Syria Deeply: U.S. Ponders Safe Zones Amid Block of Refugee Ban, Amnesty Says 13,000 Hanged in Saydnaya Prison, Battling ISIS in al-Bab

Assad Says Refugees May Be Terrorists, Should Return to Syria

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad said some refugees who have fled his country are “definitely” terrorists, Yahoo News reported.

Nearly 5 million people have fled Syria in the past six years, after largely peaceful demonstrations were met with state violence in 2011. Since then, the country has spiraled into a complex proxy war, with half the pre-war population internally displaced amid the violence. Most of the country’s refugees have settled in Syria’s neighboring countries.

“For me, the priority is to bring those citizens to their country, not to help them immigrate,” Assad told Yahoo News. He added that he would not take sides on President Donald Trump’s attempted ban on refugees and immigrants from Syria. “It’s an American issue,” he said.

Russian Warplanes Accidentally Kill Turkish Soldiers in Syria

Russian aircraft accidentally killed three Turkish soldiers in Syria on Thursday, Reuters reported. Both countries were involved in an operation against the so-called Islamic State in Syria, a Turkish military statement said.

“During an operation by a Russia Federation warplane against Islamic State targets in the region of the Euphrates Shield operation in Syria, a bomb accidentally hit a building used by Turkish army units,” the Turkish military said in a statement.

Eleven other people were wounded in the incident, for which Russian president Vladimir Putin blamed poor coordination between the two countries. Putin also called his Turkish counterpart, Tayyip Erdogan, to express his condolences.

A statement from the Kremlin on Thursday said Ankara and Moscow have agreed to increase military cooperation in Syria.

More Than 100 Women, Children, Released in Prisoner Swap

The Syrian government and rebel factions exchanged more than 100 prisoners and hostages on Tuesday, some of them children, Reuters reported.

Some 112 people, including 24 children, were swapped between rebel and government representatives in Hama, according to the United Kingdom-based monitor, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).

Half of them were female prisoners released from government-held areas and then taken to opposition-held areas. In exchange, rebels freed female hostages and three unidentified men who were then taken to government-held areas in the coastal region.

Prisoner swaps in Syria are rare, but have been increasing recently, the SOHR said.

North Korea Exploiting Child Labor

By: Nicole Hoerold
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PYONGYANG, North Korea — North Korea has been drawing renewed criticism for its child labor practices. On February 13, 2016, Human Rights Watch called on the North Korean government to immediately stop exploiting children for labor. The organization made a submission to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child calling attention to the forced labor of school-aged children. The organization collected its information from recently escaped citizens of North Korea and from North Koreans who maintain ties to individuals remaining in the state.

Kim Jong Un poses with North Korean students at the opening of a new primary school. Photo courtesy of: Getty Images
Kim Jong Un poses with North Korean students at the opening of a new primary school. Photo courtesy of: Getty Images

The submission indicates that children are forced to work in areas of farming, rock breaking, collecting scrap metals, and other strenuous types of work. Though North Korea claims it abolished child labor over 70 years ago, sources who spoke to Human Rights Watch clarified that the government continues to recruit individuals into forced labor.

Sources told Human Rights Watch that the North Korean government uses coercive means to recruit child laborers, depicting the work as employment opportunities in “patriotic labor” to show “socialist loyalty”. Individuals who refuse to participate are often discriminated against and receive physical punishments, according to the organization’s sources.

Human rights activists encourage intervention, noting that North Korean children have no other protections and rely on the UN and foreign governments to speak out on the matter. Left unchecked, UN Security Council members warn that millions of North Korean children will be discriminated against, threatening their educational opportunities and overall well-being.

Though the UN Security Council has discussed North Korean human rights violations for the third year in a row, there is not much the organization can do to facilitate real change in the rogue state.

For more information, please see:

New York Post – N. Korea’s child slavery problem is even worse than imagined – 9 February, 2017

International Business Times – North Korea’s Kim Jong Un Exploits Poor People: Children Forced To Work At Expensive Ski Resort For Elite – 27 January, 2017

Human Rights Watch – North Korea: End Rampant Forced Child Labor – 13 February, 2017

Human Rights Watch – Human Rights Watch Submission on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to the Committee on the Rights of the Child – 13 February, 2017

Human Rights Watch – UN: North Korea Exploiting Children – 8 February, 2017

U.N. Considering Removing Peacekeepers from Haiti

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, North America

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — After 13 years, the United Nations is considering removing the military component of stabilization mission in Haiti.  The mission, known as MINUSTAH, will soon undergo a “reconfiguration” according to Herve Ladsous, U.N. deputy secretary-general, due to progress made on the island over the past few years.  MINUSTAH costs an estimated $346 million per year.

