Syria Deeply: Aleppo’s Little Architect: Imagining a Brighter Future for Syria

Dear Readers,

Welcome to the weekly Syria Deeply newsletter. We’ve rounded up the most important stories and developments about Syria and the Syrians in order to bring you valuable news and analysis.

Aleppo’s Little Architect: Imagining a Brighter Future for Syria

Fourteen-year-old Muhammad Qteish spends weeks in his room in Syria’s war-torn city of Aleppo, gluing together small pieces of colored paper. Known around town as “the little architect,” Muhammad has spent months creating the new Aleppo, the Aleppo he hopes to help build once all the fighting is over.

Khaldoun Sinjab: A Life of Constant Struggle

From high-school golden boy to quadriplegic, from games designer to refugee, Khaldoun Sinjab has had it harder than most, but he’s not complaining. He just wants to breathe in peace. Syria Deeply spoke with Khaldoun and his wife about his tumultuous path and how he maintains such a positive outlook.

‘I Belong to Syria’ – A Young Journalist’s Return to Aleppo

Zaina Erhaim has taken the road less traveled. In London pursuing her M.A. when the revolution in Syria began, she chose to go against the stream of refugees fleeing the violence and return to use her skills as a journalist to help her country and her people.

More Recent Stories to Look Out for at Syria Deeply

• U.S. to Send Special-Ops Forces to Syria
• My Syrian Diary Part 45
• Iran and the Syrian Political Transition

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.
 

An Eritrean Migrant was Brutally Beaten by Israeli Mob

By Brittani Howell

Impunity Watch Reporter, The Middle East

JERUSALEM, Israel – Last Sunday, an Eritrean migrant was shot and then brutally beaten by a mob. The Eritrean migrant, Habtom Zerhom, was mistaken as a second attacker in an incident at a bus station in Beersheba.

Israeli security forces stand at the divide between a Jewish neighborhood and Palestinian neighborhood in Jerusalem. (Photo Courtesy of Reuters)

Zerhom took cover in the bus station amid the chaos. A security video shows Zerhom crawling in all fours around a kiosk when he was shot. A security guard, mistaking Zerhom as an additional attacker, ran at Zerhom and opened fire.

While Zerhom lay on the floor, a mob of people began to kick him and through things at him. The mob then rammed him with a bench, as Zerhom lay on the floor helpless. Israeli police officers and a few passers-by attempted to protect Zerhom from the mob.

Meir Saka, a passer-by who tried to protect Zerhom, told Channel 10 TV, “It doesn’t matter if it was a terrorist or not. It was a man lying on the ground that couldn’t move. I couldn’t sleep at night, from seeing him, his blood.”

According to doctors at Soroka Medical Center, Zerhom died from the bullet wound in combination with the injuries he sustained from being kicked repeatedly. One man who had participated in the mob attack told Israeli Army Radio that, “If I had known he wasn’t a terrorist, believe me, I would have protected him like I protect myself.” He continued, I didn’t sleep well at night. I feel disgusted.”

Israeli police announced that there will be an investigation to determine who was involved in the mob attack against Zerhom. Luba Samri, Israeli police spokeswoman, stated “It should be noted that the police see this in a very severe light and will not allow people to take the law into their own hands.”

The mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, in response to the bus station shooting, told all licensed gun owners to carry their weapons to assist an overstretched security force. This has drawn complaints from critics, who argue that this aids to an already charged atmosphere. A Palestinian official, Hanan Ashrawi, stated, “They are creating a mentality of lynch mobs and of course feeding the culture of hate and racism.”

Currently, there are as many as 34,000 Eritrean migrants in Israel. Israel has refused to give them refugee status, and instead classifies them as migrant workers but has not deported them because of the dangerous situation in Eritrean.

For more information, please see:

CNN – Netanyahu After Mob Beating: ‘No One Will Take Law into his Own Hands’ – 19 October 2015

Reuters – Eritrean Mistaken for Gunman Killed in Israel Bus Station Attack – 19 October 2015

The New York Times – Fatal Beating of Eritrean Prompts Soul-Searching in Israel – 19 October 2015

The Washington Post – Israel Probes Mob Assault on African Bystander Shot Amid Latest Violence – 19 October 2015

Bangladesh Rejects Islamic State Claim of Responsibility for Dhaka Attacks

 

By Christine Khamis

Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

 

DHAKA, Bangladesh—

Assailants threw homemade bombs into a crowd gathered for Ashura, a Shiite Muslim holiday, on Saturday. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks, but the Bangladeshi government has since rejected their claim.

People wounded in the bombing in Dhaka. (Photo courtesy of BBC)

The assailants threw a set of homemade bombs into a crowd of around 20,000 Shiites as they gathered at Hussaini Dalan, a historical Shiite landmark, for a procession through Dhaka’s old quarter. One person was killed and over one hundred people were injured in the blasts. Despite the bombing, thousands continued the procession.

Police recovered two other undetonated bombs from the scene of the attack. They have detained two suspects in connection with the bombings.

