The Syria Campaign: Raed Saleh Speaks to U.N. Security Council Arria Briefing on June 26th

As a patriotic Syrian, I never imagined I would do this

In an incredibly candid and powerful address Raed Saleh, head of the White Helmets, speaks truth to power at the UN Security Council Arria Briefing on the 26th of June

The Syrian Civil Defense Force are also known as the white helmets (Photo curtesy of The Huffington Post).

Your Excellency ambassador Roman Oyarzun, Permanent Representative of Spain to the United Nations,

Your Excellency ambassador Francois Delattre, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations,

Gentlemen, Representatives of UN Security Council member states,

First, I would like to thank you for extending this generous invitation to the Syrian Civil Defence (The White Helmets) and asking its head to attend this session to convey the message of the search and rescue teams in Syria about the suffering of the Syrian people due to the regime’s bombing with indiscriminate weapons, particularly barrel bombs.

I am not a politician, nor am I a diplomat. I am just a search and rescue worker. Therefore, I beg your forgiveness if I sound candid — the tragedy of my people demands it.

First, I would like to invite you to watch this short video as it provides a glimpse of the work we carry out in the aftermath of barrel bomb attacks and what this work means to us.

What you have seen is just one example of a single rescue operation that succeeded in saving a child. We have been able to save more than sixteen thousand lives in Syria from under the rubble, but unfortunately the number of civilians killed in indiscriminate bombing is much higher.

I cannot describe to you what our daily life is like as we deal with the human remains and the destruction that these weapons leave behind, especially after the Syrian army filled those weapons with poisonous chlorine gas that this very council had classified as a chemical weapon and had banned!

Syrians are killed everyday with various kinds of weapons, but the deadliest ones are the barrel bombs because of their indiscriminate nature. They destroy everything including schools, bakeries, hospitals, houses of worship and even cemeteries. Because of them the sounds of helicopters hovering in the Syrian sky are enough to cause terror and panic among civilians. That sound means anticipating death without anyone knowing where the barrel bomb will fall exactly and whom it will kill!

The moment sirens go off, we rush to the site of the barrel bomb attack and we try, with our very modest equipment, to search for survivors still under the rubble. More often than not, all we manage to dig out are the dead bodies and severed limbs of our neighbors, friends and sometimes relatives.

The terror we face is double-fold because the Syrian Air Force has adopted a new technique when carrying out their attacks. It’s called a double tap; the aircraft returns to the site of the attack minutes after the rescue teams arrive and people start to gather to rescue those who are still alive.

Due to our persistence and determination to carry out our humanitarian work despite the difficult circumstances, regime warplanes now regularly and deliberately target our teams and centres. We have lost 92 members of our search and rescue teams so far. Many of those we lost were killed in barrel bomb double taps while carrying out their duty.

In all the countries around the world, search and rescue teams are immune from bombing under the Geneva conventions, yet this is not the case in Syria. Just a few hours ago, my colleagues told me that the only two ambulances available in the village of Balyoon in the Idlib Countryside were destroyed in an aerial raid and that six civil defence volunteers were wounded.

Last month, my colleague, the head of the Civil Defence in Ma’aret Al-Artiq, in Aleppo suburbs, requested that we camouflage ambulances and fire engines by painting them with different colours because their original color makes them easy targets of the deliberate bombing! Can you imagine that?

Can you even imagine one single day of our lives?

Let me take you with me to the first day of June. On that day, we responded to 44 barrel bomb attacks across Syria—in Aleppo, Idlib, Daraa, Homs, and Rural Damascus—as well as seven rocket attacks and a chlorine gas attack. 136 people were killed, including a child, and all but 6 of the victims were civilians.

Even in wartime conduct, there is no justification for the use of this weapon since even the pilot himself who’s dropping the barrel bomb does not know exactly where it will fall as it is a truly indiscriminate weapon that cannot even be used on the front line as it can kill allied forces by mistake—which is why it is only ever dropped deep inside opposition-held areas.

