Cholera Outbreak Worsens Humanitarian Crisis in Haiti

By Portia K. Skenandore-Wheelock
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

LES CAYES, HAITI — Hurricane Matthew has left southwestern Haiti with a humanitarian crisis, especially in Sud and Grand Anse. Homes were destroyed, crops drowned, and ocean water flooded fresh water wells, leaving 1.4 million people without shelter, food, and safe water. Basic health services are also limited and the contamination of fresh water sources has caused a previous cholera outbreak to spread, quickly increasing the patient load of these already strained health facilities.

Cholera is a severe gastro-intestinal disease that rapidly dehydrates those infected by triggering diarrhea and vomiting. It becomes deadly when patients lose so much fluids that their organs shut down. Cholera can be contained with water purification and basic sanitation supplies such as bleach, soap, and gloves. It can also be treated with IV fluids but there are limited deliveries of the supplies needed to significantly address the outbreak. Dr. David Sack, professor at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore says, “A patient with cholera should never die. If they get to a treatment center in time, if they still have a breath, we can save their life.”

Hurricane Matthew has left 1.4 million people without shelter, food, or clean water in Haiti. (Photo courtesy of Reuters)
Hurricane Matthew has left 1.4 million people without shelter, food, or clean water in Haiti. (Photo courtesy of Reuters)

The initial cholera outbreak was brought by UN peacekeepers in 2010 and the hurricane has only exacerbated the problem. The Haitian Ministry of Health says the number of new cases has doubled nationwide and even more dramatically in areas severely hit by the storm. According the World Health Organization there are about 3 million cases a year and 90,000 deaths. Haiti currently has the worst epidemic and an outbreak in South Sudan is now spreading. So far the Haiti outbreak has made 800,000 people sick and killed more than 9,000. Since the population has not seen the disease before there is no immunity and the poor infrastructure for drinking water and sewage has made cholera difficult to contain.

The Haitian government, local communities, and organizations that work in Haiti are doing what they can in relief response but the need is urgent. The United Nations has only raised 28 percent of the $119 million they are seeking for Haiti’s recovery. Immediate mobilization of individuals, corporations, foundations, and governments are needed in order to prevent a significant loss in life. The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the Haitian Ministry of Health has organized a number of aid groups to launch a cholera vaccination campaign. The goal is to immunize 820,000 Haitians with a relatively new oral cholera vaccination. If the campaign is successful it will be the largest emergency cholera vaccination campaign in history. However PAHO representative for Haiti Jean Luc Poncelet says, “Vaccine is not the solution. It is one tool that we have to add to the ones we already have.” Two doses of the vaccine provide a 65 percent efficacy rate but due to a lack of the vaccine only one dose will be given, reducing the efficacy rate to about 50 percent. The long term solution is to improve access to clean water. The disease can survive for years in the environment but eradicating cholera is possible if living conditions improve enough to provide reliable access to clean water for almost everyone.

For further information please see:

The Guardian – Rise in Maternal Deaths Likely in Haiti, and UN Expert Speaks out on Cholera – 1 November 2016

Huffington Post – Haiti is Facing a Humanitarian Crisis we can Solve – so why aren’t we? – 1 November 2016

New York Times – Haiti Opens a Drive to Vaccinate 820,000 as Cholera Flares – 9 November 2016

NPR – Cholera 101: Why an Ancient Disease Keeps on Haunting us – 4 November 2016


Thousands of Catalans Stage Pro-Independence Demonstration

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

MADRID, Spain — Approximately 80,000 people gathered in Barcelona at the Plaza de España on Sunday to show their support for Catalan leaders who are currently stuck in negotiations with Madrid over the independence of the Catalan region.  The Catalan separatists were protesting a series of legal challenges that the Spanish government has made against pro-independence Catalan political leaders.

Pro-independence supporters wave independence flags at the protest in Barcelona on Sunday (Photo Courtesy of The Scotsman)
Pro-independence supporters wave independence flags at the protest in Barcelona on Sunday (Photo Courtesy of The Scotsman)

Grassroots activist groups organized about 150 busses to transport protestors from all different parts of the region to the demonstration.  Fueled by the economic downturn in other parts of Spain, many in the wealthy region of Catalonia believe they pay higher taxes than they should to the Spanish government.  They resent supporting the poorer regions in Spain as a result of the decline of the economy in those other regions.

Catalan politicians are facing legal sanctions from the Spanish government for their participation in a 2014 secession referendum, as well as regional laws they developed in order to shape a path towards secession from Spain.

Specifically, former President of Catalonia Artur Mas, Speaker of the Parliament Carme Forcadell, and lawmakers Francesc Homs, Irene Rigau, and Joana Ortega are all being charged with disobeying the orders of the Constitutional Court of Spain.  Mas is scheduled to stand trial for charges of “serious disobedience” and “malfeasance.  If convicted, Mas faces a 10-year ban on holding any political office.  Both Mas and Forcadell attended the protest in Barcelona on Sunday.

Jodi Cuixart, president of the separatist group Omnium, spoke at the demonstration.  He spoke to the Spanish government, telling them that if they “attack our democratically elected representatives, you attack our institutions, all our people and our sovereignty, and we will never allow that.”  Cuixart ensured the Spanish government that the separatists “will never let our elected representatives down.”

The Spanish government has repeatedly maintained the position that regions such as Catalonia do not have a constitutional right to hold a referendum of separatist nature – a referendum that concerns the integrity of the country.

Catalonia’s current president, Carles Puigdemont, plans to hold another referendum regarding secession and independence by next September.  Puigdemont stated that this is a situation which “can only be solved politically.”


