The Kidnapped Groom

Syrian Justice and Accountability Centre

syria

July 18, 2014

The Syria Justice and Accountability Center works to collect and document cases from different sources concerning the arrests and abductions of Syrian citizens. The center is highlighting some of these cases to demonstrate the systematic nature of these actions, to illustrate the center’s work, and to encourage other victims to testify, given the importance of testimony to any future justice and accountability processes in Syria.

These are excerpts from a testimony of a victim of kidnapping, “M.A.” M.A. was born in 1989 and he works as a tailor.

“My fiancé and I agreed to go to Damascus to get married and then return together to northern Syria. I was on my way there when our public bus lost its way Maraba, in the suburbs of Damascus, and entered Harasta. [We approached] government barriers, where government forces fired into the air to stop the bus. Then, the government soldiers pulled us down [from the bus] and stopped us in the street in a manner suggesting that they would shoot us.”

M.A. continues, telling the details of a story he made up to try to get himself out of trouble, which ended up backfiring:

“I was thinking that those who stopped us were gunmen from the opposition, and that there had been some confusion. I started shouting, trying to explain: ‘I have brothers like you in the Free Syrian Army in the Farouk Brigades!’ The soldiers all went crazy hearing this, and led me to a separate room, screaming into their wireless devices, asking to talk with the Air Force Intelligence branch. Then they started beating me with wooden sticks and batons for a long time.”

Regarding the whereabouts of his arrest, M.A. says:

“They took me to the Air Force Intelligence branch, and then I was blindfolded, but I could hear their conversations. They took me inside to a room that did not exceed about one square meter. I was struck by thirst, and began to request water urgently, but no one answered me. When I started knocking the door firmly, asking for water, they tied up my hands and my feet and took me inside a room with a water pipe. I approached it, crawling, but they put an electric wire in the water, which shocked me [when I tried to drink]. Then someone asked me if I wanted more water. I told him I completely abandoned the idea. ”

Regarding the Air Force Intelligence branch investigation, M.A. says:

“The interrogator asks me why I came to Damascus, so I answer, simply, that I am coming for [my] marriage. He returned me to a room no more than an area of about one square meter, shared with three other detainees. After several hours, they escorted me to a torture chamber where they folded me inside a rubber car tire tied to the ceiling. Then they start to beat me with sticks and electric rods. I was screaming for god’s help, so he [the guard] says: this is God’s stick. And he continued to beat me with it.”

This situation continued for more than a month and a half. Then they took me to a room of about nine square meters, shared with 70 other detainees. I was able to ascertain the number [by observing] the number of meals served and the number of people entering the room.”

Torture was almost daily and very routine, beginning around four in the afternoon and continuing until midnight and, in some cases, until the morning. Among the tools used in torture were the “Magic Carpet” and electrocution [while I was] in many positions, [used] on different body parts. ”

M.A. recalls his observations from that period:

“I have seen with my own eyes many of the deaths under torture. Others were dying inside the detention room due to hunger and lack of food.”

On one occasion, a number of armed elements of the [military] branch escorted me and three others out of the room. Our feet were bound together by chains, so none of us could escape on our own. They asked us to dig nearby. As we were digging, human remains appeared. I saw a full hand and I dug and found other human remains.”

We started digging at midnight and stopped at six in the morning. Then made us put our thumbprint on a blank piece of paper, and returned us to the detention room.”

One night it seemed that there was an armed opposition attack on the Air Force Intelligence branch in Harasta. So the branch soldiers put me and the other detainees in front of them, as a human shield. The other party [the opposition] stopped shooting, but the branch soldiers opened fire on us directly, killing six detainees.”

M.A. reports that he was not fully aware of the details of his kidnapping after he left the Air Force Intelligence branch in Harasta. He was transferred to the Mezze prison and remained there for three days without going to any interrogations or being asked any questions. Then he was transferred to the military police and stayed there a week.

Subsequently he went to the Justice Palace:

“In the Justice Palace in Damascus, one of the judges sentenced me, [saying] that I was a terrorist. I had never met this judge [before].”

M.A. was sent to Adra prison and then released three months later. In total, about eleven months passed between his wedding day and his release.

Chilean Government Challenges the Jurisdiction of the ICJ in Bolivian Sea Access Case

By Mridula Tirumalasetti

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

SANTIAGO, Chile—Chile wants to deny Bolivia access to the Pacific Ocean. Chilean President Michelle Bachelet stated on Monday that the country plans to challenge the jurisdiction that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in Hague has in the matter.  Bachelet stated, “Our national interest is at stake and we will defend it with all the strength, determination, and sobriety that is necessary.”

