As the Africa Summit in Washington, D.C. Nears, Activists Push for Gay-Rights

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By: Ashley Repp

News Desk Reporter, Africa 

Africa, as a continent, is home to the strictest of anti-gay laws in the world, and as an issue of human rights, many African nations are facing backlash for their laws and called to address such violations of human rights.  Activists are now calling on prominent world leaders, including President Barak Obama, to push for gay rights to be on the agenda for the African summit in Washington next week.  Activists see this summit as a rare opportunity for the human rights of the African gay, lesbian, and transgender population to be discussed and supported.  The LGBT community in Africa faces some of the worst discrimination, and many human rights activists demand change.

In Africa, 37 African countries have laws on the  books criminalizing homosexuality.  Some nations allow imprisonment of homosexual and transgender people, while some countries, including Nigeria, Mauritania, and Sudan, go so far as to allow for the killing of such individuals.  And while Uganda recently removed the law allowing for the death penalty in cases dealing with gay and transgender people, it still has some of the strictest anti-gay laws.  Creating a safe space for those in the LGBT community in Africa will be a difficult battle, considering how persistent some governments and communities appear to be in maintaining anti-gay laws and culture.  Just last month in Nigeria, over a dozen individuals were assaulted by a mob in order to rid the community of homosexuals.

Many of the LGBT community in Africa live in constant fear of violence, harassment, and punishment.  Discrimination of members of this population is rampant and permeates nearly every facet of life in many African nations.  As a result of the discrimination, the LGBT community bears the burden of poverty due to unemployment or inability to find a job because of known or presumed sexual orientation, abandonment   by family and community, and legal punishment.  With what is effectively rejection by society, members of the African LGBT community have few options and even fewer rights.

Although Obama has already increased sanctions against Uganda for its new anti-gay laws, the summit next week will be a unique opportunity, if the chance is seized, for the leaders of the countries with the strictest anti-gay laws, to be addressed in person for the human rights issues created by anti-gay culture, law, and policy.  And with tensions rising within nations between groups that support and promote the upholding of the tradition anti-gay rhetoric and culture, and those who support LGBT human rights, the time could not be more ripe for a multi-national discussion on the issue.

 

For more information, please visit:

Time- Advocates issue report on the dreadful state of LGBT rights in Africa, as world leaders and leading figures from the continent prepare for the US-Africa Leaders Summit- July 29, 2014

ABC News- Activists Want Gay Rights on Africa Summit Agenda- July 29, 2014

BBC News Africa- Cameroon lawyer wins award for defending gay rights- Mar 18, 2014

The Washington Post- Here are the 10 countries where homosexuality may be punished by death- Feb 24, 2014

As Awareness Grows, Women With Obstetric Fistula May Finally Have Hope

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By: Ashley Repp

News Desk Reporter, Africa

 

Nearly half of African girls are at risk for obstetric fistula.  This serious condition is defined by tears between the  birth canal and urinary tract, that causes the affected individual to constantly leak urine and feces.  This condition occurs at particularly high rates in Africa due to poverty, child brides, female genital cutting, sexual assault and rape, and unattended births.  Young girls are highly susceptible, as in rural parts of Africa, girls are often married and become pregnant before their bodies are sufficiently developed to handle the birth of a child. Furthermore, in rural regions with scare resources, unattended births compound the already dire situation that many women face.  In such conditions, women and girls giving birth may experience  exceptionally long labors that can not be properly or quickly addressed by medical personnel.  The child often dies in the situation of an unattended and prolonged labor, and if the mother does not die, she often sustains serious tears, or fistula.

Once a woman sustains a fistula, the condition is debilitating, humiliating, and there are few qualified individuals readily available to perform the surgery necessary to repair the tears.  As such, few women are able to receive medical care and are burdened by the stigma and pain associated with fistula.  Because of the constant fecal and urine leakage, affected women are often ostracized by their communities and families.  Husbands often abandon their wives; families of a rape victims who become pregnant and are then affected by fistula, are often ostracized for being “damaged” and “impure.” Communities may also abandon affected women, with the aim of avoiding the smell that  accompanies the fistula condition, and any possible fertility and birth “curse” that may follow affected women.  Abandoned by family and community, many of these women are left to suffer and die alone.

