Zika Found in 20 Latin American Countries

By Kaitlyn Degnan
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BRASILIA, Brazil —  Officials report that infections of the Zika virus have been found in 20 Latin American countries. Zika was originally discovered in Uganda in 1947 and outbreaks have historically been contained to Africa, South East Asia and the Pacific Islands. The disease was first reported in Brazil in May 2015. Although scientists are not yet sure how the disease reached Brazil, it is possible that it travelled with visitors during the 2014 World Cup, or by French Polynesian competitors participating in a canoe race.

A child born with microcephaly. (Photo courtesy of the BBC)

While Zika symptoms are usually mild, the concern with this outbreak is that the disease has been linked to a rising number of cases of children born with microcephaly, wherein a child is born with unusually small heads and brain damage. Brazilian health authorities have tracked 4,000 cases of microcephaly since October of 2015. This number is especially concerning considering that only 150 cases were reported during all of 2014.

Some governments in the region have responded to the outbreaks by warning women not to get pregnant, a move that has prompted criticism. Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador and Jamaica have so far asked women to put off pregnancies for periods of time as short as 8 months (Colombia) to until 2017 (El Salvador). Monica Roa, a member of Women’s Link Worldwide called the move “Incredibly naïve” in a “region where sexual violence is prevalent.”

Brazilian officials have expressed further concern that cases of the virus may be connected to Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare condition where a person’s immune system attacks their nervous system. Those affected often suffer from paralysis and need life support. The syndrome is usually so rare that it isn’t required to be reported to Brazil’s Health Ministry. However, in the past year, there have been hundreds of cases Guillain-Barré in northeast Brazil, the area most affected by the Zika virus.

The Center for Disease Control is considering Guillain-Barré a serious risk, however they caution that “reports must be treated as anecdotal because little pertinent supporting diagnostic information is available.” The C.D.C and Brazil will be conducting a study to evaluate the connection between Zika and the syndrome.

According to the Pan American Health Organization and the World Health Organization, there is an “increase of congenital anomalies, Guillain-Barré syndrome, and other neurological and autoimmune syndromes in areas where Zika virus is circulating.”

 

For more information, please see:

BBC – The alarming threat of Zika virus – 21 January 2016

New York Times – Zika Virus May be Linked to Surge in Rare Syndrome in Brazil – 21 January 2016

PRI – Brazil fears new danger from Zika virus: Paralysis – 21 January 2016

Voice of America – Brazil Defects Linked to Zika Virus Still Rising in Brazil – 21 January 2016

Washington Post – U.S., Brazilian officials probing possible link between Zika virus, rare paralysis condition – 21 January 2016

Latin American Dispatch – Zika Virus Prompts Brazil and El Salvador to Warn Pregnant Women – 22 January 2016

NBC – Zika Virus Spreads to 20 Latin American Countries – 22 January 2016

Vox – As Zika virus spreads, women in Latin America are told to delay pregnancies – 22 January 2016

BBC – Zika virus triggers pregnancy delay calls – 23 January 2016

 

Colombia Cracks Down On Acid Attacks

By Kaitlyn Degnan
Impunity Watch, South America

BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombia has changed its laws to require harsher sentences for perpetrators of acid attacks. As many as 100 acid attacks are thought to occur in Colombia each year.

The law, signed by President Juan Manuel Santos in a ceremony on 18 January, imposes a minimum of 12 years imprisonment for anyone using a chemical agent to cause physical harm. An attack that doesn’t cause any bodily harm still carries a 5 year sentence. If the victim suffers permanent disfigurement, the sentence may be up to 50 years. Prior to this change, a loophole in Colombia’s laws classified acid attacks as “personal injuries” rather than “intentional violent crimes.”

Natalia Ponce de Leone (left) and President Juan Manuel Santos (right). (Photo courtesy of the BBC).

The new law was named after victim and high profile campaigner Natalia Ponce de Leon, who also appeared at the ceremony. She was targeted by a neighbor, who threw a liter of sulphuric acid on her face and body in 2014. She has received 15 reconstruction operations. Ms. Ponce de Leon’s appearance at the ceremony was the first time she has appeared in public without a face mask to protect her delicate skin.

The Institute of Legal Medicine reports 926 acid attacks in Colombia between 2004 and 2014, although it is likely that that number represents all of the victims. Because the previous sentence for perpetrators was so light, and rarely imposed at all, many suffering these attacks have never come forward.

The victims of these attacks are overwhelmingly women (87 percent of victims), while the perpetrators are usually men (90 percent). “Usually it is someone from the victim’s inner circle, a husband or the father of her children, who cannot accept being turned down or left,” according to Gina Potes, who is thought to be Colombia’s first acid attack victim (having been attacked in 1996). Most of the cases of attacks against men occurred during a mugging.

