Future Remains Bleak as Syrian Conflict enters 5th year

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Managing Editor, Impunity Watch

DAMASCUS, Syria – The future remains bleak for the millions of Syrians displaced by Syria’s prolonged civil war as the conflict enters its fifth year. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) conditions for internationally displaced persons and refugees and the political situation in the country continues to deteriorate as the war rages and the conflicts victims fail to receive international support. “With no political solution to the conflict in sight, most of the 3.9 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt see no prospect of returning home in the near future, and have scant opportunity to restart their lives in exile,” a UNHCR statement released in Geneva said.

for the youngest victems of the Syrian Civil War education has become an opportunity of the past, at least 2.6 million Syrian children are now out of school. (Photo courtesy of the Christian Science Monitor)

“More and more Syrians are losing hope. Thousands have tried to reach Europe by taking often deadly land or sea routes after paying their life savings to smugglers. Many have not made it. Those who do, face rising hostility as refugees are conflated with security concerns in a climate of rising panic,” the UNHCR statement said.

A recent survey of 40,000 Syrian families living as refugees in urban areas of Jordan determined that two-thirds were living below the absolute poverty line. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said much more must be done to address the plight of Syrian refugees. “After years in exile, refugees’ savings are long depleted and growing numbers are resorting to begging, survival sex and child labor. Middle-class families with children are barely surviving on the streets: one father said life as a refugee was like being stuck in quicksand – every time you move, you sink down further,” he said. “This worst humanitarian crisis of our era should be galvanizing a global outcry of support, but instead help is dwindling. With humanitarian appeals systematically underfunded, there just isn’t enough aid to meet the colossal needs – nor enough development support to the hosting countries creaking under the strain of so many refugees,” Guterres added.

The impact of the Syrian Civil War can now be seen from space. This satellite images posted by #withSyria shows the dramatic drop in lights at night in Syria between 2011 and 2015, at least 83% of Syrians now live without electricity. (Photo courtesy of National Public Radio)

In December, the United Nations began the largest aid appeal ever for $8.4 billion that if fully funded, would provide for the basic needs of refugees. The program would offer support to host communities to bolster their infrastructure and services utilized by refugees escaping a conflict whose end is not in site. “Further abandoning host countries to manage the situation on their own could result in serious regional destabilization, increasing the likelihood of more security concerns elsewhere in the world,” Guterres stressed.

Five years of war have taken a particularly devastating toll on the conflict’s smallest victims, many of whom are too young to remember a time of peace. Approximately 14 million children in Syria and Iraq now live every day in the shadows of war facing extreme violence, the hardships of displacement United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations agency charged with promoting the welfare of the children worldwide. “As the crisis enters its fifth year, this generation of young people is still in danger of being lost to a cycle of violence – replicating in the next generation what they suffered in their own,” said UNICEF director Anthony Lake. More than 2.6 million Syrian children are out of school and many more are now receiving education from extremist groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) which has begun teaching its extremist ideology in local schools and has forced young boys to become child soldiers.

For more information please see:

Al Arabiya – 14 million children suffering from Syria and Iraq wars: UNICEF – 13 March 2015

The Christian Science Monitor – As Syrian civil war enters fifth year, especially hard challenges for children – 13 March 2015

National Public Radio – Drawn-Out Syrian Civil War Spawns A Literal Dark Age – 12 March 2015

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees – UNHCR warns of bleaker future for refugees as Syrian conflict enters 5th year – 12 March 2015

ISIS leader accepts allegiance of Nigeria’s Boko Haram

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch, Managing Editor

DAMASCUS, Syria –Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the militant Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) which now controls large tracks of Iraq and Syria has reportedly accepted the pledgee of allegiance from Nigeria’s Boko Haram, his spokesperson said in a statement, also calling on African supporters to take up arms. “Our caliph, God save him, has accepted the pledge of loyalty of our brothers of Boko Haram so we congratulate Muslims and our jihadi brothers in West Africa,” Islamic State spokesman Abu Mohammad al-Adnani said in recorded message.

An ISIS spokesperson has reportedly accepted Boko Haram alliance (Photo courtesy of CNN International)


The audio recording was posted online by ISIS supporters in a 28-minute message. The message says that the caliphate, or Islamic State ISIS purports to have founded has now expanded to western Africa. The spokesman congratulated the group’s “jihadi brothers” there. Al Adnani also encourages people to take up arms in Africa if they cannot make the trip to Iraq or Syria. While the authenticity of the message has not ben confirmed, it is feared the message marks the beginning of relations between these separate extremist movements which have together committed untold atrocities in Africa and the Middle East.

Boko Haram has killed thousands of civilians and kidnapped hundreds of people, including hundreds of young girls who were kidnaped from a Nigerian school, during a six-year campaign against the Nigerian government in an attempt to establish an Islamist state in northern Nigeria, the group pledged its allegiance to ISIS last week, highlighting increased coordination between Islamic extremist movements across north Africa and the Middle East.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has declared a caliphate in the territories it has captured in Iraq and Syria. The militants have targeted religious minorities and dissidents, kidnaping and murdering hundreds and forcing women into sex slavery. The group has also posted horrific videos of child soldiers, destruction of cultural antiques as well as videos showing the brutal murder of both Arab and Western hostages. ISIS militants, who have taken up arms against all but their own narrow and skewed interpretation of early Sunni Islamic theology issued a threat to religious minorities  “If you want to save your blood and money and live in safety from our swords … you have two choices: Either convert or pay jezyah.”

