Department of Defense Plans to Release Additional Prisoners

By Samuel Miller
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America and Oceania

WASHINGTON, D.C., United States of America — U.S. military officials from the Department of Defense have informed Congress that they plan to transfer about a dozen prisoners from the detention facility at the naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The first of the transfers are expected in the next few days and the others will take place in coming weeks, said one of the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Patrol Underway Outside Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (Photo Courtesy of BBC News)

Among them will be Tariq Ba Odah, a Yemeni man who has been on a long-term hunger strike.

At least two countries have agreed to accept the detainees, according to the officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss pending transfers. A Pentagon spokesperson, Commander Gary Ross, issued this statement: “The Administration is committed to reducing the detainee population and to closing the detention facility responsibly.”

There are now 91 prisoners at the U.S. naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Most have been held without charge or trial for more than a decade, drawing international condemnation. According to Reuters, the Pentagon has notified Congress of its latest planned transfers from among the 37 detainees already cleared to be sent to their homelands or other countries.

U.S. officials have said they expect to move out all members of that group by this summer.

The best known of the detainees expected to be resettled in the coming weeks is Tariq Ba Odah, a Yemeni prisoner who has been undergoing a hunger strike in protest of his detention. That process includes guards strapping him down, putting a rubber tube down his nose and pumping a liquid dietary supplement into his stomach.

One of the issues in Odah’s case is the congressional ban on repatriations to Yemen, a country mired in an ongoing military conflict. The country is also considered a breeding ground for terrorists associated with organizations such as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

President Obama, who last month presented Congress with a blueprint for closing the prison, continues his attempt to make good on his long-time pledge before he leaves office in January. The plan for shuttering the facility calls for bringing the several dozen remaining prisoners to maximum-security prison in the United States. But U.S. law bars such transfers to the mainland, and President Obama has not ruled out doing so by use of executive action.

The Obama administration’s main effort to close the prison has been transferring low-risk prisoners to countries that can meet security conditions, with the rest to be taken to a different prison on domestic soil. But the fate of the plan is uncertain because of a statute banning the military from taking detainees from Guantánamo to the United States.

The Guantánamo facility has been criticized both in the United States and abroad as a symbol of human rights abuses for indefinitely holding prisoners without trial.


For more information, please see:

BBC News – US to transfer dozen Guantanamo inmates to at least two countries – 31 March 2016

Independent – Guantanamo Bay inmates to be transferred to other countries, US confirms – 31 March 2016

Voice of America – US Preparing to Transfer More Prisoners From Guantanamo Bay – 31 March 2016

NY Times – Pentagon Plans More Prisoner Transfers From Guantánamo – 30 March 2016

Reuters – Pentagon to send about a dozen Guantanamo inmates to other countries soon – 30 March 2016

The Hill – Pentagon to transfer group of detainees out of Gitmo in coming weeks: report – 30 March 2016

Washington Post – Hunger striker at Guantanamo Bay slated for transfer – 30 March 2016

Maduro Vows to Strike Down Amnesty Law

By Kaitlyn Degnan
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela — The Opposition-controlled National Assembly of Venezuela has passed an amnesty law which would free a number of imprisoned opposition activists and end the legal cases being brought against others. President Nicolas Maduro, who heads the government-supported Socialist Party, has promised to strike down the law.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. (Photo courtesy of the Wall Street Journal)

Venezuela’s constitution does not give the president veto powers. However, following the passing of a law by the National Assembly, Maduro has 10 days to sign the law into effect, or it is deferred to the Supreme Court. The Court then has 15 days to make a ruling on the law.

The Court is notorious for siding with the Executive, and has shot down most of what the National Assembly has tried to do since taking office in January, including allowing Maduro to rule by decree on issues related to the economy.

In order to declare the amnesty constitutional, the court must find that the beneficiaries of the law have committed crimes against humanity, or otherwise violated human rights.

Over 70 political prisoners would be freed by the bill, including Leopoldo Lopez. Lopez is considered by many to be Venezuela’s highest profile political prisoner. He was jailed in 2014 for allegedly spurring protests which resulted in the deaths of 40 people. He was convicted of “public incitement to violence and criminal association” last year, in a trial which has been called a “complete travesty of justice” by Human Rights Watch.

Maduro and his supporters deny that Lopez and others like him are political prisoners, instead calling them, “imprisoned politicians.”  Speaking on television hours before the bill was passed, Maduro said: “Laws to protect terrorists and criminals will not get past me, no matter what they do.”