 

For more information, please see:

The City Paper – New law brings harsher penalties for acid attacks in Colombia – 18 January 2016

BBC – Colombia’s President Santos enacts tougher law on acid attacks – 19 January 2016

Express – Brave acid attack victim shows her face for the first time since the horrific assault – 20 January 2016

Global Post – Colombia finally cracks down on a horrific wave of acid attacks against women – 20 January 2016

Supreme Court Will Decide Obama’s Immigration Plan

By Samuel Miller
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America and Oceania

WASHINGTON, D.C., United States of America — The Supreme Court on Tuesday said it will decide whether President Obama has the authority to declare that millions of illegal immigrants be allowed to remain and work in the United States without fear of deportation. The justices also added a question on whether Obama’s action violated the Constitutional provision that he sees the laws be faithfully executed.

Supporters of the President’s Immigration Plan Demonstrate Outside the Supreme Court Building. (Photo Courtesy of BBC News)

The court will most likely hear the case sometime in April, with a ruling before the court adjourns in June.

If the court rules by this spring in favor of the White House, President Obama could begin putting the changes into effect during his final months in office. But if the administration loses, court battles could keep the program on hold for several more years.

With Congress deadlocked over an immigration overhaul, in November 2014, President Obama cited his executive authority in making changes in immigration policy to give a temporary reprieve to illegal immigrants whose children hold U.S. citizenship or permanent residency. The plan sought to prioritize removal of serious criminals while allowing parents of children to work without fear of deportation.

The president’s program, called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), would allow illegal immigrants in those categories to remain in the country and apply for work permits if they have been here for at least five years and have not committed felonies or repeated misdemeanors.

Texas and 25 other states filed suit to invalidate the President’s proposed program. Fifteen states and the District of Columbia, along with leaders of major cities including Houston, Los Angeles and New York, have backed the administration.

Previously, in 2015, a federal district judge in Texas halted the immigration plan, a decision upheld by the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In each case, the lower courts found the administration had not followed proper administrative procedures in issuing the regulations.

In a statement, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton welcomed the Supreme Court’s review.

“In deciding to hear this case, the Supreme Court recognizes the importance of the separation of powers. As federal courts have already ruled three times, there are limits to the President’s authority, and those limits enacted by Congress were exceeded when the President unilaterally sought to grant ‘lawful presence’ to more than 4 million unauthorized aliens who are in this country unlawfully.”

Additionally, the court added an additional question to the case. The court asked the parties to address whether the immigration plan violates the Take Care Clause of the Constitution. That is the provision directing the president to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.

Experts said the addition of the Constitutional issue could simply signal a desire to make sure the parties address all legal issues that could be relevant to the case. But the added question could be seen as signaling that some justices don’t agree with the Justice Department’s claim that the states’ interests haven’t been impacted sufficiently to give them legal standing to sue over the immigration initiatives.

“In deciding to hear this case, the Supreme Court recognizes the importance of the separation of powers,” said Paxton.

For more information, please see:

BBC News — Barack Obama’s migrant plan taken up by US Supreme Court – 19 January 2016

CNN — Supreme Court to take up Obama immigration actions – 19 January 2016

NBC News — Supreme Court to Consider Obama Immigration Rules – 19 January 2016

Politico — Supreme Court to rule on Obama immigration orders – 19 January 2016

USA Today — Supreme Court will rule on President Obama’s immigration plan – 19 January 2016

Wall Street Journal — Supreme Court to Rule on Obama’s Bid to Block Deportations – 19 January 2016

Washington Post — Supreme Court to review Obama’s power on deportation policy – 19 January 2016

Several Killed by Suicide Bombing in Pakistan

By Christine Khamis

Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

 

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan –

 

At least ten people were killed by an explosion at a military checkpoint outside of Peshawar, Pakistan on Tuesday. At least 20 people were also wounded. Pakistani authorities say that the death toll is expected to increase as rescue efforts continue.

The checkpoint that the suicide bomber targeted. (Photo courtesy of BBC)

Shahab Ali Shah, the administrator for the region, has stated that based on eyewitness accounts, the attack was a suicide bombing. According to police, the suicide bomber rode a motorcycle loaded with explosives into a roadside military checkpoint located on the Torkham-Jalalabad Highway, near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The bomber drove the motorcycle directly into a police car and the checkpoint, detonating the explosives on the vehicle. In addition to the casualties, several vehicles and buildings near the checkpoint were damaged in the explosion.

Among those killed in the explosion were a child, a military officer, and a prominent senior member of the Tribal Union of Journalists. At least five policemen were also killed. Saiful Islam, an official in the region, has stated that a local security official, Nawab Shah, appears to have been the intended target.

It is unclear at this time who planned the bombing, and multiple parties appear to be taking responsibility for the attack. The senior commander of the Pakistani Taliban, Maqbool Dawar, is one of the parties who has claimed responsibility for the bombing. Mr. Dawar told Reuters that the bombing was revenge for the deaths of Taliban members who died recently while in government custody. A separate Taliban group, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan Jamaatul Ahrar (TTP-JA), has also claimed responsibility for the explosion.