Officials in the United States have said they were skeptical of whether Boko Haram’s allegiance ISIS would translate into attempts by ISIS militants to provide the Nigerian movement with financial support or even weapons. “We do not currently see any reflections that ISIL would seek to subsume Boko Haram into its own caliphate or even priorities a terrorist partnership with the group,” a U.S. intelligence official said. “Both groups, however, benefit from making the world think that the two deadliest terrorist organizations in history are working together more closely than they actually are,” the official said.

Even if the purported allegiances between these two extremist organizations does not translate into financial or logistical support from either side the allegiance may serve to increase the perceived legitimacy of ISIS and Boko Haram. According to Jacob Zenn, a terror expert who lives in Nigeria

“Boko Haram will get legitimacy, which will help its recruiting, funding and logistics as it expands.” He argued the allegiance “will also get guidance from ISIS in media warfare and propaganda. Previously Boko Haram was a sort of outcast in the global Jihadi community. Now it is perhaps ISIS’s biggest affiliate. ISIS gets more international legitimacy as a global caliphate.” For both Boko Haram and the ISIS movement, propaganda like the latest pledge of allegiance has become a weapon of extremism and an attempt to expand the reach of extremist ideology and power.

For more information please see:

Reuters – Islamic State leader accepts allegiance of Nigeria’s Boko Haram  — 13 March 2015

CNN International – ISIS leader purportedly accepts Boko Haram’s pledge of allegiance – 12 March 2015

Time Magazine – ISIS Welcomes Boko Haram Pledge – 12 March 2015

CNN International – Boko Haram’s pledge of allegiance to ISIS: What it means – 10 March 2015

ISIS video shows Child Solders Kill detainee

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch, Managing Editor

DAMASCUS, Syria – A new propaganda video released by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) appears to show a young children shooting a detainee the group has claimed was an Israeli spy, a chilling representation of the organizations complete disregard for international law and basic human decency. The victim was identified in the video as 19-year-old Mohamed Said Ismail Musallam, an Israeli citizen of Palestinian descent. The video shows Musallam’s Israeli passport claiming that this document is somehow proof that he was an agent sent to infiltrate the group. The young man’s family says he had no ties with the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, and had, in fact, been recruited by ISIS as a potential member of the militant group. “Mohamed told me and his brother that ISIS took him,” according to Said Musallam, his father. “They sent him money through the Western Union. They said you will have girls, money, cars, villas, paradise, but afterwards he discovered that there is nothing.”

A photo showing a child taking part in ISIS’ alleged execution of Muhammad Musallam. (Photo courtesey of haaretz)

While propaganda videos depicting the brutal murder of detainees have become relatively common propaganda tools for the ISIS movement this video was particularly disturbing because of the young face behind the trigger. Unlike past videos the executioner was not a masked man but was instead a young child.

Another video released in January apparently shows a young boy with a pistol apparently shooting two men in the back of the head. The boy then stands over one of the bodies, fires two more times. Last August, a photo posted to Twitter from an ISIS stronghold showed a 7-year-old boy holding a man’s severed head and his father’s words, “That’s my boy.”

ISIS has taken over schools to indoctrinate children. Human Rights Watch reports ISIS and other extremist groups “have specifically recruited children through free schooling campaigns that include weapons training and have given those dangerous tasks, including suicide bombing missions.” ISIS makes no attempt to hide its use of child soldiers, proudly calling the young fighters “cubs of the caliphate. The group has even called on foreign fighters who come to Iraq and Syria to going the fight to bring their own children and families to the war zone.

The use of child soldiers, which includes any child under the age of 18, is a war crime. Child soldiers, far too young to understand the war around them, often experience psychological trauma from their experiences. According to The Guardian, a study of 300 former Ugandan child soldiers found that approximately one third of the young fighters were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Two-thirds were suffering behavioral and other emotional problems, mostly anxiety and depression.

For more information please see:

CNN International – New ISIS Video Claims To Show Child Killing Palestinian Captive – 11 March 2015

National Post – ISIS Releases Video of Extremists Killing Man They Said Was an Israeli Spy: They Made A Boy Do the Dirty Work – 11 March 2015

The Guardian – ‘Raising tomorrow’s Mujahedeen’: The Horrific World of Isis’s Child Soldiers – 10 March 2015

Haaretz – ISIS Releases Video Purporting To Show Child Soldier Killing ‘Israeli Spy’ – 10 March 2015

Iraqi Forces Push into Tikrit in Fight to Liberate Key City from ISIS Hands

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch, Managing Editor

BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraqi forces and militias have pushed into former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s home city of Tikrit on Wednesday, advancing from the north and south. The fight is part of their largest counter-offensive so far against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). If the Iraqi government is able to regain control of the oil rich city of Tikrit it would be the first time Iraqi forces have reclaimed a major city from ISIS forces and would likely pave the way for the liberation of Mosul, the largest city in ISIS hands.

