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

 

 

 

 

 

Clemency Hearing Issued for Only Female Georgia Death Row Inmate

By Samuel Miller
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America and Oceania

ATLANTA, United States of America — Georgia’s only female death row inmate won a last-minute clemency hearing on Monday, a day before she is due to be executed by lethal injection, the state parole board said. The Board of Pardons and Paroles will meet behind closed doors on Tuesday morning to consider “supplemental information” in the case of Kelly Gissendaner, opening the possibility for her sentence being commuted to life, with or without parole.

Supporters of Ms. Gissendaner Hold a Rally on Monday. (Photo Courtesy of The Wall Street Journal)

Ms. Gissendaner is the only woman currently on Georgia’s death row.

On Monday, a judge denied a motion to stay the execution of Gissendaner. Thomas Thrash, chief judge of the Northern District of Georgia, also denied a restraining order to stop the execution.

Lawyers for Gissendaner had asked Judge Thrash to stay the execution and give himself time to rule on their request to reconsider his dismissal of a complaint they filed in March.

Judge Thrash said Gissendaner’s lawyers failed to show they were likely to prevail in their challenge of Georgia’s lethal injection protocol, which the lawyers for Ms. Gissendaner contend is “cloaked in secrecy, fraught with errors (and) potentially painful.”

Ms. Gissendaner’s lawyers filed appeals and other motions in federal court and a clemency petition before Georgia’s State Board of Pardons and Paroles, a five-member body appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal. The board refused previous requests but is reconsidering the case, according to its spokesman.

Gissendaner was convicted of murder and sentenced to death after prosecutors said she convinced her then-boyfriend, Gregory Owen, to kill her husband, Douglas Gissendaner. Owen confessed to fatally stabbing Douglas Gissendaner and was sentenced to life in prison, though he will eventually be eligible to seek parole.

Ms. Gissendaner’s execution was twice postponed, first in February due to a winter storm, then in March because the lethal-injection drug to be used looked cloudy.

State officials halted executions and investigated the claims, but then determined the cloudiness had no impact on the drug, and said executions could resume. Her lawyers have challenged use of the drug, arguing that a 2013 Georgia law that makes the manufacturer of drugs used in executions a state secret was unconstitutional, because the public cannot know if the drugs might cause cruel and unusual punishment to the prisoner.

Ms. Gissendaner is currently scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

 

For more information, please see:

ABC News — Georgia Parole Board to Hold New Clemency Hearing for Only Woman on State’s Death Row – 28 September 2015

CBS News — Children of woman on Ga. death row plead for her life to be spared – 28 September 2015

CNN — Children plead to spare mother’s life; judge denies stay of execution – 28 September 2015

Reuters — Georgia woman set for execution gets last-minute clemency hearing – 28 September 2015

WSJ — Georgia Woman Set to Die Despite Anti-Death-Penalty Pleas – 27 September 2015

Colombia and FARC Reach Agreement

By Kaitlyn Degnan
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

HAVANA, Cuba — An agreement between the Colombian government and FARC rebels was reached on Wednesday at the negotiations in Havana, Cuba. The parties pledged to sign a final peace agreement by March 23, 2016. Following the final agreement, FARC will have 60 days to disarm.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos (left) and FARC representative Rodrigo Londono Echiverri (right) shake hands following the agreement, facilitated by Raul Castro, President of Cuba (center) (Photo courtesy of the New York Times).

The agreement included the creation of special courts to try former guerilla rebels and military involved in the conflict. Rebels who confess to their crimes will be given five to eight years of confinement to certain rural regions. Those that refuse to confess may face up to 20 years of imprisonment of imprisonment.

Whether these sentences will be offered to those convicted of crimes against humanity is uncertain. Reuters reported that those convicted of crimes against humanity or war crimes will not be allowed that opportunity, but other outlets have reported that the agreement would allow such criminals to benefit from reduced sentencing. Colombian Reports has specifically reported that there would be no impunity.

Human Rights Watch, in a September 28th article, expressed concern that those responsible for mass atrocities would be able to avoid jail time under the agreement. HRW reports that even those charged under war crimes and crime against humanity would be allowed the “special conditions” if cooperative.

FARC documents seen by the Observer report the same judicial structure. The documents also reported that the negotiators consulted with representatives from the Irish and British participants in the Good Friday Agreement, and that they used the frameworks of the Yugoslavia Tribunal and Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa as models for the transitional justice agreements.

