Malaysia’s Trafficking in Persons Report Ranking is Upgraded, While Thailand Remains on the Worst Offender List

By Christine Khamis

Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia —

Malaysia has been upgraded to the Tier 2 Watch List on the U.S. State Department’s yearly Trafficking in Persons Report ranking. This means that the United States no longer considers Malaysia one of the worst offenders when it comes to human trafficking. Thailand, on the other hand, is ranked among the worst offenders.

Countries are placed in one of four tiers on the Trafficking in Persons Report. Tier 1 includes countries that fully comply with the United States’ Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA). Tier 2 includes countries that do not fully comply with the TVPA, but who are making significant efforts to comply. The Tier 2 Watch List includes countries who do not fully comply and still have negative indicators, yet who are are making significant efforts to comply. Tier 3 includes countries who do not fully comply and are not making significant efforts to do so.

Thailand remains in Tier 3, the lowest ranking group, for a second consecutive year. Only two other countries from the Asia region, North Korea and the Marshall Islands, were placed in Tier 3. In part, Thailand was downgraded from the Tier 2 Watch list in last year’s report because of labor abuses in its fishing industry. There is also a U.S. State Department Rule that countries have to be either upgraded or downgraded after two years on the Tier 2 Watch list.

Both Malaysia and Thailand have been internationally criticized this year for their trafficking of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants on overcrowded ships. Human traffickers transported the migrants,then leaft thousands stranded at sea with meager supplies.

Graves of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants were also found about two months ago in abandoned camps on both sides of the Thai-Malaysian border, along with pens that appear to have been used as cages for the migrants.

One of the many migrant graves found in Thailand

The Thai Minister of Foreign Affairs has released a statement that Thailand’s ranking is not an accurate portrayal of the efforts Thailand has made to decrease human trafficking. For instance, Thai state prosecutors brought charges against more than 100 people last week who have been suspected of trafficking migrants.

Lawmakers and human rights groups have criticized Malaysia’s upgrade, claiming that Malaysia was upgraded from Tier 3 to the Tier 2 Watch List for politicized reasons. They believe that the upgrade is politicized because it enables Malaysia to be a participating country in the Asia-Pacific trade agreement, the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). In June, the United States Congress approved legislation that limits President Obama’s ability to make free trade agreements with Tier 3 countries.

To counter those claims, Sarah Sewall, the U.S. Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights has stated that Malaysia has made the effort to reform its trafficking victim protection system as well as to increase the number of investigations and prosecutions connected to human trafficking. However, convictions of human traffickers have decreased in Malaysia. Ms. Sewall denies that Malaysia’s upgrade was politicized.

Human rights groups assert that Malaysia has not sufficiently improved its handling of human trafficking issues to justify its upgrade from a Tier 3 country. They also claim that Malaysia’s upgrade diminishes the reliability of the Trafficking of Persons report.


For more information, please see:

CNN – Who’s Fighting Human Trafficking? U.S. Releases Rankings – 28 July 2015

Associated Press – Malaysia, Cuba Taken off U.S. Human Trafficking Blacklist – 27 July 2015

New York Times – Key Shift on Malaysia Before Trans-Pacific Partnership Deal – 27 July 2015

Reuters – U.S. Softens View of Malaysia, Cuba in Human Trafficking Report – 27 July 2015


Press Release: Global Magnitsky Act Receives Unanimous Approval from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee

For Immediate Distribution

 30 July 2015 – Yesterday, in a landmark vote, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously approved “The Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act,” paving the way for its approval for a full vote in the Senate. The Global Magnitsky Act extends the concept of personalised sanctions on kleptocrats and human rights violators around the world, giving hope to victims from any country where those abuses occurred.

Sergei Magnitsky‘s epic battle against evil, his faith in the law, and his ultimate sacrifice continue to empower and inspire lawmakers around the world to take concrete action and create real consequences for human rights abusers“, said William Browder, leader of the Magnitsky Justice campaign.

The new legislation is authored by U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who in 2010 together with Senator John McCain initiated the “Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act,” an innovative 21-century piece of legislation that for the first time has provided redress and a meaningful way to deter impunity for corruption and human rights abuses in Russia.

The Russia-specific Magnitsky bill became law in December 2012. Over 30 persons have been included on the public sanctions list since. Persons included on the sanctions list are publicly named on the federal register, prohibited from obtaining U.S. visas and subject to a freeze on all their U.S. assets and bank accounts.

