ICC Declines Full Investigation into Suspected N. Korean War Crimes

By Hojin Choi

Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

 

SEOUL, South Korea – The International Criminal Court (ICC) declined to initiate a full investigation into two North Korean attacks against South Korea in 2010. The ICC typically deals with cases of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. Although North Korea is not a member of the ICC, attacks on a member country, such as South Korea can give rise to jurisdiction over the possible war crimes.

The first attack was the sinking of the South Korean corvette, Cheonan, in the West Sea of Korea on March 23, 2010. North Korea officially denied any involvement with the incident, but South Korea and international inquiries revealed that a North Korean torpedo struck the corvette. 46 sailors died at the scene.

A monument for the 46 deceased navy sailors of the corvette, Cheonan (Reuters)

The second attack occurred approximately 8 months later at Yeonpyeong Island in the West Sea. North Korea launched artillery attacks on the island causing the death of two South Korean soldiers and two civilians.

The ICC initiated a preliminary probe of the two incidents, but prosecutor Fatou Bensouda concluded that there was not enough evidence to initiate a full-blown investigation. The first attack on the Cheonan corvette was “directed at a lawful military target and would not otherwise meet the definition of the war crime of perfidy as defined in the Rome Statute,” the prosecutor said. Of the artillery attack, he said that while it did kill civilians there was not enough information establishing a “reasonable basis to believe that the attack was intentionally directed against civilian objects or that the civilian impact was expected to be clearly excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage.” According to the Prosecutor’s office, North Korea has not cooperated with the ICC to provide relevant information and evidence.

However, it is still questionable whether the attack did not target civilians. During the artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island, 230 shells were fired by North Korea and about 30 of them hit on residential areas. About 50 landed on the sea. The wide range of attack did not seem to be focused on only military bases and facilities.

Even though the ICC will not initiate a full investigation, it will resume the examination if there is new information or evidence presented. The decision “in no way should be construed as condoning in any way” North Korea’s violent attacks, the prosecutor said.

Besides the two attacks, the United Nations and ICC have recently considered the possibility of prosecuting North Korea for crimes against humanity. The U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights reported that North Korea should be referred to the ICC for the alleged crimes. The U.N. Human Rights Council adopted a resolution demanding the Security Council take action against North Korea. Moreover, U.N. Human Rights Investigators reported that the ICC would find merit in prosecuting the humanity crimes in North Korea. One U.N. report, which accused North Korea, compared the crimes with Nazism.

South and North Korea signed an armistice agreement in 1953, but have no effective peace treaty. The two countries technically remain at war.

 

For more information, please see:

International Criminal Court – The Prosecutor’s Report – June 2014

Channel NewsAsia – ICC declines to open N Korea war crimes probe – 23 June 2014

Jurist – ICC prosecutor finds no grounds to investigate North Korea war crime allegations – 25 June 2014

Voice of America – ICC: No N. Korea War Crimes Probe – 24 June 2014

Reuters – International court says will not investigate 2010 attacks on South Korea – 23 June 2014

Fiji’s Military Dictator Announces Democratic Elections

by Max Bartels

Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania 

Savu, Fiji 

Fiji has been under the control of a military dictator since Rear Admiral Bainimarma seized power during a military coup in 2006. The island nation of Fiji has had a troubled political past with four military coups in the past decade. The international community has since put pressure on Fiji in order to push it toward democracy. Fiji is heavily reliant on tourism as a source of income and a stimulus for their economy. Both Australia and New Zealand introduced travel bans on Fiji in order to motivate political change in the country. The United Kingdom suspended Fiji’s Commonwealth Status, denying it the benefits of association with Great Britain.

IW #6 Fiji Elections
Bainimarma addresses the U.N ahead of the September elections
(Photo curtesy of news.com.au)

In March Bainimarma announced that he would be stepping down as dictator and stating that he will run for re-election as a civilian and a member of Fiji’s “First Party”, which he now supports. Bainimarma claims that his coup in 2006 was necessary to ensure the restoration of democracy and to purge the rampant corruption that plagued the previous Fijian government. He says that he now looks to implement his plan for a better Fiji by holding open elections. In the wake of these statements the international community has reacted positively, praising Bainamarma for his decision. The government’s of Australia and New Zealand have lifted the travel bans on the island nation. The United Kingdom has also said they will reinstate commonwealth status if elections are successful.

However, there are still many issues with the upcoming elections, while Bainimarma announces they will be free and democratic there are some troubling events that have happened behind the scenes. Fiji has a history of restraining human rights and free speech; after recent constitutional change the military government heavily restricted these freedoms. There were incidents last year where protesters protesting the new constitution were arrested for failure to have a permit. There are many other stories of the regime arresting human rights defenders, journalists and trade union leaders. Critics in the press are skeptical of the upcoming elections and say that Bainimarma’s actions have no real teeth and will not effect change.

Despite the many instances of limiting the freedoms of the Fijian people, Bainimarma is extremely popular amongst the voters. He has implemented policies such as free education, free transportation for children and price controls on staple foods, all of which have made the military leader popular amongst the lower socioeconomic classes. In addition to these policies he has greatly improved the infrastructure of the islands making him popular amongst the rural population as well. It remains to be seen whether the elections will affect change in Fiji but Bainimarma has stated his intentions, his campaign is popular and the election in September will show whether he is sincere or not.

