Venezuelan President Maduro, Backed by Russia, Pushes Back Against US Sanctions While Praising The Obama Administration

 

By Delisa Morris

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has stated that sanctions placed on Venezuela by the United States could cause his country to shut down its diplomatic missions in the U.S.

President Maduro Photo courtesy of nationalreview.com

The measure, which has cleared the House of Representatives but faces a challenge in the Senate, could “lead to the point of not having an embassy or consulates in the United States, Maduro said Thursday.  However, Maduro has praised the Obama administration’s opposition to the bill, saying it has led him to name a new top diplomat in Washington.

The opposition to the bill Maduro is speaking of, is in response to comments by Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson, who has again urged the U.S. Senate to vote against the bill.  Maduro said that he read the remarks “with great attention” and said that the remarks were a “leap toward good sense”.  These remarks sparked Maduro to name a new top diplomat in Washington.

The praise from Maduro, however slight, is a change in tide from the plethora of denunciations attributed to the U.S. by the Venezuelan President.  Following in his predecessor, and role model, President Hugo Chavez’s footsteps Maduro and his supporters have repeatedly accused Washington of trying to topple his government.  Maduro has blamed the U.S. for stirring up the protests in which at least 42 people have died since February.

This week, pro-Maduro Caracas Mayor Jorge Rodriguez announced that the U.S. ambassador to Colombia, Kevin Whitaker, was implicated in a plot to murder President Maduro.  This news was announced in the midst of an event where Rodriquez was speaking that included first lady Cilia Flores and National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello.  Rodriguez requested that the U.S. government clarify if it knew of Whitaker’s alleged role or if Whitaker was acting without aid.

Jen Psaki, State Department spokeswoman, called the allegation baseless.

Amongst Maduro’s supporters is Russia.  Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday, at a joint press conference with Elias Jaua, Venezuelan Foreign Minister, “[a]ll the problems (of a country) must be solved under the Constitution, without outside interference, or even sanctions or threats of sanctions.”  Lavrov added, “[w]e have endorsed our solidarity with the government of Nicolás Maduro, and his determination to both overcome certain difficulties facing Venezuela and engage in dialogue (…) with the opposition.”

Maximilien Sanchez Arvelaiz, former Venezuelan ambassador to Brazil, has been named as Maduro’s new top diplomat in Washington.  In February, Maduro named Sanchez Arvelaiz to fill the vacant ambassadorship in Washington, but U.S. officials have not acted on the proposal.

For more information, please see:

El Universal — Russia Takes Issue with US because of Sanctions on Venezuela — 29 May 2014

ABC News — Venezuela Leader Praises US Rejection of Sanctions — 30 May 2014

The Washington Post — Venezuela Leader Praises US Rejection of Sanctions — 30 May 2014

Monterey Herald News — US Slow to Back Sanctions on Venezuela — 21 May 2014

 

United States Secretary of Defense To Make Decision Regarding Transfer of Guantanamo Bay Detainees

By Lyndsey Kelly
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, D.C., United States of America Guantanamo Bay has been highly criticized by human rights groups for imprisoning individuals for extended periods of time without being charged or given a trial. President Obama’s administration wants to close the detention center in Cuba, however the President’s plan has been thwarted by the difficulties of transferring the detainees.

Hagel to make decision on transfer of Guantanamo Bay Detainees “fairly soon” (Photo Courtesy of Reuters). 

The Senate Armed Services Committee recently wrapped up a defense bill on Thursday 22 May 2014. The bill would authorize the transfer of prisoners currently incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay to U.S soil for detention, trial, and incarceration.  The bill is in accordance with last years National Defense Authorization Act that eased restrictions on transferring detainees to foreign countries and is another step towards closing the Guantanamo Bay facilities.

In an effort to close Guantanamo Bay, President Obama has been talking to several countries about relocating inmates. The U.S President recently spoke with Uruguayan President Jose Mujica about accepting six detainees. Uruguay agreed in March to take some inmates from Guantanamo Bay, in return, the United States was to free some Cuban prisoners. Uruguayan media reported that the detainees to be transferred were four Syrians and one Pakistani.

Under the current laws the Secretary of Defense must review all cases of detainees to be transferred and examine the procedures put in place to monitor the detainees so as to certify to Congress that they will not be at risk to return to the battlefield. United Stated Defense Secretary, Chuck Hagel, stated on Wednesday 28 May 2014 that he would soon make a decision regarding the detainees at Guantanamo Bay whom Uruguay has offered to accept. Defense officials said there was no timetable for Hagel to make the decision, and Hagel’s only indication as to the timeframe of his decision was his response that the decision would be made “fairly soon.”

Hagel responded to comments about his drawn-out decision by stating, “What I am doing is taking my time to assure that any decision I make is…by standards Congress gave me, that I in fact can notify and certify that this is the responsible thing to do.”

The decision to close Guantanamo Bay has been controversial due to the high security interest. Top Senate Republicans have vowed to do all they can to keep the facility open, or at the very least slow the process of transferring the detainees. Of the 166 men who were held in detention in May 2013 only 12 have ben transferred out of Guantanamo Bay in the past year.

Hagel has addressed the oppositions concerns to close the facility by stating that he has created a system whereby he will carefully examine the risk the detainees could potentially pose as well as measures put in place to mitigate those risks. However, Hagel acknowledged the risk in closing Guantanamo Bay when stating, “there is a risk in everything … I suspect I will never get a 100-percent deal.”

 

For More Information Please See:

ABC News – Obama Win on Guantanamo Prison May be Short-Lived– 30 May 2014.

Huffington Post – Time to Close Guantanamo — Not One More Day – 30 May 2014.

Reuters – Hagel to Make Decisions on Guantanamo Detainees ‘Fairly Soon’ – 30 May 2014.

Wall Street Journal – Hagel Reviewing Cases in Transfer of Six Detainees to Uruguay – 30 May 2014.

