Fiji Election Results are in: Military Coup Leader Remains in Power

By Max Bartels 

Impunity Watch Reporter 

 

Suva, Fiji

Fiji has completed their first democratic election in eight years, after a bloodless military coup seized power in 2006. The coup was lead by then Rear Admiral Frank Bainimarama, who has now been voted into office as Prime Minister to continue to lead Fiji. The final polls show that Bainimarama and his “Fiji First Party” won 59% of the vote and the opposition, the “Social Democratic Liberal Party” came in a  distant second with 28% of the vote. Over the years Fiji and the military government headed by Bainimarama have been accused of many human rights violations by Amnesty International and other human rights groups but the majority of the Fijian people have continued to support Bainimarama despite these accusations.

IW #16 Fiji Election Results
Newly elected Bainimarama appears in front of the media after election results. (Photo curtesy of Al Jazeera)

 

In 2006 Bainimarama claimed the coup was to cure rampant corruption and protect the ethnic Indian population of Fiji from racial discrimination. Bainimarama also emphasized the improvement of Fiji’s infrastructure during his time in power, which is one of the major reasons for his support amongst the Fijian people. The international community reacted to the coup by enacting sanctions and travel bans on Fiji. In the run up to the elections the sanctions and the travel bans were lifted as Fiji committed to a return to democracy.

An international observation group was sent to Fiji to monitor the election process and evaluate its validity for corruption and foul play. As the votes were being counted opposition groups to the “Fiji First Party” claimed foul play occurred in the election. The opposition groups claimed their own observers reported missing ballot boxes, boxes that seem to be opened and more votes at polls than registered voters. However, the observers of the international group claim that the results can be relied on to “broadly represent the will of the Fijian voters.” The opposition is reported to be considering filing a complaint about the results of the election. Bainimarama has since claimed victory in the election and addressed the people in Fiji’s capital, Suva, stating he is honored the people chose him to lead the new government and the Fijian people. While most of the sanctions and travel bans have been lifted there are still many nations that have yet to re-enter into diplomatic relations with Fiji.

For more information, please see:

ABC News — Fiji Election: Frank Bainimarama Claims Victory, Says he is Deeply Honored and Humbled — 21 September 2014

The Wall Street Journal — Bainimarama Claims Victory in Fiji Elections — 21 September 2014

The Wall Street Journal — Fiji Election Hit With Fraud Accusations — 18 September 2014

Al Jazeera — Fiji Coup Leader Declares Poll Victory — 21 September 2014

 

Another Russian Abduction in the Baltics as NATO Increases Activity in Eastern Russia

By Kyle Herda

Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

VILNIUS, Lithuania – Russia has made yet another aggressive move towards Eastern Europe, this time targeting Lithuania. A fishing boat off the coast of Lithuania was seized yesterday by Russia while in international waters. Russia’s Federal Security Service says that border guards were correct by seizing the boat, claiming that it contained an illegal 15-ton haul of crab and strayed into Russian waters. Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius states that the vessel’s satellite system proves that it was in international waters.

This Russian AN-72 military transport plane was photographed by Finland’s air force while flying in Finnish airspace. (Photo courtesy of Vox)

Sweden also claims further aggression by Russia took place this week when two Russian warplanes entered into Swedish airspace. Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt called this a “grave violation”, prompting him to lodge a formal protest with the Russian ambassador in Stockholm. In addition to this incident, Russian warplanes also entered into Finland last month, and were intercepted close to Canada and also the United States. Part of the concern for Finland and Sweden is that they are not currently NATO members, which has prompted both nations this month to upgrade their level of cooperation with NATO members.

There are three actions NATO members will be taking part in this week that may be prompting further Russian aggression. First, NATO is conducting exercises in the Black Sea, likely in response to Russia’s first Varshavyanka-class submarine entering into Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. NATO’s exercises will include Romania, Bulgaria, the United States, the UK, Germany, Greece, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Canada, and Turkey.

Second, NATO’s new rapid reaction force, created earlier this month in direct response to Russia’s involvement in the Ukrainian conflict, is going to be discussed this weekend in Vilnius. This new force is meant to provide a fast response to any possible Russian military action in the Baltics against NATO members. The meeting this weekend is for the purpose of going over details of the force.

Third, Ukraine, Poland, and Lithuania have agreed to create a joint military force this year. The force will be headquartered in the Polish city of Lublin, near the border of Ukraine. Interfax-Ukraine news has reported that this joint force will contain 545 Ukrainian troops, 3,000-3,800 Polish servicemen, and 150-350 soldiers from Lithuania. While this idea was first tossed about in 2007 but never agreed on, Russian aggression this year has made the necessity for such a force all the more apparent.

As militarization on both the east and west continues to grow, signs of successful diplomacy to settle tensions seems to be growing weaker. However, fighting in Ukraine appears less severe than two weeks ago, partly due to two negotiations between the parties involved. Fighting has yet to altogether seize, but it seems that diplomacy may still be a realistic option.

For more information, please see:

DW – US fighter planes intercept Russian combat jets off Alaska, Sweden protests ‘violation’ – 20 September 2014

Bloomberg – Lithuania Says Russia Seized Ship as Baltic Tensions Grow – 19 September 2014

RT – Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania to form joint military force – 19 September 2014

The Wall Street Journal – Sweden Complains to Russia Over Airspace Violation – 19 September 2014

The Guardian – Baltic states wary as Russia takes more strident tone with neighbours – 18 September 2014

RT – NATO stages Black Sea naval drills – 17 September 2014

 

Is Venezuela Increasing Censorship?

By Mridula Tirumalasetti

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela–A longtime editorial cartoonist in Venezuela was fired from the El Universal newspaper because of the caricature she drew. The cartoon was used to satirize the health care system in Venezuela. Although nothing has been confirmed by the newspaper, Rayma Suprani, who was the cartoonist, said via Twitter, “I was informed of my sacking from El Universal over this caricature and  my awkward attitude over graphic satire.”