 For more information, please see: 

Human Rights Watch — Rights Abuses Continue in Fiji — 9 April 2014

ABC Australia News Network — Fiji Welcomes Lifting of Travel Bans by Australia, NZ — March 31 2014

ABC Australia News Network — Frank Bainimarma Appears to have Widespread Support Ahead of Elections — 28 May 2014

The Telegraph — Fiji’s Military Dictator Swaps Uniform for Suit — 6 March 2014

Newlyweds Murdered in Honor Killings in Pakistan

 By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch Managing Editor

Islamabad, Pakistan – A newlywed couple was murdered at the hands of the bride’s family in an honor killing in eastern Pakistan police said Saturday. The newlyweds, Sajjad Ahmed, aged 26, and Muawia Bibi, aged 18, were married on June 18 in the Punjab region of Pakistan without the consent of the Bibi family. Police say the girl’s father and uncles lured the couple back to their home promising that they would give their blessings to the union.

"Honor" killings in Pakistan persist despite the issueing of a fatwa against people who commit these murders by relgious leaders in Pakistan (Photo courtesey of Al Jazeera America)
“Honor” killings in Pakistan persist despite the issuing of a fatwa against people who commit these murders by religious leaders in Pakistan (Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera America)

Members of the Bibi family then reportedly tied and decapitated the couple, while there were no outside witnesses the family members turned themselves into policy and are now jailed in Punjab. The family members say they were embarrassed by the girl’s marriage because she married a man who they considered to be from a less prominent tribe.

These so called honor killings are not uncommon in Pakistan. According to the country’s human rights commission 869 women were victims of honor killings last year. Honor killings such as this most recent horrific murder often originate from tribal traditions in Pakistan and are most commonly carried out in rural communities. Human rights activists say that in many cases bystanders, including police officials, don’t often step in and interfere because the killings are regarded as family matters.

According to the United Nations, approximately 5,000 women across the globe are murdered by family members in honor killings every year. However, many advocacy groups believe the crime is under-reported and the actual number of women killed at the hands of their own families in the name of “honor” is much higher.

A number of honor killings have made international news in Pakistan in recent months, drawing awareness to this horrendous trend. Earlier in June 18 year-old Saba Masqood was found inside a sack after she was left for dead in a canal in Pakistan by her brother and father.

A coalition of religious leaders in Pakistan has responded to the honor killing crisis by issuing a fatwa against honor killings, calling them “un-Islamic” and “highly condemnable.” The fatwa came just days after 25 year-old Farzana Parveen was killed by about two dozen relatives, including her father and brothers, in front of Lahore High Court as onlookers watched but did not intervene to saver her.

“A daughter is a gift by Allah. And the feeling of being dishonored by your daughter is forbidden in Islam,” the edict issued by the group read. “Killing one’s daughter and humiliating them is a sign of ignorance.”

For more information please see:

CNN International – Pakistani Newlyweds Decapitated by Bride’s Family in Honor Killing – 29 June 2014

The New York Times – Family Kills Pakistani Couple After They Married For Love – 28 June 2014

Al Jazeera America – Faith Leaders in Pakistan Issue fatwa Against ‘Un-Islamic’ Honor Killings – 1 June 2014

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan – State of Human Rights 2013 – March 2014

Syria Justice and Accountability Center: Child Soldiers and Child Scholars: Syria’s Next Generation

WHR

I lost my studies, I lost my future, I lost everything”—Saleh,  17, who has fought for opposition groups since he was 15 years old. 

For Syrian young adults, it’s becoming harder to go to school, and easier to take up arms. The result may be a generation with more training in shooting than in science. Looking forward, Syrians and international supporters need to address this generation of youth—ensuring opportunities for study, discouraging armed groups’ recruitment of children, and promoting re-integration of child soldiers.

According to Human Rights Watch’s June 23rd report, armed groups in Syria have used children as young as 14 in support roles and as young as 15 in active combat. The number of children participating in Syria’s fighting is unknown, but, as of June 25th, the Violations Documentation Center has recorded 196 “non-civilian” male children killed during the conflict. In interviews with Human Rights Watch, young men recalled participating in a variety of operations, including front-line fighting and suicide bombing preparations.

Young adults join are joining fighters for different reasons. Many volunteer to fight, others are recruited at schools. Some child soldiers are paid. One interviewee, who joined Jabhat al-Nusra at 14, reported earning a 20,000 Syrian pound (US $135) monthly salary. Another, who joined Jabhat al-Nusra at 17, reported earning a monthly salary of 10,000 Syrian pounds (US $68) in addition to a monthly food box.

Nonetheless, international law prohibits use of child soldiers. Most pointedly, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child—which Syria has ratified—bans states and non-state armed groups from recruiting or using children under 18 in armed conflict. TheRome Statute of the International Criminal Court—not ratified by Syria—classifies conscription of children under 15 as a war crime. Regardless of the legality, employing children as soldiers limits their capacity to re-integrate into a post-conflict society; child soldiers will have little experience at operating as adults in a non-combat capacity, and skill sets geared more towards fighting than participating in a non-combat economy.

A parallel, though inextricably linked trend challenges Syrian young adults: extremely limited opportunities for schooling. Within Syria, pro-regime forces have targeted students at universities, and anti-regime forces have kidnapped students travelling to exams. Due to the fighting, many Syrian students only return to school for their exams—sometimes only to die in the classroom. Refugees outside of Syria face considerable obstacles as well. In Jordan andLebanon, limited resources for education, Syrians’ own financial pressures, and administrative hurdles prevent Syrian students from going to school. It is important to note that not all Syrian youth are soldiers, but all Syrian youth could benefit from access to education.