A resident welcomed a relative who belonged to militias known as Hashid Shaabi, in the Iraqi town of al-Alam. (Photo courtesy of the Boston Globe)

Army and militia fighters reportedly captured part of Tikrit’s northern Qadisiya district, the provincial governor said, a security officer reported that forces have also made an advance from the south making a rapid push toward the center of the city. “The forces entered Tikrit general hospital,” an official at the main military operation command center said. “There is heavy fighting going on near the presidential palaces, next to the hospital complex.”

North of the city of Tikrit, Kurdish Peshmerga forces have intensified their offensive against ISIS forces, pushing back the militants south and west of Kirkuk while with the support of airstrikes launched by the United States and coalition forces. The Kurds also took control of a key route from Kirkuk to the ISIS stronghold of Mosul, the largest city in Northern Iraq, according to Kurdish officials. As ISIS retreated towards Hawija, residents reported ISIS militants killed some of their own members who had tried to flee the fighting.

In what may be retaliation for the efforts to liberate Tikrit ISIS forces have reportedly launched 13 suicide car attacks in the provincial capital of Ramadi, located 55 miles from Baghdad, in the ISIS stronghold, Anbar providence. The cars were used to attack security and military forces in the city. The death toll from the attacks was not immediately clear but a medical official reported at least give people were killed in the attacks.  One of the car bombs was detonated near a bridge in the west of the city which borders the Tigris River, damaging at least part of the bridge, a police source said.

While the attempted liberation of Tikrit marks a major milestone in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant which has pillaged the region, murdering and raping civilians and destroying priceless cultural sites, some have expressed concern that Iraqi forces may seek to take revenge on the Sunni residents in and around Tikrit, as was reported with earlier militia victories in Diyala province. Camp Speicher, near the city of Tikrit, was the site of the massacre more than 1,000 Shi’ite soldiers by ISIS militants. Shi’ite clerics have called on the militias to act with restraint,

For more information please see:

The Boston Globe – Iraqi Forces Seize Large Parts of Tikrit from Islamic State – 11 March 2015

CNN International – Iraqi Forces Take Military Hospital from ISIS as Tikrit Offensive Continues – 11 March

National Public Radio – Iraqi Forces Reportedly Enter Tikrit in Push against ISIS – 11 March 2015

Reuters – Iraqi Forces Push Into Tikrit, Bombers Hit Ramadi – 11 March 2015

ICTJ In Focus 46 March 2015


In Focus

Eight Ways Women Are Impacted by Disappearances

In recognition of International Women’s Day, our experts on Gender Justice have identified eight of the many ways in which women’s lives are affected by disappearances.

Read More…


View Newsletter Archive


Other News


Political Pardons Would Damage the Legacy of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission

President Jacob Zuma risks irreparably damaging the credibility of core elements of South Africa’s deal with the victims of apartheid with his current plan to pardon 149 serious offenders and to potentially consider another 926 applications which are before him. Such a move would mark a profound breach of trust with the victims and South African society at large.

Read More…


In Three New Short Documentaries, Colombian Activists Explain the Need for Truth

ICTJ releases of three short documentaries about the work of civil society organizations in Colombia intent on revealing the truth about the impact of the country’s armed conflict.

Read More…


ICTJ and Kofi Annan Foundation Convene Discussion in Bogotá on Truth Commissions and Peace Processes

As peace talks advance between the Government of Colombia and the FARC guerilla group, an essential element of negotiations is how best to examine the truth about violence and abuses committed during the armed conflict. On February 25, 2015, the International Center for Transitional Justice and the Kofi Annan Foundation will host a conference in Bogotá, titled “Truth Commissions and Peace Processes: International Experiences and Challenges for Colombia.”

Read More…


ICTJ Forum: Future of Guatemala’s CICIG at Risk

In this edition of the ICTJ Forum, Marcie Mersky, ICTJ’s Director of Programs weighs in on transitional justice developments in Guatemala: the work of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), the conclusion of the trials of Spanish Embassy attacks, and the pending case against former president Rios Montt on charges of genocide.

Read More…


More than prayers, Pope Francis’ actions can help reconciliation in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Ahead of Pope Francis’ visit to Bosnia Herzegovina, ICTJ’s Communications Director, Refik Hodzic, asks the leader of the Catholic Church to actively contribute to “a genuine reckoning needed for a genuine peace” in a society still stuck in the past, even 20 years after the war.

Read More…




Pursuing Accountability for Serious Crimes in Uganda’s Courts: Reflections on the Thomas Kwoyelo Case

This paper describes proceedings in Uganda’s national courts against Thomas Kwoyelo, a former mid-level commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army, for war crimes and crimes against humanity. It analyzes the opportunities and challenges for the prosecution of serious crimes in Uganda and concludes with recommendations to enhance accountability in the country.

View Report


Confronting the Legacy of Political Violence in Lebanon: An Agenda for Change

This document presents wide-ranging recommendations for political and social reforms in Lebanon developed by a consortium of Lebanese civil society actors, as part of an ICTJ project.