The cartoon pictured a normal- looking electrocardiogram with the title “health” underneath it and another that combined Chavez’s signature with a flat heartbeat line, symbolic of a cardiac arrest. Under that electrocardiogram was the title “health in Venezuela.”

Printed version of the cartoon by Rayma Suprani in a newspaper (photo courtesy of Reuters)

El Universal’s editorial page published the cartoon. The newspaper’s editorial page has always been critical of the socialist government of Venezuela. However, a pro-Chavista government company acquired the newspaper this summer, and the anti-government stance has softened. Many columnists have left the newspaper since.

The cartoon touched on two sensitive topics for Venezuelans: the legacy of Chavez and the way the socialist government has been managing healthcare.

Supporters of Chavez argue that Chavez transformed the healthcare system to one that is friendlier towards the poor. Chavez initiated the “Barrio Adentro” (Inside the Neighborhood) program, which established a network of small health clinics around Venezuela. The health clinics were staffed by Cuban health care professionals and offered free treatment.

The opposition does not deny the welfare advance made by Chavez, but they insist that the advances were patchy and are critical of the shortages of medicine and equipment. Henrique Capriles, who is an opposition leader, not only paid public tribute to Suprani after the cartoon incident, but also used the incident to take a stab at the Maduro government, which is currently in power.

According to a statement issued by the staff on the newspaper, Suprani’s firing reflects a bigger issue: the country’s “increasing censorship.” Under the governments of Chavez and Maduro, any critical media outlets became extinct. For example, the RCTV station, which was a critical TV station lost its broadcast license in 2007. Since 1999, when Chavez became president, several indenpendant radio stations and newspapers were forced to close. El Nacional remains the only opposition newspaper.

Suprani told local radio, “[m]y immediate boss called me and told me he didn’t like my caricature and I was out. We’ve become a country where if you say things, have your own criteria and try to provoke reflection, it’s not well-viewed.”

For more information, please see:

LA Times–Firing of editorial cartoonist raises censorship concerns–19 September 2014

The Guardian–Venezuelan cartoonist ‘fired’ over healthcare satire–18 September 2014

The Tico Times–Venezulan cartoonist fired after sketch slamming health care–18 September 2014

Reuters–Venezuelan cartoonist says fired for health satire–18 September 2014

Justice Sought for Kidnapped Babies in Argentina During Dictatorship

By Mridula Tirumalasetti

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina—Argentina is bringing suits against the two doctors and one midwife who allegedly delivered political prisoners’ babies and helped Argentina’s former military regime kidnap the babies from their parents. This is the first case of healthcare professionals being accused of falsifying birth certificates of babies.

During the dictatorship, the regime fought the “dirty war” in which Argentinians lived in a period of state terrorism. Approximately 30,000 people who were left wing guerrillas or political groups, or perceived to be associated with socialism were killed or abducted. Prisoners who were pregnant were blindfolded and handcuffed when they gave birth. Once the babies were born, they were taken away and given to regime friendly families, including military or police families, or even their parents’ killers.

Mothers of the “disappeared” children in 1977 pictured above (photo courtesy of BBC News)

Prosecutors argue that the midwife and doctors provided “essential assistance” to conceal the identity of the babies. Moreover, they helped give the babies to regime-approved families, who raised the stolen children as their own.

Francisco Madariaga was one of approximately 500 children taken at birth by the former regime  during the dictatorship, which lasted from 1976 to 1983. Madriaga was born in a military hospital in Buenos Aires. The midwife who delivered him was Luisa Yolanda Arroche. Arroche is now charged with falsifying Madriaga’s birth certificate and aiding in the kidnapping.

“It’s a very important trial because it will judge the complicity of doctors and midwives who were directly responsible for these crimes against humanity,” Madriaga said. He continued, “[w]ith this trial we’ll be able to learn what they did with our mothers the day after we were born, know that there will be a punishment and justice will triumph because we are the living proof of the crime.” Madriaga’s mother, Silvia Quintela, has never been found.

Of the 500 stolen babies, approximately 115 have been located due to genetic testing and because of the efforts made by the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, which is a group dedicated to finding their stolen grandchildren.

Arroche faces charges alongside doctors Norberto Bianco and Raul Martin, all of whom are in their 80s. Prosecutors are also bringing charges against former military officer, Santiago Omar Riveros and Dictator Reynaldo Bignone, who have both already been sentenced for various crimes against humanity.

For more information, please see: 

BBC News–Argentina tries doctors for “baby theft” during military rule–18 September 2014

Yahoo News–Argentina tries doctors for dictatorship baby thefts–17 September 2014

TeleSur–Argentine Doctors Tried  for Baby Theft During Dictatorship–18 September 2014

Prensa Latina–Trial Against Doctors from Dictatorship Begins in Argentina–17 September 2014

United States Takes Action After Guatemala Fails to Address Worker Rights

By Lyndsey Kelly
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala – On 26 April 2013, the United States and Guatemala signed an 18-point Enforcement Plan, which defined necessary actions for Guatemala to take in order to strengthen labor law enforcement. While Guatemala had adopted a number of the outlined reforms, it has failed to comply with the standards spelled out in the country’s trade agreement with the United States. The United States has thus moved to pursue a case against Guatemala that could potentially lead to serious fines.

United States Trade Representative, Michael Froman, addresses Guatemala’s substandard labor laws (Photo Courtesy of The Huffington Post).

Michal Froman, the United States Trade Representative, declared that he would move forward with the case in hopes that Guatemala would make “concrete improvements” in enforcing labor laws. Stating the goal for taking action against Guatemala is “to ensure that Guatemala implements the labor protections to which its workers are entitled.” Guatemala has a history of substandard labor laws including: the refusal of Guatemalan employers to pay minimum wages, the refusal of both public and private employers to make Social Security payments, and the denial of workers’ rights to organize and freely associate.