Ultimately, Syrians and international supporters must not forget this generation. Syrian youth have the capacity to re-build Syria and advance discussions of justice and accountability in the long-term. Consequently, looking forward, engaging this generation must be seen as a component of holistic transitional justice efforts. A first step is to cease use of child soldiers, stop targeting students, and promote greater access to education.

President Maduro Silenced During Venezuela Blackout

by Delisa Morris

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela—In Caracas, each year a fortnight of heavy downpours known colloquially as El Cordonazo de San Francisco (the lash from St. Francis of Assisi’s belt) cover the Venezuelan capital, the storms are considered a tropical winter.

People Scramble During Blackout Chaos. Photo courtesy of Reuters

Currently, President Nicolas Maduro, is drawing heavy ire from critics on both the left and right, and seemingly in a constant state of damage control.  In early February, a rash of street protests and barricades paralyzed the nation, and were violently suppressed by state authorities in a series of crackdowns that saw several notable opposition leaders incarcerated.

In the middle of a triumphalist speech for “national journalists day,” broadcast by law on every Venezuelan television and radio station, the lights suddenly went out on Maduro—and on much of the country.

Much of Caracas, and areas in nearly all of Venezuela’s other 22 states was affected.  The country’s aging and poorly maintained power grid struggled to get back online.  The Caracas metro had stopped working and people had trouble making it home.  Lots of people that would normally have been on the metro were overflowing the sidewalks and taking up much of the roadways.  All of the stoplights were out.  The result was a perfect storm of commuter congestion where normal Caracas chaos became absolute mayhem.  There have been three major blackouts this year.

On some previous occasions blackouts have been blamed on saboteurs from either the U.S. imperialists (“the CIA”) or else sinister Venezuelan groups from the traditional elite (“los fascistas”).  At other times, nature itself has taken the blame, such as in 2012 when a wire-hungry opossum was held responsible for a day-long blackout in Guayana City, or the iguana two years earlier who got loose in the grid, sufficed to cut off the lights in Anzoátegui State for an extended period.

Pending the outcome of Maduro’s investigation, preliminary culpability seems to have been attached to the wind, or, more specifically, the unusually heavy winds caused by El Niño, toppling a collection of eight electrical towers.

Many people are uneasy and not amused about the excuses provided by the government for the blackouts.  Maria “Macarena” Paz, a Caracas engineer, is underwhelmed by the explanations. “So it’s no longer the cable-eating iguanas, the CIA, or the opposition, it’s the wind! Knocking down no less than eight towers specifically designed to withstand hurricane gales but swept away in unison by light breezes… they must really think we’re idiots.”

For more information, please see:

The Daily Beast — Who Will Maduro Blame for Venezuela’s Blackout’s This Time? — 28 June 2014

Wall Street Journal — Power Outage Hits Venezuela — 27 June 2014

Reuters — Venezuela Blackout Leaves Commuters Scrambling, Silences President — 27 June 2014

The Guardian — Widespread Blackouts Hit Venezuela — 27 June 2014

 

Supreme Court Rules Warrantless Cellphone Searches Unlawful

By Lyndsey Kelly
Desk Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON D.C., United States of America – On 25 June 2014 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that police officers need a warrant before they can search the cellphone of an arrested suspect. The unanimous 9-0 ruling was a major decision in favor of privacy rights at a time of increasing concern over the government’s encroachment on digital communications.

The Supreme Court ruling limited law enforcements right to search cellphones (Photo Courtesy of Reuters).

In an opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the court said, “we cannot deny that our decision today will have an impact on the ability of law enforcement to combat crime,” he added that the right to privacy “comes at a cost.”

Currently, law enforcement can search a person under arrest and whatever physical items are within reach to find weapons and preserve evidence. However, the Court noted that in today’s society smartphones carry a vast amount of sensitive data and cannot be compared to other items found in a search. “Modern cell phones…implicate privacy concerns far beyond those implicated by the search of a cigarette pack, a wallet or a purse,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote.

The court made its decision after weighing two separate cases, one from Massachusetts and one from California. While the cases were different in scope and the type of cellphone used, one was a flip cellphone the other a smartphone, the Court decided the two cases together, finding both searches unconstitutional.

Concern about increasing government encroachment on personal privacy has surged in the past year following the disclosures by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. “The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the (country’s) Founders fought.” Chief Justice Roberts wrote.

In it’s opinion the Court noted that there would be some emergency situations in which a warrantless search will be permitted. The court held that the “exigent circumstances” exception to the warrant requirement would also be applied to cellphones. Thus, in a situation that is an imminent danger to life or the possibility that evidence will be destroyed may justify searching a cellphone without a warrant.

In a concurrence, Justice Samuel Alito opened the door to further exceptions stating that he would reconsider the question presented if Congress enacts legislation that draws reasonable distinctions based on the categories of information contained in the searched cellphone.

 

For more information see the following: 

CHICAGO TRIBUNE – Supreme Court limits police right to search cell phones – 29 June 2014.

MSNBC – Supreme Court rules cell phones cannot be searched without a warrant – 29 June 2014.

REUTERS –  U.S Supreme Court’s milestone ruling protects cellphone privacy – 29 June 2014.

USA TODAY – Supreme Court limits police searches of cellphones – 29 June 2014.