Opposition politicians have stated that no one who would be released by the law has been accused of homicide.


For more information, please see:

Associated Press – Venezuela Opposition Passes Bill to Free Imprisoned Activist – 29 March 2016

Financial Times – Venezuelan congress passes amnesty law – 30 March 2016

Media with Conscience – Venezuela congresses passes bill to free jailed activists – 30 March 2016

Reuters – Venezuela parliament approves amnesty law, Maduro vows to veto – 30 March 2016 

UPI – Venezuela’s Maduro vows to veto amnesty bill passed by National Assembly – 30 March 2016

Wall Street Journal – Venezuelan President Nicolas Mauro Vows That Amnesty Law Won’t Stand – 30 March 2016

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

In Focus

Truth is the First Step Towards Peace

As we search for ways to halt the violence and foster lasting peace in societies grappling with a legacy of massive human rights abuse, there is arguably no more important day to reflect upon the importance of the struggle for truth and justice than today, March 24. Thus, we take a moment to mark the International Day for the Right to the Truth concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims.

Read More…

World Report


Former vice-president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Jean-Pierre Bemba, was convicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes committed in the Central African Republic in 2002 and 2003. It was the first time a commander of a military force was convicted by the ICC both for the crimes of his subordinates and for using sexual violence as a weapon of war. The trial of Congolese militia commander Germain Katanga started in Kinshasa over new charges in his native country. The warlord left prison in January after serving the term handed down by the ICC in The Hague. On the same week,the ICC confirmed all the 70 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity brought against the Ugandan commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) Dominic Ongwen. A court in Ivory Coast sentenced Simone Gbagbo, the wife of the former president Laurent Gbagbo, to 20 years in prison for her role in a 2011 post-election crisis in which around 3,000 people were killed, her lawyer said. The army of Nigeria has established an office of human rights, which will train soldiers to respect the rights of civilians in the continuing fight against Boko Haram and other terrorist groups. In Kenya, international judges have barred the use of recanted testimony in the ongoing trial of Kenyan Vice President William Ruto, who is accused of committing crimes against humanity during the violence that followed the 2007 elections. In Sudan, a human rights body called on South Sudanese leaders to establish a unity government in order to bring to justice those who committed crimes during the 21-month conflict. Several days later, South Sudanese government troops attacked a U.N. base, killing at least 18 civilians. Since the attack, investigations have found that soldiers from the Sudan People’s Liberation Army planned and carried out the attack, possibly with the help of militias. In South Africa, the national human rights commission has expressed concerns that racism is still an issue for the country, noting that 10% of violations reported to the commission had to do with inequality, with more than half of those complains related directly to racial discrimination.

Read More…


Colombia’s government and left-wing FARC rebels missed the March 23 deadline for the signing of a peace agreement. While peace was not obtained, some progress has been made in the past six months.The peace talks have established the need for a Special Tribunal for Peace, which will investigate over 100,000 crimes in 32,433 open trials. Santiago Uribe, brother of the former Colombian president Álvaro Uribe, was arrested for creating and leading a death squad known as the Twelve Apostles. In Guatemala, two former military members were sentenced to 360 years in prison for the murder, rape, and sexual enslavement of indigenous women during Guatemala’s military conflict in the 1980s. In Mexico, a report released by the Oaxaca Truth Commission documented massive and systemic human rights abuses committed in 2006 and 2007, including widespread torture and extrajudicial killings. Additionally, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights declared in a report that Mexico is currently undergoing a human rights crisis, as evidenced by thousands of deaths, disappearances, kidnappings, and threats. Chile has been investigating human rights abuses that occurred under military rule, utilizing soldiers’ testimonies to uncover the truth about any atrocities they witnessed or took part in.

Read More…


In Nepal, the government has endorsed the regulation of the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP), providing an impetus in the previously delayed transitional justice process. However, victims still complain about the inefficiency of Nepal’s transitional justice bodies, and victims criticize their lack of sensitivity and sympathy toward survivors. The UN has warned that it cannot provide financial support to Nepal’s transitional justice bodies in their present condition. A human rights report on Sri Lanka has urged the Sri Lankan government to translate its promises on transitional justice into action. Although Sri Lankan President Sirisena has been opposed to foreign involvement in national war crimes investigations, Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera assured that foreign participation is in fact being considered. The UN strongly suggested that Sri Lanka accept foreign help due on the grounds that they lack the technical competencies to handle the war crimes probes. In Bangladesh, Prosecutor Mohammad Ali was suspended from his role in ongoing war crimes trials due to professional misconduct. The Bangladeshi Supreme Court has expressed displeasure with the investigators and prosecutors involved in the cases, claiming that they have not been effective despite their having sufficient financial resources to properly investigate and prosecute crimes.

