Since the Syrian army entered Syrian cities in mid-2011, most cities have been divided between regime-controlled areas and armed opposition-controlled areas. Syrian city inhabitants are the primary sufferers of this division. This division is present in Aleppo, which is divided into Eastern and Western sections, and in the Damascus region, with damascene suburbs and the area surrounding Gota primarily under armed opposition control, and the province’s center and capitol under regime control.
The regime has arbitrarily dropped barrel bombs on neighborhoods outside of their control, destroying property and killing and wounding large numbers of civilians. In response to this, armed opposition groups are bombing areas under regime control (in Damascus and Aleppo), using poorly-directed mortar shells and homemade explosives, all with high margins of error. Opposition groups’ shelling may cause less destruction than that of the regime, but they still qualify as indiscriminate attacks—in breach of international law.
The Syria Justice and Accountability Center (SJAC) works to record evidence of these violations and collect the names of these victims. In pursuit of this objective, the SJAC has held meetings with witnesses and victims’ families in regime-controlled areas in Aleppo and Damascus, in order to document the opposition groups’ indiscriminate shelling operations. These operations involve indiscriminate shelling and missile attacks on civilian areas, allegedly with the aim of targeting regime security forces, the military, and secret police staying in these areas.
INSCT faculty member and Syracuse University College of Law Professor of Practice David M. Crane is to be honored by the Center for Victims of Torture with a 2014 Eclipse Award at a June 25, 2014 ceremony at the Open Society Foundations in Washington, DC.
CVT gives the Eclipse Award each year to an individual or organization that has played a crucial role in either preventing torture or treating its survivors and to commemorate the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.
Curt Goering, CVT Executive Director, says his organization honors Crane this year for his work fighting impunity throughout the world, from his role as Chief Prosecutor for the Special Court for Sierra Leone, to starting “Impunity Watch,” to launching the SU College of Law Syrian Accountability Project, to co-authoring the Chautauqua Blueprint, and more.
Past winners of the Eclipse Award include Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT); the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture; Dr. Elizabeth Lira, a clinical psychologist from Chile; Elisa Massimino, President and CEO of Human Rights First; and Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL).
The CVT half-day event—“Fighting Impunity”—will bring together government officials, NGOs, academics, human rights and national security experts, survivors of torture, and journalists in a discussion of why meaningful accountability is vital to preventing torture and other violations of human rights.
By Kathryn Maureen Ryan Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
CAIRO, Egypt – In the time that has passed since the wildfire that is the Arab Spring spread to Egypt in 2011 when the county’s young masses took to the streets and toppled the Mubarak regime, which had ruled Egypt as a police state for several decades, it has become increasingly clear that Egypt’s future security is uncertain. While the world focuses on the questionable democratization process in Egypt, questioning whether the removable of President Morsi and the ongoing electoral process represents a transition to democracy or a pendulum swing back to a military regime, the real threat to Egypt future security may be located upstream, along the historic banks of the Nile River
Food and water security have had a profound effect on Egypt’s recent history and will continue to impact its future. Violence in Egypt have been linked to high food prices for decades; one of the major grievances of the Egyptian youth in 2011 was concern over unemployment and the high cost of food in Egypt. Egypt is a net-importer, the largest importer of wheat in North Africa. Food and water prices will likely increase in the future as Egypt’s population continues to increase and growing ecological concerns place a greater strain on the state’s water supply. The Egyptian population continues to grow at a rate of about 2% annually with the Historic Nile River, the main source of fresh water for the Egyptian people, supporting a population of 83 million people; these issues are already putting a strain on the Egyptian economy. The 2005 UNDP Human Development Report for Egypt stated that “poor water quality affects both health and land productivity with damage costs estimated to have reached LE 5.35 billion [$7.7m] or 1.8 percent of GDP.”
The Egyptian government believes the development of a massive hydropower dam upstream in Ethiopia will place its water security in greater because the dam will obstruct the flow of water into Egypt, which depends on the Nile for about 85% of its water. Construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, a project that spans an area of about 1,800 km2, is now roughly 30% complete. When it is finished the Grand Ethiopian will be the largest hydroelectric dam in Africa. Despite concerns raised by Egypt Ethiopia is moving forward with construction.