The Global Magnitsky bill authorises the President to create similar consequences for persons involved in corruption, extrajudicial killings, torture and other human rights violations from all countries around the world.

“This is an important step in a long road of targeting human rights abusers and corrupt individuals around the globe who threaten the rule of law and deny human rights or fundamental freedoms,”said Senator Cardin.

The bill authorizes the Secretary of State and the Secretary of the Treasury to report annually to Congress regarding actions taken against human rights abusers. In determining the sanctions list, the President must consider requests made by the Chairperson and Ranking Member of one of a number of congressional committee.

For more information, please contact:

Magnitsky Justice Campaign

+44 2074401777

See also the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee press release on the passing of the Global Magnitsky Bill:


“Bookkeeper of Auschwitz” Sentenced for Nazi Killings

by Shelby Vcelka

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

BERLIN, Germany–

A German court sentenced Oskar Gröening, a 94-year-old former guard at Auschwitz concentration camp, to four years in prison on July 15th on 300,000 accounts of accessory to murder from May to July 1944. A judge in the city of Luenenburg convicted the “Bookkeeper of Auschwitz” for his role in collecting and cataloguing money and the belongings of Jewish prisoners as they entered the camp. Gröening’s trial is expected to be one of the last trials of surviving Nazis for their atrocities in the camps.

Oskar Gröening, 94, was convicted of 300,000 accounts of accessory to murder for collecting and recording the belongings of Jewish prisoners at Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp from May-July 1944.

Due to Gröening’s age, it is unclear how he will serve his sentence. However, his age was a factor in determining the length of his sentence, as the judge stated “he must still have the chance to spend part of his life in freedom after serving imprisonment.” The four years exceeds the three-and-a-half year sentence wanted by the prosecution.

Although Gröening did not dispute the charges against him, he admitted “moral guilt” for the murders that took place at the camp. He stated his belief that he was a “cog” in a Nazi killing machine, but was not directly responsible for the mass murders that took place. During testimony, Gröening commented, “Auschwitz was a place where you could not simply take part. I agree with that. I sincerely regret that I did not recognize that earlier. I am truly sorry.”

Throughout the trial, Gröening was brutally honest about the horrors he witnessed during his tenure at Auschwitz. He detailed how prison guards decided which prisoners would be killed immediately and which would be selected for work. During the two month period Gröening was convicted for, at least 137 cattle car trains rolled through Auschwitz. Of the 425,000 people that those trains carried, Gröning said 300,000 were immediately chosen for the gas chambers.

The 2011 conviction of concentration camp guard John Demjanjuk as an accessory to mass murder allowed German prosecutors to seek out charges against other former Nazis. Previously, a prison guard had to be convicted of a specific murder in order to be considered for charges. With the conviction of Demjanjuk, the pathway for more Nazi convictions opened, and allowed German prosecutors to seek charges against former officials even if a crime against a specific individual could not be proved. Gröening had faced similar charges in 1985, but the case was dropped due to a lack of evidence.

For more information, please see–

CBS– Auschwitz “accountant” jailed over Nazi killings— 15 July 2015

The Guardian– Former Auschwitz guard Oskar Gröening jailed over mass murder— 15 July 2015

Newsweek–Former Auschwitz Guard Convicted of 300,000 Counts of Accessory to Murder— 15 July 2015

USA Today– Ex-Auschwitz guard, 94, is sentenced to prison— 15 July 2015

Wall Street Journal– Former Auschwitz Guard Oskar Gröning Convicted on 300,000 Counts of Accessory to Murder— 15 July 2015

Washington Post– “Accountant of Auschwitz” sentenced to four years in prison for 300,000 deaths— 15 July 2015




Syria Justice and Accountability Centre: Accountability for Crimes in Syria- Lessons Learned from the Field of International Justice

July29, 2015

A Step towards justice report

A Step Towards Justice Report by SJAC

On May 12, the Syria Justice and Accountability Centre (SJAC) hosted a panel to launch a report entitled “A Step Towards Justice: Current Accountability Options for Crimes under International Law Committed in Syria.” One of the panelists, Jennifer Trahan from New York University’s Center for Global Affairs, wrote a full conference paperoutlining her arguments, which can be found in SJAC’s Transitional Justice Library. The following is a summary of the nine points from Trahan’s panel presentation and conference paper.