Read More…


The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) found the former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadžić guilty of genocide over the 1995 massacre in Srebrenica, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and sentenced to 40 years in jail. Karadžić was found guilty of 10 out of the 11 charges, including war crimes and crimes against humanity, like murder, terror and extermination. Atifete Jahjaga, president of Kosovo, has ratified an agreement with the Netherlands regarding the establishment of a special war crimes court in The Hague to address crimes possibly committed by ex-guerillas from the Kosovo Liberation Army. Additionally, Kosovo high schools are set to begin teaching transitional justice as part of their curriculum thanks to the implementation of a proposal from the Humanitarian Law Centre.

Read More…


Tunisia’s Truth and Dignity Commission, which has been established to uncover past human rights violations and compensate victims, is struggling to remain effective given its decreasing political support and resistance from some members of the ruling elite. The Special Tribunal for Lebanon, a special court set up to try the killers of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri, quashed on appeal the conviction of Karma Khayat, a senior TV journalist accused of obstructing justice. In Libya, delegates from rival factions have proposed the establishment of an 18-member unity government, a proposal which requires approval from the internationally recognized parliament based in eastern Libya. In Egypt, a prominent human rights organization that documents allegations of torture, death, and medical negligence in police stations and prisons was closed by the Egyptian government. Following a series of incidents involving police abuse, the Free Egyptians Party demanded rigorous implementation of existing laws and new regulations from the Ministry of Interior to restrict the authority of police officers. Tensions in Egypt have been further stoked by recent incidents involving torture and murder at the hands of police officers, including the shooting of a 21-year-old cab driver in late February.

Read More…


More Than Words: Apologies as a Form of Reparation

This report explores many of the issues and challenges likely to be faced by those considering a public apology as a form of reparation for victims of serious human rights violations.

View Report

Opening Up Remedies in Myanmar

This briefing paper calls on the soon-to-be-established NLD-led Burmese government to seriously consider taking steps to deal with Myanmar’s troubled past as a way to help end the cycle of violence and human rights violations in the conflict-torn country.

View Report

More Publications

Third ICC Conviction is Full of Firsts

By Tyler Campbell
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

BRAZZAVILLE, Congo ­– On March 21st the International Criminal Court (ICC) declared Jean-Pierre Bemba, the ex-vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, guilty of all five charges brought against him. Bemba was being charged for his leadership role with the MLC militia, which committed atrocities in the Central African Republic’s civil war. This is only the third conviction ever reached by the ICC but it comes with multiple landmarks for the court.

Photo of Jean-Pierre Bemba during his ICC hearing. Photo Courtesy of NBC News.

Bemba was convicted of two counts of crimes against humanity, murder and rape, and three counts of war crimes, murder, rape, and pillaging. This is the first time that the ICC has landed a conviction for rape as a war crime. This conviction by the ICC shows the continued change of how rape is viewed in the context of war. Instead of being written off as an inevitable byproduct of war it is now seen as weapon of war that must receive consequences when used.

The ex-vice president is also the highest-ranking official to ever be convicted by the court. Conviction of a high-ranking official, who was not present or near the ground fighting, shows acceptance of a different line of legal reasoning from the court. The all women three-judge panel stated Bemba was guilty by failing to properly exercise the control he had over the troops. This line of reasoning could now be taken to hold military commanders and high up government officials for, not only what they do, but also when they have failed to responsibly exercise the control their office gives them. The judges summed up this line of culpability when they said they were finding him guilty for what he had “failed to prevent.”

Now that the court has accepted that superiors can be held accountable for the actions of those below them we could see more convictions come from the ICC. Although, we should be cautious of expecting any large changes too quickly. The next step in Bemba’s case will be sentencing after the court has heard from the two parties and the legal representatives of the victims.

For More Information Please See:

BBC – Jean-Pierre Bemba: DR Congo ex-warlord guilty of war crimes – 21 March 2016

The New York Times – Congolese Politician, Jean-Pierre Bemba, Is Convicted of War Crimes – 21 March 2016

ICC – ICC Trial Chamber III declares Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity – 21 March 2016

NBC News – Jean-Pierre Bemba Convicted at ICC of War Crimes, Crimes Against Humanity – 21 March 2016


IHRDC Report: ‘Restrictions on Freedom of Expression in the Islamic Republic of Iran’

On Friday, March 25, the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC) released its twenty-third report on human rights violations in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The report, entitled ‘Restrictions on Freedom of Expression in the Islamic Republic of Iran’, describes the legal framework within which the Iranian state imposes censorship and limits the freedom of expression. Relying on witness testimony from former government officials, authors and journalists, the report examines different aspects of the Iranian government’s actions against individuals whose opinions, beliefs or actions are contrary to what the state desires or expects. 

