The Vatican Will Soon Officially Recognize Palestine as a State

by Mridula Tirumalasetti

Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

The Vatican announced on Wednesday that it will sign a treaty that officially recognizes Palestine as a state. “In Rome, Pope Francis will declare on May 17 two Palestinian nuns as saints, and we are in full preparation,” Bishop William Shomali told reporters. Given the international stature of Pope Francis, Palestinian leaders have celebrated this announcement.

Pope Francis pictured at the Vatican in 2014 with Israeli President, Shimon Peres, on the left, and the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, on the right (photo courtesy of The New York Times)

The Holy See has been referring to Palestine as a state since 2012, when  the United Nations General Assembly voted Palestine should be recognized as a “non-member observer state.” However, the official recognition by the Vatican is a significant and symbolic step, as it supports Palestinians in their push for international recognition of their sovereignty. Husam Zomlot, who is a senior Palestinian foreign affairs official explained the importance, “The Vatican is not just a state. The Vatican represents hundreds of millions of Christians worldwide, including Palestinians, and has vast moral significance.”

Although Vatican officials, who favor a two-state solution, hoped the official recognition would help Israeli-Palestinian relations, Israel has declared that the actions of the Vatican have been disappointing. In fact, one Israeli foreign ministry official even indicated that there could be reprisals. The official stated, “This does not promote the peace process and a Palestinian return to negotiations…Israel will study the agreement and consider its next steps accordingly.”

Others states, including 135 states belonging to the United Nations, have already recognized Palestine as a sovereign state. Still, the European Union as a whole and the United States do not, and maintain that an independent state cannot emerge through unilateral recognition, but can only emerge through negotiations with Israel.  However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged that there will be no Palestinian state to emerge on his watch.

Still, there are some that believe the Vatican’s move was not supposed to be something dramatic. “I don’t think anyone is going to conclude that Pope Francis is any less committed to Israel’s security, welfare and flourishing,” said Rabbi David Rosen, who is the international director of interreligious affairs or the American Jewish Committee.

For more information, please visit:

Reuters- Vatican move on Palestine adds fuel to European debate– 14 May 2015

The Independent- Vatican recognizes State of Palestine: Does this mean Israel is becoming more isolated on the world stage?– 15 May 2015

AlJazeera- Vatican recognizes State of Palestine– 13 May 2015

BBC- Vatican to recognize Palestinian state in treaty– 13 May 2015

The New York Times- Vatican to Recognize Palestinian State in New Treaty– 13 May 2015

Damascus Center For Human Rights Studies: Idlib Province Recorded the Highest Number of Victims in April 2015

Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies

Casualties Report for April 2015

More than Half of the Victims were Killed by Indiscriminate Shelling


The Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies (DCHRS) is an independent human rights NGO that monitors the human rights situation in Syria. In its thematic reports, the DCHRS issues a first indication of the casualties that it has managed to document to date. Through monitors who operate within Syria, DCHRS gathers information from across the country. However, the center’s access to information from Kurdish-held and ISIS-held territories is limited. The DCHRS is also unable to obtain accurate records on the number of Syrian regime forces killed in action, because these figures are not published by the regime.

In April 2015, the DCHRS documented a provisional total of 1,617 casualties. 77% of those killed were civilians. The remaining 23% belonged to one of the fighting factions. Women and children respectively made up 9% and 14% of the total number of war casualties.

The most common cause of death was the shelling of residential areas, which caused the death of 945 people in April. Sniper fire and indiscriminate shooting killed 30, whereas 103 people were tortured to death in the detention centers of the Syrian government authorities. A further 35 persons were murdered in extrajudicial killings. Armed groups such as ISIS killed 31, whilst the source of the bullets that killed another 11 persons cannot be attributed to a particular group. 32 died from starvation, which is a direct result of the siege that the Syrian regime imposes in many areas. Various explosions killed 64 people. Finally, DCHRS didn’t documents any victims by the U.S.-led international coalition’s airstrikes in April 2015.

