The Gambia Missing $11 Million after President Jammeh Exile

By Samantha Netzband 

Impunity Watch, Africa Desk Reporter

BANJUL, The Gambia– Former President Yahya Jammeh of The Gambia has finally relinquished the office of the President after the threat of military intervention in the Gambia.  West African leaders urged former President Jammeh to transfer power to President Adama Barrow.  Jammeh ultimately heard their calls and fled the Gambia on Saturday, two days after his term as President had ended.

Gambia's President Adama Barrow is seen in Dakar, Senegal January 20, 2017

The Gambia’s new president, Adama Barrow. (Photo Courtesy of BBC Africa)

President Barrow has been in Senegal where he awaited Jammeh’s departure.  He was sworn into office in Senegal and will be returning to the Gambia any day now.  Security forces from other West African nations have entered the Gambia in order to ensure a peaceful transition.  President Barrow has promised to bring change to a country that has been ruled for 22 years by former President Jammeh.  Barrow hopes to create a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to bring to light some of the human rights abuses that Jammeh committed.  Many of these allegations stem from the 1994 Coup in which Jammeh seized power.

Former President Jammeh on the other hand managed to flee the country while also stealing from the Gambian people.  Jammeh was flown out of the Gambia on a jet reportedly with $11 million from the Gambia’s treasury.  He also made away with three luxury car and has ten more waiting to be shipped to him.  While Morocco has offered Jammeh asylum he is currently staying in Guinea.  It is unclear what country Jammeh will make his final destination.  President Barrow has made himself clear that he does not want Jammeh in the country.  The former President’s presence would be distracting and unhelpful to the new government.

For more information, please see: 

BBC Africa – The Gambia ‘missing millions’ after Jammeh flies into exile – 23 January 2017 

Latest News New Zealand – The Gambia Missing Millions After Jammeh Flies into Exile – 23 January 2017

Voice of America – Regional Security Forces Arrive in Gambian Capital Ahead of New President’s Return – 22 January 2017

Washington Post – Gambia’s Defeated Leader Finally Gave Up Power-and took Luxury Cars and took luxury cars and millions of dollars with him – 23 January 2017 

 

 

United Nations Estimates Over 10,000 People Dead in Yemeni War

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

SANA’A, Yemen — A senior United Nations (U.N.) official issued a statement indicating that over 10,000 people have died in the Yemeni conflict.

Over 3 million people have been displaced due to the nearly 2-year long civil war in Yemen (Photo courtesy of RT)

The U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, Mr. Jamie McGoldrick, stated that in addition to the estimated 10,000 people that have been killed, an additional 40,000 people have been injured. The U.N. humanitarian affairs office indicated that the figure was a low estimate derived from health facilities that keep track of victims of the war. However, the actual death toll is expected to be much higher because the country’s medical facilities have all been destroyed by Saudi-led coalition planes “in numerous incidents often blamed on ‘mistakes’ and ‘bad intelligence.’” Furthermore, those who are killed in the war are often buried without any official records.

In his statement, Mr. McGoldrick urged “both sides to come together to end nearly two years of conflict.” He indicated that the war has resulted in one of the worst humanitarian crises in history, adding that “there are 7 million people who don’t know where their next meal is coming from[.]” He stated that there are 11 million people needing human rights protection to defend their safety and dignity. He added that an additional 2.9 million people require “legal and other types of support,” for problems stemming from displacement or gender-based violence. Farhan Haq, the U.N. general secretary’s deputy spokesman, added “[t]his once more underscores the need to resolve the situation in Yemen without any further delay. There’s been a huge humanitarian cost.”

The war in Yemen is being waged between Houthi rebels backed by Iran and the Yemeni government, which has received military support from a Saudi-led coalition. The war has “devastated” the country due to the estimated 19 million people (80% of the population) in need of humanitarian aid, and over 3 million people that have been displaced.

For more information, please see:

Newsweek—Yemen: 10,000 Killed in Conflict, U.N. Reports—17 January 2017

Euronews—UN raises alarm about hunger and insecurity in Yemen—16 January 2017

RT—UN ‘estimates’ death toll in Yemen war surpassed 10,000—17 January 2017

BBC News—Yemen conflict: At least 10,000 killed, says UN—17 January 2017

The Guardian—Yemen death toll has reached 10,000, UN says—16 January 2017

 

U.S. and Cuba Sign Memorandum of Understanding to Fight Human Trafficking

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

HAVANA, Cuba — This past Monday, Barack Obama’s administration met with Cuban officials to discuss the sharing of information regarding international crimes, including human trafficking.  Both the US State Department and the Cuban Interior Ministry signed the “memorandum of understanding” just a few days after the Obama administration ended the 21-year old “wet foot, dry foot” immigration policy which allowed any Cuban who made it on to US soil to stay and become a legal resident.  Since the repeal of this immigration policy, Cubans who attempt to enter the U.S. illegally will be subject to removal from the country, even if they have been smuggled into the U.S. by human traffickers.