 

Pregnant Pakistani Women Stoned to Death by Family as Crowd Watched

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch Managing Editor

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – As a court of onlookers watched outside of a Lahore courthouse on Tuesday, several male relatives beat her to death with stones, bricks and clubs because she married the man she loved instead of  her cousin.

Police investigators said the 25-year-old woman, Farzana Parveen, was stoned and beaten to death on a busy street as of about 30 men watched, but took no action to save her. Ms. Parveen was killed in the name of protecting her families “honor.” She was from a small Punjabi village 57 miles west of the city of Lahore, enraged her family in January when she married Muhammad Iqbal, a widower from a nearby village, instead of the man who had been chosen by her parents, a man who was her own cousin.

Mohammad Iqbal sits next to his wife,Farzana Parveen’s body, who was stoned to death members of her own family for not marrying her cousin. (photo courtesy of Reuters)

Her parents had brought a police complaint against her husband claiming that he had kidnapped their daughter. On Tuesday, Ms. Parveen was scheduled to appear in court in Lahore in the case. According to her lawyer she intended to tell the court that she had not been coerced into marrying her husband.

She was killed outside of the courthouse by her father, brother and the cousin her parents wanted her to marry as well as about a dozen male relives. So far Lahore police have charged her father, Mohammad Azeem, with murder, and the other men involved are being sought for the crime. Azeem told the police he helped kill his daughter because she had shamed his family.

While such crimes, often called “honor killings” are still seen in rural Pakistani communities where tribal traditions are strong and protections of women’s rights are weak, the crime of “honor killing” has become relatively rare in Pakistan’s larger cities. “I do not even wish to use the phrase ‘honor killing’: there is not the faintest vestige of honor in killing a woman in this way,” United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a statement condemning the horrific killing.

According to Farzana Bari, a human rights activist based in Islamabad, in many so-called “honor killings” witnesses outside of the women’s family do not step in to stop the killings and protect the victim. She said “I’ve seen in the past people stand around and watch, and don’t intervene because it is a private matter. Farzana believes honor killings are still engrained in the culture in parts of Pakistan; she said, “I think honor killing is very much part of our culture. It is a cultural form of violence which is quite prevalent in certain parts of Pakistan.”

Ultimately the brutal murder of Farzana Parveen was not shocking because it is a rare occurrence in Pakistan or any other country but instead because her death was so public, it did not occur in the dark corners of a remote village but instead Ms. Parveen was killed on the streets of a bustling city. According to a report published in April by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, 869 women in the country were the victims of honor killings last year.  Activists say the number may be much higher.

For More Information please see:

CNN International – Pregnant Pakistani woman beaten to death with bricks by relatives – 28 May 2014

Reuters – Pakistan woman stoned to death by family for marrying man she love – 27 May 2014

The New York Times – Pregnant Pakistani Woman Is Beaten to Death – 27 May 2014

USA Today – Pregnant Pakistani woman stoned to death by her family – 27 May 2014

Chemical Weapons Inspectors Escape Attack in Syria

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch Managing Editor

DAMASCUS, Syria – A group of chemical weapons inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons came under attack Tuesday while traveling to the site of a suspected chlorine gas attack in Syria. On Tuesday the Syrian Foreign Ministry said six inspectors and five Syrian drivers had been kidnapped in Hama Providence. The OPCW said “a convoy of OPCW inspectors and United Nations staff that was traveling to a site of an alleged chlorine gas attack” when the team came under attack.

A poster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad adorns a wall in Damascus as a United Nations vehicle carrying inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons leaves a hotel on October 9, 2013. (Photo courtesy of CBS News)

A statement published by the State-Run media in Syria said that the Foreign Ministry “confirms that terrorist groups are attempting to undermine the work of the fact-finding mission and are committing terrorist crimes against employees of the United Nations and OPCW.” While it did not provide details about the incidents, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said the team escaped the attack and that “All team members are safe and well and are traveling back to the operating base.”

The Foreign Ministry said the attack occurred when chemical weapons inspectors were attempting to reach the village of Kfar Zeita where a ceasefire had been agreed between 8 am and 6 pm to allow the team of international chemical weapons inspectors to work in the area.  While en-route one of the two cars carrion the team of 11 people was hit by a bomb, forcing the convoy to turn back. Intimately the Foreign Ministry reported that only one of the cars returned successfully.

Abdullah Darwish, A doctor in Kfar Zeita, said the team had been expected to arrive in the village on Tuesday and medical officials had prepared documents pertaining to the alleged chemical weapons attack and had arranged for them to meet with a number of people who suffered during the alleged chlorine attack.

The Chemical Weapons Convention, which Syria joined in October as part of an agreement to give up its chemical weapons program, does not ban states from owning chlorine, but prohibits its use as a weapon. The Syrian government still has roughly 8 percent of 1,300 metric tons of chemical weapons it declared to the OPCW, raising concerns that the regime will miss the June 30 deadline to destroy its chemical weapons stockpile.

The OPCW Director-General Ambassador Ahmet Uzumcu expressed concern about the attack, calling all parties to pledgee cooperation with the mission. He said, “Our inspectors are in Syria to establish the facts in relation to persistent allegations of chlorine gas attacks,” Uzumcu said. “Their safety is our primary concern, and it is imperative that all parties to the conflict grant them safe and secure access”

The pro-opposition Hama Media Centre claimed the attack on the team’s convoy was carried out by Assad’s forces.

For more information please see:

CBS News – Chemical Weapons Inspectors Attacked in Syria – 27 May 2014

CNN International – 6 Chemical Weapons Inspectors Reported Kidnapped in Syria Now Safe – 27 May 2014

Reuters – Chemical Weapons Team in Syria Attacked but Safe: OPCW – 27 May 2014

The New York Times – Chemical Weapons Inspectors Escape Attack in Syria – 27 May 2014

Human Rights Activist Released from Prison After Two Years

MANAMA, Bahrain- Human rights activist and president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Nabeel Rajab, was released from prison on Saturday after serving two years for organizing and taking part in illegal protests that were considered “anti-government.”

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Nabeel Rajab is a fierce supporter of human rights in Bahrain. (photo courtesy of BBC News).