 Restrictions on freedom of expression in Iran are both broad and arbitrary. In addition, changes in the political climate influence what may be acceptable in the political and cultural arenas. Isa Saharkhiz, a journalist and a former official with Iran’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, likened working as a journalist in Iran to walking on a minefield, knowing that a wrong step may harm your career or possibly land you in prison.

 This report discusses events that took place in the early years of the Iranian Revolution as well as those of the recent past. While the characteristics of censorship and governmental controls on speech have undergone some changes over time, the Islamic Republic has shown that it is not willing to significantly soften its position with respect to political opinion and cultural expression, which it appears to consider as challenges to its political or religious authority. Restrictions on Freedom of Expression in the Islamic Republic if of Iran explains how the Iranian government violates its own laws as well as international human rights norms as it attempts to maintain control over media outlets, the internet, and individual Iranians. “The government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has engineered one of the most repressive environments on the planet in terms of the right to free speech,” said Rod Sanjabi, Executive Director of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, adding, “For decades, journalists, scholars, artists and indeed all Iranians have been forced to navigate censorship, self-censorship, and the aggressive and often arbitrary policing of the public space by a government whose distaste for free speech has long been a matter of identity. As long as these trends persist, Iran will be poorly governed.”

For more information, please contact:

Iran Human Rights Documentation Center


Phone: +1 203 772 2218

Indian Journalist Jailed Over Social Media Post Criticizing Police

By Christine Khamis

Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia


NEW DELHI, India –

A journalist in eastern India has been arrested for posting a social media post that criticized police and called for legal protections for reporters.

Mr. Singh. (Photo courtesy of the Indian Express)

The journalist, Prabhat Singh, has been accused of circulating obscene material. Mr. Singh appeared in court this past week, where he claimed that he had been beaten while in police detainment. His lawyer has also stated that he was denied food while in custody. Mr. Singh requested bail, but the court denied his request.

Violence stemming from a Maoist insurgency has been ongoing for several years in impoverished tribal settlement regions. Insurgency rebels are fighting for equality when it comes to wealth from natural resources and the right to jobs.

Security officials have cracked down on insurgency rebels, often committing human rights abuses. Mr. Singh worked in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh state, a rebel center. The area is known for the rebels’ hit-and-run attacks on government soldiers, whose efforts have not lessened violence in the area much.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, based in the United States, has called for Chhattisgarh state authorities to release Mr. Singh, citing concerns about the arrests of journalists and their defenders. Amnesty International has also called for Mr. Singh’s release.

India’s National Human Rights Comission, a quasi-judicial body, has requested that authorities in the region submit a report on the details of Mr. Singh’s arrest and alleged rights violations.

Journalists face challenges in Chhattisgarh state because authorities often consider criticism of security forces as support for the rebel insurgency. Authorities have gone so far as to accuse some journalists of siding with the rebels. Last year, two journalists were arrested in the tribal region for allegedly supporting the insurgency. Their lawyer states that both are innocent and is still fighting the charges against them, which were filed under anti-terror laws.

Another journalist, Malini Subramaniam, was threatened and forced to leave the area after criticizing police. During her time as a journalist in the Bastar region, Ms. Subramaniam covered human rights violations and allegations of sexual violence by security forces.


For more information, please see:

The Express Tribune – Indian Journalist Arrested Over Social Media Post – 24 March 2016

ABC News – Indian Reporter Arrested After Posting Criticism of Police – 23 March 2016

Associated Press – Indian Reporter Arrested After Posting Criticism of Police – 23 March 2016

The New York Times – Journalist Jailed in Eastern India Over Social Media Post – 23 March 2016



Syria Deeply Weekly Update: The Unknown Journey of Syria’s Refugees

Dear Readers,

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

The Unknown Journey of Syria’s Refugees

The dangerous sea and land crossings that Syrian refugees are making to Europe have been well-documented, but less well known are the equally perilous journeys people take to leave Syria itself. In this first installment of a two-part series, Syria Deeply examines the illegal journey from Damascus to Turkey.