Bangladeshi authorities believe that the Islamic State had no involvement in the bombings. The spokesman for the Dhaka police, Muntashirul Islam, stated that the police had linked any militant group to the bombings.

Bangladesh’s prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, states that international terrorist groups cannot function in Bangladesh. Ms. Hasina believes that the violence comes from opposition like Jamaat-e-Islami and the Bangladeshi National Party. Officials from the Awami League, Ms. Hasina’s political party, support her belief and state that the Islamic State does not exist in Bangladesh. Ms. Hasina  and the Awami League believe that the Dhaka bombing was carried out to incite panic among citizens.

However, according to SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks radical Islamic propaganda and other information, the Islamic State has taken responsibility for the bombings. SITE Intelligence Group reported that a social media statement released by the Islamic State said that “soldiers of the Caliphate in Bangladesh” detonated the bombs in a temple of “polytheists in the city of Dhaka, during the holding of their polytheist rituals.” The statement has not been independently confirmed.

Tensions have been running high in Bangladesh for weeks in the wake of reports of impending terrorist attacks. The United States government and some other foreign governments recently  reported that they had gathered intelligence indicating that a terrorist group linked to the Islamic State was planning to attack foreigners in Bangladesh. Some foreign embassies have even issued warnings to their citizens residing in Bangladesh against walking outside or attending gatherings.

The bombings are the third round of violent acts for which the Islamic State has taken credit in the past month. During that time, two foreigners, an Italian man and a Japanese man, were shot and killed in Bangladesh.

The Ashura procession, in which Shia Muslims mourn the martyrdom of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, has occurred annually for over four centuries without violence. The bombings were the first time that Shiite Muslims, a minority group, were targeted in Bangladesh. Shiites have historically not been discriminated against and attacks against them are rare.

 

For more information, please see:

The Indian Express – Bangladesh Rejects Islamic State Claim of Attack on Shiites – 25 October 2015

BBC – Dhaka Blasts: One Dead in Attack on Shia Ashura Ritual – 24 October 2015

The Guardian – One Killed and Scores Wounded in Attack at Shia Site in Bangladesh Capital – 24 October 2015

International Business Time – Bangladesh Bomb Attack: ISIS Claims Responsibility for Blasts That Killed 1, Injured Over 100 in Dhaka – 24 October 2015

New York Times – ISIS Claims Responsibility for Attack in Bangladesh – 24 October 2015

 

Syria Justice and Acountability Centre: Kafranbel Mural Raises Concerns on The Future of Memorialization

 

This week, Raed Fares, a prominent Syrian activist, sharedpictures of a recently completed mural depicting the chronology of the Syrian revolution. The mural is located inKafranbel, a town in the Syrian province of Idlib made famous by its residents’ signs and banners skewering the Assad regime and expressing outrage that the world has not done more to stop the killing in Syria. At 24 meters long and comprised of over one million pieces of stone, the mural traces the Syrian conflict from the peaceful demonstrations in 2011 to the present day, and includes pictures of important opposition and civil society leaders. The creators of the mural also included pictures of the project’s funder, Ghassan Aboud, a Syrian businessman and owner of Orient TV and Orient foundation who has written several articles attacking minority groups in Syria and has used his media institution as a platform to encourage similar views, as well as Faisal al-Qassem, a controversial Syrian Al Jazeera talk show host who has been accused of inciting sectarian tension.

Aboud (right) and al-Qassem photos as a part of the mural

 

Following the posting of these pictures, many Syrians took to social media to express their objection to Mr. Aboud and Mr. al-Qassem’s inclusion in the mural. In particular, many alleged that Mr. Aboud was only included because he funded the project. Indeed, Mr. Fares, seemed to acknowledge this in a response to one of the many comments on his Facebook page.

Raed Fares response to questions on Mr. Aboud: “Donate money that memorialize martyrs by names or numbers and your photo will be added”

While SJAC is not in a position to comment on who should or should not be included in the mural, this incident points to a more troubling prospect: the use of money or power to influence the memorialization process. As one of the core tenets of transitional justice, memorialization (i.e., the creation of museums, memorials, and other symbolic initiatives) is linked to the idea of keeping the memory of victims alive, while ensuring public recognition of past crimes. Such initiatives have the potential to contribute to the creation of a historical record and prevent the recurrence of abuse. Memorialization can also be divisive and lead to increased sectarian tensions, especially where conflicting narratives exist. In such cases, it is not uncommon for political elites to co-opt the memorialization process to promote their own version of history. Indeed, as the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Farida Shaheed, has pointed out: “In memorialization processes, some actors may use the battlefield of memory to further their own agendas, imposing definitions of perpetrators and heroes and establishing categories of victims.”

As the first memorialization effort since the beginning of the uprising, SJAC is concerned about the precedent this may set. It takes time to curate an accurate symbol of conflict, and haphazard representations that don’t involve the larger community can distort memory in the long term. This risk underscores the importance of SJAC’s documentation efforts. Through the collection and preservation of documentation of human rights violations, SJAC will facilitate the telling of victims’ stories — in accountability and memorialization processes, but also to be remembered by all Syrians, historians, and the broader global community — thus enabling Syrians to resist any attempts to influence or rewrite history.