1. All sides of a conflict must be prosecuted.

A future tribunal in Syria cannot have jurisdiction only over “ISIS” or “Assad regime” crimes. The Special Court for Sierra Leone, for example, increased its legitimacy when it prosecuted perpetrators from all three key warring factions from the Sierra Leone Civil War. Hybrid tribunals are not inherently one-sided, and it is the international community’s responsibility to ensure that the mechanism prosecutes all key perpetrators.

2. We have to start somewhere.

I agree with the SJAC report that a Syria tribunal may be years away. For now, there are pockets of jurisdiction that need to be utilized, including the ICC which has limited jurisdiction over “foreign fighters” who are from countries that are State Parties to the Rome Statute. Here I disagree somewhat with the SJAC report. I think it would make a powerful statement for the ICC to prosecute foreign fighters. Even lower ranking perpetrators could trigger the court’s gravity threshold.

3. Do not wait for peace to pursue accountability.

The SJAC report states “it is urgent to pursue some form of justice prior to the end of the conflict.” If one waits until all the crimes are over before attempting to pursue justice, then there is no possibility of deterrence. While it is indeed hard to prove that international justice causes deterrence, the international community can only use the tools that it has at its disposal.

 4. The appearance of fairness takes priority.

The Iraqi High Tribunal (IHT) provides many lessons on why impartiality is vital. The IHT’s appearance of fairness was undermined due to shortcuts in due process and political interference, but it was the incorporation of the death penalty into the IHT Statute that led Europeans to discontinue their cooperation with the IHT. This was not the kind of internationalized approach one would like to see, and it also gave the optics that the US, the only country left providing assistance, was in a position to control these trials. Although the vast majority of Iraqis were in support of the death penalty, this issue ultimately undermined what the IHT otherwise could have accomplished.

5. Imperfect justice may be better than no justice.

Here, my remarks are again somewhat different from the conclusions in the SJAC report. The negotiations for the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) were very lengthy and there was always concern that the resulting tribunal would be susceptible to manipulation by the Cambodian government. It may have been imperfect, but had the international community insisted on a perfect ECCC, there likely would have been no accountability for the approximately 2 million victims.

6. Mass atrocity crimes must be addressed with a multi-tiered solution.

The ICC has limited capacity and would not be sufficient to prosecute all the perpetrators in Syria. The same is true for an ad hoc or hybrid tribunal. And, at the national level, Syrian courts will need increased capacity to adjudicate war crimes. The solution, ultimately, as the SJAC report points out, should eventually include a multi-tiered approach that includes truth commissions, reparations, memorialization, vetting, and security sector reforms.

7. Projecting oncoming accountability is important for deterrence.

In recent years, the ICC Prosecutor has travelled to both Kenya and Guinea to announce that anyone who incites violence will be subject to an ICC investigation. The ICC Prosecutor should also put out a robust message that she is continuously watching and assessing the situation in Syria because it is important for the international community to let it be known that prosecutions can and will occur. It is through these kinds of actions that one hopes deterrence may occur.

8. Justice must not be bargained away at the negotiating table.

In the event of peace negotiations for Syria, as were attempted previously in Montreux, Switzerland, they must leave open the possibility for accountability to occur. Ideally, there would be a clear commitment to prosecutions. Second best, would be to ensure that future accountability is not foreclosed.

9. We need optimism to stay the course.

For years, it was unclear whether Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić, as well as other ICTY indictees, would end up in The Hague. And yet they did. The SJAC report presents a number of reasons why hybrids or the ICC could not work. Yes, tribunals come at a high price, but doing nothing has a higher cost. When one has lofty goals, one must also have optimism


While prosecution is always second-best to preventing the crimes in the first place, the field of international justice has come too far for the horrific atrocity crimes being perpetrated in Syria today not to warrant a robust response from the international community.  Every state owes a responsibility to ensure this happens.

For more information and to provide feedback please email SJAC at .

ICTJ: World Report July 2015 – Transitional Justice News and Analysis

In Focus

On International Justice Day, the head of ICTJ’s Criminal Justice program in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Myriam Raymond-Jetté, reflects on how to build on small successes in prosecuting international crimes in the national courts.

This summer, Hissène Habré, the former dictator of Chad, will finally stand trial before the Extraordinary African Chambers in Senegal for crimes against humanity, torture, and war crimes. In a conversation withReed Brody, counsel and spokesperson of Human Rights Watch, who has worked with Hissène Habré’s victims since 1999, we discussed the potential impact of the trial on Chad and its broader significance for the struggle against impunity in Africa.