The explosion occurred in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas near the outskirts of Peshawar. The region has been marked by fighting between security forces and the Pakistani Taliban since more than 150 people were killed in a nearby school in December 2014.

At least 26 people were killed in another suspected suicide attack on a government building in northwestern Pakistan last month.

 

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera America – Deadly suicide blast in Pakistan kills at least 10 – 19 January 2016

BBC – Pakistan Suicide Bombing ‘Kills 10’ in Peshawar – 19 January 2016

NBC News – Motorcycle Suicide Attack Hits Major Pakistan Highway, Killing 10 – 16 January 2016

Newsweek – Suicide Bomber Kills at Least 10 in Northwest Pakistan – 19 January 2016

The New York Times – Explosion, Said to Be Suicide Bombing, Kills 8 in Northwest Pakistan – 19 January 2016

ICTJ | World Report January 2016 – Transitional Justice News and Analysis

In Focus

Dreams of January

Five years ago, Tunisia’s youth played a lead role in protests that drove dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali from power and set the country on a transition towards democracy, but efforts to address past human rights abuses have been hampered by waning political support and a restrictive climate fueled by fears of terrorism. The second in a series of long form multimedia pieces highlighting the role of local and national activists pushing for change, “Dreams of January” portrays the thoughts and struggles of the young Tunisians who helped sparked the Arab Spring and continue to fight for accountability and justice today.

Read More…

 

World Report

AFRICA

Thomas Lubanga and Germain Katanga, each convicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), were transferred to the DRC to serve out the remainder of their prison sentences. Lawyers for Kenya Deputy President William Ruto urged ICC judges to throw out the case against him, arguing that the prosecution had failed to prove its case. In Côte d’Ivoire, the trial of several top officials in former president Laurent Gbagbo’s government for the murder of ex-military chief Robert Guei during a 2002 coup attempt was delayed due to procedural issues. The UN documented cases of security forces gang raping women during searches of opposition members’ houses and has heard testimony of mass graves in Burundi, where tensions have been high since President Pierre Nkurunziza announced he would seek a third term in office. The testimony phase ended in the trial of Hissène Habré, former president of Chad, with witnesses sharing harrowing testimony of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during Habré’s rule. In Rwanda, a court convicted a former pastor of genocide for leading a massacre of people hiding in his church during the 1994 genocide.

Read More…

AMERICAS

Under an agreement between the FARC and Colombia’s government, the bodies of 29 people who disappeared during the country’s civil war were returned to their families. A Colombian prosecutor said that up to 24,000 state agents are linked to crimes committed during the conflict. In Guatemala, the retrial of former dictator Efrain Rios Montt on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity committed during the civil war in the 1980s was suspended shortly after it began in order to resolve outstanding legal petitions. Eighteen former military officials were arrested on charges related to massacres and disappearances committed during Guatemala’s civil war. A former El Salvador defense minister was deported from the United States for his role in extrajudicial killings and torture during the country’s civil war.

Read More…

ASIA

In Nepal a victims’ advocate petitioned the Supreme Court to review of contradictory provisions in the existing rules and regulations regarding compensation benefits and services for victims of Nepal’s civil war. After her political party won Myanmar’s historic elections, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi participated in national peace talks for the first time. In a deal with South Korea, Japan apologized to so-called ‘comfort women’ – women forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II – and promised to provide compensation, but victims criticized the deal because they were not consulted on the deal and because the compensation takes the form of humanitarian aid rather than reparations. A new report asserted that civilians are still abducted, tortured, and sexually abused by Sri Lanka’s security forces, despite the new government’s commitment to seek justice for those and other crimes.

Read More…

EUROPE

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, despite being ruled unconstitutional, the Republika Srpska publically celebrated the founding of the Serb Republic, dredging up ethnic divisions in towns like Prijedor. Meanwhile, the European Union approved funds to support Bosnia’s war crimes prosecutions after the government adopted a justice sector reform strategy. Human rights campaigners in Montenegro called on the government to establish a research and documentation center for crimes committed during conflicts in the 1990s, as it has promised to do. The Dutch government announced that it will host a special court for war crimes committed during the 1999 Kosovo conflict, and that the court will begin operations this year. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia demanded that Serbia provide regular updates on efforts to arrest three members of the Serbian Radical Party accused of threatening witnesses in the war crimes trial of their leader.

Read More…

MENA

The head of Tunisia’s Truth and Dignity Commission said that the commission has received 20,600 complaints of human rights violations from victims around the country. In a new report, Amnesty International accused police in Tunisia of torture and killing detainees as security forces have cracked down after several recent terrorist attacks. In Egypt, security forces arrested several prominent activists ahead of the anniversary of the 2011 uprising that ousted then-president Hosni Mubarak. Meanwhile, in Lebanon, the head of the Lebanese Forces political party endorsed his wartime rival for the presidency, stressing that the country must move forward while remembering past events in order to avoid recurrence of violence. The head of a British investigation into crimes allegedly committed by United Kingdom forces in Iraq said that some soldiers may face prosecution for charges including murder.

