Excide Plant Closed after Decades of Polluting in Low Income California Community

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch, Managing Editor

WASHINGTON D.C., United States of America – Excide Technologies immediately began shutting down its battery recycling plant in Vernon California after reaching an agreement allowing the company to avoid facing criminal prosecution for decades of pollution in a lower income community just five miles southeast of the city of Los Angeles. Under the deal struck by federal officials and the company, Exide acknowledges criminal conduct, including the illegal storage and transportation of hazardous waste products. Company officials will avoid criminal charges in exchange for shutting down, demolishing and cleaning the 15-acre battery recycling plant.

Community members gather at an Eastside home to celebrate the Exide Closure agreement. Residents want the company to follow through on the cleanup of lead and other contamination in their neighborhoods and homes. (Photo courtesy of The Los Angeles Times)

Over decades of operation, the Excide recycling facility has polluted soil beneath the plant with high levels of lead, arsenic, cadmium and other deadly toxic metals, according to state environmental records. Pollutants from the plant have also contaminated groundwater and released battery acid onto roads. The plant also contaminated homes and yards in surrounding low-income Hispanic communities with lead emissions. Following the announcement of the closure Msgr. John Moretta, of Resurrection Catholic Church in Boyle Heights, whose parishioners had raised health concerns about the plant and have argued for its closure for several years, said “our long nightmare is over. He continued; “we now look forward to a thorough and just cleanup of our homes and neighborhoods.”

Roberto Cabrales, a community organizer with the organizations, Communities for a Better Environment, said news of the plant closure was “a shocker.” His organization and others fought for years to see the plant closed and had expected that state officials would allow Exide, which has been operating on a temporary license, to remain open. “We’re concerned that they will not be pursued for criminal prosecution,” Cabrales said. “But if that means that Exide will stay closed, then that’s in itself a victory for the community.”

State Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Huntington Park), who wrote legislation requiring the state agency to issue Exide a permit or shut it down by the end of 2015, said the plant’s closure will bring relief to the residents of the community neighboring the plant. “But the legacy of impacts of this facility will not go away overnight,” he said in a statement. “To truly understand the magnitude of this issue, we need a comprehensive review of soil contamination and better data on the health impacts to people who continue to be exposed to unhealthy levels of lead and arsenic.”

Federal officials have insisted the agreement would require Exide International to pay the cost of the entire cleanup, even if the costs exceed $50 million. “They’re on the hook with this agreement to pay whatever it takes to clean that site up,” said Joseph Johns, assistant U.S. attorney and chief of the environmental crimes section. Johns said he would have liked to secure a conviction and penalties against the company but argued that prosecuting the corporation would have resulted in the liquidation of the company which would have left taxpayers with the bill for the cost of the cleanup. “We decided that the balance of justice required us to think out of the box,” Johns said. “We struggled with this, and we decided that the right thing to do was not worry about sending one or two people to jail for a year or two, but rather, to prevent another 50-to-100-year sentence for the 110,000 people, the children and grandchildren that live in the communities.”

For more information please see:

The Lost Angeles Times – Exide faces a long, costly cleanup of closed Vernon plant – 21 March 2015

The Natural Resources Defense Council – Exide’s L.A. Lead Battery Facility to Close — Next Up, Clean Up – 16 March 2015

The Los Angeles Times – Q&A: Exide closure a long-sought win for working-class neighborhood – 12 March 2015

Reuters – UPDATE 2-Exide to close California battery recycling plant to avoid prosecution – 12 March 2015

VDC: The Weekly Statistical Report of victims, from 14 until 20 March 2015

Syria Deeply: Former Chief Prosecutor Decries Lack of Will to Prosecute War Crimes

“We have a solid case against all of the parties involved in this tragedy: The Syrian regime, the FSA [Free Syrian Army], ISIS, the jihadist groups.”

In the face of Russia and China’s refusal to allow alleged war crimes in Syria to be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC), one of the court’s former chief prosecutors has called for new ways to bring the perpetrators to justice, including, potentially, a hybrid international court.

