Week 4 of Palestinian Prisoners’ Hunger Strike

By: Yamillet Brizuela
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

RAMALLAH, West Bank – May 14, 2017 marked the 28th day of the mass hunger strike by approximately 1,500 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons to protest their administrative detention. This hunger strike started on April 17, 2017, with hopes of drawing international attention to the plight of prisoners. They aim to put pressure on Israeli authorities to spur a change in policy.

About 1,500 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons are on their 4th week of a hunger strike. Photo Courtesy of Reuters.

The prisoners’ demands involve improvements to prison living condition which they believe, currently, violate basic human rights. They also denounced the torture, ill-treatment, and medical negligence of them by Israeli authorities. The Palestinian prisoners further denounced Israel’s practice of administrative detention, which allows for internment without trial or charge for six-month intervals that can be renewed indefinitely.

Other demands include: more family visits, education options, and public telephones, and are protesting unfair trials, detention of children, medical negligence, and solitary confinement.

Having lived off only salt water and now entering the 4th week of the hunger strike, a conversation of force-feeding the prisoners has arisen. Force-feeding violates international human rights standards.

Under international human rights law, prisoners must be guaranteed basic human rights, which include the right to maintain a family life and freedom from torture and other forms of CIDT, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

The United Nations Committee Against Torture has called on Israel to ensure that prisoners on hunger strikes are not subjected to force-feeding or other medical treatment against their will, as it could amount to torture.

However, without negotiations with prisoners by the Israeli authorities, it is highly likely that prisoners would suffer permanent health damage and possible death.

For more information, please see:

Aljazeera – A Timeline of Palestinian Mass Hunger Strikes in Israel – 12 May 2017

Aljazeera – Palestinian Shot Dead by Israeli Forces in Nabi Saleh – 12 May 2017

Aljazeera – Palestinian Hunger Strike Highlights Medical Neglect – 12 May 2017

Daily Times – Palestinian Hunger Strikes- 13 May 2017

Ma’an News Agency – Palestinian Prisoners Enter 27th Day of Mass Hunger Strike – 13 May 2017

Ma’an News Agency – Funeral Held for Palestinian Killed by Israeli Forces During Solidarity March- 12 May 2017

Palestine News Network- Israeli Doctors Reject Force-Feeding Prisoners on Hunger Strike – 10 May 2017

Russian blogger convicted for inciting religious hatred

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe

Ruslan Sokolovsky awaits sentencing in a Russian court. Image courtesy of Reuters.

MOSCOW, Russia – Russian blogger Ruslan Sokolovsky was convicted by a Russian criminal court on May 11 for insulting religious beliefs and inciting hatred. These actions are criminal offenses under Russian criminal codes.

The conviction comes after nearly a year of criminal proceedings after his arrest. Last August, Sokolovsky entered an Orthodox church in Yekaterinburg while playing the augmented reality game Pokémon Go on his smartphone. He had posted a video of himself playing the game on YouTube. At the end of the video, he said what many perceived to be an anti-religious insult. Sokolovsky’s YouTube channel included other videos that were seen as being against the Russian Orthodox Church.

After searching his apartment in September, authorities arrested Sokolovsky. They initiated another charge against him in January after months of house arrest. Sokolovsky had pled not guilty to any of the charges.

Religion has not always been a concern in Russia. Before the past few years, Russia was officially an atheistic country with no state religion. The Kremlin is now known to use religion as a means of pushing a state agenda. This year the highest court in the country banned Jehovah’s Witnesses, claiming they are an extremist group. In 2012, two members of the anti-Putin band Pussy Riot were charged with inciting religious hatred, the same conviction that Sokolovsky faces.

“Insult” was added as a crime to the criminal code of Russia after the members of Pussy Riot were arrested. According to Human Rights Watch, the crime of insult is defined as “a public action expressing clear disrespect for society and committed in order to insult the religious feelings of believers”. Critics see these laws as restrictions on freedom of expression.

Sokolovsky will face a suspended jail sentence of 3 and ½ years. He will also have to perform 160 hours of community service and cannot be seen in public places where people are meeting.

For more information, please see:

The New York Times – Russian Who Played Pokemon Go in Church Convicted of Inciting Hatred – 11 May 2017 

BBC News – Pokemon Go: Russian Blogger Suspended – 11 May 2017

Reuters – Russian court gives suspended sentenced to man who played Pokemon Go in church – 11 May 2017

Human Rights Watch – Russia: Pokemon Go Blogger Convicted – 11 May 2017

Syria Justice and Accountability Centre: ECtHR as an Avenue for Accountability – Possibilities and Constraints

SJAC Update | May 9, 2017
European Court of Human Rights building in Strasbourg, France | Photo Credit: Flikr, Dominik Kreutz

ECtHR as an Avenue for Accountability: Possibilities and Constraints

As Russia has, for the time being, closed the door on all available means for international accountability against the Assad government’s atrocities in Syria, human rights groups and lawyers have pursued alternative avenues for justice, including through national prosecutions in European jurisdictions. Although the complaints that target high-level government officials are hugely symbolic, it remains unlikely that authorities in Europe would be able to apprehend the named defendants even if a court issued an arrest warrant or a guilty verdict in absentia. State-sponsored violence, however, does not begin and end with Syria alone. Other countries have contributed to illicit arms sales, indiscriminate attacks, and other prosecutable offenses during the course of the war. While President Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle remain out of reach, are there other means for achieving justice for victims of atrocities in Syria?