Read More…

Publications

Education and Transitional Justice: Opportunities and Challenges for Peacebuilding

This report, part of a joint research project by ICTJ and UNICEF on the intersections of education, transitional justice, and peacebuilding, explores how a transitional justice framework can help to identify educational deficits relating to the logic of past conflict and/or repression and inform the reconstruction of the education sector.

View Report

Tunisia in Transition: One Year After the Creation of the Truth and Dignity Commission

This 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.

View Report

More Publications

Julian Assange to be Questioned by Swedish Prosecutors

by Shelby Vcelka

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

LONDON, England–

Ecuador’s foreign minister, Ricardo Patino, has announced that the Swedish government will be allowed to question Wikileaks founder Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Assange has been living in the embassy seeking refuge since 2012, awaiting extradition to Sweden on rape allegations.

Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, will be questioned by Swedish prosecutors with the consent of the Ecuadorian government. Assange has been housed in the Ecuadorian embassy seeking asylum since 2012. (Photo courtesy of Telesur).

Assange’s extradition to Sweden was allowed in 2012 after a long legal battle he ultimately lost in supreme court. After his bail was set for extradition, Assange fled to the Ecuadorian embassy out of fear that his extradition back to Sweden would be a pretext for his extradition to America. Both Assange and his supporters believe he could be charged under the U.S. Patriot Act for posting classified documents on the Wikileaks site.

Under Swedish law, Assange cannot be formally charged without an interview taking place. In December 2014, the Swedish Prosecution Authority announced it was making a new request to interview Assange in London. The British government granted the request last June. “When all necessary permits and arrangements are ready, the interview will be performed by the supporting prosecutor to the case, chief prosecutor Ingrid Isgren, together with a police investigator,” the Swedish authority commented.

The Ecuadorian authorities have responded that they are willing to accept Sweden’s petition to question Assange, “as long as the sovereignty of the Ecuadoran state and the laws in the constitution are respected.” Patino requested that the Swedish prosecutors provide their Ecuadorian colleagues with the questions they will be asking Assange, as well as allowing them to place one of their own prosecutors in the room during the interview.

Kristinn Hrafnsson, a spokesperson for Wikileaks, stated that Assange has embraced the “opportunity to deliver his statement to the prosecutor. Julian has been offering his statement to the prosecutor by various means for five years [in total] and for three-and-a-half years since he went into the embassy – whether via videolink or by the prosecutor coming to London. Let’s hope [the interview] can be carried out as soon as possible. Julian is very eager to get his point of view into the investigation.”

For more information, please see–

The Guardian– Julian Assange to be questioned by Swedish prosecutors in London— 15 January 2016

Latino One– Ecuador Announces Cooperation with Swedish Prosecutors in Julian Assange Case— 15 January 2016

Telesur– Ecuador Gives Sweden Green Light for Assange Interrogation— 15 January 2016

South China Morning Post– WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange free to live in Ecuador if cleared of Swedish charges— 16 January 2016

Press Release: US Appeals Court to Hear Emergency Motion on Disqualification of Lawyer John Moscow in the Magnitsky Case in New York

18 January 2016 – The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has agreed to an emergency hearing to be held at 10 am on Friday, 22 January 2016, on an application from Hermitage Capital Management seeking to suspend the case of US vs Prevezon, to hear an appeal which will determine whether lawyers with a serious conflict of interest should be allowed to remain on the case.

Hermitage’s application arises out of U.S. law firm Baker Hostetler and its partner, John Moscow, switching sides in the Russian money laundering case from representing the victim – Hermitage, to representing the beneficiary of the crime – Prevezon Holdings.

Hermitage said in support of its motion for stay in the legal proceeding:

“A stay pending appeal is in the public interest. A lawyer’s obligation to preserve client confidences “touches upon vital concerns of the legal profession and the public’s interest in the scrupulous administration of justice.”

Hermitage’s motion is supported by the US Department of Justice, who said to the Appeals Court that the conduct of Baker Hostetler represents an “unheard of”, “extremely rare” and “egregious” case of conflict of interest given that the law firm not only switched sides but went further by accusing Hermitage, its former client, of the crime of which Hermitage has been the victim.

“The egregious situation seen here, where an attorney for a victim attempts to switch sides to represent a beneficiary of the offense, is extremely rare, and it is unheard of that such attorney would go further and accuse his former client, the victim, of committing the offense. Accordingly, courts have seldom been called upon to rule on such an extreme conflict, often because it is simply not done,” said the US Department of Justice in their affirmation of Hermitage’s motion.