As debilitating and traumatizing as this disease is for women in rural and resource scarce areas, repair of the fistulas is relatively simple with involvement of qualified medical personnel.  As more awareness is called to the condition and the situations that underly the high occurrence of the condition, money, interest, and facilities can be focused to address at least some of the cases of obstetric fistula in rural Africa.  Attention given to the issues of child brides, sexual assault, and unattended births, may play a role in reducing the number of women who are affected by fistulas every year.

 

For more information, please visit:

Voices of America- Many African Females at Risk of Obstetric Fistula- June 25, 2014

Mercy Ships- Mercy Ships Provides Free Obstetric Fistula Surgeries in Africa- May 22, 2014

Aid For Africa- Fistula Foundation

Aljazeera- Fistula surgery transforms lives in Kenya- May 23, 2014

Bodies Recovered from Captured Libyan Base

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

TRIPOLI, Libya – At least 35 bodies have been recovered from a Libyan military base that was overrun by Islamist-led militants.

Rival militias have been battling for control of Benghazi (photo courtesy of AFP)

 

The special forces base in Benghazi was captured on Tuesday, after two days of intense fighting.

An Islamist and jihadist alliance announced the capture of the main military base in the eastern city in a statement Wednesday, which was confirmed by an army official.

Libyan special forces fled from the Benghazi military base as militants overwhelmed them with rocket fire. A special forces spokesman told Reuters that militants have since assumed control of the military camp.

Libya has been facing violence since 2011. The violence came from militias uprising against Muammar Gaddafi.

The new parliament is said to be holding an emergency meeting this week.

A Red Crescent spokesperson told AFP that “up to now we have managed to recover 35 bodies. But there are more to be found.”

Further, the spokesperson said that “Special forces under the command of [Colonel] Wanis Abu Khamada withdrew after several attacks.”

Many western governments – including the United States, UK, France, and Germany – have already asked their citizens to leave the country. Several have also evacuated their embassies.

At least 97 people have also been killed in fighting between militias battling for control of Tripoli’s main airport in the past week.

The government has blamed clashes between the armed groups for starting a fire at a Tripoli fuel depot, and for preventing firefighters from putting out the blaze.

The special forces are one of the units of Libya’s regular armed forces that support rogue Libyan general Khalifa Haftar, but they have not placed themselves under his command.

Hafta began his offensive against radical Islamist groups in Beghazi dubbed “Operation Dignity” in mid-May.

The militias reportedly agreed on a ceasefire on Wednesday to allow the blaze to be brought under control.

For more information, please visit:
BBC News – ‘Dozens of bodies’ at captured base in Benghazi, Libya – 30 July 2014
Alakhbar English – Libya Islamists capture Benghazi base – 31 July 2014
War News Updates – Diplomats Flee Libya As The Violence Escalates Out Of Control – 30 July 2014
Gsbuzz – ‘Dozens of bodies’ at captured base in Benghazi, Libya – 30 July 2014

 

PILPG Update: PILPG Releases Report on Power-Sharing in Iraq

July 30, 2014

With the recent, rapid changes on the ground in Iraq and subsequent calls from the United States for a new power-sharing arrangement to govern the country, PILPG recently hosted a roundtable discussion on the topic, “Power-Sharing in Iraq: Impossible or Inevitable?”  The roundtable brought together experts to discuss whether, and under what circumstances, a power-sharing arrangement might be achieved in Iraq. Participants also discussed the potential geo-strategic and security implications that a power-sharing arrangement in Iraq would have.

The roundtable generated a number of key findings that the international community may consider when assessing the likelihood and implications of power sharing in Iraq.  The report, Power-Sharing in Iraq: Impossible or Inevitable?, sets forth the key findings that emerged from the roundtable.

The full text of the report can be viewed here.
About the Public International Law & Policy Group

The Public International Law & Policy Group (PILPG) is a global, pro bono law firm providing legal assistance to governments involved in conflicts.  To facilitate use of this legal assistance, PILPG also provides policy formulation advice and training on matters related to conflict resolution.  PILPG was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005.

