Brazil: Opposition Seeks Resignation from Eduardo Cunha

By Kaitlyn Degnan
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BRASILIA, Brazil — Members of Brazil’s Congress are calling for the resignation of Eduard Cunha, President of Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies after newspaper Folha de S. Paolo reported that he received kickbacks from a Petrobras contract.

President of Brazil’s House of Deputies, Eduardo Cunha. (Photo courtesy of the BBC).

Cunha is a member of the Party for the Democratic Movement of Brazil, which is part of the government coalition. Cunha left the coalition in July after a Petrobras consultant alleged that he demanded bribes for contracts.

Cunha denied involvement in the scheme back in March.

Cunha allegedly received kickbacks in a Swiss account from a Petrobras contract in Africa. A lobbyist (reportedly the operator for PMDB at Petrobras) said he deposited $7.5 million in Cunha’s account. Swiss officials confirmed that there was $5 million in accounts belonging to Cunha, according to the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office.

His attorneys, in a statement said that they learned about the allegations from media report. They plan to ask the Supreme Court for access to the investigation.

Opposition leaders sent Cunha an e-mail urging him to resign. A group of MPs, Rousseff’s supporters on the left, demanded Cunha be investigated under the code of ethics.

Cunha has denied the accounts, and said that he will not resign. He claims that the Brazil’s chief prosecutor leaked the information to embarrass him politically.

These calls for resignation comes just days after Brazil’s Court of Accounts ruled that President Dilma Rousseff’s government “overstated tax receipts and hid expenses,” manipulating 2014 revenue and spending figures. It is up to Cunha to make the decision on whether to let the dozen or so impeachment motions filed in Congress to proceed.

It is reported that Cunha was working with other members to start the proceedings when news broke of the kickbacks.

The president’s office has so far declined to comment on the matter.

 

For more information, please see:

Huffington Post – Eduardo Cunha: Time to Resign – 7 October 2015

Wall Street Journal – Brazil Watchdog Rules Against Rousseff, Fueling Impeachment Talk – 7 October 2015

BBC – Brazil opposition demands sacking of Congress speaker – 10 October 2015

Bloomberg Business- Brazil’s Cunha got Kickbacks from Petrobras Contract, Folha Says – 10 October 2015

Bloomberg Business – Rousseff’s Most Powerful Foe Suffers Blow in Kickback Scandal – 10 October 2015

 

 

Documents Show Pinochet Ordered 1976 Assassination

By Kaitlyn Degnan
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America 

SANTIAGO, Chile — Newly declassified documents show that 1976 assassination of Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier was directly ordered by General Augusto Pinochet. Pinochet ruled Chile as dictator from 1973 until 1990.

Orlando Letelier, along with an American co-worker, was killed by a car bomb in Washington, D.C. on September 21, 1976. A third passenger was seriously injured, but survived.

A Washington, D.C. memorial to Letelier and Ronni Moffit. (Photo courtesy of the New York Times).

Letelier was a former Chilean defense and foreign minister, a top official under Salvador Allende, the Marxist President deposed in the 1973 coup. Before fleeing to the United States, Letelier was tortured and jailed.

In the United States, Letelier lobbied against Pinochet’s government and was considered one of its most prominent opponents.

The documents included a secret 1987 memorandum written by George P. Shultz, then Secretary of State. The memorandum (addressed to President Ronald Reagan) referred to a C.I.A. report which he said contained “convincing evidence that President Pinochet personally ordered his intelligence chief to carry out the murders.”

Chilean courts held agents of DINA, the intelligent agency and Pinochet’s secret police, responsible for the murder.

The former director of DINA, General Manuel Contreras, was later tried and convicted of human rights violations in the 1990s by a Chilean court. He was sentenced to 505 years in prison, where he died on August 8, 2015.

The documents allegedly include correspondence from Contreras confirming that “all foreign operations had been approved by Pinochet.”

It has long been assumed that Pinochet was responsible for the murder, but this is the first presentation of conclusive evidence.