According to the American AFL-CIO labor federation, Guatemala is the “most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists.” Within the last five years there have been numerous reports of activists being kidnapped and murdered for organizing workers in the agriculture and construction industries.

The AFL-CIO has criticized Guatemala’s remedies in place to protect workers written into trade agreements, calling them “weak.” In order to address these claims the Guatemalan government agreed last year to follow a plan to address the country’s labor law violations. The United States Trade Representative acknowledged Guatemala’s progress, however Froman states that the country failed to pass important laws regulating practices of employers and punishing those who breach labor laws.

Froman stated that the complaint issued was a means of helping Guatemala a safer place to live and work. He stated, “we remain hopeful that Guatemala can achieve a resolution that results in concrete improvements for workers on the ground and sends a positive signal to the world that would help attract investment, expand economic activity, and promote inclusive growth.”

 

For more information, please see the following:

 

AFL-CIO –  Whats Happening To Workers In Guatemala? – 24 Oct. 2013.

HUFFINGTON POST- U.S. Smacks Guatemala Over Worker Rights, Opens Trade Case – 18 Sept. 2014.

REUTERS – United States Steps Up Pressure On Guatemala Over Labor Rights – 19 Sept. 2014.

UNITED STATES TRADE REPRESENTATIVE –  United States Continues to Press Guatemala On Enforcement Of Workers Rights – 24 Oct. 2013.

 

 

HRW: Belgium/Liberia: War Crimes Arrest Major Step for Justice 

First Indictment for Atrocities During Liberia’s 1989-96 War 

(Brussels, September 19, 2014) – The Belgian authorities’ arrest of a Liberian for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity during Liberia’s first civil war is a major advance for justice, Human Rights Watch said today. It is the first arrest for crimes that violate international law committed during the conflict in Liberia from 1989 to 1996, which left tens of thousands dead.

On September 17, 2014, Belgian police arrested Martina Johnson, a former commander of the rebel National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL). Johnson, who has been living in Belgium, is expected to appear on September 19 before a Belgian judge, who will determine the conditions of her detention.

“The rebel forces for which Martina Johnson was a commander committed horrific abuses against civilians during Liberia’s first civil war, but not one person has ever been held to account for the crimes,” said Elise Keppler, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch. “Johnson’s indictment in Belgium is a major step to ensure justice is done for the abuses against Liberian civilians.”

The case resulted from a criminal complaint filed in Belgium on behalf of three Liberian victims in 2012. Two nongovernmental organizations, Civitas Maxima and the Monrovia-based Global Justice and Research Project, had extensively documented crimes committed during the conflict and pursued options to ensure justice. The groups said in a news release on September 18 that Johnson is alleged to have “participated directly in mutilation and mass killing in late 1992 during an NPFL offensive known as ‘Operation Octopus.’”

The rebel group had sought to unseat Liberia’s then-president, Samuel K. Doe, and take control of the country. The fighting ended in 1996 following a peace agreement brokered by the regional body Economic Community of West African States. The head of the rebel group, Charles Taylor, was sworn in as president after elections in l997. All warring factions including the NPFL were responsible for numerous serious abuses against civilians, including massacres, sexual violence, torture, and the use and recruitment of child soldiers.

Belgian courts have jurisdiction over the Johnson case under the long-established international legal principle of universal jurisdiction. Under that principle, national courts may try grave international crimes such as war crimes, crimes against humanity, and torture even if the crimes were committed abroad by foreigners and against foreigners.

Cases involving atrocities committed abroad are complex to investigate and try, but universal jurisdiction is sometimes the only available means to bring those responsible for grave human rights violations to justice. A September 17 Human Rights Watch reporthighlights the importance of specialized war crimes units to investigate and prosecute these cases effectively. Belgium is one of about 13 countries that have created such war crimes units to fight impunity for the most serious crimes under international law.

There have been two high-profile trials of Liberians for serious crimes outside Liberia in recent years. Charles Taylor was tried and convicted in 2012 by the United Nations-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone, but only in relation to serious crimes committed during Sierra Leone’s civil conflict. Charles Taylor’s son, Charles “Chuckie” Taylor, Jr. was charged and convicted by a US court for torture committed in Liberia between 1997 and 2003, while he headed Liberia’s notorious Anti-Terrorist Unit during his father’s presidency.

The Liberian government has made no effort to criminally investigate and prosecute the many serious crimes in violation of international law committed during its two civil wars despite a recommendation by the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to do so. In its final report in December 2009, the commission highlighted problems in the Liberian justice system and called for the establishment of a hybrid international-national tribunal with Liberian and foreign judges to try past crimes. No existing international tribunals have the mandate to prosecute past crimes in Liberia.

A hybrid tribunal for Liberia with a majority of internationally appointed judges would advance justice efforts, but some elements of the commission’s proposal raise concerns that would need to be addressed, Human Rights Watch said.

“In 2009, Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended a hybrid tribunal for atrocities committed during Liberia’s conflicts, but five years later, there’s been no progress in prosecuting these crimes,” Keppler said. “Belgium’s action is important, but the victims deserve more. The Liberian authorities should invigorate plans for trials of civil-wars-era crimes.”

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on Liberia, please visit:
http://www.hrw.org/africa/liberia

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on International Justice, please visit:
http://www.hrw.org/topic/international-justice

Ecuadorians Still Searching for Justice in Chevron Case

By Delisa Morris

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

QUITO, Ecuador — Litigation that began in 1993 continues to forge on.  In 1993, a group of attorneys filed a class action suit in New York on behalf of Ecuadorian farmers and indigenous tribes in Ecuador against the oil giant Texaco.  Texaco produced oil in the Amazon during the 70s until the 80s.  After nine years, the case was dismissed because of a lack of jurisdiction.  The court stated that the suit should be brought in Ecuador.