The territorial dispute between Bolivia and Chile is longstanding and historical. Bolivia filed a lawsuit against Chile in April 2013, in which the country attempted to regain access to the sea. On April 15, 2014, the Bolivian government filed a written statement which gave Chile three months to file an objection to the ICJ jurisdiction in this case.

Map of the territorial dispute (photo courtesy of Pan Am Post)

Bolivia has asked the ICJ to grant it territory that it lost in the War of the Pacific (1879-1883), even though it signed the Treaty of Peace and Friendship with Chile in 1904. The treaty established the two countries’ current borders, but Bolivia argues it was coerced into accepting the agreement. The Bolivian government estimates approximately 400 kilometers of coastline and 129,000 square kilometers of land were lost due to the War of the Pacific. Chile and Bolivia have had tense relations ever since.

However, the Chilean government insists the two countries signed the Treaty of Peace and Friendship, and thus there is nothing more to settle.

In her address on Monday, Bachelet also stated the treaty had “been respected and implemented by both States for over a century, and Chile has granted Bolivia the widest possible right of commercial transit across its territory and ports on the Pacific.” She continued that Chile’s foreign policy was guided by “the unyielding defense of our territorial integrity and our national interests, which coincide with essential principles of international law and relations among states, including the inviolability of treaties and the stability of borders.”

Because Bolivia is a landlocked country, gaining access to ocean ports could help boost their economy. Moreover, it could help end the dispute with Chile and boost economic ties between the two States.

Bachelet’s decision received widespread support in Chile, and the dispute between the two nations has sparked nationalist sentiments. Julio Carrion, who a a political scientist specializing in the Andean region at the University of Delaware argues, “The strong anti-Chilean sentiment in Bolivia makes it risky for any government to formally give up. The best one can hope for is a gradual, silent fading away of the issue, which is unlikely to happen with the current administration.”

For more information, please see:

PanAm Post– Bachelet Rejects The Hague’s Authority in Bolivia’s Sea-Access Case–8 July 2014

El Pais–Chile to contest UN court’s jurisdiction in dispute with Bolivia over sea access–8 July 2014

The Wall Street Journal–Bolivia’s Tack Toward Pacific Faces Chilean Headwind— 8 July 2014

The Santiago Times–Bachelet: Chile will challenge ICJ jurisdiction on Bolivia case–8 July 2014

Minimum Working Age Lowered in Bolivia

By Mridula Tirumalasetti

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

LA PAZ, Bolivia–Bolivia has legalized children who are as young as 10 years old to be employed. This is the lowest minimum working age in the world.

Lawmakers in Bolivia approved legislation earlier this month, and on July 17, Vice President Alvaro Garcia signed it into law. The law allows 10 year olds to work so long as they are under parental supervision and still attend school. Children who are 12 years old are allowed to work under contract, and they must also attend school.

While the International Labor Organization (ILO) sets the minimum working age at 15, it allows for the minimum age for children in developing countries to be set at 14.  The ILO is investigating to see whether the law violates international regulations on child labor.

11 year old child selling pastries on the streets of Bolivia (photo courtesy of The Telegraph)

Proponents of the new law have argued that children who are younger than 14 years old need to work in order to help support their families. “Extreme poverty is one of the causes, not the main one, of child labor, said Deputy Javier Zavaleta, who is a co-sponsor of the bill. He added, “So our goal is to eliminate child labor by 2020. While it is ambitious, it is possible.”

Another argument for lowering the minimum work age is articulated by Senator Adolfo Mendoza. He stated, “Child labor already exists in Bolivia, and it’s difficult to fight it. Rather than persecute it, we want to protect the rights and guarantee the labor security of the children. “

However, human rights activists see it a different way. According to Jo Becker, who is the children’s-rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, “Child labor perpetuates the cycle of poverty…Poor families often send their children to work out of desperation, but these children miss out on schooling and are more likely to end up in a lifetime of low-wage work.” Her suggestion is for the Bolivian government to “invest in policies and programs to end child labor, not support it.”

Bolivia has made limited efforts to invest in ways to help get families out of poverty by paying $28 a year to families who send their children to school, which is essentially a per-child subsidy. However, recent studies show that one in three Bolivian children do not attend school. Moreover, statistics show that an estimated 1 million children in Bolivia work in textiles, on farms, as street vendors, and even coca leaf pickers.