John Kerry gave the collection of over 280 documents to the Chilean government while in the country this week. The documents had previously been withheld from the last release of documents related to the Pinochet regime, released by the Clinton administration from 1999 to 2000. The Justice Department had renewed the investigation into the case and the withheld documents were considered potential evidence.

The release of the documents was reported by Chilean Senator Juab Pablo Letelier, son of the late Orlando Letelier. Chilean President Michelle Bachelet arranged for Senator Letelier to receive copies of the documents. He said that the documents contained “concrete information about how Pinochet covered up his responsibility.”

 

For more information, please see:

The Guardian – Pinochet directly ordered killing on US soil of Chilean diplomat, papers reveal – 8 October 2015

Reuters – U.S. documents show Pinochet ordered Letelier’s murder: Chilean senator – 8 October 2015

Washington Post – Declassified US docs reveal Pinochet ordered killing in US – 8 October 2015

Fox News Latino – Chilean dictator Pinochet personally ordered assassination of diplomat, documents reveal – 9 October 2015

New York Times – C.I.A. Believed Pinochet Ordered 1976 Assassination in U.S., Memo Reveals – 9 October 2015

 

 

 

Christian Pastor in Bangladesh Survives Murder Attempt

By Christine Khamis

Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

 

DHAKA, Bangladesh—

A Baptist pastor survived a murder attempt on Monday, after he invited three men who expressed interest in religion into his home.

Reverend Luke Sarker, the pastor of Faith Bible Church in Pabna, a district in northwest Bangladesh, is a Bangladeshi that recently converted to Christianity. In September, he met with two men to discuss religion and their interest in converting to Christianity.

The men then requested a second meeting with Reverend Sarker for Monday and came to his home along with a third man. During their meeting with Reverend Sarker, his wife left the room. The three men then attacked him Reverend Sarker and attempted to slit his throat with a knife. When Reverend Sarker cried out for help, his wife and neighbors rushed to his aid. His attackers then fled and police later found a motorbike near the home. Reverend Sarker’s wounds from the knife attack were not serious.

Police have arrested a member of Islami Chhatra Shibir, which is the student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami, a political party that opposes Bangladesh’s current government. The member, Obaidul Islam, was detained for questioning after police raided his home in Pabna. According to a local police chief, Rezaul Karim, police also arrested a local businessman and an activist for the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, another opposing political party and a key ally of Jamaat-e-Islami.

This attack comes after last week’s murders of two foreigners living in Bangladesh. One, an Italian aid worker employed in Dhaka, and the other, a Japanese famrer residing in northern Bangladesh, were shot to death. According to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors the websites of radical Islamic groups, the Islamic State declared responsibility for their deaths. There has been no independent confirmation that the Islamic State was responsible for the killings.

The Bangladesh government, led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, has rejected the Islamic State’s claim and has instead blamed the attacks on the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Jamaat-e-Islami. The Bangladesh government believes that through the attacks, the opposition groups are attempting to destabilize the country. The Bangladesh Nationalist Party denied involvement in the attacks.

Bangladesh’s Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina. (Photo courtesy of HNGN)

There have also recently been a series of attacks against secular bloggers in Bangladesh, whose population is predominantly Muslim. This year, four secular bloggers were hacked to death. Extremist Islamic groups are believed to be behind the attacks.

 

For more information, please see:

Headlines and Global News (HNGN) – Christian Pastor Escapes Murder Attempt in Northwest Bangladesh, Police Arrest Suspect – 7 October 2015

Associated Press – Christian Pastor Survives Knife Attack at Home in Bangladesh – 6 October 2015

BBC – Bangladesh Pastor Survives Knife Attack – 6 October 2015

New York Times – Baptist Pastor in Bangladesh Survives Knife Attack – 6 October 2015

 

 

 

 

 

Syria Deeply: Russia Is Intensifying the Syria Conflict

WEEKLY UPDATE
October 9, 2015

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.