On 18 December 2015, the district court judge Thomas Griesa in the Southern District of New York granted Hermitage’s motion to disqualify Baker Hostetler and John Moscow, finding it would be improper for Baker Hostetler to continue to represent defendants Prevezon Holdings because of Baker Hostetler’s prior representation of Hermitage. However, on 8 January 2016, Judge Griesa reversed his decision ruling that Prevezon’s right to the choice of lawyers was more important than Hermitage’s right to not be betrayed by former counsel.

Prevezon Holdings is owned by the son of a senior Russian government official and, according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s lawsuit, has been involved in laundering proceeds from the US$230 million fraud uncovered by Hermitage’s late lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. The US Department of Justice, having traced proceeds stolen in Russia to Prevezon’s real estate properties in Manhattan, filed a civil lawsuit seeking money laundering fines and forfeiture of US$14 million in Prevezon’s US assets. After the assets were frozen, Prevezon sought the services of John Moscow and Baker Hostetler. In spite of the obvious conflict of interest, John Moscow and Baker Hostetler agreed to represent alleged beneficiaries of the US$230 million crime – ignoring the fact that they had been previously hired by Hermitage to identify and bring to justice perpetrators and beneficiaries of this crime.

On 13 January 2016, Hermitage filed an emergency motion to suspend the proceedings in the asset forfeiture case against Prevezon until the issue of John Moscow and Baker Hostetler’s disqualification is resolved.

In supporting the Hermitage’s motion, the US Department of Justice stated:

“After taking almost $200,000 of Hermitage’s money to attempt to prevent Hermitage from being accused of committing the fraud, [Baker Hostetler’s partner] Moscow is now taking the money of an alleged beneficiary of the very same fraud to himself accuse Hermitage of committing the fraud.”

“Allowing the trial to take place in this fashion, and to expose Hermitage to such irreparable injury at the hands of its former counsel, would be a miscarriage of justice setting a precedent that would severely harm crime victims’ interests and could chill the cooperation of victims with law enforcement,” said the US Justice Department in its filing.

The US$230 fraud and money laundering case was uncovered by Hermitage’s Russian lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, who was tortured and killed in Russian police custody after he had given testimony implicating Russian government officials in the scheme. To perpetrate the US$230 million fraud, the Russian criminal organisation stole three Russian companies belonging to the Hermitage Fund and then sought an illegal refund of US$230 million of taxes previously paid by those companies.

When Hermitage’s Russian lawyers reported the officials involved, the lawyers themselves became subject of retaliation from Russian authorities. In 2008, Hermitage hired Baker Hostetler’s partner John Moscow to protect Hermitage and its lawyers and executives from the retaliation. Mr. Moscow had previously been a specialist in combating Russian organised crime and corruption in the New York District Attorney’s office. He assisted Hermitage with the identification of the beneficiaries of the US$230 million fraud and liaising with the US law enforcement in bringing those beneficiaries to justice. Several years later the US Department of Justice traced some of the US$230 million proceeds to Manhattan properties owned by Prevezon and filed a lawsuit in which John Moscow and Baker Hostetler appeared for Prevezon.

The hearing will take place in New York in the Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse, 17th floor, Room 1703 later this week, on 22 January 2016.

For more information, please contact:

Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Campaign

+44 207 440 1777

e-mail: info@lawandorderinrussia.org

www.lawandorderinrussia.org

Twitter: @KatieFisher__

www.facebook.com/russianuntouchables

Iran Releases Americans in Exchange for the Release of Iranians

TEHRAN, Iran – On Saturday, Iran released four Iranian-Americans from prison in exchange for the release of seven Iranians from the United States prisons. The exchange has eased tensions between the two countries. Three of the four Americans left Tehran to Switzerland, via plane. Once they landed in Switzerland, the Americans left for a United States base in Germany for medical treatment.

The plane that carried the three Iranian-American former detainees landed in Geneva, Switzerland on the 17th of January 2016. (Photo Courtesy of Reuters)

President Obama attributed the end to the prisoner dispute to a cultivation of diplomacy. He stated, ” This is a good day because once again we are seeing what’s possible through strong American diplomacy.” A senior United States administration official, speaking anonymously due to the sensitive nature of the exchange stated that Iran, “understood this was a priority for us, and that we’d never give it up.” He continued, “we consistently said it was independent from  the nuclear negotiations but of great importance.”

Jason Rezaian, one of the released Americans, had been imprisoned since July 2014 on charges of espionage. Rezaian prior to imprisonment, was the Washington Post bureau chief in Tehran since 2012. Rezaian had been convicted in September, but had never heard anything regarding his punishment.

Washington Post’s publisher, Frederick J. Ryan Jr. stated, ” We couldn’t be happier to hear the news that Jason Rezaian has been released from Evin Prison.”

Saeed Abedini, another one of the released Americans, is a Christian pastor who had been imprisoned since July 2012 for organizing churches in the homes of Iranians. His wife, Naghmeh Abedini, had heard that Mr. Abedini had been moved from prison by Iranian intelligence police and told her children that their dad was coming home.