UN peacekeepers from Sri Lanka patrol Port-au-Prince in Haiti (Photo Courtesy of Miami Herald)
UN peacekeepers from Sri Lanka patrol Port-au-Prince in Haiti (Photo Courtesy of Miami Herald)

Ladsous cites the recent success of political elections, the inauguration of the new president, and the development of the police force as signs of progress.  The country has made such significant improvements that the “security throughout the country cannot be compared with that of 10 years ago.”

Newly-sworn in Haitian President Joyenel Moise met with Ladsous last week, and will be the first Haitian president since 2004 to govern without the U.N.’s prominent military presence.  Ladsous believes that the work left to be done in Haiti is to be done primarily by the Haitians, however the U.N. will be “perfectly ready to mobilize” if needed.  During Ladsous’ visit to Haiti, no one objected to the proposed removal of the peacekeepers.

While praising the progress Haiti has made in stabilizing itself, Ladsous issues a warning to those who are tempted to “take advantage of this temporary period to return to illegality, commit crimes, violations of human rights.”  He assures that Haiti “will not accept that.”  Ladsous also notes that there is still a significant amount of work left to do improving the police force, the law, human rights, and the status of women.  Specifically, the Haitian National Police is expected to reach its full strength of 15,000 members

Brian Concannon, head of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, criticizes MINUSTAH for their “slow, expensive and limited progress in its primary mission.”  In support of his criticisms, Concannon cites the introduction of cholera and sexual misconduct by peacekeepers in Haiti as areas of concern.

MINUSTAH was last renewed in October 2016 for a six month period, as opposed to its usual year renewal.  The UN Secretary-General is expected to make recommendations to the UN Security Council regarding the removal of military component on March 15.

 

For more information, please see:

Jamaica Observer — UN Peacekeeping Chief Says Solid Progress Made in Haiti — 15 February 2017

Atlanta Black Star — UN May Change Peacekeeping Protocols in Light of Haiti’s Improving Security Situation — 14 February 2017

Miami Herald — A Haiti Without U.N. Peacekeepers? After Almost 13 Years, it May Happen — 14 February 2017

VOA — UN Considers Removing Military Peacekeepers from Haiti — 9 February 2017

Yemeni Women and Children Killed in Air Strike on Funeral

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

SANAA, Yemen — On Thursday, February 16th, witnesses and medics reported that at least eight women and a child lost their lives after an overnight air strike directed by the Saudi-led coalition struck a funeral reception near the Yemeni capital of Sanaa. 10 other women and children were also reportedly wounded in the attack, which struck near the funeral’s women’s reception area.

Villagers stated that their homes were bombed immediately after they heard planes overhead (Photo courtesy of Daily Mail)

 

The attack took place in a village where mourners had gathered to pay their condolences after the death of a “well-known local woman.” Village residents stated that they ran from their houses after hearing the sound of planes. They stated, however, that bombs hit the houses directly afterwards, which led to the roofs collapsing. Villagers indicated that “[b]lood was everywhere[.]” Pictures released from the scene portrayed villagers searching through the rubble of a destroyed house, and a “man kneeling in the dust with the corpse of an elderly women in his arms.” At the time of the attack, a villager, who lost his wife in the raid, had been receiving condolences after the death of his brother. Defining the attack as “barbaric,” he stated that he saw four women die immediately.

Injured children were taken to a nearby hospital in Sanaa for treatment. One of the children is suffering from a “horribly burned” face, and a “body pitted with shrapnel” from flying debris. Doctors were required to tie her hands to her hospital bed to prevent her from scratching her wounds.

Houthi supporters alleged that the attack was a “double tap strike,” which entails an initial bomb followed by the detonation of a second bomb. Such strikes are targeted towards killing and injuring individuals who rush to the aid of those wounded in the first attack.

The parliament of Yemen “strongly condemned” the attack by characterizing it as a “horrific, brutal Saudi war crime[.]” It indicated that the coalition “lacks all religious and humanitarian principles[,]” and called upon the United Nations to urgently prosecute Saudi Arabians in the International Criminal Court to protect the citizens of Yemen against war crimes.