Russia Is Intensifying the Syria Conflict

It’s hard to fathom, writes political analyst Sharif Nashashibi in his debut article for Syria Deeply, but the civil war is about to get a lot worse. “This new push by the Syrian government’s allies,” he writes, “is setting the stage for the further escalation and prolongation of the conflict. If Moscow thinks its current muscle flexing will pacify Syria, it is sorely mistaken.”

My Syrian Diary Part 42

“It looks like escaping has become our new destiny,” writes Marah in this week’s diary entry. “We want to escape from home, from our responsibilities and from the whole country. What’s left? Maybe I will escape life altogether. The situation keeps deteriorating. I try not to let this crisis affect everything I do, but I always fail in this effort. The crisis is stronger than me. It actually controls my life.”

War Widows: Caught Between Unbearable Losses and Daily Challenges

Thousands of widowed Syrian women face poverty as well as grief. Unable to work, and with no income of their own, they often endure strict control from their remaining family. For some, life is so difficult that they make the heartbreaking decision to remarry in a desperate attempt to find financial stability. Syria Deeply’s partners on the ground spoke to widows throughout Idlib province about how they’re coping.

More Recent Stories to Look Out for at Syria Deeply:

Nigeria’s Continued Success Against Boko Haram

By Tyler Campbell

Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

 

ABUJA, Nigeria – Late on April 16, 2014 heavily armed Boko Haram Islamists raided a Government Girls Secondary School and abducted nearly 200 girls from their dorms. Around 9 p.m. gunmen overtook soldiers guarding the school in a lengthy gun battle and forced nearly 200 girls onto trucks and vans. As they left the town they set fire to homes and business throughout the town.

(Loading those recused from Boko Haram onto trucks. Photo courtesy: Pan Atlantic Journal)

These scenes have become frighteningly commonplace in Nigeria. Terrorist organizations like Boko Haram, which roughly translates to western education is forbidden, had become an accepted part of life. This was true, until newly elected president Muhammadu Buhari declared all out war on these types of organizations. At first there was major backlash against president Buhari and his policy of eliminating these groups by December 2015. In fact, attacks by Boko Haram and other groups intensified right after Buhari’s election. Finally it seems the tides are starting to turn against these organizations and Nigeria’s military is racking up some notable accomplishments.

 

On September 23, the Nigerian military had one of these notable accomplishments. The military conducted raids on two Boko Haram camps and freed 241 women and children being held there. Along with freeing these prisoners they also captured 43 militants. One of these 43 was a notable Boko Haram kingpin named Bulama Modu.

 

Along with capturing militants, the Nigerian military destroyed the camps and captured weaponry, which ranged from AK-47’s to bows and arrows. One captured militant even gave up the location of a Boko Haram IED factory in the Dara Jamel village in Nigeria. The attitude of surrender seems to be spreading throughout the Boko Haram. Many militants have been caught burying their weapons and fleeing or surrendering to Nigerian troops.

 

Today a remaining pocket of Boko Haram terrorist attempted to make a last stand against the advancing forces of the Nigerian 120 Task Force Battalion. The Battalion successfully repelled the advance and inflicted heavy casualties on group. After the advance, a minimum of 100 militant bodies were found. The task force also captured a sizeable arms cache, which included 2 Rocket Propelled Grenades and supplies for making more IED’s.

 

As Boko Haram continues to retreat and lose ground they have been forced underground and out of the country. In the coming months it is likely that the group will turn more and more toward guerilla type tactics. This trend is already beginning to materialize. Last month Boko Haram claimed multiple suicide bombings  throughout Nigeria. Unfortunately, this is a price Nigeria and the surrounding area will have to pay as Boko Haram is slowly overwhelmed.

 

For more information, please see:

All Africa – Nigerian Army Kills Scores of Boko Haram Insurgents in Yobe State – 7 October 2015

Nigerian Army ­– Press Release – 23 September 2015

CNN – Nigerian forces free 241 women, children in Boko Haram camps, arrest kingpin – 23 September 2015

CNN – As many as 200 girls abducted by Boko Haram, Nigerian officials say – 16 April 2014

California Governor Signs Right-to-Die Legislation

By Samuel Miller
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America and Oceania

SACRAMENTO, CA, United States of America — California Gov. Jerry Brown signed “right-to-die” legislation on Monday that will allow the terminally ill to legally end their lives. California has joined four other states that allow terminally ill patients to legally end their lives with a doctor’s supervision.