Destruction from oil in the amazon. Image courtesy of assets.inhabitats.org

In 2001, Texaco was acquired by Chevron.  Steven Donziger, another New York attorney later took over the case and used celebrity support, sympathetic media coverage and financial backing from hedge funds to restart the case in Ecuador in 2003.

In the mean time, no one has cleaned up the oil.  Waste oil remains in open pits near rural hamlets and people drink from oil contaminated streams daily.

Eight years after the restart in 2003, the suit led to a $19billion verdict against Chevron.  The company’s liability was confirmed by Ecuador’s top court, but the damages were reduced to $9.5billion.

Even after the damage cut, Chevron refused to pay for three reasons: it’s impossible to tell Ecuador’s pollution apart from Chevrons, Texaco had cleaned up its fair share of pollution and received a blanketed release by the Ecuadorian government and according to Chevron, Donziger used fabricated evidence, coercion and bribery to win the suit.

Just when the Ecuadorians believed that they would have clean drinking water, or a new medical center to take care of their oil induced injuries, Chevron filed a countersuit in 2011.

Chevron’s countersuit basically accused Donzinger of conducting a corporate shakedown.  This past March a U.S. District Judge agreed and invoked the Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.  Judge Kaplan concluded that the litigation against Chevron was irrevocably marred by fraud and corruption, orchestrated in large by Donziger.  The judge said Donziger had forged court documents, bribed Ecuadorian judges and submitted false technical documents disavowed by his own paid experts.  The judge decided to punish both Donziger and his clients, the Ecuadorian farmers and indigenous tribes for his wrongdoing.

Was this a fair outcome for the Ecuadorians?

Donziger has appealed the judgment and a federal appellate court in New York will hear arguments in the upcoming month.  Meanwhile, the highest court in Canada, is reviewing if the decision from Ecuador can be enforced in Canada where Chevron has extensive operations.

International legal correspondent Michael D. Goldhaber states “hope was that the Ecuador case would for the first time establish non-U.S. courts as a viable alternative to hold companies accountable when they are complicit in wrongs overseas.”

For more information, please see:

Bloomberg Businessweek – A Way to Clean Up Ecuador’s Oil Mess – 18 Sept 2014

Forbes – Ecuador, Chevron and Steven Donziger: The Travesty Described in Detail – 8 Sept 2014

Huff Post Business – How Chevron’s Scientists Misled Courts and Public About Death and Disease in Ecuador – 18 Sept 2014

Rolling Stone – Sludge Match: Inside Chevron’s $9billion Legal Battle With Ecuadorian Villagers – 28 Aug 2014

 

Australian Police Raids Conducted Across Sydney Over Domestic ISIS Threat

By Max Bartels

Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

 

Canberrra, Australia 

The largest counter-terrorism operation in the history of Australia took place today as somewhere between 800 to 1,000 Australian police officers took part in raids across Sydney to apprehend members of ISIS plotting terror acts in the city. 15 suspects were arrested and over a dozen raids executed on properties across Sydney. The Prime Minister of Australia, Tony Abbott stated today that he was briefed by Australian intelligence agencies Wednesday night about a potential plot by ISIS member in Sydney to stage a public execution in an attempt to demonstrate the groups reach. The police have further stated that they have gathered evidence showing that ISIS supporters in Australia have been plotting these attacks since May.

IW #15
Australian police arrest suspects in pre-dawn raids across Sydney Thursday Morning (Photo Curtesy of The Independent)

Calls for attacks in Australia have apparently been coming from an Australian who is reported by Abbott to be high up in the ISIS ranks. Abbott refused to state the name of the suspected high up Australian ISIS member. Police arrested a 22- year- old member of ISIS, who prosecutors say planned to gruesomely behead a randomly selected person in public with a clear intent to shock and horrify. The police have since stated that 9 of the 15 suspects arrested during the raid have been released on bail.

Raids on a smaller scale were executed in Brisbane last week, where two men were arrested for attempting to recruit members to join the AL-Qaeda off shoot group called the “Nursa Front”. These men were also preparing to leave for Syria themselves. In the wake of these recent events the Australian government has raised the terrorist threat level from medium to high. Australian intelligence agencies report that some 60 Australian citizens have gone abroad to fight for ISIS and other militant Islamic groups in the Middle East. These agencies also report that they believe that there are around  100 Australians in Australia supporting ISIS by recruiting fighters, grooming suicide candidates and providing funds and equipment.

On Thursday night a crowd of around 300 protesters gathered in Sydney to protest against the raids. Australian Islamic groups are warning the government of potential unrest over the governments new anti-terror polices. The leader of one of these Islamic groups stated that the Muslim community is being made scapegoats and that he believes  the real terrorists are the government. He further stated that Muslims in Australia do not feel safe and that the Muslim community has been victimized for years.

Last week Australia announced that it would be contributing to the international effort to combat ISIS by deploying military forces to the Middle East. Abbott stated then that there was a concern of ISIS threats in Australia. He has recently played down concerns that Australia’s involvement abroad could increase the risk of attack at home.

For more information; please see: 

NBC News — Raids Foil Alleged Beheading Plot in Support of ISIS — 18 September 2014

CBS News — Australian in Australia: We Thwarted Grisly ISIS Plot — 18 September 2014

Fox News — Australia Raids Foil Reported ISIS Beheading Plots — 18 September 2014

The Guardian — Terrorism Raids: ISIS Urging Followers to Behead Australians’, Says PM

Sex Trafficking in Europe

Despite Ukraine-Russia Truce Holding, Tension Between Russia and Baltic States Remains High

By Kyle Herda

Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

VILNIUS, Lithuania – In Russia’s most recent move against the Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania, Moscow has sought to reopen criminal investigations into Lithuanian residents who refused to serve in the Soviet army after Lithuania declared dependence in 1990. An estimated 1500 young people refused the orders nearly 25 years ago, and now Russia wants them to pay.