The United Nations’ Special Envoy to Yemen, Mr. Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, stated that attacks directed towards civilians are “unjustifiable.” The United Nations’ Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen, Mr. Jamie McGoldrick, stated that he was “saddened and appalled” by the attack.

The Saudi-led coalition has long been accused of targeting funerals, hospitals, weddings and schools in Yemen. Although the coalition has repeatedly denied deliberately attacking civilians, in October, it accepted responsibility for an air strike on a funeral which led to the deaths of 140 people. At the time, it had blamed the deaths on “incorrect information.”

For more information, please see:

Daily Mail—Air raid kills eight women, child at Yemen funeral—16 February 2017

Daily Mail—Bloodied, bandaged and bodies pitted with shrapnel: Baby girls lie in hospital beds opposite each other after air strike on mourners at a WAKE in Yemen kills seven women and a child—18 February 2017

Middle East Eye–Nine women, child killed in raid on Yemen funeral—16 February 2017

Yemen News Agency—Yemen’s parliament condemns Saudi massacre on Arhab women funeral house—18 February 2017

The Washington Post—Saudi-led coalition to probe Yemen funeral airstrike—16 February 2017

 

Human Rights Activist Attacked in Medellin

By Cintia Garcia

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Colombia — Late on Sunday, February 12, human rights defender and well known activist, Yudy Andrea was attacked in her home in Medellin and was critically injured. Yudy’s daughter was also injured in the attack.

Colombia has seen a rise in attacks against human rights activists. (Photo Courtesy of Colombia Reports)
Colombia has seen a rise in attacks against human rights activists. (Photo Courtesy of Colombia Reports)

It is believed that local gang members were the culprits behind the attack, but no suspects have been detained. The suspects went to Ms. Andrea’s home and moments after she opened the front door she was shot in the face and head. Her injuries are severe and currently remains in the hospital. In addition, her eleven-year-old daughter was shot in the leg but was able to escape. Ms. Andrea has been an active defender of rights in the Belen neighborhood of Medellin. A note was left by the suspects that stated, “death to snitches.” This attack comes after a rise in the number of urban paramilitary inspired violent acts, which had only taken place in rural areas. Many of the targets have been human rights activist, leftist party members, and journalists. Local community members have issued an early warning for all human rights leaders to take precautions in the area although no imminent threats are known.

This is not the first human rights activist attacked in recent days. Last month, well known Afro-Colombian human rights leader, Emilsen Manyoma, was killed along with her partner Joe Javier Rodallega. Both were tied up and decapitated in a rural jungle area near a highway. They had been outspoken critics of right-wing paramilitary groups, international mining, and agribusiness interests. Additionally, she created a truth commission documenting attacks on human rights.

Colombia is known for attacks against human rights defenders. In 2016, there were at least 85 murders according to the human rights organization, Front Line Defenders.

For more information, please see:

Colombia Reports—Colombia Human Rights Leader Attacked in Medellin—14 February 2017.

El Colombiano—Herida a Bala Una Líder de Altavista—14 February 2017.

El Espectador—Atentan Contra Una Líder de Derechos Humanos en Altavista, Medellín—13 February 2017.

TeleSUR—Colombian Human Rights Leader Assassinated—18 January 2017.

 

Somalia Elects New President Amid Many Challenges in the Country

By Samantha Netzband

Impunity Watch, Africa Desk Reporter

MOGADISHU, Somalia–Somalia elected a new President on February 8.  Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed Farmajo, a dual US/Somali citizen, won the election.  Incumbent President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud conceded the election after two rounds of voting stating: “History was made. We have taken this path to democracy, and now I want to congratulate Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo.”

Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo

President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed Farmajo. (Photo Courtesy of The Guardian)

Farmajo was sworn in on the same day that he was elected, bringing hope to a country that has not had a new President in over 10 years.  The country has long been seen as a trusteeship and has a weak central government.  Farmajo has in the past served as prime minister and brings a good background to the job.  He was educated in the United States and has promised to rule Somalia without undue influence from the neighboring countries.

Farmajo also begins his rule at an interesting time in Somalia.  Not only is Somalia one of the seven countries that is affected by President Trump’s travel ban, but Somalia also faces a refugee crisis at home.  Many Somali nationals live in the Dadaab refugee camp located in Kenya.  As of right now, it is uncertain whether the camp will close, leaving thousands in uncertain waters.  Farmajo will have to deal with that reality, as well as the relations with the United States regarding President Trump’s travel ban.  Refugees that may have been settled in the United States who are Somali nationals may become something that Farmajo has to worry about.  The crisis could get better or worse under Farmajo’s rule.