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

Peru Investigates Forced Sterilizations

The Peruvian government is investigating the forced sterilizations programs of the 1990s. The program was carried out mostly during 1997 and 1998 under the leadership of President Alberto Fujimori. It is estimated that between 250,000 and 350,000 women and 20,000 men were forcibly sterilized during the program.

Amnesty International’s “Contra Su Voluntad” (“Against Her Will”) campaign. (Photo courtesy of Peru Reports).

State prosecutor Luis Antonio Burgos ordered the reopening of the criminal investigation into the matter back in May, the third time the investigation has been reopened since 2009. A 2014 investigation was closed due to a lack of evidence. The current investigation will allow the oral testimony of affected women into evidence.

The Peruvian ambassador to the Organization of American States has recently committed to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that the government will be launching a full investigation into the programs.

The move comes in response to a recent campaign launched by Amnesty International – “Against Her Will” – which demands the government create a national register of victims. Peru’s forced sterilization program is said to be the most “emblematic” in Latin America, according to Amnesty International Americas director Ericka Guevara.

The programs were mostly carried out in rural areas of the country, and targeted poor and indigenous communities. Some victims were lured in to clinics with promises of food and medical care, while others were threatened with fines and jail time. Many women suffered medical issues as a result of the procedures such as back and abdominal pain as well as psychological trauma. A number of women also died from botched sterilizations.

Fujimori’s government promoted the program as a way to reduce the birthrate among poor and indigenous populations to reduce poverty rates in the country. Fujimori was imprisoned in 2007 on corruption and human rights abuses. He has claimed that the sterilization program was voluntary.

For more information, please see:

Thomson Reuters Foundation – Peruvian women haunted by forced sterilization seek state apology – 3 June 2015

TeleSur – Peru’s Indigenous Women Demand Justice for Forced Sterilization – 22 October, 2015

Peru Reports – Peru to investigate government’s forced sterilizations program – 27 October, 2015

Peru this Week – Japan Times: “Peruvian women seek state apology over forced sterilization under Fujimori” – 27 October 2015

Prensa Latina – Ex Peruvian President Fujimori may Face Another Trial – 27 October, 2015

Amnistia Internacional – Contra Su Voluntad – 2015

 

 

Fee Protests Leads to Tear Gassed Students

By Tyler Campbell

Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

 

CAPE TOWN, South Africa – A proposed student fee increase by the by the finance minister, Nhlanhla Nene, ended with students being tear gassed and hit with stun grenades last week in South Africa. Students were trying to stage a sit-in on the mid-term budget meetings to show their frustration with the proposed fee increases to higher education in 2016. Police responded with force when the students forced their way into the parliament complex in Cape Town. This clash with students continued outside of the parliament complex, where students threw bottles at police and chanted, “We want Blade, We want Blade.” These chants referred to Blade Nzimande, the education minister.

Police Arrest Students in Cape Town. Courtesy: The Guardian

This one incident is not an isolated occurrence. Students all around South America have mobilized to protest the proposed increases to student fees for the country’s universities. The movement has been named the #FeesMustFall movement, based on the twitter handle used by the group to organize events around the country. The group is made up of students who are worried that the 10% to 15% fee increase will lead them to a lifetime of debt. Many of the students find themselves in a gap between the rich, who can afford the increase, and the poor, who qualify for government assistance with tuition.

 

Frustration with he cost of education has been growing for many years inside of South Africa. In 1994, the promise of free education and racial transformation was prevalent with the election of Nelson Mandela. Since then, the promise of free education was sacrificed for other political priorities. The cost of higher education has continued to rise almost as fast as frustration with the cost of that education. A medical degree at Wilts University in Johannesburg now costs 58,140 rand ($6,000) a year. Proposed fee increases could push that as over 65,000 rand in 2016.

 

In an attempt to ease riots around the country the government offered to cap fee increases at 6% annually. This cap would still be above inflation, doing little to help struggling students to keep up with tuition payments.

 

The government and school leads have been placed in a difficult position. They claim that the fee increases are necessary to maintain the standards of higher education. Educational leaders have pleaded with the government to find even more funding to support an already struggling higher education system. Nene pushed the government “to find solutions where the current situation is inadequate,” but admitted “the government is seized with this matter.”

 

For more information, please see:

 

SABC News – Free education policy sidelined post 1994 – 22 Oct 2015

ABC – South African riot police clash with student protestors, fire tear gas and stun grenades – 21 Oct 2015

The Guardian – South African police fire teargas at students in university fee protests – 21 Oct 2015

Al Jazeera English – South African students protest education fee hike – 26 Oct 2015

 

 

Amnesty International Criticizes Australia’s Maritime Migrant Policies

By Samuel Miller
Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, North America and Oceania

SYDNEY, Australia — New evidence gathered by Amnesty International suggests that Australia’s maritime border control operations now resemble a lawless venture, with evidence of criminal activity, pay-offs to boat crews and abusive treatment of women, men and children seeking asylum. In its report, Amnesty International says asylum seekers’ lives were put at risk in two incidents in May and July.