Amir Hekmati, a former United States Marine, had been imprisoned since his arrest in August 2011 when he was visiting his grandmother. Mr. Hekmati was alleged to be a spy and was imprisoned. Earlier this month, Mr. Hekmati had been permitted to leave prison for treatment of swollen lymph nodes. This had been the indication that Mr. Hekmati was likely to be released.

A fourth prisoner who was released, Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari, was not on the plane that left for Switzerland. A United States senior administration official to CNN that, “we can confirm that our detained U.S. citizens have been released and those that wished to depart Iran have left. We have no further information to share at this time and would ask everyone respect the privacy of these individuals and their families.”

The seven Iranian prisoners who were released had been indicted or imprisoned for sanction violations. In addition to the release of the seven Iranian prisoners, the United States rescinded international arrest warrants on 14 Iranians, also suspected of sanction violations.

The exchange also requires Iran to continue to cooperate with the United States’s search for a retired FBI agent, Robert A. Levinson, who has been missing in Iran since 2007. “We are happy for the other families,” stated Levinson’s family, “but once again, Bob Levinson has been left behind. We are devastated.”

A fifth American was also released on Saturday, but was not part of the prisoner exchange. Matthew Trevithick, had been detained for 40 days at Evin Prison, according to his family, after he had gone to Iran for language study in September. Mr. Trevithick’s family says he was a co-founder of a Turkey-based research center, SREO, which focuses on humanitarian issues,

American officials are continuing to work on freeing Siamak Namazi, a business consultant who worked for an oil-company based under the United Arab Emirates who had been detained in mid-October.

For more information, please see:

Associated Press – The Latest: Americans freed by Iran Arrive in Germany – 17 January 2016

BBC News – Jason Rezaian and Three Other US Prisoners Freed in Iran – 17 January 2016

CNN – Americans in Iran Prisons Swap Arrive in Germany – 17 January 2016

Reuters – U.S. Prisoners Leave Iran for U.S Base as Obama Hails Win for Diplomacy – 17 January 2016

The New York Times – Iran frees Americans, Including Jason Rezaian, in Prison Swap – 16 January 2016

Turkey Detained and Released Academics who Declared an End to Operations Against Kurds

By Brittani Howell

Impunity Watch Reporter, The Middle East

ANKARA, Turkey –  On Friday, Turkish authorities briefly detained 27 scholars who were among more than 1,100 academics to sign a petition urging for an end to the military campaign against the Kurdish militants. The scholars were reported to be released Friday evening, according to Turkish news reports.

President Erdogan denouncing the petitioners on Tuesday. (Photo Courtesy of The New York Times)

The scholars were accused of “making propaganda on behalf of a terrorist organization “and of insulting the state, the Turkish people, and authorities. The petition, “We Won’t Be a Party to This Crime,” was signed by more than 1,100 academics from 90 different Turkish universities.

The petition, which was published on Monday, urged “the state to abandon its deliberate massacre and deportation of Kurdish and other peoples in the region. We also demand the state to lift to curfew, punish those who are responsible for human rights violations, and compensate those citizens who have experienced material and psychological damage.”

The petition also stated that, ” the right to life, liberty, and security, and in particular the prohibition of torture and ill treatment protected by the constitution and international conventions have been violated.”

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated on Friday, “Just because they have titles such as professor, doctor in front of their name does not make them enlightened. These are dark people.” He continued, ” They are villain[s] and vile because those who side with the villain are villain[s] themselves.”

President Edorgan’s statement was made shortly after he visited a nearby site of suicide bomb attack’s on Tuesday. Tuesday’s attack which killed 10 German terrorists has been blamed on the Islamic State.

While no details are available regarding the investigation, the scholars could face one to five years in jail if convicted at a trial. The detention of the scholars has caused concern over freedom of expression, especially academic expression and intellectual debate.

Senior Turkey Researcher at Human Rights Watch, Emma Sinclair-Webb, stated, “The campaign against academics this week certainly targets a new group and has very serious consequences for academic freedom in Turkey, as well as free speech.” She continued, “There are concerns for the physical safety of some academics in provincial universities after being targeted in such a way.”

The Turkish military operations against Kurdish militants have displaced thousands and have caused more than 100 civilian casualties, according to human rights groups.

For more information, please see:

Al-Jazeera America – Turkey Detains Academics Who Denounced Military Operations Against Kurds – 15 January 2016

CNN – Turkey Detains at Least 18 Signers of Petition Opposing Kurdish Operation – 15 January 2016

Reuters – Turkey Detains 27 Academics Accused of Signing ‘Peace Declaration’ – 15 January 2016

The New York Times – Turkey Releases Detained Academics Who Signed Petition Defending Kurds – 15 January 2016

United States Imposes New Sanctions on Iran

By Brittani Howell

Impunity Watch Reporter, The Middle East

Tehran, Iran – On Sunday, the United States imposed new sanctions on 11 companies and individuals. The sanctions came in response to Iran’s precision – guided ballistic missile test, which violated a United Nations ban last October.