PILPG’s primary practice areas are Peace Negotiations, Post-Conflict Constitutions, and War Crimes Prosecution.  To provide pro bono legal advice and policy formulation expertise, PILPG relies almost exclusively on volunteer assistance from more than sixty former international lawyers, diplomats, and foreign relations experts, as well as pro bono assistance from major international law firms.  Annually, PILPG is able to provide over $20 million worth of pro bono international legal services.

In July 1999, the United Nations granted official Non-Governmental Organization status to PILPG.

The Managing Board of PILPG includes:

Paul Williams – President
Michael Scharf – Managing Director
James Hooper – Managing Director

To learn more about the Public International Law & Policy Group, please visit ourwebsite.

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Boko Haram Blamed for Suicide Bomb at Nigeria College

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

ABUJA, Nigeria – At least six people have been killed in a suicide bombing at a college in northern Nigeria’s biggest city, Kano.

Destruction from the bombing at the college (photo courtesy of Reuters)

 

The bomber is reported to be a female and had blown herself up as students waited in line to check off their names on the admission’s list.

In addition, the government states that a 10-year-old girl has been arrested in a neighboring state for wearing a suicide belt.

This attack has been the fifth one in the city of Kano since this past Saturday. Three of these five attacks have been carried out by female bombers.

Boko Haram, the militant group, has been blamed for all of these attacks.

These female attackers are said to be a new trend in the attacks.

No one knows if the female attackers are being recruited or forced kidnapped girls to carry out these suicide missions. Currently, Boko Haram is holding 200 girls that were abducted from school.

A witness stated that bodies were strewn around everywhere from the blast at the college.

An additional seven people are said to have been wounded from the blast.

This year alone, the militants have killed over 2,000 people in their attacks.

In 2013, Nigeria’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, imposed a state of emergency in the northern states of Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa, vowing to crush the insurgency.

For more information, please visit:
BBC News – Nigeria Kano blast: Boko Haram blamed for six deaths – 30 July 2014
AllAfrica – Nigeria: Kano Blast – Boko Haram Blamed for Six Deaths – 30 July 2014
GH Headlines – Nigeria Kano blast: Boko Haram blamed for six deaths – 31 July 2014
Hallmark News – Nigeria Kano blast: Boko Haram blamed for six deaths – 31 July 2014
Africa News Desk – Kano Blast – Boko Haram Blamed for Six Deaths – 31 July 2014

 

Reports Suggest Russia Is Ready To Reopen Intelligence Base In Cuba

By Lyndsey Kelly
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

HAVANA, Cuba – Recent news reports suggest that Russia has reached a provisional agreement with Cuba to reopen its electronic spying center which was once located on the Caribbean island and used to spy on the United States. Sources state that the agreement was made between Russia and Cuba on Friday, July 11th when Russian President Vladimir Putin made a trip to Havana, Cuba.

Russian President Vladimir Putin denies allegations concerning Russia’s reopening of the Lourdes base (Photo Courtesy of The Washington Times).

The Russian base was created in Lourdes, Cuba, just south of Havana, in 1964 after the Cuban missile crisis.  At the height of the Cold War the Russian intelligence base had nearly 3,000 personnel and was the biggest center used by Russia to gather intelligence from radio signals.

The base, located just 150 miles from the United States coast closed thirteen years ago. The precise reason behind the closing of the base is unclear. The Russians claim it was a “goodwill gesture” toward the United States, while many United States officials  believed it was a result of an economic crisis at the time.

Russian defense experts say that reopening the base would be a logical move for Russia as it would significantly increase the country’s ability to gather intelligence. Vyacheslav Trubnikov, the former head of Russia’s foreign intelligence service, told a Russian newspaper, “Lourdes gave the Soviet Union eyes in the whole of the western hemisphere… For Russia, which is fighting for its lawful rights and place in the international community, it would be no less valuable for the USSR.”

Reports did not give any financial details as to the agreement between Russia and Cuba. However, it has been noted that before President Vladimir Putin’s trip to Havana, Russia agreed to forgive 90 percent of Cuba’s $32 billion Soviet-era debt.

Putin has denied all reports that Russia plans to reopen the Lourdes base, and said that Russia has no plans to resume the electronic spying center. Additionally, Cuba has remained silent as to the reports. If the reports prove to be true the efforts made by Cuban President Raul Castro to build a more pragmatic relationship with the United States may quite possibly be damaged.