Money Reportedly Seized by Indonesian Authorities During the May Incident (Photo Courtesy of BBC News)

In response, the Australian government denied the allegations, as it has done since the allegations first emerged in June.

In the first incident in May, 65 passengers and six crew were allegedly intercepted by Australian officials and subsequently turned back to Indonesia. Amnesty International, which says it has interviewed all those on board, claims that officials handed over US$32,000 (£20,900) to the crew.

Passengers were then transferred from their boat to two smaller rickety boats, one of which sank near an island in Indonesian waters. Passengers managed to swim to safety with the help of local fishermen.

The report also speculates that officials may have paid another crew of people smugglers to return to Indonesia in a second incident in July. The report is based on testimony from 15 asylum seekers.

In July, a group of asylum seekers and people smugglers was intercepted by Australian officials and held separately on an Australian vessel for several days, before being put on another boat and told to head for an Indonesian island. The officials allegedly gave two large bags to the smugglers and told the asylum seekers not to open the bags. They also threatened to shoot them if they returned.

Amnesty International Refugee Researcher Anna Shea criticized Australia’s efforts to control its maritime border.

“All of the available evidence points to Australian officials having committed a transnational crime by, in effect, directing a people-smuggling operation, paying a boat crew and then instructing them on exactly what to do and where to land in Indonesia.”

“In the two incidents documented by Amnesty International, Australian officials also put the lives of dozens of people at risk by forcing them onto poorly equipped vessels. When it comes to its treatment of those seeking asylum, Australia is becoming a lawless state,” said Ms. Shea.

In response to the report, Australia’s Ministry for Immigration and Border Protection said to BBC News, “People on intercepted vessels are held lawfully in secure, safe, humane, and appropriate conditions by the personnel of the Australian Border Force (ABF) and the Australian Defense Force (ADF)”.

The country has a controversial policy of zero tolerance towards migrant boats approaching its territory.

No migrants or asylum seekers are allowed to reach Australia’s territories by boat. They have been instead intercepted at sea and turned back or taken to detention facilities in neighboring Pacific countries.

Amnesty International is calling for a Royal Commission to investigate the allegations.

For more information, please see:

Amnesty International — Australia: Damning evidence of officials’ involvement in transnational crime uncovered – 28 October 2015

BBC News — Australian officials ‘paid people smugglers’ – Amnesty – 28 October 2015

Deutsche Welle — Amnesty: Australia paid off people smugglers to turn back boats – 28 October 2015

Radio New Zealand — Amnesty accuses Australia over people-smuggling – 28 October 2015

Sydney Morning Herald — Amnesty details brutal consequences of Tony Abbott’s asylum seeker boat turn-back directive – 28 October 2015

Papua New Guinea To Begin Re-Settling Refugees on Manus Island

By Samuel Miller
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America and Oceania

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea — Australia, which has been criticized for its policy of sending asylum seekers to offshore detention centers, has said the Pacific nation of Papua New Guinea would begin resettling refugees who are now being held in camps there. The statement did not indicate how many refugees were expected to be resettled in Papua New Guinea, nor did an earlier statement from that country’s foreign minister.

Asylum Seekers at the Manus Island Detention Center in Papua New Guinea. (Photo Courtesy of The Guardian)

Australia made a 2013 deal to provide Papua New Guinea with aid if it agreed to house a detention center and resettle refugees.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton welcomed the announcement, saying he would be meeting with the Papua New Guinea government next week to examine the details.

“Consistent with the Regional Resettlement Arrangement (RRA), persons transferred to Papua New Guinea who are found to be refugees will be resettled in Papua New Guinea. No-one will be resettled in Australia,” Mr. Dutton said in a statement. “The Papua New Guinea government has shown its commitment to permit those found to be refugees to get on with their lives and have a fresh start in this dynamic nation with a growing economy.”

Australia’s policies toward migrants who try to reach it by sea have come under increasing criticism from rights groups. The groups say the country’s two offshore detention centers — one on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, and the other in Nauru — expose asylum seekers to harsh and unsafe conditions.

Papua New Guinea, which Australia says suffers from a general atmosphere of lawlessness, has not resettled anyone in the three years it has hosted the center and it says those who are resettled will face waits of up to eight years before obtaining citizenship.

Refugees will be eligible to apply for citizenship after eight years, but they may be able to bring their families to Papua New Guinea before then, after they have a job and have established themselves.

No refugees will be settled on Manus, only in other parts of Papua New Guinea. It is understood the vast majority are likely to end up in the capital, and economic hub, Port Moresby.

Advocates have said that conditions could prove difficult for refugees in Papua New Guinea, which has one of the world’s highest crime rates. The capital, Port Moresby, has high unemployment and is often ranked in surveys as one of the world’s least livable cities.

Indeed, many of those held in detention have said they will not accede to resettlement elsewhere in Papua New Guinea. Several dozen have already refused to present their refugee claims to officials.

