ICTJ | World Report November 2015 – Transitional Justice News and Analysis

In Focus

Doing Right by Victims in Cote d’Ivoire: Ouattara’s Second TermIn this op-ed, ICTJ President David Tolbert argues that President Alassane Ouattara should use his second term as president to address widespread atrocities committed in Cote d’Ivoire’s recent past.

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World Report

AFRICAThe Government of Kenya asked the United Nations Security Council to defer the International Criminal Court (ICC) cases against Deputy President William Ruto and radio broadcaster Joshua Sang, who are charged with crimes against humanity allegedly committed during post-election violence in 2007 and 2008. The ICC decided not to hold the trial of former Lord’s Resistance Army commander Dominic Ongwen in Uganda. The ICC called on India to arrest Sudan President Omar Al-Bashir – who is wanted for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in Darfur – while he visited the country. In Cote d’Ivoire, President Alassane Ouattara was reelected to a second term. The ICC prosecutor warned against war crimes in Burundi, where political divisions and violence have raised concerns about a potential genocide.

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AMERICASAs part of the Colombia peace talks, the government and the FARC reached an agreement to work together to locate thousands of people who disappeared during the country’s 50-year conflict. President Juan Manuel Santos apologized for the 1985 raid on Colombia’s Palace of Justice, during which nearly 100 people were killed, and prosecutors identified the remains of three people who were disappeared the siege. Guatemala opened a new court to hear war crimes cases stemming from the country’s civil war. The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation – an archive of materials related to abuses committed in Canada’s Indian Residential Schools – opened in Winnipeg. Mexico will reopen its investigation into the disappearance of 43 college students from Ayotzinapa.

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ASIANepal’s government limited the number of staff postings at its Truth and Reconciliation Committee to 100 people, 44 fewer than what was originally requested. In Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition party won a majority of seats in parliament in the country’s first free nationwide elections in over 25 years. Ahead of the elections, Myanmar signed a ceasefire with eight armed rebel groups, but the most active militant groups declined to join the agreement. In Sri Lanka, a judge appointed by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa found that allegations that government forces committed war crimes during the civil war – fiercely denied by the Rajapaksa government – are in fact credible.

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EUROPEIn Bosnia and Herzegovina, the families of three people killed by Bosnian Serb forces in the 1995 Srebrenica genocide petitioned the European Court of Human Rights to prosecute three former Dutch UN commanders for their role in the three men’s deaths. Meanwhile, Serbia said that it will donate $5.4 million to Srebrenica for economic development. Kosovo and Montenegro signed an agreement of cooperation to find out what happened to over 1,000 people who disappeared during the Kosovo war in the late 1990s. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe said that Serbia is laggingbehind on war crimes prosecutions, and the European Union said that Montenegro needs to do more to fight impunity for war crimes. Turkey granted Cyprus access to military-controlled areas of Northern Cyprus in order to speed the search for missing persons from the conflict that divided the island in the 1960s and 70s.

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MENAVictims in Tunisia say that they want a more direct voice in the country’s transitional justice process.Palestine gave ICC prosecutors a file of evidence of war crimes committed during a recent spate of violence between Palestinians and Israelis. Journalist and activist Hassam Bahgat was arrested andreleased by Egypt’s military. Lebanon’s human rights record was reviewed by states during the latest session of the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review, and received recommendations on women’s rights, torture, migrant workers, establishment of a moratorium on the death penalty.Kuwait agreed to postpone reparations payments from Iraq stemming from Saddam Hussein’s occupation of Kuwait in the 1990s.

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Publications

From Rejection to Redress: Overcoming Legacies of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence in Northern UgandaThis report examines the unique, enduring consequences of conflict-related sexual violence in northern Uganda, focusing specifically on the impact of the lack of accountability for sexual crimes leading to motherhood on girls and women, and on the children they bore as a result of violations.

Tunisia in Transition: One Year After the Creation of the Truth and Dignity CommissionThis briefing paper details and analyzes the progress made so far in Tunisia to implement its historic Transitional Justice Law, with a particular focus on the Truth and Dignity Commission, created one year ago.

More Publications

Upcoming Events

December 03 – 05, 2015

The Politics of Memory: Victimization, Violence and Contested Narratives of the PastLocation: Columbia University, New YorkView Details

December 08, 2015

Annual Emilio Mignone Lecture on Transitional JusticeLocation: New York, USAView Details

 

Governors Threaten To Block U.S. Syrian Refugee Intake

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

WASHINGTON, D.C., United States of America — A growing number of U.S. Governors are refusing to admit Syrian refugees, citing security concerns highlighted by the terrorist attacks in Paris. Leading Republican presidential candidates called on President Barack Obama to suspend the plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees in the coming year.