The main purpose of this weapon is the collective punishment of the communities that live in areas outside regime control. The regime wants to make their lives a living hell to convey the false message that they cannot live except under the rule of the Assad family.

This is, of course, one of the main reasons that millions of Syrians have been displaced to neighboring countries, and it’s a real obstacle to the establishment of effective institutions that can govern on the ground.

There is no doubt whatsoever that the unrelenting indiscriminate killing of Syrians with these barrel bombs and other lethal weapons, the obstacles preventing Syrians from establishing civilian administrative institutions in liberated areas, and the absence of a political solution on the horizon are all fueling the spread of extremism.

Ladies and Gentlemen, what do you expect a simple Syrian citizen like me to ask from this council? Do we ask for more ambulances that the Syrian Regime will soon destroy anyway? Do we ask for more digging tools to recover bodies and limbs and bury them? Or do we ask for new resolutions condemning these acts to be added to the previous list of resolutions that you’ve signed, while some of you are still supporting the Syrian Regime politically, materially and militarily, including with spare parts for the aircraft used to drop these barrel bombs and kill more Syrians?

The international community has lost its credibility for Syrians in the absence of any political will to end the killing in Syria, and the UN Security Council has been transformed from the Security to the Insecurity Council in the eyes of the downtrodden because it has failed to uphold its own resolutions.

The Syrian people who are being killed every day, Ladies and Gentlemen, hold you responsible and demand that all measures available to end the killing, particularly with indiscriminate weapons, be taken immediately.

As a patriotic Syrian, I never imagined I would one day ask for a foreign intervention in my country, by land or air. But the lives of innocent women and children that we see dying in our hands every day compel us to ask for any intervention possible to stop the barbaric killing machine led by Bashar al-Assad, including preventing Syrian aircraft from flying, and especially preventing helicopters from hovering above us and dropping these bombs.

Before the strongest power on this planet, all I can do is ask that you awaken your conscience and tell me what you are going to do to stop these barrel bombs.

In all honesty, I hesitated a lot before coming here. Many of my colleagues asked me: why are you going? What do you expect from them?

My wish is that you provide me with an answer to take home with me.

Thank you.

Raed Al Saleh
Head of the Syrian Civil Defence

Supreme Court Upholds Controversial Lethal Injection Drug Use

By Samuel Miller
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America and Oceania

WASHINGTON, D.C., United States of America — 

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday upheld the use of a controversial drug for lethal injection in executions; however, the Supreme Court may have opened a larger question about capital punishment, when two justices in the minority newly questioned whether the death penalty violates the Constitution. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote for the majority that included Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas.

The Supreme Court on Monday Upheld the use of Controversial Lethal Injection Drugs (Photo Courtesy of BBC News)

The Supreme Court re-instated the death penalty in 1976 after having suspended it earlier in the 1970s. Capital punishment is now used in 31 states and by the federal government.

In the case, called Glossip v Gross, three inmates in Oklahoma argued that the sedative could not achieve the level of unconsciousness required for surgery, meaning severe pain and suffering was likely. But the court, in a 5-4 decision, handed a loss to the inmates after judges ruled they did not prove that midazolam was cruel and unusual when compared to known and available alternatives.

The majority opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito, was a departure from a series of legal victories for liberals in recent days, including gay-marriage rights and the preservation of a major component of Obamacare. The court’s majority held that prisoners challenging an execution method as posing an unreasonable risk of severe pain must show that the government has overlooked a more humane method of carrying out capital punishment.

In the majority opinion, Alito writes, “The prisoners failed to identify a known and available alternative method of execution that entails a lesser risk of pain, a requirement of all Eighth Amendment method-of-execution claims.” Alito went on to state, “Second, the District Court did not establish that Oklahoma’s use of a massive dose of midazolam in its execution protocol entails a substantial risk of severe pain.”