Speaking to Syria Deeply, David Crane – the former chief prosecutor for the Sierra Leone war crimes tribunal that indicted former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor – said that Moscow and Beijing’s intransigence on the issue meant the ICC was “no longer a relevant option.” He suggested that a local or internationalized domestic court could be set up outside the U.N. Security Council in conjunction with the Gulf Cooperation Council or the Arab League.

Crane spoke with Syria Deeply after the head of a U.N. panel investigating human rights violations in the Syrian conflict said the panel was ready to share secret lists of alleged Syrian war criminals with judicial authorities in countries preparing to prosecute them. Such a move could come back to haunt the court, Crane said.

Normally, it is policy not to name alleged war criminals, but investigators from the U.N.’s Commission for Inquiry on Syria said there had been an “exponential rise” in atrocities committed and expressed concern about a standstill at the U.N. Security Council that has reinforced a climate of impunity inside Syria.

The U.N. has detailed a gruesome array of alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes by the Syrian regime, Islamic State fighters and other armed opposition groups over the course of the Syrian conflict.

Last year was the deadliest yet in Syria’s four-year conflict, with over 76,000 killed, including 17,790 children. Notably, the number of barrel bomb casualties – 6,479 civilians – has actually increased since a resolution was passed condemning their use. Even the U.N. Security Council’s notable achievement – compelling Syria to destroy its chemical weapons stockpile – has been undermined by reports that chlorine gas was used in an attack against civilians just last week.

In the face of continued Russian and Chinese opposition to a referral of the Syrian conflict to the ICC for prosecutions, lawyers and academics have been working on alternatives to the ICC in an attempt to find justice in Syria.

Crane was also one of three international lawyers who examined photographs, smuggled out of Syria by a former military police photographer, that war crime prosecutors claim provide direct evidence of the brutal torture of 11,000 detainees by Assad’s security forces from March 2011 to August 2013.The evidence, Crane said at the time, would easily stand up in a court of law, but he noted a lack of political will on the part of the international community to prosecute.

Crane spoke to Syria Deeply about alternatives to the ICC.

Syria Deeply: Amid Russian and Chinese opposition to an ICC referral, what are some of the other ways to find justice for crimes against humanity committed in Syria?

Crane: We’ve been working on various alternatives to the ICC for several years.I chaired a panel of 12 leading experts, practitioners and academics charged with coming up with a statutory blueprint for a local, regional and international tribunal or court. At this point, there are four possibilities for a justice mechanism: The first would be a Syrian domestic court that would try individuals for violations of civil law. The second is an internationalized domestic court that uses Syrian criminal law to prosecute, and where international experts assist with prosecution. The third is a regional court that has bilateral or multilateral representation from regional countries; and the fourth option is an international court other than the ICC. I see that Carla del Ponte is calling for an ad hoc tribunal, which is a possibility, but the one that is catching on, as far as reality is concerned, is a hybrid international court.

Syria Deeply: What are some of the obstacles to documenting and gathering information about war crimes? What are some of the difficulties faced in linking the crimes to mid- or high-level commanders? Who is involved in this documentation?

Crane: We have a solid case against all of the parties involved in this tragedy: The Syrian regime, the FSA [Free Syrian Army], ISIS, the jihadist groups. The real challenge with these types of situations in the social media age is that there is a tsunami of data coming out of Syria – video, witness testimony, documentary evidence. In my opinion, 98 percent of it is worthless in a court of law because of chain of custody issues, authentication issues etc. Nonetheless, the documentation in terabytes is useful from a historical and a truth-telling point of view.

Be that as it may, there are several groups, including the Syrian Accountability Project, CIAJ, the Syrian Justice and Accountability Center, that are beginning to work together and have built solid cases against the individuals creating this tragedy. The challenge is not coming up with the case, it’s ensuring that the evidence showing that war crimes and crimes against humanity are being committed is appropriate and authenticated.