 

Massive Resources and Government Involvement Needed to Curb Ebola Outbreak

By Ashley Repp

Impunity Watch News Reporter- Africa

Guinea-ebola

WEST AFRICA- the Ebola virus continues to claim lives, yet governments are quiet in actively working to stop the spread

West Africa has been attempting to cope with an Ebola outbreak that has become out of control.  This week, a 635 cases have been confirmed and nearly 400 have lost their lives to the virus.  Ebola, a haemorrhagic fever, is one of the most contagious diseases and can spread quickly through contact with bodily fluids and perspiration.   Without proper control and protocol when dealing with infected individuals, rampant spread of the illness will ensue.   Nearly 90% of all who become infected will succumb to the disease; a bleak prognosis.

Doctors Without Borders has asserted that it is working at full capacity and simply cannot help more individuals as the virus continues to spread.  More than sixty virus ‘hotspots’ have been identified, with Guinea being the hardest hit.  The Doctors Without Borders (MSF) organization has warned that massive funding, resources, and cooperation are needed to get the outbreak under control, and urges the governments of the countries affected by the outbreak, like Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Monrovia,  to take a role in providing resources and establishing a plan for addressing the epidemic.

Some doctors have expressed outrage, asserting that this virus has gotten out of control because government officials will not come to terms with the reality of the outbreak, and have ‘lied’ through their contentions that the outbreak is under control.  A target of this critique has been Guinean president, Alpha Conde, who expressed, at a meeting with the World Health Organization, that the virus seemed to be under control.  Other doctors have asserted that governments are not being forthright with information about the extent of the outbreak for fear that it will scare off potential investors.  As a result, obtaining investors is coming at the cost of human life, which is inciting outrage.

If governments do not take a more present and visible role in coping with this outbreak, the epidemic could continue to escalate and claim more lives.  Furthermore, the potential for more countries to have documented cases and outbreaks will become a very real reality.  Citizens of the nations currently affected by the epidemic are paralyzed by fear, but many are unsure how to stop the spread of the disease, creating a difficult combination of panic and continued exposure.  It is essential that information regarding the virus and how it is spread is disseminated by a reliable source.  Until these loose ends can be tied, it is likely that the outbreak will continue to spread.

For more information please visit:

The New York Times- Ebola Deaths Rise as Outbreak Spreads- 26 June 2014

All Africa- West Africa: Ebola Virus Out of Control- Doctors Without Borders- 26 June 2014

All Africa- ‘Ebola Epidemic Requires Massive Deployment of Resources’ MSF- 23 June 2014

Relief Web- Medics Vent Anger at Government Inaction Over Ebola- 26 June 2014

 

 

Recent Attacks in Kenya may Point to al-Shabab

By: Ashley Repp

 

Impunity Watch News Reporter, Africa

 

NAIROBI, Kenya–  Wave of violence in coastal city shakes Kenyans – a dozen are missing.

al shabab

Recent attacks in Mpeketoni and two nearby towns took the lives of about 50 people and led to the abduction of about a dozen women.  But amidst the heartbreak, there are questions regarding who bears the responsibility for the attacks. 

The attacks appear to have been extremely well orchestrated; phone lines were even jammed to ensure that residents could not sound the alarm about the attacks on the city. 

al-Shabab, an Islamic militant organization, has accepted responsibility for the attack on the coastal city of Mpeketoni. 

The organization even cited the motive of revenge against Kenya for presence of Kenyan troops in Somalia and the oppression of Muslims. Following the Monday attacks, some witnesses claim to have seen the attackers flying the al-Shabab flag and yelling in Somali. 

These pieces of evidence support al-Shabab’s involvement and orchestration of the attack.  Furthermore, earlier this month, an al-Shabab leader called the militant group to target Kenya in attacks in order to exact revenge and convey frustration and anger towards Kenya.

But despite al-Shabab’s acceptance of responsibility, some, including President Kenyatta, are hesitant to accept this as a legitimate answer, and instead point to local ethnic and political tensions. 

The attacks occurred in hotels and a police station where many were gathered around to watch the World Cup.   

Despite witness reports that support al-Shabab’s involvement, critics of the notion that al-Shabab was at the helm of the recent attacks point to the attack itself as support that this could not have been the militant group that claimed responsibility.  For example, the attack and the abduction of a dozen women, does not necessarily fit the normal pattern of al-Shabab attacks. 

Critics assert that the militant group normally carries out attacks in an indiscriminate way, with men, women, and children as targets.  In the attacks on Mpeketoni and the nearby towns, the deaths do not seem to follow this pattern; rather, men were the targets for the killings.

Foreigners were not targeted in the attacks, but are still urged to take precautions, and if possible, leave the area, as tensions remain high.  Britain has also issued a warning to nearby east African countries, including Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda, cautioning that al-Shabab may be at work and further attacks may be in the near future. 

It is important to note that these nations also have troops in Somalia.   For now, Kenyans are left to pick up the pieces while they search for answers to their questions and fears. 

For more information, please visit:

BBC News- Kenya Attacks ‘Women Abducted’ near Mpeketoni- 17 June 2014

Z News- After al-Shabab attacks, women kidnapped near Kenya’s Mpeketoni- 17 June 2014

CNN News- Mpeketoni attack was done by local networks, Kenya’s President says- 17 June 2014

Daily Nation- Mpeketoni Attack: Death Toll Rises to 48- 17 June 2014

Top Chinese Official Pays a Visit to Taiwan

By Brian Lanciault
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Operator, Asia

TAIPEI, Taiwan–China’s top official in charge of relations with self-ruled Taiwan said on Friday that he understood and respected the choices of its people.  He was met by noisy protests in the traditionally anti-China far southern region of the island.

Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (left) and Yu Zhengsheng, chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference meet and discuss relations between the two nations. (Photo Courtesy of Focus Taiwan)

Zhang Zhijun, director of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, is making his first trip to Taiwan, a visit marked by a highly unusual meeting with an opposition party stalwart and mayor of the pro-independence southern port of Kaohsiung, Chen Chu.

Protesters waved placards deriding Zhang as a “communist bandit”. Zhang’s atypical charm offensive in Taiwan stands in contrast to China’s ties with several other countries in Asia where territorial disputes have erupted over maritime boundaries. China has recently condemned people in the former British colony of Hong Kong, which returned to China in 1997, for pushing for greater democracy.

Chen has previously visited China and met Zhang there, spearheading efforts by the Democratic Progressive Party to engage with Beijing.  Such high-level meetings in Taiwan with opposition figures are practically unheard of.

“We know that Taiwan people cherish very much the social system and the life style they have chosen,” Zhang said after meeting Chen. “We in mainland China respect what Taiwanese people have chosen.”

China welcomes people from all parties to help improve relations across the Taiwan Strait, Zhang added, calling his talks with Chen “pleasant”.

China has claimed Taiwan as its own, to be taken by force if necessary, though the two have been ruled separately since defeated Nationalist forces fled to the island in 1949 at the end of the Chinese civil war with the Communists. China says it will not tolerate a de jure independent Taiwan. Many Taiwanese look anxiously, and perhaps fearfully, at China, where the ruling Communist Party remains unmoved by calls for political liberalization. Taiwan is a structured democracy after undergoing a democratic transition in the 1980s. Pride in democracy has helped to reinforce the unwillingness of many Taiwanese to be absorbed politically by China.

That sentiment is felt particularly keenly in Kaohsiung, one of the main heartlands of Taiwanese cultural identity and where, in 1979, rights activists held a pivotal rally which helped spark Taiwan’s eventual democratic transition.

“It’s been a very difficult journey that Taiwan has gone through in the past few decades,” Zhang said.

Chen, who was deeply involved in Taiwan’s struggle for democracy, said she explained to Zhang that the protests he may have witnessed were part of Taiwan’s political system.

“I told director Zhang that as soon as he arrived at the airport, he may have heard very different voices and protest. I said this is a very normal part of Taiwan’s democracy. I appreciate if he can understand that,” Chen said.

In 2009, China reacted angrily at plans to show a documentary about exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer, a woman China labels a dangerous separatist, at the Kaohsiung film festival, sparking a boycott of the city by Chinese tourists. At the time Chen shrugged off China’s complaints, saying it would harm Kaohsiung’s commitment to human rights if it gave in to Beijing.

Underscoring the depth of feelings in southern Taiwan, Zhang was met by hundreds of protesters at Kaohsiung’s train station, some waving placards reading “Communist Zhang Zhijun, get the hell back to China”.

A much smaller group of protesters also greeted him when he flew into Taipei on Wednesday.

“Chen Chu should face the demands of the people and the values of human rights and refrain from the pursuit of economic growth at the expense of Taiwan’s hard-earned democratic achievements,” said Chen Yin-ting, part of another group of protesters outside the venue where Zhang and Chen held their unprecedented meeting.

The once heavily industrialized Kaohsiung has lost many of its companies and factories to China, drawn away by a massive population and low manufacturing costs, and it has struggled economically in recent years.

Zhang’s trip comes at a sensitive time.

Protesters occupied Taiwan’s parliament and mounted mass demonstrations over three weeks starting in March in anger at a pending trade pact, which will open various sectors in both economies. The opposition calls the pact a threat to Taiwan’s industry and sovereignty

Signed a year ago, it has stalled in Taiwan’s parliament, which is set to discuss it at a session overlapping with Zhang’s visit. Advocates, including the China-friendly President Ma Ying-jeou, say it is a step to normalizing ties and will provide jobs and raise living standards.

For more information, please see:

Taipei Times– China respects Taiwan’s choice: Zhang –28 June 2014

The China Post– Kaohsiung mayor meets TAO minister –28 June 2014

Focus Taiwan– Taipei mayor talks of ROC during Beijing visit –27 June 2014

Reuters– China official met by protests, says respects Taiwan’s choices –27 June 2014

Syrian Regime Warplanes Target Militants inside Iraq

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch Managing Editor

Damascus, Syria – The Syrian regime has reportedly carried out shelling attacks against militants fighting for the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIS) in Iraq. At least 57 Iraqi civilians were killed and more than 120 others wounded by an attack that local officials say was carried out by Syrian warplanes that struck several border areas in Anbar providence on Tuesday.

Sabah Karkhout, the leader of Iraq’s Anbar provincial council, told the press that Tuesday’s airstrikes struck markets as well as fuel stations in area. “Unfortunately,” he said Wednesday, “the Syrian regime carried out barbarian attacks against civilians in Anbar province.”

A young girl waits with her family in Khazair to get into a refugee camp set up Iraqis displaced by the advance of ISIS militants into Mosul which ultimately led to Syrian airstrikes inside Iraq. (Photo courtesy of The Guardian)

Local officials said residents used scopes and other equipment in an attempt to see details on the warplanes to determine where they came from. Karkhout said he was certain the warplanes were Syrian claiming that they bore the image of the Syria’s flag. “Also, the planes flew directly from Syrian airspace and went back to Syria,” he said. The head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, said on Wednesday that the warplanes that bombed the Iraqi border cities were not Iraqi jets, but he added that he did not have additional information.