For more information, please see:

Time–Bolivia to Allow Children to Legally Work at Just 10 Years Old–4 July 2014

The Telegraph–Bolivia becomes first nation to legalise child labour from age 10–19 July 2014

BBC News–Bolivia law allows “self employed children” aged 10 to work–17 July 2014

Al Jazeera America– Bolivia makes child labor legal from age 10–18 July 2014

 

Fleeing Honduras

by: Delisa Morris Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

San Pedro Sula, Honduras – The United States has seen a surge in immigration of children from Honduras recently.  Juan Hernandez, president of Honduras, believes that the U.S. drug policy is to blame.  “The root cause is that the United States and Columbia carried out big operations in the fight against drugs, then Mexico did it”, stated Hernandez.

Honduran Immigrants leaving the United States for Honduras | Photo courtesy of blogspot.com

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security deported 59 Hondurans this week all women and children, who migrated to the country illegally.  They had all been held in a detention facility in New Mexico.  The migrants were returned by plane to San Pedro Sula, known as the murder capital of the world.

There is a ceaseless river of bodies flowing through the morgue in San Pedro Sula is a testament to one reason so many people leave Honduras.  Honduras is a country rampant with crime and little economic opportunity.

A week ago a 13-year-old girl’s throat was slit ear to ear, and her body was found in a shallow grave in a backyard.  The circumstances of her death are still under investigation.  Some bodies are riddled with bullets; in one case 72-bullet-wounds, while others are bound by their hands and feet and strangled.

The city is covered with gang activity and each body brought into the morgue tells of brutality and violence.

From January to July, the city experienced over 538 homicides, and in at least 423 a gun was used.  In May, the worst month, the body tally was about nine per day.

Families are not allowed to grieve to grieve in peace, in fact, the mere act of claiming a body or attending a funeral can make people there a target for gang members who stalk the morgue and cemetery looking for their next victim.  Right now at least forty-eight bodies are unclaimed at the morgue, and after 30 days, they’ll be buried in the city’s public cemetery.  The morgue keeps DNA, dental records and fingerprints are retained for the day when someone shows up or a killer caught.

Many Hondurans who live in the roughest neighborhoods leave Honduras because they don’t have any other option.

The city’s Director of Forensic Medicine, Hector Hernandez, believes many families haven’t claimed their loved ones’ bodies because they believe their family members have migrated.

Several of the women deported this week have mixed emotions about failing to stay in the United States, and they now worry about paying back the thousands of dollars they borrowed to travel north.  “Part of my heart stayed in the U.S. because I missed a chance to get ahead in life,” said Isabel Rodriguez, who was deported along with her two young children.

 

For more information please see:

ABC News –59 Migrants Deported From US Arrive in Honduras – July 18, 2014Reuters – U.S. says Deportation of Honduran Children a Warning to Illegal Migrants – July 15, 2014

CNN – In Morgue, Clues to Why People Leave Violence-Plagued Honduras – July 16, 2014

Time – Honduras President: The War on Drugs is Causing the U.S. Immigration Problem – July 15, 2014

Navy Medical Officer Refuses to Force-Feed Guantánamo Bay Detainees

By Lyndsey Kelly
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

 WASHINGTON, D.C., United States of America – A Navy medical officer at the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba has refused an order from the Pentagon to continue force-feeding hunger-striking prisoners. This is the first known instance of a U.S. service member defying the Pentagon’s force-feeding policy.

A Military Doctor at Guantánamo Bay holds a feeding tube used to force-feed detainees on a hunger strike (Photo Courtesy of CNN).

The Pentagon calls its Guantánamo Bay tube feeding policy humane and designed to prevent prisoners from starving to death. The military refers to the controversial process as “eternal feeding.” The force-feeding practice is designed to provide prisoners with liquid nutrition and medicine via a tube inserted in the nose and directly into the stomach. Defense attorneys say that their clients consider the practices torture.

An unknown number of the 149 total detainees at Guantánamo Bay’s Camp Delta have been on a hunger strike for the past year and a half. The purpose of the strike is to protest their indefinite detention.

News of the Navy medical officer’s refusal comes to the public by way of an attorney for one of the prisoners. Abu Wa’el Dhiab, whom is part of a group of detainees participating in the hunger strike, has been imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay since August 2002. Dhiab has been cleared for release since 2009, but U.S officials said that they were reluctant to send him back to Syria because of the ongoing civil war in the country.

A Pentagon official confirmed the statements made by the defense attorney, stating, “There was a recent instance of a medical provider not willing to carry-out the eternal feeding of a detainee. The matter is in the hands of the individual’s leadership. The service member has been temporarily assigned to alternate duties with no impact to medical support operations.”

The identity of the Navy medical officer is currently unknown, but the defense attorney for Dhiab has said that his client described the nurse as a “40-year-old Latino who turned up on the cellblocks in April or May, with the rank of a ‘captain’.”