NATO jets fly over Lithuania as part of Operation Reassurance. (Photo courtesy of Ottawa Citizen)

While Russia has already made this same request once prior, roughly ten years ago, the surrounding context now makes the situation more dire. The recent abduction of the Estonian border guard, coupled with Russia’s current attempt to prosecute him for allegedly spying, has forced the Lithuanian State Security Department to advise Lithuanians who withdrew from the Soviet army in 1990 to refrain from traveling outside of Lithuania, or at least outside of any European Union or NATO countries.

Lithuanian President, Dalia Grybauskaite, has taken the additional step to establish certain strategic sectors of the Lithuanian economy as those that should have major investments first vetted to the government. This comes as a matter of national security after a Russian-led company leased two large plots of land next to Siauliai airport, where NATO planes patrol the Baltic skies. NATO currently has Operation Reassurance based in Siauliai, and the aims of this operation are to preserve NATO European airspace and safeguard NATO nations from air attacks, specifically in response to Russia’s recent aggressions in eastern Europe.

Russia has also flown jets close to Baltic borders over 140 times this year, and recently successfully tested its new Bulava Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (“ICBM”) with a range of 8,000 kilometers. Russia has recently spoken out about securing the rights and interests of ethnic Russians. Russia’s Foreign Ministry chief monitor of human rights overseas, Konstantin Dolgov, in a speech in Latvia’s capital, Riga, said, “It has to be stated with sadness that a huge number of our compatriots abroad, whole segments of the Russian world, continue to face serious problems in securing their rights and lawful interests.”

As long as the military remains involved on both sides of the border, there will remain worry and uneasy feelings for all parties involved. On the one hand, worries in the Baltics are completely justified, as the situation in Ukraine prior to both Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the subsequent invasion by Russia of eastern Ukraine draws many parallels to what we are seeing now in Russia’s behavior towards the Baltic States. On the other hand, the situation in the Baltics differs from Ukraine in that NATO has already stated that a military response would come for the Baltic States in the event of a Russian invasion, citing Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty as justification of such an event.

So while concerns that this may be Crimea all over again carry heavy weight, they may not be entirely justified. While the situation began very similarly, the implications here if events continue down the same path would result in a very different, and potentially much bloodier, outcome. Perhaps this will deter either side from pushing too far, or perhaps this will allow for a much greater escalation in events.

For more information, please see:

Ottawa Citizen – Photos: CF-18 and F-16 Falcons over Lithuania – 17 September 2014

Reuters – Lithuania to vet more investments for national security risks – 17 September 2014

Baltic Review – Lithuanians Strongly Advised to Refrain from Traveling to Countries Outside the EU or NATO – 17 September 2014

The Baltic Times – More Russian jets near Baltic borders cause for concern, says army chief – 17 September 2014

The Moscow Times – Russia Sees Need to Protect Russian Speakers in NATO Baltic States – 16 September 2014

Canada National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces – Operation REASSURANCE – 12 September 2014

The Moscow Times – Russia Proves Nuclear Muscle With Ballistic Missile Launch – 10 September 2014

 

Military Violence Ignited Public Fury in South Korea

By Hojin Choi

Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

SEOUL, South Korea – There are two recent cases that implicitly demonstrate the abuse problems in the South Korean military.

In June, Sergeant Lim opened fire on his fellow soldiers. Five soldiers were killed and seven were injured. They were returning to their base after training, and, surprisingly, it was not a shooting spree since the sergeant aimed at each one of the victims. He attempted to commit suicide, but was arrested with severe injury.

The group memorial altar for five dead soldiers who were killed by Sergeant Lim (Reuters)

In April, Private Yoon died in his military base after being beaten to death by his senior troops. Yoon had suffered from habitual abuse and bullying at the hands of his fellow troops. This incident was unknown to the public until the Korean civic group, the Center for Military Human Rights, revealed it.

These two cases have several similarities. First, at the outset, there were bullying problems. Second, Both Lim and Yoon faced their situations by themselves without any help from outside. The only difference is that Yoon had endured his suffering until he died while Lim exploded his anger through extreme retaliation, murdering his comrades. Several Korean media stated that if Lim did not kill the aggressors, he would have ended up like Sergeant Yoon.

What the 20-year-old private, Yoon, had suffered is close to torture. He was denied food and forced to consume phlegm and his own vomit. He was beaten with fists, feet, and mop handles until they broke. When he became groggy, he was hooked up with intravenous drip to be revived and beaten again as he woke up. He was ordered to hold “horse-riding” stances for hours and forced to have an irritating salve rubbed on his genitals. On April 6, he was forced to eat frozen food right after being punched and kicked. He died thereafter.

The last moment of Private Yoon (CNN)

One of the key causes leading to such severe military violence is the closed environment of the military. Its strict and conservative hierarchy system tends to obscure the violence even after someone dies. This tendency is related to promotions of higher rank officials. Moreover, a strong “pecking order” within Korean society makes its people more vulnerable to bullying problems not only in the military but also at work places and in schools.

In Yoon’s case, several officials did recognize Yoon’s situation, but did not take action to intervene. The military officially confirmed his cause of death as choking. However, after the public outcries, it changed its report to “death from shock” by intensive physical abuses. The military has since brought murder charges against the suspects in Yoon’s case.

In addition to the characteristics of the military and society, the conscription system makes the violence function as a vicious circle. In South Korea, it is mandatory for all male citizens to join the military for 2 to 3 years. When lower rank soldiers become senior ranks, they repeat the violations that they have suffered on the new soldiers.