Iron Rule: Jaish al-Islam in Eastern Ghouta

Jaish al-Islam’s leader Zahran Alloush was killed by Syrian government airstrikes last year, but his successors are keeping his brutal legacy alive in Eastern Ghouta. Syria Deeply spoke to residents and former prisoners of the “Army of Islam” about the group’s severe punishment of dissent.

A Special Note to Syrian Mothers on Mother’s Day

While the Middle East celebrated its Mother’s Day on Monday, Ameenah A. Sawan recalled the first Mother’s Day of the Syrian uprising, now a bittersweet memory of cheers, fears and sadness, and wished strength to all Syrian mothers who have seen unimaginable suffering over the past five years.

More Recent Stories to Look Out for at Syria Deeply:

Find our new reporting and analysis every weekday at

You can reach our team with any comments or suggestions at

ICTJ: Truth is the First Step Towards Peace

Dear friends,

Today, in our troubled times marked by ongoing conflicts, incredible violence and increasing hostility, it is imperative that we stand united in the struggle against impunity. Our attention and effort must be directed to do what we can in defense and remedy of those targeted by brutal violence from Syria to Central African Republic, from Pakistan to Turkey and beyond.

As we search for ways to halt the violence and foster lasting peace in societies grappling with a legacy of massive human rights abuse, there is arguably no more important day to reflect upon the importance of the struggle for truth and justice than today, March 24. Thus, we take a moment to mark the International Day for the Right to the Truth concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims.

The pursuit of justice can take many forms, and truth telling is an essential one. In 2010, the United Nations established March 24 as a day to honor the memory of victims of gross and systematic human rights violations and their right to truth and justice. If peace is to have any chance of prevailing in times of escalating conflict, it is more necessary than ever to uphold this fundamental right.

Truth telling is essential to achieve long-lasting peace and social change. It helps reduce tensions between opposing parties by revealing and validating the experiences of different groups. To build a dignified and inclusive future, it is necessary to overcome divisive sectoral narratives by establishing an objective account of the violent past.

In many post-conflict settings, efforts to establish a reliable account of what happened during conflict have taken the form of a truth commission. Truth commissions are temporary, official inquiries established to determine the facts, causes, and consequences of past human rights violations. Victims are at the heart of such truth-seeking processes, because oftentimes their voices have been silenced or ignored for years.

Since 1983, more than 30 truth commissions have been established around the world to investigate past human rights abuses committed during periods of conflict or repression. In 2013, ICTJ and the Kofi Annan Foundation joined efforts to reexamine assumptions about how truth commissions may be established and what makes them operate effectively as a tool to strengthen peace processes.

This project has produced several outcomes, including the publication “Challenging the Conventional: Can Truth Commissions Strengthen Peace Processes?” and thoughtful discussions in Geneva, New York, and Bogotá, among other places.

Today, as part of this sustained effort and our firm commitment to building peace on the foundation of truth, we are launching a multimedia presentation based on the reflections we have developed throughout this 3-year project. We invite you to learn – in EnglishSpanish and Arabic – from Guatemala, Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya and Nepal on how truth seeking can serve as a catalyzer for peace.

Go to Multimedia Presentation

Join us in challenging the conventional to find new ways to contribute towards building accountable and dignified societies.


David Tolbert

ICTJ President

Indonesia Raises Dispute with Chinese Fishing Vessels in South China Sea

By Samuel Miller
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America and Oceania

JAKARTA, INDONESIA — Indonesia on Monday strongly protested the Chinese government and demanded it clarify the actions of a Chinese coast guard vessel that reportedly had contravened law enforcement measures being conducted by Indonesian authorities against a China-flagged boat allegedly committing illegal fishing in Indonesian waters. According to Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, the Indonesian government submitted a protest to China’s charge of affairs Sun Weide in Jakarta over the incident in Indonesia’s economic zone near the Natuna islands.

Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi Addresses the Foreign Ministry in Jakarta. (Photo Courtesy of Reuters)

Foreign Minister Retno said the coast guard ship had disrupted Indonesian authorities who were acting in accordance to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Beginning Saturday evening, the Chinese fishing vessel was stopped for fishing illegally in Indonesia’s waters and was being towed to port when the Chinese took it back, leaving its crew in the hands of Indonesia.

Arrmanatha Nasir, a spokesman for Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry, stated that Indonesian personnel boarded the Chinese boat, the Kway Fey, took its captain and eight-member crew into custody, and began towing the ship back to a base on the Natuna Islands. But around midnight, he said, a Chinese Coast Guard vessel, which had been following the Indonesian ship, approached it on or inside the 12-nautical-mile line marking Indonesia’s territorial waters, eventually hitting the ship.