Obama waves to the crowd as he delivers a speech in Havana, Cuba in March 2016 (Photo Courtesy of Reuters)
Obama waves to the crowd as he delivers a speech in Havana, Cuba in March 2016 (Photo Courtesy of Reuters)

In the memorandum of understanding, both countries expressed “their intention to cooperate in prevention, confrontation, surveillance, investigation, and prosecution” as well as the “need to establish cooperation between law enforcement and judicial bodies of both nations to effectively address these challenges.”

Planned actions include the exchange of information and the designation of specific liaison officers which will help improve bilateral communication between the two nations.  In addition, both the U.S. and Cuba will carry out joint investigations and may station law-enforcement officials in each other’s countries to enforce the goals of the memorandum.

U.S. National Security Council explained that “[t]he goals of [Obama’s] Cuba policy have been simple: to help the Cuban people achieve a better future for themselves and to advance the interests of the United States.”  The Obama administration further commented that it is in the interest of both countries to fight international crimes such as human smuggling and child sexual abuse.

The memorandum was signed by Jeffrey DeLaurentis, chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, and Cuban interior minister Vice Adm. Julio Cesar Gandarilla.  It was witnessed for the U.S. by Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes.

This memorandum came as a last-minute effort by the Obama administration to strengthen ties with Cuba before the Trump administration took office.  Trump has threatened to disintegrate relations with Cuba unless Cuba gives the US a “better agreement.”

 

For more information, please see:

International Business Times — US and Cuba Sign MoU to fight Terrorism, Drug Trafficking — 17 January 2017

ABC — US, Cuban Interior Ministry Sign Law-Enforcement Deal — 16 January 2017

Reuters — Cuba, United States to Fight Terrorism, Drug Trafficking and Other Crimes — 16 January 2017

Miami Herald — Obama Ends Controversial Policy that Allowed Cubans to Enter U.S. Without Visas — 12 January 2017

Germany Rejects Bid to Ban Neo-Nazi Party

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

BERLIN, Germany — This past Tuesday, Germany’s highest court unanimously rejected a proposal to ban the far-right neo-Nazi political party.  In 2013, 16 German states submitted a petition to ban the party, citing an alleged racist and anti-Semitic agenda as reasons to support the ban.  The petition also claimed that the group’s views violate Germany’s constitution.

President of Germany's Constitutional Court, Andreas Vosskuhle, and fellow judges leave the room after announcing the rejection of the bid to ban the neo-Nazi poltiical party (Photo Courtesy of the Times of Israel)
President of Germany’s Constitutional Court, Andreas Vosskuhle, and fellow judges leave the room after announcing the rejection of the bid to ban the neo-Nazi poltiical party (Photo Courtesy of the Times of Israel)

As reason for rejecting the proposal, the court ruled that the party does not pose a serious-enough threat to Germany’s democratic system.  In its verdict, the Federal Constitutional Court explained that they rejected the motion to ban the group as groundless because of a “lack of concrete evidence to make it seem likely that [the party’s] actions will lead to success…”  Per Germany’s constitution, a political party can only be banned if they pose an actual threat to democracy.  Andreas Vosskuhle, president of the presiding court, further explained that in the court’s eyes, a party which “has aims that run contrary to the Constitution is not sufficient grounds for banning a party.”

In September, voters ejected the National Democratic Party (NPD) from the legislature in the last German state in which it held seats.  The party is currently only represented on a local level, which Vosskuhle cites as a reason as to why the party does not have the means to carry out its actions.  “In more than five decades that it has existed, the [NDP] has not been able to achieve lasting representation in a state legislature,” Vosskuhle explained.  He does not see any “indications that this will change in the future.”

The court’s verdict has sparked great outcry.  Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, labeled the ruling as “disappointing” and believes that the ruling “allows the NPD to pursue its destructive, anti-democratic activities and to spread more anti-Semitic and racist hatred.”  The Central Council of Jews in Germany called the verdict “a lost opportunity to take action against an inhumane party.”  Christoph Heubner, Vice President of the International Auschwitz Committee, called the move a “reality-blind and untimely decision” which is going to send a disastrous signal to the rest of Europe.

The court’s verdict marks the second failed attempt of the German government to ban the NPD, as a similar bid was rejected in 2003.

 

For more information, please see:

Fox News — German Court Decides Against Ban of Neo-Nazi Party — 17 January 2017

New York Times — German Court Rejects Effort to Ban Neo-Nazi Party — 17 January 2017

The Times of Israel — German Court Criticized for not Banning Neo-Nazi-Linked Party — 17 January 2017

USA Today — Germany’s Top Court Rejects Bid to Ban Neo-Nazi Party — 17 January 2017

 

Talks in The Gambia Fail as President Jammeh Still Refuses to Step Down

By Samantha Netzband

Impunity Watch, Africa Desk Reporter

BANJUL, The Gambia–The Gambia’s President-Elect Adama Barrow has left the Gambia for Mali as talks failed, and President Yahya Jammeh refused to relinquish power.  President-Elect Barrow will meet with West African leaders at a summit in Mali.  West African leaders as well as the African Union are calling for a smooth transition of power in The Gambia.  The African Union has publicly stated that they will not recognize President Jammeh as the legitimate leader of The Gambia should he continue to refuse to step down on Thursday, the day that President-Elect Barrow is set to take office.