However, the spokesperson for Iraq’s military, Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta, has denied reports that Syrian warplanes struck border towns inside of the state of Iraq. “We know our airspace. We have not recorded or registered infiltration of our air space from foreign jets, and all the warplanes and helicopters flying over Iraq airspace are Iraqis,” he said.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, has welcomed Syrian jets bombings targeting ISIS militants. However, al-Maliki’s government has acknowledged the strikes but insists they were carried out within the Syrian territory. Al-Maliki’s Shia government has accused Sunnis of collaborated with militants and has criticized the call for a more representative national government that would give more of a voice to Iraq’s minorities and would ultimately remove him from office.

Both the U.S. and a senior Iraqi military official confirmed that Syrian warplanes had struck militant positions on Tuesday in and around the boarding crossing at the town   of Qaim. White House Spokesperson Joshua Earnest said that the United States had “no reason to dispute” the reports that the Syrian air force had struck inside Iraqi territory.

In response to these developments U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned Mideast nations on Wednesday against taking new military action in Iraq that might further inflame sectarian tensions. The Iraqi military official said Iraq’s neighbors – Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Turkey – were all reinforcing flights inside their own airspace in order to monitor the situation. The Iraqi official spoke on a condition of anonymity because he had not been authorized to speak to the media.

While addressing diplomats from NATO countries “We’ve made it clear to everyone in the region that we don’t need anything to take place that might exacerbate sectarian divisions that are already at a heightened level of tension.” He said, “it’s already important that nothing take place that contributes to the extremism or could act as a flash point with respects to the sectarian divide.”

For more information please see:

The Guardian – Isis: Maliki Hails Syrian Air Raids in Iraq As Leaving Both States ‘Winners’ – 27 June 2014

CNN International – Syrian Warplanes Reportedly Strike In Iraq, Killing 57 Civilians – 26 June 2014

CBS News – Kerry Warns Mideast Nations after Syria Bombs Iraq – 25 June 2014

The Washington Post – Syrian Aircraft Bomb Sunni Militant Targets Inside Iraq – 25 June 2014

Brutal Attack Highlights History of Discrimination of Roma in France

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch Managing Editor

Paris, France – A sixteen-year-old Roma boy known as Darius was found bloodied in a shopping cart in a suburb north of Paris last week after he was Kidnapped and beaten by about a dozen youths who accused him of stealing. French President Francois Hollande condemned the attack, calling it an unspeakable and unjustifiable act and saying that all efforts would be taken to find those responsible. Hollande added that the attack was “against all the principles on which our republic is founded.”

 

Dancers from Europe’s largest ethnic minority perform at a pride event in Paris last year celebrating Roma culture and heritage. Despite their numbers, an estimated 12 million across Europe, the Roma have historically been marginalized where ever they settle across the continent. (Photo Courtesy of the Guardian)

Police say the young boy was dragged out of his home at an unofficial camp and into a cellar by a dozen locals, who accused him of breaking into a nearby flat the previous Friday. A police officer said “A group of several people went to find him in the camp and took him by force.” The boy’s mother contacted police when he was taken, the police found him unconscious later that night. The victim was taken to a local hospital where he remains in critical condition.

The boy had been known to police who had linked him to a number of thefts and break-ins but he had never been convicted of a crime. “The motive of this lynching, it was vengeance,” prosecutor Sylvie Moisson told the press, saying the boy’s condition remained life-threatening. “To practically condemn him to death is barbaric,” he said.

Anti-racism organizations say there has been a disturbing increase in violence against the Roma population. According to the human rights organization SOS Racism the attack was the result of an alarming change in attitudes towards Roma in France, which it said was “the clear result of the disgusting tensions into which our citizens have been plunged.”

Aline Le Bail-Kremer, a spokesperson for SOS Racism, says the incident is not surprising considering the current atmosphere in France. The incident reflects the growing atmosphere of ethnic tensions and discrimination of Roma which has persisted in French culture. Bail-Kremer believes the anti-Roma sentiment in France is reflected in the recent success of far-right political parties in the European Parliamentary election; she said “the fact is the National Front, which is a xenophobic party, won an election in this country and won a lot of gains all over Europe.”

Cases of hate crimes against the Roma population are not uncommon in France and even elsewhere in Europe. In February of this year a case against a 40-year-old man who was accused of throwing a mixture of bleach and cleaning fluids at a group Roma living near the Place de la République in central Paris was dismissed by a judge because the case reportedly lacked evidence. In May 2013 several Roma families were attacked at a campsite in northern France, and in October 2012 locals drove a group of Roma out of an encampment and burned everything at their campsites.

The influx of violence against Roma in France reflects a culture of discrimination that exists in the country. The Roma are the largest ethnic minority in Europe with a population of about 12 million across the continent. The Roma population in France face the reality of institutionalized racism from a young age, not only do their parents face difficulty finding work but Public Schools often refuse to recognize the legitimacy of Roma encampments, cutting children like Darius off from the level of access to education that is given to others living in France.