Members of the Iranian Parliament kiss after hearing that the sanctions had been lifted on Sunday. (Photo Courtesy of the New York Times)

The new sanctions came just less than 24 hours after the United States lifted the broader sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program. President Obama hopes that the new agreement will start a new chapter with Iran.

President Obama stated, ” We have a rare chance to pursue a new path, a different, better future that delivers progress for both our peoples and the wider world.” He continued, “That’s the opportunity before the Iranian people. We need to take advantage of that.”

The sanctions lifted Saturday now allow Iran to re-enter the oil market. In addition, Iranian ships will be allowed to enter and leave foreign ports and Iranians will be able to access the global financial markets. The United States State Department has also agreed to release $400 million and $1.3 billion in interest in funds from Iran that had been frozen by the United States. The funds were to be used by Iran for U.S military equipment prior to Iran’s revolution in 1979.

On Sunday, after American detainees had been released from Iran, President Obama announced that the “United States is imposing sanctions on individuals and companies working to advance Iran’s ballistic missile program. And we are going to be vigilant about it. We’re not going to waver in the defense of our security or that of our allies and partners.”

The United States Treasury Department has blacklisted the UAE-based Mabrooka Trading, owned by Hossein Pournaghshband, because it aided Iran to produce carbon fiber for the ballistic missile program. The sanctions bar financial institutions and companies from dealing with those on the blacklist.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani stated on Sunday that since the sanctions were lifted Saturday, the door had been opened for foreign investments with other countries, including American companies. In regards to American company investments, President Rouhani stated, ” They can invest here anytime, but they have their own obstacles to do so.”

Countries in the Middle East fear Iran will grow more aggressive and will meddle in conflicts throughout the region. Israel and Sunni states fear that Iran will support anti-Israel militant groups, Syrian President Assad, and Shi’ite Houthi rebels.

In response to the lifted sanctions,  Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanayhu stated on Sunday that Israel, “will continue to monitor all of Iran’s international violations.” Prime Minister Netanyahu also stated that there will be sever sanctions for each violation.

For more information please see:

Associated Press – As Sanctions Are Lifted, Iranian Foes Fear the Worst – 17 January 2016

BBC News – Iran: US Imposes New Sanctions Over Missile Tests – 17 January 2016

Reuters – U.S. Imposes Ballistic Missile Sanctions on Iran After Prisoners Release – 17 January 2016

The New York Times – U.S. Imposes New Sanctions Over Iran Missile Tests – 17 January 2016

Taiwan Elects First Female President in its History

By Christine Khamis

Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

 

TAIPEI, Taiwan –

Taiwan elected Tsai Ing-wen as its new president on Saturday, giving her Democratic Progressive Party greater control in its legislature. Ms. Tsai is the first woman in Taiwan’s history to win the presidential office and is now the most powerful female leader in Asia.

Ms. Tsai after winning Taiwan’s presidential election. (Photo Courtesy of The New York Times)

Ms. Tsai ran against Eric Chu, party secretary of the previously governing Kuomintang party, as well as a third-party candidate, James Soong. According to Taiwan’s Central Election Commission, 56% of the vote went to Ms. Tsai, while 31% of the vote went to Mr. Chu.

Economic issues were at the forefront of the election due to Taiwan’s stagnant economy. Ms. Tsai has spoken of strengthening regional industry and manufacturing as well as strengthening Taiwan’s international trade relationships during her presidency. The DPP will also work to improve education and tourism in Taiwan.

Ms. Tsai is only the second president in Taiwan’s history who does not belong to the Kuomintang party (KMT). The other president belonging to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Chen Shui-bian, held office from 2000-2008.

Taiwan was an authoritarian state under the KMT’s rule until the late 1980s, when democratic reforms began to be implemented. If the DPP is able to win full control of Taiwan’s legislature, it is expected to initiate an investigation into abuses committed by the KMT during the party’s rule.

Taiwan has been independent from China since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949. China views Taiwan as a breakaway province and has threatened to take Taiwan back by military force. Taiwan is not formally independent from China in the international arena, with only a few countries recognizing it as an independent nation.

The DPP supports Taiwan’s formal independence from China, while some leaders in the KMT have strived to create a closer relationship with China. Taiwan’s previous president, Ma Ying-jeou, formed more than 20 agreements with China during his term.

Ms. Tsai has stated that she wishes to continue positive relations with China while maintaining Taiwan’s democracy and independence. China is Taiwan’s primary trade partner and receives a significant amount of Taiwan’s exports. Ms. Tsai will face the challenge of balancing Taiwan’s economic interests with its independence during her term as president.