In January Ethiopia rejected a proposal that would guarantee Egypt the right to most of the Nile River’s water. Egypt argues that its 1959 agreement with Sudan which gave Egypt the rights to 55.5 billion cubic meters out of a total of 84 billion cubic meters is the governing document on the Nile’s water. However, Ethiopia and other upstream nations reject the accord as they were not signatories to the agreement.
As construction continues Ethiopia has less incentive to negotiate with Egypt over the use and management of the Nile Watershed. Egypt’s Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy has had the water dispute on his agenda. During a trip to Italy in February, Fahmy asked the Italian company contracted to build the dam to halt construction. In a letter to the company the Foreign Ministry said; “The government of Egypt calls upon the EU Commission, and the esteemed European governments, to give due consideration to the accountability of business enterprise of European nationality for their conduct in supporting Ethiopia’s projects affecting the Nile river downstream states.” A spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry said there is “no room at all for concessions or allowances harming our interests because it is a subject of national security”.
Ethiopia says it is open to negotiating the period over which it fills the dam’s retaining reservoir. However Egypt insists that it will be harmed regardless of this gesture. Egypt does not have a strong history of cooperating with other states over the use of the Nile Watershed. When the Nile Basin Initiative was formed as a partnership of Nile riparian state in 1999 with the support of the World Bank Egypt refused to sign any agreement that did not guarantee its current share of the Nile waters. While the end result of the current Nile water dispute remains uncertain what is clear is that Egypt’s future; much like its past, is deeply connected to the future and ecological health of the Nile River, which has supported the lives of the Egyptian people for thousands of years.
By: Danielle L. Gwozdz Impunity Watch News Reporter, Africa
ABUJA, Nigeria – 230 Nigerian schoolgirls were abducted last week from their school. Forty have managed to escape, but 190 are still missing. Boko Haram, an Islamist group, is suspected to be behind the kidnapping but have not issued a statement.
The kidnapping occurred after the Boko Haram extremists stormed a remote boarding school in northeast Nigeria.
At the scene of the attack, in Chibok, parents wept begging the kidnappers to “have mercy on our daughters” and for the government to rescue them.
Borno state education Commissioner and the principal of the boarding school stated that students were at the school to take a physics exam when the abduction occurred.
Boko Haram claimed responsibility for a bombing near Nigeria’s capital of Abuja that left dozens of people dead; although this bombing occurred on the same day as the kidnapping, they have not taken responsibility for the kidnapping.
This year alone, Boko Haram is believed to have killed over 1,500 people.
Boko Haram’s name means: “Western education is forbidden.” They are fighting to establish Islamic law in Nigeria and often target educational establishments.
The forty girls that escaped from the group escaped on their own. None were rescued by the military.
“I have not seen my daughter, she is a good girl,” cried Musa Muka, whose 17-year-old Martha was taken away. “We plead with the government to help rescue her and her friends; we pray nothing happens to her.”
Those who have escaped say they jumped out of the back of a truck in the pre-dawn hours of Tuesday. Others ran away and hid in the dense forest.
Although this mass abduction is extraordinary, violence in the area has been on the rise.
The most prevalent area for the danger is in northeastern Nigeria, which have been under a state of emergency since mid-May of last year due to persistent bloodshed that is claimed to be by Boko Haram.
The military believes that the militants took the girls to the Sambisa forest near the Cameroonian border. Parents and vigilante groups have gone there in search of the girls.
This mass abduction is an embarrassment to the military who claimed that they rescued all of the girls except eight. They later retracted the statement.
“The operation is going on and we will continue to deploy more troops,” Major General Olukolade, the Defense Ministry’s spokesman, said. Further, he stated that the air and land patrols are hunting for the students.
If you’ve seen the documentary Return to Homs, a chronicle of life and battle in the Syrian city, you’ll have an easy time visualizing the violent showdown that’s taking place as you read this article. Fighters holding out in rebel-held areas of Homs, mixed with desperate civilians who’ve stayed behind in their homes, have been under heavy bombardment as Syrian government troops moved in to take back the area. U.N. Syria envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said Homs has become “a theater of death and destruction,” while the opposition Syrian National Council warned of “a massacre in the making.” Syrian state television said government forces “have achieved key successes” in the battle.