For more information, please see:

Expatica — 80,000 Gather for Catalan Pro-Independence Demo — 13 November 2016

Sputnik International — Thousands of People Rally Against Prosecution of Catalan Lawmakers in Barcelona — 13 November 2016

The Guardian — Thousands of Catalan Separatist’s Protest Against Government’s Legal Challenges — 13 November 2016

The Scotsman — Thousands Protest Spain’s Legal Challenge to Catalan Independence — 13 November 2016

Assets of Torture and Violence Victims’ Rehabilitation Center Frozen by Egyptian Authorities

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt — The head of a prominent Egyptian human rights organization that works with torture victims reported that its assets have been frozen by Egyptian authorities.

The El Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture and Violence was allegedly shut down for not registering as an NGO (Photo courtesy of Al Arabiya)

The El Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture and Violence (“Center”) provides psychological support for victims of torture and violence, and documents complaints of torture in prison.

The Center’s lawyer, Taher Abu al-Nasr, stated that the legal department had received a ruling from the Central Bank freezing its account. He indicated that an employee who was attempting to cash a check was told by the bank’s manager that its account had been suspended until it registered as an NGO with the Social Solidarity Ministry. The head of the Center, Ms. Adly, indicated that the Central Bank linked the asset freeze decision to the Center’s “legal status,” and that the decision coincides with an NGO law dating back to the rule of President Mubarak.

Amnesty International condemned the move and urged Egyptian authorities to revoke the decision against the Center. The regional advocacy director declared that the decision to “arbitrarily” freeze the Center’s bank account is a “cruel blow to human rights in the country” because it prevents the Center from providing crucial care to survivors of violence. He added that the Center is a “lifeline” for hundreds of torture victims, as well as for the families of those who have been a victim of “enforced disappearance.” He further stated that the decision is additional evidence of Egypt’s “chilling contempt of perceived critics.” The organization indicated that it is “inexcusable” to obstruct care for victims of torture. Additionally, it also stated that Egyptian authorities should be focused on implementing safeguards to prevent custodial torture and ending forced disappearances, instead of “lashing out” at the Center.

Egyptian authorities had previously attempted to shut down the Center on two occasions. In February and April 2016, officials had issued orders to close the Center, while the Health Ministry had stated that it was “carrying out activities other than those allowed.” Mr. Al-Nasr, however, stated that the Center is registered as a clinic with the Health Ministry, and does not need to be registered as an NGO.

All NGOs operating in the country are subject to a strict law permitting the government to supervise their activities and finances. International human rights groups have repeatedly accused the Egyptian government of rights violations, including “forced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, and illegal detentions.” Egyptian authorities deny allegations that security forces gather and torture individuals in “secret detention centers.”

The Center is still operating despite its frozen assets and has challenged the order in court.

For more information, please see:

Daily Mail—Egypt blocks bank account of torture victims’ center—10 November 2016

Middle East Eye—Egypt freezes assets of anti-torture NGO—10 November 2016

New York Times—Egyptian Rights Group Is Told Its Bank Account Is Blocked, Lawyer Says—10 November 2016

Amnesty International—Egypt: Freeze of torture rehabilitation centre’s financial assets a cruel blow to human rights—10 November 2016

Concern Grows Over Colombia’s Military Nominees

By Cintia Garcia

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Colombia—International NGOs, including Human Rights Watch (HRW) and  Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), are voicing their concerns over the Colombian government’s nominees for military promotion. The nominees include five senior officials that have been linked to credible evidence demonstrating their implication in extrajudicial executions and abuses. They will not be promoted until the senate approves the promotion.

Colombia is set to promote Military personnel accused of war crimes. (Photo Courtesy of Telesur)
Colombia is set to promote Military personnel accused of war crimes. (Photo Courtesy of Telesur)

Human Rights Watch linked credible and convincing evidence of the nominees’ involvement in abuse, forced disappearances and extrajudicial killings of civilians during the civil war from the years 2002-2008. The killings are known as ‘False Positives,’ in which civilians were killed or forcibly disappeared in order to increase the reported number of guerrilla fighters killed during combat. The military followed this practice for promotions and benefits. José Miguel Vivanco, the HRW director of the Americas stated, “The Colombian Senate should review these promotions carefully and ensure that any officer against whom there is credible evidence of abuses is not promoted.” He continued by emphasizing, “Otherwise, it would reinforce the longstanding message that senior officers in Colombia can get away with murder.” In addition, HRW, has found that many of the brigades, led by the commanders in line for promotion, were involved a number of these killings. In these cases, the commander of the brigade “at least knew or should have known about the wrongful killings, and therefore may be criminally liable.”

WOLA expressed similar concerns earlier in the year by sending a letter to Colombian officials. Adam Isacson from WOLA stated, “Colombia is finally nearing an end to its decades-long armed conflict, and is holding more and more human rights abusers accountable, but promoting these officials without first letting the criminal justice system do its work would represent a setback.”

Colombia has in the past convicted an estimated 800 low-ranking army members involved in extrajudicial killings. Yet, Colombia has failed in prosecuting high level military officials—instead they have been promoted to higher military ranks.

For more information, please see:

Telesur—Colombia Criticized for Promoting Corrupt Army Generals—16 January 2016.

WOLA—Colombia Set to Promote Military Officers Linked to ‘False Positives’ Scandal, Other Abuses—14 January 2016.

Human Rights Watch—Colombia: Disqualify Criminal Suspects from Army Promotions—10 November 2016.

La Prensa—HRW Pide a Colombia ‘Frenar’ Ascenso de Militares por Ejecuciones Extrajudiciales—10 November 2016.