The medical officer’s refusal came one year after civilian doctors writing for the New England Journal of Medicine declared that medical professionals taking part in force-feeding was unethical. The civilian doctors urged the Guantánamo medical staff to refuse to participate in the pentagon’s designed practices.

Medical staff is allowed to refuse to participate in the eternal feeding of prisoners by invoking medical ethics. Retired Army Brig. Gen. Stephen Zenakis, a psychiatrist who visits the Guantánamo Bay facilities frequently, says that based on his talks with Pentagon policymakers, the medical officer should suffer no consequence for having refused.

 

For more information, please see the following:

CNN – U.S. Navy Nurse Won’t Force-Feed Guantanamo Detainees – 19 July 2014.

FOX NEWS –  Navy Nurse Reportedly Refuses to Force-Feed Guantanamo Prisoners– 19 July 2014.

MIAMI HERALD – Navy Nurse Refuses to Force-Feed Guantánamo Captive – 19 July 2014.

TIME – Navy Nurse Refuses Gitmo Force Feed Order – 19 July 2014.

Terror in the Skies Above the Ukraine

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch Reporter, Managing Editor 

KIEV, Ukraine – Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, a civilian airliner, was shot out of the skies above the Ukraine on Thursday as the plane was flying over the disputed regions of eastern Ukraine. The airliner, a Boeing 777, is believed to have been shot down by a surface-to-air Missile, U.S. officials say. 298 lives were lost in the attack. World leaders have called on the Ukraine and Russia to allow an international investigation into the attack. The United Nations Security Council, of which Russia is a permanent member, was scheduled to hold an emergency meeting Friday to discuss attack. The United Nations Security Council called for “full, thorough and independent international investigation” into downing of Malaysian plane above Ukraine.

Pro-Russia rebels stand guard at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. the Airliner was shot out of the sky above in Eastern Ukraine on Friday killing the plane’s 298 passengers. (Photo courtesy of CNN International)

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko addressed the nation early Friday, placing blame for the horrific attack on pro-Russian separatists whom he suggested are acting as the puppets of Russian leaders. Charges that the Russian federation and pro-Russian separatists both denied. “War has gone beyond the territory of Ukraine,” Poroshenko said. “Consequences of this war have already reached the whole world.”

Pro-Russian separatists fighting have agreed to allow access to the crash site to investigators international monitors in the region said. However, the Ukrainian government said the rebels were still keeping all but local emergency workers away from the site.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk called for swift, international justice. “This is a crime against humanity. All red lines have been already crossed. This is the deadline,” he said. “We ask our international partners to call an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting and to [do] everything we can to stop this war: a war against Ukraine, a war against Europe, and after these terrorists shot down a Malaysian aircraft, this is the war against the world.”

A pro-Russian rebel leader had reportedly briefly claimed restorability via Twitter for shooting down a jet he claimed was a Ukrainian military aircraft. However, soon after it was established that the downed plane was a civilian airliner the Tweet was reportedly removed.

European Union leaders agreed this earlier week to expand sanctions against individuals and entities in response to Russia role in contributing to conflict in the Ukraine. The details of the sanctions will be decided by the end of the month. The Obama Administration also announced plans to expand U.S. Sanctions against Russia before the attack. The sanctioned would target Russian interests including Energy companies.

The majority of people on board the Malaysian airliner were Dutch citizens. Preliminary reports of the crash. The Dutch prime minister on Thursday ordered that flags fly at half-mast at government buildings across the Netherlands to mourn the 154 Dutch citizens lost in the attack which he says may be the worst air disaster in Dutch history.

The attack also dealt a devastating blow to the International AIDS community. As many as 108 Aides experts, researchers, activists and health workers who were traveling to an International Aids Conference in Australia may have been on board the plane. The Australian reported that up to 108 delegates to the 20th international AIDS congruence in Melbourne Australia, which is scheduled to begin on Sunday, are believed to have been killed on board flight MH17.

“There’s been confirmed a number of senior people who were coming out here who were researchers, who were medical scientists, doctors, people who’ve been to the forefront of dealing with AIDS across the world,” Victoria Premier Denis Napthine told reporters in Melbourne on Friday. “The exact number is not yet known, but there is no doubt it’s a substantial number.”

The International AIDS Society issued a brief statement Thursday night following the attack saying that “a number of colleagues and friends” were on the flight. “At this incredibly sad and sensitive time the IAS stands with our international family and sends condolences to the loved ones of those who have been lost to this tragedy,” the statement said.