View Report


More Publications
Upcoming Events

April 22 – 28, 2015

Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and RollLocation: New York, NYView Details


June 22 – 27, 2015

Georg Arnhold Summer School on Transitional Justice and EducationLocation: Braunschweig, GermanyView Details


June 22 – 26, 2015

Gendering the Practices of Post-Conflict Resolution: Investigations, Reparations and Communal RepairLocation: Belfast, Northern IrelandView Details


More Events



Indonesia Rejects Pleas From Australian Government for a Halt in Drug Smuggling Executions

By Max Bartels 

Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania 


Jakarta, Indonesia

Two Australian nationals are scheduled for execution in the coming days. Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan are both members of the “Bali Nine” drug smuggling gang. Chan is thought to be the ringleader of the gang and authorities arrested him for attempting to have four others smuggle 8 Kilograms of heroin onto a flight out of Indonesia. Chan was arrested attempting to board a flight to Sydney, he did to have any drugs on him but he was later named as the mastermind of the plot. Sukumaran was also linked to the heroin plot and was later arrested at a hotel in Indonesia. Both men were convicted and sentenced to death, Indonesia has imposed the death sentence in drug offense in light of the serious toll drugs and drug violence is taking on the country. In December six convicted drug smugglers were executed by firing squad including a Brazilian and a Dutch national.

Chan and Sukumaran behind bars in Indonesia (Photo curtesy of Reuters)

The Australian government has reached out to Indonesian President Widodo in an attempt to halt the execution. There have been pleas from both Prime Minister Abbott and Foreign Minister Bishop but President Widodo has refused to give clemency for drug cases. In an eleventh hour attempt to halt the execution the Australian government offered Indonesia a prisoner swap but the Indonesians have reported that no such swap will occur. A spokesperson for the Indonesian government stated that Indonesia does not have any laws or legislation that allow for any kind of prisoner swap.

Australian government officials and politicians attended a candle light vigil early Thursday morning in honor of the two men. Foreign Minister Bishop addressed the gathering stating that she had reminded the Indonesia government that legal avenues remained open and appealed for mercy on behalf of the two men’s families. Prime Minister Abbott stated that Australians are sick in their guts over the execution of these two men. He further stated that Australians abhor drug crime but also abhor the death penalty and while these two prisoners deserved punishment they do not deserve to be executed.

The Australian government has also argued that the two men have been rehabilitated in prison. Both prisoners have been in Indonesian prison for the past decade and over this time they claim to be reformed. Sukumaran studies fine arts and has set up a class for his fellow inmates. While Chan has been using his spirituality to counsel other inmates and help them deal with drug addiction. Regardless of the claims the Australian government makes, the Indonesia government has shown no intention of halting the impending executions and if they do not then both prisoners will face a firing squad in the very near future.

For more information, please see: 

CNN — Australian Prisoners Just Days Away From Execution by Indonesian Firing Squad — 4 March, 2015

CNN — Indonesia Dismisses Eleventh Hour Attempt to Save Bali 9 Smugglers — 5 March, 2015

Reuters — Australia Seeks Indonesia Prisoner Swap as Execution Looms — 4 March, 2015

Reuters — Indonesia Rejects Australian Proposal of Prisoner Swap for Death Row Pair — 5 March, 2015

Burmese Students and Laborers defy Myanmar’s Military Police

Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch, Managing Editor

YANGON, Burma – Myanmar’s Military police reportedly beat several protesters supporting the Burmese student movement with batons and detained at least eight demonstrators on Thursday. The police were attempting to black student protesters from marching into Burma’s largest city, Yangon (formally Rangoon) the commercial hub of the country and former capital. About 200 student demonstrators have been in a standstill with police outside of a Buddhist monastery in Letpadan, about 140 km (90 miles) north of Yangon. The demonstrators are protesting an education bill that they argue would stifle academic freedom.

Myanmar Police took several demonstrators supporting the student movement into custody, until this point the military police seemed reluctant to use force against the protesters. (Photo courtesy of The BBC News)

Myanmar’s government has barred the student protesters from entering the city of Yangon which has long been a site of anti-government protest. The city is the birthplace of the 1988 protests that sparked the pro-democracy movement that eventually led to the victor of Aung Sun Su Ki in democratic elections which was not recognized by the military regime. The 1988 protests quickly spread across the country, sparking a call for democratization that nearly toppled the military dictatorship.

Thursday’s arrests symbolized a rise in tension between the government and students who have been demonstrating across the country, which is officially undergoing a period of democratic reforms, for two months. Dozens of demonstrators, including members of ’88 Generation who led the 1988 protests, assembled near the golden Sule Pagoda in downtown Yangon to show solidarity with students in Letpadan. Of the eight people arrested on Thursday three are members of the ’88 Generation reported Na Lynn, a student leader who spoke on the phone to one of the detainees. Among those detained was prominent ’88 Generation member Nilar Thein. “Some of them, including Nilar Thein, were beaten in the commotion,” said her husband Ko Jimmy, who is also a member of the organization.

Evidence is also mounting that Myanmar police continue to crack down on attempts to organize labor and pro-labor demonstrations in the country. On Thursday police reported they detained more than a dozen factory workers, who were demanding higher wages and better working conditions, in a protest that outside of Yangon. The arrests occurred after about 100 workers tried to march from their factor into the city of Yangon on Wednesday but were blacked by the military police. Many of the workers staged a sit-in in response to the police action but were dragged away by police.