For more information, please see: 

Al Jazeera – Abdullahi Mohamed Farmajo declared Somalia president – 8 February 2017

BBC Africa – Somalia’s Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo chosen as President – 8 February 2017

Chicago Tribune – Former prime minister, a U.S. citizen, wins Somalia presidential election – 8 February 2017

The Guardian – Somalis greet ‘new dawn’ as US dual national wins presidency – 8 February 2017

PBS Newshour – Somalia’s President sworn in amid Refugee Crisis – 11 February 2017

 

More Than 7,000 Are Dead From Philippine Drug War

By: Nicole Hoerold
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

MANILA, Philippines- In July 2016, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte launched a “war” on the drug trade, authorizing police to crackdown and even open fire when threatened by suspects. More than 7,000 people have died since the launch of the anti-drug campaign.

More than 7,000 individuals have been killed in the Philippines since July 2016. Photo courtesy of: AFP
More than 7,000 individuals have been killed in the Philippines since July 2016. Photo courtesy of: AFP

In early 2017, Amnesty International accused the Philippine police of “systematically planning” extrajudicial killings and of being unnecessarily brutal in achieving its goals. The organization released a report this year in which it outlines the actions of President Duterte and his police force. The report even suggests that the killings could constitute crimes against humanity.

Eyewitnesses and families of the deceased have confirmed some unregulated and haphazard actions by the police. Amnesty International has documented several cases where witnesses described alleged drug offenders shouting their surrender at police, often on their knees or other compliant positions. It is reported that police still gunned them down.

Other organizations, including Human Rights Watch, are also concerned about the humanitarian offenses. Human Rights Watch recently called for the United Nations to lead an independent international investigation into the alleged unlawful killings by the Philippine police.

Not a single officer is known to have been prosecuted for extrajudicial killings or related crimes. President Duterte has not addressed any of these concerns. On January 29, Durterte stated in a news conference that he intends to continue his war on drugs until the last day of his term. Experts are concerned that this is an indication that the abuses will continue indefinitely.

On January 30, 2016, National Police Director-General Ronald dela Rosa declared a pause on the operation. The break is meant for “internal cleansing” following the alleged brutal killing of a South Korean businessman by the Philippine’s anti-drug police. Interestingly, nearly 100 Philippine police officers have been released by the department since the start of the year because they were found to be using drugs themselves.

It is unclear what is to come, but officials have made no indication to roll back on its attempts at cleansing the nation of its drugs and drug users.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Amnesty: Philippine police ‘planned’ drug war killings – 1 February, 2017

Amnesty International Report – “If you are poor, you are killed” – 2017

Human Rights Watch – Philippines: Police ‘Drug War’ Killings Need Independent Probe – 30 January, 2017

The Wire – Philippines Dismisses Nearly 100 Policemen For Drug Abuse – 12 February, 2017

Switzerland Votes to Relax Immigration Rules

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

BERN, Switzerland — Switzerland just voted to make the immigration process easier for third-generation immigrants to become citizens.  Prior to the vote, a “fast-track” route to citizenship in Switzerland was only available to foreigners who were married to a Swiss citizen for over six years.  Non-Swiss residents were required to wait an average of 12 years before applying for citizenship.

A poster by opponents to relaxing citizenship laws originally read
A poster by opponents to relaxing citizenship laws originally read “Unchecked naturalization? No to an easier path to citizenship,” was altered and now reads “Unchecked incitement? No – Yes to an easier path to citizenship.” (Photo Courtesy of DW)

The new process exempts third-generation immigrants who were born in Switzerland, and whose parents and grandparents resided permanently in Switzerland, from interviews and tests throughout the application process.  The interviews and tests are administered by town councils, and include requests for applicants to name local cheeses or mountains to ensure they are well-integrated into the Swiss culture.

The new immigration process does not make citizenship an automatic process, however.  It will continue to require immigrant-hopefuls to prove they are 25 years of age or younger, were born in Switzerland, attended school there for at least five years, share Swiss cultural values, speak the national language, and do not depend on state aid.