“I will stay inside the detention center for the rest of my life rather than go to Papua New Guinea,” one refugee told Guardian Australia. “I never ever dream I could have a future in this inferno. Hundreds here, they feel same way like me.”

No refugee transferred to Papua New Guinea by Australia has of yet been resettled in the country.

For more information, please see:

ABC Online — PNG to begin resettling Manus Island refugees – 23 October 2015

BBC News — PNG to resettle Manus Island refugees, Australia says – 23 October 2015

NY Times — Papua New Guinea to Resettle Refugees From Australian Detention Center – 23 October 2015

Reuters — ‘Lawless’ Papua New Guinea says to begin resettling asylum seekers from Australian camp – 23 October 2015

The Guardian — Hundreds of refugees are refusing to settle in PNG’s ‘land of opportunities’ – 23 October 2015

Foreign Policy: Kurdistan’s Democracy On The Brink

Iraqi Kurdistan — officially known as the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) — is the country’s only autonomous region. Compared to the rest of Iraq, Kurdistan enjoys more stability, security, political pluralism, and freedom for civil society. From 2003 until 2013, the region witnessed an unprecedented economic boom. During the U.S.-led war to depose Saddam Hussein, the Kurds were some of the United States’ most reliable allies, and today they are playing a pivotal role in the fight against the Islamic State. These stark differences from the chaotic rest of the country have led many to describe the KRI as the “Other Iraq.”

But today, this nascent democracy faces its most severe and probably decisive crisis since the end of its civil war in 1998, which had pitted the region’s two main political camps against each other.

Today’s crisis touches upon two core democratic principles: the peaceful transfer of power and government accountability.

Today’s crisis touches upon two core democratic principles: the peaceful transfer of power and government accountability. It is the outcome of this crisis — and not just the fight against the Islamic State — that will determine the development of democracy in Kurdistan.

Iraqi Kurdistan’s president since 2005 has been Masoud Barzani, whose family has ruled the conservative Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) since its establishment in 1946. Barzani was originally supposed to serve for eight years, as stipulated by the draft constitution. But a 2013 deal between the KDP and its erstwhile rival, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), extended his term for an additional two years. This deal was pushed through the regional parliament despite fierce resistance from the opposition and civil society, who called the extension unconstitutional. But, as of August 19, even this two-year extension has nowpassed — and the KDP has refused to respect the agreement. Barzani still clings to the presidency. His recalcitrance has plunged Iraqi Kurdistan into a deep constitutional crisis.

The region is now deeply divided. Four main parties – Gorran (the Movement for Change), the PUK, the Kurdistan Islamic Union, and the Kurdistan Islamic Group — are calling on Barzani to step down. These four parties, who might be described as the “constitutional camp,” are calling for a genuine parliamentary system in which the president is elected by parliament and is therefore accountable to it. In contrast, Barzani’s KDP and some of its smaller allies (locally known as “political shops” since they were either created or supported by KDP and PUK) want Barzani to get an additional two-year extension. They also argue for a presidential system that would give the president immense power. Only Barzani, they argue, can lead Iraqi Kurdistan in the fight against the Islamic State and thus win the Kurds an independent state — the latter being something that all Kurds, regardless of political persuasion, wholeheartedly favor.

Barzani appears determined to hang on.

Barzani appears determined to hang on. In a recentinterview, his nephew (and current prime minister), Nechirvan Barzani, said that even the president himself acknowledges that his term has expired, and that his staying in power is therefore illegal. But he wants to remain in power until 2017, when the new election is scheduled, to lead the fight against the Islamic State.

Meanwhile, due to the stark decline in oil prices (as well as endemic corruption, general mismanagement, discord with Baghdad, and the fight against the self-proclaimed Islamic State),

Kurdistan is facing a severe economic crisis after years of positive growth.

Kurdistan is facing a severe economic crisis after years of positive growth. The crisis has delayed payment of salaries to civil servants, led to shortages of fuel and electricity, and prompted growing social protests. The constitutional crisis compounds these problems and has fragmented Kurdish society to the core.

Instead of becoming the president of all Kurds, Barzani has remained the president of his own party only. He has been unwilling to take the serious steps necessary to address Kurdistan’s many challenges. He has failed to tackle high-level corruption. He has neglected to implement urgently needed reform of the military and the intelligence and security forces. He has balked at creating an independent judiciary — or, for that matter, any of the institutions required for a democratic statehood. And he has done nothing to bring perpetrators of human rights violations — from his party and others — to justice.

Rather than the unifying leader Kurds so desperately need, Barzani has become a source of division. Instead of relying on internal legitimacy, he has turned to regional and international sponsors to remain in power: the three most influential players in Kurdistan — the United States, Turkey, and Iran — support the unconstitutional extension of Barzani’s term. These countries claim that this bolsters the fight against the Islamic State and will provide stability in Kurdistan and Iraq. For them, it seems, “stability” is more important than democracy.

