement.

“In fact, these women and their relatives have told us that as long as security forces abuse people with impunity, we can only expect security conditions to worsen.”

Human rights groups, analysts, diplomats and lawmakers have become increasingly vocal over alleged abuses, including mass arrests, prolonged periods of detention without trial, the closure of some neighborhoods and detainee abuse.

Analysts say that while most Sunnis do not actively support militant groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a powerful jihadist group, their anger means they are less likely to cooperate with authorities in providing intelligence or handing in suspected insurgents.

“These abuses have caused a deep-seated anger and lack of trust between Iraq’s diverse communities and security forces, and all Iraqis are paying the price,” Stork said.

For more information, please see the following: 

Al Arabiya-HRW: Iraq security forces abuse women prisoners-06 February 2014

Al Jazeera-Iraq slammed for women prisoners abuse-06 February 2014

BBC-Iraqi security forces ‘abuse female prisoners’-06 February 2014

Rudaw-Human Rights Watch: Thousands of Women Suffer Abuse in Iraqi Jails-06 February 2014

 

US Dept. of Homeland Security Warns Global Sochi Flights of Homemade Bombs

by Tony Iozzo
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Department of Homeland Security of the United States has warned airlines with flights to the Sochi Games in Russia that toothpaste containers, or similar personal hygiene items could be used as homemade bombs.

Russia has deployed over 30,000 security troops to the Sochi Olympic Village, both in part reactive, and in part proactive to security threats. (Photo courtesy of BBC News)

The DHS authorities issued the warning to both domestic, as well as international flights heading to Sochi, Russia for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.

Major news outlets have reported that anonymous government officials stated that ingredients could be brought on board to these flights and the bombs could be assembled either on the flight, or afterwards in the Sochi Olympic Village. The warning seems to be a proactive attempt to be consistent with Russia’s massive security efforts, as authorities did state that they haven’t identified any specific threat to the United States or the Sochi Games.

“While we are not aware of a specific threat to the homeland at this time, this routine communication is an important part of our commitment to making sure we meet that priority. As always, our security apparatus includes a number of measures, both seen and unseen, and DHS will continue to adjust security measures to fit an ever evolving threat environment,” a DHS official stated.

Security in the host city of Sochi has been amped up for several months, as the Russian government prepares for the Winter Olympics that start this week, while also combating the threat of militants operating in the Caucasus. The Kremlin has deployed over 30,000 security forces to the Sochi Olympic Village and has severely restricted access to the area. In the months leading up to the Olympics, terror groups have issued threats, and three suicide bombings in as many months have rocked cities across Russia.

“Out of an abundance of caution, [DHS] regularly shares relevant information with domestic and international partners, including those associated with international events such as the Sochi Olympics,” the DHS said in the issued statement on Wednesday.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Sochi 2014: U.S. Warns Airlines of Russia “Toothpaste Bomb” Threat – 5 February 2014

Reuters – U.S. Warns Airports Over Possible Bomb Ingredients in Toothpaste Tubes – 5 February 2014

Russia Today – U.S. Warns of Explosives in Toothpaste Tubes on Russia Flights Ahead of Olympics – 5 February 2014

TIME World – Americans Warn Airlines of Toothpaste Bombs on Sochi Flights – 5 February 2014

 

Army Recruiting Fraud Scandal Costs US Government $29M

by Michael Yoakum
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, D.C., United States – The US Army is embroiled in scandal since news broke Tuesday that a program designed to encourage recruitment resulted in fraudulent payments of totaling in the tens of millions. More than 1,200 people are under investigation with the fraud program that occurred during the peak of the Iraq War.

A program meant to bring in more recruits descended into a free-for-all that cost taxpayers tens of millions. (photo courtesy of BBC News)

The program began in 2005 as a National Guard recruitment tool and expanded to the Army and Army Reserve, offering between $2,000 and $7,500 to recruit friends and family members. According to information provided by two Army generals at a Senate hearing, the program paid out $300M for 130,000 during the Iraq War.

One soldier reportedly accrued $275,000 in illegal bonuses according to papers released by the Senate panel. Four others reportedly obtained over $100,000 in bonuses.

High school principals and guidance counselors accepted recruitment money for students they already knew to be joining the Army. Others illegally accepted bonuses after forcing subordinates to sign up as recruiters and funnel recruitment bonuses into personal bank accounts.

This is discouraging and depressing,” said Senator Claire McCaskill, adding “Clearly, we’re talking about one of the largest criminal investigations in the history of the Army.”

McCaskill called the meeting of the Senate’s financial and contractor oversight committee Tuesday.

In a statement to the press, Army spokesman George Wright expressed the Army leadership’s outrage, saying “After internal Army investigations identified instances of fraud in Recruiting Assistance Programs, the Secretary of the Army immediately terminated those programs and their funding in February 2012.

Major General David E. Quantock, commanding general of the United States Army Criminal Investigation Command, testified fraudulent payments, believed to total $29M, could increase to nearly $100M before the end of the investigation.

McCaskill chastised the alleged offenders, saying “It is disappointing that people who wore the uniform saw a way to get one over on the government and they did. It does such a disservice to the majority of people who have served honorably.”