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh welcoming Nigeria's leader, Muhammadu Buhari, to Banjul

President Yahya Jammeh welcomes Nigerian leader Muhammadu Buhari, to the failed talks that took place late Friday in The Gambia. (Photo Courtesy of BBC Africa)

As talks failed in The Gambia, The Special Representative of the Secretary-General and the head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), Mohamed Ibn Chambas, addressed the Security Council stating that although the region has seen democratic progress there is still political uncertainty in some states.  The Gambia is one of the West African nations that may face difficulty having a peaceful transition of power since President Jammeh has refused to accept the election results.  The Security Council thanked Chambas for his remarks and decided to remain seized in the matter.

President Jammeh is rejecting election results that are viewed as legitimate by many African nations.  President-Elect Barrow won the presidency by a large majority.  President-Elect Barrow will focus a large amount of his time at the Mali summit seeking help from West African leaders.  After the Mali summit West African leaders may ask Chambas, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, to ask the Security Council to deploy troops to The Gambia in the event that President Jammeh does not step down.

For more information, please see: 

BBC Africa – Gambia dispute: African Union ‘will not recognise’ President Jammeh – 13 January 2017

BBC Africa – Gambia talks fail as president refuses to step down – 14 January 2017

UN News Centre – Amid progress in West Africa and the Sahel, UN envoy warns of region’s political challenges – 13 January 2017

Yahoo News – Gambian crisis takes centre stage at Mali summit – 14 January 2017

Egypt Criticizes Condemning Statements Made by EU and U.K. for Freezing Assets of Human Rights Activists

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt — On January 11th, an Egyptian court approved freezing the assets of three prominent human rights activists in connection with the ongoing case in which NGOs are accused of receiving foreign funds in an attempt to destabilize the country.

Ms. Hassan is one of the many human rights activists who have had their assets frozen (Photo courtesy of The Guardian)

In its holding, the court froze the assets of prominent human rights activists Mozn Hassan, director of the Nazra for Feminist Studies, Mohammed Zaree, head of the Arab Penal Reform Organization, and Atef Hafez, director of the Arab Organization for Judicial Reform, as well as five other rights activists. Hassan spoke out against the decision, and stated this was the “first time in history [in which] a feminist or women’s rights organization” had its assets frozen.

The case against Hassan and her organization had been initiated in March 2016, and led to widespread criticism from women’s rights groups. 43 organizations had condemned the investigation decision, and declared that the country should “acknowledge the important and pivotal work” undertaken by Hassan in the “advancement of women’s rights [and] provision of support services for survivors of sexual violence[.]”

President Sisi has long defended the country’s dedication to human rights by indicating that Egypt “should not be judged by Western standards.” The European Union (EU), however, criticized the Egyptian court’s decision to freeze assets. In its statement, the EU indicated that the “decision continues a worrying trend of restricting space for civil society to operate in Egypt.” The British Foreign Office Minister also issued a statement declaring his concern over the decision, while urging the country to “lift restrictions on civil society organizations, and allow them to operate freely in line with the constitution.”

In response, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry’s “sharply worded statement” accused both countries of “double standards,” while “telling them to mind their own business.” The statement further declared that the comments made by the EU and UK “amounted to flagrant interference in the country’s affairs.”

For more information, please see:

Haaretz—Egyptian Court Approves Freezing Assets of Three Human Rights Activists—11 January 2017

The Guardian—Egypt court ruling upholds decision to freeze assets of women’s rights activists—12 January 2017

Albawaba—EU condemns Egypt for freezing NGO directors’ assets—13 January 2017)

ABC News—Egypt Slams EU, UK for Criticizing Ruling on Activists—14 January 2017

Ahram Online—Egypt says EU and UK statements on NGO asset freeze shows ‘double standard’—14 January 2017

 

Russia Decriminalizes Forms of Domestic Violence

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia — The Duma recently passed a bill which would decriminalize some forms of domestic violence.  The bill, also known as the “slapping law,” would eliminate criminal punishments for first offenses, or attacks that occur only once a year in which a woman or child is not “seriously” injured, and does not require hospital treatment or sick leave from work.

Conservative MP Yelena Mizulina is spearheading and sponsoring the domestic violence bill (Photo Courtesy of CNN)
Conservative MP Yelena Mizulina is spearheading and sponsoring the domestic violence bill (Photo Courtesy of CNN)

Under the bill, the punishment for domestic violence offenders would be limited to a fine or community service, while subsequent offenses can still be considered criminal.  The bill passed its first reading at the Duma with a nearly-unanimous 368 out of 370 votes in its favor.