In addition to holding the presidency of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Rajab is Deputy Secretary General of the International Federation for Human Rights.

Rajab is a key Shiite activist for the protest movement against the Gulf Arab monarchy’s Sunni rulers. Since 2011, the Shiites have been protesting, demanding greater rights and political freedoms for their people

Since mid-February 2011, thousands of anti-regime protestors have held numerous peaceful demonstrations in the streets of Bahrain, calling for the government to relinquish power. Hundreds of citizens have been killed and even more injured and arrested in the government’s ongoing crackdown of these peaceful demonstrations.

Before his imprisonment, Rajab was repeatedly detained in connection with “pro-democracy” demonstrations that erupted in the Gulf. Rajab claimed he was punched in the face several times by riot police after leading these demonstrations. He also stated he was held in dire conditions and subjected to cruel treatment, including being placed in solitary confinement with dead animals and being held almost naked.

Rajab was sentenced, in early 2012, to three years in prison, but an appeals court later reduced his term by one year.

In mid-2012, Rajab was given an additional three months in prison for his comments on Twitter about Bahrain’s prime minister. This conviction was later overturned in an appeals court.

While in prison human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights First, campaigned for his release, calling on authorities for an early release.

After his release, Rajab told the Associated Press that he is “happy to be out [of prison} after more than 600 days.” Rajab called for the release of all political prisoners and said that stability can only be achieved “through respect for human rights.”

“After two years in prison, I see Bahrain’s political environment as more difficult than ever and still without a roadmap for real reforms,” Rajab said. “I am happy to be with my friends and back with the human rights community, but still saddened that there are thousands of others who are still behind bars or outside the country.”

Maryam al-Khawaja, the acting president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights while Rajab was in prison, said that “even though Rajab was released from prison, citizens should note that this is not a show of goodwill on the government’s part as Rajab was not pardoned or released early, but completed his full term.”

After his release from prison, Rajab was greeted by dozens of people outside the prison and hundreds of people gathered near Rajab’s house to welcome his release.

Rajab said that Bahrain’s situation today is worse compared to when he went to prison because of an upsurge in violence. Bahrain said that although he was imprisoned he will not stop participating in peaceful demonstrations, but denounces violence.

For more information see:

PressTV- Nabeel Rajab urges “serious dialogue” in Bahrain– 25 May 2014

BBC News- Bahrain activist Nabeel Rajab released from prison– 24 May 2014

Watertown Public Opinion- Top Bahrain activist released from prison– 24 May 2014

Al Jazeera- Bahrain frees leading human rights activist– 25 May 2014

The Cost of World Cup Preparations in Brazil Leads to Labor Strikes

by Mridula Tirumalasetti

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BRASÍLIA, Brazil– With the World Cup just a few weeks away, bus drivers, teachers, police officers, and other public employees continue to protest in the streets of Brazil. Pre-tournament protests have been going on since mid-April in order to protest the amount of money the federal government has spent on preparations for the World Cup.

A member of the Homeless Workers’ Movement is pictured carrying the Brazilian flag during a protest in Sao Paulo (photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Times)

Although labor protests are fairly common in Brazil, the World Cup has presented a host of problems. The government promised the World Cup would improve the lives of Brazilians, but corruption and excessive spending have triggered waves of unrest. President Dilma Rouseff’s popularity has since decreased due to these broken promises, which could threaten Rouseff’s chance for re-election in October.

“The government has paid all its attention to building soccer stadiums up to First world FIFA standards, while our schools continue at the lowest standards,” said President of the Sao Paulo municipal teachers union, Claudio Fonesca. Fonesca added, “We have nothing against the World Cup…If the government had money left over to pay for everything, there would be no problem.”

Bus drivers in cities like Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro have also gone on strike. Sao Paulo will host the opening match of the World Cup on June 12, but 15 of the 28 bus terminals in Sao Paulo have closed. Not only are soccer fans expected to rely on buses for public transportation, but Brazilians rely heavily on buses as a method of transportation, especially in cities like Sao Paulo where there is limited metro service. The bus drivers, who have been rebelling against their union, want more than the 10%  salary raise they were offered. Vehicles have been abandoned, passengers have been stranded, and over 300 buses have been vandalized as a result.

Also, new projects for public transportation, which were promised by the government for the World Cup, have either not started or remain unfinished. This has led to anger over the cost of the stadiums, because they have become symbols of waste.

Even police officers in Recife stopped working and left the town unprotected for a period of three days. In those three days, there were reports of looting, homicides, and other acts of violence. At least 17 people died as a result. The federal government sent in military officials in order to provide emergency security. Other police groups have since promised a day of national “paralysis”. Bosco Gandra, President of the Brazilian Confederation of Civil Police Workers, said “We want to send the message that the government has had no strategy to improve its security forces, which has left Brazil vulnerable to violence and corruption.”

For more information, please see the following:

Los Angeles Times– In Brazil, labor protests ramp up as World Cup nears—17 May 2014

Reuters—Bus strike paralyzes Brazil’s biggest city as World Cup looms—21 May 2014

Buenos Aires Herald—Waves of pre-Cup strikes sparks chaos in Brazil—22 May 2014

Al Jazeera—Brazil bus strike sparks Sao Paulo chaos—22 May 2014

This Week in Syria: Syria Deeply

Syria Deeply

 

Dear Deeply Readers,  

The diplomatic drama that unfolded over Syria this week will be just a footnote in history. But in these days of disintegrating conditions on the ground, it serves as a snapshot of global paralysis and geopolitical dysfunction that prevents any degree of accountability and containment in Syria’s conflict.

This round of debate began when France, backed by dozens of countries, made a push to refer Syrian war crimes to the International Criminal Court. But as the resolution moved to a vote in the Security Council on Thursday, Russia and China swiftly blocked it. By the BBC’s count, it was the fourth time those two states have vetoed action by the U.N. Security Council, protecting their strategic allies in the government of President Bashar al-Assad. That leaves Assad’s opponents to look for strenuous alternatives. As the New York Times explains, they can now look to set up a special tribunal, outside the remit of the ICC, or pursue a relatively rare “Uniting for Peace” resolution at the U.N. General Assembly, which would bypass a deadlocked Security Council.