In this Feb 19, 2015 photo, Myanmar workers of Korean-owned Costec garment factory stage a sit-in protest under a makeshift tent camp outside the entrance to the factory in the Shwepyithar suburbs of Yangon. Late Wednesday Myanmar’s military police detained several factory workers after more than 100 workers attempted to march from their factories to downtown Yangon. (photo courtesy of the Salt Lake Tribune)

While the Myanmar Ministry of Information reported Thursday that 13 workers, many of them women, had been arrested. Protesters reported that the number was actually much higher. Two journalists were also briefly detained by the police.

The workers have been protesting since last month demanding improved working conditions and higher wages, but a settlement has not been reached between labor and the factor owners.

The recent wave of protests and government crackdowns demonstrates the fragility of democratic reforms which began four years ago in Myanmar. While the reforms have introduced new freedoms in the country the government struggles to recognize and respect the newly protected freedom of expression and political activism in a country that struggles to hold on to military rule.

For more information please see:

ABC News – Myanmar Police Drag Away Protesting Factory Workers – 5 March 2015

BBC News – Myanmar Police Arrest Demonstrators Against New Education Bill – 5 March 2015

Reuters – Baton-Wielding Myanmar Police Force Pro-Student Protesters To Flee – 5 March 2015

Salt Lake Tribune – Myanmar Police Drag Away Factory Workers – 5 March 2015

Although Ceasefire in Ukraine Holds, War Games Continue

By Kyle Herda

Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

KIEV, Ukraine – Tensions between Russia and NATO nations remains high despite the ceasefire still holding in Ukraine, and unfortunately this is keeping Ukraine in the spotlight between the two forces. The United States will be sending troops to help train Kiev’s military, much against the demands by Russia to avoid involvement with the United States.

Russian Su-30 jets were used in practice attack runs on NATO ships in the Black Sea. (Photo courtesy of Business Insider)

United States’s senior envoy to Europe claims that there are still “thousands and thousands” of Russian troops deployed in Eastern Ukraine, along with “hundreds of pieces of military equipment, including tanks, armored vehicles, rocket systems, heavy artillery.” US Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges estimates that there are 12,000 Russian troops in eastern Ukraine, along with another 29,000 in Crimea. Further, the senior envoy claims that “[t]he Russian military has its own robust command structure in eastern Ukraine … they are funding this war, they are fueling it and commanding and controlling it.”

In response, the United States intends to carry out its plan to send roughly 300 troops to western Ukraine to train Kiev’s troops in fighting the pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine. Further, under the fiscal 2015 budget to help train and equip the armed forces of allies around the world, the US has already set aside $19 million to assist the Ukrainian National Guard. On top of this, the US has still failed to rule out sending lethal aid to Kiev. Additionally, German Chancellor Angela Merkel says that more sanctions may be pressed onto Russia if the ceasefire fails, as it would likely be the result of instability caused at least partially by Russian involvement.

Russia has been active in trying to denounce the involvement of NATO nations in the Ukrainian conflict. Recently, Russian Su-30s and Su-24 aircraft from Russia’s new Black Sea Fleet in Crimea have run mock attacks on NATO warships in the Black Sea.

For more information, please see:

Yahoo – EU ready with sanctions if Ukraine ceasefire violated, Merkel says – 4 March 2015

Yahoo – ‘Thousands’ of Russian troops in east Ukraine: US envoy – 4 March 2015

Business Insider – Report: Russia is practicing attack runs against NATO warships in the Black Sea – 4 March 2015

Defense News – US Soldiers Readying for Ukraine Deployment – 3 March 2015

ABC – US Commander: Arming Ukraine Increases Pressure on Putin – 3 March 2015

Global Research – Despite Russian Warnings, US Will Deploy a Battalion to Ukraine by the End of the Week – 3 March 2015

Bangladesh: Convicted Islamist Leaders Appeal against Death Penalty for War Crimes

By Hojin Choi

Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

DHAKA, Bangladesh – Recently convicted Bangladesh Islamist leaders moved to overturn their death penalty sentences for war crimes.

Since 2010, the International Crimes Tribunal has sentenced more than ten ex- and present political leaders for war crimes committed during the country’s civil war. Most were convicted for crimes against humanity by collaborating with the Pakistani Army. According to the government, three million people died and approximately 200,000 women were raped during the nine months of war, and East Pakistan became an independent country, Bangladesh.

Bangladesh’s ex-minister Syed Mohammed Kaiser appealed his death sentence in middle January. The verdict, sentencing him to death, was delivered by the International Crimes Tribunal a month ago, and he was found guilty on 14 out of the 16 charges brought against him. It is well known that Kaiser organized a militia named after him, “Kaiser Bahini,” in 1971, and guided the Pakistani Army to attack villages and to abuse supporters of Bangladesh’s independence. He fled once Bangladesh achieved liberty, and then rejoined Bangladesh’s political sphere as a parliamentary member. He later became the Minister of Agriculture.

Former Minister Syed Mohammed Kaiser (bdnews24.com)

An Islamist party leader, ATM Azharul Islam (“Azhar”), also moved the Supreme Court to overturn his verdict. He was also sentenced to death in late December for the genocide of 1,400 Hindus and supporters of Bangladesh’s liberation. He was known as a leader of a notorious militia, “Al-Badr,” that attacked villages by cooperating with the Pakistani Army. It is said that his militia committed the one of the largest genocides during the 1971 war.

