Thousands of Refugees Blocked From Receiving Food Aid in Syria

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria – According to the United Nations and activists, food aid deliveries to thousands of people living in a blockaded area in southern Damascus have been cut off after a truce collapsed and fights once again broke out between Syrian rebel groups and regime forces. The Yarmouk district of Damascus is home to thousands of Palestinian refugees.

Residents of the Yarmouk district of Damascus line up in hopes of receiving food aid. (Photo courtesy the Irish Examiner)

Yarmouk is the largest of nine Palestinian camps in Syria. Since the camp’s was founded in 1957, it has evolved into a densely populated residential district, only five miles from the centre of Damascus. The camp has been home to several generations of Palestinian refugees. Before the conflict more than 160,000 Palestinian refugees lived in Yarmouk, around 18,000 Palestinian refugees remain in the district.

Chris Gunness, a spokesperson for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in Damascus, urged both parties to “immediately allow” delivers of food and medical aid to be resumed in order to fight the malnutrition epidemic in the area. On Monday Gunness said the United Nations “remains deeply concerned about the desperate humanitarian situation in Yarmouk, and the fact that increasing tensions and resort to armed force have disrupted its efforts to alleviate the desperate plight of civilians,” Gunness said on Monday. He urged both regime and rebel fighters to facilitate “safe and unhindered humanitarian access”

Over the course of the three year old conflict the Yarmouk area of Damascus has seen some of the worst violence in the nation’s capital. The fighting has led to severe shortages in food and medical supplies leading to severe malnutrition, illness and hunger.

Israa al-Masri, a young boy who lived in the Palestinian neighborhood of Yarmouk in Damascus, Syria was one of thousands of Syrian children to suffer from hunger in the region, he passed away from a hunger-related illness, on Jan. 11, 2014 (Photo courtesy of CBS News)

On Tuesday Filippo Grandi, the Commissioner General of UNRWA, called the extent of damages to the refugees’ homes in the Yarmouk area shocking, he said “the devastation is unbelievable. There is not one single building that I have seen that is not an empty shell by now.”

On Saturday rebel fighter claimed that Assad loyalists were sneaking weapons into Yarmouk under the pretext of the joint patrols, delaying food distribution and arresting young men waiting for food parcels from the United Nations. The next day rebels returned to the area and clashes broke out between regime and al-Nusra and other rebel fighters.

In total, the United Nations has distributed 7,708 food parcels to the Yarmouk district’s 18,000 registered Palestinian refugees. According to activist groups, there are thousands more displaced Syrians living in the district suffering from malnutrition, illness and hunger as a result of food shortages.

For more information please see:

Al Jazeera – Thousands of People Living In Blockaded District in Southern Damascus Are Cut Off From Aid As Truce Collapses – 04 March 2014

Irish Examiner – Thousands ‘Slowly Dying’ in Yarmouk Camp – 01 March 2014

CBS News – U.N. Renews Call For Syria Regime, Rebels To Allow Aid Into Yarmouk Camp For Starving Refugees – 26 February 2014

The Guardian – Queue for Food In Syria’s Yarmouk Camp Shows Desperation Of Refugees – 26 February 2014

Former Nazi Auschwitz Guard Not Fit to Stand Trial Due to Dementia

by Tony Iozzo
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

BERLIN, Germany – A German court ruled that a former guard at the Auschwitz Nazi death camp is unfit to stand trial.

A gate to the Auschwitz Death Camp translates to “Work Sets You Free.” (Photo courtesy of the Washington Post

Hans Lipschis, 94, was determined to not be able to stand trial as he is suffering from dementia. Judges at the Ellwangen court in Germany ruled that Lipschis would not be able to understand the proceedings following the charges of being an accessory to murder during his time as a guard as Auschwitz.

“The court has refused to open the trial. The chamber is of the opinion that the 94-year-old is incapable of standing trial. It bases this judgment on its own personal impression and the opinion of a psychiatrist,” a court statement reported.

Lipschis was arrested last May. He had immigrated to the United States in 1956, but was deported in 1983 after he was accused of concealing his past as a Nazi officer. Lipschis avoided prosecution for over thirty years, as prosecutors were unable to link him to a specific crime or victim. However, the recent conviction of Ivan Demjanjuk, a death camp guard, provided a legal precedent for prosecution of Nazi war criminals without specific evidence. In 2011, a German court convicted Demjanjuk of playing a role in the murder of 28,000 Jews at a Nazi camp in Poland.

