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.