For more information please see:

The New York Times – Beating of Roma Boy Exposes Tensions in France’s Underclass – 25 June 2014

The Guardian – Broken Camp, Broken Lives, As Vigilante Attack Makes Itself Felt On Roma – 21 June 2014

National Public Radio – Brutal Vigilante Attack on Roma Teen Shocks France – 19 June 2014

Al Jazeera America – Savage Beating Of Roma Teen in Paris Prompts Outrage – 17 June 2014

The Guardian – Roma Teenager in Coma after Being Attacked By Residents of French Estate – 17 June 2014

Sudan Woman Freed From Death Row Arrested for Alleged Fake Travel Documents

By: Danielle L. Cowan (Gwozdz)
Senior Desk Operator, Africa

KHARTOUM, Sudan – The Sudanese woman freed from death row has been accused of trying to leave country with fake documents, her lawyer told BBC news.

South Sudan’s embassy issued the document on Monday (photo courtesy of BBC)

 

The woman, Meriam Ibrahim, was detained on Tuesday, a day after the court released her, annulling the death sentence imposed on her for renouncing the Islamic faith.

Ibrahim, age 27, had been detained at the Khartoum airport along with her family. Her husband Daniel Wani said the family intended to leave the country for the United States. Wani is a United States citizen.

Ibrahim is currently still being held in a police station in Sudan.

United States officials said that they had received assurances that she had not been arrested and would be allowed to leave; however, a Sudan source told the Times of India that she was being investigated for carrying fake documents.

“The National Security took her and Daniel,” said the Times of India source. The same source also told the AFP that Ibrahim had been transferred from the custody of the National Intelligence and Security Service.

Ibrahim’s attorney said that more than 40 police officers prevented the family from boarding the plane to the United States.

“It is very disappointing,” Ibrahim’s attorney stated. “They were very angry. They took us [the family’s lawyers] outside, and took the family to a Niss detention center. They have not been given access to lawyers.”

Her attorney further stated that the appeals court had dismissed all of Ibrahim’s convictions and there were no restrictions on her travelling. He also added, however, that political differences within the government over the case may have played a part in the decision to prevent her leaving.

“I am very concerned,” her attorney claimed. “When people do not respect the court, they might do anything.”

Ibrahim was sentenced to death in May for abandoning Islam when she married a Christian. This marriage sparked outrage around the world.

A court had ruled that she was Muslim because that was her father’s faith. Her Christian marriage of 2011 was officially annulled. She was then sentenced to 100 lashes for adultery and death by hanging for renouncing Islam. Sex outside a “lawful relationship” is considered adultery under Sudanese law.

Ibrahim argued against the court’s ruling by claiming her father abandoned her family when she was six and she was brought up by her mother who was a Christian.

The court ruled that she would be released on June 23rd, but she was arrested the next day.

The United States says it is currently working with Sudan to ensure that Ibrahim will be freed.

South Sudan’s embassy says the travel documents are genuine.

Even though Ibrahim was brought up as an Orthodox Christian, the authorities still consider her Muslim because of her father.

For more information, please visit:
BBC News – Sudan death row woman ‘faked papers’ – 25 June 2014
Guardian News – Sudan death row woman accused of forging papers – 25 June 2014
International Business Times – Freed Christian Woman Meriam Ibrahim Accused of Forging Documents to Leave Sudan – 25 June 2014
The Times of India – Freed Christian woman detained trying to leave Sudan – 25 June 2014
The Guardian – Sudan death row woman Meriam Ibrahim detained again – 24 June 2014
Channel 4 News – Meriam Ibrahim detained at airport in ‘abuse of power’ – 24 June 2014

Thailand Received the Lowest Grade on U.S. Human Trafficking Report

By Hojin Choi

Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

 

BANGKOK, Thailand – The U.S. Human Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report downgraded Thailand to “Tier 3,” the lowest level. Tier 3 also includes over 20 other countries, such as North Korea, Syria, Iran, Malaysia, and so forth. The report is released by the Department of State annually.

Thailand maintained its rank in Tier 2 in 2009, but dropped to Tier 2 Watch List in 2010. The lowest, Tier 3, indicates that the government does not fully comply with the minimum standard set forth in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) and that it is not even making significant efforts to do so. When a country is classified in Tier 3, the U.S. government imposes penalties by placing restrictions on bilateral assistance, including non-humanitarian and non-trade-related foreign assistance. The U.S. may also oppose assistance from international financial institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

In the report, Thailand is reported as a “source, destination, and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking.” The majority of trafficking victims are “forced, coerced, or defrauded into labor or exploited in the sex trade.” The number of labor trafficking victims is also concentrated into commercial fishing and fishing-related industries. The report says some victims are “forced to beg on the streets.”

The human trafficking problems in Thailand became more known to the world when the Guardian, an English news media, revealed the slave labor in Thai fishing industries in June. The media had investigated a lead for six months regarding “20-hour shifts, regular beatings, torture, and execution-style killings.” The article says some workers were offered methamphetamines to keep them working, and their products are being sold to top global retailers, including U.S.-based Walmart and Costco, French-based Carrefour, and U.K.-based Tesco.

Migrant laborers in Thailand (CNN)

The Thai government appears concerned about the TIP report. Early this year, the Thai government entered a contract with leading U.S. law firm, Holland & Knight, LLP.  The deal called for lobbying to the White House, Congress, and the U.S. Department of State. The contract was intended to persuade these institutions and posit a defense that Thailand is fighting against human trafficking problems.

The Thai government expressed its regret that the TIP report did not recognize the nation-wide efforts to fight against the human trafficking problems. In a statement, one government spokesperson said “Thailand made significant advances in prevention and suppression of human trafficking along the same lines as the State Department’s standards.” According to the Thai government, combatting human trafficking is a “national priority” and human trafficking is “anathema” to the nation’s core values.

