Burkini Ban Strictly Enforced in French Towns

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

PARIS, France — Burkinis, the full-body bathing suit worn by Muslim women, have been banned by over 15 towns in France, mainly at popular tourist locations on the French Riviera.  The bans do not mention the burkini specifically, however refer to clothing that will be respectful of the principle of secularism.  Authorities cite recent terrorist attacks, such as the ones in Nice and Paris, when justifying the need to keep the public order implications of religious clothing at bay.

A woman removes her tunic on a beach in Nice as police enforce the burkini ban (Photo Courtesy of CNN)

France is home to Europe’s largest Muslim population.  However, some mayors of the towns considering the burkini ban admit to never having seen one on their local beaches.  Some of the mayors justify the ban by citing the maintenance of public hygiene and “good morals.”

The bans are raising concerns regarding whether the proliferation of bans on the swimwear is a sign of France’s demand for conformity with the non-Muslim community, or whether the bans are an authentic, affirmative absence of government involvement in religious affairs.  Recent opinion polls reflect the support that many French citizens have for the ban, however many Muslims living in France have expressed that they feel they are being “unfairly targeted.”

This past week, images emerged depicting French police allegedly enforcing the ban on a beach in Nice.  Multiple armed police officers stood around a woman as she removed her long-sleeved tunic, and one officer appeared to write her a fine once she was finished.  Siam, the 34 year old mother who was approached by police regarding her clothing, states that she had been sitting on the beach in leggings, the tunic, and a headscarf when she was fined.  Siam also told the press that she had no intention of swimming.  Nice authorities say the enforcement of the ban is a “necessity” after the terrorist attack in Bastille in July.  Muslim activist group Collective against Islamophobia claim that within the last two weeks, 16 Muslim women have been fined for their attire at beaches in the south of France, however none of those 16 were wearing an actual burkini.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls supports the ban and those mayors who are enforcing it, calling the burkini an “affirmation of political Islam in the public space,” and considers them to be a part of a “policical project” to enslave women.  On the other hand, French education minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, warns that the increase in burkini bans lets “loose” verbal racism.


For more information, please see:

BBC — France Burkini Ban: Mayors Urged to Heed Court’s Ruling — 27 August 2016

CNN — Burkini Ban: Police in Nice Force Woman to Remove Part of Clothing — 25 August 2016

The Guardian — France’s Burkini Ban Row Divides Government as Court Mulls Legality — 25 August 2016

BBC — France ‘Burkini Ban’: Images of Police on Beach Fuel Debate — 24 August 2016

Islamic State Left Thousands of Explosives in Manbij After Ouster

by Zachary Lucas
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria — Following the Islamic State’s (IS) ouster from the city of Manbij, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have discovered thousands of land mines and improvised explosive devices (IED) scattered around the city.

IED Reportedly Left by IS in Manbij (Photo Courtesy of Global Voices)

SDF, a United States backed rebel group in Syria, liberated the city of Manbij a couple of weeks earlier. Following reports that IS left the city with a couple thousand civilian hostages and using them as human shields, the SDF discovered thousands of land mines and IEDs in the city. The SDF released a statement saying there goal is to “identify and remove improvised explosive devices.” The SDF also stated the sheer amount of explosives still poses a significant threat to civilians.

The explosives are a mixture of Russian explosives, land mines, and various handmade IEDs. Approximately 13,000 to 15,000 land mines and IEDs have been discovered and disarmed according to the SDF.

Reports have revealed that not only did IS leave land mines and IED’s on known battle areas, but around areas where civilians were more likely to go or in objects civilians were likely to use. Ahmed Mohammed, an activist from Manbij who now lives in Turkey, said “Mines were found inside a garlic and onion basket, a staircase, and even normal-looking rocks across the fields.”

Pictures provided by the SDF appear to show explosives underneath rocks, on top of doorways, and even in soda cans. Sherfan Darwish, the Syrian Democratic Forces’s spokesman, stated the goal of IS was to slow down SDF progress and main and kill civilians. SDF officials say the mines have already claimed the lives of 100 civilians.

The use of mines in Syria has been extensive by all parties involved. The United Nations’ Mine Action Gateway reported that 5.1 million people live in areas where land mines are thought to have been placed. This number includes over 2 million children.