In its bid to keep Barzani in power, the KDP has resorted to intimidation,violence, threats to re-establish separate governments (which would essentially amount to partition of the region), the manipulation of judicial institutions, and the co-optation and coercion of intellectuals and journalists.

In an attempt to resolve the crisis peacefully, the four parties that oppose extending Barzani’s presidency have presented the KDP with two options they can accept. In the first, parliament will choose a new president, granting him extensive powers. In the second, the people will elect him directly, but as a largely symbolic leader with mostly ceremonial powers. But at an October 8 meeting, the opposing sides failed to reach an agreement. The “constitutional camp” is under immense pressure from its increasingly frustrated supporters to stick to its demand that Barzani should leave power peacefully. But the KDP seems in no mood to compromise, leaving everyone in a bind. The political stalemate has resulted in demonstrations by protesters calling for jobs, payment of back wages, and resignation of Barzani. Five people were killed, reportedly by the KDP security forces.

The KDP has accused Gorran of surreptitiously organizing attacks by protesters on his offices, and physically prevented the speaker of parliament (who is from Gorran) from entering Erbil. (The party has also withdrawn its recognition of his position as speaker.) In addition, Prime Minister Nechiravan Barzani sacked Gorran ministers and replaced them with KDP officials. Gorran says the government is no longer legitimate. The political polarization has reached a climax and no resolution to the stalemate is in sight.

Barzani had a unique opportunity to enter history as the first Kurdish president to abide by democratic rules and step down.

Barzani had a unique opportunity to enter history as the first Kurdish president to abide by democratic rules and step down. Sadly, he has chosen to do the opposite. By so doing, he is critically endangering Kurdistan’s fledgling democracy and the unity the Kurds so badly need to achieve independence.

As the Arab Spring has shown, however, sham internal stability supported by external powers provides neither security to a people nor legitimacy to their aspirations for statehood. Defeating the Islamic State and democratizing Kurdistan are the only ways to ensure long-term genuine stability and prosperity in a crucial region that is at the forefront of the fight against violent religious extremism.

 

Argentina to Hold Runoff Elections

By Kaitlyn Degnan
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Despite polls and the media reporting to the contrary, the Presidential elections in Argentina have resulted in a tie. The top two candidates, current ruling party candidate Daniel Scioli and opposition candidate Mauricio Macri were neck in neck when votes were counted late Sunday evening.

Voters in Buenos Aires during Argentina’s elections on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of the New York Times)

Both candidates started fresh campaigns on Monday. They will face off against each other in a runoff election on November 22.

Results from 97 % of polling places reported that Scioli received 36.9 percent of the vote, and Macri received 34.3 percent. In Argentina, a candidate needs either 45 percent or 40 percent and a 10-point advantage in order to win. Anything less than that forces a second round, as in this case.

The tie came as a surprise – in the week leading up to the election, polls and the media were reporting that Scioli had at least a 10 percent lead over Macri. Scioli’s headquarters even declared victory late Sunday night, after the polls closed but before the final count came in.

Scioli is the handpicked Kirchnerismo successor to outgoing president Cristina Kirchner and currently the governor of the Buenos Aires province. A former vice president, he was originally seen as an easy win. Kirchnerismo is a leftist faction of Peronism (the political ideology started during the rule of Juan Domingo Peron) dominated by President Kirchner and her late husband Nestor Kirchner, who was elected as president for one term in 2003. The Kirchners, popular among the poor and working class but frequently at odds with the business community, have been in power ever since.

Macri, although a member of the opposition, has appealed during his run to Peronist ideals, a popular political movement in Argentina that crosses multiple parties. An engineer by trade, he is considered much more business friendly than the Kirchners. He is also the former president of one of Argentina’s most popular football clubs.

The third runner up in the race was Sergio Massa, a former Kirchnerismo who broke with the faction and ran as an independent candidate. Massa has the opportunity to step into a “kingmaker” role – his endorsement (and his 21 percent of the vote) could make or break either candidate. Although he was in negotiations with Macri prior to the election, as a former Kirchnerismo, he may decide to return and back Scioli.

Despite the lack of decision in the Presidential race, Sunday’s elections did prove historical for Argentina. Maria Eugenia Vidal was elected governor of the Buenos Aires province. Her election ended 30 years of control by Peronists, as she defeated Kirchnerismo former chief of staff Anibal Fernandez. Vidal is also the first ever female governor of the province. Macri appeared beside Vidal on stage following the vote count.

Macri and Scioli are set to participate in a debate on November 15.

 

New York Times – In Argentina Elections, Tight Vote Yields Presidential Runoff – 25 October 2015

BBC – Argentina election: ‘Two country’ poll highlights divisions – 26 October 2015

Buenos Aires Herald – ‘Argentina needs a change and we are ready to carry it out’ – 26 October 2015

Telegraph – Cristina Kirchner’s political project thrown into crisis by shock Argentina election result – 26 October 2015

Washington Post – After surprising election, top 2 Argentine candidates reset – 26 October 2015

 

 

NGO: Brazil’s Prisons a ‘Human Rights Disaster’

By Kaitlyn Degnan
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America 

BRASILIA, Brazil — Brazil’s correctional system has often been criticized for its overcrowding, but a new report released last week by Human Rights Watch sheds light on the wide scope of the problem. The report illustrates an environment of overcrowding and corruption.