The four dissenting justices wrote scathing opinions denouncing the approval of the lethal injections, as well as the prisoner’s right to choose the method for their execution. In her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor bitterly denounced the court’s holding that those challenging a particular execution protocol had to show that a more humane method was available.

“Under the Court’s new rule, it would not matter whether the State intended to use midazolam, or instead to have petitioners drawn and quartered, slowly tortured to death, or actually burned at the stake: because petitioners failed to prove there was an available alternative, their challenge would automatically fail.”

Justice Stephen Breyer, in his dissent, raised the issue as to whether the death penalty should be interpreted as constitutional. With the concurrence of Justice Ginsberg, Breyer wrote, “We believe it highly likely that the death penalty now violates the Eighth Amendment.”

Several US states turned to midazolam when European manufacturers stopped supplying sodium thiopental to US prisons because of an EU ban on the sale of products used in lethal injections.

The shortage of various drugs used by the 32 US states that still have capital punishment led to some reintroducing other controversial methods, such as the gas chamber and firing squad.

For more information, please see:

BBC News — US Supreme Court backs use of contentious execution drug – 29 June 2015

CNN — Supreme Court backs use of lethal injection drug – 29 June 2015

Politico — Supreme Court permits lethal injection technique – 29 June 2015

Reuters — Supreme Court upholds lethal injections, blocks pollution rule – 29 June 2015

USA Today — Supreme Court refuses to ban controversial method of execution – 29 June 2015

Washington Post — Supreme Court upholds lethal injection procedure – 29 June 2015

Report Shows Evidence Of False Positive Killings

By Kaitlyn Degnan
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Colombia — Human Rights Watch has released a 95-page report on evidence of false positive killings by Colombian troops between 2002 and 2008. At the time, Colombia was conducting frequent military operations against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

Colombians protest the false positive killings. [Photo courtesy of BBC]
According to the report, there are 3,700 alleged incidences of false positive killings under investigation by the Colombian Attorney General. The victims were rural farmers, criminals and addicts, either abducted or lured to remote areas. After being killed, the victims were dressed in fatigues and arranged with weapons.

Over 180 battalions and tactical units are thought to have been involved in the killings over the course of six years. The killings were considered a measure of military success and were some times rewarded with cash and vacation time.

The killings sputtered out after the death of 19 young men from Bogota caught international attention and resulted in the Colombian army’s top commander stepping down. Since then about 800 army personnel have been charged with extrajudicial killings, most of them lower-ranking soldiers.

Colombia enacted the Legal Framework for Peace in 2012, a constitutional amendment that may allow impunity for atrocities committed by guerilla groups, paramilitary groups and the military upon the completion of a peace agreement between Colombia and FARC.

Very few of the army’s top officials, who the report alleges knew or should have known about the killings, have been charged with the crimes. Current commander of the Colombian Army General Jaime Laspirilla and commander of the armed forces General Juan Pablo Rodriguez have been summoned by the Attorney General’s office to give evidence. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos defended the two men, saying that he was not aware of any investigation against them.

Those involved who have spoken out or testified about the issue have faced backlash from within the military. Sergeant Carlos Mora reported some suspicious deaths to his superiors in 2006 and soon faced harassment and frequently dangerous assignments. His superiors also implied that his family would be killed if he continued told anyone else. He would later bring his suspicions to high command.

In October 2014, Niixón de Jesús Cárcamo was murdered in the 11th Brigade’s military detention center. Cárcamo had confessed to being involved with the false positive killings and was providing information on his superiors’ actions to investigators.

The International Criminal Court’s Office of the Prosecutor has been closely watching the proceedings in Colombia. The Office will consider opening an investigation if it determines that the Colombian authorities are not genuinely engaging in the prosecutions.

The United States has provided Colombia with billions of dollars in military aid because the country was “threatened by an insurgency,” said Senator Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.). Leahy has criticized the aid given to Colombia in the past. Additionally, Human Rights Watch has called for the U.S. to suspend any military aid to Colombia that is subject to human rights conditions.