A Syrian Refugee Camp on the Border Between Greece and Macedonia. (Photo Courtesy of Reuters)

The governors are responding to heightened concerns that terrorists might use the refugees as cover to sneak across borders.

As of Monday, the governors of the following states have either expressed hesitation or outright refusal to accept Syrian refugees within their borders: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin.

For example, Louisiana Governor and 2016 Republican Presidential Candidate Bobby Jindal declared over Twitter, “I just signed an Executive Order instructing state agencies to take all available steps to stop the relocation of Syrian refugees to LA.”

Chief among the concerns shared by these governors, and indeed many of those involved, including members of the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security, have revolved around the difficulty, if not the impossibility, of properly screening and vetting the Syrian refugees. Indeed, because of the Syrian conflict, many of these refugees have little or no documentation records.

Lavinia Limon, president and CEO of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigration, has said under the Refugee Act of 1980, governors cannot legally block refugees from settling in their communities.

Several governors acknowledged that they do not have the ability to stop the federal government from accepting and financing the resettlement of refugees to the United States. They too have sought reassurances that the process used to screen refugees is adequate and thorough.

As the list of states blocking refugees grows, the state of Delaware announced that it plans to accept refugees.

Governor Jack Markell said in a statement, “It is unfortunate that anyone would use the tragic events in Paris to send a message that we do not understand the plight of these refugees, ignoring the fact that the people we are talking about are fleeing the perpetrators of terror.”

Along with Delaware, governors from the following states have stated they will accept Syrian Refugees: Colorado, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Washington.

According to the Obama administration, which has stated that it hopes to resettle at least 10,000 Syrian refugees, more than 180 cities and towns have expressed willingness to accept refugees. The U.S. has resettled about 1,800 refugees from Syria so far in 2015, according to statistics compiled by the State Department.

Millions of Syrians have fled to neighboring Middle Eastern countries and Europe, and President Obama’s administration has pledged to accept about 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next 12 months. The U.S. State Department said the refugees would be spread across the country.

For more information, please see:

ABC News — Wary Governors Halt, Question Plan to Accept Syrian Refugees – 16 November 2015

CNN — Syrian refugees not welcome here, governors of 16 states say – 16 November 2015

Reuters — U.S. Republicans seek to shut door on Syrian refugees after Paris – 16 November 2015

Time — Governors Vow to Block Syrian Refugees After Paris Attacks – 16 November 2015

USA Today — After attacks in Paris, governors refuse to accept Syrian refugees – 16 November 2015

Washington Post — Governors rush to slam door on Syrian refugees – 16 November 2015

UN Commissioner’s Statement Angers Venezuela’s Maduro

By Kaitlyn Degnan
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

GENEVA, Switzerland — The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to respect and defend human rights in Venezuela, even of those who oppose state policies. He also questioned the impartiality of the Venezuelan judicial system in political trials, such as that of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who was sentenced to 14 years in prison in September.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro addresses the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. (Photo courtesy of UNPhoto)

“The Human Rights Committee also recently expressed concerns, which I share, about intimidation, threats and attacks against journalists, human rights defenders and lawyers,” said the Commissioner. He also expressed concern regarding the declared state of emergency lingering in 24 municipalities.

The commentary came at the start of a special session of the United Nations Human Rights Council regarding the human rights situation in Venezuela.

President Maduro called the Commissioner’s comments “audacious accusations and imperialist attacks … taken from the agenda of global harassment.” He accused the Commissioner’s statement as a break in internal procedure, describing it as “absolutely biased conduct.” Commissioner Zeid’s comments were delivered via a pre-recorded video statement, which was screened prior to Maduro’s speech.

Venezuela, along with member states Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Algeria and Saudi Arabia have announced their intention to lodge a formal complaint.

Maduro also accused the United States of using human rights as a “political weapon” against Venezuela. “The West,” according to Maduro, seeks to “isolate our country.”

Paul Patin, U.S. Mission Geneva spokesperson, responded to Maduro’s accusations, calling the address an attempt to draw attention away from his government’s repressive policies before the national election.

Venezuela was recently re-elected to the Council despite criticism from around the globe. International activists had encouraged U.N. ambassadors to boycott the special session.

 

For more information, please see:

TeleSur – Maduro Slams US Misuse of Human Rights Discourse at United Nations – 12 November 2015

UN News Centre – Venezuela must uphold rights of ‘even those who disagree with state policies’ – UN human rights chief – 12 November 2015

Voice of America – UN Rights Council Criticized for Welcoming Venezuelan President – 12 November 2015

Venezuela Analysis – Venezuela’s Maduro Highlights Human Rights Advances at UNHRC, Slams Western Bias – 15 November 2015

 

War Crimes Prosecution Watch Volume 10 – Issue 18 November 16, 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.