Additionally, the documents reported that those convicted of drug trafficking would not be offered special sentencing.

Whether or not those sentenced under these conditions will be allowed to participate in politics following their released is uncertain. Under Colombian law, anyone sentenced to prison time is precluded from running for office or voting.

International Criminal Court Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has expressed optimism for the agreement. Her office will be consulting with the Colombian government and other stakeholders throughout this process.

The actual text of the agreement has not yet been released, the only confirmed information is that which has been reported by President Santos.

 

For more information, please see:

Colombia Reports – International Criminal Court welcomes Colombia deal – 25 September 2015

New York Times – Colombia’s President Says Peace Talks Overcome Late Surprise – 25 September 2015

New York Times – Opinion: The Prospect of Peace in Colombia – 25 September 2015

Wall Street Journal – Colombia’s Dubious Deal with Terrorists – 27 September 2015

Bloomberg View – Colombia’s Chance at Peace – 28 September 2015

Yahoo – Colombia rebel leaders’ political participation uncertain after deal – 28 September 2015

 

 

 

Syria Deeply: Death Continues To Rain From Above In Aleppo

Dear Readers,

Welcome to the weekly Syria Deeply update. We’ve rounded up the most important stories and developments from Syria.

Death Continues to Rain From Above in Aleppo

After two and a half months of relative quiet in the liberated, opposition-controlled areas in the city of Aleppo, the government’s air force started a new shelling campaign on Aleppo’s busy neighborhoods last week. According to the media office of the civil defense teams in Aleppo, the bombing caused the death and injury of nearly 200 civilians and widespread destruction of people’s homes and businesses.

The photo above shows Al-Myassar neighborhood, east of Aleppo, on September 20. (Photo by Tamer Osman for Syria Deeply)

From Syria to Europe: “I Decided to Swim”

Syria Deeply spoke to two men who took the decision to swim from Turkey to Greece. In recent months, large numbers of Syrian refugees have entered Italy and Greece via the Mediterranean. At the mercy of people smugglers and enduring perilous conditions along the way – including taking to the sea on unsafe dinghies – many die, however, before reaching Europe’s shores.

From Syria to Lebanon, Palestinians Stuck Between “Catastrophes”

Syria Deeply had the rare opportunity to speak to Palestinian refugees from Syria about becoming “double refugees” as they flee the violence there and seek security in Lebanon. At least 45,000 Palestinians have arrived in Lebanon from Syria since the civil war began, according to the U.N.

Photo: Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, including those who came from Syria, are barred from dozens of professions. (Associated Press/Bilal Hussein)

The Diary of Marah, a Teen Girl in Syria, Continues

Teen girl Marah writes: “At Eid al-Adha, the Feast of the Sacrifice holiday, everyone is supposed to be busy getting ready, buying food, sweets and new clothes to celebrate. But people are overwhelmed by other things. This year, the holiday came right when schools were opening their doors for the new academic year – right when students need school supplies. Because of the war, most Syrians are unemployed and they cannot afford both occasions at the same time.”

Find our new reporting and analysis every weekday at www.syriadeeply.org. You can reach our team with any comments or suggestions at info@newsdeeply.org.

Syria Justice and Accountability Centre- Refugees in Europe: An Opportunity for Justice

Syrian_refugees_strike_at_the_platform_of_Budapest_Keleti_railway_station._Refugee_crisis._Budapest,_Hungary,_Central_Europe,_4_September_2015._(3)

Syrian refugees at a Budapest railway station | Credit: Mstyslav Chernov

Over the past month, news on Syria has been dominated by the growing refugee crisis. An estimated 3,000 migrants, many of whom are Syrian, are arriving by boat and land to Europe each day. Over 4 million Syrians are registered with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Many more are unregistered or have recently decided to flee the civil war due to the growing, unabating violence and sheer frustration at the loss of opportunity that has resulted from over four years of economic devastation. As the refugee crisis spills over to Europe’s borders, an opportunity has emerged for Europe to make meaningful contributions to the bringing about justice and reconciliation for Syria, but concerted action needs to be taken, a difficult task in the face of the large anti-migrant sentiment sweeping the continent.