Advocates of the Right-to-Die Legislation Illustrate the Case of Brittney Maynard. (Photo Courtesy of BBC News)

The California legislation is modeled after the Death with Dignity law passed by Oregon voters in 1994, which made that state the first in the nation to allow some terminally ill patients to choose the time of their own death.

In a rare personal message, Gov. Jerry Brown provided insight into his deliberations before deciding to sign the bill, reflecting on religion and self-determination as he weighed an emotionally fraught choice.

“In the end, I was left to reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death,” said Gov. Brown. “I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain. I am certain, however, that it would be a comfort to be able to consider the options afforded by this bill.” Gov. Brown has previously been treated for prostate cancer and melanoma.

Brown’s signature on the right-to-die legislation Monday capped an intensely personal debate that dominated much of this year’s legislative session and divided lawmakers. Many lawmakers also drew on personal experience to explain their decisions to support or reject legislation making California the fifth state to allow terminally ill patients to use doctor-prescribed drugs to end their lives.

The measure applies only to mentally sound people and not those who are depressed or impaired. The bill includes requirements that patients be physically capable of taking the medication themselves, that two doctors approve it, that the patients submit several written requests and that there be two witnesses, one of whom is not a family member.

Supporters hope that adoption of right-to-die legislation in the nation’s most populous state will spur approval elsewhere, although legislation introduced this year in at least two dozen other states stalled. Opponents said Monday that they were disappointed the governor relied so heavily on his personal experience in his decision and that they were considering options to stop it.

Among those opposed to the law are religious groups and advocates for people with disabilities, who worry it could open the door to all kinds of terrible scenarios, such as premature suicide, coerced early death and overriding God’s will.

At the center of the debate was Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old California woman with brain cancer who drew national attention for her decision to move to Oregon to end her life. Prior to Ms. Maynard taking her own life, she told California lawmakers that the terminally ill should not have to “leave their home and community for peace of mind, to escape suffering and to plan for a gentle death.”

For more information, please see:

ABC News — Gov. Brown Signs California Right-to-Die Measure – 6 October 2015

CNN — California governor signs ‘right to die’ bill – 6 October 2015

Washington Post — Jerry Brown just signed right-to die-legislation in California. Here’s how we got here. – 6 October 2015

BBC News — California enacts right-to-die law for terminally ill – 5 October 2015

WebMD — CA Governor Signs Right-to-Die Bill Into Law – 5 October 2015

North Korea Releases South Korean NYU Student After Six Month Detainment

By Christine Khamis

Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

SEOUL, South Korea –

North Korea has released and deported South Korean student Joo Won-moon after detaining him for six months. Mr. Joo was caught crossing the North Korea-China border in April and was arrested for what North Korea called a serious violation of its laws. Upon Mr. Joo’s release, North Korea stated that it deported him as a humanitarian measure.

A screen-shot of Mr. Joo during an interview with CNN in May. (Photo courtesy of NPR)

On Monday, Mr. Joo was handed over to South Korean officials at Panmunjom, a village on the border of North and South Korea. The South Korean government has stated that its National Intelligence Service will investigate Mr. Joo’s act of crossing into North Korea. Mr. Joo’s crossing into North Korea was a violation of South Korea’s national security law, which forbids unapproved travel to the North.

Mr. Joo is a permanent citizen of the United States and attends New York University. At the time of his detainment, Mr. Joo was taking a semester off from NYU and had traveled to North Korea after trying unsuccessfully to find employment in California.

Mr. Joo states that he was treated well by North Korean officials during his detainment. He recently appeared in front of North Korean state media and gave a statement saying that he had not been allowed to contact his family but wanted them to know that he was healthy. In his media appearance, Mr. Joo also acknowledged that he had entered the country illegally and read from a speech praising North Korea and its government.

