Pro-Russian Rebels Ban UN Agencies from Operating in Eastern Ukraine

by Shelby Vcelka

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

KIEV, Ukraine–

Rebel leaders in Crimea have expelled most of the humanitarian and non-governmental organizations from Eastern Ukraine as tensions escalate. At least ten different agencies, including the United Nations, World Health Organization, and Doctors Without Borders, have been affected by the recent change. Although the reason for the expulsion is not clear, the Ukrainian rebels have been suspicious of foreign agencies because it opens the possibility for international spying. The move also mirrors a law passed in Russia earlier in the year, forbidding citizens from interacting with foreign NGOs.

Due to the pro-Russian rebels in Eastern Ukraine blocking access to food handouts in the war torn region, as many as 150,000 people do not have access to regular sources of food, UN officials state. (Photo courtesy of BBC.)

UN agencies were given until Friday to evacuate the area, while other international NGOs were given until Saturday. The “de facto” rebel leaders based in Luhansk refused to reregister 10 out of the 11 UN organizations present in the region due to “violations.” The violations center on unsafe medical practices and illegal storage of medicine, although the banned organizations deny such practices. The only organization that is unaffected by the new measures, the Luhansk rebel government announced, is the Red Cross. “We have our rules and our laws,” said rebel official Vasily Nikitin stated in a pro-rebel video post on Thursday afternoon. “This isn’t some piratical African country where you can just set up a tent and start doing operations.”

The ban sparked widespread condemnation among Western nations, and international organizations, as it was a clear violation of the peace treaty signed between the rebel and pro-Ukrainian forces in February of this year. A provision of the peace treaty required that both the Ukraine and the rebels provide humanitarian aid to the war torn region, and safe access for noncombatants. According to experts, at least 150,000 people will lose access to food distribution once the ban is in full force.

The move comes after the Ukrainian government in Kiev banned Russian journalists from entering the country. It is unclear whether Luhansk’s policy was in retaliation for disallowing pro-Russian coverage of events.

For more information, please see

AP–UN: Russia-backed rebels in Ukraine expel aid agencies— 25 September 2015

BBC–Ukraine crisis: Rebels order UN agencies to leave Luhansk— 25 September 2015

Wall Street Journal–Russian-Backed Separatists Ban Foreign Aid Workers in Eastern Ukraine— 25 September 2015

Al-Jazeera–Ban on foreign aid agencies by Ukraine’s rebels— 27 September 2015

Dachau Concentration Camp Being Used to House Refugees During Crisis

by Shelby Vcelka

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

BERLIN, Germany–

A portion of the former Nazi concentration camp Dachau in southern Germany is now being used as housing for refugees seeking asylum in Germany. The reconfigured apartment building, located on the camp’s herb garden, houses around 50 formerly homeless people, most of which are refugees from the Middle East. Although the building is not located on the main camp location, the watchtowers and barbed wires are clearly visible from inside the apartments.

The current entrance to the Dachau herb garden as it stands today. When the camp was operational in during the Second World War, the garden was used in an attempt to discover alternative medicines. (Photo courtesy of The Guardian.)

In Dachau, as in many other small German towns, the recent influx of refugees has placed an enormous strain on resources. Improvised temporary housing, such as beer tents, military barracks or exhibition centers, are common, but long term housing for those who have been granted asylum or are waiting on processing has proved much more difficult. Housing the refugees in Dachau’s herb garden has been one of many controversial measures to provide more permanent housing.

Earlier in 2015, the German towns of Schwerte and Augsburg also considered housing refugees in the external sites of former concentration camps, but were forced to cancel those plans due to public outrage.