Azhar is the eighth leader of the Islamist party to be convicted of war crimes. Whenever a conviction has been obtained, the party’s supporters have reacted wildly. They argue that the International Crimes Tribunal has a political and religious purpose that is to oppress the party. The party and its supporters often called for a nationwide shutdown and protests.

One of Justice of the court, Justice Rahim, previously commented on Azhar’s case that “we are trying him as a war criminal suspect . . . his stature as an Islamic or religious figure is not our concern.” However, many human rights activists and politicians from other nations have expressed concern over the continuous death sentences in Bangladesh, but most agree that the inhumane war crimes must be punished, even after a long period of time.

For more information, please see:

Globalpost – Bangladeshi ex-minister appeals against death penalty for war crimes – 20 January 2015

Bdnews24 – Tribunal sentences Kaiser to death for 1971 war crimes – 23 December 2014

Bdnews24 – Jamaat leader Azhar moves Supreme Court to overturn death sentence – 28 January 2015

Bdnews24 – Jamaat leader Azhar to die for 1971 genocide – 30 December 2014

Sri Lanka Government Initiate New War Crimes Investigation

By Hojin Choi
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – Sri Lanka’s new regime is planning a new investigation into human rights violations committed during the country’s civil war. Sri Lanka had the longest civil war in Asia, lasting 26 years, and ending in 2009. Sri Lanka initiated an investigation into the issues on its own accord, but had not reached credible results in the process.

The new phase of the investigation is highly related to the launch of the new regime. The former president of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa, had refused to cooperate with the U.N. investigation. According to the U.N., Rajapaksa interfered by creating a “wall of fear” to prevent witnesses from giving testimony and tried to “sabotage” the investigation.

The U.N. investigators also argued that the government intimidated human rights defenders by “surveillance, harassment, and other forms” of coercion. Rajapaksa was ousted by a surprising election result at the beginning of January. He was then accused of an attempted coup aimed at staying in power after the election. He denied the allegation.

The U.N. reports that about 40,000 civilians, mostly members of Tamil rebel group, were killed in a final government assault that ended the civil war, and that both sides committed serious human rights violations. The new president Maithripala Sirisena promised a new inquiry under an independent judiciary and with support of foreign experts.

“We are thinking of having our own inquiry acceptable to them, to the international standards,” said a government spokesperson. New president Serisena also sent his senior advisor to meet U.N. officials to discuss the investigation.

Pope Francis delivering his speech in Sri Lanka (EPA).

Two weeks before the government’s announcement, Pope Francis, during a visit to Sri Lanka, also urged the nation to pursue the truth about alleged war crimes. He said that reconciliation after tragic bloodshed could be found only “by overcoming evil with good, and by cultivating those virtues which foster reconciliation, solidarity and peace.” During his speech, he did not mention the former president’s alleged refusal to cooperate with the investigation.

“The process of healing also needs to include the pursuit of truth, not for the sake of opening old woulds, but rather as a necessary means of promoting justice, healing and unity,” Pope Francis added. The new president, Sirisena, welcomed him at the Cololbo’s International Airport.

Besides the investigation into the final week of the civil war, human rights activists argue there seem to be more issues to be addressed by the new regime. Tamils, the oppressed side in the war, still say that they are suffering from discrimination. A government spokesperson said that the government is also considering the release of political prisoners who were suspected of rebel activities associated with the Tamil group.

For more information, please see:

Arab News – New Sri Lanka govt plans fresh war crimes probe – 29 January 2015

Jurist – Sri Lanka to initiate new war crimes investigation – 29 January 2015

The National – Pope Francis says Sri Lanka must investigate war crimes – 13 January 2015

Reuters – Pope says Sri Lanka should seek truth over civil war – 13 January 2015


U.S. Department of Justice Finds Culture of Discrimination in Ferguson Police Department

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch, Managing Editor

WASHINGTON D.C., United States of America – The United States Department of Justice concluded that the Ferguson Missouri Police Department, which came under global scrutiny after the killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown, routinely engages in racially biased practices, an official familiar with the findings said Tuesday. The investigation began in August after the shooting of Brown, an African American teenager by a white Ferguson Police Officer, which sparked protests nation-wide and brought Ferguson to a standstill. The investigation was ordered by Attorney General Eric Holder. The report found 85% of people subject to vehicle stops by Ferguson police were African-American; 90% of those who received citations were African American; and 93% of people arrested were African American. 67% of the Ferguson population is African America.

A protester stands in front of Police cars in Ferguson Missouri on November 25, 2015. (Photo courtesy of Reuters)

In 88% of the cases in which police the Ferguson police reported using force, it was against African-Americans. During the period 2012-2014 African American drivers were twice as likely as white drivers to be searched during traffic stops. However, African Americans were 26% less likely to be found in possession of illegal contraband. African Americans were also disproportionately more likely to be given a ticket by Ferguson police officers for minor infractions: 95% of tickets for “manner of walking in roadway,” a violation that is essentially jaywalking, were given to African Americans. Also, 94% of all “failure to comply” charges were filed against African Americans.

The apparent racial biases were not limited to the police force. Local judges in Ferguson were also found to have issued racially disparate rulings. African Americans 68% less likely to have their cases dismissed by a Ferguson municipal judge than white defendants, and were overwhelmingly more likely to be taken into custody during routine traffic stops solely for an outstanding warrant issued by the Ferguson courts.