Vijavat Isarabhakdi, the Thai Ambassador to the U.S., said in the interview with CNN that 225 defendants were convicted in 2013 for human trafficking. This number represents over four times more than the previous year’s defendants. “I think that we’ve been doing a lot, but we acknowledge the fact that much more needs to be done,” he said.

However, according to the TIP report, it is questionable whether the government’s efforts could indeed have a remedial effect, citing “corruption at all levels.” Some government officials have protected brothels and industries from raids and inspections. Local and national police officers often make protective relationships with the traffickers. Immigration officials and police “reportedly extorted money or sex from Burmese migrants detained in Thailand for immigration violations and sold Burmese migrants unable to pay labor brokers and sex traffickers,” the report said.

 

For more information, please see:

U.S. Department of State – Trafficking in Persons Report 2014

CNN – Tackling Thailand’s human trafficking problem – 21 June 2014

The Guardian – Revealed: Asian slave labour producing prawns for supermarkets in US, UK – 10 June 2014

The Guardian – Thai government condemned in annual US human trafficking report – 20 June 2014

Bangkok Post – Washington downgrades Thailand over human trafficking – 20 June 2014

The New York Times – U.S. Gives Thailand and Malaysia Lowest Grade on Human Trafficking – 20 June 2014

#freeAJstaff: World Reacts to the Conviction of Al Jazeera Journalists in Egypt

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch Reporter, Managing Editor

Cairo, Egypt – Three journalists working for Al Jazeera English were convicted of aiding the Muslim Brotherhood in an Egyptian court on Monday. The journalists, Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed were arrested and had been imprisoned Cairo since December. They had been accused of conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhoods, spreading false news and endangering Egypt’s national security. Charges which the three men have denied. Peter Greste, a former employee of the BBC, and Mohamed Fahmy, a former employee of CNN, were both sentenced to seven years in Prison. Baher Mohamed, a native Egyptian, was sentenced to ten years in prison.

The recent jail sentences given to Al Jazeera reporters has sparked international outrage prompting demonstrations around the world and calls for the Egyptian state to respect free speech rights in Egypt (Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera)

Since the 2013 coup the Egyptian military has cracked down on free speech in Egypt; not only on public decent from pro-Morsi demonstrators but on transparent reporting as well. The France based press freedom advocacy group Reporters Sans Frontières (Reporters without Borders) ranks Egypt 159th out of 180 countries in its 2014 Press Freedom Index. Press freedom as well as the safety of journalists has severely declined in Egypt since last year. According to Reporters without Borders, A total of six journalists have been killed in Egypt by live rounds since the military coup that removed former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi from power on 3 July 2013. Most of these reporters were killed while covering pro-Morsi demonstrations. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), more than 65 journalists were arrested and detained in Egypt for varying periods of time between 3 July 2013 and 30 April 2014. The conviction of journalists reporting for Al Jazeera, one of the world’s largest and most respected news outlets, has raised awareness to the military government’s crackdown on free speech.

The verdict has sparked outrage from activists, news outlets and press freedom groups around the world, often showing their support for the jailed journalists in Egypt through the Hashtag #freeAJstaff which has gone viral since the reporters were detained last year.

CNN was among the major media outlets to have spoken out against the verdict and in support of press freedom around the globe. “All at CNN are dismayed at today’s unjust sentencing of the Al Jazeera journalists in Egypt,” the network said in a statement. “Freedom of the media must be protected, and journalists must be free to carry out their legitimate work without fear of imprisonment. We stand alongside the journalistic community in calling for the immediate release of these journalists.”

United States Secretary of State John Kerry has spoken out agast the verdict; saying, “today’s conviction and chilling, draconian sentences by the Cairo Criminal Court of three Al Jazeera journalists and fifteen others in a trial that lacked many fundamental norms of due process, is a deeply disturbing set-back to Egypt’s transition. Injustices like these simply cannot stand if Egypt is to move forward in the way that President al-Sisi and Foreign Minister Shoukry told me just yesterday that they aspire to see their country advance.”

As I shared with President al-Sisi during my visit to Cairo, the long term success of Egypt and its people depends on the protection of universal human rights, and a real commitment to embracing the aspirations of the Egyptians for a responsive government. Egyptian society is stronger and sustainable when all of its citizens have a say and a stake in its success. Today’s verdicts fly in the face of the essential role of civil society, a free press, and the real rule of law. I spoke with Foreign Minister Shoukry again today to make very clear our deep concerns about these convictions and sentences.

Kerry, who spoke with newly elected Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi earlier this week said that he and Sisi, who led the coup against the Morsi government, said “frankly discussed these issues and his objectives at the start of his term as President. I call on him to make clear, publicly, his government’s intention to observe Egypt’s commitment to the essential role of civil society, a free press, and the rule of law.”

However the Egyptian President has said that he will not interfere with judicial verdicts. In a televised speech at a military graduation ceremony on Tuesday Sisi said; “we will not interfere in judicial rulings,” he said “we must respect judicial rulings and not criticize them even if others do not understand this.”

For more information please see:

Al Jazeera – Outrage as Egypt Jails Al Jazeera Staff – 24 June 2014

Al Jazeera – Sisi ‘Will not Interfere’ in Court Verdicts – 24 June 2014

CNN – Jailed Al Jazeera Journalists Convicted in Egypt – 24 June 2014

U.S. Department of State Press Release – Conviction of Al Jazeera Journalists – 23 June 2014