As a member of the Council of Europe, Russia is subject to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), a human rights instrument that is upheld and adjudicated by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). Any national or resident of a Member State can petition the Court for redress if they have a claim that their rights under the Convention were violated by the Member State. The Court’s judgments are in the form of fines to compensate victims of violations and are binding upon the state in question. The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe monitors the execution of fines, and any Member State that repeatedly fails to abide by ECtHR judgements could theoretically be ejected from the Council. Russia isgenerally compliant – as a Member State, it sends its lawyers to defend against claims and, for the most part, respects judgements to pay compensation to victims (although, it rarely makes structural changes to laws/procedures ordered by the Court).

Since Russia entered the Syrian conflict in 2015, the intensity of indiscriminate aerial attacks has increased. Under the mantra of counter-terrorism operations, Russia has used lethal force, resulting in strikes on medical facilities, humanitarian missions, schools, and other civilian infrastructure. While there is plenty of documentation that Russia violated provisions of the ECHR, the primary obstacle for any claim against Russia in the Syrian context will be one of jurisdiction.

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The Syria Justice and Accountability Centre (SJAC) is a Syrian-led and multilaterally supported nonprofit that envisions a Syria where people live in a state defined by justice, respect for human rights, and rule of law. SJAC collects, analyzes, and preserves human rights law violations by all parties in the conflict — creating a central repository to strengthen accountability and support transitional justice and peace-building efforts. SJAC also conducts research to better understand Syrian opinions and perspectives, provides expertise and resources, conducts awareness-raising activities, and contributes to the development of locally appropriate transitional justice and accountability mechanisms. Contact us at info@syriaaccountability.org.

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Thai Lawyer Faces Up To 150 Years in Prison for Insulting Royal Family

By: Nicole Hoerold
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

BANGKOK, Thailand – A Thai human rights lawyer appeared in court on May 3 where he was charged with 10 counts of royal defamation. If convicted, Prawet Prapanukul faces up to 150 years in prison. His case is the most number of charges for the crime brought against an individual in recent history.

A portrait of the late Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej is see on the building of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. Photo courtesy of EPA.

Thailand’s strict lèse-majesté law makes it a crime to threaten, insult, or defame the king, queen, heir-apparent, or the regent, as enshrined in Article 112 of the country’s criminal code. There is no definition of what constitutes such an insult to the monarchy, and lèse-majesté complaints can be brought by anyone, against anyone, and are always required to be formally investigated by the police.

In addition to 10 counts of insulting the monarchy, Prawet is accused on three counts of breaking section 116 of Thailand’s criminal code, which covers sedition. Human Rights Watch has warned that the laws are being used by military authorities to curb the opposition.

It is still not known what Prawet might have written or said that led to his arrest and charges. A spokesperson for the military government declined to comment on the case. Thailand’s military seized power from an elected civilian government in a spring 2014 coup. Since the government was overthrown, the junta has detained hundreds of journalists, activists, and politicians for alleged protests and anti-junta activities.

It is unclear what will happen in Prawet’s case, but the Thai junta have made it clear that it is unaccepting of any acts in violation of Thailand’s lèse-majesté laws.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Thai lawyer faces 150 years in jail for royal insult – 4 May, 2017

The Telegraph – Thai rights lawyer faces up to 150 years in prison for royal insult – 4 May, 2017

Jurist – Thailand human rights lawyer charged for insulting royal family – 4 May, 2017

Asian Correspondent – Thailand: ‘Missing’ lawyer appears in court, faces 150 years’ jail for royal insult – 4 May, 2017

RT News – Top Thai human rights lawyer faces 150 years in prison for ‘royal insult’ – 4 May, 2017

BBC News – Thailand’s lese-majeste laws explained – 3 December, 2016

International Center for Transitional Justice: In Focus

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Dutch Court Convicts Arms Dealer for Role in Liberian Atrocities. What Does It Say About Justice for Economic Crime?Dutch Court Convicts Arms Dealer for Role in Liberian Atrocities. What Does It Say About Justice for Economic Crime?In the Netherlands, a court sentenced an arms dealer to 19 years in prison for his role in war crimes in Liberia. What does his case tell us about pursuing justice for economic crimes in Liberia and beyond?

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Reflections on the Struggle for Justice: Virginie Ladisch and Clara Ramirez-BaratReflections on the Struggle for Justice: Virginie Ladisch and Clara Ramirez-BaratTo mark 15 years of ICTJ, we asked staff past and present for memories that stand out to them – moments that throw the stakes of our work into sharp relief and resonate with them years later. Virginie Ladisch and Clara Ramirez-Barat recall how one Canadian student, in exploring the legacy of the country’s Residential Schools, arrived at the concept of “never again.”

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Education and Transitional Justice: Opportunities and Challenges for PeacebuildingThis report, part of a joint research project by ICTJ and UNICEF on the intersections of education, transitional justice, and peacebuilding, explores how a transitional justice framework can help to identify educational deficits relating to the logic of past conflict and/or repression and inform the reconstruction of the education sector.

Beyond the Truth and Reconciliation Commission: Transitional Justice Options in LiberiaThe Liberia Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) released its final report in December 2009 after more than three years of operations. The report offers valuable insights into Liberia’s turbulent history, including the gross human rights violations committed during the country’s 14-year conflict.

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German Parliament Passes Partial Burqa Ban

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

 

BERLIN, Germany — On April 27, German lawmakers passed a bill that partially bans face coverings such as the burqa and niqab.  The lower house of parliament approved a draft law that, if passed, would prevent civil servants, judges, and soldiers from wearing full face veils at work.  The law, which still needs to be approved by the upper house of parliament, might also require Germans to remove face coverings for identity checks when voting, as well as at universities and public demonstrations.