Out of all the Syrian regions, most deaths were recorded in the Idlib and its suburb province. Violent clashes between regime forces and various armed groups have engulfed large parts of Idlib as well as the surrounding countryside. The Syrian regime has also targeted people in this area with barrel bombs. The total number of casualties who were killed in Idlib and its suburbs were 419 people. 81% of those were civilians (338 people), and 326 of whom were killed by indiscriminate shelling. In addition to that, Aleppo followed in the number of casualties, where 411 people were killed. 80% of those were civilians (327 people), and 256 of whom were killed by indiscriminate shelling in the month of April 2015.

Through analysis of the casualties, it is possible to obtain a general picture of the human rights situation in Syria. Two observations indicate that the Syrian regime continues to actively target civilians. First, 77% of the total casualties are civilians. Secondly, about more than half (59%) of the casualties were the results of shelling, missiles, barrel bombs, and airstrikes. These methods of warfare belong exclusively to the regime and are associated with a high number of civilian deaths. The evidence collected by DCHRS points to grievous violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law. Torture and extrajudicial killings constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The DCHRS advocates for the protection of Syrian civilians. As a member of the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (ICRtoP), the DCHRS calls upon the international community to fulfill its Responsibility to Protect with regard to Syria. DCHRS also appeals to medical and humanitarian organizations to provide relief to ease the suffering of the Syrian people inside Syria and abroad.

Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies (DCHRS)

May 1, 2015

For more information, please contact:
Dr. Radwan Ziadeh
Executive Director
Tel:          +1 (571) 205-3590

Mr. Mojahed Ghadban
Communications Officer.
Tel:          +1 (479) 799-8115

The Damasus Center for Human Rights Studies (DCHRS) is an independent human rights NGO that monitors the human rights situation in Syria. Established in 2005, it was initially located in the Syrian capital of Damascus. The mission of DCHRS is to promote respect for human rights in Syria.

DCHRS engages in numerous documentation projects. These projects include daily casualty reports, reports on particular massacres, and the reporting and documenting of other human rights violations. DCHRS has also works to lobby and advocate for Syrian human rights, and aims to draw the world’s attention to the deteriorating human rights situation in Syria.

Since the beginning of the Syrian revolution, the center has expanded its activities, working to coordinate and communicate with activists. At this time, the center began documenting the daily violations committed by Syrian regime forces, many of which can be classified as crimes against humanity or war crimes. As the conflict developed, DCHRS expanded its monitoring activities to all armed groups.

Human rights violations recorded by DCHRS have included (but are not limited to): extrajudicial killings, massacres, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, rape, and torture. DCHRS has opened local offices in Syria in order to document evidence concerning human rights violations on the ground. These reports have been submitted by DCHRS to many international and regional human rights organizations, as well as with the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (established by the UN).

DCHRS recognizes and adheres to all pertinent international human rights agreements and declarations issued by the UN. DCHRS is also a member of the following international networks:

  1. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
  2. Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN)
  3. NGO Coalition for the international Criminal Court
  4. International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (ICRtoP)
  5. International Coalition of Sites of Conscience (ICSC)



Saudi Arabia and Houthi Rebels Agree to Cease-Fire

By Brittani Howell

Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East


SANA’A, Yemen

Saudi Arabia has proposed a five-day truce beginning Tuesday, after an air missile attack over the weekend. The truce was contingent on the agreement of the Houthi rebels. Both parties will resume hostilities if the truce is violated.

Southern Popular Resistance fighter securing street against Houthi fighters in Aden. (Photo Courtesy of Reuters)

On Friday, Saudi Arabia dropped pamphlets over Sadaa instructing civilians to evacuate. Saudi Arabia then classified Sadaa as a military zone. Many civilians were unable to leave in time largely due to fuel shortages and the lack of vehicles or communications devices. It is also alleged that Houthi rebels prevented civilians from leaving to use civilians as human shields. Over 130 airstrikes took place during a 24-hour period.

On Sunday, the Houthi rebels agreed to the truce. The home of the former President Ali Abdullah Saleh was bombed on the same day. Nevertheless, the Houthis insist on entering a dialogue with the Saudi coalition and urge that they will remain cooperative. The truce would allow food and medical supplies into Sadaa. The Houthis state that a Saudi naval blockade prevented ships that were carrying food from entering the port of Hodeida, including a ship from Tasnim.