Central African Republic & UgandaDarfur, Sudan

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Kenya

Libya

Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)

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

War Crimes Investigations in Burma

NORTH AND SOUTH AMERICA

United States

South & Central America

TOPICS

Piracy

Gender-Based Violence

National League for Democracy Party Wins Majority in Myanmar’s Parliamentary Election

 

By Christine Khamis

Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

 

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar –

Parliamentary election results indicate that military-backed rule in Myanmar will soon come to an end. Myanmar’s election commission made the announcement on Friday that Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League of Democracy Party had won a majority of Myanmar’s parliamentary seats. The elections were the first freely held elections to take place in Myanmar in 25 years, with 80% turnout among 30 million voters.

Aung San Suu Kyi of the National League for Democracy Party. (Photo courtesy of BBC)

The results of the election have not been completely counted, but the National League for Democracy (NLD) currently holds over 80% of the parliamentary seats. The ruling military backed party, the Union Solidarity Development Party (USDP), holds around 5% of the seats.

A presidential spokesman has stated that it will take at least another week to count the election results. When the outcome is made official, lawmakers will then begin the process of choosing Myanmar’s next president. Because the NLD has won the majority of the parliamentary seats so far, the party will be able to select the next president, who will then choose a new Cabinet and fill other official posts.

The new parliamentary government will not be official until January of next year. The pre-election parliament will continue to have full legislative power until then. At that point, the new parliament will choose a new speaker, who will go on to select two vice presidents and the president in March.

The current ruling party, led by President Thein Sein, has pledged to honor the results of the election. Ms. Suu Kyi is set to meet with President Sein and army Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing in Nay Pyi Taw next week to discuss the incoming government.

Current President Thein Sein. (Photo courtesy of BBC)

Even as the government will no longer be military-backed, Myanmar’s electoral system is still skewed in favor of the military. The military will have the power to appoint a quarter of the lawmakers in Myanmar’s parliament and will also continue to control the police and key bureaucratic offices.  In addition, the military’s commander in chief is autonomous from the president and the parliament under Myanmar’s current constitution.

Because she has two foreign-born children, Ms. Suu Kyi is unable to become president. There is a military drafted provision in Myanmar’s constitution that prohibits those with foreign family members from becoming the president. Ms. Suu Kyi was reelected to her own parliamentary seat for the Kawhmu constituency in Yangon, but she aspires to fill an office above the position of president and appoint the new president as her proxy. Although Ms. Suu Kyi intends to fill a role above the president, the military will still have the power to veto any proposed alterations to the constitution.

Friday marks the fifth anniversary of Ms. Suu Kyi’s release from house arrest, where she remained for almost two decades. Ms. Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest after her party won Myanmar’s national election in 1990, with the military annulling the results and refusing to hand over power.

President Sein’s government, in place since 2011, has marked a improvement from Myanmar’s international isolation caused by its military rule. Western sanctions have been lessened as President Sein has made efforts to move toward civilian-run government in Myanmar. He has initiated several political reforms by freeing prisoners, making peace deals, and relaxing media censorship.

 

For more information, please see:

BBC – Myanmnar Election: Suu Kyi’s NLD Wins Landslide Victory – 13 November 2015

CNN – Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD Wins Historic Majority – 13 November 2015

New York Times – Myanmar Election Panel Says Aung San Suu Kyi’s Party Won Majority – 13 November 2015

NPR – Aung San Suu Kyi’s Party Wins Majority in Myanmar’s Historic Election – 13 November 2015

 

 

Chinese Activist’s Unexplained Death in Detention Center

By Christine Khamis

Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

 

BEIJING, China –

Chinese rights activist Zhang Liumao died last week in a police detention center in Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong Province. Police have given no information about Mr. Zhang’s death and his family has been prevented from seeing his body.

Guangdong Province (Map courtesy of China Connection Tours)

Mr. Zhang was detained during a police raid in August for “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble”. His family believes that he was detained in connection with a literary magazine that had been circulating in Guangzhou. Mr. Zhang’s sister, Zhang Weichu, told Radio Free Asia that the police department stated that he had been detained for opposing the Communist Party.

Mr. Zhang was not allowed to meet with his lawyers during his detainment, and his family never received a formal arrest warrant or any information on his detainment. Chinese law mandates that a person must be either officially arrested or freed within 37 days.

When informed of his death, Mr. Zhang’s family and their lawyers traveled to No. 3 Detention Center, where he had been held, for an explanation of his death. They requested to meet with the detention center’s prosecutor, but their request was denied. When Mr. Zhang’s family asked for his personal belongings, detention center staff told them that it was against the rules to return the items and that they would place them in storage instead.