Rightwing politicians in Switzerland argue that relaxing the process will pose a security threat to the country, and that this is the first step in grant all immigrants currently in Switzerland citizenship.  The Swiss People’s Party, a political party often accused of demonizing Islam, warned of the risks of the possible “loss of Swiss values” through the citizenship of more Muslims.  Some believe the new process might lead to “Islamisation” of Switzerland.  In support of that argument, a poster was distributed to the public that featured a woman wearing a niqab with a caption that encouraged voters to reject “uncontrolled” citizenship.

Proponents of the simplified citizenship process argue that it is unfair to request that people who were born in and have lived in Switzerland all of their lives to prove they are integrated.  The new law will affect about 25,000 people, the majority of whom are of Italian descent.  Other large populations in Switzerland include foreigners from the Balkans and Turkey.

Over the past 30 years, three attempts to relax citizenship process were rejected by voters.

 

For more information, please see:

BBC — Switzerland Votes to Relax its Citizenship Rules — 12 February 2017

DW — Switzerland Votes on Third-Generation Immigrant Citizenship — 12 February 2017

The Guardian — Switzerland Votes to Ease Citizenship Process – 12 February 2017

Independent — Switzerland Votes to Relax Immigration Rules in Defiance of Anti-Muslim Rhetoric — 12 February 2017

Human Rights Watch Determines Syria Using Chemical Weapons

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria — Human Rights Watch released a report on Monday, February 13th, in which it stated that the government of Syria used chemical weapons in attacks late last year on opposition-controlled parts of Aleppo while fighting to retake the city.

Children are most susceptible to the effects of chlorine bombs (Photo courtesy of CNN)

In reaching its conclusion, Human Rights Watch (“HRW”) indicated that it conducted in-person and phone interviews with witnesses, and analyzed video footage, photographs and social media posts. Through the evidence-gathering process, the rights group determined that government helicopters had dropped chemical bombs in Aleppo’s residential areas on at least eight occasions from November 17th through December 13, 2016. HRW further indicated that the attacks led to the deaths of at least nine civilians, including children, and injured hundreds more.

Although the use of chlorine could not conclusively be determined, HRW stated that chlorine bombs are identifiable initially through “yellow or yellow-green smoke” at the impact site of a bomb. It further stated that victims’ and witnesses’ physical ailments are indicative of the use of chlorine. Affected individuals experience symptoms such as difficulty breathing and swallowing, burning throat and eyes, severe coughing, nausea, fainting, and foaming at the mouth. As it is heavier than air, it sinks into basements and bomb shelters, thus suffocating anyone harbored inside. Chemical weapons are known to affect children most severely as they “inhale the[] smells and [] end up suffocating.”

The chlorine attacks were focused on areas the government forces were attempting to retake. HRW’s Deputy Emergencies Director, Mr. Ole Solvang, indicated that use of chemical weapons at the same time as the “frontline” was a strong indicator that the chemicals were an “integral part of the offensive.” He stated that this is suggestive of chlorine attacks being “coordinated with the overall military strategy[,]” while noting that senior military officers “knew that chlorine was being used.”

The Chemical Weapons Convention bans parties from using “properties of any chemical as a weapon.” As a signatory since October 2013, HRW stated that Syria has violated the terms of this treaty by dropping chlorine bombs since April 2014 and using sarin in attacks in August 2013.

HRW called upon the 192 states who are parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention to address Syria’s “continued violation” of the treaty, while taking steps to ensure compliance and strengthen the customary international law norm against use of chemical weapons. The organization further called upon the United Nations Security Council to impose sanctions on senior leaders in the chain of command, by stating that it should enact consequences against anyone or any authority utilizing chemical warfare. It also urged the government of Syria to immediately cease the use of chemical weapons.

For more information, please see:

Reuters—Syrian government forces used chemical weapons in Aleppo: rights group—13 February 2017

Human Rights Watch—Syria: Coordinated Chemical Attacks on Aleppo—13 February 2017

Middle East Eye—Syrian army ‘used chemical bombs in co-ordinated Aleppo assault’—13 February 2017

The Washington Post—Syrian forces used gas attacks as key part of campaign to retake Aleppo, Human Rights Watch says—13 February 2017

The New York Times— Syria Used Chlorine Bombs Systematically in Aleppo, Report Says—13 February 2017

AlJazeera—HRW: Syria carried out chemical attacks in Aleppo—13 February 2017

CNN—Report suggests Russia, Syria deliberately targeted civilian areas of Aleppo—13 February 2017

Syrian Prison Home to Over 13,000 Executions

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria — Amnesty International released a report in which it stated that Syrian military police hanged over 13,000 detainees in a prison north of Damascus starting with the 2011 uprising through 2015.