International law prohibits rendering refugees back to the areas from which they fled, a principle called non-refoulement. Anti-migration leaders like Hungary’s Viktor Orban claim that walls and other similar measures do not violate the principle because they are not aimed at sending Syrians back to a war zone, but prevent them from entering from countries that are all at peace. These leaders instead call on Turkey, the primary recipient of refugees from Syria to do more to prevent unauthorized departures from its soil. Some have even offered to pay Turkey to halt refugees at its borders, while others have offered a more sensible approach: creating refugee intake centers that could help track Syrians and place them in specific European countries based on a pre-established quota. To date, however, the Europe Union has failed to implement a unified strategy, drawing criticism from conservatives and liberals alike.

Politicians are not the only ones torn on what the current crisis means for Europe. Western news outlets either decry the influx as a threat to the stability and cultural integrity of the European Union or call for European countries to do their part, referencing both a moral duty to do so and the economic justification that stems from the current demographic imbalances of much of Western Europe. Despite the day-to-day polemics surrounding  the threat of Syrian refugees, however, none have commented on the opportunity this issue presents to champion justice against those responsible for atrocities committed in Syria.

A Step towards Justice, a report which the Syria Justice and Accountability Center (SJAC) published in partnership with Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights, elaborates on several accountability options that the international community can pursue now, prior to the end of the conflict. According to the report, the most feasible pathway is prosecutions in European and North American courts under principles of active or passive nationality and universal jurisdiction. Among the refugees entering Europe are victims and witnesses to atrocities as well as former Syrian human rights defenders and documenters.

Former fighters from across the spectrum — Syrian government militias to extremist rebels — are also among those seeking safe-haven in Europe. Many use fake names and fake identification papers, an easy task as a Dutch journalist demonstrated recently. But the vast majority of Syrians offer Europe a trove of information and can help identify perpetrators by face even when their names and identities have been changed. Documentation groups, like SJAC, can also assist with this endeavor by connecting witnesses to prosecutors’ offices and sharing data on individuals involved in the conflict. Already, SJAC has worked to collect photos of alleged perpetrators who have sought refuge in Europe and is sharing the information with prosecutors’ offices.

But European governments will need to proceed with caution and work closely with refugee communities to ensure that innocent people are not convicted due revenge-seekers’ insincere finger-pointing. And for prosecutions to meaningfully contribute to the long-term goal of justice and accountability, prosecutors will need to communicate their decision-making process clearly to Syrians. Otherwise, investigations and trials will be disconnected from the reality of the Syrian context and hold little meaning for those they are meant to benefit. If done with careful consideration, however, Europe could begin to lay the foundations for justice, truth-telling, and ultimate reconciliation, helping to preserve evidence, lead by example, and provide Syrians with the impetus to prioritize justice during peace negotiations. Such a contribution would go above and beyond simply providing for the basic needs of hundreds of thousands of Syrians.

For more information and to provide feedback, please email SJAC at info@syriaaccountability.org

Victory for Journalist Rights in Egypt

By Tyler Campbell

Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

 

CAIRO, Egypt – Today Egyptian President, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi officially pardoned two of the three Al Jazeeran journalists who were jailed earlier this year, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed. These three journalists were jailed on charges of airing false news against the state. They were heavily, and possibly illegitimately prosecuted, because of their alleged connection to the Muslim Brotherhood, an outlawed political group in Egypt. If the third journalist, Peter Greste, was pardoned is unclear at this time.

Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy (Photo courtesy Belfast Telegraph)

This whole situation started two years ago when the trio was sentenced to three years in jail for aiding a terrorist organization, the Muslim Brotherhood. This sentence was later overturned and a new sentence was handed down by Egypt’s high court. These sentences were met with loud international outcry from governments and human rights groups. Egypt, which had committed itself to democracy and free speech, seemed to be going back on its promise.

 

This criticism did seem to have had some impact on president Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s decision. The decision to pardon these two journalists along with a 100 other prisoners coming days before a U.N. General Assembly meeting is likely more than a coincidence.

 

Most of these prisoners were arrested because they violated a questionable Egyptian law that had outlawed unsanctioned demonstrations. This type of law is a serious check on any real claim to free speech Egypt could make. The consequence of this law and its strict enforcement had all but ended demonstrations in Cairo against new government leadership.

 

It was a day of joy for the two men but not all is forgiven against Egypt. Greste, the unpardoned journalist living in Australia called it “absolutely extraordinary news,” but called for the undoing of injustice done to him and other prisoners by Egypt.

 

Al Jazeere, the employer of the two journalists, also had some pointed words about the occasion. Mostefa Souag, the network’s general director said, “It is hard to celebrate though, as this whole episode should not have happened in the first place. They’ve lost nearly two years of their lives when they were guilty of nothing except journalism.”