A woman wears a burqa in Afghanistan (Photo Courtesy of Telegraph)

Supporting its law, the German government released a statement saying that the “religious or ideological covering of the face contradicts the neutrality required of state functionaries.”  According to German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, “[i]ntegration also means that we make our values clear ​​and express the limits of our tolerance to other cultures.”  Maiziere believes that the draft law is important step towards that integration.  Maiziere also commented that “[w]e are an open society. We show our faces. We do not [wear] burqa.”

Some see the law as symbolic, as the burqa is not overly abundant in Germany.  Hamed Abdel-Samed, Egyptian-German political scientist, estimated in 2016 that only about 200-300 people wear a burqa in Germany.

The new law proposes a partial ban, which falls short of the right wing’s call for a blanket ban on the burqa similar to the one recently enacted in France, as well as German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s call for a burqa ban “wherever legally possible.”

Legal experts claim that a blanket ban is impossible to enact under the German constitution, and would be struck down by the courts. In 1 2014 parliamentary research document, Germany’s constitutional court established that “in a society that gives space to different religious beliefs, individuals do not have the right to be shielded from professions of faith by others.”

Critics addressed Maiziere’s ideas on the new law, believing that a “dominant culture” would become a source of social tension and would hinder multicultural development.  Chair of the Free Democratic Party in Germany, Christian Lindner, accused Maiziere of distracting voters from real issues before elections.  Lindner accuses Maiziere’s and Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party of being unable to develop a sufficient immigration policy, and is “[re-igniting] old debates instead.”

 

For more information, please see:

RT — ‘We do not Wear Burqa:’ Germany’s Interior Minister Favors Introduction of ‘Dominant’ Culture — 30 April 2017

EuroNews — Germany Approves Partial Burqa Ban — 28 April 2017

Newsweek — German Parliament Passes Partial Burqa Ban — 28 April 2017

The Telegraph News — Limited Burka Ban Approved by German Parliament — 28 April 2017

VDC Media Team: Violations Documentation Center in Syria

The Monthly Statistical Report on Victims, April 2017
Violations Documentation Center in Syria – VDC
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April 2017 Statistical Report on Victims, full report.
التقرير الإحصائي الشهري ، نيسان 2017، التقرير كاملا
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Ceasefire in Syria Leads to Conflicting Reports of Reduced Violence

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria — An agreement aimed at reducing violence in Syria went into effect at midnight on Saturday, May 6th. The ceasefire was headed by Russia, which is the strongest ally of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, and backed by Turkey and Iran.

The four “de-escalation zones” cover a total of 2.5 million citizens (Photo courtesy of AlJazeera)

The plan calls for ending hostilities between rebel groups and government forces by creating “de-escalation zones” in the major areas of conflict in western Syria for a period of six months, which could be extended if all three signatory countries agree. Although Russia is permitted to fly over the de-escalation zones, the agreement strictly prohibits the use of weapons and air strikes in those areas.

The ceasefire further calls for the creation of “conditions for humanitarian access, medical assistance and return of displaced civilians into their homes.” The Syrian government is required to allow “unhindered” humanitarian aid into rebel-held areas, and must restore services such as water and electricity.

The largest de-escalation zone, in northern Syria, covers a population of over one million and encompasses the Idlib province, which was hit by a chemical attack in early April. The three remaining zones cover the northern Homs province, the eastern Ghouta region, and the area surrounding the Jordanian border in southern Syria, encompassing a total of over 1.5 million citizens. Qaboun, a town in the eastern Ghouta region, is exempt from the deal due to its history as housing the Nusra Front, a group linked to al-Qaeda.

Despite the agreement, however, there have been conflicting reports of its effectiveness. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (“SOHR”) stated that it has already started seeing breaches of the deal, mainly in the northern Hama province. A spokesperson for the Jaish al-Nasr rebel group, Mr. Mohammed Rasheed, stated that the fighting started after midnight. The SOHR added that fighter jets shot upon al-Zalakiyat, a village held by Syrian rebels, as well as upon the countryside of northern Hama. Mr. Rasheed further noted that barrel bombs were also used in the attacks. He added that “[t]he bombardment has not stopped, it is no different from before[.]” Furthermore, on Saturday, May 6th, less than twenty-four hours after the ceasefire was implemented, four opposition fighters were killed and a child was wounded when a suburb of Damascus was shelled by government forces.

The SOHR, in contrast, also noted that despite the reduction in fighting, that it was still “too early” to determine whether it would last. The director of the SOHR, Mr. Rami Abdulrahman, noted that “[t]he reduction in violence must be clear and lasting[.]”

For more information, please see:

AlJazeera—Syria’s ‘de-escalation zones’ explained—6 May 2017

Washington Post—Syria violence kills 4, wounds child despite safe zones—6 May 2017

Reuters—Syria fighting eases as Russian deal takes effect—6 May 2017

Deutsche Wells—Fighting continues in Syrian ‘safe zones’—6 May 2017

CBS News—Russia’s proposed Syrian “safe zone” deal goes into effect—6 May 2017

Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies: Death Toll Since March 15, 2011 in Syria

Contact Dr. Radwan Ziadeh للاتصال: د.رضوان زيادة

Tel. +1571-205-3590 تلفون

Email: radwan.ziadeh@dchrs.org إيميل

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Death Toll Since March 15, 2011 Until April 30, 2017

DCHRS documented 147,498 victims including 16,261 children and 11,343 women since March 15, 2011

Throughout March 15th, 2011 to April 30, 2017, the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies (DCHRS) documented a provisional total of 147,498 casualties. 80% of those killed were civilians accumulating to 117,788 civilian victims. The remaining 20% belonged to one of the fighting factions. The number of documented children during the indicated period is 16,261 Children victims at a rate of 11% of the total victims. The documented number of women casualties is 11,343 at a rate of 8% of the total victims.
 