Makeshift “barracos,” or cubicles, inside Pavilion 7 at Presídio Juiz Antônio Luiz L. de Barros (PJALLB), in Recife. (Photo courtesy of Human Rights Watch)

The problem is most pronounced in Pernambuco, a small northeastern state. Prisons there are meant to hold a maximum of 10,500 inmates at a time. They currently hold about 32,000 inmates, which is about three times its intended capacity. Currently, there is a thirty prisoner to one guard ratio.

Due to severe understaffing, many of Brazil’s prisons, including Pernambuco, are not controlled by guards, but by inmates. In their report, Human Rights Watch described the use of “keyholders” to maintain order in Brazil’s severely overcrowded prisons.

These keyholders, designated by penitentiary staff, maintain control over almost all aspects of life in the prisons, including the sale of drugs. Keyholders are usually backed by “militias” – strongmen who beat, threaten, and extort other prisoners.

Keyholders themselves usually have private cells, with amenities such as televisions and bathrooms. They often charge inmates about 2,000 reais (the equivalent of USD 530) for a portion of a cell and often require payment of weekly “taxes” to avoid beatings.

Prison staff maintain control over outside pavilions, the areas surrounding multiple cell blocks. Officials have been accused of turning a blind eye to the corruption, or receiving kickbacks.

Sixty percent of inmates have not been convicted and are still awaiting trial. A large number of prisoners in Pernambuco are awaiting custody hearings, wherein a judge makes a determination whether to hold or release the arrestee pending trial. Pernambuco only began providing these hearings in August 2015.  Arrestees are entitled to these hearings under international law.

Additionally, there is no separation of those awaiting trial and those convicted of lesser crimes and convicted violent criminals. Packed, unsanitary conditions have led to outbreaks of tuberculosis, HIV and sexual violence amongst prisoners.

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – Brazil: Where Inmates Run the Show – 19 October 2015

Human Rights Watch – The State Let Evil Take Over – 19 October 2015

Human Rights Watch – Pernambuco’s Privatized Prisons – 20 October 2015

Vice News – This Report on Brazil’s Prisons Exposes a ‘Human Rights Disaster’ – 20 October 2015

Newsweek – Brazil’s Prisons are a ‘Human-Rights Disaster’” HRW – 21 October 2015

New Zealand Herald – Watchdog group blasts Brazil’s violent, crowded prisons – 21 October 2015

 

 

European Leaders Discuss Refugee Crisis at Heated Summit

by Shelby Vcelka

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

BRUSSELS, Belgium–

European leaders have met in Brussels to try to agree on a plan to deal with the large numbers of refugees making their way through impoverished Eastern European countries. The plan that was outlined before the conference began propositioned that Balkan and other Eastern European countries should stop allowing asylum seekers to cross the borders into neighboring countries without acquiring some kind of agreement on a quota system. It also included measures to send approximately 400 border guards to Western Balkans nations, and more maritime support off the coast of Greece within the next week. The European Union would also be tasked with speeding up repatriations of Afghans, Iraqis and others affected by war if their asylum claims were rejected.

Leaders of EU member nations met in Brussels to discuss a comprehensive, coordinated plan for dealing with the refugee crisis. (Photo courtesy of The Guardian)

The European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, put the plan together and designed it to stem the flow of refugees through the Balkan and Central European “safe zone” towards Austria and Germany. The borders put up by Eastern European countries, Juncker reasoned, had already compromised the Schengen visa-free zone, and this plan would help stop the rising tensions between neighboring countries in an already unstable region. “If we do not deliver some immediate and concrete actions on the ground in the next few days and weeks I believe the EU and Europe as a whole will start falling apart,” he said.

As the cold weather approaches, both the EU member nations and international aid organizations are increasingly concerned about how the already overwhelmed countries will provide aid.   Medecins Sans Frontiers warned of coming frostbite and announced an critical need for food, warm shelters, and shower facilities at major transportation locations. Additionally, the UN has drawn up plans to distribute thousands of winter and raincoats, tarps, and socks to migrants in south Eastern Europe. Already, the temperatures have dropped to below freezing levels at night. The movement of refugees is not expected to slow once the cold weather arrives.   “Every day counts. Otherwise we will soon see families in cold rivers in the Balkans perish miserably,” Juncker said in an interview.

The summit was a move by Juncker and the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, to raise pressure on the European states to coordinate on the migrant crisis and stop fighting between them. The hope was to help manage migration flow in a humane way.