Mr. Zhang’s family has requested a document detailing the causes of his death and has also requested access to surveillance videos of the center and his body. Mr. Zhang’s body was taken to a funeral parlor when he died, and his family has not been allowed to view it. His family has refused permission for the cremation until they have more information about the circumstances of his death.

Mr. Zhang’s family and hundreds of supporters have demanded that authorities give an explanation for his death and allow them to see his body. An online petition in support of those demands had over 200 signatures on Friday.

While China’s Rules on the Handling of Deaths in Detention Centers require authorities to investigate deaths of detainees, Mr. Zhang’s death is not the first to occur under unexplained circumstances. Last year, Beijing activist Cao Shunli died after months in detention. Similarly, the esteemed Tibetan monk Tenzin Delek Rinpoche died earlier this year after many years in prison. Both had been known to be ill, but their deaths remain unexplained.

Mr. Zhang’s death comes as the United Nations Committee Against Torture prepares to evaluate China’s implementation of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment on November 17-18.

 

For more information, please see:

The New York Times – Backers of Detained Chinese Activist Demand Explanation for His Death – 6 November 2015

Asia News – Guangdong activist dies in prison before trial: no explanation given to the family – 5 November 2015

Human Rights Watch – Dispatches: An Activist’s Death in Custody in China – 5 November 2015

Radio Free Asia – Family Demands Information After Chinese Activist Dies in Police Custody – 4 November 2015

 

 

Press Release: Sergei Magnitsky Human Rights Awards Will Be Launched on the 6th Anniversary of Sergei Magnitsky’s Murder in Russian Police Custody

2 November 2015 – On the eve of the 6th anniversary of the murder of Russian anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, the Justice for Sergei Magnitsky campaign is launching the ‘Sergei Magnitsky Human Rights Awards.’

The awards will celebrate international politicians, journalists and civil society activists who have worked in the spirit of Sergei Magnitsky — with faith, strength and integrity, to reinforce and advance his legacy, and bring about significant change in the international justice and human rights field.

The winners of the 2015 Sergei Magnitsky Human Rights Awards will be announced next week, on Monday, 16 November 2015, marking the 6th anniversary of Sergei Magnitsky’s death in Russian police custody at the age of 37.

“Sergei Magnitsky’s impact on the world has only gained in significance in the years after his death. We hope that the Sergei Magnitsky Human Rights Awards will serve as a beacon of support for all those who fight injustice around the world,” said Sergei Magnitsky’s mother Nataliya.

The organising committee of the Global Sergei Magnitsky Human Rights Awards this year consists of activists from major international organizations, including Transparency International, the Henry Jackson Society, Fair Trials International, the Central and Eastern European Council of Canada, and the British Parliament’s All-Party Group on Anti-Corruption.

The Sergei Magnitsky Human Rights Awards will be given in 9 categories, including Outstanding Investigative Journalism; Top Campaigning US Politician, Top European Politicians; Best Human Rights NGO; Outstanding Contribution to the Global Magnitsky Campaign; Outstanding Coverage of Magnitsky Case in Britain and in Europe; the Best Human Rights Lawyer; and the Top Campaigner for Democracy.

Alan Mendoza, Executive Director, Henry Jackson Society, said:

“The inaugural Sergei Magnitsky Award is an important event, and we are very happy to be involved. The Award ceremony represents the pinnacle of years of support that The Henry Jackson Society has given to the Global Magnitsky Campaign, and we look forward to continuing that support for years to come.”

Robert Barrington, Executive Director of Transparency International UK said:

“Investigative journalists are a vital part of the efforts to uncover and ultimately fight corruption in all its forms. Whether it’s exposing the lavish lifestyle of a corrupt state official, or unearthing widespread bribery in businesses, investigative journalists have proved effective campaigners against corruption. Often they will work in extremely restricted environments, putting life and limb on the line to unmask the corrupt. That’s why Transparency International is proud to be supporting the award for investigative journalism at the Sergei Magnitsky Human Rights Awards this year.

Sergei Magnitsky’s torture and death in Russian police custody, and the subsequent cover-up of his murder and the theft of the $230 million corruption he had exposed, has led to the worldwide Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Campaign. Launched in 2010, it spearheaded the adoption in the United States of the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012. The U.S. Magnitsky law imposes targeted sanctions in the form of visa bans and asset freezes on those involved in his case, as well as in other gross human rights abuses against democracy defenders in Russia. 34 Russian officials and private individuals have been placed on the U.S. Magnitsky sanctions list since the enactment of the law.

The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly has called on all its member states to adopt similar sanctions on those involved in Sergei Magnitsky’s case.

Sergei Magnitsky was posthumously given the 2010 International Integrity Award by Transparency International for taking a personal stand against Russian corruption and paying for it with his life.