Despite the alleged efforts made by Russia to reopen the intelligence base, analysts say that Russia’s ability to gather information on the United States Government would be severely limited due to the improvements in technology since the Cold War.

 

For more information, please see the following:

HAVANA TIMES – Russia to Reopen Spy Center in Cuba – 16 July 2014.

REUTERS – Putin Denies Russia to Reopen Soviet-Era Post In Cuba – 17 July 2014.

REUTERS – Russia set to reopen Soviet-Era Spy Post on Cuba: Source – 16 July 2014.

WASHINGTON TIMES – Putin Gives Obama ‘Middle Finger,’ Strikes Deal to Reactivate Spy Base In Cuba – 16 July 2014.

Evidence of Fijian Military and Police Torture has Little Effect on Upcoming Elections

by Max Bartels

Impunity Watch reporter, Oceania 

 

Suva, Fiji

A year ago a video surfaced on YouTube of Fijian security personnel beating two handcuffed prison escapees, one of the detainees was beaten with batons and metal bars while the other was viciously mauled by a dog that was encouraged by its police handlers. The man was mauled so badly that his leg was eventually amputated due to the severity of his injuries. After the video surfaced there was a public outcry to investigate the matter, police then dated the video to a year before its release and claimed that they would pursue an investigation.

Iw #8 Fiji Torture
An image from the video showing the detainee being beaten with a metal bar
(Photo Curtesy of ABC News Australia)

It has been a year since the case was first brought to the police, they have since closed their investigation saying they would examine their findings to look for possible prosecutions. The investigation closed last December and still no cases have been presented for prosecution. Amnesty International in both Australia and New Zealand are speaking out on the matter saying the interim military government is protecting its own and obstructing justice. Amnesty claims that it is widely known in Fiji who the men are in the video and that all the evidence in the case is very clear and there is no excuse if the case isn’t taken any further.

After the video originally surfaced a year ago the military head of the government, Prime Minister Bainimarama said that he would stand by his men. Bainimarama has since stepped down as Prime Minister to pursue the upcoming elections, however he appointed a replacement Brigadier- General Tikoitoga. Tikoitoga has expressed the same views as Bainimarama saying that in many cases where the military or the police use force such as in the video it is to keep people from creating a potentially dangerous environment.

Since the accusations from Amnesty and accusations from the Fijian People’s Democratic Party, the political party running in opposition to Bainimarma, the Police Commissioner of Fiji  has said that he will continue the investigation and also investigate all complaints from the Fijian public relating to police and military brutality. Furthermore, the Commissioner has said that it does not matter who the subject of the investigation is, be they military or politician, no one is above the law.

These accusations come at a critical time for Fiji, which is undergoing political upheaval as the military government that seized power by a coup in 2006 has decided to step down and allow general elections. Despite pressure from Australia and New Zealand over the torture video the interim leaders of Fiji have not responded. In spite of widespread accusations of police and military abuses Bainimarma is ahead on the polls and he has looked in other directions for international trade and support mainly to China, India and Indonesia. The military government is not willing to take the torture matter any further, and with the video having little effect on the outcome of the elections it seems the leaders of the military government will maintain power.

For more information, Please see:

ABC News Australia — Amnesty Accuses Fiji of Delays in Police Over Alleged Torture of Prisoners — 7 March 2014

The Fiji Times — Police Promise Probe — 26 July 2014 

The Fiji Times — Serious Allegations — 28 June 2014

The Sydney Morning Herald — Fiji Military Leader Admits Beatings Torture — 20 June 2014

Are “Botched” Executions Cruel And Unusual Punishment?

By Lyndsey Kelly
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, D.C., United States of America – Recent troubles with the lethal injection process has sparked controversy over the constitutionality of the death penalty process in the United States. “Botched” lethal injections in Oklahoma and Arizona have raised questions as to whether the medical personnel tasked with carrying out the procedures are skilled enough to humanely put an inmate to death.

Medical personnel’s inexperience with new drug combinations may be connected to recent troubles with the lethal injection process (Photo Courtesy of The Seattle Times).

Currently 32 states use the death penalty to sentence those convicted of the most heinous crimes. Nearly all of those states also require a physician to attend the executions. However, due to the nature of the procedure the American Medical association prohibits licensed physicians from assisting.