Unconfirmed reports suggest that among the dead are international renowned AIDS researcher Joep Lange, of the University of Amsterdam, and World Health Organization spokesman Glenn Thomas. Lange played a critical role in leading local trials of antiretroviral therapies and led research into the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. He served as president of the International AIDS society from 2002-2004, and is a founder and co-editor-in-chief of the journal Antiviral Therapy. Lange’s work played a critical role in bringing treatment for HIV/AIDS to the developing world, saving countless lives. Former United States President and AIDS advocate Bill Clinton who is scheduled to speak at the conference referred to the AIDS workers lost on the flight as “Martyrs for the Cause.”

For more information please see:

BBC News – Accusations Fly As Investigators Seek Answers over MH17 Crash in Ukraine – 18 July 2014

CNN International – Accusations Fly As Investigators Seek Answers over MH17 Crash in Ukraine – 18 July 2014

The Washington Post – Rebels in Eastern Ukraine Pledge Access to Plane Crash Site, but Kiev Cites Restrictions – 18 July 2014

Reuters – Netherlands in Mourning After at Least 154 Dutch Die in Ukraine Crash –17 July 2014

 

Israel Launches Ground Offensive a Day after Four Palestinian Children Killed by Israeli Strikes

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch, Managing Editor

GAZA CITY, Gaza – Israeli tanks entered Gaza after the Israeli military launched a massive ground operation into Gaza late Thursday, calling an extra 18,000 reservists into the conflict with Hamas. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon reportedly ordered the assault to destroy tunnels moving from the Gaza strip into Israel Proper. Tunnels connecting Israel and Gaza as well as Egypt have served as critical supply chains, not only for Hamas militants but also for critical civilian supplies including fuel. The ground assault represents as a major escalation in the ten-day offensive that has already killed more than 230 Palestinians, including the shocking killing of four civilian boys on a Gaza beach on Wednesday.

Israeli tanks entered Gaza on Thursday night after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered a ground invasion, The escalation comes after Israeli strikes have killed more than 230 Palestinians during the first ten days of the conflict. (Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera)

The offensive began after a group of gunmen reportedly attempted to enter Israel through a tunnel originating in Gaza. The Israeli army said eight of the 13 attackers were killed, and Hamas claimed responsibility for the operation. The Israeli military said the operation “will deal significant damage to the infrastructure of Hamas and other terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip.” “We have hit Hamas hard, and we will continue to hit Hamas hard,” the Israel Defense Forces tweeted.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said that “the beginning of the Israeli ground invasion of Gaza is a dangerous step with unknown consequences. Israel will pay a heavy price for it. “Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said of the offensive; “It does not scare the Hamas leaders or the Palestinian people. We warn Netanyahu of the dreadful consequences of such a foolish act.”

The escalation came shortly after a five-hour “humanitarian ceasefire” requested by the United Nations, aimed at giving residents of Gaza a chance to leave their homes for necessities after days of Israli bombardments. Both sides of the conflict largely stopped firing, and people were able to venture out to markets, grocers and banks, which opened for the first time in more than a week.

The ground operation comes just a day after Four young boys were killed during an Israeli strike while playing at Gaza beach on Wednesday, witnesses say, a fifth boy was injured in the attack and is in critical condition. The blasts that killed the boys struck near a hotel where several members of the foreign media are staying; several journalist witnessed the incident. The boys, two brothers and two cousins, were between the ages of 9 and 11.

Israli spokesmen Mark Regev said the results of a preliminary investigation suggests the deaths were the result of a “a tragic misidentification of the target.” However, A Hamas official called the killings a “war crime.” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zhuri said “those children were not firing rockets, they were just playing.”

According to a report by Human Rights watch several Israeli airstrikes have targeted civilian structures and other non-military targets.  Israeli attacks in Gaza since July 7, 2014 have destroyed 1,255 homes and displaced at least 7,500 people.

“Israel’s rhetoric is all about precision attacks but attacks with no military target and many civilian deaths can hardly be considered precise,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Recent documented cases in Gaza sadly fit Israel’s long record of unlawful airstrikes with high civilian casualties.” Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said Israeli bombs hit Wafa Hospital in Gaza while four patients were inside. Human Rights Watch has called on Israeli to stop targeting Civilian populations and infrastructure; weather the targeting of these areas in intentional or reckless.