Saydnaya prison is known as the “slaughterhouse” (Photo courtesy of Mirror)

The Amnesty International report indicated that mass hangings took place at the Saydnaya Prison, known to prisoners as the “slaughterhouse.” The rights group stated that as many as fifty people were hung once or twice per week, typically on Mondays and Wednesdays. The report, titled “Human Slaughterhouse,” revealed that prisoners were told they were being transferred to a civilian prison in Syria in the middle of the night. Instead, they were blindfolded and moved to a cell in the prison basement where they were severely beaten. After being brought to the Saydnaya prison grounds, they were then hanged, while still blindfolded. All hangings were reportedly authorized by senior officials, including President Assad’s deputies, the defense minister and top religious authorities.

A deputy research director at Amnesty International, Ms. Lynn Maalouf, stated that prisoners were informed of their hanging only a few minutes before execution. She noted that the sentences were issued after a “sham trial” held by a “so-called Military Field Court[,]” which lasts from one to two minutes. During the trial, prisoners would be asked their name and whether they committed the crime. The report, however, alleged that the prisoners would be convicted and sentenced to death regardless of their answer.

The Amnesty International report was prepared based on interviews with over eighty-four people, including prison guards, judges, attorney, and prisoners. Ms. Maalouf stated that the hangings “reveal a hidden, monstrous campaign,” targeted towards eliminating President Assad’s dissent, as the executed prisoners were “believed to be opposed to the government.” Amnesty International urged the United Nations to take immediate action towards conducting an independent investigation into the findings.

The government of Syria has rejected the accusations, stating that the report was aimed towards “harm[ing] the government’s international reputation[.]” The country’s official news agency, Sana, released a statement in which the justice ministry denied the claims as “baseless[,]” while urging that all executions “followed due process.”

For more information, please see:

Fox News—At least 13,000 people hanged at Syrian prison, human rights group says—6 February 2017

CNN—13,000 people hanged in secret at Syrian prison, Amnesty says—7 February 2017

Amnesty International—Syria: Secret campaign of mass hangings and extermination at Saydnaya Prison—7 February 2017

The New York Times—Amnesty: Up to 13,000 Hanged in Syria’s ‘Slaughterhouse’—7 February 2017

BBC News—Syria rejects Amnesty report on hangings at Saydnaya prison—8 February 2017

 

UN Calls on Cambodian Government to Release Detainees

By: Nicole Hoerold
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

Phnom Penh, CAMBODIA — In May 2016, the government of Cambodia detained five human rights defenders. The government alleges that these individuals criminally assisted a woman in making false claims while under investigation by the Cambodian Anti-Corruption Unit. On January 25, 2017, two human rights experts called on the Cambodian government to release the detainees, as the charges against them were ruled “arbitrary” by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

The United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. Photo Courtesy of: UN Photo
The United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. Photo Courtesy of: UN Photo

Cambodia is a signatory to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, which explicitly prohibits the “use of criminal provisions as a pretext to suppress and prevent the legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of expression and to silence human rights defenders.” In May 2016, UN human rights experts sent a joint urgent appeal to the Cambodian government on the status of the five detainees. The request has yet to be addressed.

Experts are concerned about a lack of transparency in the Cambodian legislature as well as conflicts between Cambodia’s political parties. In September 2016, a spokesperson for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern on this topic, noting that there is a high degree of intimidation and opposition between the country’s political groups.

Despite an international call for action, the Cambodian government has yet to respond and continues to detain the five human rights activists.

For more information, please see:

UN News Centre – Cambodia: UN experts call for immediate release of five human rights defenders – 25 January, 2017

JURIST – UN rights experts call for immediate release of 5 human rights defenders in Cambodia – 25 January, 2017

Human Rights Watch – Cambodia: Drop Farcical Investigation of Human Rights Defenders – 7 February, 2017

UN – International Convention on Civil and Political Rights – 19 December, 1966

Cameroon Blocks Out Internet in Some Parts of the Country

By Samantha Netzband 

Impunity Watch, Africa Desk Reporter

YAOUNDE, Cameroon– Cameroon has blocked internet access in the North West and South West parts of the country.  These parts of the country have been home to anti government protests in the past few weeks.  Many feel that the blockages are unnecessary and counterproductive.