Earlier this year Sergei Magnitsky was honoured by the Allard Prize Committee for International Integrity (Canada), which recognizes individuals and organisations who show exceptional courage and leadership in combating corruption.

This year Sergei Magnitsky was also posthumously awarded one of the world’s most prestigious individual achievement prizes, the Joshua Heintz Humanitarian Award, for distinguished achievement in the field of international justice awarded by the organization of former Chief Prosecutors of the UN War Crimes Tribunals.

In Russia, Sergei Magnitsky was tried posthumously, three and a half years after his death, in the first-ever posthumous trial in Russian history. Russian authorities also closed the investigation into his death in police custody finding “no signs of crime,” in spite of conclusions to the contrary drawn by two independent domestic commissions, including the Moscow Public Oversight Commission and the President’s Human Rights Council, as well as by the international investigation carried out in 2012-2013 by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe which urged Russia to conduct proper investigation or face US-like Magnitsky sanctions.

For more information please contact:

Justice for Sergei Magnitsky

+44 207 440 1777

e-mail: info@lawandorderinrussia.org

website: www.lawandorderinrussia.org

Facebook: http://on.fb.me/hvIuVI

Twitter: @KatieFisher__

Ecuador Set To Try Human Rights Violations, Postpones Start Date

By Kaitlyn Degnan
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

QUITO, Ecuador — Ecuador will try five former military officers and an ex-police officer on charges of crimes against humanity. This is the first trial of its kind in Ecuador.

The trial, which was to begin on November 9 in front of the National Court of Justice, was postponed after one of the accused fell ill. Javier Arregui, legal counsel for accused Mario Apolo presented the court with a medical certificate stating that Apolo suffered health issues that prevented him from attending the preocedings.  The trial start was rescheduled, but the start date was not released.

Cordero-era victim Susana Cajas. (Photo courtesy of Latin American News Dispatch).

Ecuador’s Attorney General Galo Chiriboga said of the delay, “the logical thing would have been to begun the trial, and wait on a reaction by the hospital to know when the officer could be available.”

The charges surround alleged human rights violations committed against Luis Vaca, Susana Cajas and Javier Jarrin. All three were members of Alfaro Vive Carajo, a leftist guerilla group, active during the 1980s. The violations were reported to have occurred between 1985 and 1988, during the presidency of Leon Febres Cordero.

The defendants are accused of subjecting Vaca, Cajas and Jarrin to physical and psychological torture, as well as sexual abuse. The three were forcibly disappeared in 1985. Cajas and Jarrin were released after 15 days in detention, while Vaca remained detained for three years.

The detentions were confirmed in a statement by Ecuador’s fiscal general of state.

The trial will hear from 69 witnesses, 11 expert testimonials, and review more than 70 documents related to the incident.

The trial is the result of the Truth Commission launched by current President Rafael Correra in 2007 to look into allegations of rights abuses under the Cordero administration.

The victims and their families are hopeful for justice after almost 30 years of impunity.

 

For more information, please see:

TeleSur – Truth, Justice and Repatriation in Ecuador for Human Rights Day – 14 December 2014

La Republica – Ecuador celebrará juicio por crímenes de lesa humanidad denunciados por Alfaro Vive – 6 November 2015

La Hora – Militares retirados respaldan a procesados – 7 November 2015

Fiscalía General del Estado – El caso ‘Vaca, Cajas, Jarrín’, por lesa humanidad, cumple 30 años de impunidad – 9 November 2015

International Business Times – First Ecuador Human Rights Trial Begins for Crimes Against Humanity in Alleged 1980s Abuses – 9 November 2015

Latin America News Dispatch – Ecuador Proceeds with Historic Rights Abuse Case Against Former Officers – 9 November 2015

TeleSur – UPDATE: Trial in Ecuador for Crimes Against Humanity Postponed – 9 November 2015

 

Obama To Sign Congressional Defense Bill; Guantanamo Bay To Remain Open

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

WASHINGTON, D.C., United States of America — On Tuesday, the Senate approved an annual military policy bill, and White House officials said President Obama would sign the measure, despite provisions that bar the transfer of detainees from the terrorist detention center at Guantánamo Bay to the United States. President Obama vetoed an earlier version of the bill last month because it kept across-the-board budget cuts in place, and prohibited him from closing the prison.

The U.S. Detention Center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. (Photo Courtesy of the WSJ)

The president had objected to the previous bill because of the Guantanamo language, as well as because it eased military spending cuts without also loosening restrictions on domestic spending.

Members of the Senate overwhelmingly approved the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (“NDAA”) 91-3 on Tuesday, just days after the House passed the bipartisan measure by a vote of 370-58. The legislation authorizes Pentagon spending on military personnel, ships, aircraft and other war-fighting equipment.