It’s not the only case study in the need to work around international rules. This week the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made the case that it’s time to sideline Syrian state sovereignty in order to deliver aid to rebel-held areas without regime consent. The government is “failing in its responsibility to look after its own people,” Ban wrote in a confidential report, cited by the New York Times. Government blockades have reportedly left 241,000 people without access to food, with millions more lacking health care and basic services.

The accelerated debate over how to bend the norms to benefit Syria’s people comes alongside an escalating battle on the ground – a surge in fighting and bombings that lifted Syria’s death toll to at least 162,000 people, a spike of roughly 10,000 casualties over the past two months. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which keeps the count, estimated that pro-regime troops have lost more fighters than rebel forces – part of the high cost of maintaining a relative upper hand, in what has devolved into a turf war in each Syrian province.

On Sunday al-Qaida-linked Jabhat al-Nusra launched four suicide bomb attacks on army positions, while announcing it would create “an arms factory” to supply its fighters in Syria. Last week Assad troops lost their chief of air defense forces when Lt. Gen. Hussein Ayoub Ishaq was killed in battle. Elsewhere, a mortar shell hit an Assad election rally in Deraa,  killing an estimated 21 people. The bombing of Aleppo’s Carlton Citadel Hotelearlier this month is still providing rebels with a palpable morale boost, says one of the opposition’s most wanted commanders. He revealed himself to the Guardian as the architect of the Carlton attack, describing the ongoing campaign to tunnel under the city of Aleppo and strike government targets with underground explosives.

All this at a time when Syria’s military is, generally speaking, on the up in the fight. The Syrian army launched a counteroffensive against rebels in Deraa, who have been fighting each other in a spate of rivalrous infighting. Back in Aleppo, government troops repelled rebel forces who have been fighting to take control of a landmark prison – an offensive that has lasted for roughly a year (we’ve covered how prison inmates have languished in the shadows of the fight).

Outside prison, civilians are languishing in broad daylight. Areas of Aleppo have been without power and water for weeks; some Damascus suburbs have also gone darkDeir Ezzor is feeling a heavier hand of Sharia law,  as we documented in one case of a woman’s wedding celebrations, interrupted. And according to a new report, Syria is now the world’s biggest crisis of internally displaced people, or IDPs. More than three years into the conflict, roughly 9,500 Syrians are being displaced each day – approximately one family per minute becoming refugees on their own home soil. It’s proven to be a scale of disaster that the world is either unwilling or unable to handle.

Highlights from Syria Deeply:
As Rebels Fight Each Other, Government Heightens Offensive on Southern Front
In Deir Ezzor, Rebels Battle for More Than Just Oil
In Deir Ezzor, Sharia Law Interrupts a Woman’s Wedding
Surge in Fighting and Bombings Lead to Sharp Increase in Death Toll
Weeks of Power Cuts Hit Damascus Suburbs
One on One: Kareem Shaheen, Reporter, the Daily Star
Syria Is Now the World’s Biggest IDP Crisis

Headlines from the Week:
Washington Post: U.S. Inaction on Syria Helped Make it Hell on Earth
Frontline: For Syrians Fleeing Violence, Scant Refuge or Relief
New York Times: Syrian Fighting Gives Hezbollah New but Diffuse Purpose
Reuters: No Sign Syria Is Handing Over Chemical Weapons
Reuters: U.S. Steps Up Scrutiny of American Fighters in Syria
Reuters: Syrian al-Qaida at Foothills of Israeli-held Golan
BBC News: Anthony Loyd: Kidnapped and Beaten in Syria

Pope Francis Extends Invitation to Israeli and Palestinian Leaders to visit the Vatican for Peace Initiative

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch Managing Editor

JERUSALEM, Israel/Palestine – During his first visit to the Holy Land as the leader of the Catholic Church Pope Francis called for peace in the region and endorsed the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. After delivering an open-air mass in Bethlehem’s Manger Square in the West Bank on the second day of his three-day trip to the Middle East the Pope extended an invitation to the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority to visit Vatican City for a “peace initiative.”

Pope Francis made an unscheduled stop to pray at the the Separation Wall that divides Israel from the West Bank, sometimes referred to at an apartheid wall. (Photo courteous of The Guardian)

The Pope expressed disappointment with the breakdown of talks between the two states earlier this year saying, “for decades the Middle East has known the tragic consequences of a protracted conflict which has inflicted many wounds so difficult to heal,” the pontiff declared. The situation, he said, had become “increasingly unacceptable.” Booth President Shimon Peres or Israel and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas accepted on Sunday Pope Francis Invitation.

Pope Frances said, “I offer my home in the Vatican as a place for this encounter of prayer” and called on the two leaders to agree to meet with him; saying, “in this, the birthplace of the Prince of Peace, I wish to invite you, President Mahmoud Abbas, together with Israeli President Shimon Peres, to join me in heartfelt prayer to God for the gift of peace.” He added, building peace is difficult, but living without peace is a constant torment. The men and women of these lands, and of the entire world, all of them, ask us to bring before God their fervent hopes for peace.” “Even in the absence of violence,” he said, “the climate of instability and a lack of mutual understanding have produced insecurity, the violation of rights, isolation and the flight of entire communities, conflicts, shortages and sufferings of every sort.”

Pope Frances also made an unscheduled stop at the Separation Wall that divides Bethlehem and Jerusalem near an Israel military watchtower. At the wall be prayed for five minutes near graffiti on that wall that read, “”Pope, we need someone to speak about justice”, “Free Palestine” and contained a reference to the Warsaw ghetto. Mustafa al-Barghouti, a member of the Palestinian legislative council, said the pope’s decision to stop and pray at the separation wall “will remain in the world’s mind forever as a rejection of the apartheid wall.”

During his visit the Pope also addressed the need for a solution to the Syrian Civil War. The Pope said that it was “necessary and Urgent” that a peaceful solution to the Syrian Conflict be reached.