For more information:

Al Jazeera – Israel Launches Gaza Ground Invasion – 17 July 2014

CNN International – Israel Launches Ground Operation in Gaza; Hamas Says Israel to ‘Pay a Heavy Price’ – 17 July 2014

CNN International – ‘They Went to the Beach to Play’: Deaths of 4 Children Add to Growing Toll in Gaza Conflict – 17 July 2014

Time Magazine – Israel, Hamas Agree on Short Cease-Fire After Israeli Strike Kills 4 Palestinian Boys – 16 July 2014

Assad Sworn in for another Seven Year term Amidst Deadly Violence

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch Reporter, Managing Editor

DAMASCUS, Syria – On Wednesday Syrian President Bashar al-Assad placed his right hand on the Holy Quran and took his oath of office at the “People’s Palace” overlooking Damascus and was sworn into a third seven-year term as President of Syria. SANA, Syria’s state-run television station aired what it said was a live broadcast of the ceremony showing Assad arriving in a black BMW sedan as members of the Syrian military band played the national anthem.

Bashar al-Assad was sworn in for a third seven-year term as Syria’s president in a ceremony in Damascus celebrating Assad’s victory in an election that was widely condemned as a farce by the Syrian opposition as well as other Arab and Western leaders.

In an address Assad claimed that the Arab spring uprising against established Arab leaders had brought nothing but ciaos to the region, arguing that “What we are seeing today in Iraq and Lebanon, and all countries struck by this ‘fake spring’ disease … proves our warnings were right: Soon we will see Arab, regional and Western countries paying a high price for supporting terrorism.”

“Syrians, three years and four months… have passed since some cried ‘freedom’,” Assad said in his address referring to the peaceful protests that turned violent in March 2011 when Assad’s forces attempted to silence protesters. Assad continued “They wanted a revolution, but you have been the real revolutionaries. I congratulate you for your revolution and for your victory.”

Even as Assad prepared to begin his next term in office, claiming victory over the Syrian rebels, State media reported that four people had been killed when rebel shells struck near Umayyad Square in Damascus. The Assad regime continues target rebel-held and rebel-sympathetic areas including the embattled city of Aleppo. On Friday video was posted to YouTube of an indiscriminate barrel bomb attack by the Syrian Air force that reportedly killed 20 people in Aleppo. The video shows rescues franticly trying to save a young baby who was stuck in the rubble.

Assad won re-election on June 3rd in an election that only allowed voting in regime-controlled territories. Assad claimed victory with a reported 88.7 percent of the vote, defeating two other candidates who were seen as figureheads, rather than true political rivals. Syrian opposition groups and members of the international community have condemned the election as illegitimate.  The opposition National Coalition branded the election a “farce” even before it was staged, in a statement later echoed by the US secretary of state, John Kerry, and Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the secretary general of NATO.

The Syrian Civil war has become a massive humanitarian crises, in the 3½ years since the conflict began more than 1 million refugees have fled the country, mostly entering Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. The sudden displacement of hundreds of thousands of people from Syria has created growing tensions in the region, in Lebanon alone the Syrian refugee population is approaching one third of the overall population of the country placing strain on state infrastructure.

For more information please see:

Al Jazeera – Syria’s Assad Sworn in For Third Term – 16 July 2014

National Public Radio – Syria’s Assad Sworn in For Third 7-Year Presidential Term  – 16 July 2014

The New York Times – Assad Is Sworn in For Third 7-Year Term in Syria – 16 July 2014

The Washington Post – Baby Rescued From Rubble after Syria Bomb Attack – 11 July 2014

The Washington Post – Syrian Crisis: Barrel Bomb Attacks in Aleppo – 11 July 2014

Ahram Online – Syria Refugees Set to Exceed A Third of Lebanon’s Population – 3 July 2014

40 Years Later, Cyprus Still Struggles to Reunite

By Kyle Herda

Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

NICOSIA, Cyprus – Forty years ago today, a coup led by Greeks chased out President Archbishop Makarios. Less than a week after, Turkey invaded Cyprus and overthrew the coup in a bloody engagement. While Turkey eventually halted its advance, 35,000 Turkish troops still remain in northern Cyprus today.

A sign in the town of Pyla, sitting within the U.N.-controlled buffer zone between northern Cyprus and the rest of the island. (Photo courtesy of The Guardian)

Today, the northern one-third of Cyprus remains separate from the rest of the nation, separated by a buffer controlled by the United Nations. This northern section of the island self-identifies themselves as an independent nation, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. While Turkey also recognizes northern Cyprus as an independent nation, Turkey is alone in doing so. However, it remains unclear what exactly that region of the island is, as it acts as a de facto nation with its own government.

Over one-third of the Cypriots on the island are mainland Turks, which makes unification of the north and south even more difficult. Now, a group of Cypriots is taking action against Turkey in an attempt to push Turkey out of the north.

European Parliament member Costas Mavrides, representing his nation Cyprus, a European Union member nation, filed a war crimes complaint against Turkey. Tens of thousands of Turkish troops in northern Cyprus, A sizeable Turkish population in northern Cyprus, backed by tens of thousands of Turkish troops also stationed there, are increasing in numbers, a move that is making Cyprus feel threatened.