In this edition of ICTJ Dispatch, Ruben Carranza, Director of ICTJ’s Reparations Program, reports on his recent mission to Myanmar. The country, slowly transitioning from a military dictatorship to a civil democracy, has failed to live up to many of the expectations for change and reform. Transitional justice measures, in particular, have failed to materialize, despite some initial steps to hold the government, the military, and elites accountable.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is marking the twentieth anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide. In this Op-Ed, ICTJ’s Refik Hodzic asks, can we constructively talk about reconciliation in a country still gripped by war?

The International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) held a seminar for Congolese military and civilian magistrates on June 24 and 25, 2015, to discuss a national strategy for prosecuting international crimes and prioritizing cases to clear the backlog in national courts. The seminar aimed to examine and propose solutions for why so many well-documented crimes committed by armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo remain unaddressed.

On 26 June each year, the world marks the International Day in Support of the Victims of Torture. The day was instituted in 1997 by the General Assembly of the United Nations, in an effort to build up the unanimity of condemnation required to abolish torture effectively in our time. In the effort to draw attention to the struggle against torture that this international commemoration signifies, we spoke to Juan Méndez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and President Emeritus of ICTJ.

To read the full stories at International Center for Transitional Justice click HERE

Saudi-led Coalition Announces Ceasefire in Yemen

By Brittani Howell

Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

SANA’A, Yemen – The Saudi-led coalition announced Saturday that a five-day humanitarian ceasefire was to begin at 11:59pm Sunday in Yemen. The Saudi-coalition stated, however, that they would respond to any attacks or military movements made by the Houthi rebels during the ceasefire.

The city of Sana’a destroyed by airstrikes. (Photo Curtesy of BBC News)

The unexpected announcement came just hours after an airstrike on Friday, conducted by the Saudi-coalition, launched on the town of Mokha. The airstrike killed 120 people, many of whom were civilians.

The Houthi rebels expressed doubt over the ceasefire and intended to wait until they heard from the United Nations before changing their position. The Houthi rebels held up 16 trucks carrying humanitarian aid from the World Food Programme.

The airstrikes on Friday struck the homes of many civilian power plant workers of Mokha. Among the 120 people killed were women, children, and the elderly. The number of causalities may have been increased due to families visiting workers for the Eid al-Fitr holiday at the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

Hassan Boucenine, a member of Geneva-based Doctors Without Borders stated, “ It just shows what is the trend now of the airstrikes from the coalition.” He continued, “Now, it’s a house, it’s a market, it’s anything.”

Rights groups, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have previously expressed concern that the Saudi-led coalition is violating laws for failing to ensure that civilian casualties are minimized. Concern over the Houthi rebel’s similar neglect for minimizing civilian causalities has also been expressed.

The U.N. human rights office stated earlier this week that, “since 17 June, there has been further destruction of civilian infrastructure, with at least 36 buildings, including hospitals, schools, court houses, power generation facilities, and communications institutions partially or totally damaged.”

A Saudi-coaliton military official stated that the military had been given incorrect coordinates. The closest Houthi rebel outpost to the town of Mokha was at least three miles away.

Just hours before the cease-fire was to start, fighting broke out between the Saudi-coalition and the Houthi rebels for control over an airbase north of Aden. Earlier in the week, the Saudi-led coalition recaptured much of the city of Aden.

Security officials reported random shelling by Houthi rebels in three neighborhoods surrounding the airbase. After the ceasefire took effect, security officials reported that the situation on the ground surrounding the airbase had quieted down.

Over the last four months, at least 1,693 civilians have been killed with another 4,000 civilians wounded. Air strikes caused a majority of the casualties.

A humanitarian ceasefire would allow aid to reach those desperately in need. It is estimated that more than 80% of Yemen’s 25 million population is in need of some form of aid. A proposed ceasefire earlier this month failed to go into effect because both sides blamed each other for not abiding by the truce.