Supporters of the bill claim that current domestic violence penalties are “anti-family” and are a “baseless intervention into family affairs.”  The bill was proposed by conservative MP Yelena Mizulina, who is the head of the Duma Committee on Family, Women, and Children’s Affairs.  Mizulina believes that offenders should not be jailed and deemed a criminal “for a slap” or a “scratch.”  According to Mizulina, “battery carried out towards family members should be an administrative offense.”

Those in favor of the bill cite tradition of parental authority as its source.  Mizulina and her fellow supporters believe that because traditional Russian family values are built on the parents’ authority, laws should reflect those values and traditions.

Women’s rights group claim that the bill will leave domestic abuse victims even more vulnerable than they already are.  Olga Yurkova, executive director of Syostri – a recovery center for sexual assault victims – explained to reporters that the proposed “decriminilisation will worsen the situation” of women tolerating domestic violence but not bringing it to public light.

Women’s rights activist Alena Popova has started a petition which demands the Duma pass a completely new law dealing with domestic violence, which has received over 174,000 signatures.  Journalist Olga Bobrova argued that while domestic violence might not leave a physical mark on the victim’s body, such actions still transform “her life into a living hell.”  Bobrova also explained that “domestic violence is a normal way of life” in Russia.

Activists recently handed out stories of abuse victims outside of the Duma to spread word of the cause.

 

For more information, please see:

The Huffington Post — Russia Moves to Decriminalize Several Cases of Domestic Violence — 14 January 2017

CNN — Russia Prepares to Decriminalize Some Domestic Violence — 13 January 2017

BBC — Russia: Anger at Move to Soften Domestic Violence Law — 12 January 2017

Mic — Russia’s Proposal to Decriminalize Domestic Violence Earns a Sweeping Parliamentary Victory — 12 January 2017

Somali Town Bans Lavish Wedding Spending

By Samantha Netzband 

Impunity Watch, Africa Desk Reporter

MOGADISHU, Somalia– Beled Hawa, a town in western Somalia, has banned lavish weddings.  Leaders are growing concerned that the large, lengthy, and costly ceremonies are slowing down marriage rates.  Leaders hope this measure will help increase marriages and therefore reduce migration from the area.

somali-wedding.jpg

A wedding of Somali migrants in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo Courtesy of The Independent)

There are many different types of restrictions.  First, is the limit on spending for gifts.  For new household furnishings for the couple, no more than $600 can be spent.  Then, there is a restriction on bride price, which still exists in Somalia.  Brides can be purchased for no more than $150.  Finally,  there are restrictions on the actual ceremony and reception.  No wedding receptions are to be held in hotels, and no more than three goats may be slaughtered to feed guests.

Although none of the new restrictions are aimed at it, Somali wedding celebrations can go on for weeks and leaders hope these restrictions may help curb that.  It is not unusual for a groom to spend $5,000 on a wedding, and some women were refusing to get married if they did not get lavish expensive weddings.  Beled Hawa’s commissioner told BBC that “Islamic teachings indicated that getting married should be cheap.”

For more information, please see: 

BBC Africa – Somali town bans lavish wedding spending – 13 January 2017

The Independent – Somali town bans expensive weddings in bid to reduce migration – 13 January 2017

XOGDOON News – Somali town bans lavish wedding spending – 14 January 2017

WB News – Somali town bans lavish wedding spending – 13 January 2017

Venezuelan Government Releases Political Prisoners

By Cintia Garcia

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

 CARACAS, VENEZUELA—The Venezuelan government released several political prisoners from the Helicoide prison. Among the political prisoners released included former opposition presidential candidate. The release of the prisoners comes as talks mediated by the Vatican continue between the Venezuelan government and the opposition.

Francisco Marquez shares his experience as a Venezuelan political prisoner.
Francisco Marquez shares his experience as a Venezuelan political prisoner. (Photo Courtesy of NBC News)

The political prisoners released included former 2006 opposition presidential candidate Manuel Rosales who was detained and imprisoned in October 2015 for illicit enrichment upon his return from exile in Peru. He is the leader of the Venezuelan political party “A New Era.” Mr. Rosales will continue in house arrest until trial. In addition to his release five other activists belonging to the opposition were released. The prisoners included, Nixón Leal, Yeimi Varela, Skarlyn Duarte, Gerardo Carrero and Ángel Contrera who were all detained during a violent barricade protest in 2014. The released prisoners will not be able to leave Venezuela and will report to a parole officer. Furthermore, opposition journalist and owner of Venezuelan media outlet “6 to Poder”, Leocenis García was released after being detained in 2013 for tax fraud, money laundering, and tax evasion.