On the first day of his visit to the region Pope Frances gave a message of unity during a Mass at a stadium in Amman, Jordan – a majority Muslim state with a large Christian population. Christian refugees from Syria and Iraq where among those present at the Mass. During t In televised remarks after that meeting,  During his visit the Pope paid tribute to Jordan’s efforts to promote interfaith tolerance as well as its efforts to welcome refugees fleeing violence in Palestine and war-torn Syria. During his visit the pope visited some of the more than 600,000 refugees who have fled the conflict since its start in 2011.

For more information please see:

Al Jazeera – Pope prays for peace at separation wall – 25 May 2014

CNN International – Pope Francis Invites Israeli, Palestinian Leaders to Vatican Peace Talks – 25 May 2014

The Guardian – Pope Francis offers prayers at Israeli separation wall in Bethlehem – 25 May 2014

The Jerusalem Post – Peres, Abbas accept papal invitation to pray for peace at Vatican – 25 May 2014

Vatican Radio – Pope Francis makes unscheduled stop to pray at Israel’s security barrier – 25 May 2014

Controversy Over Australian Detention Centers

By Max Bartels
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania 

Canberra, Australia — Thousands of people attempt to reach Australia by boat each year to seek asylum, mostly from Indonesia and other pacific islands. It has been the practice of the Australian government to intercept these asylum seekers at sea and transport them to one of a number of asylum detention centers until the government decides what to do with them. One of these detention centers in located on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and another on the small atoll of Naru.

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Asylum seekers being rescued by Australian Navy Personnel
(Photo Cutesy of The Telegraph )

In February unrest broke out over night at the Manus Island detention center where one asylum seeker was killed and a great deal more were injured, 2 had to be flown to Australia to receive treatment, one with a gun shot wound and another with a fractured skull. Similar unrest has also occurred at the Naru detention center where the asylum seekers burned down their shelters at the facility last year.

Amnesty International reports that the asylum seeker who died in the February Manus riots was Iranian and that during the riots he was beaten and hit in the head until he died. Amnesty International’s investigation of the incident, reports that the local police and the security staff used brutal and excessive force on the night of the riot. The investigation blames both the Australian government and the government of Papua New Guinea.

Despite the unrest Australia plans to continue its practice of offsite detention centers. The government maintains that it is still the best way to handle the issue of immigration, which is a serious political issue across the country. The government has cited the safety of the asylum seekers as one of the main reasons for the policy. The government claims that is it is important to deter these immigrants from attempting the perilous journey to Australia in open top boats. These boat are usually crammed to capacity or over capacity with immigrants and the journey is extremely perilous.

Even though the Australian Government presents valid points for their policies, human rights organizations have recorded a number of human rights violations at these detention centers. There have been numerous allegations of hunger strikes, suicide attempts, self-harm and unsanitary living conditions. Amnesty international has received reports that the detention centers do not provide adequate medical care. Amnesty international visited the Manus detention center this past November and reported asylum seekers were enduring unacceptably harsh conditions and humiliating treatment.

For more information please see:

Aljazeera — Asylum Seeker Dies in Papua New Guinea Camp — 18 February 2014

CNN– 1 Dead, Dozens Hurt After Unrest at Australian Center For Asylum Seekers — 18 February 2014

ABC News Australia — Manus Island Unrest: PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neil Says Locals Not Involved In Detention Centre Violence — 21 February 2014 

Amnesty International — Australia and Papua New Guinea: New Evidence Details Brutal Treatment of Asylum Seekers — 9 May 2014

 

US Deploys Troops to Aid in Search for Kidnapped Schoolgirls

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch Managing Editor

ABUJA, Nigeria – The Obama Administration deployed 80 members of the Armed Forces to Chad to aid in the search for more than 200 young girls who were kidnapped from a school in Nigeria by Boko Haram militants the White House said Wednesday. United States President Barack Obama informed the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate of decision. “These personnel will support the operation of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft for missions over northern Nigeria and the surrounding area,” the White House said in a letter, “the force will remain in Chad until its support in resolving the kidnapping situation is no longer required.”

Boko Haram’s leader Abubaker Shekau criticized schoolgirls for being taught “western education.” The group claimed responsibility for the abduction of nearly 300 young girls. (Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera)

The letter was sent to comply with the War Powers Resolution requiring Congressional notification within 48 hours of the deployment of American Armed Forces. The deployment of armed personnel follows manned and unmanned surveillance flights launched by U.S. personnel earlier this month. The move also follows the deployment of a team of U.S. military, law-enforcement and hostage-negotiation advisers to Abuja.

“These are not combat infantry troops that we put into Chad,” Pentagon spokesperson Rear Adm. John Kirby said, “these are folks that are there to support the reconnaissance mission.” He said Chad is an ideal location to deploy troops to aid in the search because of its proximity to Nigeria as well as the United States’ strong relationship with Chad’s government. He said Reconnaissance flights will be searching and area in Nigeria and neighboring countries that is about the size of West Virginia.

The Obama administration had been criticized by some lawmakers in Washington for not more aggressively aiding in the search for the missing girls. “We should devote more of our national capabilities to help our Nigerian partners in locating the girls,” Senator John McCain on said May 16. “And if we get actionable intelligence about where they are being held, we should send U.S. Special Forces to rescue them — with the approval and cooperation of the Nigerian government and security forces if possible, but without them if necessary.”

The announcement form the Obama White House came on the same day Nigeria asked the United Nations to designate Boko Haram as a terrorist organization. If approved by the United Nations this would enable countries to impose arms embargoes, travel bans and asset freezes.

Earlier this month members of the Islamist militant group Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is sin,” claimed restorability for abducting nearly 300 young schoolgirls in the Nigerian town of Chibok. Since the attack members of the groups have allegedly kidnapped more girls from Nigerian villages including the northeastern Nigerian village of Warabe, prompting international outrage. A Boko Haram leader has threatened to sell the kidnapped children into slavery.