Colombia and FARC representatives have been in ongoing talks for a peace agreement since November 2012.

 

For more information, please see:

BBC – Colombia’s top army officials ‘knew of extrajudicial killings’ – 24 June 2015

Colombia Reports – Colombia generals escaping punishment for for role in civilian killings: HRW – 24 June 2015

The Guardian – Colombia acts on massacres – punishing whistleblower and promoting officers – 24 June 2015

Human Rights Watch – Colombia: Top Brass Linked to Extrajudicial Executions – 24 June 2015

Human Rights Watch – On Their Watch: Evidence of Senior Officers’ Responsibility for False Positive Killings in Colombia – 24 June 2015

Washington Post – Colombian army killed civilians to fake battlefield success, rights group says – 24 June 2015

President Obama Eulogizes Slain Rev. Clementa Pinckney

By Delisa Morris

Impunity Watch Technical Director

CHARLESTON, South Carolina — President Barack Obama delivered a heart felt eulogy and rousing political speech and a thoughtful reconciliation on race in America when he left the White House for Charleston, South Carolina on Friday to eulogize the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was gunned down last week by a racist terrorist during Bible study.

The President surprised the nation when he belted out the chorus of ‘Amazing Grace’ at the end of his speech, bringing the mourners to their feet to join him in song.

“As a nation, out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us for he has allowed us to see where we’ve been blind,” Obama said. “He’s given us the chance, where we’ve been lost, to find our best selves.”

From President to Preacher, the President’s remarks often sounded like a sermon with an organ in the background swooning behind the impassioned passages.

The President, first lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, a bipartisan host of high-level members of Congress and Hillary Clinton all attended the memorial service at TD Arena in downtown Charleston. Last Wednesday, a 21-year-old man opened fire at a Bible study inside Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, killing nine.

The shooter declared he was there to “kill black people,” and an online manifesto attributed to him contained white supremacist screeds.

Obama, in his eulogy, said the killer likely assumed he “would deepen divisions that trace back to our nation’s original sin.”

“But God works in mysterious ways,” Obama said. “God had different ideas. He didn’t know he was being used by God.”

“The alleged killer could have never anticipated the way the families of the fallen would respond when they saw him in court in the midst of unspeakable grief, with words of forgiveness,” Obama said.

The country, he argued, has responded to the church shooting “with a thoughtful introspection and self-examination that we so rarely see in public life.”

See President Obama’s full remarks here.

For more information, please see:

CNN – Obama’s Charleston eulogy: ‘Amazing Grace’ – 27 June 2015

DailyMail – Obama’s amazing grace: President gives searing speech on race and leads church in song during emotional eulogy for pastor killed by race-hate gunman – 27 June 2015

The Washington Post – Obama calls for racial understanding, unity as thousands mourn S.C. pastor – 26 June 2015

Whitehouse.gov – Remarks by the President in Eulogy for the Honorable Reverend Clementa Pinckney – 26 June 2015

In a Landmark Decision The SCOTUS Has Declared Same-Sex Marriage Legal Across the U.S.

By Delisa Morris

Impunity Watch Technical Director

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On June 26, 2015, a split Supreme Court of The United States ruled that same-sex couples can marry nationwide, establishing a new civil right.

The Whitehouse celebrated the decision with a full rainbow of colors / image courtesy of abcnews.com

In a 5-4 ruling, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority decision with the court four liberal justices.  Each of the four dissenting conservative justices wrote their own dissenting opinions.

Almost 46 years after the Stonewall riots ushered in the modern gay rights movement, the decision marks the end of a major fight for same-sex activists.

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family,” Kennedy wrote. “In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than they once were.”

“Their hope,” Kennedy wrote, “is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

In a dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia blasted the Court’s “threat to American democracy.”

“The substance of today’s decree is not of immense personal importance to me,” he wrote. “But what really astounds is the hubris reflected in today’s judicial Putsch.”

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that the decision had “nothing to do with the Constitution.”