For more information, please see:

ARA News — Western-backed Syrian rebels dismantling ISIS explosives in liberated town — 23 August 2016

Daily Mail — ISIS laid at least 13,000 landmines as it fled Syrian town of Manbij – packing fridges, fruit baskets and even KETTLES with explosives  — 26 August 2016

Global Voices — ISIS Left Thousands of Mines in Manbij Before Fleeing. It Hid Them Inside Everything — 25 August 2016

Wall Street Journal — U.S.-Backed Force Steps Up Efforts to Secure Syria’s Manbij After Ousting ISIS — 14 August 2016

UN: New UN report lays bare widespread ISIL ‘atrocities’ committed against Yazidis in Iraq

Holding a 13-day-old infant, an elderly Yazidi woman who fled Sinjar Mountain, re-enters Iraq from Syria, at a border crossing in the town of Peshkhabour in Dohuk Governorate. Photo: UNICEF/Wathiq Khuzaie

18 August 2016 – A new United Nations report lays bare the widespread and systematic manner in which the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, Da’esh) has committed “terrible atrocities” against the Yezidi and other ethnic and religious communities, the UN envoy for Iraq said today, calling for the perpetrators to be fully and properly held to account.

Compiled by the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the report details heart-wrenching testimony of Yezidi survivors of ISIL atrocities in Iraq since the attack on Sinjar in August 2014, including accounts of systematic and widespread killings, sexual violence and sexual slavery, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, forced conversions and forced displacement, among other abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law.

The report contains accounts of those who were among the 308,315 mostly Yezidis who fled Sinjar District. An estimated 360,000 Yezidi remain displaced, with a serious lack of badly needed psychological care.

According to a press statement women interviewed by the UN spoke of being sold multiple times and having their young children and babies snatched from them. One woman told how she was sold to a 26-year-old Syrian ISIL member who raped her regularly for at least 15 days, threatening to kill her daughters if she did not submit.

Another woman was bought and sold to six successive men. She managed to rescue her seven-year-old daughter from the man who tried to abduct her, and tried to keep her safe by cutting off her hair and eyelashes, putting the child in a diaper and telling her to pretend to be mentally ill. However, in spite of this, an ISIL member tried to rape her daughter, driving the woman to attempt to kill her daughter and herself in despair. She eventually escaped with the help of a smuggler.

The report contains many accounts of men being separated from women, and of the mass killings of the captured men. In one instance, up to 600 men were reportedly killed in Tel Afar District. In other instances, members of the Yezidi community were forced to convert to Islam or be killed.

Special Representative and Head of UNAMI Ján Kubiš said the report also notes that approximately 3,500 women, girls and some men, predominantly from the Yezidi community but also a number of other ethnic and religious communities, remain in ISIL captivity.

“Two years after the fall of Ninewa, the Yezidi community continues to be targeted by ISIL. Thousands of men, women and children have been killed or are missing, or remain in captivity where they are subjected to unspeakable sexual and physical abuse,” Mr. Kubiš said, adding: “Faced with such evidence, it is of paramount importance that the perpetrators of these heinous acts are fully and properly held to account.”

For his part, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said the testimony recorded in the report must serve as a clarion call to all members of the international community that “no effort must be spared in ensuring accountability for these terrible crimes and to send a clear message that no one may perpetrate them with impunity.”

“I am profoundly concerned at the grave impact that the current conflict is having on civilians, particularly on people from Iraq’s ancient and diverse ethnic and religious communities. The experiences recounted by survivors and documented in this report reveal acts of inhumanity and cruelty on an unimaginable scale that constitute a serious and deliberate attack on the most fundamental human rights and are an affront to humanity as a whole,” High Commissioner Zeid said.

The report states that the violations and abuses committed by ISIL may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

“Every effort must be undertaken by the Government of Iraq and the international community, in strict compliance with applicable international humanitarian law and human rights law, to put an end to the human rights abuses being perpetrated by ISIL and to secure the safe release of these civilians,” the report states.

“Psycho-social, medical and other forms of support are urgently required, notably for the survivors of sexual violence and sexual slavery. Furthermore, everything feasible must be done to create safe, dignified conditions for the Yezidi, along with [internally displaced persons] from other communities, to return to their places of origin,” it adds.

News Tracker: past stories on this issue

UN human rights panel concludes ISIL is committing genocide against Yazidis

Residents Protest Living Conditions in Colombia

By Cintia Garcia
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Colombia—The citizens of Choco, Colombia have been on strike for the past six days. They are protesting against the governments inaction in the region that has led to neglect, corruption and poverty. Forty-thousand residents marched and protested on Monday against the neglect. Under the presidential administration of Juan Manuel Santos the region has experienced an increase in poor living conditions and its citizens have vowed not to return to work until the living conditions improve.