Along with Mavrides, a group called Cypriots Against Turkish War Crimes has taken part in filing the complaint against Turkey. This group has been backed by an Israeli-based rights organization called the Shurat HaDin Law Center.

The claim is that Turkey is pushing Turkish mainlanders to move to the island. Turkey is allegedly enticing Turkish settlers by providing job opportunities, financial aid, and giving homes and land to Turks who make the move. The impact of these moves could drastically increase the Turkish population, as has already been seen in the northern section of Cyprus where over one-third of the 300,000 population is people who came from Turkey.

Cyprus is afraid that the increase in the Turkish population on the northern section of the island could further push the northern part of Cyprus to breakaway from the rest of the island. The filed complaint in the International Criminal Court is an attempt by Cyprus to contain the situation and nip it in the bud before things escalate, especially in the wake of the recent quiet takeover of Crimea by Russia in a similar manner. Although it has been forty years now since the conflict began, it is clear that a solution is still far away.

For more information, please see:

Cyprus Mail – Congressmen urge Obama to enhance US support for Cyprus’ reunification 15 July 2014 

Cyprus Mail – Forty years since the coup 15 July 2014

ABC News – Cypriots File War Crimes Complaint Against Turkey 14 July 2014 

The Guardian – Cyprus divided: 40 years on, a family recalls how the island was torn apart 5 July 2014

In A Symbolic Demonstration of Sovereignty the Haudenosaunee Fields a Team at Lacrosse World Championship Four Years after Being Denied the Right to Play the Creator’s Game

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch Reporter, Managing Editor

WASHINGTON D.C., United States of America –  As they take the field to play the sport they call the Creator’s Game at the Lacrosse World Championships, the Haudenosaunee or Iroquois National Lacrosse Team is playing for much more than a title, they are playing for their standing in the International Community. The team, whose players represent the six Haudenosaunee nations — the Cayuga, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Seneca and Tuscarora — is the world’s only indigenous team competing as a sovereign nation for the World Lacrosse Championships in Denver. The Iroquois men’s lacrosse team has been competing internationally under the Haudenosaunee flag since 1987 and is the only Native American team officially sanctioned to compete internationally as an independent entity.

Four years after being denied entry into the United Kingdom under Haudenosaunee Passports to compete at the World Lacrosse Championship in Manchester England the Iroquois Nationals, the world’s only international sanctioned indigenous team is competing at the World Championships in Denver, defeating England 15 to 4 on Friday. (Photo Courtesy of Lacrosse Magazine)

For the Haudenosaunee Lacrosse is much more than a game, it is a way of life. Called the Creator’s Game, Lacrosse is a deeply spiritual game and is frequently used for healing purposes and can be summoned by clan mothers on behalf of any person or people who is in need of its healing powers.

“We play for the creator, and the game was put here to please the creator,” said team goalie Marty Ward who grew up in Syracuse New York just outside of the Onondaga Nation reservation and is playing for his third world team. “Every time we pick up a stick, it is a medicine game first.”

Although Lacrosse was born on Haudenosaunee land, the road to representing their people at the Lacrosse world Championships has not been easy for the Iroquois Nationals. Four years ago, the Iroquois Nationals made international headlines when the British government refused to recognize the legitimacy of the Haudenosaunee Passports under which the team was traveling despite the fact that the Haudenosaunee passports have been recognized abroad since 1923 when delegates from the Six Nation’s visited the League of Nations. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton responded by offering the team members one-time travel waivers. While they team was offered expedited United States passport the they refused to accept the offer; Wishing not only to play, but also to travel under their own flag.

As a result of being denied the right to play their own sport at the lacrosse World Championships in Manchester the Iroquois nationals fell in the international rankings and the Federation of International Lacrosse stripped the team of  its ability to compete in the coveted top-flight blue division against fellow lacrosse powerhouses including the United States and Canada.  The Iroquois Nationals successfully appealed the federation’s decision and regained entry into the blue division in the 2014 world championships. “We’re going to play to win,” Marty Ward said. “We’re going to play with a clear mind, clear heart and a free spirit when we’re out there.”