For further information, please see:

Associated Press – 5-Day Humanitarian Ceasefire Starts in Yemen – 26 July 2015

Reuters – Houthis, Saudi-led Forces Battle for Yemen’s Biggest Air Base – 26 July 2015

BBC News – Saudis declare Yemen Ceasefire, as Air Strike ‘Kills 120’ – 25 July 2015

The Seattle Times – Saudi-led Airstrikes Kills 120; Deadliest in Yemen Conflict – 25 July 2015

Dialogue Attempt Fails in Bolivia

By Kaitlyn Degnan
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

LA PAZ, Bolivia — An attempt to foster dialogue between the Bolivian government and protesters in the city of Potosi failed on Tuesday after protesters demanded that Bolivian President Evo Morales be present for the talks. The government responded that Morales would receive the “final document,” but would not be available for the dialogue.  The protesters are led by the Potosi Civic Committee, or Comcipo.

Protests in the Bolivian city of Potosi. (Photo courtesy of the BBC)

Bolivian government representatives called a meeting for 2pm on Tuesday July 21 in La Paz to discuss the demands of the protesters. After waiting for 2 hours while Comcipo held an internal meeting, Comcipo president Jhonny Llally presented a letter which reaffirmed the existing pre-conditions (including Morales’ involvement) and additionally demanded that the dialogue be mediated by the Catholic Church, national ombudsman Roalndo Villena, and the Bolivia’s Permanent Human Rights Assembly.

Potosi is protesting for the government to build: a hydroelectric plant, three hospitals, glass and cement factories and an international airport. The city is also looking for steps to preserve the Cerro Rico mines, one of the largest silver deposits in the world.

The protests have been ongoing for at least 17 days, and have paralyzed activity in and around Potosi. Several dozen foreigners are reported to be trapped in the city, including 60 Argentinians. Schools and businesses are for the most part shut down. The city is reportedly close to running out of food, gas, and money. The blockades are preventing food, medicine, and other supplies from being flown in.

Four people have been injured in clashes between protesters and police.

This is not the first time that the people of Potosi has tried to bring attention these issues – similar protests were held back in 2010. These protests also caused a shut down of trade and commerce in the city. Then, 300 foreigners were trapped in the city, and many were evacuated by air by their own governments.  300 foreign citizens were trapped in the city.

No foreign government has yet confirmed that they are working to evacuate their citizens by air, though several have expressed frustration with the inability to access the city by road. Bolivia’s Interior Minister Carlos Romero has said that so far, “there has not been a favorable response from the blockading groups” in reference to the attempts to pull out foreigners.


For more information, please see:

Latin American Herald Tribune – Protests Trap Foreign Tourists in Bolivian City – 16 July 2015

BBC – Protesters cut access to Bolivian city of Potosi – 17 July 2015

Latin American Herald Tribune – Dialogue Attempt Between Bolivian Government, Protest Leaders Fails – 22 July 2015

LaPrensa – Dialogue attempt between Bolivian gov’t protests leaders fail – 22 July 2015


Esteemed Tibetan Monk Tenzin Delek Rinpoche Dies in Chinese Prison

By Christine Khamis

Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia



Tibetan monk Tenzin Delek Rinpoche died on July 12th in a prison in the Sichuan city of Chengdu. His death occurred while he was serving a 20-year sentence on separatism and terrorism charges. Prison officials have not explained the cause of his death.

Tenzin Delek was highly esteemed among Tibetans in Sichuan, where he helped establish medical clinics, monasteries, and schools. He promoted Tibetan culture and had many followers.

Tenzin Delek Rinpoche. (Photo Courtesy of BBC)

Tenzin Delek was one of China’s most famous political prisoners. He was convicted of involvement in a bombing in Chengdu in 2002 but maintained his claims of innocence throughout his sentence. The United States, European Union, and human rights groups claimed that his arrest was politically motivated and called for his release.

Tenzin Delek was originally given a suspended death sentence when he was convicted, but the sentence was decreased to life imprisonment and then to the 20-year sentence. Another monk, Lobsang Dhondup, was also charged with involvement in the Chengdu bombing and was executed in early 2003.

Tenzin Delek’s relatives applied for medical parole on his behalf last year due to his development of a heart condition and other health problems. Prison authorities never responded to the relatives’ request. Tenzin Delek’s family members believe that his heart ailment resulted from abuse that he endured during his imprisonment.

Upon his death, Tenzin Delek’s relatives requested that his body be returned to them so that they could perform customary Tibetan Buddhist death rites, but prison officials refused to give up the body and instead cremated it.