Demonstrators in Bamenda

Anti government protests in Bamenda. (Photo Courtesy of BBC Africa)

For many, the blockages are believed to target protesters, so they are not able to use social media. Some people with mobile cell phones have also received threatening text messages stating that if they post inaccurate information online they will be subject to excessive fines and even jail time.  Cell phone providers haven’t been helpful, replying to customer service complaints that there are other forms of communication available to those who have had the internet blocked.

Because the South West region of Cameroon is a major technology center in the region, some companies have been forced to relocate workers to other parts of the country in order to continue work.  While internet blockages have been common for the past 12 months, it is the blockages in the North West and South West, which are mainly English speaking, that have caused protests.  These protests have been happening since the beginning of the year and Cameroonians only become more frustrated by the lack of access.  Everyone from businesses to activists have been affected by this blackout.

For more information, please see:

BBC Africa – Why has Cameroon blocked the internet? – 8 February 2017 

Eyewitness News – Cameroon Torn By Protests Over Internet Blackout – 8 February 2017

Os News – Internet Shutdown Hits Businesses in Cameroon – 8 February 2017 

Quartz Africa – Cameroon has shut down the internet in its English-speaking regions – 23 January 2017

Women’s March Organizers Plan General Strike

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON DC, United States — The organizers of the Women’s March last month announced a plan to hold a general women’s strike on a date that is yet to be determined.  The plan for the strike has been announced across the official social media accounts for the Women’s March, declaring there will be a “General Strike: A Day Without a Woman.”  The idea of a general strike comes from labor-oriented political movements where people leave their place of employment to demand political action.

The will of the people will stand.

A post shared by Women's March (@womensmarch) on

(Photo Courtesy of Salon)

The general strike comes on the heels of the Women’s March which took place last month, in which over three million Americans across the nation protested their dissent for the new president.  The official website of the Women’s March thanked participants, however also noted that the “march forward does not end here.  Now is the time to get friends, family and community together and make history.”

Organizers of the Women’s March have voiced their praise for boycotts of companies that support President Trump, and reinforce their commitment to engage in “actions that affirmatively build community, strengthen relationships and support local, women- and minority-owned businesses” at a time when “foundational principles of freedom and equality are under threat.”

Many other organizations have called for strikes against the new presidency as well.  Strike4Democracy has a general strike planned for February 17, and according to its Facebook page, over 16,000 people will be participating.  The organizers of this strike are encouraging people to strike from work or school and spend the day doing community service.  The strike is also calling upon members of Congress to defend the Constitution.  Writer Francine Prose wrote an article in the Guardian, calling for a general strike following President Trump’s executive order temporarily banning travel from seven countries.

There are no other details about the women’s general strike aside from the caption on the Instagram picture announcing the strike, which reads “The will of the people will stand.”  The Instagram post is the only public announcement that has been made about the general strike so far.

 

For more information, please see:

CNN — ‘A Day Without  Woman’ — Women’s March Organizers Plan General Strike — 7 February 2017

The Huffington Post — Women’s March Organizers are Planning a ‘Day Without a Woman’ — 6 February 2017

Marie Claire — The Woman’s March Organizers are Planning a Women’s Strike — 6 February 2017

Salon — “A Day Without Women”: Women’s March Group Announces Plan to Hold a General Strike — 6 February 2017

Syria Deeply: U.S. Ponders Safe Zones Amid Block of Refugee Ban, Amnesty Says 13,000 Hanged in Saydnaya Prison, Battling ISIS in al-Bab

We review key developments in Syria, including President Assad’s claim that some refugees are terrorists, Russian warplanes accidentally killing Turkish troops and more than 100 women and children freed in a prisoner swap in Hama.

PUBLISHED ONFeb. 10, 2017 READ TIMEApprox. 2 minutes

Assad Says Refugees May Be Terrorists, Should Return to Syria

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad said some refugees who have fled his country are “definitely” terrorists, Yahoo News reported.

Nearly 5 million people have fled Syria in the past six years, after largely peaceful demonstrations were met with state violence in 2011. Since then, the country has spiraled into a complex proxy war, with half the pre-war population internally displaced amid the violence. Most of the country’s refugees have settled in Syria’s neighboring countries.