Gabriele Hammermann, director of the Dachau concentration camp memorial site, does not believe that the camp should be used to house refugees. “For me, it’s not very welcoming to house refugees in a place that symbolizes torture and death…Fundamentally, we think that other places are more appropriate in order to house people, especially since integration is a major goal. So I think it makes more sense to house people in the centers of towns, not on the outskirts. But at the moment it is a very tense housing situation,” she said. However, Hammermann is willing to compromise and keep most of the current housing available for that purpose, as long as the rest of the space is used for exhibitions and seminars. Conversely, the mayor of the town of Dachau, Florian Hartmann, said it was the duty of the town to find long-term housing for the homeless in a time when affordable housing is scarce. In an email, he writes, “[The current tenants are] the more vulnerable members of our society. In that way, the buildings with their historical burden can be used for a socially meaningful purpose.”

The Nazis opened Dachau in March 1933 to house political prisoners, a few weeks after Adolf Hitler had risen to power as Chancellor. Other camps used Dachau as a model for their operations and setup, until many of those were converted into extermination camps. It was the longest running camp, as it was operational from March 1933, until April 1945, when Allied troops liberated the site.

For more information, please see–

The Washington Post– Germany is housing refugees within Holocaust-era concentration camps— 30 January 2015

The Guardian– The refugees housed at Dachau: ‘Where else should I live?— 19 September 2015

Business Insider– A part of this former Nazi concentration camp is now a homeless shelter— 22 September 2015

International Business Times– Migrant crisis: Dachau concentration camp being used to house refugees— 23 September 2015

Domestic and International Responses to the U.N.’s Proposed Sri Lankan War Crimes Court

By Christine Khamis

Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia


COLOMBO, Sri Lanka –

There have been varied responses to the U.N.’s recent report calling for an internationally formed hybrid court to look into war atrocities committed during the 26 year long war between Sri Lankan military forces and the Tamil Tiger Rebels.

The United States issued a draft resolution regarding the alleged war crimes which called for a hybrid court made up of international judges, prosecutors, and investigators. The draft praised President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe for their efforts to restore a democratic government in Sri Lanka.

The resolution holds Sri Lanka accountable for addressing the war crimes. For instance, the resolution calls for Sri Lanka to deliver an oral report to the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in September 2016 and a comprehensive report in March 2017 on the progress of implementing the resolution.

Sri Lanka’s prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, rejected the U.N.’s call for international involvement in the proposed war crimes court. Mr. Wickremesinghe stated that the Sri Lankan government is developing a domestic mechanism which will investigate the alleged war crimes. The Sri Lankan government plans on setting up a truth commission, a war reparations office, and a commission on missing people.

President Maithripala Sirisena, Sri Lanka’s new president, has pledged that war criminals will be brought to justice through the implementation of the domestic investigation.

Sri Lanka’s former president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, criticized the U.N. report’s findings and has called for the Sri Lankan government to reject the report. Under Rajapaksa’s government, Sri Lankan military forces defeated the Tamil Tigers in 2009, while killing tens of thousands of civilians during the final stage of the war. Mr. Rajaoaksa also stated that the alleged war crimes should be investigated through Sri Lanka’s existing legal system without the involvement of special courts.

Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka’s former president. (Photo courtesy of Reuters)

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited Colombo last week and supported the Sri Lankan government’s plan to address the war crimes with domestic commissions. After his trip, Mr. Steinmeier stated that the U.N. report’s recommendations should be a mostly “national task”. He also stated that Germany is ready to assist Sri Lanka in its war crimes investigation.

Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister, Mangala Samaraweera, met with Mr. Steinmeier and has stated that Sri Lanka will accept some outside technical assistance in setting up the planned commissions.

For more information, please see:

Channel News Asia – Sri Lanka Rejects International War Crimes Probe – 22 September 2015

Jurist – Sri Lanka PM Rejects UN Call for International War Crimes Investigation – 22 September 2015

New York Times – Germany Offers Help for Sri Lankan Probe of War Atrocities – 22 September 2015

Reuters – Rajapaksa Criticizes U.N. Findings on Sri Lanka War Crimes – 22 September 2015

The New Indian Express – US Draft Resolution Calls for International Involvement in SL Judicial Mechanism – 19 September 2015