According to multiple Indonesian sources, China’s Coast Guard rammed one of the country’s fishing boats to pry it free from the Indonesian authorities. Indonesia decided to release the boat and proceed to shore with the crew.

On Monday, a spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Hua Chunying, called the area where the episode took place traditional Chinese fishing grounds, and said that the Coast Guard vessel had not entered Indonesian territorial waters.

“China immediately requested Indonesia to release the detained Chinese fishermen and ensure their physical safety,” she said at a regularly scheduled news conference in Beijing. “The sovereignty of the Natunas belongs to Indonesia. China has no objections to this.”

Indonesia’s Marine and Fishery Minister Susi Pudjiastuti however disputed the statements from China, particularly those pertaining to traditional fishing grounds.

“There’s no international treaty which recognizes or admits what’s been claimed by the China government as traditional fishing ground. If there’s such, that’s a one-sided claim and not acknowledged by the international community,” she told reporters.

“We will summon the Chinese ambassador to discuss the issue,” the Jakarta Post reported Susi as saying on Sunday. “We respect China, but we must also maintain our sovereignty.”

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Indonesia protests against Chinese ‘breach of sovereignty’ – 21 March 2016

Bloomberg – Indonesia Detains Chinese Fishermen After S. China Sea Chase – 21 March 2016

Jakarta Post – Indonesia protests against China in South China Sea fishing dispute – 21 March 2016

NY Times – China’s Coast Guard Rams Fishing Boat to Free It From Indonesian Authorities – 21 March 2016

Reuters – Indonesia says it feels peace efforts on South China Sea ‘sabotaged’ – 21 March 2016

Sky News Australia – China, Indonesia in South China Sea row – 21 March 2016

The Guardian – South China Sea: Indonesia summons Chinese ambassador as fishing dispute escalates – 21 March 2016

U.S. State Department: Myanmar’s Persecution of Rohingya Does Not Rise to Genocide

By Christine Khamis

Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia


The United States State Department announced on Monday that it had determined that Myanmar is persecuting its religious minority, the Rohingya Muslims, but that the country’s persecution of the Rohingya has not risen to the level of genocide.

The State Department issued a report to Congress regarding the issue, saying that while it was “gravely concerned” about the persecution of Rohingya, that treatment of the Rohingya did not amount to mass atrocities.

The United States Congress passed legislation in 2015 that called for Secretary of State John Kerry to determine whether Buddhist extremists in Myanmar had committed atrocities against the Rohingya. Part of his directive included the task of consulting with governments and human rights organizations in Myanmar to make his determination of whether atrocities against the Rohingya had in fact occurred.

Mr. Kerry’s report stated that the State Department remains concerned about the persecution and discrimination against the Rohingya and that displacement and violence were ongoing through 2015. The report called for Myanmar’s government to pursue solutions to address the human rights violations and to grant or restore citizenship to the Rohingya and other stateless individuals.

In 1948, the United Nations defined genocide to include acts committed with the intent to destroy a national, ethnical, racial or religious group. Such acts include killings and violence against members of a group and deliberate infliction of poor conditions of life meant to bring about a group’s physical destruction.

Tens of thousands of Rohingya have left Myanmar since 2012, fleeing from persecution and poverty amidst anti-Muslim violence. Many Rohingya who have remained in Myanmar live in camps, and are denied official legal status and some basic human rights. International critics have called for the investigation into what they view as evidence of genocide against the Rohingya.

Rohingya refugees in a camp for internally displaced persons in Myanmar. (Photo courtesy of Time)

As Aung San Suu Kyi’s new government prepares to take power on April 1, her government will be under pressure to address the contentious issue of persecution against the Rohingya. Ms. Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy Party (NLD) has been criticized so far for how little it has addressed the issue.

The United Nations and European Union stated on Monday that the hope that conditions for the Rohingya will improve under Ms. Suu Kyi’s new government has, in turn, contributed to a decline in the number of migrants fleeing the country.