“For me, the priority is to bring those citizens to their country, not to help them immigrate,” Assad told Yahoo News. He added that he would not take sides on President Donald Trump’s attempted ban on refugees and immigrants from Syria. “It’s an American issue,” he said.

Russian Warplanes Accidentally Kill Turkish Soldiers in Syria

Russian aircraft accidentally killed three Turkish soldiers in Syria on Thursday, Reuters reported. Both countries were involved in an operation against the so-called Islamic State in Syria, a Turkish military statement said.

“During an operation by a Russia Federation warplane against Islamic State targets in the region of the Euphrates Shield operation in Syria, a bomb accidentally hit a building used by Turkish army units,” the Turkish military said in a statement.

Eleven other people were wounded in the incident, for which Russian president Vladimir Putin blamed poor coordination between the two countries. Putin also called his Turkish counterpart, Tayyip Erdogan, to express his condolences.

A statement from the Kremlin on Thursday said Ankara and Moscow have agreed to increase military cooperation in Syria.

More Than 100 Women, Children, Released in Prisoner Swap

The Syrian government and rebel factions exchanged more than 100 prisoners and hostages on Tuesday, some of them children, Reuters reported.

Some 112 people, including 24 children, were swapped between rebel and government representatives in Hama, according to the United Kingdom-based monitor, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).

Half of them were female prisoners released from government-held areas and then taken to opposition-held areas. In exchange, rebels freed female hostages and three unidentified men who were then taken to government-held areas in the coastal region.

Prisoner swaps in Syria are rare, but have been increasing recently, the SOHR said.

Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect: Atrocity Alert: Myanmar, Syria and Central African Republic

Atrocity Alert is a weekly publication by the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect highlighting and updating situations where populations are at risk of, or are enduring, mass atrocity crimes.

Myanmar

Since the start of a counter-insurgency operation in Rakhine state on 9 October 2016, the Myanmar government has been perpetrating attacks against the Rohingya community that may amount to ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. On 3 February the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released a report based upon interviews with Rohingya asylum seekers, detailing widespread and systematic attacks, including extrajudicial and summary executions, disappearances and torture. Of the 101 women interviewed by OHCHR, 52 reported having personally been raped or subjected to other forms of sexual violence. Human Rights Watch reinforced this evidence on 6 February, reporting that government forces had committed coordinated and systematic rape and other sexual violence against Rohingya women and girls. Both reports indicate that women and girls were targeted because of their ethnicity and religion. On 6 February the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, stated that ongoing violations against civilians may be a “precursor of other egregious international crimes.”

Syria

On 7 February Amnesty International released a report detailing allegations of a calculated and systematic campaign of abuse and extrajudicial killings by the Syrian government in Saydnaya prison, outside Damascus, between 2011 and 2015. As many as 13,000 prisoners, mostly civilian opponents of the government, were secretly hanged, while thousands more have died due to torture and starvation. According to the report, every week groups of up to 50 prisoners were hanged following a 1-3 minute trial that took place at the Military Field Courts. According to interviews with former prison guards and administrators, bodies were then buried in mass graves on the outskirts of Damascus. The widespread mass executions are part of an ongoing and systematic campaign of crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Syrian government.

Central African Republic

After nearly four years of conflict and despite a UN peacekeeping mission (MINUSCA) with a robust protection of civilians mandate and more than 12,000 troops and police, civilians in the Central African Republic (CAR) continue to suffer as a result of fighting between shifting alliances of armed groups. In Ouaka prefecture the Popular Front for the Renaissance of CAR (FPRC), a predominately ethnic Goula armed group, has entered an alliance with the Patriotic Movement for CAR (MPC), in an attempt to expel the Union for Peace in the Central Africa (UPC), a predominately Fulani group, from Bambari. According to the UN Special Representatives for CAR and for Central Africa, the clashes have killed civilians and caused widespread displacement. MINUSCA has drawn a “red line” along the Bakala-Ippy axis, which prevents the FPRC/MPC from going south towards Bambari, and the UPC from going north towards Bria and Mbrés.

Meanwhile, in Ouham-Pendé, the rebel group Return, Reclamation, Rehabilitation (3R) attacked the town of Bocaranga on 2 February. The group continues to clash with anti-balaka militias in the region, and recent fighting has displaced around 9,000 people.

According to the UN Secretary-General’s latest report on MINUSCA, since the end of September 2016, an estimated 287 civilians were killed “due to clashes between armed groups and a resurgence in criminality.”

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