The total number of combatants that DCHRS documented is approximately 29,710 casualties with a ratio of 20% of the total number of victims. Nevertheless, 19% is the ratio of women and children combined. Therefore, for every soldier killed, a child or a woman is killed, and about more than three civilians are also killed.

 

Based on the above statistics and charts, the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies (DCHRS) calls the international community to terminate the indiscriminate aggression of aerial aviation, which is designed specifically to target civilians deliberately. DCHRS commends any efforts or initiatives to establish a safe zone in Syria, which shall save many lives of civilians. Furthermore, DCHRS condemns the constant aerial bombardment of the regime air forces, Russian air forces, and the U.S led coalition forces, for perpetrating crimes against humanity and war crimes against the Syrian Civilians. Also, DCHRS denounces the continues failure of the UN Security Council to achieve mechanisms to end violence in Syria, and to account crime perpetrators to justice. Additionally, DCHRS urges the UN and the international community to implement the “Ceasefire” agreement and to create a no-fly zone that could prevent the deaths of many children, women, and civilians.

 

DCHRS, inspired by its main mission in documenting and monitoring human rights violation in Syria and as a member of the  International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (ICRtoP), urges all the concerned organization to work on, referring the cases of these massacres, and the many other massacres perpetrated by the Syrian regime, to the I.C.C. and the specialized courts, holding the individuals responsible for these crimes accountable including Bashar Al-Assad as he is the chief-in-command of the army and the armed forces.

 

توثيق 147,498 ضحية من 15 آذار/مارس 2011 وحتى نهاية نيسان/إبريل 2017

 

وثّق مركز دمشق لدراسات حقوق الإنسان في الفترة الممتدة بين 15 أذار – مارس من العام 2011م حتى تاريخ 30 من شهر نيسان/إبريل من العام 2017م، ما مجموعه 147,498  ضحية، تم تسجيلهم بالاسم الثلاثي والثنائي، قرابة 80 % منهم كانوا مدنيين وعددهم 117,788 مدني، من بينهم وثق المركز 16,261 شهيداً من فئة الأطفال بنسبة قدرها 11%، و11,343 امرأة من فئة النساء بنسبة قدرها 8% من العدد الكلي للقتلى، بلغت النسبة المتبقية وهي 61% توثيق ما يقارب 90,184 رجلاً من فئة المدنيين.

 

بلغ مجموع القتلى من العسكريين وفق الأرقام التي تمكن المركز من توثيقها ما يقارب 29,710 شخص. شكل العسكريون نسبة 20% من مجموع الضحايا الكلي، وهذا عدد يقارب مجموع عدد النساء والأطفال معاً ونسبتهم 19%، وبالتالي من كل عسكري يقتل، هناك طفل أو امرأة تقتل، و3 رجال من فئة المدنيين يلقون حتفهم،.

 

بناء على ما تقدم من إحصائيات، فإن مركز دمشق لدراسات حقوق الإنسان يناشد المجتمع الدولي بوضع حد للعدوان العشوائي المتمثل بالطيران الجوي الذي صمم خصيصاً ليستهدف المدنيين حيث بات يوقع في صفوفهم على نحو يومي ضحايا مستمرين. ويشير المركز إلى أن مبادرات إقامة منطقة آمنة في سوريا ستقي الكثير من أرواح المدنيين، كما ينكر مركز دمشق قصف قوات النظام المدعومة بغطاء جوي روسي وقصف قوات التحالف الدولي لارتكابهم جرائم ضد الإنسانية وجرائم حرب عجز مجلس الأمن الدولي عن ردعها عبر إيجاد آلية ما للجم العنف والقتل الذي لم يتوقف ليوم واحد منذ بداية الثورة السورية وحتى نهاية شهر نيسان/إبريل من العام 2017 حيث تشهد الإحصاءات المذكورة أعلاه، بـ147,498 ضحية 80% منهم مدنيون.

 

وباعتبار مركز دمشق عضو في التحالف الدولي من أجل تطبيق مبدأ مسؤولية الحماية (ICRtoP)، يطالب مركز دمشق أيضاً بالسعي الحثيث لتحقيق العدالة الانتقالية في سوريا، عبر ضمان الإنصاف لكل الضحايا الأبرياء وإعلاء مبدأ المساءلة وعدم الإفلات من العقاب.

 

كما يعود المركز ليدعو مجلس الأمن الدولي والمنظمات ذات الصلة للاضطلاع بمسؤولياتهم وفقاً لمبادئ مسؤولية الحماية (R2P)، وعدم الوقوف موقف المتفرج على ما يحصل من انتهاكات في سوريا أضحت تطال البشر والحجر معاً.

28 Massacres Committed After CW Attack in Khan Shaykhun

Throughout April 5th, 2011 to April 30, 2017, and following the Sarin Chemical attack that took place in Khan Shaykhun, and after the U.S assaults against Shayrat air base, the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies (DCHRS) documented a total of 28 massacres committed in different Syrian provinces. 19 out of these massacres were perpetrated by the Syrian regime and Russian forces, and the remaining 9 were perpetrated by the U.S led coalition. Most of the victims killed in these massacres were civilians including children and women.