The United Nations spokesperson for Human Rights Rupert Colville told the press in briefing earlier this month in Geneva that the United Nations warns “the perpetrators that there is an absolute prohibition against slavery and sexual slavery in international law. These can under certain circumstances constitute crimes against humanity.”

For more information please see:

CNN International – 80 U.S. Troops in Chad Will Aid Search For Abducted Nigerian Girls – 22 May 2014

Time – U.S. Deploys Troops in Search for Kidnapped Nigerian Girls – 21 May 2014

Al Jazeera – Nigeria: Life for Schoolgirls in The North – 15 May 2014

Al Jazeera – More Schoolgirls Kidnapped In Nigeria – 07 May 2014

South America Rejects US Attempt to Sanction Venezuela

Venezuelan Flag (Photo courtesy of Shutterstock)

by Delisa Morris 

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela — US lawmakers have made an effort to apply sanctions on Venezuela over human rights concerns.  However, South American governments have said no.

In a statement on Friday, Foreign ministers from the 12-member Union of South American Nations announced that the sanctions would constitute a violation of Venzuela’s internal affairs, while undermining the attempts by regional diplomats and the Vatican to facilitate dialogue between the Venezuelan government and the opposition.

According to a statement after a meeting in the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador, sanctions represent an obstacle for Venezuela.  The people can over come their difficulties with independence and in democratic peace.

The Obama Administration has condemned President Nicolas Maduro for cracking down on protestors and human rights violations.  President Obama has stated that he wants to wait to apply sanctions to allow more time for dialogue between President Maduro and the opposition.

On Wednesday, The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to debate a bi-partisan bill that would order the Obama administration to ban visas and freeze the assets of Venezuelan officials who have committed human rights violations during unrest in the past three months.  The bill centers on $15 million in funds to promote democracy and rule of law in the country.  The Senate foreign relations committee has already cleared similar legislation.

Senator Marco Rubio, R-Fla., was a sponsor of the Senate legislation.  Senator Rubio stated that the sanctions would carry a very important message at this time when Venezuelan officials have been accused of arresting, torturing, and even killing unarmed protestors.

In a telephone interview with the Associated Press Senator Rubio stated sanctions should target anyone who has been involved in human rights violations and did not rule out President Maduro as a target.

Taking action now would show that the U.S. is “firmly on the side of the democratic aspirations of the Venezuelan people,” said Rubio.

Human Rights Watch released a report this month detailing the abuses that have occurred in Venezuela since the beginning of the unrest.  At least 41 people have died in the country since February.  Others have suffered broken bones, denials of medical treatment and have been threatened with rape or death.  Human Rights Watch noted that at least 10 of the deaths should be considered torture.

According to US lawmakers sanctions would be an appropriate way to help stop the violence, but South American governments do not agree.   

For more information, please see:

ABC News — South America Rejects US Sanctions on Venezuela — 24 May 2014

The Washington Post — South America Rejects US Sanctions on Venezuela — 24 May 2014

Fox News Latino — Spurred By Sen. Marco Rubio, Congress Moves to Impose Sanctions On Venezuela — 8 May 2014

Daily Mail — South America Rejects US Sanctions on Venezuela — 24 May 2014

 

Thai Military Declares Coup with Nationwide Curfew

By Hojin Choi

Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BANGKOK, Thailand – Thailand’s army chief, General Prayut Chan-Ocha, announced Thursday in a televised statement that the military will take control of the government. The coup includes a suspension of the constitution and imposition of a nationwide curfew. This is the 12th coup since 1932.

The coup was announced two days after martial law was imposed. As  negotiations between the military, political groups, and members of the election commission broke down, General Chan-Ocha announced “it is necessary for the Peace and Order Maintaining Command to take control of governing the country.”

The military interference is the outcome of months of political chaos and violence. The dispute arose between the “Red Shirts,” a pro-government group, and the anti-government opposition known as “Yellow Shirts.” The Red Shirts have held ongoing demonstrations in support of former Prime Minister Thaksin and his political influence.  Thaksin was removed in a previous coup in 2006.  Thailand’s most recent Prime Minister, Yingluck, Thaksin’s sister, was removed on May 7 for alleged constitutional violations.

Thai army soldiers stand guard at the main entrance of the pro-government ”Red Shirts” rally site after they shut it down and cleared protesters from the site, May 22, 2014. (AFP/Nicolas Asfouri)

The military imposed the nationwide curfew between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. and ordered schools to be closed between Friday and Sunday. All television broadcasting has been suspended, except for the signal of the military’s television channel. The military also banned more than 150 political figures from leaving the country while summoning and detaining prominent politicians and their families, including Yingluck.  “Political gatherings” of more than five citizens have been prohibited, and protesters were ordered to return home immediately.

World leaders and organizations expressed concern about democracy, detentions, and the media shutdown of Thailand.

Navi Pillay, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said “I am very concerned by the restrictions on fundamental freedoms.” He stressed prompt restoration of the rule of law in the country. Pillay particularly emphasized that freedom of expression and freedom of assembly were essential to the effective resolution of political differences and disputes. In addition, the military power to resolve the conflict should be temporary and limited.

Foreign Secretary of the U.K., William Hague, said he was “extremely concerned” by the coup. According to Hague, “the U.K. urges the restoration of a civilian government that has been democratically elected, serves the interests of its people and fulfills its human rights obligations.”.

“There is no justification for this military coup,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced. Kerry anticipated “negative implications” and impacts on the U.S. and Thai relationship, especially with the Thai military. He stated that the U.S. would review its “military and other assistance,” including suspension of $10 million in aid to Thailand.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki announced in USA Today that “U.S. law prohibits the government to assist countries where elected officials are deposed by the military.”