According to the United Nations up to 1,400 people have been killed and 6,000 injured since March 19th. The majority of the victims have been civilians. Airstrikes have been conducted by the Saudi-led coalition since March 26th.

Saudi Arabia, backed by the United States, is attempting to restore the power of President Abd-Rabbu Mansor Hadi. President Hadi fled Sana’a in February after being forced out by the Houthi rebels. The Houthis goal is to remove al Qaeda militants in Yemen. The Houthis are opposed to President Hadi because of a belief that he is supporting al Qaeda militants.

The recent airstrikes targeted schools and hospitals amongst other Houthi headquarters. The schools and hospitals that were targeted were being used to store weapons. Doctors Without Borders (MSF) reported that there were few safe places for hospitals, which resulted in the merger of departments to one location.

A U.N. humanitarian coordinator, Johannes Van Der Klaauw stated, “The indiscriminate bombing of populated areas, with or without prior warning, is in contravention of international humanitarian law.” MSF emergency coordinator Teresa Sancristóval noted, “Many people were not aware of the order of evacuation.”

For further information please see:

Associated Press – Yemen’s Shite Insurgents, Army Rebels Back 5-Day Cease-Fire – 10 May 2015

BBC – Yemen Houthi Rebels ‘Positive’ Over Saudi Truce Plan – 10 May 2015

Reuters – Houthis Accept Five-Day Truce in Yemen Proposed by Saudi Arabia – 10 May 2015

CNN – U.N. rep Accuses Saudi-led Coalition of Violation International Law – May 9 2015

N.S.A. Bulk Data Collection Ruled Illegal

By Samuel Miller
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON D.C., United States of America – A US Federal Court of Appeals has ruled bulk collection of telecommunication records by the National Security Agency to be illegal. A three-judge panel in New York held Thursday the scope of the program goes beyond the authority granted by the Patriot Act, which expanded government surveillance and data collection following the September 11th Terrorist Attacks.

Photo Courtesy of BBC News
N.S.A. Headquarters in Maryland (Photo Courtesy of BBC News)

Judges did not, however, address whether the bulk collection program violated the Constitution.

The 97-page ruling held that Section 215, a provision of the U.S.A. Patriot Act, cannot be legitimately interpreted to allow bulk collection of domestic calling records. The court didn’t rule on arguments raised by the American Civil Liberties Union that the program violates constitutional free-speech guarantees and protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The judges also declined to issue a court order blocking the program as Congress weighs changes to surveillance laws.

Judge Gerard Lynch, writing for a unanimous panel, said allowing the government to gather data in a blanket fashion was not consistent with the statute used to carry out the program.

“The interpretation urged by the government would require a drastic expansion of the term ‘relevance,’ not only with respect to § 215,” said Lynch, “but also as that term is construed for purposes of subpoenas, and of a number of national security-related statutes, to sweep further than those statutes have ever been thought to reach.”

The House appears ready to pass a bill which would end the government’s bulk collection of phone records. The bill, known as the U.S.A. Freedom Act, would replace the authority under Section 215 with a new program that would preserve the N.S.A.’s ability to analyze links between callers to hunt for terrorists, but keep bulk records in the hands of phone companies, rather than with the N.S.A., as is currently the situation.

Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, took to the Senate floor Thursday to fiercely defend the program and criticize the USA Freedom Act.

“According to the CIA, had these authorities been in place more than a decade ago, they would have likely prevented 9/11,” McConnell said. McConnell also criticized the USA Freedom Act as a measure that will “neither keep us safe, nor protect our privacy.”

Following the leaks by former N.S.A. intelligence contractor Edward J. Snowden, the N.S.A. has come under heightened scrutiny for its surveillance methods.

After the September 11th attacks, President George W. Bush authorized the N.S.A. to begin a group of surveillance and data-collection programs, without obeying statutory limits on government spying. In 2006, the administration persuaded a court judge to issue an order approving the bulk phone records component, based on the idea that Section 215 could be interpreted as authorizing bulk collection.