The Justice Department also found disturbing evidence of blatant racism in internal documents of the Ferguson Police Department that subject that many of the apparent racial disparities in justice and law enforcement are more than a mere coincidence. The investigation found evidence of racist jokes being forwarded around the dependent and between court officials. One email included a joke about that then newly elected President Barack Obama in 2008. The joke claimed that the President would not hold office for long because “what black man holds a steady job for four years.”

Another particularly disturbing joke that made the rounds on Ferguson government emails in May 2011 said: “An African American woman in New Orleans was admitted into the hospital for a pregnancy termination. Two weeks later she received a check for $3000. She phoned the hospital to ask who it was from. The hospital said: ‘Crimestoppers.'”

Civil rights attorney Jerryl Christmas, who has represented people who have clashed with Ferguson police and city officials during the months since the August killing of Mike Brown said he was not surprised by the revelations, and he hopes that the Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson will be fired. “We already knew all this was going on. The problem is nobody is being prosecuted, nobody has been terminated,” Christmas said.

Ferguson Committeewoman Patricia Bynes said she was outraged by the racist emails. She said, “The fact that police officers and municipal court officials are using their public emails to tell racial jokes that just reeks of arrogance and ignorance” said Bynes. “It’s astounding. They think they are untouchable. The taxpayers have been paying for that racial bias.”

For more information please see:

CNN International – Justice Report Finds Systematic Discrimination against African-Americans in Ferguson – 4 March 2015

National Public Radio – DOJ: Ferguson Police Routinely Discriminate Against African Americans – 4 March 2015

Washington Post – Federal Probe Uncovers a Racist Joke about Obama in Official Ferguson Email – 4 March 2015

Reuters – Justice Department Finds Racial Bias in Ferguson Police Practices – 3 March 2015

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights: IS seizes properties owned by defected officers, employees in the municipality and the Nusra fighters

Cross- cutting information reported to SOHR that IS informed relatives of 11 men from the town of al- Bsiri that they have to evacuate their houses within a deadline of 3 days and to keep all furniture and collectables inside the houses. As well as, they seized the cars of those men and the farmlands that they own. In addition to, IS organization informed the relatives of al- Bsiri mayor to collect the worth of his inheritance from his family’s house and to pay it to the Organization because the mayor does not have the house. Those men are a retired brigadier- general and 4 men assassinated by shooting them by unknown gunmen in front of a house in the town of al- Bsiri in September 2013, an employee in the municipality assassinated by unknown gunmen in October 2013, 2 men kidnaped separately in 2013 and 3 men arrested by IS in the town of al- Bsiri when he seized the town last year.

Meanwhile, IS seized a house owned by a defected lieutenant in the city of al- Mayadin. Reliable sources informed SOHR that 3 men witnessed that this house does not belong to the lieutenant, who fought IS before he repented, but they did not believe them and made them walk in al- Maydin market carrying banners written on them “false witnesses”.  They also seized a house owned a member of the Arab Socialist Baath Party, a building consists of 9 apartments belong to fighters of the Nusra Front in the city of al- Mayadin and a house owned by a fighter in the rebel battalions, who did not repent, in the village of Zghir Jazira.

Last month, Cross- cutting information reported to SOHR that IS seized 2 clinics owned by 2 doctors in the city of al- Mayadin accusing them of “dealing with opposing party”.

Syria Deeply: Understanding Turkey’s Unprecedented Cross-Border Operation into Syria

“Turkey is now realizing that it should update its security policy with the West in regards to the ISIS threat.”

On Sunday, an estimated 600 Turkish troops entered Syria in an unprecedented incursion. Their stated mission was to relocate the historic tomb of Suleyman Shah and evacuate the soldiers guarding the monument after it was surrounded by Islamic State militants.

The action, which involved tanks, drones and reconnaissance planes as well as ground forces, was the first incursion by Turkish troops into Syria since the start of the civil war there nearly four years ago.

The Syrian government denounced the move, describing it as an act of “flagrant aggression” on Syrian territory. It said it would hold Turkey responsible for its repercussions.

Syria has repeatedly accused Turkey of supporting insurgent groups that have seized control over large swaths of territory in northern and eastern Syria, by allowing them passage through its porous border. In a significant expansion of its role in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS), the U.S. and Turkey signed an agreement last week to train and equip thousands of moderate Syrian rebel groups.

Gokhan Bacik, an analyst and professor of international relations at Ankara’s Ipek University, explained why Turkey has stepped up its cooperation with the international community in the fight against ISIS.

Syria Deeply: ISIS militants have surrounded the tomb of Suleyman Shah for many months. Why did Turkey decide to intervene now?

Bacik: There are several reasons behind this decision. Turkey is approaching its elections, and the government doesn’t want another hostage crisis like last year. There was a concern that if Turkey prolonged its response to rumors that ISIS was surrounding areas around the tomb, it would become a crisis for the government. Ankara was scared of being drawn into the conflict in Syria if ISIS later attacked the tomb.

Syria Deeply: Turkish critics of the move have said that it signals a retreat from the fight against ISIS, if not indeed a defeat. Why do they feel this way?