For more information, please see:

Time – Burma’s Treatment of the Rohingya Is Not Genocide, Says U.S. – 22 March 2016

The New York Times – Myanmar: State Dept. Says Persecution of Muslims Does Not Rise to Genocide – 21 March 2016

Reuters – U.S. Says Myanmar Persecutes Rohingya, But Not Genocide – 21 March 2016

Voice of America – What is Genocide? – 15 March 2016

Syria Justice and Accountability Centre: Filling the Justice Vacuum in Syria

As a result of the relative calm following the US-Russia brokered ceasefire, widespread anti-regime protests have taken place throughout Syria for the first time in years. Syrians in Aleppo, Idlib, Homs, Hama, and parts of Damascus took to the streets to demand freedom, declaring that the revolution is still alive. Islamist groups Jabhat al-Nusra and Jaish al-Fatah, however, immediately disapproved and have intervened to disperse the protesters. The Islamist groups appear to have cracked down because the protesters were holding the “revolution flags” and signs calling for secularism and democracy. Activists reported that Islamist militants threatened them with death if they did not immediately leave the streets. The militants also smashed recording equipment and cameras, seized and tore apart revolutionary banners and flags, and detained some protesters.

After seizing neighborhoods and towns from either the government or opposition fighters, Islamist factions implemented so-called Sharia courts to mete out justice in the areas which they control. These courts have no written laws or legal texts to define procedures and punishments. A video taken from one of Jabhat al Nusra’s Sharia courts shows that judges do not adhere to a penal code, and instead, dole out punishments based on their own discretionary interpretation of Quranic law. A majority of these judges and clerks lack experience or academic qualifications in either civil or Islamic jurisprudence. As a result, the courts have often times been the scene of inconsistent, unfair, and vengeful trials.

These Sharia courts are also inconsistent in their interpretations of Islamic law, varying based on what school of Islam the faction follows. According to some Syrian activists, the courts interpret Sharia law to exert their own faction’s influence and goals, a problem akin to the justice system under Bashar al-Assad’s government. As a result, Syrians cannot use the courts to fairly address simple complaints, let alone human rights violations committed by the same factions that control the courts. Due to Syrians’ lack of access to fair dispute resolution mechanisms, a justice vacuum has emerged that Islamist militants have been unable to fill.

With no avenue for legal recourse, some Syrians have fought back. Recent footage from Marat al-Nuuman in Idlib show protesters chanting against Jabhat al-Nusra and tearing down the Islamist group’s black flags. The reemergence of protests against both the government and Islamist groups indicate that, despite five years of conflict, Syrians desire more than basic food and aid. It also signals a strong rejection by some segments of Syrian society of the hardline values and systems imposed by groups like al-Nusra.

A group of protesters tearing down an Al Nusra flag | Photo Credit: Hany Hilal (Facebook)

A fair and balanced legal system is one of the demands of the Syrian people. Such a legal system would adhere to the rule of law, abide by due process guarantees, grant fair trials, punishments, and redress to victims, and hold perpetrators accountable regardless of their affiliation. Syria’s judicial system is a long way from these international standards, which is why institutional reform is needed. The Sharia courts are not reform-minded. Instead they repeat the same failures of the current system and add additional chaos with conflicting and arbitrary rules. A key pillar of transitional justice, institutional reform, could include the vetting of judicial personnel, structural reforms, oversight, transforming legal frameworks, and education. Given their long history of abuse and corruption, the reform of Syrian state institutions will be vital to disabling the structures that allow abuses to occur, preventing the recurrence of violations, and instilling respect for human rights and the rule of law.

Syrian peace talks need to address the urgent need for institutional reform in Syria, particularly in the justice sector. These are issues that the negotiators cannot ignore and in which civil society can play a vital role, including by providing documentation of past institutional abuse. Additionally, international organizations and donors can support the reform process, both financially and through expertise that builds the capacity of local judges and lawyers.

While international experts largely focus on criminal accountability through international tribunals, the domestic system will also need the ability to address human rights abuses as well as ordinary complaints. International justice remains a priority, but without reform and capacity building of Syria’s justice sector, the same problems that led to dissatisfaction and conflict will inevitably continue, no matter which government emerges in the post-conflict period.

For more information and to provide feedback, please contact SJAC at


18 Elephants Saved or Stolen?

By Tyler Campbell
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

MBABANE, Swaziland – This Tuesday, a plane loaded with some unusual passengers started the long flight from Swaziland to the continental U.S. Instead of people this plane is carrying 18 heavily sedated elephants to their new homes in three U.S. zoos. The three male and 15 female elephants will be split between the Dallas zoo, Sedgwick County zoo in Kansas, and Henry Doorly zoo in Nebraska were they hope to be bred. This move has been heavily criticized by some animal rights activists.