Section 215 is set to expire June 1st.


For more information, please see:

BBC US & Canada — NSA phone data collection ‘illegal’, US court rules — 7 May 2015

Bloomberg — NSA’s Bulk Collection of Telephone Data Is Ruled Illegal — 7 May 2015

New York Times — N.S.A. Collection of Bulk Call Data Is Ruled Illegal — 7 May 2015

POLITICO — Appeals court rules that NSA phone surveillance program is illegal — 7 May 2015

Washington Post — 2d Circuit holds NSA bulk data seizures unauthorized by USA Patriot Act — 7 May 2015

Brazil Pressures Venezuela’s Maduro

By Kaitlyn Degnan
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America



Brazil’s government is increasing the pressure on Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. Maduro has come under fire following the imprisonment of his government’s opposition because the Venezuelan government has continued to delay setting the date for Venezuela’s Parliamentary election, which should be held sometime this year.

Brazil’s President Maduro under fire for jailing political opponents. (Photo courtesy of Reuters).

President Maduro and his government’s popularity has decreased significantly since taking office two years ago, and current polls put Venezuelan opposition candidates ahead of Maduro. The opposition sees the election as a chance to capitalize on Maduro’s diminishing popularity.

Members of the opposition have expressed concern that the delay in scheduling the election is a sign that the election will not happen at all.

Brazilian Foreign Minister Mauro Vieira met with Venezuelan officials this week, urging Venezuela to call the elections “as soon as possible and [to hold them] within the legal time frame.”

In a May 5th vote, the Brazilian Senate passed a “no-confidence” vote against President Maduro and his government. Some Brazilian officials have publicly spoken out against President Maduro, especially what they have referred to as the “arbitrary detention” of Venezuelan opposition members.

The vote was passed despite opposition from the Workers’ Party, the ruling party in the Brazilian Parliament. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, a member of the Workers’ Party has called on Venezuela to set the date for the Parliamentary election.

President Rousseff has faced criticism for not taking a stronger stance against Maduro, with whom her Workers’ Party keeps close ties with. Brazilian centrist PSDB opposition party leader Aecio Neves has said: “A nation that has a president who was once a political prisoner cannot keep silent when it sees a neighboring country almost 90 political prisoners.” According to the New York Times, Rousseff was held prisoner for three years starting in 1970 by the Brazilian military dictatorship.

Rousseff refused to meet with the wives of two prominent imprisoned opposition members, Mitzy Capriles and Lilian Tintori, during their visit to Brazil on the 7th. She did send a letter to the two, promising that Brazil was working “tirelessly” to find a solution. The two women met with members of the Brazilian Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee during their visit. Capriles’ and Tintori’s husbands have been imprisoned as dissidents for over 14 months.

For more information please see:

The New York Times – Leader’s Torture in the 70’s Stirs Ghosts in Brazil – 4 August 2012

PanAm Post – Brazil’s Senate Tells Maduro to Defend Human Rights – 6 May 2015

Folha De S.Paulo – Wife of Venezuelan Opposition Leader Expects Tough Stance from President Rousseff – 7 May 2015

Reuters – Brazil increases pressure on Venezuela to set election date – 7 May 2015

The Sydney Morning Herald – Brazil increases pressure on Venezuela to set election date, free political prisoners – 8 May 2015

Latin American Herald Tribune – Rousseff: Brazil is “Tirelessly” Seeking Solution to Venezuelan Crisis – 9 May 2015





VDC: The Weekly Statistical Report

Four Suspected Terrorists Arrested for Planning Attacks Against Mosques and Muslim Refugees

by Shelby Vcelka

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe


BERLIN, Germany–

Four members of a right-wing extremist group have been arrested in Germany for terrorism charges and procuring explosives. The extremist group, the “Oldschool Society,” was planning to attack asylum-seeker housing, mosques, and members of Salafi, an ultra-fundamentalist branch of Islam. The German authorities conduced raids following intelligence from domestic agencies, the federal prosecutor’s office stated.