“If you are among the many Americans—of whatever sexual orientation—who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today’s decision. Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal,” he wrote. “Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner. Celebrate the availability of new benefits. But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it.”

The U.S. has now become the 21st country in the world to legalize same sex marriage, including territories. The decision means that married same-sex couples will enjoy all of the same rights and benefits as married heterosexual couples nationwide and will be recognized on official documents including birth and death certificates.

For more information, please see:

CNN – Supreme Court rules in favor of same-sex marriage nationwide – 27 June 2015

New York Times – Supreme Court Ruling Makes Same-Sex Marriage a Right Nationwide – 26 June 2015

NBC News – Landmark: Supreme Court Rules Same-Sex Marriage Legal Nationwide – 26 June 2015

ABC News – Same-Sex Marriage: Supreme Court Rules in Favor, President Obama Calls It ‘Victory for America’ – 26 June 2015

U.N. Report Finds Possible War Crimes Committed in Gaza by Both Israel and Palestinian Militants

By Brittani Howell

Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

 

JERUSALEM, Israel – The United Nations released a report on Monday concluding that war crimes may have been committed by both Israel and Palestinian militants during the 2014 conflict in the Gaza Strip. The investigation revealed “serious violations of international humanitarian law.”

Shoppers take cover in shopping mall as air raid siren warns of incoming rockets on July 10, 2014. (Photo Courtesy of New York Times)

The report found that 2,251 Palestinians were killed, 1,462 of whom were civilians. It was also found that 67 Israeli soldiers were killed, as well as six civilians. Children on both sides were “savagely affected,” the report concluded. “Children on both sides suffered from bed-wetting, shaking at night, clinging to parents, nightmares, and increased levels of aggressiveness.”

The conflict, which ended with a truce, lasted for 50 days during July and August 2014. On June 12, 2014 three teenagers had been kidnapped and killed by two Hamas militants. Israel cracked down against Hamas who responded with rocket fire. Israel in turn began a military operation and launched an offensive against Gaza Strip.

The report stated that Israel launched 6,000 airstrikes, 14,500 tank shells, and 35,000 artillery shells. Palestinians were found to have used 4,881 rockets and 1,753 mortars.

It was found that Israel used artillery in residential areas, which violated rules of “distinction, precaution, and proportionality.” These violations could constitute as a war crime. In addition, attacks on medical and school facilities that had been used as shelters may be considered another war crime.

Israel dismissed the investigation and refused to co-operate stating that the investigation was “politically motivated and morally flawed.” Israel’s Foreign Ministry stated that the report, “failed to recognize the profound difference between Israel’s behavior… and the terror organization it confronted.”

The report also found that Palestinian armed groups, “indiscriminate nature of most of the projectiles launched into Israel and the targeting of civilians” may constitute a war crime. Palestinian officials, while reviewing the report expressed a commitment and respect for international laws. A Hamas official rejected the reports findings that Palestinians committed any war crimes, arguing that military sites had been targeted not civilian areas.

International humanitarian law requires that there be sufficient warning when civilian areas may be affected by attacks. Israel used roof-knocks, small strikes that precede major attacks. The report found that these however do not constitute as an effective warning.

The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) led the investigation, which resulted in a 217 page report based off 280 interviews with witnesses and victims, 500 written submissions, and other publically available sources. The investigation began with William Schabas as head, but Mary McGowan Davis, took over after allegations of bias. William Schabas had previously done work for the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The UN Human Rights Council will discuss the report this month. Ms. McGowan Davis stated that the report must not be considered a judicial process but rather as objective findings to lay groundwork for further investigation.