More specifically, guidelines set out by the American Medical Association state that a physician can confirm the death of an executed inmate, but cannot declare death, administer drugs, monitor vital signs, select injection sites, start an IV, supervise drug injections or consult with a person carrying out the injection. Doctors whom are discovered to have participated in the lethal injection process risk losing their licensure to practice medicine. Due to these restrictions, lesser-trained medical personnel often carry out executions.

The U.S. lethal injection process underwent fundamental changes in 2011, when the drug company, Hospira, stopped making short-acting barbiturate and general anesthetic sodium thiopental, due to concerns about its use in lethal injections. Thus, recent problems with executions could be a result of medical personnel in the death chamber not being familiar with mixing or administering the new lethal cocktail.

Recently, in Arizona, the execution of convicted double murderer Joseph Wood took at least two doses of a lethal drug cocktail to execute the inmate. Witnesses say that Wood gasped and struggles for breath for more than 90 minutes before dying.  Wood’s execution was one of the longest in U.S. history. The length of time it took for the execution is not the issue. The real issue is whether the procedure constituted cruel and unusual punishment, which would be prohibited by the U.S. constitution.

Arizona has since halted executions pending a review of its death penalty procedures. Despite the stay in executions, Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan defended the execution, stating that the execution team, including a licensed medical doctor verified multiple times during the procedure that Wood was, “comatose and never in pain.”

 

For more information, please see the following:

BBC – Arizona Halts Executions After Joseph Wood Case – 26 July 2014.

L.A. TIMES – How Did Arizona Execution Go Wrong – 26 July 2014.

REUTERS –  Troubled U.S. Executions Raise Questions About Doctors In Death Chambers – 26 July 2014.

SEATTLE TIMES – How Did The Arizona Execution Go Wrong – 26 July 2014.

Crisis Thickens in Ukraine; International Community Seeks More Involvement

By Kyle Herda

Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

KIEV, Ukraine – Following the downing of a commercial airliner carrying 298 people over rebel-riddled Eastern Ukraine, it was immediately unclear how the key players in this ongoing dispute would react. Over a week later, it is clear that this incident will escalate the fighting, rather than push both sides to step back and talk.

Crash site of MH17, where the investigation into the cause of the disaster continues. (Photo courtesy of Daily Mail)

Caption. (Photo Courtesy of Source)

In just one week since the downing of flight MH17, the crisis in Eastern Ukraine has already managed to escalate. First, the rebels claimed they would back off and allow for an uninterrupted international investigation into the crash scene, but there are reports of rebels and Russians allegedly stealing parts from the plane or impeding the recovery of the bodies for identification and return to their families.

Second, although Russia has been cleared by the United States from direct cause of the plane’s disastrous crash, it is still believed that the plane’s finale came from a surface-to-air BUK missile fired by pro-Russian rebels in Eastern Ukraine. Separatist commander of the Vostok Battalion in Ukraine, Alexander Khodakovsky, has admit that the pro-Russian rebel possessed surface-to-air BUK missiles, but that the rebels may have returned the missiles to Russia to hide the evidence from international investigators. Further, pro-Russian rebels shot down another two planes this week, this time Ukrainian fighter jets.

Pro-Russian rebels have also detained a CNN freelance journalist in Eastern Ukraine on Tuesday. Anton Skiba was staying at a hotel in Donetsk covering the MH17 crash site when rebels abducted the reporter outside of his hotel.

Russia has also been accused by the United States and Ukraine of firing artillery into Ukraine. This would be a direct attack from Russia towards Ukraine and a “clear escalation” in the conflict, Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said.

All of the recent events have proven too much for Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, as he folded under the pressure and announced his resignation on Thursday. With escalations by Russia and uncertainty of the future and pressure on Kiev growing by the day, this resignation could not have come at a worse time for Kiev.

As the Dutch continue to fly bodies of MH17 victims out of Ukraine and Australia is attempting to secure the plane crash site in order to ensure a successful and untainted investigation into the crash, the rest of the European Union questions whether they should involve themselves more by imposing stricter sanctions on Russia. The United States is also tossing about ideas as to possible sanctions to impose onto Russia. While many countries were seeking earlier to keep out of the conflict, the scope of the crisis seems to be growing more and more with each new incident, and it is beginning to draw serious discussions throughout the globe as to whether leaving Ukraine and Russia to handle this on their own may not be the best solution afterall.