Syria Deeply: U.N. investigators offered on Tuesday to share names from secret lists of alleged Syria war criminals with prosecution authorities in any county preparing cases, to help end the “culture of impunity” in the country and get around the standstill at the U.N. Security Council. Is there a precedent for this? How would it work?

Crane: If I were the chief prosecutor, which I was once, I wouldn’t do it. If I was investigating individuals for crimes, I would keep [the list] closed until I had a solid case, then I would seek an indictment and then announce it publicly, which we did in West Africa. I don’t see any benefit to releasing names. I think it’s a public relations ploy that could come back to haunt the decision later on. There are many challenges related to it, including legal liability in terms of slander and libel, particularly since the individuals haven’t been charged with crimes yet – it’s simply the opinion of the panel, which is saying they have committed war crimes. There is also the practical challenge that these individuals could start covering up for themselves, and evidence related to their case can be destroyed.

Syria Deeply: What are some of the challenges involved in prosecuting this case?

Crane: I’m not saying this is going to be easy, but the international community has done it before and it has the experience and the practical knowledge to do so. However, there are many challenges to be considered such as witness protection, authenticating documentary evidence, state cooperation, capturing and detaining fugitives etc.

Syria Deeply: Human rights groups and U.N. envoys have compiled chilling evidence of the war crimes committed inside Syria. In addition, the “Caesar Report” gave direct evidence of the torture of detainees by the Syrian regime. Last year was also the deadliest in the Syrian conflict thus far. How do you fight a culture of impunity? Why are we seeing such significant delays in the prosecution of war crimes?

Crane: We have a solid case against these individuals and can prove it in a court of law. It’s the political will of the international community that is the ultimate hindrance, as well as geopolitical challenges such as the issue of China, Russia and Iran backing Syria. It will be a political decision if and when we decide to seek justice for the people of Syria. We’ve seen this play out throughout the four years we’ve been working on this. Right now, there is no stomach, politically, to do something about Syria from a justice point of view.

It’s not possible to get Russia and China on board for an ICC referral, but there are other tribunals that don’t need their approval. For example, a local or internationalized domestic court can be set up outside the Security Council, as well as a regional court like the Gulf Cooperation states or Arab League. China and Russia are not going to back off. At this point, the ICC is no longer a relevant option.

Syria Deeply: A U.N. report said that ISIS, rebels and the Syrian regime were responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity and that all three should be referred to the ICC.To what scale is each individual group guilty of crimes against humanity and war crimes? Is there a precedent for prosecution of extremist groups at that level?

Crane: Sadly, the scale of war crimes and crimes against humanity has increased since I started working on the case at the beginning of March 2011.The conflict has gotten bloodier and more personal the longer it has gone on. At the end of the day, no one is following international law and sadly civilians are suffering greatly because of it. All parties are equally committing international crimes. We’ve never prosecuted a non-state actor like the Islamic State at an international level, but it can be done statutorily – they can be included within groups and individuals committing these crimes.

Syria Deeply: In what ways is the Syria case different from/similar to other war crime trials/prosecutions you’ve worked on?

Crane: We do have practical experience in prosecuting – it’s just a matter of picking the right type of court, with the right political backing. It’s not dissimilar. But again, we should take heart that in the past 20 years we have gained the experience to do this, though we have to wait on the will of the international community to do so.

It’s important that we continue to move forward, to build the proper legal case against the parties, to continue to build consensus politically that we need to do something, and not to be deterred by the immediate challenges.

Ten years ago, President Charles Taylor of Liberia would never have thought that he would be held accountable for what he had done in West Africa. Now he sits in a maximum-security prison in northeast England for the rest of his life. Sometimes it takes time, but justice will prevail. It’s important for everyone to understand that we shouldn’t be deterred. We might see a political breakthrough or a geopolitical situation that will allow us to take action.