Their release comes after the opposition demanded the Venezuelan government to release political prisoners. The opposition claimed that they will not attend the following mediation talks on January 13 until 100 political prisoners are released and a new board to the government-controlled electoral council is put in place. Alfredo Romero, executive director of Foro Penal, a group that defends jailed activist stated, “Without a doubt, Venezuela is living a deep social crisis and these releases in some way are an escape valve that takes some pressure, especially international, off Maduro. But it is important to remember that in 2016 there 55 people jailed and only 43 released.”

Most recently, ex- Venezuelan Prisoner, Francisco Marquez, was released in October 2016 after being detained on his way to obtain signatures for the recall referendum against president Maduro. He stated that “people need to know that Venezuela is a country that systematically tortures its political and common prisoners.” He recounted his time in prison, although he was never tortured, he recounted the torture of other prisoners.

For more information, please see:

NBC News—Ex-Venezuela Political Prisoner Still Raining Voice for Others’ Freedom—06 January 2017.

Venezuela Analysis—Former Opposition Presidential Candidate Freed in Venezuela—02 January 2017.

USA Today—Venezuela Frees Jailed Activists, Ex-Presidential Candidate—31 December 2016.

United Nations Expert Addresses Concerns Over Health Problems Faced By Iranian Prisoners Engaged in Prolonged Hunger Strikes

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

TEHRAN, Iran — A United Nations expert on Iranian human rights issued a warning regarding the health risks faced by prisoners of conscience who have been on a prolonged hunger strike protesting their legality of their detention.

Ms. Jahangir expressed concern over the health problems faced by inmates who are engaged in prolonged hunger strikes (Photo courtesy of U.N. News Center)

The United Nations expert, Ms. Asma Jahangir, reported that in recent weeks, at least eight prisoners of conscience have been “on life-threatening hunger strikes.” She called upon Iranian authorities to “immediately and unconditionally release [prisoners] who have been arbitrarily arrested, detained and prosecuted for exercising their rights.”

Among the prisoners of conscience is Mr. Arash Sadeghi, who ended his three-and-a-half month hunger strike last week after his spouse was released from prison on bail. Ms. Jahangir reported that the spouses are “human rights defenders who have been imprisoned for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association.” She stated that Mr. Sadeghi is being kept in his cell and denied treatment at a specialized medical facility despite his critical health. She called upon Iranian authorities to comply with international human rights standards and medical ethics.

Ms. Jahangir expressed concern over the continued detention of Iranian human rights defenders who have been “tried [based on] vaguely defined offenses and heavily sentenced following trials marred with due process violations.” She indicated that such prisoners have no alternatives other than “to put their life at risk to contest the legality of their detention.”

Mr. Ali Shariati, another prisoner, has been on a hunger strike since October 31, 2016. He was sentenced to five years in prison for peaceful activism, which included a “non-violent protest to condemn acid attacks against women in Iran.” Ms. Jahangir expressed concern over the health issues faced by Mr. Saeed Shirzad, a children’s rights activist who has been on a hunger strike since December 7, 2016, and Mr. Mohammed Ali Taheri, who cannot be located after starting a hunger strike on September 28, 2016 and being transported to a military hospital in October 2016. A further prisoner, Mr. Hassan Rastegari Majd, is reportedly being held in solitary confinement as retaliation for undertaking an extensive hunger strike.

For more information, please see:

Fox News—UN flags risks faced by prisoners on hunger strikes in Iran—9 January 2017

National Council of Resistance of Iran—“Prisoners of Conscience at Risk of Dying …” – United Nations Expert Warns—9 January 2017

United Nations News Center—Iran: UN rights expert warns prisoners of conscience at risk of death after prolonged hunger strike—9 January 2017

Sputnik—UN Concerned Over Hunger Strikes of Iran ‘Prisoners of Conscience’—9 January 2017

Jurist—UN rights expert condemns Iran for continued imprisonment of activists on hunger strike—9 January 2017

British Red Cross Calls Overcrowded Hospitals a “Humanitarian Crisis”

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

 

LONDON, England — The British Red Cross has issued a warning to the British National Health Service (NHS) of overcrowding in United Kingdom hospital emergency rooms, calling the situation a “humanitarian crisis.”  The warning comes after two patients passed away after long waits on trolleys in the hallways of a Worcester hospital.  One of the patients passed away after suffering cardiac arrest in a hallway after waiting 35 hours for a hospital bed.

Two deaths occurred within the past week at Worcestershire Royal Hospital's A&E department (Photo Courtesy of Times of Malta)
Two deaths occurred within the past week at Worcestershire Royal Hospital’s A&E department (Photo Courtesy of Times of Malta)

In response to the issue, the group has dispatched volunteers across the UK to transport patients from the hospital to their homes in order to free up hospital beds.  The crisis is also affecting ambulatory services, and the Red Cross has provided support to staff in Nottingham, Leicester, Lincoln, Kettering and Northampton.  Mike Adamson, chief executive of the British Red Cross, stated that people are “sent home without clothes, some suffer falls and are not found for days, while others are not washed because there is no carer there to help them.”

