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.