“The tunnels which allowed in supplies have been destroyed by the regime with vacuum bombs and aerial bombardments,” said one rebel fighter, quoted in an opposition statement. He also described the grim success of an apparent regime strategy of blockading food, starving people in the rebel-held area. “We don’t have any leaves left on the trees. We’ve eaten them all,” he said.
“Every day, we open our eyes to our bleak reality: to the mortar shells that bring fear, death, disease and destruction. It has robbed us of our loved ones, destroyed our special places, hurt our close friends. Take my neighbor’s daughter. At just seven years old, she has lost the ability to speak after a rocket landed close to our street,” she wrote.
“One can never get used to sleeping on an empty stomach. We try to entertain ourselves to forget our hunger, but there is no power and it is difficult to be without electricity after our lives once depended on it. I feel as if I’m living in the Stone Age.”
On Wednesday reports surfaced of yet another chemical attack in the suburbs of Damascus; the opposition accused the regime of responsibility. State media, in return, have pinned a string of small-scale chemical attacks on rebel fighters, framing them as efforts to evoke sympathy and international action.
Amid the claims and counter-claims, the Syrian government’s commitment to destroy its chemical weapons stash is faltering. President Bashar al-Assad is at risk of missing an April 27 deadline to transfer chemicals to international custody, the Wall Street Journal reports. “Both the frequency and volumes of deliveries have to increase significantly,” said Ahmet Uzumcu, the head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. The chemical weapons are being delivered to the port of Latakia, where they’ll be shipped out for destruction.
“Everywhere you look in central Damascus, you see President Bashar al-Assad’s face: thoughtful on the T-shirt of a soldier, smiling on a wall, hidden behind sunglasses in a traffic circle,” writes Kristin Solberg in Damascus. “A casual observer might think he is the only candidate in the upcoming presidential election, as he has always been – until this year.”
Of course, he is the candidate with the biggest public platform – one that will be formidable for other candidates to counter. Assad spoke at Damascus University this week, saying the conflict had reached a “turning point,” framing it as “a war on terror.”
By: Danielle L. Gwozdz Impunity Watch News Reporter, Africa
ALGIERS, Algeria – Islamist militants have killed fourteen Algerian soldiers in an ambush on a convoy in the mountains east of the capital, security officials say.
The attack near the village began Saturday night as an army detachment returned to its base near the mountainous region in Algeria.
There was no immediate claim to the attack. Suspicion, however, falls on al-Qaeda, whose fighters are holed up in the mountainous region in Algeria, some 60 miles away from the capital.
A local official said a large group of insurgents hid on both sides of the road and opened fire with automatic weapons as the military bus drove by.
The troops killed were from a unit that had been deployed as part of a security operation during Thursday’s vote and were heading back to barracks when they were ambushed.
President Bouteflika, 77, was re-elected for a fourth term following a campaign that stressed security as a key policy.
“Such criminal action only serves to reinforce the army’s determination to eliminate diehard terrorist groups,” the ministry said.
It also said a search operation for the assailants were underway in a cluster of about ten villages and that “so far three terrorists were eliminated and two . . . assault rifles seized.”
This has been one of the deadliest attacks on the Algerian military in many years.
Since the end of the 1990 war, attacks in Algeria have been rare. But Algerian officials are concerns with spillover from the turmoil in neighboring Libya, where fighters linked to al-Qaeda take refuge in the southern deserts.
“On their way back from securing the presidential election, the unit came under attack,” the defense ministry said in a statement posted by APS. Three militants were also killed.
by Michael Yoakum
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America
NEW YORK CITY, United States – The New York City Police Department said Tuesday that it has disbanded a special unit of plainclothes detectives tasked with mingling with Muslim communities to discover terror plots. The Zone Assessment Unit, developed with the aid of the CIA in the wake of 9/11, acknowledged that it monitored Muslim owned businesses and places of worship.