Dr. Mark Holland, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, told reporters that “people dying after long spells in hospital corridors shows that the NHS is now broken.”  Holland emphasized that the efforts of staff to prop up the system are no longer enough to keep the system afloat.”  The system is being strained due to the demand for a world-class service that is only provided third-world levels of staffing and beds.

Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth admonished the British government for not acting to prevent this situation, calling the need for Red Cross assistance “staggering.”  Ashworth noted that “[f]or the Red Cross to brand the situation a ‘humanitarian crisis’ should be a badge of shame for Government ministers.”

The Red Cross is urging the government to spend more money on social care for the sick and elderly populations.  According to the Red Cross, cuts to social care funding has resulted in the inability of some patients to be discharged because there is no medical support available for them outside of the hospitals.

In September, the membership organization for the NHS warned that the healthy system was on the verge of collapse unless immediate funding was provided.

Hospitals across the UK have issued public please for people to stay away from Accident and Emergency wards (A&E) unless they have a “genuine emergency.”

 

For more information, please see:

Newsweek — Red Cross: Britain’s Health Faces ‘Humanitarian Crisis’ — 7 January 2017

Press TV — NHS Faces ‘Humanitarian Crisis’ at Hospitals, British Red Cross Warns — 7 January 2017

The Republic — Red Cross Calls UK Hospital Crowding a “Humanitarian Crisis” — 7 January 2017

Times of Malta — Britain’s Health Service in ‘Humanitarian Crisis’ – Red Cross — 7 January 2017

Ivory Coast Now Calm After Two Day Mutiny

By Samantha Netzband

Impunity Watch,  Africa Desk Reporter

YAMOUSSOUKRO, Ivory Coast– Things are now quiet in the Ivory Coast after a mutiny involving the country’s military.  On Friday  January 6th soldiers began a mutiny in Ivory Coast’s second largest city of Bouake.  The soldiers took over the city and demanded that they receive bonus pay.

Street scene in Bouake in Ivory Coast where calm returned after a mutiny by soldiers over pay, 8 January 2017

The streets of Bouake. (Photo Courtesy of BBC Africa)

While the main mutiny took place in Bouake other military camps in cities across the Ivory coast took place in the mutiny as well.  The mutiny stopped as Defense Minister Alain-Richard Donwahi brokered a deal that allowed the soldiers to get paid on Monday the 9th.  Reports stated that soldiers were demanding 5 million francs each which is about 8,000 USD.  It is unclear what amount the soldiers received.

Despite the cessation of violence many citizens are still concerned that violence will break out again.  After all, it has only been six years since the end of the countries civil war which lasted ten years.

For more information, please see: 

BBC Africa – Ivory Coast unrest: Calm reported after two-day mutiny – 8 January 2017

IOL – Calm in Ivory Coast after Ceasefire – 9 January 2017

Reuters – Streets of Ivory Coast cities calm after soldier mutiny – 8 January 2017

Stratfor – Ivory Coast: A Short Lived Mutiny Comes to an End – 9 January 2017

US Government Sanctions Further Russian Human Rights Violators Under Magnitsky Act

9 January 2017 – The US Government has sanctioned further individuals in the Magnitsky case, including its most high-profile designation to date – Alexander Bastrykin, head of the Russian State Investigative Committee.
“The Magnitsky sanctions are the most effective tool available today for fighting the impunity of corrupt officials in Russia. Today’s release of the new names includes the highest level government official to date, Alexander Bastrykin. In addition to the role he played in the Magnitsky case, he has been responsible for many other shocking human rights abuse cases. His inclusion on this list is a major victory in our fight for justice in Russia,” said William Browder, leader of global Magnitsky justice campaign.

Alexander Bastrykin, in his capacity as head of the Investigative Committee, personally oversaw the investigations into the false arrest, torture and death in Russian police custody of Sergei Magnitsky who had uncovered the US$230 million theft by Russian officials.

In spite of the conclusions of the Russian President’s Human Rights Council on the wrongful arrest of Sergei Magnitsky and the conflict of interest of implicated officials, the Bastrykin-led Investigative Committee closed the death investigation, finding no crime was committed by any Russian officials.

Bastrykin directed and publicly justified the exoneration of all officials involved. In his interview to the Russian state newspaper, Rossiiskaya Gazeta, on 7 September 2010, Alexander Bastrykin said:

“There is no ground to think that his [Magnitsky’s] death was connected to actions of officials who prosecuted him. There is no objective information showing that he was prosecuted illegally or that the physical and psychological pressure was applied to him.”
Another sanctioned official under today’s designations is Stanislav Gordievsky from the Russian Investigative Committee, to whom Sergei Magnitsky gave testimony on 5 June 2008 and 7 October 2008 identifying the officials and organised criminals involved in the theft of companies and the US$230 million of tax monies from the Russian government.