Mr. Joo’s recent appearance in front of the North Korean state media. (Photo courtesy of International Business Times)

In an interview with CNN in May, Mr. Joo stated that he had hoped to improve relations between North and South Korea with his act of crossing the China-North Korea border. Mr. Joo told CNN that he had hoped that some great event would happen and that it would hopefully have a positive effect on the relationship between North and South Korea, but that he was not sure at the time what great event his actions could lead to.

North Korea currently has three other South Koreans detained for crimes of espionage. South Korea states that the charges against them are “groundless”. While South Korea welcomes Mr. Joo’s release, the South Korean Unification Ministry has called for North Korea to free the three detained South Koreans as well.

North Korea is also holding a Korean-Canadian pastor who has confessed to crimes aimed at overthrowing the state, according to North Korea’s state media.

North and South Korea came to an agreement in August to improve ties after a period of heightened conflict. One of their attempts at improving ties is to allow families separated since the Korean War to temporarily reunite with their family members later this month.

 

For more information, please see:

Associated Press – North Korea Releases Detained South Korean Student – 5 October 2015

CNN – North Korea Releases NYU Student – 5 October 2015

International Business Times – North Korea to Release Detained New York University Student – 5 October 2015

NPR – North Korea Releases Detained NYU Student to South Korea – 5 October 2015

New York Times – N.Y.U. Student Detained in North Korea Is Released, South Says – 5 October 2015

 

Reuters – North Korea Frees South Korean Student Held Since April — 5 October 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mausoleum Destruction in Timbuktu Leads to ICC Case

By Tyler Campbell

Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

 

THE HAGUE, Netherlands – This September the International Criminal Court faced its first suspect charged with deliberately destroying religious or historical monuments. The suspect’s name is Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi and he is charged in connection with the destruction of historic monuments in Timbuktu. This destruction took place in 2012 when Islamist Tuareg rebels took over the city and destroyed 14 of cities 16 historic mausoleums. These mausoleums had been labeled and protected as parts of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Islamist militants destroying historic Mausoleum. Photo courtesy of the BBC

The ICC’s accusation against Mahdi reads that he committed a “direct attack against buildings dedicated to religion, education, art, science or charitable purposes, and historic monuments.” This charge has been grouped under the larger umbrella of war crimes. The ICC issued a warrant for Mahdi since he is considers a war criminal for these acts. The case was transferred from the Niger court, by the prosecuting attorney Fatou Bensouda, to the ICC after it issued a warrant on September 18.

 

Judge Cuno Tarfusser heard Mahdi’s opening statements and set the date for the first formal hearing on January 18, 2016. During this hearing Mahdi gave some basic information about himself saying, “My name is Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi, and I am from the Tuareg tribe… I was born about 40 years ago. I am a graduated of the teacher’s institute in Timbuktu and I was a civil servant in the education department… beginning in 2011.” He also asked to be spoken to in Arabic but declined further statements until he consulted his lawyers.

 

Prosecution at the ICC has alleged that Mahadi was at the head of the Hesbah during the Islamist Tuareg rebels control of Timbuktu in 2012 through 2013. The Hesbah acted as a sort of morality police, enforcing the Islamic religion, during this time period and lead the attack on 10 of the protected historical monuments. The Hesbah targeted these buildings because they were seen as symbols of idolatry to the Islamic faith.

 

The leader of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Irina Bokova, applauded the decision by the Niger prosecution to transfer this case to the ICC. The direct attack by the Tuareg rebels was seen as a crime against not only the people of Timbuktu but also the world. “The cultural heritage of Mali belongs to all humanity,” she said in a statement given after the transfer. Since the attack, UNESCO has been busy helping the people of Timbuktu rebuild the 14 mausoleums that were destroyed during the occupation. The buildings can be rebuilt, but the thousands of ancient manuscripts that were burnt during the occupation, sadly, are lost forever.