Saudis Lead Airstrikes against Houthi Targets continue for Second Day in Yemen

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch, Managing Editor

SANA’A, Yemen – Collation airstrikes led by Saudi Arabia continued bombing Houthi targets in Yemen a day after Yemini President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who fled the Yemini capital in February, arrived in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. Coalition targets included the Shia rebel group’s stronghold of Saada.  Yemen’s besieged government said Saudi-led airstrikes would not last long on the second day, however spokesman of the coalition announced on Thursday that the military operation against the Houthi would continue “as long as necessary.” United States Department of State Spokesperson Jeff Rathke, stated that the United States government “understands the concerns” of the Saudis and is “supportive of their effort”. According to the international human rights group Amnesty International at least six children were among 25 people killed in the air strikes in the capital city of Sana’a on Thursday. Earlier, Houthi sources reported that at least 18 people had been killed by the strikes.

Warplanes from a coalition led by Saudi Arabia continued hitting Houthi targets in Yemen for a second day on Friday. (Photo courtesy of al Jazeera)

The Saudi led coalition, whose members are mostly Arab Gulf States, began its campaign of airstrikes Thursday in an attempt to push back Houthi gains in Yemen, which borders Saudi Arabia on the Arabian Peninsula. President Hadi left Yemen on Thursday and is expected to attend an Arab summit meeting Shamal Shake Egypt on Saturday, where he is expected to attempt to shore up Arab support for the campaign against the rebels. In a Facebook post by President Hadi the Yemini leader urged Yemenis to be patient, saying the “rebels” would soon be gone. However, despite the air strikes, Houthi forces pushed forward in their attempt to extent control in the region south of Sana’a.

Houthi leader Abdel-Malek al-Houthi, in a televised speech, described the Saudi-led operation as a “despicable aggression.” Al-Houthi said, “What do they expect us to do, surrender, announce our defeat and act like cowards? Absolutely not. This is not how the honorable Yemeni people think. We will fight back. All 24 million Yemenis will stand united and face that despicable aggression.”

Iran, which has been accused of supporting the Houthis but denies the allegation, has condemned the airstrikes as “a dangerous step” that violated “international responsibilities and national sovereignty”. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the coalition airstrikes amounted to “military aggression” and “condemned all military intervention in the internal affairs of independent nations.” Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who is in Switzerland participating in negations regarding the country’s nuclear program, argued that air strikes would lead only to greater loss of life. “Military action from outside of Yemen against its territorial integrity and its people will have no other result than more bloodshed and more deaths,” he told the Iran’s state-owned Al-Alam television channel.

The United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said on Friday that Saudi Arabia felt it necessary to intervene in Yemen to avoid an Iranian-backed regime taking over Yemen, which shares a border with Saudi Arabia. He said, “the Saudis are very exercised by the idea of an Iranian-backed regime in Yemen,” he told reporters during a visit to Washington. “They cannot accept the idea of an Iranian-backed regime in control of Yemen, which is why they felt compelled to intervene the way they have.” He added, “we know there has been Iranian support for the Houthi and we are all concerned to avoid this becoming a proxy war.”

For more information please see:

Al Jazeera – Coalition Jets Continue To Hit Houthi Targets In Yemen – 27 March 2015

Reuters – Britain’s Hammond: Saudis Cannot Accept Iranian-Backed Regime in Yemen – 27 March 2015

Reuters – Saudi-Led Campaign Strikes Yemen’s Sanaa, Morocco Joins Alliance – 27 March 2015

Al Jazeera – Iran Warns Of Bloodshed as Saudi-Led Forces Bomb Yemen – 26 March 2015

Canada’s House of Commons Passes Motion to Impose Visa Sanctions and Asset Freezes against the killers of Sergei Magnitsky

26 March 2015 – The Canadian House of Commons has unanimously passed a motion calling for the imposition of targeted visa sanctions and asset freezes against those responsible for Sergei Magnitsky’s torture, death, and the subsequent cover-up.