Bacik: Technically, it was a successful operation, but symbolically, it was a failure. It’s a piece of Turkish land with a lot of symbolic significance. The Turkish government tried to protect its public image by relocating the tomb inside Syria, to symbolize that Turkey isn’t retreating completely. It could have been relocated to Turkey, but the problem is the public would have criticized the government for failing to protect what is considered to be Turkish territory.

Syria Deeply: Turkey is creating a new tomb site in the Kurdish-controlled town of Ashme in Syria. There are also suggestions that the military operation to relocate the tomb could not have been done without assistance from Kurds on the ground. Does this signal a new page of cooperation between Ankara and the Syrian Kurds?

Bacik: The Turkish government needed a piece of land that was secure for a period of time and the only alternative was found in a Kurdish area inside Syria.

Turkey is facing a dilemma where, on the one hand, Ankara knows it should cooperate with the Kurds, but on the other hand it’s not happy with the consolidation of Kurdish power in northern Syria and southern Turkey.

The incursion wasn’t a serious military operation, but it requires, given how fragmented Syria has become, behind-the-scenes contact with many different elements, including Kurdish groups such as the YPG and PYD as well as the U.S. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it happened just after Turkey and the U.S. signed an agreement to arm the Syrian opposition.

Syria Deeply:Ankara and Washington recently signed an agreement to jointly train and equip of thousands of moderate Syrian rebels. Are we witnessing a new stage of collaboration in the fight against the Islamic State?

Bacik: Definitely. As of today, we are seeing signs of a shift in Turkey in its stance towards the Islamic State. Turkey is now realizing that it should update its security policy with the West in regards to the ISIS threat. Turkey is now addressing that threat in a more serious way, so it is more likely to be part of the U.S. led process in the fight against the group, and could be part of that operation soon. As far as I understand, Turkey is making preparations to contribute.

But it’s not only about the Kurdish and ISIS issues: Turkey is now completely isolated in its foreign policy. Turkey’s prestige is very weak, so its only option is to come to an agreement with Western institutions, where Turkey can play a role in the fight against ISIS. It’s the only way it can market itself.

Turkey has various instruments to cooperate with the arms and training program, but I think the program is going to fail – it can help fight ISIS, but it cant help the fight against Assad and the rival blocks trained by Iran who are fighting to preserve his power.

Syria Deeply: Turkey has laid out conditions for joining the U.S. led coalition, including the removal of Assad, while the U.S. has stressed that its priority is battling the Islamic State. To what extent can there be convergence between the two countries in the fight against ISIS?

Bacik: Turkey should update and refine its policy on Syria. Its main strategies and concerns regarding Syria are different than that of the U.S. I don’t know how convergence between the two is possible. Turkey’s priority is first and foremost to weaken Assad. This condition puts Turkey in a very difficult position vis a vis the U.S. and Western policy.

Given the difference on a macro scale between Turkey and the U.S, technical cooperation will always be limited. Turkey should update its understanding of Syria to become more closely aligned with that of Western governments. However, right now that’s very difficult because Turkish leaders view Syrian problems as purely a domestic issue. They believe that if they update their stance on Assad, it will be a failure in the eyes of Turkish domestic policy.

Syria Deeply: The Syrians, who have repeatedly accused Turkey of abetting the Islamic State, said the raid offered further evidence of a “deep connection between the Turkish government” and ISIS. Does this accusation have any bearing in reality?

Bacik: Several months ago, pro-government newspapers in Turkey were telling the Turkish public that ISIS wasn’t a terrorist group. Members of the Turkish parliament also said that ISIS wasn’t a typical terrorist organization. Turkey needs to update its understanding of ISIS, no doubt. It not only failed in regards to Syria, but in regards to ISIS.

It was very telling how Iran and Russia reacted to Turkey’s recent incursion into Syria. Iran’s deputy prime minister immediately criticized the incursion as a violation of international law. It’s not easy for Turkey to maneuver in the region right now. Turkey has contributed to the formation of this very ugly picture in the region.

Syria Deeply: Jihadists are using Turkey as their main logistical base for the flow of foreign fighters. Is Turkey now at risk of retaliation from ISIS? How will it protect its border? How large is the ISIS threat inside Turkey?

Bacik: There is no doubt that Turkey is trying to move more closely towards anti-ISIS rhetoric and behavior. The question is if Turkey starts collaborating with the U.S. against ISIS, how will ISIS react? ISIS conducted an operation in Turkey almost a year ago, in Nideh, which killed members of the Turkish army. There was a suicide attack in Sultanahmet, and even though it was hidden from the Turkish public, we know ISIS did it.

Very frankly speaking, Turkey cannot protect the border. The Turkish border with Syria is almost 900km long: it’s impossible to protect. To protect it, you would need a stable government on the other side. It’s a paradise for jihadists and for smuggling drugs. It’s a problem of geography. In the beginning, Turkey expected ISIS was going to weaken Assad, but we are now seeing the fallout of that perception.

There are rumors, but no evidence, about how ISIS is organized in Turkey. Some people say there are thousands of people linked with ISIS living in Turkish territory. So far, we’ve studied ISIS as mainly a Syrian and Iraqi issue. We have no idea about how ISIS is organized on Turkish territory, but there are many people from Turkey joining ISIS. We don’t know if ISIS is going to activate its followers in Turkey, and we don’t know how ISIS is going to react to this recent incursion.