 

Such criticism is fair, especially if you believe that the move by president Sisi was motivated by politics and not by intent to change Egypt’s political climate. This action so close to a U.N. General Assembly meeting could simply be a political bargaining chip. It could also signal some real change finally coming from Egyptian leadership.

 

The release of these 100 prisoners should be seen as a step in the right direction. However, much still remains to be done. There are still many more who have been jailed for voicing criticism or backing the wrong political party. The 2013 law that outlawed unsanctioned demonstrations is also still in play. If Egypt really wanted to shows its commitment to change, releasing more political prisoners and repealing this law would be a smart place to start.

 

For more information, please see:

 

Al Jazeera – Al Jazeera journalists freed from Egypt prison – 23 September 2015

U.S. News – Egypt’s president pardons 2 Al-Jazeera journalists ahead of visit to United Nations – 23 September 2015

ABC News – Al Jazeera retrial: Egypt pardons journalists Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed – 23 September 2015

The Guardian – Egypt pardons and releases jailed Al-Jazeera journalists – 23 September 2015

Los Angeles Declares State of Emergency to Deal With Homeless Crisis

By Samuel Miller
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America and Oceania

LOS ANGELES, United States of America — The Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday declared a State of Emergency on homelessness, calling for $100 million to help address the growing crisis. The West Coast city is the first in the country to declare a State of Emergency over the growing number of street dwellers.

A Homeless Man Sits on the Lawn of City Hall as the Mayor Speaks in the Background. (Photo Courtesy of BBC News)

According to an LA Times report, the number of homeless people living on the city’s streets has grown by 12 percent since 2013.

City Council President Herb Wesson, along with members of the council’s Homelessness and Poverty Committee, and Mayor Eric Garcetti, announced the plan during a news conference outside City Hall, as homeless people dozed nearby on a lawn.

“This city has pushed this problem from neighborhood to neighborhood for too long, from bureaucracy to bureaucracy,” Mayor Garcetti said. “Every single day we come to work, we see folks lying on this grass, a symbol of our city’s intense crisis.”

Los Angeles has one of the largest unsheltered populations in the country, and more than an estimated 25,000 homeless residents. Some of those men and women live on the city’s infamous Skid Row, a makeshift camp on public sidewalks that stretches for blocks.

Gary Blasi, a Professor Emeritus at the UCLA School of Law, said the promise to fund new housing and services for the homeless people in L.A. was a positive step for a city government that has recently been preoccupied with empowering police to crack down on encampments.

“If it is purely symbolic, that will be bad,” Professor Blasi said. “But at least people are engaging in a conversation about how to solve the problem, instead of just moving it around the city.”

In addition to the one-time $100 million funding proposed by the council, Mayor Garcetti is calling for an annual $100 million to fund permanent housing for the homeless and to set up a foundation dedicated to the issue.

In the short term, Mayor Garcetti wants $13 million in emergency funding to grow homeless services and housing, most of which would be allocated in the form of subsidies. “If we can lift up those in need, and pick up those left behind, then we can live up to the best of our ideals,” Garcetti said.

Tuesday’s announcement by Mayor Garcetti was also marked by evidence of the confused tactics critics say have hindered an effective city response to a growing challenge.

Council members haven’t identified the sources for all of the money or how it would be used. Meanwhile, the mayor has yet to release a sweeping plan, now weeks overdue, he says he is crafting to end homelessness. Late in July, Garcetti said in a speech that his office was preparing a three-part “battle plan” for what he dubbed a “war on homelessness here in Los Angeles.”

 

For more information, please see:

BBC News — Los Angeles: $100m plan to tackle homeless ’emergency’ – 23 September 2105

CNN — Los Angeles declares ‘state of emergency’ on homelessness – 23 September 2015

International Business Times — Los Angeles Mayor Announces State Of Emergency To Tackle Homeless Crisis, City Council Pledges $100M – 23 September 2015

Al-Jazeera America — Los Angeles declares homelessness state of emergency – 22 September 2015

LA Times — L.A. to declare ‘state of emergency’ on homelessness, commit $100 million – 22 September 2015

Rights Groups Urge for Saudi Arabia to Cancel Death Penalty for Young Man

By Brittani Howell

Impunity Watch Reporter, The Middle East

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – France and experts from the United Nations, join rights groups in urging that Saudi Arabia cancel the execution of a young man because he was a minor when he was arrested. Ali Mohammed Baqir al-Nimr was sentenced to death in May for taking part in a protest three years ago.