Radio Free Asia reports that four Tibetans were able to retrieve the ashes from the cremation and that they intended to carry them to his home county of Nyagchuka in China. However, a Tibetan with connections to Tenzin Delek’s family told Radio Free Asia that Chinese authorities came to where the four Tibetans were staying overnight on their way to Nyagchuka and forcibly took the ashes back.

Relatives have stated that Chengdu prison officials have repeatedly declined to give a cause of Tenzin Delek’s death. Dolkar Lhamo, Tenzin Delek’s sister, stated that the family was not permitted access to see his death certificate and medical records.

According to advocacy group Students for a Free Tibet, Dolkar and her daughter, Nyima Lhamo, have now been arrested. Dolkar was one of nearly 100 Tibetans who had previously staged a sit-in protest outside the Chengdu building where Tenzin Delek was thought to be held.

Human rights groups have claimed that China has suppressed Tibetan culture and detained monks who have shown support for the exiled Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader.


For more information, please see: 

Radio Free Asia – Chinese Authorities Snatch Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s Ashes From Tibetans – 20 July 2015

New York Times – China: 2 Relatives of a Tibetan Monk Who Died in Prison Have Been Arrested – 18 July 2015

New York Times – Chinese Cremate Body of Revered Tibetan Monk, Ignoring Pleas – 16 July 2015

Associated Press – Family Fails to Get Tibetan Lama’s Body After Prison Death – 15 July 2015

BBC – Tibetan Monk Tenzin Delek Rinpoche Dies in China Prison – 13 July 2015

Syria Justice and Accountability Centre: Standardized ISIS Detention Procedures: Structured Brutality, Battlefield Adaptability


July 22, 2015


Over the past several months, the Syria Justice and Accountability Centre’s (SJAC) Documentation Team in Turkey has worked to document detention centers run by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). The Team interviewed four former ISIS detainees and gathered information on ISIS detention conditions and procedures. Although the bases for ISIS detentions appear not to be uniform, ISIS detention practices seem to have developed into standardized procedures. SJAC has summarized and analyzed several of the trends that can be gathered from the interviewees’ experiences and their descriptions of what other detainees endured or reported.

Method of Detention

According to interviewees,  ISIS generally detains prisoners collectively. Up to 50 ISIS fighters at a time gather the detainees in large numbers with their eyes blindfolded and their arms tied behind their backs. The interviewees said they were picked up by ISIS fighters in an entourage of 11 to 15 pickup trucks bearing the ISIS logo. Among the former detainees that SJAC interviewed, three identified their arrestors as familiar men from their hometown, some of whom were as close as next door neighbors. After the mass arrests, the ISIS fighters take the detainees to local schools that ISIS has converted into temporary detention centers. Once all the arrest squads gather the detainees in the school, they then move the detainees to isolated locations, such as farmhouses in rural areas, a process which can take several days. If the chosen locations are inhabited, ISIS men forcibly remove the residents to clear the buildings for their detainees. During this time, the detainees receive no communication of the reasons for their arrest.

Upon Arrival to the Detention Centers

The converted farmhouses serve as the interrogation sites. Upon arrival, the detainees are greeted as a group by two men, a Syrian and an Iraqi. The Syrian collects the inmates’ belongings and confiscates any weapons. The Iraqi is responsible for initial interrogations, which are conducted while the detainees are still in a group, to determine the charges and respective fate of each detainee. One interviewee recounted a power struggle in which the Syrian attempted to interrogate the detainees but the Iraqi pushed back against his overreach of authority.

Following the interrogation, the guards separate the detainees into two smaller groups. The first group consists of detainees accused of minor crimes, such as working for non-governmental relief organizations, smoking, and, in some cases, no charge whatsoever. These detainees remain in Syria and are usually set to be released within a short period of time. The second group of detainees are those accused of major crimes, such as membership in the Free Syrian Army (FSA) or relationship with non-ISIS media groups. Those accused of major crimes are transported with caution (to avoid detection and coalition airstrikes) to Iraq for longer-term detention.

Detention Conditions

For each detainee accused of a minor crime, ISIS creates a file with the detainee’s name, surname, occupation, birthdate, and personal photo to keep a record in case the detainee is arrested again in the future. Meanwhile, ISIS guards move the detainees accused of major crimes in a fleet of cars to Iraq, changing drivers periodically along the way. At the end of the journey, the detainees are placed in prisons in the ISIS-controlled town of Al-Qa’im where ISIS maintains numerous hideout facilities to avoid coalition airstrikes. One interviewee described the Iraqi prisons as “caravans” which are regularly moved to avoid discovery. The caravan consists of about three cells eight square meters in size with between 10 to 20 prisoners in each cell. During airstrikes, the detainees are moved to other facilities that have not yet been discovered by the coalition where more prisoners are confined to each cell.