28 مجزرة عقب مجزرة الكيماوي بخان شيخون خلال شهر نيسان/إبريل 2017
وثق مركز دمشق لدراسات حقوق الإنسان خلال المرحلة الممتدة من الـ5 من شهر نيسان/أبريل الماضي وحتى 30 منه ارتكاب النظام السوري والقوى المتحالفة معه وفي مقدمتها روسيا حوالي 19 مجزرة، فيما رصد بجانب التحالف الدولي ضد داعش ارتكاب نحو 9 مجازر.

Khan Sheikoun Chemical Weapon Attack With Sarin Gas Suffocated Hundreds Of Victims

The Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies prepared a comprehensive report detailing the chemical weapon attack against Khan Sheikoun. The evidence collected by DCHRS confirmed the use of Sarin Gas, and eye whiteness testified to DCHRS valuable information about the CW attack. DCHRS could only document 69 victims by name. most of the victims who had been suffocated by this attack were children, women, and civilians.

بعيداً عن العدالة: مذبحة بالكيماوي في خان شيخون بريف إدلب

من جديد جريمة مروِّعة تتشابه من حيث الطبيعة مع الجريمة التي وقعت في الغوطة الشرقية لدمشق صيف عام 2013، والتي مررها المجتمع الدولي دون حساب أو عقاب، مكتفيا بعبارات التنديد والقول بحسب السلاح من القاتل، ليعود القاتل ذاته مستخدما ذات لسلاح معلنا مذبحة مدوية جديدة يندى لها الجبين على مرأى ومسمع العالم أجمع.

وفي هذا التقرير يسلط مركز دمشق الضوء على قيام ًالنظام السوري أو حليفته روسيا بقصف مواقع سكنية في مدينة خان شيخون بريف محافظة إدلب شمال سوريا ومناطق قريبة، عبر نوع من الغازات التي وصفت بـ”الخانقة” و”السامة”، مستعينا المركز بما توفر من معلومات وفرها ناشطوه وناشطون ميدانيون متعاونون مع المركز في الشمال السوري.

Monthly Reports
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Casualties Report for April 2016 تقرير شهداء سوريا لشهر نيسان / إبريل لعام 2017

 

Casualties Report for March 2016 تقرير شهداء سوريا لشهر آذار / مارس لعام 2017

 

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Turkish Military Launches Airstrike into Iraq and Syria

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq — The Turkish military released a statement indicating that its military jets attacked fighters of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (“PKK”) with airstrikes on Tuesday, April 25th, in northern Iraq and northeast Syria.

Turkey’s attack, which hit “shelters, ammunition depots and key control centers[,]” was intended to “prevent infiltration of Kurdish rebels, weapons, ammunition and explosives from those areas into Turkey.” (Photo courtesy of the New York Times)
Despite the Turkish military’s statement claiming that the attack was carried out “within the scope of international law[,]” it has been characterized as “unusually intense[.]” The statement indicated that the airstrike, which took place before dawn, hit targets on Sinjar mountain in Iraq and a mountainous region in Syria. It noted that the attack was necessary to “prevent infiltration of Kurdish rebels, weapons, ammunition and explosives from those areas into Turkey.” A second statement indicated that the airstrikes hit “shelters, ammunition depots and key control centers[.]”

The spokesperson for the Syrian Kurdish militia, also known as the People’s Protection Units (“YPG”), Mr. Redur Khalil, stated that Turkey’s jets struck their headquarters in the town of Karachok in the northeastern Syrian province of Hassakeh. Mr. Khalil added that the attack caused extensive damage to the headquarters as well as to neighboring civilian property.

The Turkish military’s statement noted that the airstrike killed a minimum of seventy people, with forty militants in Sinjar and thirty in northern Syria being “neutralized.” The YPG, however, stated that the attack killed twenty of its fighters and wounded eighteen more. The mayor of Sinjar, Mr. Mahma Khalil, stated that five members of the Iraqi Kurdish militia (“the peshmerga”), who support the fight against the Islamic State (“ISIS”) with the U.S.-led coalition, were also killed in the airstrike.

The YPG is a close ally to the U.S.’s fight against ISIS. However, Turkey considers the YPG to be a terrorist group due to its ties to Turkey’s Kurdish rebels, the PKK, which are being harbored in neighboring Syria and Iraq.

The attack attracted immediate international criticism and condemnation. The U.S.-led coalition stated that Iraq’s neighbors must be respectful of state sovereignty and encouraged “all forces to . . . concentrate their efforts on [defeating] ISIS [in Iraq and Syria.]” While Turkey claimed to have notified the U.S. and Russia in advance of the attack, the U.S. State Department indicated that it was “deeply concerned” by the airstrike and that it was not authorized by the U.S.-led coalition. The Foreign Minister of Iraq, Mr. Ahmad Jamal, stated that the airstrike was a “violation” of its sovereignty, and called upon the international community to end Turkey’s “interference[.]” The Syrian Kurdish fighters denounced Turkey’s airstrike, noting that the attack was “treacherous[,]” and accusing Turkey of “undermining the anti-terrorism fight.” Russia, which is a close ally of the Syrian government, also criticized the airstrike by stating that it “hindered efforts to combat [ISIS]” and added that it was “serious[ly] concern[ed]” about the strikes.