The Senate also voted 93-0 to send Obama another bill affecting Guantanamo. The military construction appropriations measure bars spending to renovate or build facilities in the United States to house former Guantanamo detainees.

Together with extending a ban on transferring Guantanamo detainees to the United States, the bill also imposes new restrictions on transfers to third countries, including Libya, Syria, Yemen and Somalia.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest addressed members of the media Tuesday to explain the President’s rationale for signing the bill, while also emphasizing the President’s position toward closing Guantánamo Bay remains unchanged.

“I would expect that you would see the president sign the NDAA when it comes to his desk,” Mr. Earnest stated in a news briefing. “That certainly does not reflect a change in our position, or the intensity of our position, about the need to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay.”

Although the Defense Department has been slowly releasing prisoners from Guantánamo, there are still 112 prisoners at the prison. The majority of these inmates are suspected terrorists whom were captured in Afghanistan; Obama has made the closure of the prison a national security priority.

In response to the passage of the NDAA, Republicans on Capitol Hill fear the president may prepare an end-run around Congress, and will try to close the prison through an executive order.

“If the President moves forward with this, it would be blatantly unconstitutional, flouting laws passed by Congress,” House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R., Texas) told the Wall Street Journal.

Alternatively, there are voices in Washington which remain hopeful Guantánamo may yet be closed. “If the president can find a constitutional path to that conclusion, I hope he can serve our country by closing Guantanamo once and for all,” said Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois.

White House officials said that Mr. Obama intended to send Congress a plan to close the detention center after signing the bill.

For more information, please see:

NY Times — Senate Passes Military Bill That Bars Transfers of Guantánamo Detainees – 10 November 2015

Reuters — Obama to sign defense bill with Guantanamo restrictions – 10 November 2015

USA Today — Obama will sign defense bill despite Guantanamo Bay closure ban – 10 November 2015

US News and World Report — Congress sends Obama defense bill that bans moving Guantanamo detainees to US – 10 November 2015

Wall Street Journal — Obama to Sign Defense Bill Despite Provisions to Keep Guantanamo Open – 10 November 2015

Washington Times — Congress passes defense policy bill that keeps Guantanamo open – 10 November 2015

Press Release: Russian Anti-Corruption Activist Navalny Urges US Government to Add New Names to Magnitsky Sanctions List for Abusing His Brother in Prison

11 November 2015 – Alexei Navalny, Russian anti-corruption activist, whose brother has been jailed by Russian authorities since December 2014 on trumped up charges and who has been subjected to discriminatory pressure in detention, has urged the US Government to add new names onto the Magnitsky Sanctions list under the US Sergei Magnitsky Law (https://navalny.com/p/4533/) which imposes visa bans and asset freezes on gross human rights violators.

“[The Magnitsky Law] is a truly pro-Russian law…This is the law that protects Russian citizens from the lawlessness,” said Alexei Navalny on the role of the Magnitsky Act in today’s Russia.

“My brother [Oleg Navalny] is being held in jail as a hostage. His only guilt is that he is my brother,” said Alexei Navalny.

“Previously, each new wave of pressure on Oleg [Alexei Navalny’s brother] was precisely timed with my activities?and anti-corruption investigations. Now this pressure simply never subsides,” said Alexei Navalny about the treatment of his brother in Russian penal colony No 5.

Alexei Navalny and his colleagues have identified three officials responsible for applying the pressure to Navalny’s brother:

  1. Yuri Dorokhin, deputy head of prison system in Orlov region;
  2. Yuri Afanasiev, head of penal colony IK-5;
  3. Gennady Grevtsev, deputy head of IK-5 colony in charge of security.

In the last several months, Oleg Navalny was moved three times to a penalty facility where he spent 45 days, according to Alexei Navalny’s colleague Vladimir Ashurkov (https://www.facebook.com/vladimir.ashurkov/posts/1059742160743615)

The United States passed the?Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act in December 2012. The US law, named after deceased Hermitage Fund’s Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, imposes visa bans and asset freezes on those involved in his arrest, torture, death and cover-up, as well as other gross human rights abuses.

So far the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control has publicly sanctioned 34 Russian nationals under the US Magnitsky Act, including 28 who played a role in the Magnitsky case and 6 persons involved in other gross human rights violations in Russia. The lists of names were previously published by the US Government on 12 April 2013, 20 May 2014 and 29 December 2014.

For more information please contact:

Justice for Sergei Magnitsky

+44 207 440 1777

e-mail: info@lawandorderinrussia.org

website: www.lawandorderinrussia.org

Facebook: http://on.fb.me/hvIuVI

Twitter: @KatieFisher__

 

Mustard Gas Confirmed in Syria

By Brittani Howell

 Impunity Watch Reporter, The Middle East

Damascus, Syria 

On Friday, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) stated that mustard gas has been used by insurgents in Syria. The use of mustard gas is alleged to be the cause of death of an infant in August.