The former detainees accused of minor crimes told SJAC that they had been served two meals a day. Water, however, was scarce and no showers were allowed. ISIS even restricted ablution for prayers to only twice a day. Prisoners accused of major crimes had more limited access to food and water, with only one serving of food a day. One interviewee accused of a major crime informed SJAC that ISIS guards had refused him water when it was time to break the day’s fast during Ramadan even as the guards drank water in front of him. The interviewees also said that in some instances, the shortage of potable water was used as a mechanism for torture.

Torture and Punishment

Following initial group interrogation, detainees are subjected to individual interrogations, which often include torture. Every interviewee mentioned the name Abu Anas, an important ISIS figure who visits prisoners prior to their release. Abu Anas is an Iraqi citizen and the prince of the Khair state which lies between Deir Azzour in Syria and parts of Iraq. According to the interviewees, Abu Anas has a large build, stern posture, and harsh attitude. He asks the detainees about their alleged crimes and supervises their torture, sometimes personally beating any detainee accused of committing a crime he “does not like.” He inflicts the worst punishments on journalists and members of the FSA or Al Nusra Front. Interviewees reported hearing Abu Anas order his men to kill or detain any FSA member they came across, and in the detention centers, sick or wounded FSA members are not allowed treatment until Abu Anas has left the facility.

Torture under ISIS takes many forms. ISIS’s primary torture tactic, according to the interviewees, is the “Akrab Knot” where both arms are twisted until they are dislocated at the shoulder, allowing the guards to tie both arms together in the back by a metal chain. The Akrab Knot is almost always used in conjunction with an additional tactic. Most commonly, after the prisoner’s arms are tied, the guards hang him so that his toes barely touch the ground. The guard then begins beating the detainee until he starts to confess to his alleged crimes. Once the detainee’s confession matches ISIS’s accusations, the prisoner is untied and lowered back to the ground and the ISIS guard continues with the interrogation. The interviewees lose all feeling in their arms even after they are released due to the excruciating pain of torture.

Prisoners accused of minor crimes, like smoking, are rarely tortured but could be exposed to verbal abuse.

The Process for Release

The SJAC interviewees did not recount a standardized release procedure. Most of the interviewees attested that prior to releasing prisoners, an approval from the ISIS Emir in charge of that region has to be received. One interviewee accused of a major crime reported that he had been dropped off on the side of the road in Iraq with no money and had to figure out a way to get home to Syria on his own. One former detainee said he was thrown out of the pickup truck while tied and blindfolded and had to wait until someone came along to untie him.

– – – –

Amidst chaos, ISIS appears to be conducting efficient arrest and detention operations. Detentions are arbitrary in terms of substance because detainees can be detained without reason and are guilty by accusation. However, interviewee descriptions of detention experiences indicate that ISIS has developed systematic procedures that have relatively standardized the detention process itself. Interviewees uniformly reported collective arrest by a large ISIS entourage. Additionally, descriptions of the interrogation process, detention facility locations, and division of roles among ISIS members indicate uniform planning and organization. Even though ISIS is under attack from multiple fronts, its high adaptability is borne out by detention procedures that are responsive to changing battlefield conditions while remaining internally consistent.

For more information and to provide feedback please email SJAC at .


Colombia and FARC Agree to De-escalate

By Kaitlyn Degnan
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombia has agreed to de-escalate attacks against FARC rebels, so long as FARC maintains their unilateral ceasefire. FARC representatives announced on July 8th that they would initiate a ceasefire starting July 20th. The Colombian government agreed to de-escalate actions against FARC. Representatives of the two parties announced the agreement in a joint press release from the ongoing peace conference, held in Havana, Cuba.

Colombian lead negotiator Humberto de la Calle and FARC lead negotiator Ivan Marquez at Havana peace talks. (Photo courtesy of Reuters)

Talks have been ongoing for about two and a half years, but have recently suffered set-backs caused by a significant escalation of violence between the parties in recent months. The most recent ceasefire (called for by FARC in December 2014) ended after 11 Colombian soldiers were killed in April. FARC officially ended the ceasefire on May 22, and relations between the parties (and the quality of the peace talks) have deteriorated since.