 

 

 

 

For more information, please see:

BBC – Timbuktu mausoleum destruction suspect appears at ICC – 30 September 2015

Deutsche Welle – Islamist leader faces ICC over Timbuktu mausoleum destruction – 30 September 2015

AP – Suspect in destruction of Timbuktu mausoleums sent to ICC – 26 September 2015

All Africa – UN Hails War Crimes Trial for Suspect in Destruction of Historic Monuments – 26 September 2015

Nauru Eases Detention Center Rules for Asylum Seekers

By Samuel Miller
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America and Oceania

MELBOURNE, Australia — Asylum seekers being held in a controversial center in the South Pacific are to be allowed to roam free, effectively ending their detention. All 600 people at the center on Nauru will be allowed to move around the tiny island nation; they will also have their outstanding applications for asylum processed within the next seven days.

The Nation of Nauru Will Allow Asylum Seekers Free Movement Around the Island. (Photo Courtesy of BBC News)

The surprise decision also came two days before the Australian High Court was due to examine the legality of Australia’s role in the offshore detention.

Successive Australian governments have vowed to stop asylum seekers reaching the mainland. For example, the country has previously turned boats back to Indonesia when it could, and sending those it could not for detention in camps on Nauru and on Manus Island in impoverished Papua New Guinea.

Justice Minister David Adeang issued a statement regarding the recent developments on Nauru and Manus Island Monday,

“The start of detention-free processing is a landmark day for Nauru and represents an even more compassionate program, which was always the intention of our government,” said Mr. Adeang. Mr. Adeang also confirmed that the Australian authorities would “provide support with safety, security and law enforcement.”

Advocates have long criticized Australia’s policy to hold asylum seekers on outlying islands, where they face the risks of violence and long periods in difficult conditions with limited medical care. Last month, an Australian Senate Report found conditions on Nauru were not appropriate or safe for detainees, and urged the government to remove children from the center.

Hugh de Kretser, the executive director of the Human Rights Law Center in Melbourne, Australia, expressed sentiments of both cautious optimism and skepticism.

“It is a welcome development that will provide some relief to the 600 or so people being detained, but it doesn’t address the fundamental injustice of warehousing people on a tiny island nation.”

Mr. de Kretser went on to question the timing of the announcement, which came just days before a hearing at Australia’s High Court on a challenge to the country’s immigration policy filed by the law center.

“We don’t think it’s a coincidence that this announcement is happening three years after the reopening of the detention center and two days before the highest court is considering the lawfulness of offshore detention on Nauru.”

The legal challenge has been brought on behalf of a pregnant woman from Bangladesh who was taken to Australia from the detention center in Nauru for hospital treatment. More than 200 asylum seekers, including 50 children, are also seeking legal protection after being taken to Australia for medical care they could not receive in Nauru and Manus Island.

The harsh conditions at the camps, including reports of systemic child abuse, have been strongly criticized by the United Nations and human rights groups.

An independent U.N. investigator postponed an official visit to Australia last month, citing a lack of government cooperation and “unacceptable” legal restrictions.

For more information, please see:

BBC News — Nauru to end detention of asylum seekers – 5 October 2015

NY Times — Nauru Easing Rules for Asylum Seekers at Detention Center Financed by Australia – 5 October 2015

Reuters — Tiny Nauru throws gates open at Australian camp for asylum seekers – 5 October 2015

Sky News — Asylum Seekers Free To Leave Nauru Centre – 5 October 2015

The Guardian — Nauru says it will process remaining 600 refugee claims within a week – 4 October 2015

WCPW Volume 10, Issue 15 – October 5, 2015

War Crimes Prosecution Watch is a bi-weekly e-newsletter that compiles official documents and articles from major news sources detailing and analyzing salient issues pertaining to the investigation and prosecution of war crimes throughout the world. To subscribe, please email warcrimeswatch@pilpg.org and type “subscribe” in the subject line.

Opinions expressed in the articles herein represent the views of their authors and are not necessarily those of the War Crimes Prosecution Watch staff, the Case Western Reserve University School of Law or Public International Law & Policy Group.