According to a statistical inquiry, there are 152 dead bodies, which are classified as death from “failure to adjust to military life,” kept in the military morgue. Their families have refused to take the bodies until the “truth” is revealed by independent investigations that include civil experts. In recent five years, over 120 soldiers have died in the military and 80 of them were classified as “suicides.” Allegedly, some of the bodies with “suicide” tags are not even real suicide cases.

In South Korea, people who could legally avoid the military duty by substituted work or low levels of physical condition are called “sons of god.” Private Yoon’s mother, Ahn Mi Ja, said to CNN that “I wanted to do to them exactly what they did to my son.”

For more information, please see:

CNN – South Korean soldiers face murder charge amid bullying claim – 4 September 2014

The New York Times – Outrage Builds in South Korea in Deadly Abuse of a Soldier – 6 August 2014

Asian Human Rights Commission – SOUTH KOREA: Military camps or government run torture centres? – 28 August 2014

BBC – South Korea military under fire over abuse – August 27 2014

Venezuelan’s Plastic Surgeons are Seeing the Impact of Shortages

By Delisa Morris

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

Woman being prepped for plastic surgery on her breast. Photo courtesy of Daily News

CARACAS, Venezuela — There’s nothing new about Venezuelan’s complaining over chronic shortages since the governments restrictive currency controls deprive local businesses of the money to import foreign goods. However, outcry from Venezuelan women has begun to grow louder since FDA approved silicone breast implants have become scarce within the country.

Many women are so desperate that they and their doctors are turning to implants that are the wrong size or made in China, with less rigorous quality standards. Previously, Venezuelans had easy access to implants approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Today doctors say they are now all-but impossible to find because restrictive currency controls have deprived local businesses of the cash to import foreign goods. It may not be the worst shortfall facing the socialist South American country, but surgeons say the issue cuts to the psyche of the image conscious Venezuelan woman. Venezuelan’s are obsessed with their appearance.

“The women are complaining,” said Ramon Zapata, president of the Society of Plastic Surgeons. “Venezuelan women are very concerned with their self-esteem.”

Venezuela has one of the world’s highest plastic surgery rates, and the breast implant is the premiere procedure. Doctors performed 85,000 implants there last year, according to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. Only the U.S., Brazil, Mexico and Germany, all with much larger populations, saw more breast implants.

While there are no official statistics on how many Venezuelans are walking around with enhanced busts, a stroll down any Caracas street reveals that the augmentations are prevalent there more than in other surgery-loving places. The mannequins even look like they have had breast implants.

In the recent past, women could enter raffles for implants held by pharmacies, workplaces and even politicians on the campaign trail. During this spring’s anti-government street demonstrations, the occasional sign protesting the rising price of breast implants blended with posters against food shortages and currency devaluation.

“It’s a culture of ‘I want to be more beautiful than you.’ That’s why even people who live in the slums get implants,” surgeon Daniel Slobodianik said.

Slobodianik used to perform several breast implants each wee, but now performs about two a month. He says women call his office daily to ask for the specific implant size they’re looking for and when they can’t find it they almost always size up.

Frustrated, the women have little sympathy, especially not from the government. The consumerism of plastic surgery never fit with the rhetoric of socialist revolution. The late President Hugo Chavez called the country’s plastic surgery fixation “monstrous,” and railed against the practice of giving implants to girls on their 15th birthdays.

 

For more information, please see:

 

CBS News – Breast Implant Shortage in Venezuela – 15 Sept 2014

Huffington Post – Breast Implants are Newest Shortage in Venezuela – 15 Sept 2014

NBC News – Venezuela’s Chronic Shortages Hit Brand-Name Breast Implants – 15 Sept 2014

Daily News – Venezuela’s Shortage of Breast Implants Leads to Riskier Decisions – 15 Sept 2014

Syrian Refugees Attacked in Lebanon

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Managing Editor Impunity Watch

BEIRUT, Lebanon – Ibrahim Abbas Ali and his family, who fled the deadly civil war in Syria in the hopes of finding safety in neighboring Lebanon, awoke in the middle of the night to the sound of gunfire outside their tent in a makeshift refugee camp housing around 200 people. The family fled to the nearby fields. The Gunmen set fire to several tempts, including the one used by Mr. Ali and his family, destroying the few belongs the family of 18 managed to bring across the border. The family also lost their officials documents, including their U.N. refugee cards. “We lost all the aid we received from the U.N. and all we were left with are the clothes we are wearing,” Mr. Ali said.

Ibrahim Abbas Ali, 50, fled with his two wives and children from Aleppo in Syria, says his families tent was destroyed by gunmen. (Photo courtesy of USA Today)

The camp appears to have been the target of a wave of so called revenge attacks that were carried out after one of several Lebanese soldiers who was captured by militants in Syria in a cross-border wave was beheaded by jihadists earlier this months. The killing of the Shiite soldier by Sunni extremists has aggravated sectarian tensions in Lebanon, a country whose population is now about 50% refugees, which has become bitterly divided over the ongoing war in Syria.

Violence targeting the refugee population has spread to the capital where a mob of young men attacked Syrian refugees sheltering under a bridge over the weekend. In other parts of Beirut, leaflets have been dispersed calling on Syrians to leave or “be slaughtered or tortured to death.”

Gunmen attacked refugees living in a camp near the town of Brital. The residents described a night of terror that was reminiscent of the horrors they fled in Syria. Mohammed Darwish, 45, said most of the camp’s residents were sleeping on the night of Sept. 6 when gunmen, many of them wearing masks, arrived in several SUVs. “Oh you dogs. We are coming to slaughter you,” he heard the gunmen yell as they fired their weapons into the air, driving out the camp the terrified residents. Mr. Darwish said he too fled into the nearby fields with his six children. A Lebanese resident of the town of Brital said the attack was carried out by local “thugs and troublemakers” who do not represent the feelings of the Brital community.