Protestors in Choco demand better living conditions. (Photo Courtesy of Telesur)

The demographics of Choco is 90% afro-descendants and 10% indigenous. For decades the providence has been neglected by the government and deprived of basic necessities. Choco has the highest poverty rate in the country with 65% of its residents living below poverty and 37.1% are living in extreme poverty according to Colombia’s statistic agency. The region experiences rampant violence from drug trafficking activities due to the lack of government resources to fund military personal. About 72% of the population has been a victim of crime and the homicide rate in 2015 was 69.14 per 100,000 inhabitants.

The citizens are demanding more state services including hospitals to serve the region. Currently, the capital of Choco, Quibdo, is served by one hospital which caters to the medical needs of 400,000 people. The hospital has been plagued with dire conditions including corruption and embezzlement of healthcare funds. In addition to a lack of health care services, there is limited access to clean water. Many of the water sources are contaminated with mercury caused by gold mining. Furthermore, the providence has two roads that are unpaved with no roads that lead to the nearest city of Medellin—the providence is isolated from the rest of Colombia.

Because of the poverty,  the child mortality rate in Choco is 70.4 per thousand, which is 10 times the child mortality rate in the United States. The death rate of children before reaching the age of one is 42%. Many of the deaths are due to malnutrition and illnesses that are preventable including malaria. The citizens will continue its protest. The government has responded to the strike by promising to visit the region.

For more information, please see:

Colombia Reports—West Colombia Province Strikes to Demand End to Rampant State Neglect—17 August 20

El espectador—Choco Sigue Firme en el Paro, el Lunes Marcharan mas de 40 mil—21 August 2016  

Colombia Reports—Colombia’s Choco: From a Tropical Paradise to a Jungle Hell—22 August 2016

Telesur—Manifestantes del Choco Esperan Commission del Gobierno—22 August 2016

Irish Women Document Journey to Britain for an Abortion

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

DUBLIN, Ireland — An Irish woman live-tweeted her journey from Ireland to Manchester, England to have an abortion this past weekend, joined by her friend who also posted updates on the account.  Both women have chosen to remain anonymous – neither have included their names on any of the social media posts.  The social media account has gained significant interest on Twitter, as it has over 12,000 followers.

The two women who traveled to Ireland posted this note to their social media followers (Photo Courtesy of CNN)

Ireland has the most restrictive ban on abortion in the European Union, as it is an illegal procedure unless the woman’s life is in danger.  This law is preserved in the country’s eighth constitutional amendment, which awards the same rights to the fetus as to the mother. This amendment is publicly supported by Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

This past June, the United Nations Human Rights Committee proposed that Ireland change its abortion law following a case brought by another Irish woman who traveled from Ireland to Britain to have an abortion.  The UN Human Rights Committee does not have any legal authority to enforce its suggestion, however its suggestion marks the first time it found Ireland’s abortion law to be in conflict with the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  The picture for the social media account run by the two women who traveled to Manchester is a logo which reads “Repeal 8” referencing Ireland’s Eighth Amendment.

According to recent research, there are conflicting opinions regarding whether or not the amendment should be revised. A recent poll reflects that since 2013, more people now favor loosening the strict law to allow for abortions under more circumstances.  Ireland’s Health Minister expressed is thanks to the women for “telling the story of the reality which faces many.” Kenny, on the other hand, predicts that if there were to be a “referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment…it would not be passed.”  The topic will be discussed at the Citizens’ Assembly in October, which will consist of 100 people who plan to gather to review proposed changes to Ireland’s constitution.

According to the United Kingdom Department of Health, approximately 3,500 women each year travel from Ireland to Britain for the procedure.

For more information, please see:

The Washington Post — ‘We Defy the Irish Government’: Two Women Live-Tweet Their Trip to Britain for an Abortion Banned at Home — 22 August 2016

CNN — Irish Women Live-Tweet Journey to Great Britain for Abortion — 21 August 2016

The Irish Times — Two Irish Women Live-Tweet Journey to UK for Abortion — 20 August 2016

The Nationalist — #twowomentravel: Irish Women Live Tweet Journey to UK for Abortion — 20 August 2016