Lipschis worked as a Nazi guard at Auschwitz from 1941 to 1943, during which twelve prisoner convoys arrived at the extermination camp. Approximately 10,000 of those prisoners were determined unfit for work and executed in the gas chamber upon arrival.

The complaint against Lipschis alleged that he had been a member of the Waffen SS, a Nazi unit that specialized in “systematically exploiting and murdering people because of their race … and other characteristics.” The complaint further stated that Lipschis had been assigned to two different death camps during his tenure.

Lipschis admitted last year to the German newspaper Die Welt that he had been a cook at Auschwitz and stated that he later left the camp in order to fight on the Eastern Front, although he could not remember which he had been assigned to.

Roughly 1.5 million people were killed at Auschwitz. The deceased were mostly Jewish people, but also Roma, Poles and various other groups had been murdered as well.

For more information, please see:

ABC News – German Court Says Nazi Suspect Unfit For Trial – 28 February 2014

AP News – German Court Says Nazi Suspect Unfit For Trial – 28 February 2014

Chicago Tribune – Suspected Auschwitz Guard Found Unfit For Trial – 28 February 2014

Washington Post – German Court Says Nazi Suspect Unfit For Trial – 28 February 2014


Iran Claims Abducted Border Guards Freed in Pakistan

By Darrin Simmons
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

TEHRAN, Iran-Iranian military officials have reported that five Iranian border guards who were seized and held captive in Pakistan have been released.  The guards were held captive for three weeks.

Iranian soldiers reportedly freed from Pakistan (photo courtesy of Fars News)

The Iranian soldiers were abducted by Sunni Muslim militants on February 6 in the Sistan-Baluchistan province.  They were among 11 foreign hostages that were freed in an operation by Pakistani forces, reported Iran’s official news agency IRNA.

“Five Iranian troops who had been kidnapped on our eastern borders and transferred to Pakistan were freed,” stated General Massoud Jazaerisemi.

He did not elaborate on the circumstances of the release, only saying that “the country’s entire police and security apparatus were involved in this matter.”

Pakistani authorities, however, appeared to have no knowledge of the operation.

It was reported by the Frontier Corps, a government run paramilitary that is primarily responsible for security in Baluchistan, that they had freed three Africans who were kidnapped by drug traffickers in Baluchistan on Saturday, but had not recovered any of the Iranians.

Sistan-Baluchistan is an impoverished and relatively lawless province that has seen an abundance of rebellion by a disgruntled Sunni minority in a predominantly Shi’ite Iran.

Iran warned two weeks ago that it might pursue the rebels into Pakistani territory, provoking an angry warning from Islamabad.  This warning is sparked from anger over a spate of cross-border attacks by the so-called Jaish al-Adl, translated to the Army of Justice.

Earlier this month, Jaish al Adl set several conditions for releasing the Iranian soldiers in a statement on its website. The group has called on Iran to release fifty of its arrested members, 200 prisoners and fifty female militants imprisoned in Syria in a swap deal with the five border guards.

The group released a photo of the kidnapped border guards and claimed the responsibility for their abduction on February 8.  On February 11, Iran called on Pakistani officials to arrest and extradite members of the group who were responsible for the abduction of border guards.

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif enjoys warm relations with Saudi Arabia, which sheltered him after an earlier military coup forced him into exile. Sharif’s cash-strapped government is also hoping for financial aid from the Saudis. As such, Iran accuses both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia of supporting an armed Sunni rebellion.

For more information, please see the following: 

Al Jazeera-Iran says border guards freed in Pakistan-02 March 2014

Reuters-Iran says abducted border guards freed in Pakistan-02 March 2014

Tribune-Abducted guards freed, says Iran-02 March 2014

Fars News-Abducted Iranian Border Guards Released in Pakistan-01 March 2014


Doctors Without Borders Removed From Myanmar

By Kevin M. Mathewson
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

YANGON, Myanmar – Doctors Without Borders has been kicked out of Myanmar after two decades of caring for sick people in the country. The decision came after the humanitarian group reported it treated nearly two dozen Rohingya Muslim victims of communal violence in Rakhine state.

AIDS patient Ei Ei Phyo, right, talks during an interview while her child takes a rest at HIV/AIDS care center. (Photo Courtesy of Associated Press)

Many of the country’s 1.3 million Rohingya – identified by the United Nations as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world – have been living in the country for generations, but the government insists they are here illegally. Systematic and discriminatory policies limit their freedom of movement, access to health care, right to worship and have children.