For more information, please see

Reuters– EU’s Juncker summons leaders over Balkan refugee crisis— 21 October 2015

BBC– Migrant crisis: Emergency talks on Balkans under way— 25 October 2015

The Guardian– European leaders discuss refugee crisis at tense Brussels summit— 25 October 2015

The Telegraph– Refugees will freeze to death, warn EU head— 25 October 2015

U.S. News & World Report– EU leaders exchange barbs at migrant summit as refugees march by the thousands across Europe— 25 October 2015

Three Chinese Diplomats Shot in Philippines

By Christine Khamis

Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

 

MANILA, Philippines –

Two Chinese diplomats were shot to death in a restaurant in Cebu, a central city in the Philippines, on Wednesday. Another Chinese diplomat was wounded after he was shot in the neck by the same shooter. Two of their colleagues are suspects in the shootings.

Police outside of the restaurant where Ms. Li, Mr. Sun, and Consul General Song were shot. (Photo courtesy of CNN)

Li Qingliang and his wife, Guo Jing, both employees at Cebu’s Chinese Consulate, have been identified as the suspects in the shooting. Police found a .45-caliber pistol left behind by the suspects at the restaurant. Police have not yet determined Mr. Li and Ms. Guo’s motive for the shootings. Mr. Li and Ms. Guo fled from the restaurant but were later arrested at Cebu’s consular office.

According to Colonel Romeo Santander, Superintendent of Cebu Police City Intelligence Branch, Li Hui and Sun Shen, employees of the Chinese Consulate, were shot while dining with their colleagues.

Ms. Li was a finance officer for the Chinese Consulate and Mr. Sun was the Consul General’s deputy. The Consul General, Song Ronghua, was also shot and wounded. He is currently in stable condition.

Colonel Santander said that video footage of the shootings shows an argument breaking out among the people seated at the table. Mr. Li then shot Ms. Li, Mr. Sun, and Consul General Song.

The Philippine Foreign Ministry has stated that both Mr. Li and Ms. Guo have diplomatic immunity pursuant to the Vienna Convention, as they are accredited Chinese diplomats. The Ministry’s spokesman, Charles Jose, says that both will handed over to China and will be subject to China’s legal process. China’s ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that the case will be handled according to applicable international treaties and bilateral consular agreements.

China and the Philippines have disputed over territorial claims in the South China Sea. Consul General Song recently took office and has been working to help China improve ties with the Philippines. Local reports say that Consul General Song stated that the two countries had “no excuses to quarrel” at a conference that took place last month.

 

For more information, please see:

CNN – Two Chinese Diplomats Accused of Killing Colleagues in the Philippines – 22 October 2015

BBC – Chinese Diplomats Shot Dead in Philippines Restaurant Attack – 21 October 2015

The New York Times – 2 Chinese Diplomats Shot to Death in Philippines – 21 October 2015

Voice of America – 2 Chinese Diplomats Killed in Philippines Shooting – 21 October 2015

The Wall Street Journal – Two Chinese Diplomats Killed by Gunman in Philippines – 21 October 2015

Putin Meets With Assad in Moscow to Discuss Syrian Crisis

by Shelby Vcelka

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia–

In a surprise visit to Moscow, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria met with the Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the situation in Syria. Putin stressed that Russia’s support with military operations in Syria must lead to a political process that ends the conflict indefinitely.   The visit demonstrated strengthened confidences between the leaders, as Russia had recently escalated their support in the region, by carrying out airstrikes against the Syrian insurgents.

President Assad of Syria shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin after meeting to discuss Russia’s involvement in the Syrian Civil War. Assad’s surprise visit to Moscow was indicative of Russia’s continuing support of his regime. (Photo courtesy of Reuters)

Moscow, a long time ally of the Assad regime, began an air raid and bombing campaign on September 30th, against alleged terrorist groups they claim threaten Assad’s rule in the region. However, the United States and other western nations state that the Russian intervention will end up bolstering the Assad regime, and create more conflict. While Putin claims that the Russian military is fighting against the Islamic State and other terrorist militants in Syria, many of the airstrikes have actually been conducted against Syrian rebels and other dissidents of the Assad regime. The Russian government is the latest nation to get involved in the Syrian Civil War.

“A long-term settlement can only be achieved as part of a political process with the participation of all political forces, ethnic and religious groups. The Syrian people have been putting up a fight against international terrorism effectively on its own for several years, sustaining sizable losses but it has achieved positive results recently,” Putin said.

Through the meetings, Putin made it clear that Russia seeks to have a leading role in any solutions regarding Syria’s political future, seemingly to ensure Russia’s sphere of influence in the Middle East. He further stated that Russia’s involvement in the Syrian crisis was “necessary,” as around 4,000 people from the former Soviet Union republics were fighting in Syria against the Syrian army. If these insurgents were allowed to return to Russia, Putin said, they might foment insecurity, and create violence at home.

For more information, please see

Huffington Post–Bashar Assad Meets With Vladimir Putin – In Moscow— 21 October 2015

Russian Times– Assad to Putin at Moscow talks: Terrorists would seize larger areas if Russia did not act— 21 October 2015

Washington Post– In rare foreign trip, Assad flies to Moscow to meet with Putin— 21 October 2o15

Mail & Guardian– Putin meets Assad – runs rings around Western critics— 22 October 2015