For more information, please see:

BBC News – US Army rocked by Iraq war recruitment fraud scheme – 4 February 2014

The Guardian – US army investigates hundreds of soldiers for recruitment fraud – 4 February 2014

The New York Times – Fraud in Army Recruiting Bonus Program May Cost Nearly $100 Million – 4 February 2014

The Washington Post – Army probes allegations of fraud by recruiters and others in enlistment referral program – 3 February 2014

USA Today – Recruiting fraud, kickback scandal rocks Army – 3 February 2014

Egypt Continues To Deny Press Freedoms; Accuses Al Jazeera Journalists of Collaborating With Terrorists

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt – While the interim government in Egypt has established a “roadmap” to democracy the military government has recently come under fire for the treatment of journalist reporting on the transition process and the brutal crackdown on Islamists organizations in the state. Al Jazeera has criticized the Egyptian government for failing to protect journalists and  abuses of press freedom claiming that several members of its staff have been beaten, threatened and unlawfully subjected to police raids. Al Jazeera has also criticized the government for failing to protect journalists after one of its journalists was shot by a sniper while reporting last year. Additionally, Al Jazeera has condemned the state for detaining its journalists for several months without charge.

Al Jazeera has documented abuses press freedom in Egypt, including abuses suffered by its own staff, since President Morsi was removed from power last year. (Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera)

Four Al Jazeera journalists are currently being held in Egypt. Peter Greste, a former correspondent for the BBC, Mohamed Fahmy, a former CNN reporter, and, Baher Mohamed a local producer were taken into custody by Egyptian forces last December. Abdullah al-Shami, A Journalist for Al Jazeera Arabic, has been held without charge in Egypt since last August. Al-Shami has been on hunger strike in protest of his detention for more than two weeks.

The Al Jazeera network has reported that it has been served with a list of 20 individuals wanted by the Egyptian government in connection with the case it claims it has against Al Jazeera’s journalists. However, Aljazeera has stated than only nine of those named are actuality on its staff.

Claims made against the journalists include accusations that members of Al Jazeera’s staff have collaborated with terrorist by taking to members of the Muslim Brotherhood during the course of their reporting last year.

The Muslim Brotherhood, longed banned under the regime of Hosni Mubarak that came to power in Egypt after Mohamed Morsi became the first Democratically elected President in the nation’s history, has been under attack by the Egyptian government which has cracked down on its members and has once again declared the organization an illegal political party.

Responding to her inclusion on the list, Sue Turton, one of the Al Jazeera journalists included on the list, has said she was astonished that a warrant for her arrest has been issued in Egypt. Turton has worked as a television journalist for almost 25 years. She said, “I have no allegiance to any political group in Egypt or anywhere else and no desire to promote any one point of view.”

Several members of the international community including major news organization have spoken out against Egypt’s treatment of journalists, including the prolonged detention of the Al Jazeera reporters. UK based media outlets, TBBC, Sky and the Daily Telegraph newspaper have issued a joint call for the immediate release of all journalists currently being detained in Egypt.

The Obama Administration has condemned the Egyptian government for this violation of press freedom. White House Spokesperson Jay Carney expressed the United States’ “deep concern” about the arrests. In a statement Tuesday he said, “The restrictions on freedom of expression in Egypt are a concern, and that includes the targeting of Egyptian and foreign journalists and academics simply for expressing their views.”

Activists are using social media to get the word out about Egypt’s detention of journalist using the hashtag #FreeAJStaff. More than 40 journalists are currently being held in Egypt.

For more information please see:

Al Jazeera – Al Jazeera Staff Charged In Egypt Are Named – 05 February 2014

Al Jazeera – Timeline: Al Jazeera’s Challenges in Egypt – 05 February 2014

CNN International – 8 Al Jazeera Journalists Charged By Egyptian Authorities, Network Says – 05 February 2014

The Guardian – British Reporters Deny ‘Aiding Terrorists’ In Work For Al Jazeera In Egypt – 05 February 2014

Al Jazeera – #FreeAJStaff campaign: ‘What if all journalists were gagged?’ – 04 February 2014

BBC News – US Urges Egypt To Free Al-Jazeera Journalists – 04 February 2014

Grenade Injures Six Students at Libyan School

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

TRIPOLI, Libya – At least six children have been injured by a grenade attack in a Benghazi, Libya school.

Security personnel stand in front of a court building after blasts occurred in Benghazi (photo courtesy of Reuters).

Witnesses say the grenade was thrown over a wall into a private school during a break from lessons.

The blast damaged part of the building and some victims were seriously wounded.

Blasts and assassinations are not uncommon in Benghazi, where security forces are battling Islamist militants tied to the Ansar al-Sharia group. Washington has listed this group as a foreign terrorist organization.

Benghazi, the city from which the 2011 uprising that toppled dictator Muammar Qaddafi stemmed, saw a series of attacks in recent months as the weak central government has tried to rein in former rebel brigades turned militias.

Fadia al-Barghathi, a spokesperson for Benghazi’s hospital, stated: “The injuries range between light and moderate.”

A security official described the force of the explosion as “weak” and said that a hunt was underway for those behind the attack.

A medic revealed that two of the six children are in critical condition and were taken to the Beghazi medical centre.

The gunmen, later in the night, attacked Al-Saiqa checkpoint at Al-Jala hospital, sparking a firefight, which, thankfully, left no injuries.

Two days ago, the son of Libya’s special forces chief was kidnapped by gunmen in Benghazi.

A military source said the abduction was aimed at pressuring the special forces to bring about the release of prisoners held by the army.

The special forces had announced last month the arrest of four suspects in possession of a hit list of officers to be targeted or had been killed.

Militia brigades often fight “turf wars” for control of areas and businesses, and they have refused to disarm.


For more information, please visit:

BBC News – Libyan blast injures six children at Benghazi school – 5 February 2014
Reuters –
Blast at Libya school wounds six children – hospital, security sources – 5 February 2014
Yahoo! News – Blast at school in Libya’s Benghazi wounds six children – 5 February 2014
Al Arabia News – Blast at school in Libya’s Benghazi wounds children – 5 February 2014
The Daily Star – Playground bomb wounds 12 kids in Libya’s Benghazi: medics – 5 February 2014