For more information please see:

ABC News – Iroquois Lacrosse Team Playing for Redemption – 11 July 2014

Al Jazeera America – Fighting For More Than a Win: Iroquois Lacrosse Team Back In Championships – 9 July 2014

Denver Post – Brothers Playing For Nation, Redemption in World Lacrosse Championships – 10 July 2014

Indian Country Today Media Network – Iroquois Nationals Gearing up For World Lacrosse Championships in Denver – 4 July 2014

Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Conflict Zones

Syria Justice and Accountability Centre

“For decades – if not centuries – there has been a near-total absence of justice for survivors of rape and sexual violence in conflict. We hope this Protocol will be part of a new global effort to shatter this culture of impunity, helping survivors and deterring people from committing these crimes in the first place.” – Rt. Hon. William Hague MP, British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

As SJAC has noted before, sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) is widespread in conflict zones all over the globe, and Syria is no exception.  Women and men in Syria have been subjected to sexual, physical, and psychological assault and abuse while in detention, during home raids, or even while walking on the street.  When SGBV is committed as part of a broad pattern of violations, as is almost certainly occurring in Syria, it can constitute a crime under international law: namely, a war crime, a crime against humanity, or genocide.  The effects of SGBV on individual victims and entire communities have had a dramatic impact on the Syrian people’s sense of security, and they have been a major force in driving families out of the country and into refugee camps in neighboring countries.

SGBV can be difficult to document due to the lack of evidence available following the violence, the stigma often associated with the violence, and victims’ corresponding reluctance to disclose.  In Syria, women in particular are hesitant to disclose sexual violence due to cultural, social and religious beliefs related to marriage and sexuality.  Moreover, even where SGBV in conflict zones has been documented, the incidents have systematically been ignored or downplayed in post-conflict justice mechanisms and courts.  Perpetrators of SGBV in conflict zones have rarely been held accountable for their crimes.

Last month, British Foreign Secretary William Hague and Angelina Jolie, Special Envoy for the UN High Commissioner on Refugees, co-chaired the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict.  The gathering was held in London and brought together 1700 delegates and 129 country delegations to focus on ending impunity for sexual violence in conflict.  Meetings were held on a wide range of issues related to sexual violence in conflict, including conflict prevention, international justice, women’s rights and participation, men and boys, and children affected by conflict.  The Summit corresponded with the launch of an International Protocol on the Documentation of Sexual Violence in Conflict, aimed at establishing international standards for documenting and investigating sexual violence in conflict zones.  The Protocol uses current best practices to provide guidance to investigators, activists, national policymakers, prosecutors, counselors, and medical professionals.

SJAC is in the process of integrating many of the best practices from the Protocol into its own polices, methodology, and operations manual for documenting SGBV in Syria.  Other organizations documenting SGBV in Syria and in other conflict zones should make use of this comprehensive document to further our shared goals of documenting SGBV and holding perpetrators of these crimes accountable.

California Court Loosens ‘Three Strikes’ Law

By Lyndsey Kelly
Desk Reporter, North America  

Washington D.C., United States of America – The California Supreme Court has loosened the states infamous “three-strikes-and-you’re-out” law. The law was originally passed as a part of the national trend to get “tough on crime” in the 1990’s.

California Supreme Court rules that under the state’s “three strikes” law a defendant cannot be given two strikes from charges which stemmed from the same incident (Photo Courtesy of L.A. Times).

Under the three strikes law, an individual whom committed a violent crime and who had been convicted of two prior felonies was sentenced to a mandatory 25 years. The law was recently amended in 2012, as a result of a ballot vote, requiring the third strike to be a violent felony. Prior to this amendment the law allowed the third strike to be a misdemeanor.

The ruling came about in a case regarding a woman, Darlene Vargas, who had been charged with two prior felonies, car jacking and robbery. Both charges came out of the same incident. The Court decided that Vargas’ two prior felonies stemmed from the same act- taking a car by force. The unanimous decision by the court will overturn a 25-years-to-life sentence for the woman.

Associate Justice Kathryn Werdegar likened the situation to America’s favorite pastime, baseball. “The voting public would reasonably have understood the ‘Three Strikes’ baseball metaphor to mean that a person would have three chances – three swings of the bat if you will – before the harshest penalty could be imposed,” “The public also would have understood that no one can be called for two strikes on just one swing,” Justice Werdegar wrote for the court.

In making their ruling, the judges stated that the legislature and the voters intended for criminal defendants to have three separate chances to redeem themselves before they are sentenced to 25-years-to-life.The Court’s decision marks the second time the rules regarding imprisoning career criminals have been softened in recent years.

The justices sent the case back to the trial court for resentencing.

 

For more information, please see the following:

CBS – State Supreme Court Rules On Three Strikes Law – 13 July 2014.

L.A. TIMES – Multiple Convictions From One Act Count As One ‘Strike,’ Court Rules – 13 July 2014.

REUTERS – California High Court Softens ‘Three Strikes” Law – 13 July 2014.

YAHOO – California high Court Softens ‘Three Strikes’ Law – 13 July 2014.