For further information, please see:

BBC- Gaza Conflict 2014: ‘War Crimes by Both Sides’- UN – 22 June 2015

CNN- Israel, Palestinians Both may Have Committed War Crimes in 2014 Conflict – 22 June 2015

New York Times- U.N. Report on Gaza Finds Evidence of War Crimes by Israel and by Palestine Militants – 22 June 2015

Reuters- Israel, Palestinians may Have Committed War Crimes in Gaza: U.N. Report– 22 June 2015

Attack by Ethnic Uighurs was Likely Fueled by China’s Religious Controls

By Christine Khamis, Impunity Watch Reporter

 

BEIJING, China –

A clash between Ethnic Uighurs and Chinese police on Monday led to the death of an estimated 18 people in Kashgar, a city in the Xinjiang region in western China. The attack by the Uighurs on a police checkpoint was reported by Radio Free Asia.

Radio Free Asia, or RFA, is a Washington-based news service that employs Uighur reporters. Chinese news media fails to report much of what the RFA and pro-Uighur websites report on attacks against Chinese authorities.

RFA has reported that a car attempted to go through the police checkpoint in the Xinjiang region without stopping. A police officer attempted to stop the car and the car backed up, crushing the officer’s leg. Two individuals got out of the car and stabbed two traffic officers. Several other attackers arrived at the scene, as well as armed police officers. 15 of the attackers and 3 police officers were killed during the attack.

The RFA’s report has been corroborated by members of the neighborhood where the attack occurred. A police officer also confirmed the attack but wished to remain anonymous because he was not allowed to speak with foreign news organizations.

There is a long history of tension and conflict between the Uighurs and Chinese authorities. Tensions especially intensified in 2009 when there was ethnic rioting in Urumqi, Xinjiang’s regional capital. Hundreds of people have been killed during attacks throughout the past three years.

The Uighurs are an ethnic Turkish group comprising more than forty percent of the 22 million people in the Xinjiang region. Most Uighurs are Muslim. Beijing has increasingly controlled the Uighurs’ right to practice Islam, including allowing fewer mosques and strict oversight of religious schools.

In July 2014, some Muslim civil servants were not allowed to fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. In some areas of the Xinjiang region, Uighurs are subject to fines or detention for wearing veils or having beards.

 

Members of ethnic Uighur population. (Photo courtesy of BBC News)

 

The Xinjiang region has expanded economically and with that expansion, a number of Han Chinese have settled in the region. The Han Chinese are said to have the best employment options in the region and many of them do well financially. This has also fueled animosity among Uighurs.

Some of the Uighurs are separatists who want to create an independent East Turkestan, and some of those separatists commit similar attacks against Chinese authorities.

An Amnesty International report in 2013 stated that Chinese authorities criminalized “what they labeled ‘illegal religious’ and ‘separatist’ activities” and cracked down on “peaceful expressions of cultural identity”.

 

For more information, please see:

BBC – China Police Checkpoint Attack ‘Kills 18’ in Xinjiang – 24 June 2015

Bloomberg Business – Attack in China’s Xinjiang Region Kills at Least 18, RFA Reports – 24 June 2015

New York Times – Deadly Clash Between Police and Ethnic Uighurs Reported in Xinjiang Region of China –24 June 2015

Reuters – Bomb Attack In Restive Xinjiang and Police Response Kill at Least 18: Radio Free Asia – 24 June 2015

BBC – Why Is There Tension Between China and the Uighurs? – 26 September 2014

Amnesty International – Annual Report: China 2013 – 25 May 2013

Amnesty International, Others, Barred from Azerbaijan During European Games

by Shelby Vcelka

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

BAKU, Azerbaijan–

From June 12-28, over 6,000 athletes will compete in the first-ever European Games, which is styled after the global Olympic Games. Prior to the Games, however, the host country, Azerbaijan, blocked a number of media outlets and human rights organizations from entering the country due to its history of substantial human rights abuses and a violent track record of suppressing dissent.

The Baku Olympic Stadium, the main venue for the Baku 2015 European Games. Azerbaijan, the host country, has come under strict scrutiny for their human rights abuses. (Photo courtesy of The Guardian)

Amnesty International is among those organizations barred from entering Azerbaijan during the European Games. The organization had been planning to report on the recent suppression of free speech, as protests have erupted over the Games. However, shortly before Amnesty officials were to arrive in Azerbaijan, they received a message from the Azerbaijan Embassy in London on June 9th, stating that the officials were no longer welcome until after the Games had ended.