Contents

AFRICA

International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda

Mali

Nigeria

EUROPE

Court of Bosnia & Herzegovina, War Crimes Chamber

International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

Domestic Prosecutions In The Former Yugoslavia

MIDDLE EAST AND ASIA

Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia

Iraq

Syria

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant

Special Tribunal for Lebanon

Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal

War Crimes Investigations in Burma

NORTH AND SOUTH AMERICA

United States

South & Central America

TOPICS

Terrorism

Piracy

Gender-Based Violence

Priest Comes Out as Gay On the Eve of Vatican Synod

by Shelby Vcelka

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

VATICAN CITY–

Monsignor Krzysztof Charamsa, a senior priest at the Vatican, revealed he is gay on the eve of a synod on the Church’s family teachings. Monsignor Charamsa said he came out to challenge the Catholic Church’s “backwards” attitudes and traditions towards homosexuality. He also revealed that he was in a relationship, and was happy and proud of his decision. In reponse, the Vatican called his actions “very serious and irresponsible,” and subsequently stripped him of all responsibilities.

Monsignor Krzystof Charamsa poses with his boyfriend, Eduoard, after coming out as gay during a press conference. The Monsignor came out on the eve of a synod put on by the Vatican focusing on Catholic family values. (Photo courtesy of the Irish Times.)

The official subject under discussion at the three- week synod is how to make sure that Catholic families will follow Church teachings. However, Monsignor Charamsa’s announcement all but confirms the existence of a “gay lobby” in the Catholic Church, and threatens to derail the synod. The undertone of the conference, nonetheless, remains whether the Church can relax its abhorrence to same-sex relationships and marriage while the Pope comments, “Who am I to judge?”

Monsignor Charamsa has not yet submitted his resignation to the Vatican, but hopes that his coming out will encourage others to push for change within the Church. During the press conference, he presented a ten-point “liberation manifesto” against “institutionalized homophobia within the Church,” which Monsignor Charamsa claims oppresses gay men in the Church, who allegedly make up a majority of the priesthood.

“I dedicate my coming out to all gay priests,” Charamsa said. “I wish them happiness even if I know that most of them will not have the courage to make the gesture I have made today. To my Church, I want to say that I reject and I denounce the current atmosphere of exasperating homophobia. Open your eyes to the suffering of gay people, to their desire for love.”

Monsignor Charamsa has been a member of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith since 2003. While his fate as a priest is up to the local bishop in his home country of Poland, the Vatican has said he will no longer be a member of the Congregation.

For more information, please see

Al-Jazeera–Vatican fires senior priest who declares homosexuality on eve of synod— 3 October 2015

BBC–Vatican acts after Polish priest reveals homosexuality— 3 October 2015

DNA–Vatican sacks gay priest after highly public coming out— 3 October 2015

Irish Times– Holy See rocked as senior Vatican priest comes out as gay— 3 October 2015

France Opens Criminal Investigation of Torture by Assad Regime

by Shelby Vcelka

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

PARIS, France–

Last week, France opened the first criminal inquiry into allegations of torture under the regime of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. Based upon tens of thousands of photographs taken by Syrian defectors, the evidence of torture is quite convincing. However, the investigation is still in the early stages, as a French torture victim or the arrest of a Syrian official will be necessary to move the charges forward.

Syrian defector “Ceasar” (blue hoodie jacket) took many of the 55,000 photographs that depict torture conducted by the Assad regime between 2011 and 2013. The photos are the basis of a French investigation into the crimes committed by the Assad regime, the first in the world against the Syrian government. (Photo courtesy of Yahoo!)

International human rights advocates have hailed the measure as necessary, despite the move being largely symbolic in nature. The problem, advocates state, is not the evidence, but rather the ability to get a live witness in front of a French courtroom.

“Faced with these crimes that offend the human conscience, this bureaucracy of horror, faced with this denial of the values of humanity, it is our responsibility to act against the impunity of the killers,” the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, said while announcing the investigation to international press. Mr. Fabius asked prosecutors to move forward with the investigation on September 10th, immediately after the French government authenticated the photographs taken by the defectors. A unit in the prosecutor’s office that specializes in mass crimes will be in charge of the investigation.