 

For more information please see:

Aljazeera – Thailand under curfew after army takeover – 22 May 2014

CNN – Thai military tightens grip, bans more than 150 from leaving country – 23 May 2014

USA Today – Thai military declares coup, detains party leaders – 22 May 2014

BBC News – Thailand military seizes power in coup – 22 May 2014

The Washington Post – US, other nations express concerns over Thai coup – 23 May 2014

 

State Media Announces Crackdown on Terrorism in China after Deadly Market Attack

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch Managing Editor

 

BEIJING, China – In response to a serious of explosions targeting an open-aired market in western China the Chinese government has launched a crackdown on terrorism, Xinhua, state media, said Friday. The report said authorities had started a “one-year crackdown on violent terrorist activities” in the region after the attacks were carried out in the heavily policed city of Urumqi, the regional capital of Xinjiang. the attacks killed  39 people and wounded more than 90. State media reported Friday that five perpetrators where reasonable for the attacks; four were killed in the blasts and the fifth was arrested Thursday.

Chinese officials announce crackdown on terrorism following a deadly attack blamed on Uyghurs separatists. The attack came just days before the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989 (Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera)

Thursday’s attack was carried out before 6 a.m. during a time when many of the city’s residents were headed to the market to buy fresh food for the day. State media reported that two SUVs came careening through the street and their occupants hurled explosives through the vehicle’s windows. At least one of the vehicles exploded. The owner of a liquor and cigarette store in the market, said he was still in bed when he heard a loud noise that he first though was thunder outside his door. He said; “I saw smoke and fire, people lying on the ground and blood everywhere.”

In response to the attacks China’s highest-level government official in Xinjiang has called for all forces to be mobilized in order to find the perpetrators of Thursday’s deadly terrorist attacks vowing to “crush the swollen arrogance of terrorists.” President Xi also pledged on Thursday that those responsible for the attack would be caught and punished.

So far in Urumqi, authorities have tightened security checks at entry ports in an attempt to prevent weapons smuggling. Security efforts include inspections of individuals, luggage, transport facilities and postal deliveries at land border crossings.

Chinese officials have linked a mass knife attack that killed 29 people at a terrain station in the southwestern city of Kunming in March to Islamic separatists from Xinjiang.

State officials also blamed separatists for an attack in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square last October in which a car rammed into a pedestrian bridge killed two tourists as well as the three occupants of the vehicle.

According to state media; the perpetrators of both attacks were identified as Uyghurs separatists, members of a Turkic-speaking, predominantly Muslim ethnic group from Xinjiang. Tensions between Uyghurs and Han Chinese populations who have migrated to resource-rich Xinjiang in recent years, have repeatedly boiled over into deadly clashes with authorities in recent years.

Some Uyghurs have grown to resent the Chinese government because of the harsh treatment they have been subjected to from Chinese Security forces and because Han migrants to their homelands have been given better economic opportunity in the resources rich region. Overall the Han are the largest ethnic group in China, making up more than 90% of the state’s total population.

Much like the Tibetan people, the Uyghurs have felt disenfranchised by the discriminatory policies enforced by the Chinese government. Many argue that they are treated like second-class citizens. China has labeled the group “separatist militants” and blames Uyghurs for inciting ethnic violence. On Tuesday, the local government officials in Xinjiang arrested 39 Uyghurs for several crimes including organizing and leading terrorist groups.

For more information please see:

ABC News – Dozens Dead After ‘Thunder-Like’ Blasts Rock China Market – 22 May 2014

CNN International – Q&A: Xinjiang and Tensions in China’s Restive Far West – 23 May 2014

CNN International – China Launches Terrorism Crackdown after Xinjiang Region Attack – 23 May 2014

Al Jazeera – China to Mobilise ‘All Forces’ After Attack – 23 May 2014

Syria Justice and Accountability Center: Eight Questions about the ICC

(Image: UN Security Council adopts resolution on Syria, 27 September 2013. Source: United Nations Information Centres)

 

French initiatives to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC) have prompted questions about the ICC, its procedures, and its efficacy. This post aims to demystify the ICC and explore its role in the Syrian crisis.

Why can’t the ICC prosecute now?

At present, the ICC does not have jurisdiction over Syria. Syria, like 71 UN Member states, is not a party to the Rome Statute—the ICC’s foundational document. As such, there are only three ways in which the ICC can gain jurisdiction in Syria: (1) via UN Security Council referral, (2) if Syria voluntarily submits to ICC jurisdiction on an ad hoc basis (for a particular situation only), or (3) if Syria joins the ICC by acceding to the Rome Statute. Options two and three are very unlikely because the Assad government has little incentive to join the ICC. The Syrian opposition cannot accept ICC jurisdiction on behalf of Syria because it has not achieved the status of government of the Syrian state.

Another method by which the ICC sometimes gains jurisdiction is (4) the ICC Prosecutor’s initiation of a proprio motu investigation (which means “on [the Prosecutor’s] own initiative”), but this option is unavailable in Syria unless it becomes a party to the Rome Statute or accepts the ICC’s ad hoc jurisdiction.

 What could a referral do?

If the referral succeeds, the ICC will investigate whether international crimes have been perpetrated in Syria. A UN Security Council referral to the ICC obligates the ICC to undertake an “investigation”—a pre-trial process which determines whether there is adequate evidence to pursue prosecutions. Though it prosecutes individuals, the ICC investigates “situations.”  Thus, rather than investigating Bashar al-Assad, for example, the ICC would investigate the entire Syrian situation, looking for evidence of international crimes committed by anyparties.

If the investigation finds evidence of crimes under ICC jurisdiction – which aregenocide, crimes against humanity, and/or war crimes – the ICC Prosecutor will initiate trials of those individuals who bear the greatest responsibility for these crimes.

Who could be prosecuted?

The new resolution stands apart from others because it explicitly encourages investigation of parties on all sides of the conflict, including Syrian authorities, pro-regime militias, and non-State armed groups. Nonetheless, as noted above, the ICC investigates situations (rather than specific individuals or groups), and accordingly this resolution refers “the situation in the Syrian Arab Republic” to the ICC.

If the ICC Prosecutor finds evidence that a person has committed genocide, crimes against humanity, and/or war crimes, the Court may indict (bring charges against) that person and then issue a summons or an arrest warrant to bring that person before the Court. However, confirmation of charges and trial can only proceed once the accused persons are in custody.