Photo of Ali Mohammed Baqir al-Namir. (Photo Courtesty of The Huffington Post UK)

Al-Nimr could be executed, by beheading, and then crucified at any time. Crucifixion is a public display of the body after the execution to warn others not to commit the same crime. The execution is likely to happen at any times, as al-Nimr’s final appeal was rejected last week. His family does not even know when the execution is to occur because Saudi Arabia does not give the families notice.

When he was only 17 years old, al-Nimr was arrested for protesting in the Arab Spring protests in 2012. The protestors demanded equal rights and democracy for the province of Qatif. Al-Nimr was convicted for various charges including, attacking police with Molotov cocktails, being a member of a terrorist cell, incitement, encouraging sectarianism, breaking allegiance with the king, robbing a pharmacy, and rioting.

A source who is close to the al-Nimr family, spoke to CNN and stated that Ali was innocent of the charges. The source told CNN, “Ali’s young. He just went (to the demonstrations) with people from his school and chanted with the guys and took pictures.” The source claimed that al-Nimr’s sentence was only used as a means to seek “revenge against his uncle.” Ali al-Nimr’s uncle, a Shi’a cleric,  is also condemned to death for charges including, sedition, breaking allegiance with the ruler, and encouraging sectarianism.

The final appeal was heard in court without al-Nimr or his lawyer being present. Sadeeq al-Jabran, al-Nimr’s lawyer, tweeted on Tuesday, “We as a defense team have not been able to visit Ali al-Nimr at the detention center to prepare his defense.” Many rights groups allege that al-Nimr had not received a fair trial and may have been forced to sign a confession to the charges. It is also alleged that al-Nimr may have been tortured.

France, who rarely comments on Saudi Arabia’s death penalties because of the shear frequency, is “opposed to the death penalty in all cases and circumstances, we call for the execution to be called off,” stated the Foreign ministry spokesman, Romain Nadal.

Saudi Arabia is a signatory on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibits capital punishments for individuals who commit crimes under the age of 18. Donald Campbell, spokesperson for the international human rights charity Reprieve, stated, “The international community – particularly Saudi Arabia’s closest allies, the UK and the U.S. – must stand with the French government and U.N. experts against this outrage, and call on Saudi authorities to halt this unjustified killing.”

A Saudi Ambassador, Faisal Trad, has recently been appointed to a consultative group for the U.N.’s Human Rights Council. A spokesperson for the Human Rights Council, told CNN, “Members of the Consultative Group are appointed by their regional groups” not the U.N. body and “these members serve in their personal capacity, not their national capacity.”

In August, a report published by Amnesty International alleged that 102 people had been executed in Saudi Arabia in the first half of 2015.

For more information, please see:

BBC – The young Saudi who Could be Executed at any Time – 23 September 2015

CNN – U.N., Rights Groups Call on Saudi Arabia to Spare Man From Beheading, Crucifixion – 23 September 2015

Reuters – France Urges Saudi Arabia to Cancel Death Penalty for Young Shi’ite – 23 September 2015

The New York Times – France Urges Saudi Arabia to Cancel Death Penalty for Young Shi’ite – 23 September 2015

The Huffington Post UK – Ali Mohammed al-Nimr Sentenced to Crucifixion in Saudi Arabia for Attending Pro-Democracy Protest– 22 September 2015

Venezuela & Colombia Reconcile, Work Towards Reopening Border

By Kaitlyn Degnan
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

QUITO, Ecuador — After a month of tension, Venezuela and Colombia have reestablished diplomatic ties and have begun working towards reopening border crossings.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos engaged in five hours of discussion hosted by President Rafael Correra of Ecuador at the Presidential Palace in Quito. Correra along with President Tabare Vazquez of Uruguay mediated the meeting. Regional organizations UNASUR and CELAC also participated in the discussions.

From left to right: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correra, and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos following peace talks in Quito. (Photo courtesy of Reuters)

Following the talks, Correra read a joint statement issued by Santos and Maduro, which detailed a seven point statement of peace agreements, which included the reinstatement of their ambassadors, strengthening bilateral dialogue, an investigation of the border situation and to find a solution to the problems plaguing the border.

A follow-up meeting will be held on September 23rd.

The Venezuelan/Colombian border has been in a state of crisis since President Maduro implemented a state of emergency and closed border crossings in several regions about a month ago. Maduro blames smugglers operating across the border for an increase in crime and the worsening economy in Venezuela.