The names in Magnitsky’s testimony included Lt Col Artem Kuznetsov, Major Pavel Karpov, lawyers working for the criminal group Andrei Pavlov and Yulia Mairova and others. Instead of properly investigating the fraud and bringing the officials exposed by Magnitsky to justice, investigator Gordievsky requested one of the main named suspects – Lt Col Kuznetsov – to investigate himself – and then Gordievsky exonerated Kuznetsov from any wrong-doing.

In the subsequent testimony of 14 October 2009 from pre-trial detention, Sergei Magnitsky described this cover up in great detail:

“The same authorized operative Kuznetsov …provided the operational assistance on the case …initiated by the Investigative Committee… on the subject of the theft of the companies. In addition, he was providing operational assistance on the criminal case under which I was accused. I believe that the criminal prosecution against me is the above person’s revenge against me, because during my meetings with investigator S.E. Gordievsky… I …expressed my opinion that Kuznetsov …. should be interrogated about the circumstances of stealing…., instead of being allowed to perform operational assistance on the case investigated by S.E. Gordievsky.”

A third individual included today in the US Government’s Magnitsky list is Gennady Plaksin. Gennady Plaksin was a member of the Klyuev Organised Crime Group, and chairman of the board and nominal shareholder of Universal Savings Bank on behalf of Dmitry Klyuev, who is already subject to Magnitsky sanctions. Mr Plaksin appeared as a nominal claimant in a collusive court case orchestrated by the criminal group to steal US$230 million from the Russian government. Plaksin was involved in the creation of US$325 million of fictitious liabilities. Despite the evidence of his role in the US$230 million theft uncovered by Sergei Magnitsky, Mr Plaksin was exonerated in Russia.

The US$230 million fraud was a sophisticated criminal conspiracy perpetrated in Russia to steal US$230 million of taxes paid by the three Russian companies of the Hermitage Fund, at the time the largest portfolio investor in Russia. The planning of the fraud scheme took place abroad, and money laundering of a substantial portion of the US$230 million fraud proceeds also took place outside of Russia and involved multiple international banks and accounts.

Hermitage’s outside lawyer Sergei Magnitsky uncovered the US$230 million fraud scheme and testified against those involved, including Andrei Pavlov.

Shortly thereafter, the Russian authorities arrested Sergei Magnitsky, and tried to force him to change his testimony subjecting him to cruel and degrading treatment during 358 days in pre-trial detention. When their attempts failed, Sergei Magnitsky was killed in Russian police detention at the age of 37, leaving a wife and two children.

The events of the Magnitsky case are described in the New-York Times best-seller “Red Notice” by William Browder and in a series of Magnitsky justice campaign videos on Youtube channel “Russian Untouchables.”

For more information, please contact:

Justice for Sergei Magnitsky

+44 207 440 1777

e-mail: info@lawandorderinrussia.org

www.lawandorderinrussia.org

billbrowder.com

twitter.com/Billbrowder

Catalan Leader Promises Independence Referendum in 2017

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

MADRID, Spain — In a televised New Year’s speech, Catalan President Carles Puigdemont promised that the region of Catalan will hold a “legal and binding” independence referendum vote by September 2017.  Puigdemont emphasized that “Catalans will freely decide” their own future.”  Catalonian government officials maintain that they will hold the referendum with or without consent from the Spanish central government, however they would prefer the vote to be consensual.

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont announces the 2017 independence referendum (Photo Courtesy of The Local ES)
Catalan President Carles Puigdemont announces the 2017 independence referendum (Photo Courtesy of The Local ES)

 

Puigdemont’s announcement was ratified via a resolution voted on by the majority-separatist regional parliament of Catalan.  The Spanish Constitutional Court, however, has since suspended the resolution pending a five-month time period in which it will decide whether to ban the vote for good.  Puigdemont assured listeners that the referendum would be made “in accordance with the mandate of [Spanish] laws,” however it remains unclear how this will be accomplished if court bans the referendum.

In his own press conference, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy ruled out the possibility of a Catalonian referendum.  Rajoy recently commented that “[i]t is not possible to hold a referendum that will do away with national sovereignty and the equality of Spaniards.”  Instead, Rajoy maintains his platform of keeping an open line of communication between Catalan and the rest of Spain – a measure which he believes is much more “reasonable” than the alternative referendum.

After both Puigdemont’s and Rajoy’s speeches, Catalan separatists participated in a peaceful rally on Friday in Palma to show their support for the independence referendum.  Protestors carried different versions of the Catalan flag, with mottos such as “The Catalan Countries” and “One village, one fight, one future” written on them.

The Spanish government has offered to compromise and negotiate a list of economic and social demands with Puigdemont, however it refuses to discuss the proposed referendum.  Catalan held a symbolic independence vote in 2014 after the Spanish government legally prevented a formal vote from occurring.  The symbolic vote went unrecognized by Spain.  Many senior ranking political officials participated in the symbolic vote, and have since faced sanctions for participating in separatist measures which were deemed illegal by Spain’s central government.