“We live in the fear of being subjected to an attack, although we have not been threatened,” said Fatoum Allawi, 65, who fled from the northern Syrian town of Saraqib and is now sheltering near Riyak. “We are mostly women and children here with a few men who work nearby,” she said as she sat on a plastic chair holding her granddaughter.

Syrian refugees living in Lebanon have faced discrimination both from violent thugs and members of the community who resent their entering the country and members of the government who have refused to recognize their status as refugees and have refused to provide government assistance to Syrians fleeing atrocity at home. Earlier this month the Lebanese Labor Minister Sejaan Azzi proposed that all Syrian refugees should go home suggesting that they should return to rebel held or regime held areas based on their loyalties. He said, “What is at stake now is the proposal that refugees who trust the regime return to the areas under regime control, and those who have faith in Nusra Front and ISIS go to the regions under their control.”

Shortly after the Labour ministers statements the Lebanese government announced its intention to set up two camps for Syrian refugees along the border, marking the first time the government established such camps in the three year history of the deadly conflict in Syria.  Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas announced the plan last Thursday. “The Council of the Ministers has taken a decision to set up camps for Syrian refugees, one in the Bekaa valley in the Masnaa area and one in the Abda area in northern Lebanon,” Derbas said. “Estimates are that each camp could accommodate 10,000 people,” he added.

The sudden influx of refugees into the ebonies population has placed great strains on the country’s limited resources. The government has so far failed to adequately address the issue, inflaming tensions between Lebanese citizens and refugees fleeing violence in Syria, who now fear that the war has followed them across the border. Aisha Mohammed, a 26-year old Syrian refugee said she came from Syria’s northern province of Raqqa, which is now held by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group and has come under increasing attack by Syrian regime warplanes. “I wish I could return to Raqqa but the bombings have intensified,” she said. “We have fled from fear in Syria and here we are living in fear in Lebanon.”

For more information Please see:

USA Today – Syria refugees attacked in Lebanon – 13 September 2014

The Daily Star: Lebanon – Lebanon minister: All Syrian refugees must return home – 5 September 2014

The Daily Star: Lebanon – Lebanon to open first Syria refugee camps: minister – 11 September 2014

The New York Times – Syrian Refugees Surpass 3 Million, U.N. Says – 29 August 2014

 

 

Scottish Nationalism: A House of Cards for Europe and the World

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch Managing Editor

EDINBURGH, Scotland – On September 18 the Scottish People will go to the polls to determine the future of their country. The Scottish people will close whether to maintain their more than 300 year political union with England or to dissolve the political bands that have bound them to the United Kingdom and enter the international community as an independent state. The United Kingdom’s Tory Prime Minister David Cameron spent part of the day on Monday in Aberdeen, the heart of the Scottish Oil industry, which if Scotland become independent would control the largest known reserves in Europe, trying to urge voters to maintain the union. While the vote remains too close to call, what is clear is that, no matter the outcome, the Scottish independence referendum will have far reaching consequences for nationalist and independence movements within the United Kingdom and the European community as a whole. European governments fear that with a single vote the Scottish people could bring down old empires and fragile unions like a house of cards.

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Edinburgh Castle, one of the Scottish capitals most iconic landmarks, dominates the city’s skyline, its home on Castle rock has been inhabited since the Iron Age nearly 2,000 years ago. Castle rock and its castle fortress has ben involved in several conflicts including the Scottish wars for Independence in the 14th Century. (Photo: Kathryn Maureen Ryan, 2013)

The Scottish Nationalist Party has campaigned promising that an independent Scotland will maintain a closer relationship with the European Union than Westminster, which has historically opposed further European integration, fiercely fighting open immigration policies  as well as integration into the Eurozone. Ironically an Independent Scotland could face difficult in building a stronger relationship with Europe because it will likely face strong opposition from EU members that fear that a successful, peaceful secession of Scotland from the United Kingdom could renew calls for independence from separatists and nationalists movements within their own countries.

Spain has promised it stand against an application for EU membership from an independent Scotland likely out of fears that a successful, peaceful, Scottish independence movement could awaken calls for independence from the Catalan and Basque separatists’ movements in Spain. Several other EU member states face nationalist campaigns of their own, France likely fears that an independent Scotland could encourage supporters of an independent Brittney to call for their own referendum, while Belgium leaders likely fear calls for independence could tear apart the fragile union between the Walloons and Flemish populations of Belgium. The vote may also become a symbol of nationalism outside of Europe, where independence movements from the Tibetan and Uyghurs in China to the Quebec independence movement in Canada as well as the dozens of ethnic nationalism movements throughout Africa, Latin America and Oceania, which may call for their own chance for a democratic referendum after the Scottish people make their historic vote.

The vote will also have implications elsewhere in the United Kingdom, especially in Northern Ireland where Unionists and Irish Republicans alike are watching the elections in Scotland closely, knowing that the outcome could affect the ultimate outcomes of their own movements. Northern Ireland has lived under a fragile peace since the Good Friday Agreement, brokered by then Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.S. President Bill Clinton, was signed in 1998 establishing a power sharing government for Northern Ireland. While the power-sharing government brought great changes to the region, helping Northern Ireland move beyond the darkest and bloodiest days of the troubles tensions can still be felt between catholic and protestant communities in some areas throughout the country, especially in Belfast where the Peace Walls, now the world’s oldest actively maintained apartheid walls, still divide working class catholic and protestant neighborhoods and where several schools remain segregated on the basis of religion.