For more information, please see:

The Washington Post – Ukraine’s prime minister resigns as coalition falls apart – 24 July 2014

USA Today – Russian military fires artillery into eastern Ukraine – 24 July 2014

The Washington Post – If the West doesn’t do more for Ukraine now, it might soon be too late – 24 July 2014

Huffington Post – CNN Freelancer Abducted By Pro-Russian Separatists In Ukraine – 24 July 2014

TIME – Ukraine Separatists Had Surface-to-Air Missiles, Rebel Leader Admits – 24 July 2014

CNN – Ukraine: Two military jets shot down over Donetsk – 23 July 2014

ICC: Passing of former ICC Judge Hans-Peter Kaul

IN MEMORIAM: ICC Judge Hans-Peter Kaul

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We are deeply saddened to announce that former International Criminal Court (ICC) Judge Hans-Peter Kaul passed away on 21 July 2014 after a period of serious illness, which led him to resign from the Court with effect from 1 July 2014.

“Judge Kaul’s death is an enormous loss for the ICC. He served as a role model, dedicating his career to reshaping international justice. Judge Kaul was a driving force in the creation of the Rome Statute, in the establishment of the ICC, and in many of the decisions rendered in the situations and cases before the Court in its history thus far. We will long remember him with respect and admiration on a personal and professional level, for his relentless commitment and extensive contributions to international justice”, said ICC President Judge Sang-Hyun Song.

The President of the Assembly of States Parties, Ambassador Tiina Intelmann, recalled “the vital contribution which Judge Kaul had made to the establishment of the Rome Statute system, both as head of the German delegation during the negotiations which culminated in the adoption of the Statute, as well as a member of the Court’s bench, where he leaves an important legacy of contributions to the jurisprudence of the Court. Judge Kaul will be remembered for his multi-faceted and unrelenting support to the cause of international criminal justice; he was also indefatigable in advancing the support for the amendments to the Rome Statute on the crime of aggression”.

National of Germany, Judge Kaul served as an ICC Judge for 11 years. In the first elections of ICC judges in February 2003, he was elected by the States Parties to the Rome Statute for a three-year term and assumed his duty on 11 March 2003. He was re-elected in 2006 for a further term of nine years. Judge Kaul was a member of the ICC’s Pre-Trial Division, serving as the Division’s President from 2004 to 2009, as well as from 8 April 2014 until his resignation. He contributed to important decisions in proceedings regarding situations in Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Darfur (Sudan), the Central African Republic, Kenya, Libya and Cote d’Ivoire, and the related cases. From 2009 to 2012, he served as the ICC’s Second Vice-President.

Judge Kaul also served for several years on various committees related to the Permanent Premises: he was chairman of the Inter-Organ Committee on the Permanent Premises (2003-2008), the senior representative of the Court in the Jury of the International Architectural Design Competition, and contributed to the work of the Oversight Committee of States Parties, playing an important pioneering role in the process which eventually led to the planning and construction of the ICC’s future permanent home.

Judge Kaul made significant contributions to the development of the ICC and international law even before being elected as an ICC Judge. In 2002, he was appointed Ambassador and Commissioner of the Federal Foreign Office for the International Criminal Court. From 1996 to 2003 he participated as head of the German delegation in the discussions and negotiation process of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Previous to that, in his capacity as Head of the Public International Law Division of the Federal Foreign Office (1996 – 2002), he was responsible, inter alia, for several cases involving Germany which were before the International Court of Justice. He published extensively on the International Criminal Court and other fields of public international law.

Condolence books will be available at the lobby of the main entrance of the International Criminal Court (Maanweg 174, The Hague, Netherlands) and of the public entrance (Regulusweg, The Hague, Netherlands) from 23 to 25 July 2014. Messages of condolence can also be sent by letter to the President of the Court Judge Sang-Hyun Song and by email to: PublicAffairs.Unit@icc-cpi.int.