Following the initial April incident, Colombia resumed bombing campaigns against FARC-held positions. FARC responded by targeting Colombian oil pipelines. June was the most violent month in the Colombian/FARC conflict since 2012, with the Conflict Analysis Resource Center (in Bogota) logging 83 armed attacks during the month.

Although FARC has called for bilateral ceasefires in the past, the Colombian government has rejected the notion each time. The lead negotiator for the Colombian government, Humberto de la Calle, has emphasized that this agreement does not constitute a bilateral cease fire.

Speaking following the announcement of the agreement, de la Calle said, “We are not going to just paralyze government forces for a simple illusion that will later prove frustrating.” He specified that Colombian forces will continue to respond to any instances of violence coming from FARC rebels.

Talks have been ongoing between Colombia and FARC in Havana since November 2012. Cuba and Norway are both acting as guarantors to the peace process, and have each called for a truce. Pope Francis has also offered Vatican assistance in the peace process.

Colombian President Santos has pledged that the government and FARC will work together towards a final peace agreement “without delay.” He also announced that he will make a decision in four months on whether to continue the process, or not.

220,000 people have died in the 50 year conflict between the government and the rebels, and millions of civilians have been displaced.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Colombia agrees to reduce attacks against the Farc – 12 July 2015

International Business Times – Colombia and FARC Agree on De-Escalation Plan, Removing Roadblock to Historic Peace Deal – 12 July 2015

REUTERS – Colombia says to de-escalate war if rebels uphold ceasefire – 12 July 2015

TeleSur – FARC and Colombian Government Agree to Ease Hostilities – 12 July 2015

ABC News – Pope Offers Vatican Assistance to Colombia Peace Process – 13 July 2015


Russia Blocks UN Security Council Resolution Recognizing Srebrenica Massacre as “Genocide”

by Shelby Vcelka

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe


UN Security Council held a session last Wednesday on a resolution that would have condemned the Srebrenica massacre of 1995 as a “crime of genocide.” The text of the resolution stated that the “acceptance of the tragic events at Srebrenica as genocide is a prerequisite for reconciliation.” Of the fifteen members of the Security Council, four members abstained from the vote, while ten voted in favor. Only Russia voted against the resolution. The resolution’s failure to pass marks a new low in international politics and relations among the Western powers.

In 1995, 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed by Bosnian Serb forces in Srebrenica. Approximately 7,000 bodies have been recovered since the incident; about 1,000 victims are still missing. (Photo courtesy of

This week marks the 20th anniversary of the killing of 8,000 Muslim men and boys by Bosnian Serb troops in the worst massacre since the Second Word War. The victims were shot and buried in a mass grave after Serbian forces overran a safe zone watched by Dutch United Nations peacekeepers during the final months of the Bosnian War.

The Russian ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, described the resolution as “counter productive, confrontational and politically motivated.” He claimed that the resolution blamed the Bosnian Serbs for atrocities that were committed by all parties involved in the conflict. The resolution would further “doom the region to tension,” Mr. Churkin claimed, as Serbia was opposed to the motion. Russia and Serbia have close political ties.

Prior to the vote, the United States, Russia, and Britain attempted to come to a compromise on the language of the text. The American ambassador, Samantha Power, stated that the writers of the draft attempted to tackle many of Russia’s concerns, but Russia spurned the definition of genocide offered by the resolution. The vote had been pushed back a day to address other issues Russia had, but to no avail.

Serbia, who does not have a seat on the Security Council, has denied the allegations that the massacre was a “genocide,” and asked ally Russia to block the resolution. The denial is in spite of a UN war crimes tribunal in the Hague and other international courts recognizing the event as a genocide. Serbia admits that a “grave crime” was committed as it created closer ties with the West, but refuses to call acknowledge the legal definition of genocide.

For more information, please see–

BBC– Russia vetoes UN move to call Srebrenica ‘genocide’— 08 July 2015

Business Insider–Russia blocks U.N. condemnation of Srebrenica as a genocide— 08 July 2015– Russia blocks UN resolution condemning Srebrenica ‘genocide’— 08 July 2015

New York Times– Russia Vetoes U.N. Resolution Calling Srebrenica Massacre ‘Crime of Genocide’— 08 July 2015

The Telegraph– Russia blocks UN resolution condemning Srebrenica massacre as genocide— 08 July 2015