For more information, please see:

ABC News—Tensions rise after Turkish attack on Syrian Kurds—26 April 2017

The New York Times—Turkish Strikes Target Kurdish Allies of U.S. in Iraq and Syria—25 April 2017

AlJazeera—Turkey targets Kurdish fighters in Iraq and Syria—25 April 2017

BBC News—Turkey air strikes on Kurds in Syria and Iraq spark US concern—25 April 2017

The Washington Post—The Latest: Russia slams Turkish strikes in Iraq, Syria—26 April 2017

Boston Herald—Turkey strikes Kurds in Iraq, Syria, drawing condemnation—25 April 2017

 

Jurist: Amidst a set-back for transparency, citizen led Accountability in North Carolina

JURIST Guest Columnist David M. Crane and Catherine Read discuss the Supreme Court’s decision on denying cert in the ACLU’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit…

Last Monday, 24 April, it was easy to miss the important news that the Supreme Court denied cert in the ACLU’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to make public the full Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA’s use of torture. The news was lost in the frenzied media analysis of Trump’s first 100 days, new opinion polls on his performance, and a looming possible government shutdown over the border wall.

The ACLU is to be commended for their leadership both in this FOIA request, and in the ground-breaking lawsuit Salim v. Mitchell. That suit was brought by torture victims and the family of a man tortured to death by the CIA, and fortunately is moving forward in a Spokane federal court.

But this Supreme Court decision on the Senate report is a blow to efforts at accountability for this dark chapter in US history, and bad news for Americans who want open government and transparency. From the declassified but heavily-redacted executive summary that is available, we know that the CIA’s interrogation tactics were both more brutal and less effective than was acknowledged publicly. The CIA did not provide oversight at the black sites it maintained, and it lied to Congress and the public about the number of detainees it held and tortured during the period following 9/11.

The Supreme Court’s denial of public access to the full Senate report means we will be forced to continue wondering how much torture was used, the level of damage it did to the US, and which private entities may have been involved. Most disturbingly, the decision blocks the robust public debate that release of the full report would stimulate. It continues the shielding of responsible officials from any form of accountability, and keeps the American public and our elected leaders from learning lessons from the failed tactics of the past.

One of President Obama’s final acts in office was to preserve the report under the Presidential Records Act — a positive step given that many elected officials, including Senate Select Intelligence Committee Chair Richard Burr (R-N.C.), have advocated destroying all classified versions. But this step also meant that the report would remain hidden from the public for at least twelve years, and perhaps much longer.

Our current President has, at best, easily-influenced and inconsistent views on torture. President Trump, both while campaigning and even after taking office, has openly supported and endorsed resuming torture, although he has also backtracked on his own statements. His appointment of Deputy CIA Director Gina Haspel, who once oversaw a CIA black site in Thailand and was physically present during torture sessions, further underscores that more information about the torture, rendition and detention program must be revealed.

The lack of government transparency and public accountability — reinforced by this week’s Supreme Court decision — makes the work of organizations pushing for accountability all the more vital. One such initiative worth noting is the recently launched non-governmental North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture (NCCIT).

NCCIT was established to investigate and bring about public accountability for the specific role that North Carolina’s state and local governments played in supporting the US torture program. The declassified portion of the Senate report’s executive summary, as well as independent media investigations, have confirmed that it was a CIA-affiliated company, Aero Contractors, which for several years launched “torture taxi” flights from public airports in Smithfield and Kinston, North Carolina. These flights were dispatched to pick up suspected terrorists abroad and transport them to black sites and third countries, where they were indefinitely detained and tortured.

Since 2005, the use of taxpayer-supported state aviation facilities as staging grounds for abduction missions has driven North Carolinians to insist that local and state elected officials investigate and try to halt the “torture taxis.” Now, NCCIT has assembled a high-profile panel of policy experts, academics and community leaders who are doing the job that their government refuses to do: hold public hearings to investigate North Carolina’s role. The inquiry is probing what elected officials knew, how public resources were used, and — critically — who was harmed in the process and therefore deserves acknowledgement and redress. Elected leaders at all levels can use that information to ensure state resources are not further spent on human rights abuses, and to try to right past wrongs.

North Carolina citizens have a right to know what role their tax dollars, their elected officials and companies operating in their state played in the US torture program. And this information may be contained within the Senate report that all branches of our federal government apparently think should remain classified.

The truth will eventually come out one way or another, and history will be our judge. The real-time question is whether we will have the opportunity to learn from this dark chapter in American history before it is repeated.

David M. Crane, Founding Chief Prosecutor, Special Court for Sierra Leone; Professor, Syracuse University College of Law.
Catherine Read, Executive Director, North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture.

Suggested citation: David M. Crane and Catherine Read, Amidst a set-back for transparency, citizen led Accountability in North Carolina, JURIST – Forum, May 4, 2017, http://jurist.org/forum/2017/05/Crane-Read-accountanbility-in-north-carolina.php


This article was prepared for publication by Yuxin Jiang, a Senior Editor for JURIST Commentary service. Please direct any questions or comments to her atcommentary@jurist.org

UN Peacekeepers Accused of More Sexual Abuse

By Samantha Netzband 

Impunity Watch, Africa Desk Reporter

KINSHASA, DR Congo– Another United Nations Peacekeeper is accused of sexual abuse in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The year has been filled with allegations of sexual misconduct against United Nations Peacekeepers in the DR Congo.  In this instance, a United Nations Peacekeeper was placed on leave after accusations that he had sex with a minor.

UN peacekeepers in Congo drive in armoured vehicle.

UN Peacekeepers in the DR Congo. (Photo Courtesy of BBC Africa)

This United Nations Peacekeeper is Romanian.  Out of the five cases that have come to light this year this recent case is the first involving a minor.  Two of the other cases against peacekeepers involve South African soldiers and paternal recognition.  In those cases one baby has been more and the other is expected soon.