A projectile alleged to have contained mustard gas, lands in Aleppo, Syria in September. (Photo Courtesy of the Guardian)

“In this case, the team was able to confirm with the utmost confidence that at least two people were exposed to sulfur mustard, and that it is very likely that the effects of this chemical weapon resulted in the death of an infant,” stated the OPCW.

Mustard gas, or sulfur mustard, can cause severe damage, in the form of blisters, to the skin, eyes, respiratory system, and internal organs.  Sulfur mustard also can cause severe itching and wheezing.

On August 21, the town of Marea was hit by a mortar. According to Doctors Without Borders (MSF) a family of four had suffered difficulty breathing and developed blisters as a result of a mortar striking their home. The symptoms pointed to a mustard gas attack.

It is alleged that the Islamic State was responsible for the attack on Marea in August. Many fear that the Islamic State is using chemical weapons in Syria and in Iraq.

The OPCW also reported that toxic chemicals, including chlorine, were alleged to be used in an attack in the Idlib province in March. Human Rights Watch has alleged that Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s president, dropped barrels full of chlorine in a rebel area in March.

According to Assad, 1,300 tons of chemical weapons were destroyed per the agreement with the United States and Russia. The United States, however, suspects that the Syrian government has concealed some of the original stock of weapons.

A spokeswoman for the National Security Council of the United States, stated that the United States is, “continuing to investigate these allegations very closely and to be proactive about the threat from chemical weapons or similar threats.”

Over 250,000 people have been killed since the start of Syria’s civil war. Millions more have been forced to flee. There is growing concern that the use of chemical weapons will greatly escalate the conflict further.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Syria Conflict: ‘Mustard Gas Used’ in Marea Attack – 6 November 2015

CNN – Mustard Gas Used in Syrian Town – 6 November 2015

The Guardian – UN Watchdog Confirms Mustard Gas Attack in Syria – 6 November 2015

The New York Times – Syria: Rebels Used Mustard Gas – 6 November 2015

The Washington Post – Weapons Inspectors Say Non-State Fighters in Syria Used Mustard Gas – 6 November 2015

“Sexist Terrorism”: Thousands March in Madrid to Protest Violence Against Women

by Shelby Vcelka

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

MADRID, Spain–

Tens of thousands of protesters rallied in Madrid last Saturday to denounce violence and discrimination against women. The rally, organized by feminist groups, had members of all major political parties, and over 380 regional and 70 state-run feminist organizations in attendance, and had over 21,000 activists in total taking part. The protestors wore purple and black and lay in the streets to commemorate thousands of women abused or murdered by intimate partners and in hate crimes in what they described as “sexist terrorism.”

http://twitter.com/losotrosjudios/status/663078922167304192/photo/1

Activists were primarily concerned with expanding coverage under current domestic violence laws, and receiving more public funding to protect women from abusive partners. They held banners that read, “Stop machista violence!” and chanted, “We aren’t all here, the dead are missing!” Currently, Spain has an emergency hotline available to women that does not show up on their telephone bills, in addition to free legal assistance and accommodations for abused women. Spain is seen as a pioneer in combatting violence against women through progressive legislation and the availability of social programs.

Many of the activists in attendance were survivors of domestic violence themselves. “I think it’s important that people like me demonstrate today, because I’m an example of a woman who’s been able to get out of domestic violence,” Olga Aranza stated. “And that means that all abused women can also get out violence and that they deserve a better life. You really can get out,” she added. Another woman, Angela Gonzales, had a daughter that was murdered by her former husband in 2003.

Most of the men involved with the march felt personally connected with the issue at hand as well. According to attendee Miguel Navarro, “it’s essential that we men also take part in this demonstration so that we send a clear message to women, telling them they are not alone in this struggle.” Likewise, Nacho Molina stated, “in Spain, there is still a need to educate men so that they put an end to machismo (exceedingly masculine violence).”

For more information, please see

BBC– Violence against women: Madrid stages big protest march— 07 November 2015

Euro Weekly– “Sexist Terrorism” turns Madrid streets Purple— 08 November 2015

RT– Stop ‘machista’ violence: Tens of thousands incl Podemos, FEMEN protest domestic violence in Madrid— 08 November 2015

SBS– ‘Sexist terrorism’: Thousands in Spain march against domestic violence— 08 November 2015

Germany, Facing Internal Pressure, to Expedite Deportations of Refugees

by Shelby Vcelka

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

BERLIN, Germany–

After weeks of debates within the government regarding the recent “overwhelming” influx of refugees, Germany is preparing to expedite the process of deporting asylum seekers. On Thursday, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that an agreement had been reached between the coalition government, allowing for three to five reception centers that would either accept or deport refugee applicants. For weeks, the opposition government has requested the majority party to reduce the number of refugees allowed in Germany, citing struggling local authorities.