France, along with the United States, believes that Assad is part of the problem in Syria, and that he cannot be part of the solution in the Middle East. The French insistence on this is based on the photographs depicting mass torture taken by the defectors. These photographs, taken between 2011 and 2013, portray victims with eyes gouged out, starved, beaten and maimed, as well as corpses piled up by the thousands. The scale of the problem is believed to have grown, as more people have been killed by the Assad regime than by ISIS since the beginning of the Syrian civil war.

Earlier in the week, the U.N. Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, called for the Syrian civil war to be referred to the International Criminal Court for investigation. France is the first country to act since this call has been made, and has since stated that their probe should not prevent other countries from acting, nor should the U.N. feel discouraged from beginning their own investigations.

For more information, please see

The Telegraph–France ‘opens war crimes inquiry against Assad regime’ in Syria: UN debate— 29 September 2015

Economic Times– France opens probe into Assad regime for ‘crimes against humanity’: Judicial source— 30 September 2015

New York Times– France Opens Criminal Investigation of Torture in Syria Under Assad— 30 September 2015

Toronto Metro– France opens investigation into alleged crimes against humanity by Syria— 30 September 2015

Yahoo! News– France opens probe into Assad regime for crimes against humanity— 30 September 2015

Brazil: Former President Questioned in Scandal

By Kaitlyn Degnan
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BRASILIA, Brazil — The Federal Supreme Court has ruled that former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (Lula) may be questioned in the Petrobras scandal. He may only be questioned as a witness and not as a target of investigation. Prosecutors say there is no evidence of tying Lula, who served as president of Brazil from 2003 until 2011, to any crimes. Should evidence of wrongdoing come to light, the Supreme Court would have to specifically authorize an investigation into Lula’s conduct.

Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. (Photo courtesy of the New York Times).

The Federal Police motioned to question Lula, saying that he may have “obtained benefits for himself, his party, the still-governing PT (Workers Party); or his administration by maintaining a base of political support sustained at the cost of illicit business.” Investigators said that evidence that had already been obtained in plea bargain testimony from those already convicted implies that the scandal “reaches the political and partisan nucleus of his government.”

The scheme at the center of the Petrobras scandal is alleged to have run from 2004 until 2014. The scheme provided kickbacks for contracts and created the illusion of a competitive bidding process.

During at least part of the time when the scheme was in place, current President Dilma Rousseff was serving as Chairwoman of Petrobras. She has not been charged with any wrongdoing.

A number of high level officials who served under Lula have already been implicated in the scandal, including his former Chief of Staff, Jose Dirceu. Dirceu has been charged by federal prosecutors with corruption, money laundering and racketeering. He is believed to have started the scheme.

The former treasurer of the Worker’s Party Joao Vaccari was convicted of corruption, money laundering and conspiracy, and sentenced to over 15 years in prison. He accepted at least $1 million in bribes.

Additionally, charges have been brought against the current speaker of the lower house of congress, Eduardo Cunha, and senator Fernando Collor de Mello, who was president from 1990-1992.

As a result of the scandal, the Court has issued a prohibition on corporate entities providing funding to political candidates.

For more information, please see:

Reuters – Brazil court allows allows Lula questioning in Petrobras corruption case – 2 October 2015

Wall Street Journal – Brazil Supreme Court Allows Police Questioning of Ex President – 2 October 2015

Agence France-Presse – Brazil high court: Lula can be questioned in Petrobras probe – 3 October 2015

Fox News Latino – Brazil high court OKs questioning of Lula in Petrobras corruption case – 3 October 2015

International Business Times – Petrobras Scandal: Brazil’s Highest Court Rules Authorities Can Question Former President Lula da Silva In Growing Political Kickback Investigation – 3 October 2015

Jurist – Brazil ex-president to be questioned in Petrobras case – 3 October 2015