The accusations that the United Nations Peacekeepers are facing in the DR Congo are not new to the United Nations Peacekeeping program.  Past allegations against peacekeepers have been made around the globe.  Nearby in the Central African Republic both United Nations Peacekeepers and French troops allegedly raped children.  The legal responsibility of the United Nations and the Peacekeepers in cases of sexual abuse is still hotly contested and unclear.  The victim of this most recent allegation has been put into the care of UNICEF.

For more information, please see:

BBC Africa – DR Congo: UN peacekeepers face fresh sexual abuse claims – 28 April 2017

Inner City Press – On New UN Sex Abuse in DRC, While MONUSCO Lists 5 Accused, UNHQ Won’t Answer – 28 April 2017

International Business Times – DRC: Five UN peacekeepers suspended over fresh sexual abuse claims – 28 April 2017

PBS Newshour – UN peacekeepers accused of thousands of cases of abuse, AP finds – 12 April 2017

 

Syria Deeply : This Week in Syria

 

 

May. 5th, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome to our weekly summary of Syria Deeply’s top coverage of the crisis in the country.

“De-escalation zones”: Russia put forward a proposal to create four “de-escalation zones” in Syria on Wednesday at the latest round of talks in the Kazakh capital of Astana. The Syrian opposition walked out of the discussions the same day, however, “because of the violent airstrikes on civilians. The suspension will continue until shelling stops across all Syria,” a rebel source present at the talks told Agence France-Presse.

Iran and Turkey signed the safe-zone proposal on Thursday. The United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, described the plan as an “important, promising, positive step in the right direction in the process of de-escalation of the conflict.”

Russian media reportedly obtained a copy of the signed memorandum, which said the proposed safe zones would include areas in the provinces of Idlib and Homs, the Eastern Ghouta region in the Damascus suburbs and a southern area. The draft proposal said the zones aimed to “put an immediate end to the violence” and “provide the conditions for the safe, voluntary return of refugees,” according to an Arabic-language copy of the draft obtained by AFP.

Syrian state-run media added that the memorandum also aimed to “combat terrorism in an effective way.” Syria “supports” the plan and “confirms its commitment to the cessation of hostilities regime signed Dec. 30, 2016, which includes not shelling these regions,” according to a foreign ministry statement.

Russia and Turkey brokered a nationwide cease-fire in December. Iran and the two countries signed a trilateral deal a month later at the first Astana talks, stating that the three would act together to monitor and enforce the cease-fire. However, clashes and aerial bombardments continued in many areas of Syria, including Idlib and Eastern Ghouta.

Advance on ISIS: The United States-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) continued their offensive against the so-called Islamic State, taking control of large parts of the northern Syrian town of Tabqa. On Monday, the United Kingdom-based monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said the SDF controlled roughly 80 percent of the town.

Clashes between the two groups intensified near the end of the week; at least 36 ISIS fighters and 10 SDF fighters were killed, according to the SOHR.

On Tuesday, ISIS attacked a camp for displaced people and a defense forces checkpoint near the Iraq-Syria border, killing at least 30 people, mostly civilians.

“Deteriorating” conditions in Eastern Ghouta: Infighting erupted between the major opposition and extremist groups in Eastern Ghouta. Clashes began last Friday between Jaish al-Islam, a prominent Islamist rebel group in the area, Failaq al-Rahman and the al-Qaida-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. By Thursday, fighting had killed at least 143 people, including 13 civilians, according to al-Jazeera.

The clashes have worsened the already dire situation in Eastern Ghouta, which has been besieged by pro-government forces since 2013, significantly driving up the cost of basic supplies such as food and medicine. Some 400,000 people are trapped in Eastern Ghouta suffering from “the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation” the U.N. in-house news agency said on Monday.

On Tuesday night, a humanitarian convoy of 51 trucks was given permission to enter the area for the first time since October 2016. However, residents in the area’s de facto capital, Douma, said the supplies were not nearly enough.

“The supplies are only enough for a few days. There isn’t even enough for the city of Douma alone – the aid will total 7,000 meals for the 25,000 thousand families in the city,” Khalid Aybour, head of the Douma Local Council told Syria Direct.

 

Read our daily Executive Summaries

 

 

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Analysis: The Free Idlib Army’s Role in the U.S. Battle Against Al-Qaida in Syria

As the FSA-linked Free Idlib Army continues to struggle to counter al-Qaida’s control in the province, the U.S. may be looking to support a larger rebel merger on the ground in Syria, writes Syrian journalist Abdulrahman al-Masri.

 

CIVIL SOCIETY

How to Combat Domestic Violence Among Syrian Refugees? Talk to Men

Domestic violence is reported to have risen sharply among Syrians forced to flee their homeland. While many aid programs target women, some groups in Lebanon are putting new focus on men, hoping to address the problem at the source.

 

EDUCATION

A ‘University in Exile’ to Reconnect Syrian Students and Academics

Syrian students and academics scattered by war have had their careers and education disrupted. We spoke to the founder of the Jamiya Project, which is trying to reconnect Syrian academics to refugee students through blended online and in-person learning.

 

 

EDITOR’S PICKS

Community Insight

 

DIPLOMACY & FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Expert View: What’s at Stake in Future Negotiations Between U.S. and Russia

Kim Bode,  Community Editor of Syria Deeply and Refugees Deeply

 

As the U.S. and Russia reopen discussions about Syria, Syria Deeply spoke with Russia policy experts about Moscow’s primary objective and what it would take for the Kremlin to drop Assad.