Florida Takes Legal Action against Texas Oil Company Illegally Fracking in Fragile Everglades Watershed

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch, Managing Editor

WASHINGTON D.C., United States of America – Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection announced last week that it will be taking legal action against the Dan. A. Hughes Company, a Texas based oil company, for violating state drilling regulations at one of its wells located near the Everglades, accusing the company of disregarding the safety of Florida residents and natural resources. Among the issues of concern regarding the illegal drilling operation cited by DEP were concerns over company’s groundwater monitoring and handling of drilling wastewater. The company was extracting natural gas though the controversial practice of injecting high levels of hydrochloric acid into wells known as “acid fracking,” a practice similar to Hydraulic fracturing.

The Florida Panther, once a common site throughout the state, has suffered from habitat loss, Forrest fragmentation, urbanization and pouching. Environmentalists are concerned that increased drilling activity in Florida’s fragile wetland watersheds could further threaten the survival of the species. (Photo Courtesy of the National Parks Service)

The company is accused of unauthorized drilling in the Big Cypress Swamp whose fresh water resources are essential to the health of the Florida Everglades Watershed and support marine estuaries along Florida’s southwest coast.  The Big Cypress watershed is home to a protected National Preserve, serves as a critical fresh water reservoir and supports hundreds of species including the critically endangered Florida panther. The Florida panther is one of the most endangered mammal species in the United States; it is estimated that only 160 individuals remain in the wild.

DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. announced the lawsuit last week saying the state agency will “file a lawsuit against the Dan A. Hughes Company to address violations at the Collier-Hogan well. After months of holding Dan A. Hughes accountable for unauthorized activities at the Collier-Hogan well site, it is clear that the Company has not taken seriously the Department’s demands to protect Collier County families or Florida’s natural resources.”

This lawsuit will seek force the Hughes Company to shut down its operations at the Collier-Hogan site, until pending completion of appropriate environmental testing and analyses can be completed by the DEP. The company announced last week that it had shot down drilling operations at the disputed site which is located near Florida Panther habitat. According to DEP press secretary Tiffany Cowie says the company’s announcement of a temporary shutdown at the site does not change the agency’s plan to sue.

Residents and environmentalists called on the state to take action against the Hughes Company when it was discovered that the company was practicing acid fracking in the area last year Environmentalists cite concerns that the practice, which requires high volumes of fresh water, may deplete the watershed’s supply of fresh water, putting the ecosystem and residents at risk. The practice also raises concerns over the handling of toxins, including hydrochloric acid, produced for and during the drilling process. Activists and environmentalists argue that until more research is done to understand the long-term effects of such practices on the fragile ecosystems in the region drilling operations should be halted.

Environmentalists also cite convenes that fracking could increase seismic activity in the area. Seismologists say the practice of Hydraulic fracturing may be causing an increase in seismic actively in areas where drilling is allowed. Earlier this month 8 small earthquakes were recorded by the United States Geological Survey in Oklahoma over a span of about 30 hours. Jennifer Hecker, director of natural resources for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, warned that seismic testing deployed in other regions where fracking is allowed will not be as effective in Florida because of the porous nature of Southwest Florida’s limestone bedrock. Florida’s limestone may also pose a problem for potential drilling operations because of fragility of limestone formations which are prone to erosion and are a contributing factor to the creation of sinkholes in the region

United States Senator Bill Nelson flew in to Southwest Florida Earlier this month to listen to the concerns of his constituents, environmental groups and government officials about oil drilling in Southwest Florida. “We’ve spend billions of dollars to restore the Everglades — that’s taxpayer dollars,” he said. “I want to make sure what goes on does not mess that up.” Nelson said he will bring the concerns of Florida residents back to Washington but argued that he bevies more research must be done to understand the effects of acid and hydrologic fracturing on the environment before federal action can be taken.

For more information please see:

News 13 – DEP Suing Oil Company for Using Fracking-Like Technique near Everglades – 17 July 2014

First Coast News – Oil Company Busted For Fracking In The Everglades – 16 July 2014

CBS News – 8 Small Earthquakes Shake Oklahoma As Fracking Critics Grumble – 14 July 2014

Naples Daily News – Sen. Nelson: Prevent Oil Drilling In Southwest Florida from ‘Messing Up’ Everglades – 14 July 2014

National Parks Service – Big Cypress National Preserve – 2014