 

For more information, please see:

BBC – Tsai Ing-wen Elected Taiwan’s First Female President – 17 January 2016

The Guardian – Taiwan Elects First Female President – 16 January 2016

The New York Times – Tsai Ing-wen Elected President of Taiwan, First Woman to Hold Office – 16 January 2016

Time – Taiwan Elects Its First Female President – 16 January 2016

The Hague to Host Kosovo War Crimes Court

by Shelby Vcelka

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

AMSTERDAM, The Netherlands–

The Dutch government announced on Friday morning that a special court is being set up at The Hague to try war crimes committed during the 1999-2000 war in Kosovo. The conflict set in opposition the Serbian forces against Albanian rebels, with members of the guerrilla Kosovo Liberation Front (KLF) committing alleged atrocities against political opponents and ethnic minorities. The European Union has mandated the trials to facilitate the country’s integration within the EU system.

 

The Kosovo Relocated Specialist Judicial Institution will be hosted at The Hague, pictured above. (Photo courtesy of Balkans Insight).

Although the trials will be conducted in the Netherlands at The Hague, the court will actually be a national court of Kosovo, with international judges applying Kosovo’s criminal laws. It will retain its nature as a court that administers justice outside Kosovo, rather than becoming an international tribunal.

The court was moved outside the jurisdiction of Kosovo due to the sensitive nature of trying war crimes within Kosovo. Many of those who oppose the creation of the court see it as an “insult” to those who fought against Serbian national forces.

“Possible suspects may be seen by sections of Kosovan society as freedom fighters, and witnesses may feel threatened in Kosovo,” hence the reason for cases to be heard abroad. So we are pleased to be able to offer the court a home. It is important for justice to be done,” Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders said.

An EU task force that investigated the alleged war crimes said there was sufficient evidence to prosecute many senior members of the KLA on charges for unlawful killings, abductions, illegal detention camps, sexual violence, and desecration of religious buildings.

The governments of both Kosovo and the Netherlands have agreed to the arrangements for the court, but the parliaments of each country have yet to approve the measures. The costs for the court will be paid through EU funding.

Kosovo Relocated Specialist Judicial Institution will join other war crimes courts in The Hague, including the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. The court is expected to begin operating later this year.

For more information, please see–

Balkan Insight– The Hague to Host New Kosovo War Court— 15 January 2016

BBC– Kosovo war crimes court to try KLA suspects in The Hague— 15 January 2016

Expatica– New court to open in The Hague to try Kosovo war crimes— 15 January 2016

Wall Street Journal– Netherlands to Host Kosovo War Crimes Court— 15 January 2016

Chinese Human Rights Lawyer and Husband Arrested for Subversion

By Christine Khamis

Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

 

BEIJING, China –

Human rights lawyer Wang Yu and her husband were arrested this week based on charges of political subversion. Ms. Wang and her husband, Bao Longjun, were held in detention for six months before they were formally arrested. Members of their law firm were also detained.

Ms. Wang during an interview in Beijing in April 2015. (Photo courtesy of The New York Times)

The couple and other members of their law firm, Beijing Fengui Law Firm, were held in “designated residential surveillance” starting in July 2015. Designated residential surveillance allows authorities to place detainees in solitary confinement in secret locations for time periods lasting up to six months. The month after their release, Ms. Wang and Mr. Bao, along with others from their firm, were arrested and charged with subversion.

Ms. Wang has not been permitted to meet with her lawyer, Li Yuhan, since her detainment. According to Ms. Li, police denied her requests to meet with Ms. Wang seven times during the detainment.

Ms. Wang is charged with subversion of state power and “causing a disturbance”, while Mr. Bao is charged with inciting subversion of state power. Their charges could mean sentences ranging from 15 years to life in prison. Because the Communist Party controls China’s courts, the couple will likely be convicted at trial.

Ms. Wang has defended other human rights activists, including free speech advocate Wu Gan, women’s rights activist Li Tingting, and activist Cao Shunli. She has also represented Uighur scholar and alleged separatist Illham Tohti and victims of sexual harassment, forced evictions, and illegal jails.

Critics of the Communist Party often face subversion charges. Chinese authorities have also increasingly cracked down on human rights activists and lawyers since President Xi Jinping came into power in 2013. More than 130 lawyers were detained in July 2015 after they were accused of starting protests outside of courtrooms.

Chinese authorities also detained a Swedish man, Peter Jespin Dahlin, earlier this month based on suspicion of state subversion. Mr. Dahlin is a co-founder of the China Urgent Action Working Group, an organization that assists lawyers in providing services to victims of human rights violations.

 

For more information, please see:

Jurist – Prominent China Human Rights Lawyer Arrested for Political Subversion – 14 January 2016

The New York Times – China Arrests Rights Lawyer and Her Husband on Subversion Charges – 13 January 2016

Reuters – China Arrests Most Prominent Woman Rights Lawyer for Subversion – 13 January 2016

Voice of America – US Concerned About China Rights After Lawyers’ Arrest – 13 January 2016