German Muslims listen to Imam during Friday prayer. Four right-wing extremists were suspected of planning attacks on mosques and immigrants in Germany. Photo from Wall Street Journal.

The four group members arrested, identified only as Andreas H., 56, Markus W., 39, Denise Vanessa G., 22, and Olaf O., 47, are said to have formed the OSS, which is a relatively new organization. The group started on Facebook, and appears to be an offshoot of the far-right National Democratic Party. Postings on the OSS’s Facebook page feature neo-Nazi symbolism, racial epithets, and references to previous attacks on refugee centers. While not much is known about the OSS’s politics besides the Facebook posts, the NDP’s ideology is similar to neo-Nazism, despite the group’s evasion of any blatant reference to Nazism.

The raids uncovered “pyrotechnic materials with large explosive force” with additional evidence of future attacks against Muslims. Lutz Bucklitsch, a journalist who specializes in right-wing extremist activities in Germany, stated his belief that the group began to plan for an attack within the last four to eight weeks. The OSS had planned to meet within the next week to plan the specifics of the attacks. Police are currently investigating whether or not those attacks were planned to target against any particular groups or individuals.

In recent years, conflicts between radical right-wing groups and Salafists and other Muslim groups have broken out into violent street fights. In 2013, German authorities said they foiled a Salafist plot to assassinate a high-ranking member of a right-wing radical group.

The xenophobic, anti-Semitic and racist shift Germany has taken is a direct result of the rising number of refugees the country has taken in. Because the country is engaged in a larger discussion about immigration, these right-wing groups have seized the opportunity for recruitment and to agitate immigrants and refugees. German authorities have been increasingly watchful of these groups, as the amount of violence against immigrants and refugees have grown profoundly in the past couple of years. German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizier noted that the number of attacks against immigrants has gone up from 58 attacks in 2013, to 175 attacks in 2014. No data is available yet for 2015, but the trends demonstrate a significant rise in extremist violence, which will likely continue for this year.


For more information, please see:

CNN– 4 suspected right-wing extremists arrested in Germany— 06 May, 2015

WSJ– German Police Arrest Four Suspected of Planning Mosque Attacks— 06 May, 2015

The Independent– Four people arrested in Germany over planned terror attack on Muslims and asylum seekers— 06 May, 2015

ABC– Germany: 4 Arrests in Alleged Plot to Attack Islamic Targets— 06 May, 2015

Daily Beast– In Germany, the Rise of Anti-Islam Terrorism— 08 May, 2015


Indonesian President Frees Prisoners and Lifts Ban on Journalists

By Christine Khamis

Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia


JAKARTA, Indonesia–

Five political prisoners in the Papua province of Indonesia were released on Saturday by Indonesian President Joko Widodo as part of an effort to improve human rights conditions in Papua. The five prisoners were convicted after a raid on an Indonesian military arms base in 2003 and were facing sentences ranging from 19 years to life.


President Widodo pardons the five political prisoners. (Photo Courtesy of BBC News)


President Widodo has stated that the release is meant to alleviate conflict in Papua. There has been political unrest and violence in Papua since it was annexed by Indonesia in 1963. Since then, a group of separatist insurgents, called the Free Papua Movement, has fought against the Indonesian government. There are also activist groups who have petitioned for a vote on Papuan independence.

Thousands of Papuan citizens have been killed during clashes with Indonesian police and military forces throughout the last several decades. Last December, five people were killed for protesting a young boy’s beating by Indonesian soldiers.

The prisoners’ release comes just weeks after seven foreigners and an Indonesian national convicted of drug-related offenses were executed by a firing squad in Indonesia. President Widodo ignored international calls for their release and has expressed his support of the use of the death penalty in Indonesia.

Humans Rights Watch, an international organization that researches and advocates for human rights, has pushed President Widodo to release other political prisoners. Overall, there are at least 100 political prisoners being held in Indonesia. Prison sentences are often lengthy and many political prisoners have complained of torture and other abuses at the hands of prison guards.