At least 20 political prisoners are currently being held for exercising free speech and protesting peacefully against the European Games, according to Amnesty. However, activists within the country have drawn up a list of at least 80 names being held, with many more experiencing harassment, and seizure of property by local Azerbaijani authorities. Among those being held that are known are Khadija Ismayilova, an investigative reporter, and Intigam Aliyev, a human rights attorney for the European court of human rights.

Amnesty International’s deputy director for Europe and Central Asia, Denis Krivosheev, said, “The actions of the authorities have only highlighted their desperate attempts to create a criticism-free zone around the games. Far from advancing the goals of press freedom and human dignity enshrined in the Olympic charter, the legacy of these games will be to further encourage repressive authorities around the world to view major international sporting events as a ticket to international prestige and respectability.”

Azerbaijan has managed to repel criticism thus far by making powerful allies in international settings. By offering things such as free trips, expensive meals and other major gifts to Western European decision makers, as well as paying agencies to lobby on the country’s behalf, the Azerbaijani government has wrestled itself into a comfortable position within the Council of Europe to avoid condemnation of its policies. Its additional resourcefulness as a source of oil and gas makes Azerbaijan a useful alternative to Russian oil and gas. Member states of the European Union, looking to avoid Russian supplies, have subsequently turned to Azerbaijan. As a result of Azerbaijan’s successful marketing campaign and the reality of realpolitik, most countries participating in the games, as well as the European Union, have remained silent about Azerbaijan’s human rights abuses.

For more information, please see–

Washington Post– A letter from an Azerbaijani prison— 18 February 2015

UN Human Rights–“Azerbaijani activists must be freed before the Baku 2015 Games” – UN expert— 2 June 2015

The Guardian– Amnesty International blocked from visiting Azerbaijan before Baku 2015— 10 June 2015

The Guardian– Azerbaijan bans Guardian from reporting on Baku European Games— 11 June 2015

Newsweek– Games Put Azerbaijan’s Appalling Human Rights Record In The Spotlight— 12 June 2015

UN News Centre– Azerbaijan: UN rights office urges Government to ensure free expression and association— 16 June 2015

 

Bahrain Sentences Shia Opposition Leader

by Mridula Tirumalasetti

Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

MANAMA, Bahrain—Shia opposition leader, Sheikh Ali Salman, has been sentenced to four years in prison by a Bahraini court for “insulting an official body,” that being the interior ministry. The country’s public prosecutor stated that Salman was also convicted for the “explicit incitement against a group of the people, including disturbing the public peace and explicit incitement toward disobeying the law,” He has been acquitted of seeking to overthrow the Sunni-ruled monarchy and change the political system, for which he could have been jailed for life. Salman does have the chance to appeal, said his defense attorney, Abdullah al-Shamlawi.

Bahraini Shia Muslims protest in support of Salman (photo courtesy of The Guardian)

Salman, a 49-year old Muslim cleric and head of the al Wefaq Islamic Society, was arrested and detained on December 28 after delivering a series of speeches that called for political reform. Salman had just been re-elected as the party leader.

Salman’s arrest was condemned by states such as United States and Iran, and by human rights groups. Additionally, protests ensued throughout Bahrain. Human rights groups called Salman a “prisoner of conscience” and say that abuses in the country are continuing unabated.

Amnesty International said that Salman’s conviction violated the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, of which Bahrain is a signatory of. Middle East and North Africa deputy director, Said Boumedouha stated that Salman’s conviction is “another clear example of Bahrain’s flagrant disregard for international obligations.” He continued, “Sheikh Ali Salman has been sentenced solely for peacefully expressing his opinion.”  The organization urged for the immediate release of Salman.