Despite this announcement by Puigdemont, a recent poll showed that support for Catalan’s secession from Spain has decreased over the past six months amongst Catalonians.  The number of Catalans who oppose secession stood at 46.8% in December, which is an increase from the 45.1% in November, and the 42.4% in June.

 

For more information, please see:

BBC — Catalonia Leader Vows 2017 Referendum on Spain Independence — 31 December 2016

DW — Catalan Chief Pledges ‘Binding’ Independence Referendum in 2017 — 31 December 2016

The Local ES — Catalan President Pledges Referendum in New Year Address — 31 December 2016

PressTV — 100s Rally in Support of Catalonia’s Secession from Spain — 31 December 2016

Reuters — Catalan Independence Referendum ‘Not Possible’ – Spanish PM — 30 December 2016

Israeli Soldier Who Fatally Shot Injured Palestinian Convicted of Manslaughter

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

JERUSALEM, Israel — An Israeli soldier was convicted of manslaughter on January 4th after he fatally shot an unarmed, wounded Palestinian attacker laying on the ground. The trial, which lasted for several months, was one of the most divisive in Israel’s history.

Sgt. Elor Azaria was convicted of manslaughter after fatally shooting an immobilized Palestinian soldier in the head (Photo courtesy of BBC News)
Sgt. Elor Azaria was convicted of manslaughter after fatally shooting an immobilized Palestinian soldier in the head (Photo courtesy of BBC News)

The Israeli soldier, Sgt. Elor Azaria, was caught on video shooting the 21-year-old Palestinian, Mr. Abdul Fattah Shariff, as he was lying on a road. The incident occurred at a military checkpoint, where Mr. Shariff and a “companion,” Mr. Ramzi al-Qasrawi, attacked the Israeli troops with knives, injuring one Israeli soldier. The Israeli troops retaliated by shooting both individuals, upon which Mr. al-Qasrawi was killed, and Mr. Shariff was injured. In the recording, Sgt. Azaria is then seen calmly walking up to Mr. Shariff’s motionless body and shooting him in the head.

During the trial at a military court, the prosecution argued that Sgt. Azaria was in full control of his actions when he shot Mr. Shariff, and that he was acting in retaliation for the stabbed Israeli soldier. Sgt. Azaria’s lawyers, however, argued for self-defense, stating that he feared Mr. Shariff could have detonated a concealed suicide vest.

The trial for Sgt. Azaria was presided over by a three-judge panel, which delivered its verdict in two-and-a-half hours, holding that he had “needlessly” shot Mr. Shariff in the head. The panel held that Mr. Shariff had been subdued after the knife attack, and did not pose a threat at the time he was fatally shot. The court indicated that Sgt. Azaria had stated “he deserves to die” immediately after shooting Mr. Shariff. While delivering the verdict, the court stated “the fact that the man on the ground was a terrorist does not justify a disproportionate response.” It further indicated that “one cannot use this type of force, even if we’re talking about an enemy’s life.”

Sgt. Azaria’s trial has created a sharp divide within Israel. A member of the prosecution, Lt. Col. Nadav Weissman, stated that despite the favorable ruling, “there were no grounds for celebration.” He added that the “offense was severe,” and the ruling was “important, clear, [and] decisive.” On the other hand, while the verdict was being read, hundreds of Israelis protested outside the military court, demanding Sgt. Azaria to be released. Furthermore, others believe Sgt. Azaria is innocent of any crime, and sympathize with Israeli soldiers because of the mandatory military service for the Jewish majority.

While Sgt. Azaria’s family condemned the verdict, Israeli officials urged the public to remain calm following the verdict. Ms. Sharon Gal, the media adviser for Sgt. Azaria and his family, stated that the court did not “give any weight to the evidence.” She further indicated that the court ignored the “fact that this was the area of an attack,” and treated Sgt. Azaria’s act as if he had “picked up the knife from the ground and stabbed it in the back of all the soldiers.” Mr. Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli Defense Minister, however, stated that everyone must “honor the court’s decision and [] show restraint.”

Furthermore, Human Rights Watch had issued a report on January 2nd, in which it claimed that “some senior Israeli officials have been encouraging Israeli soldiers and police to kill Palestinians they suspect of attacking Israelis even when they are no longer a threat.”

Sentencing for Sgt. Azaria will be held at a later date. Israeli law provides for a maximum prison sentence of 20 years for individuals convicted of manslaughter. However, it is anticipated that Sgt. Azaria will be sentenced to a shorter term.

For more information, please see:

USA Today—Court convicts Israeli soldier who killed wounded Palestinian attacker—4 January 2017

The Wall Street Journal—Israeli Soldier Convicted in Death of Palestinian Attacker—4 January 2017

BBC News—Israeli soldier Elor Azaria convicted over Hebron death—4 January 2017

Huffington Post—Israeli Soldier Convicted Of Manslaughter In Killing Of Immobile Palestinian Assailant—4 January 2017