According to the advocacy group “Papuans Behind Bars”, there are dozens of political prisoners being held for political demonstrations and for acts such as waving the separatist flag. Such acts are viewed as treason in Papua. 26 prisoners held for treason in Papua have rejected the option of being freed under a governmental amnesty program because being released in such a way means admitting guilt for crimes that they did not commit.

President Widodo also recently lifted a ban on foreign journalists traveling to Papua in a further effort to improve human rights conditions in the region. He has stated that journalists are now free to travel to Papua. Previously, foreign journalists needed government clearance before traveling to Papua. Last year, two French journalists were imprisoned for 11 weeks for illegally using their tourist visas to work as journalists in Papua.

The restrictions on journalists were established because of the tensions created by the insurgency movement. The Papuan people saw the travel restrictions on foreign journalists as allowing the Indonesian police and military forces to continue to operate unrestrained in their abuses against Papuan citizens.

For the Papuan people, the freeing of the political prisoners and the lifted ban on foreign journalists are positive steps toward addressing human rights violations in their region.


For further information, please see:

ABC News — Indonesia Lifts Travel Ban for Foreign Journalists to Papua — 10 May 2015

Reuters — Indonesian President Lifts Foreign Media Restrictions in Papua — 10 May 2015

BBC — Indonesia Frees Prisoners and Lifts Media Curbs in Papua — 9 May 2015

The New York Times — Indonesia President, Joko Widodo, Pardons Prisoners in Papua Province — 9 May 2015

Press Release: Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, Our Statment on Omar Khadr

Official Statement




Our Statment on Omar Khadr


Omar Khadr is free at last on bail. The treatment of Omar Khadr as a terrorist and not as a child soldier was wrong. Despite the efforts of many concerned Canadians, human rights advocates and child protection experts, Omar continued to languish in prison cell after prison cell.  Yesterday, the upholding of Omar’s bail decision is a reminder of the importance of the judicial branch of our government, which upheld the rule of law.

It is crucial to keep in mind that Omar Khadr is a victim in all of this. Recruited at 13 years old, then shot and taken prisoner two years later, the story of Omar Khadr has been nothing if not infuriating. As a child, Khadr was forced to move to Afghanistan and join al-Qaeda by his father. It is believed that during a raid on Khadr’s compound, the 15-year-old threw a grenade, killing Sergeant Christopher Speer, a Delta Force strategic forces soldier and medic. Eight years later, he pleaded guilty under duress.

But over the past decade, Khadr’s rights have been violated time and again. From the very beginning, he has been denied the right to due process and a fair trial, the right to protection from torture and — perhaps most appallingly — the rights stemming from the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

International law and norms, which Canada is signatory to, are put in place so as to protect those children who are unscrupulously used as weapons of war and to hold those who recruit and use them to account. It is not Omar who was the threat, but those who recruit young girls and boys to fight their wars for them who are the greatest threat.  Omar deserves the chance to be educated, to be loved, and to be forgiven, just as hundreds of thousands of other child soldiers around the world who have received rehabilitation funded by the Canadian government.

Yesterday, despite the horrific treatment exacted upon Omar for the past 13 years, he walked out and declared, “there is nothing I can do about the past, but there is something I can do about the future.”  Yes Omar, there is so much you can do to shape your future positively and let us hope that you are “free at last”.


LGen, the Hon. Roméo Dallaire, Founder of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative

Dr. Shelly Whitman, Executive Director of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative


VDC: The Monthly Statistical Report, April 2015

Violations Documentation Center in Syria – VDC


The Monthly Statistical Report of victims, April 2015

Since the beginning of the Syrian Revolution till the end of April 2015, the Violations Documentation Center in Syria – VDC managed to document the killing of (116166) people, (1557)of whom fell in April 2015, while (2840) fell in April 2014, (3788) in April 2013, (1669) fell in April 2012 and (486) in April 2011.

During this month, the Violations Documentation Center in Syria managed to document the death of (1557) victims, (1387) of whom were documented by names, while (170) i.e. (11%) were unidentified bodies because they had turned into carnages. Still, (20) of them were documented by photo; (15) were documented by video and (135) were documented only by witnessing.