Since the Arab Spring in 2011, Bahrain has been struck by unrest and instability in the form of protests and demonstrations. Shia Muslims in the country have demanded a more representative government and a constitutional monarchy. There have been at least 89 deaths due to clashes with security forces. Hundreds of others have been arrested and put on trial.

For more information, please visit:

The Guardian—Bahrain opposition leader Ali Salman sentenced to four years in jail—16 June 2015

The Independent—Sheikh Ali Salman: Bahrain opposition leader jailed for four years day after UK minister ‘opens’ Royal Navy base in kingdom—16 June 2015

The Daily Star—Hezbollah denounces Bahrain’s ‘malicious’ jailing of opposition chief—16 June 2015

BBC News—Bahrain opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman jailed—16 June 2015

 

Hong Kong’s Election Reform Plan Unlikely to be Approved

By Christine Khamis

Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

HONG KONG, China —

Electoral reform allowing for a direct election of Hong Kong’s next chief executive is unlikely to be passed into law in a vote by Hong Kong lawmakers this week.

Hong Kong’s Legislative Council is expected to vote on the reform by the end of the week. The reform will become law if two-thirds of the Hong Kong Legislative Council approves it, but pro-democracy legislators have vowed to veto the reform. Pro-democracy legislators make up about one-third of the Legislative Council.

The reform, while a step forward in the realization of Hong Kong’s drive for a more democratic electoral system, only allows for a certain number of pre-approved, pro-Beijing candidates to participate in the election for Hong Kong’s next leader.

The current chief executive in Hong Kong, Leung Chun-ying, supports the reform proposals and has stated that Hong Kong should pass the election reforms into law and then work to improve on the new electoral system.

Leung Chun-ying, Hong Kong’s current chief executive. (Photo courtesy of BBC)

The Chinese government has pledged to establish direct elections of Hong Kong’s chief executive by 2017. Currently, a 1,200 member committee comprised primarily of pro-Beijing individuals chooses Hong Kong’s chief executive.

Hong Kong is a former British colony that was returned to China in 1997 through an agreement between Great Britain and China. When China gained sovereignty over Hong Kong, it was under a “One Country, Two Systems” model that gave Hong Kong a separate legal system and freedoms of speech and press. As part of the “One Country, Two Systems” model, Great Britain and China agreed that Hong Kong would have a significant amount of autonomy for 50 years and that an electoral system supporting free election of leaders would eventually be developed.

Pro-democracy advocates argue that the proposals fall short of the democratic system that was promised when Hong Kong once again became part of China. Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, called the Basic Law, was established in 1997. The Basic Law calls for Hong Kong’s electoral process to evolve into a system in which voters elect a new chief executive from among other candidates selected by a committee with broad representation.

The National People’s Congress, the national legislature of the People’s Republic of China, set a timeline for the transition to democratic election of the chief executive in 2007. The National People’s Congress must, however, approve any changes to the Basic Law, including those concerning Hong Kong’s electoral system.

Supporters of the proposals say that the proposals are an improvement to the current system because Hong Kong’s citizens will be able to choose between multiple candidates. The chief executive position will have more legitimacy and will have to be elected by a majority of the voters.

When the reform proposals were first presented last year, Hong Kong broke out into mass protests. Pro-democracy activists occupied the streets in an effort to get authorities to approve open nominations of chief executive candidates, but were unsuccessful.

According to a poll conducted by a group of Hong Kong universities from June 11 through June 15, adults in Hong Kong favor the election reform proposal by a narrow margin.

Pro-democracy groups in China have stated that they will protest if the election reform proposals are passed.

 

For more information, please see: 

CNN – Is Hong Kong’s Fight for Democracy in its Final Round? – 17 June 2015

New York Times – Hong Kong Lawmakers Begin Debate Over Election Plan – 17 June 2015

Reuters – Hong Kong Debates Election Reform Plan With Veto Likely – 17 June 2015

BBC – Hong Kong’s Democracy Debate – 16 June 2015

New York Times – Hong Kong Election Plan Appears Unlikely to Win Lawmakers’ Approval – 16 June 2015