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The Belfast Peace Walls, plastered in propaganda from both Catholic and Protestant political activist, class for peace and understanding in the community and covered in the signatures of visitors from around the world, are today considered the oldest apartheid walls in the world, active longer than the Berlin Wall. While the walls are a symbol of a fragile peace many believe they divide the society more than unite it, serving as a constant reminder of perceived differences in the community (Photo: Kathryn Maureen Ryan, 2013)

The Republic of Irelands former European Affairs Minister Lucinda Creighton believes that if Scotland votes to secede from the United Kingdom new demands for a referendum on a united Ireland will be ‘inevitable. “I think it would inevitably lead to demand for such a referendum (in Northern Ireland). I don’t know what the outcome of such a referendum would be. We are all committed now to the principle of consent in Northern Ireland, respective of both communities and that’s something I would feel very strongly about,” she said. “That would be a pretty unbelievable move that I don’t think anybody could have contemplated 10 years ago. It will have major political consequences for Ireland if it is carried.”

Northern Ireland’s  Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, a former commander in the Irish Republican Army and member of the Sinn Fein party which ultimately supports union with The Republic of Ireland, has said he is “staying out” of the independence debate, which he believes is a “matter for the people of Scotland,” however he added that he believes the independence movement will have a far reaching effect on the politics and future of Northern Ireland. “If Scotland gets, in the context of there being a No vote, power over social welfare and the ability to decide their own social welfare payment rates then that has big implications for us and I think that I would hope that we can benefit from the outcome of that,” he added “Whatever way it goes I think it will have a profound impact on the situation in Ireland, and specifically in the North of Ireland, particularly in relation to the battle that we’re having with the British Government at this time over the swingeing cuts that they have brought in.”

The Scottish Independence movement was not born overnight, nor was it born out of the Devolution process which led to the creation of the Scottish Parliament under the Blair premiership. In many ways the Scottish independence movement is older than the United Kingdom itself. In 1320 the Declaration of Arbroath, often cited as the most important document in Scottish history, was signed issuing a declaration of the independence of the Scottish people, promising that “as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.” No matter the outcome of Thursday’s vote it is clear that the centuries old flame of Scottish nationalism has never dimed and with a single vote it may ignite a flame of nationalism that will spread across Europe and the World.

For more information please see:

Aberdeen Evening Express – Cameron Flies into Aberdeen to Deliver Final Better Together Pledge – 15 September 2014

Al Jazeera America – Scotland to Hold Referendum on Independence from the UK – 15 September 2014

Irish Independent – Martin Mcguinness: Scottish Independence Referendum Would Have a ‘Profound Impact’ On Northern Ireland – 11 September 2014

Reuters UK – Why Scottish Independence Matters For Europe – 9 September 2014

Irish Independent – Referendum Moves In North ‘Inevitable’ If Scots Secede – 8 September 2014

BBC History – The Declaration of Arbroath, 1320

 

Murder on the High Seas: Traffickers Suspected of Ramming Refugee Ship

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Managing Editor Impunity Watch

BRUSSELS, European Union – 700 refugee’s fleeing Africa for Europe are feared dead in the Mediterranean after two separate shipwrecks last week. the International Organization for Migration (IOM) fear the refugees likely drowned in the Mediterranean which would bringing the death toll for Mediterranean crossing deaths to nearly 3,000, making 2014 the deadliest year on record for refugees making the dangerous water crossing from North Africa to the shores of southern Europe.

In a photograph released by the Italian Navy migrants sit in a boat during a rescue operation off the coast of Sicily, the Mediterranean crossing from Africa to Europe as become a deadly risk for refugees from Africa and the Middle East who have taken to the sea in crammed, unsafe boats in an attempt to reach Europe and the safety and economic opportunity they hope it will offer (Photo Courtesy of The Hindustan Times)

The most recent shipwreck occurred of the cost of Libya where a ship crammed with as many as 250 African emigrants sank. The Libyan navy said that while 26 people survived the shipwreck most of the migrants are feared dead. Four days later, on September 10th a ship carrying hundreds of migrants was sank off the cost of Malta by traffickers in the region.  As many as 500 migrants ae believed to have died after traffickers rammed their ship off of the cost of Malta last week. The victims were Syrians, Palestinians, Egyptians and Sudanese refugees hoping to find safe haven in Europe. Only nine people survived the incident, two of the survivors testified that the trackers ordered the migrants to change vessels in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. According to the testimony, when the migrants refugee the traffickers confronted the ship and rammed into the migrant’s vessel.

The ship had left Damietta, Egypt for Europe on Saturday September 6th and sank after being rammed by traffickers on September 10th. “In all, nine people survived and were picked up boats,” Berthiaume said. IOM officials interviewed two Palestinian survivors who were taken to Sicily, Italy, while other survivors were taken to Malta and to Crete, Greece, IOM Spokesperson Christiane Berthiaume said.

According to the IOM, after the boat sank, the survivors spent a day fighting for their lives in open water. According to the two survivors who testified, both of whom Palestinian refugees, the victims were tried to hold on to life buoys to survive. One of the survivors was in a lifejacket while the other was holding onto one of the life buoys with other victims who did not survive. One of the survivors said that among the diseased was a young Egyptian boy who hoped to raise money in Europe to pay for his father’s heart operation.

The survivors say their ship was deliberately rammed because, fearing for their lives, the refugee refused to leave the ship under the orders of the human trafficking vessel. “If this story, which police are investigating, is true, it would be the worst shipwreck in years… not an accident but a mass murder, perpetrated by criminals without scruples or any respect for human life,” IOM said in a statement Monday.

For more information please see:

CBS News – 700 Feared Dead In Mediterranean Boat Wrecks – 15 September 2014

The Guardian – Migrant Boat Was ‘Deliberately Sunk’ In Mediterranean Sea, Killing 500 – 15 September 2014

Hindustan Times – Traffickers ‘Sink’ Ship Carrying Migrants in Mediterranean, 500 Feared Dead Off Malta Coast – 15 September 2014

Reuters – Over 500 Migrants Feared Dead After Human Traffickers ‘Deliberately Sank the Boat’ – 15 September 2014