Germany has been facing internal pressure to deport refugees from the country, as resources have been stretched thin. (Photo courtesy of Al-Jazeera)

The leader of the opposition party, Horst Seehofer of the Christian Social Union, called the agreement “very very good,” and said his relationship with Merkel had been “cemented again.” However, he did not revoke his threat to file a legal complaint against the government over its expansive refugee policy. Other members of the opposition parties have criticized the agreement, stating that the number of refugees entering the country far exceeds the resources available.

Robert Habeck, a critic of the agreement and a member of the Green Party commented, “people are waiting for half a year before their asylum applications can even be submitted. It is a complete mystery as to how the federal government can conclude the process within a few weeks in the special reception centers.”

Other critics within Merkel’s coalition government believe the agreement curtails the rights of refugees, and questioned the legality of detaining asylum seekers and refugees for an indefinite period of time. Initially, Merkel requested that “transit zones” be set up across the country, where new refugees would be detained before their status was determined. The Social Democratic Party, who claimed these zones would be akin to “internment camps”, rejected this.

Up to 10,000 refugees have entered Germany daily since January, totaling around 758,000 migrants. The influx has shown no signs of stopping, with the 800,000 refugee limit set by the German government likely to be exceeded sometime in the near future.

For more information, please see

Chicago Tribune– Merkel ally says government will survive refugee turmoil— 04 November 2015

Al-Jazeera– Germany to expedite deportations of refugees— 06 November 2015

Irish Times– Germany agrees compromise on refugees after ‘intense’ talks— 06 November 2015

Wall Street Journal– Germany Steps Back Hours after Tighter Asylum Rules Are Unveiled— 06 November 2015

5th Circuit Upholds Blockage Of Obama Immigration Plan

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

WASHINGTON, D.C., United States of America — The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday upheld a Texas-based federal judge’s injunction blocking President Barack Obama’s plan to protect parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents along with more immigrants who came to the country as children. The Obama administration will ask the Supreme Court to weigh in on the president’s plan to shield as many as 5 million immigrants living in the country illegally from deportation.

Protesters Hold a Rally Outside the Court of Appeals in New Orleans. (Photo Courtesy of BBC News)

Lawyers for the administration had been expecting the Fifth Circuit ruling to go against the president, noting the high number of judges appointed by Republican presidents.

The three-judge panel for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans ruled 2 to 1 against an appeal by the Obama administration, saying a lawsuit brought by 26 states to block Mr. Obama’s actions was likely to succeed at trial.

Mr. Obama announced last November that he would use his executive authority to effectively stop deporting the undocumented parents of American children. That program, known as Deferred Action for Parents of Americans, would also allow the parents to work legally in the United States.

The plan was first blocked in February by a Federal District Court judge in Texas, who ruled that allowing millions of illegal immigrants to remain lawfully in the United States would prove costly to the State of Texas. The judge at that trial also said the government had not followed the proper procedures for enacting the new immigration rules.

Writing for the two judges in the majority, Judge Jerry Smith found that Texas had established it was in a strong legal position to bring the lawsuit because it would be harmed by new costs for issuing driver’s licenses to immigrants. He also found that the program would undercut the will of Congress.

In a scathing dissent, Judge Carolyn King said the two other judges, as well as the District Court judge, had misstated the basic facts of the case. She accused her colleagues of basing their decisions on conjecture, intuition, or preconception.

In the last several weeks, administration officials and other supporters of the immigration actions had expressed frustration that the appeals court had taken so long to rule. Marielena Hincapié, the executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, said that while the appeals court ruling might be seen as another defeat for her cause, “the silver lining is that this is just in the nick of time for the administration to go to the Supreme Court.”

Under normal circumstances, in order for the Supreme Court to hear the case this term, briefing would have to be completed by mid-winter. The National Immigration Law Center has called for a quick Supreme Court appeal.

For more information please see:

BBC News — Federal appeals court halts Obama immigration action – 10 November 2015

CNN — Court upholds block on Obama’s immigration plan – 10 November 2015

USA Today — Appeals court deals crippling blow to President Obama’s immigration plan – 10 November 2015

US News — Obama appeals to Supreme Court in immigration case that could protect 5 million – 10 November 2015

Washington Post — Immigrants now must rely on Supreme Court for deportation relief – 10 November 2015

NY Times — Appeals Court Deals Blow to Obama’s Immigration Plans – 9 November 2015