Tensions spiked last week when the Colombian government accused a Venezuelan fighter jet of flying into its airspace.

Problems regarding the border have existed for years, dating back to a series of diplomatic spats between the late Venezuelan socialist leader Hugo Chavez and former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. The area, which is sparsely populated, is a hotbed of activity for smugglers and paramilitary groups.

As many as 20,000 Colombians living in Venezuela have been displaced as a result of what the United Nations calls a “critical humanitarian situation.”

 

For more information, please see:

Colombia Reports – Colombia and Venezuela restore diplomatic ties, but border remains closed – 21 September 2015

Reuters – Venezuela and Colombia agree to restore ambassadors after spat – 21 September 2015

TeleSur – Venezuela, Colombia Agree to Address Border Closure Dispute – 21 September 2015

BBC – Venezuela and Colombia to normalise ties after border row – 22 September 2015

Financial Times – Colombia and Venezuela ease tensions – 22 September 2015

Fox News Latino – After month-long border dispute, Colombia and Venezuela agree to redeploy ambassadors – 22 September 2015

Times – Colombia and Venezuela Agree to Normalize Relations After Border Dispute – 22 September 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pakistani Court Postpones Execution of Paraplegic Inmate

By Christine Khamis

Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

 

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan –

Pakistan’s Lahore High Court postponed the execution of paraplegic inmate Abdul Basit on Tuesday, about an hour before his hanging was scheduled to occur. The postponement came just a day after Pakistan’s Supreme Court rejected a plea to grant Mr. Basit an execution stay order. It is unclear how long the postponement will last.

Mr. Basit has been on death row since he was convicted of murder in 2009 and has maintained his innocence throughout his time in prison. Mr. Basit became paralyzed after he contracted tubercular meningitis in prison, according to Sara Belal, an attorney at legal aid group Justice Project Pakistan.

Mr. Basit’s paraplegic condition makes it impossible for him to stand. (Photo courtesy of CNN)

According to the postponement order, Mr. Basit cannot be hanged in compliance with Pakistani prison guidelines, which state that the prisoner must stand on the gallows. In order to follow prison guidelines, the rope used as a noose must be a length proportional to the height of the prisoner in order to ensure that the prisoner has an instant, more humane death. Because Mr. Basit is in a wheelchair, figuring out the proper length of the rope is difficult.

There is concern among human rights groups that the hanging could go badly—if the rope is not the correct length, there is a risk that Mr. Basit will be either decapitated or subjected to prolonged strangulation. Both decapitation and prolonged strangulation would breach Mr. Basit’s dignity. Because the breach of a prisoner’s dignity is protected by Pakistan’s constitution, a botched hanging would violate Mr. Basit’s fundamental rights.

Before the postponement, Amnesty International issued a statement on Monday calling for Pakistan to cancel the execution and to impose a moratorium on all other executions. In the statement, Sultana Noon, Amnesty’s Pakistan Researcher, stated that Pakistani authorities should grant reprieve to Mr. Basit instead of deliberating on the logistics of hanging a man in a wheelchair.

Both the Pakistani Supreme Court and Lahore High Court previously authorized Mr. Basit’s execution. Mr. Basit’s hanging was initially scheduled for last month, but was postponed. The hanging was then re-authorized despite the fact that Mr. Basit filed a mercy petition with the courts, which is still pending.

After imposing a seven yearlong moratorium on all executions, Pakistan reintroduced the death penalty in December 2014. According to the Pakistani government, it reintroduced the death penalty measure to combat terrorism after a Taliban attack on a Peshawar school in which 150 people, mostly children, were killed. However, most of the prisoners that have been executed since the moratorium ended did not have terrorism-related convictions.

There have been 239 hangings in 2015 since Pakistan lifted the moratorium on executions. Additionally, Pakistan has the largest number of death row prisoners worldwide, with more than 8,000 prisoners awaiting execution.

 

For more information, please see:

BBC – Abdul Basit: Pakistan Delays Hanging of Paraplegic Man – 22 September 2015

CNN – Pakistan Court Delays Paraplegic’s execution – 22 September 2015

Amnesty International – Pakistan: Halt Execution of Paralysed Man Due to Take Place Tomorrow – 21 September 2015

New York Times – Pakistan: Supreme Court Declines to Block Execution of Paraplegic Inmate – 21 September 2015