Photo of the Dallas Zoo’s Elephant exhibit, one of the destination zoos for the 18. (Photo Courtesy: Dallas Zoo)

In February the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved the plan and granted permission to the three zoos to import the 18 elephants. To get approval for this moce the zoos had to meet requirements under the Endangered Species Act and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. To fulfill both bodies of law the receiving zoos and the sending country had to make certain legal and scientific findings.

The exporting country must determine that:
• the export is not detrimental to the survival of the species,
• the animal was legally acquired,
• the animal will be prepared and shipped so as to minimize the risk of injury, damage to health or cruel treatment, and
• the importing country has issued an import permit for the animal.

The importing country must determine that:
• the import is for purposes that are not detrimental to the survival of the species,
• the proposed recipient is suitably equipped to house and care for the animal, and
• the animal is not to be used for primarily commercial purposes.

(CITES regulations at 50 CFR 23, Appendix-I)

After permission was granted the group, Friends of Animals, filed a suit in federal court against the Fish and Wildlife Service seeking an injunction to stop the move. At the time the suit was filed the move from Swaziland to the U.S. was scheduled to take place in May and the court date was set for March, 17.

In an unexpected and seemingly questionable move, the zoos changed the move date and decided to move the animals on Tuesday, 10 days before the court date. Michael Harris, the legal director at friends of Animals, called the move “blatantly underhanded.”

The zoos have attempted to justify their actions saying the move was necessary due to heavy drought that has affected the region. In theory the move not only saves the elephants but will also help to ease the strain that is being place on Swaziland’s Hlane national park by the dry conditions. The zoos are also scheduled to pay $450,000 to the park in an attempt to help save the severely endangered rhino population that lives there.

For more information please see:

The Guardian ­- US zoos secretly fly 18 elephants out of Swaziland ahead of court challenge – 9 March 2016

The Telegraph – Swazi elephants sedated and flown to US zoos in dramatic ‘rescue’ mission – 9 March 2016

CBSDFW – Animal-Rights Group Moves To Block Zoos’ Elephant Import – 16 February 2016

Fish and Wildlife Service – Q&A: Importation of Elephants from Swaziland – 21 January 2016

Unusual El Niño Brings Sever Drought Across Africa

Record high temperatures in February and a dry El Nino season have combined to leave 49 million hungry across southern and eastern Africa. The UN’s World Food Program has declared that Zimbabwe, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia, Malawi and Swaziland will all be in need of food assistance within the year. The El Nino driven drought will have far reaching effects past food and water shortages and will make these populations venerable to other natural disasters like fires and infectious disease.

(Dry river bed outside Utrecht, a small town in South Africa.)

This season’s El Nino pattern has been unusual in two respects. First, it has been much more severe than any in recent memory. South Africa is having the driest season it has seen in 35 years, while South America is dealing with heavy rains. Second, it is predicted to last longer than normal. This El Nino pattern started in mid-2015 and many meteorologists are predicting it to last throughout much of 2016.

El Nino is a natural weather pattern that is brought on by the warming of the Pacific Ocean. Although it is a natural occurrence many meteorologist believe the increased severity is a result of global climate change.

Drought conditions and high temperatures are severely affecting crop yields in South African countries. Zimbabwe has seen output drop by half compared to 2015. Other countries have seen similar drops in production which has sent prices for staples crops, like maze, 50-70% higher in some regions. Should drought conditions and crop failure continue, these high prices and poor economic conditions could be felt well into 2017.

The UN and other aid agencies have been slow to react to these increasingly serious conditions. Global aid is already spread thin from other emergencies like the Syrian and Ebola crisis. Ocha, the UN’s coordination agency began to put need estimates out in mid-February of what response may be needed. These numbers show just how large and wide spread a problem this sever El Nino season is creating. Ten million are projected to need food aid in Ethiopia and 2.8 million more will see some kind of need in Guatemala and Honduras.

A detailed response plan has not yet been laid out by these organizations but one will likely be needed because of the scale of the problem. Even if the rains started today regions would still be faced with some food shortages. Britain’s Department for International Development said in a statement, “the planting window for cereals has already closed in the southern part of the region [Africa] and is fast closing elsewhere.”

For more information please see:

The Guardian – Drought and rising temperatures ‘leaves 36m people across Africa facing hunger’ – 16 March 2016

The Guardian – El Niño is causing global food crisis, UN warns – 16 Feb. 2016

Reuters – Drought may affect 49 million in southern Africa: WFP – 15 Feb. 2016

Reuters – South Africa drought likely to persist -weather service – 18 Dec. 2015