NYPD spokesman Stephen Davis confirmed that detectives from the Zone Assessment Unit were reassigned to other operations in the department’s intelligence division. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio considered disbanding the unit a “critical step forward in easing tensions between the police and the communities they serve, so that our cops and our citizens can help one another go after the real bad guys.”
Disbanding the Zone Assessment Unit is just one of many anticipated rollbacks in post-9/11 intelligence gathering within the NYPD under new Police Commissioner William Bratton. The new Commissioner will also consider scaling back overseas operations that deploys NYPD officers to stations in London, Paris, Tel Aviv and Amman.
NYPD officials stated that disbanding the controversial unit was part of a conclusion that information could be more easily gathered through direct interaction with the Muslim community. One high-ranking NYPD official stated in a 2012 deposition that the unit never generated a single piece of actionable information during its six years of operation.
News of the Zone Assessment Unit’s work drew negative reactions in Washington. 34 members of Congress expressed the need for a federal investigation of the NYPD while Attorney General Eric Holder said he was disturbed by the news. The Department of Justice is reviewing complaints received from the Muslim community.
Reporting on the unit also triggered an investigation by the Inspector General for the CIA, who was concerned about the involvement of a CIA operative in setting up this program. The investigation ultimately concluded that the CIA did not violate its own policies prohibiting domestic spying.
Former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, who helped set up the Zone Assessment Unit, has defended its use, saying his officer observed legal guidelines.
KYIV, Ukraine – Amidst political tensions in Ukraine, distributed fliers by an unknown group in Donetsk called for the registration of Jewish citizens. Donetsk’s Jewish community largely dismissed the move as “provocation.”
In February 2014, a popular revolt in Kyiv ousted pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych.
On 15 April 2014, masked men handed out leaflets in front of the main Donetsk synagogue, during the Jewish holiday of Passover. The fliers demanded that Jewish citizens register and document their property or face deportation because Jewish leaders had supported the “nationalists and bandits” in Kiev. Jewish leaders in Donetsk have said that Russian protesters have declared the synagogue a “People’s Republic.”
CNN translated a photographed copy of the leaflet: “All citizens of Jewish nationality over age of 16, living on territories of Donetsk People’s Republic, have to register with DPR commissioner of nationality before May 3rd, 2014 at the Donetsk Regional Administration, room 514, registration fee is $50. Must have in person $50 cash, passport, all available IDs, and documentation of ownership of real estate and transportation.”
Denis Pushilin, self-proclaimed head of “People’s Republic,” denied any connection with the fliers. Pushilin stated that his handwriting was not the same as that found on the leaflet, and the title attached to his name was not one he has used.
On 17 April 2014, United States officials denounced what U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called the “grotesque” and “beyond unacceptable” leaflet.
The Jewish community in Donetsk dismissed the leaflet as a “provocation,” and stated that relations between the Jewish community and their neighbors in Donetsk were amicable. Also, it remains unclear who distributed the fliers. “Who is behind this is an open question,” Rabbi Pinkhas Vishedski said in the statement. He also said that the act was a provocation “and should be treated accordingly … full stop and end of topic.”
Still, the chief rabbi of nearby Dnipropetrovsk said, “Everything must be done to catch them.”
“It’s important for everyone to know it’s not true,” the rabbi, Shmuel Kaminezki said. “The Jews of Donetsk will not do what the letter says.”
U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt stated that radical groups could be trying to stir up historic fears or create provocation to justify continued violence. The fliers came amidst Ukraine’s struggle to contain uprisings by pro-Russian political movements in several eastern cities. Both the pro-West and pro-Russian sides have invoked the historical horror of Nazism in disputes. Pyatt said that in Kiev, where the Jewish community is a vital part of political life, there is “no sympathy for this approach. It’s almost inconceivable that this kind of thing could be happening in the 21st century.”
“It’s chilling. I was disgusted by these leaflets,” Pyatt said. “Especially in Ukraine, a country that suffered so terribly under the Nazis, that was one of the sites of the worst violence of the Holocaust. To drag up this kind of rhetoric is almost beyond belief.”