The motion introduced by Hon. Irwin Cotler MP, Liberal party spokesman on International Justice and one of 21 parliamentarians from 13 countries who form the Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Inter-Parliamentary Group, calls on the Canadian government to:

Explore and encourage sanctions against any foreign nationals who were responsible for the detention, torture or death of Sergei Magnitsky, or who have been involved in covering up the crimes he exposed.” (http://irwincotler.liberal.ca/blog/motion-sanctions-human-rights-violators-magnitsky-case/)

The unanimous support of this motion sends a clear signal to human rights violators in Russia and around the world that they will be held to account for their crimes,” said Irwin Cotler MP. “By imposing sanctions, we can impose meaningful penalties on human rights violators and deter future violations.”

The Magnitsky Sanctions motion voted on yesterday in the Canadian parliament also calls on the government to sanction human rights abusers around the world, stating that targeted Magnitsky sanctions are “appropriate against any foreign nationals responsible for violations of internationally recognized human rights in a foreign country.”

We are pleased to see Canada taking such a definitive stance against human rights abusers,” said Bill Browder. “This legislation will be an important step in ensuring that the legacy of Sergei Magnitsky will continue to protect victims of human rights abuse, both in Russia and around the world.”

The Magnitsky Sanctions motion adopted in the Canadian House of Commons follows a private members bill introduced by Irwin Cotler in October 2013, calling for sanctions to be imposed on those responsible for the torture and death of Sergei Magnitsky (https://openparliament.ca/bills/41-2/C-339/).

A similar motion has also been introduced in the Canadian Senate.

Seven Canadian Parliamentarians from four different political parties, along with Bill Browder, leader of the Magnitsky Justice Campaign, presented their support for the motion in a press conference at the Canadian Parliament yesterday. Parliamentarians in attendance included Irwin Cotler MP, Senator? Raynell Andreychuk, Conservative MP and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs David Anderson, Liberal Foreign Affairs Critic Marc Garneau, NDP MP Murray Rankin, Conservative Senator Linda Frum, and Green Party leader Elizabeth May.

The Sergei Magnitsky case is today recognized as a symbol of what can happen when the principles of fundamental justice and rule of law are manipulated for personal gain,” said Senator Andreychuk, who introduced the motion in the Senate. “I hope that the Senate will soon join with the House of Commons and parliaments around the world to express our commitment to accountability for foreign nationals who commit the most serious violations of human rights.”

The tragedy of Sergei Magnitsky’s death in Russian custody and appalling posthumous show trial are stark symbols of the precipitous decline of Russian democracy,” added Green Party leader Elizabeth May. “Bill Browder’s inexhaustible efforts to commemorate the life of his lawyer and friend are laudable and instructive. I urge the Government to give full support to Mr. Cotler’s call for sanctions that will hold the perpetrators of Sergei Magnitsky’s torture accountable. Today’s motion is an important step in the international effort to achieve justice for Magnitsky and help to guarantee the human rights of all Russian citizens.

Sergei Magnitsky was killed in Russian pre-trial detention in 2009 after uncovering a $230 million corruption scheme and testifying against the government officials involved.

Following his death, the US passed the 2012 Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, which imposes visa bans and asset freezes against those involved in Sergei’s case. 34 individuals are currently banned from the US under the Act. (http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/OFAC-Enforcement/pages/20130412.aspx; http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/ofac-enforcement/pages/20140520.aspx;http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/OFAC-Enforcement/Pages/20141229.aspx).

The European Parliament passed a similar resolution in 2014, calling for 32 individuals to be sanctioned. (http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=TA&language=EN&reference=P7-TA-2014-0258). Motions and resolutions calling for sanctions have also been passed by the OSCE, PACE, the UK, Holland, Sweden, Italy and Poland.

For more information, please contact:

Magnitsky Justice Campaign

+44 2074401777

e-mail: info@lawandorderinrussia.org

website: www.lawandorderinrussia.org

Facebook: http://on.fb.me/hvIuVI