What are the punishments available and what are typical ICC sentences?

The ICC maximum sentence is 30 years imprisonment, although it can issue life sentences in extreme circumstances. The ICC can also extract fines from perpetrators and seize money, property, and other assets. The ICC does not issue the death penalty.

To date, 21 cases from 8 situations have been brought before the ICC. The ICC has accused 36 people of crimes.  In its 12-year history, the ICC has convicted  two individuals—one convicted of war crimes was sentenced to 14 years imprisonment, and the other will be sentenced in late May, 2014. Several trials are currently ongoing, whereas many other trials cannot proceed because the accused are still at-large.

How long does the process generally take?

The process takes years. There are multiple phases, including pre-trial investigations and the trial itself. Pre-trial investigations generally range from one month to four years. Trials generally take six or more years. The ICC issued its first and only sentence after a ten-year investigation and trial. The ICC’s forthcoming sentence will be delivered after similar timespan.

Although the complexity and challenging context of ICC trials require a lengthy process, the ICC is a young court and is striving to speed up its procedures (without compromising accuracy or effectiveness).[1]

What could ordinary Syrians get out of this?

In the short-term, Syrians are unlikely to receive tangible benefits from ICC action. ICC investigation can, however, offer symbolic significance: a successful referral and subsequent investigations would demonstrate that the international community takes Syrian’s plight seriously and is committed to accountability. Already, the resolution has gained support: 58 countries and over one hundred civil society groups from around the world have called on the UN Security Council to refer Syria to the ICC. The referral is unlikely to succeed, but international attention to the debate could pressure the international community to act differently in Syria. Though debatable, an ICC referral could also possibly have a deterrent effect on those perpetrating atrocity crimes.

In the long-term, an ICC trial could result in imprisoning and/or fining perpetrators.  Syrians could also be eligible financial reparations as a result of the ICC process. Lastly, on a more symbolic level, an ICC trial could authenticate truths about the conflict via extensive research and substantiation, publicized internationally.

Why hasn’t this happened already?

The last three referral attempts failed due to Russia’s veto. Any permanent member of the UN Security Council has the capacity to veto a proposal, and the veto cannot be overruled. (UN resolution 377 has been used in the past to enable General Assembly-backed actions after a Security Council veto, but,under ICC law, the General Assembly does not have the capacity to refer a situation to the ICC.)

Will the referral happen?

The referral is unlikely to succeed. The U.S. has voiced support for this initiative—unlike those prior—but Russia has made its opposition clear. Recently, Russia’s Ambassador to the UN asserted, “our position has not changed,” and on May 20 vowed to veto the resolution if it comes to vote.

France hopes the Security Council will consider the proposed resolution on Thursday.

[1] Richard Goldstone, ABA-ICC Project Event: “International Criminal Justice: Mass Atrocities, the International Criminal Court, and the Role of States.” 10 April 2014.

Russian Interior Ministry Produces False Information to Assist one Officer in Attempt to Get Off of New U.S. Magnitsky List

Russian Interior Ministry Produces False Information to Assist one Officer in Attempt to Get Off of NewU.S. Magnitsky List

Press Release
For immediate distribution 

Russian Interior Ministry Produces False Information to Assist one Officer in Attempt to Get Off of NewU.S. Magnitsky List

23 May 2014 – Yesterday, the Moscow branch of the Russian Interior Ministry responded to the inclusion of its official Andrei Krechetov in the U.S. Magnitsky List with a statement claiming that he did not have direct role in the Magnitsky’s case.

On 20 May 2014, the U.S. Treasury published an addition to the Magnitsky List, which included 10 Russians with personal involvement in the Magnitsky case, including the Interior Ministry official Andrei Krechetov.

On 22 May 2014, the Russian Interior Ministry’s branch in Moscow responded by making a statement to Russian news agency Interfax that officer Krechetov “did not have a direct relationship” towards investigating the Magnitsky case, and “only performed separate orders”.

In fact, officer Krechetov was a member of the investigative team on the case against Sergei Magnitsky, he personally performedthe search of Magnitsky’s home and detained him, and signed false reports used to justify Magnitsky’s arrest and continued detention.

The evidence of his involvement in the Magnitsky case include a 14 November 2008 report signed by officer Krechetov claimingthat he delivered a summons to Magnitsky, when such summons was never issued or delivered. (http://followmydata.net/SMRULE/D1251.pdf). Officer Krechetov signed a similar report on 17 November 2008.

A 24 November 2008 search on Magnitsky’s home where officer Krechetov took part in the search and where Magnitsky was detained is another record of his direct involvement in Magnitsky’s case (see Krechetov’s name in the copy of the search protocol).

In the summer of 2009, following the discovery of false reports signed by officer Krechetov, Magnitsky’s lawyers demanded that officer Krechetov be removed from the case, but their request was denied by senior officials of the Russian Interior Ministry.

In Sergei Magnitsky’s testimony given one month before his murder in Matrosskaya Tishina detention center, he highlighted the role of Interior Ministry officers, including officer Krechetov, in fabricating reports against him as part of his persecution. Magnitsky stated that his persecution was organised in revenge for his role in exposing the criminal group (which involved officer Krechetov), that stole Hermitage Fund’s Russian companies and $230 million.

Mr Krechetov’s colleagues in the Interior Ministry who took part with him in the persecution of Magnitsky – Artem Kuznetsov, Dmitry Tolchinksy and Aleksei Droganov – were sanctioned by the US government last year under the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act.

“The continued cover up in Russia necessitates that all countries who respect human rights adopt targeted sanctions on Russian officials involved in Magnitsky case, similar to the ones implemented by the US government, with no delay,” said a Hermitage Capital representative.

 

For more information, please contact:

Hermitage Capital
Justice for Sergei Magnitsky program

+44 207 440 1777
info@lawandorderinrussia.org
http://lawandorderinrussia.org

Magnitsky List published by the U.S. Treasury on 20 May 2014:
http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/OFAC-Enforcement/Pages/20140520.aspx