The government defended its decision by accusing the group of creating tensions and instability in violence-scarred Rakhine.

Myanmar’s presidential spokesman Ye Htut had criticized Doctors Without Borders in the Myanmar Freedom newspaper for hiring “Bengalis,” the term the government uses for the Rohingya Muslim minority.

Ye Htut also accused the group of misleading the world about the attack last month in remote northern Rakhine, cut off to almost all foreigners, including journalists and aid workers. The United Nations says more than 40 Rohingya may have died when a Buddhist mob rampaged through a village, killing women and children. The government denies the allegation and says one policeman was killed by Rohingya and no other violence occurred.

The humanitarian group said it was “deeply shocked” by Myanmar’s decision to expel it after two decades of work in the country.

“Today for the first time in MSF’s history of operations in the country, HIV/AIDS clinics in Rakhine, Shan and Kachin states, as well as Yangon division, were closed and patients were unable to receive the treatment they needed,” the group said in a statement, using the French acronym for its name.

Due to increasing threats and intimidation from a group of Rakhine Buddhists who have been holding near daily protests against Doctors Without Borders, the organization has said its activities have been severely hampered and that it has not received enough government support.

“We urge the government to continue to work with the international community to provide humanitarian assistance to communities in need and to unsure unfettered access for humanitarian agencies,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington.

Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley, one of the most prominent voices in the U.S. Congress on Myanmar, also reacted to the reported expulsion. “It is the responsibility of the Burmese government to protect civilians. This is deeply troubling,” he said in a tweet.

For more information, please see:

arab news – Doctors Without Borders expelled from Myanmar – 1 March 2014

Associated Press – Doctors Without Borders expelled from Myanmar – 28 February 2014

abc NEWS – Doctors Without Borders Expelled From Myanmar – 28 February 2014

Yahoo! News – Doctors Without Borders expelled from Myanmar – 28 February 2014

Brazil Forcefully Evicts Residents Ahead of World Cup

By Ellis Cortez
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BRASILIA, Brazil – Many poor people have been evicted or are facing eviction from their homes as urban renewal efforts are being launched ahead of this year’s World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.

Brazil Forced Evictions
Residents walk inside the Favela do Metro slum near Maracana stadium where people have been evicted and homes demolished in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo Courtesy of AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

More than 230 families were forced out of their homes in Vila Recreio II, a Rio de Janeiro slum that was demolished three years ago to make way for the Transoeste expressway connecting the Barra da Tijuca neighborhood that’ll be the main hub for the 2016 Olympics with the western outskirts of Rio.

Officials are using the events as reasons for expanded metro lines, roads, airport renovations and other works. Critics say poor residents are paying the price and estimate some 100,000 people have been evicted or face removals to make way for the projects.

“The city has become the object of the big business, the big interests behind the mega-events,” said Marcelo Chalreo, who heads the human rights commission of the Rio chapter of Brazil’s bar association. “In the name of the (sporting) events, now everything has to be pretty and nice looking,” he added.

These displaced residents were told to either accept a lump-sum compensation for their homes or walk away with nothing. According to many residents, the Brazilian government’s compensation and an apartment in a distant housing project are inadequate. The government’s compensation of just over $2,300 is not enough to cover some of the homes in many slums, where they are going upward of $50,000.

City officials have in the past acknowledged that some 15,000 families were resettled, but insist the moves were done to remove people from areas prone to deadly mudslides and had nothing do with the World Cup or Olympics. The office of Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes has said that it “is not and will not carry out any resettlements” connected to the World Cup.

However, city officials have said that for upcoming Olympic preparations, they plan to resettle 278 families living on land that’s part of the Olympic Village. Olympic organizers confirmed the removals near the Olympic village.

An advocacy group for affected slum residents, Popular Committee for the World Cup and Olympics, estimates that 100,000 have or will be moved.

“The city’s removal policy is disastrous because it’s taking these pockets of poverty and pushing them out to the furthest limits of the city, thus making vulnerable people that much vulnerable,” said Renato Cosentino, a member of the Popular Committee.

For more information please see:

RYOTBrazil Forcefully Demolishes More Than 100,000 Homes to Make Way for the World Cup and Olympics – 28 February 2014

Think Progress Brazil Relocates More Than 15,000 Families Ahead Of World Cup 28 February 2014

ABC News Critics Blast Rio’s World Cup, Olympic Evictions 28 February 2014

Associated Press Critics blast Rio’s World Cup, Olympic evictions 28 February 2014