 

CIVIL SOCIETY

Syria’s Citizen Journalists on the Frontline of Press Freedom

Mansour Omari,  Syria Correspondent, Reporters Without Borders

 

On International Press Freedom Day, Syrian journalist and Syria correspondent for Reporters Without Borders Mansour Omari discusses the rise of citizen journalists documenting the conflict in Syria, which is an act of resistance itself.

 

DISPLACEMENT

‘As Syrians, We Need to Rebuild People, Not Countries’

Zeina Yagan,  Senior Associate, Orient Research Centre

 

Orient Research Centre associate Zeina Yagan discusses one of the many dilemmas that has emerged for Syrians during the conflict: How does one bridge the deep, sometimes emotionally charged, divides in the Syrian community?

 

 

FIRST LOOK

Upcoming coverage

We are always looking for new writers, experts and journalists who are covering the crisis in Syria and are interested in writing about a variety of topics. Please send us your ideas, story pitches and any other thoughts about our coverage via emailTwitter or Facebook.

Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect: Advocate, Educate, Legislate: The Role of Parliamentarians in the Prevention of Mass Atrocities

4 May 2017

Advocate, Educate, Legislate: The Role of Parliamentarians in the Prevention of Mass Atrocities

On 13-14 April 2017, Ms. Savita Pawnday, Deputy Executive Director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, participated in an event at The Hague Institute for Global Justice on “Global Parliamentarians: The role of the legislative branch in building national mechanisms for atrocity prevention.” The event was cohosted by The Stanley Foundation, The Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation, The Hague Institute for Global Justice, and The Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies, together with the Global Centre.

The Global Centre presented on the role that parliamentarians around the world have played in upholding the Responsibility to Protect. The Policy Brief presented at the meeting, “Advocate, Educate, Legislate: The Role of Parliamentarians in the Prevention of Mass Atrocities,” examines past practice and provides recommendations for potential future parliamentary action.

Ralph Bunche Institute for
International Studies
The Graduate Center, CUNY
365 Fifth Avenue, Suite 5203
New York, NY 10016-4309, USA
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Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect: 1.5 Years After the Peace Agreement, Famine and Atrocities Threaten South Sudan

3 May 2017

1.5 Years After the Peace Agreement, Famine and Atrocities Threaten South Sudan

More than a year and a half after the signing of the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan, it is time for the international community to recognize that the peace process has failed. Recent months have seen renewed military offensives by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), South Sudan’s official armed forces, resulting in thousands of civilians being displaced. In a conflict where both pro and anti-government militias are also proliferating, civilians continue to be targeted and killed by all sides because of their ethnic identity and perceived political loyalties.
The August 2015 Peace Agreement was supposed to end the civil war that started in December 2013. Mediated by the African Union (AU) and the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the Agreement is now effectively defunct. None of the Agreement’s main components have been implemented: the Transitional Government of National Unity exists in name only; tilti is no permanent ceasefire; and the Hybrid Court has not been established to investigate and prosecute those responsible for mass atrocities committed during the civil war.
President Salva Kiir has announced the commencement of a national dialogue, but the SPLA and pro-government militias continue to wage war against a range of perceived political and ethnic enemies. Meanwhile rebel forces nominally loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar, who has been forced into exile in South Africa, continue to fragment, complicating the chances of a lasting ceasefire.
No one knows exactly how many civilians have died during fighting that has taken place since January in Eastern Equatoria, Central Equatoria, Western Bahr el-Ghazal, Upper Nile and Unity states. At least 1.9 million civilians are internally displaced and another 1.6 million have sought refuge in neighboring countries. About 220,000 civilians have fled to UN peacekeeping bases for protection. Since the end of April an additional 25,000 people have fled from Kodok after intense fighting between the SPLA and the Agwelek Forces, a rebel splinter group.
The intensification of armed violence has resulted in people being cut off from their livelihoods. The government of South Sudan has denied aid to civilians in rebel-held areas and over 40 per cent of the population is severely food insecure. During February the World Food Program and other UN agencies declared a famine in Leer and Mayendit counties. An estimated 100,000 people are already facing starvation and an additional 5.5 million people are at risk of famine unless urgent measures are taken.
Although South Sudan remains one of the poorest and under-developed countries in the world, the government continues to spend a large part of its national budget on arms. Senior SPLA military commanders are also implicated in possible war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by their troops and/or allied militias. Rebel forces, who lack the military capacity of the SPLA, routinely pillage and prey upon civilian populations. Both sides have also targeted humanitarian workers, with 82 having been killed since December 2013.
In order to avoid further atrocities and avert a catastrophic famine, the UN Security Council (UNSC), AU and IGAD need to recalibrate their approach to endemic conflict in South Sudan. In particular, we urge the following measures:

  • The AU and UNSC should set clear accountability benchmarks, including a strict timeline for the expeditious establishment of the Hybrid Court.
  • The UNSC should impose an arms embargo on South Sudan and extend targeted sanctions by including key military figures who are actively obstructing peace and/or have command and control over those responsible for targeting and killing civilians.
  • The AU, UNSC and IGAD must compel the government and armed rebels to allow unhindered humanitarian access to vulnerable populations and ensure their safety. Attacks on humanitarian workers constitute possible war crimes and should be thoroughly and impartially investigated. Perpetrators must be held accountable regardless of their position or affiliation.

The government and the armed opposition have manifestly failed to uphold their responsibility to protect the people of South Sudan. The time has come for the international community to hold perpetrators accountable for the misery they have inflicted upon their country and the deadly conflict they continue to wage without justification or remorse.

Ralph Bunche Institute for
International Studies
The Graduate Center, CUNY
365 Fifth Avenue, Suite 5203
New York, NY 10016-4309, USA
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