The winner of the 10th Annual Impunity Watch Summer Institute Essay Contest is Andrina Kirst. For the contest students discussed the following topic: “Standing up for a Better World: Looking at the Lives of Eleanor Roosevelt, Raphael Lemkin, and Robert H. Jackson.”
By: Sara Adams Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe
BERLIN, Germany – The German government shut down a far-left anti-capitalist website on August 25th.
The crackdown on extremism comes several weeks after anti-capitalist groups stormed the G20 summit in Hamburg. In July, the groups clashed with police, ending in violence between the two parties.
At the summit, hundreds of anti-capitalist protestors descended on Hamburg. The protestors lit cars on fire and looted near where the world leaders were convening.
The police used water cannons and tear gas to disburse the protestors. The skirmish ended with 76 police officers injured. An unknown number of protestors were injured as well.
Germany decided to take down the websites they alleged had ties to the violence at the G20 summit. The main website, linksunten.indymedia.org, was said to have been used to organize the unauthorized protest in Hamburg.
German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere told reporters that the websites were taken offline because they were “sowing hate against different opinions and state officials.”
While there is a Constitutional right to freedom of expression and right to peaceably assemble in Germany, de Maiziere argues that the “alt-left” websites are outside the realm of constitutional protection.
Defining the online portal as an “association” rather than a media outlet is one way the websites are not protected.
As an association, Constitutional applications are less strict. A postwar statute criminalized inciting hatred against “segments of the population.” Since the websites are not considered media outlets, they run counter to the criminal codes.
According to authorities, officers searched the home of the websites operator. They seized laptops and minor weapons like knives and pipes.
Authorities have been grabbling with the rise of digital platforms for extremist views since the recent rise of the “alt-right” both in western Europe and elsewhere. Germany has already banned a far-right website, taking “Altermedia Deutschland” offline in January.
But this is one of the first reported aimed at “leftist” groups. One of the main reasons for such was the resonance of encouraging violence online. It was alleged that one of the websites shut down had instructions on building a Molotov cocktail, along with calling police officers “murderers” and “pigs.”
Spokesperson Ula Jelpke for German political party The Left, has called the decision an “illegitimate act of censorship.”
De Maiziere disagrees, saying that the websites “legitimize violence against police officers,” and that “this is absolutely unacceptable and incompatible with our liberal democratic order.”
By: Sara Adams Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe
BARCELONA, Spain – It was yet another day of terror in the world on August 17th as a van rammed into tourists in Barcelona.
It was the deadliest terror attack in Spain since 2004, when nearly 200 people were killed in an attack on commuter trains in Madrid.
A van plowed into crowds walking on one of Barcelona’s most popular tourist areas, Las Ramblas. 13 people were dead while over 100 were left wounded by the attack.
South of Barcelona, another victim was hit by a second attacker. The victim died from the injuries she sustained in the attack.
Five of the attackers have been shot dead by Barcelona police. Four other suspects have been detained across the Catalan region in Spain.
The attack on Las Ramblas was set into motion when a house in the Spanish countryside was destroyed by a bomb on the previous night. Police suspected the house was part of a terror ring, and that it was used to make bombs. One person died in the explosion. Another was critically wounded.
While terror group ISIS has stated that the attackers were “soldiers of the Islamic State”, they have offered no proof of such.
People from 34 different countries have been reported among the victims. Of those, one 7-year-old boy from Australia remains missing. Australia’s prime minister Malcom Turnbull told the Tasmanian State Liberal Conference that attacks by vehicles are becoming the “new approach to terrorism.”
Indeed, this attack settles in as the sixth of its kind in the past year. Similar terror attacks were carried out in Nice, Berlin, London, and Stockholm all within the past thirteen months.
Vehicles, once considered safe, have become a mode of weaponry unexpected by experts.
One reason for this may be the fact that it is difficult to protect against attacks by vehicles. Automobiles are on every street, and people trust that drivers will follow the rules of the road. Any accidents are considered random, not targeted as an attack.
Turning vehicles into weapons may increase fear and distrust among individuals. Terror groups seek to instill fear into victims, and cars may be seen as a way to increase that fear.
“This kind of attack, using one of the most ordinary objects of daily life, could heighten that effect,” writes Amanda Taub for the New York Times.
Yet these attacks have brought people together, especially in Barcelona. People united on Las Ramblas shortly after the attacks to honor the victims.
“No tinc por!” crowds chanted in Catalan after a moment of silence. Translated, the chant states, “I’m not afraid!”
Welcome to our weekly summary of Syria Deeply’s top coverage of crisis in Syria.
Lebanon-Syria border: The Syrian army and Lebanese Hezbollah launched a joint operation against the so-called Islamic State on the Syrian-Lebanese frontier this week with the aim of expelling the militant group from its last border stronghold.
Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised speech on Thursday that the Syrian army and its Lebanese allies had captured more than 270 square kilometers [100 square miles] from ISIS on the Syrian side of the border since launching the operation on Saturday. He added that 40 square kilometers remained under militant control.
The Lebanese army launched a simultaneous but separate operation against ISIS on the Lebanese side of the border, and has captured more than two-thirds of the militants’ local territory. The extremist group now holds only a patch of territory on the outskirts of Ras Baalbek, an area gradually falling under the army’s control.
ISIS is reportedly seeking an evacuation agreement that would grant fighters safe passage from the Lebanese border to militant-held areas in eastern Syria but the Lebanese army has ruled that out.
Deir Ezzor: Russian warplanes have carried out an intensified aerial campaign on Islamic State positions in eastern Syria this month with the aim of helping the Syrian government drive the jihadi group from one of its other last strongholds.
Colonel General Sergei Rudskoi said this week that Russian fighter jets had flown more than 900 missions, killed 800 ISIS militants and destroyed 40 armored vehicles this month alone, the Associated Press reported.
He added that Russian jets were now making 60 to 70 flights a day targeting ISIS militants coming from other areas to join the upcoming battle in Deir Ezzor.
Last week, a Russian airstrike targeted an ISIS convoy in the western countryside of Deir Ezzor, killing at least 70 militants and destroying several armored vehicles, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Meanwhile, Syrian troops and allied fighters are pushing toward the militant bastion from two directions. Pro-government forces advancing south from Raqqa city joined up with their counterparts advancing from the east on Thursday, effectively surrounding ISIS in a large enclave in the Homs desert, according to Reuters.
The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are also gearing up for the battle against ISIS in Deir Ezzor. The head of the Deir Ezzor military council, which fights under the SDF, told Reuters on Friday that his forces would launch an attack on ISIS in eastern Syria within several weeks in conjunction with the battle for Raqqa city.
Raqqa: ISIS regained control this week of territory previously lost to pro-government fighters in the eastern countryside of Raqqa province.
Meanwhile, U.S. coalition warplanes continued to carry out intense air strikes on the city. At least 42 civilians, including 12 women and 19 children, were killed in an attack on Monday, according to the AP.
Amnesty International said on Wednesday that airstrikes and artillery attacks launched by the U.S.-led coalition on the city of Raqqa had killed hundreds of civilians over the past three months.
It also accused the Syrian government and Russia of carrying out “indiscriminate air bombardments against towns, villages and displaced people’s shelters full of civilians” south of Raqqa, on the southern bank of the Euphrates River.
“Civilians are thus trapped in the city, under fire from all sides, as the fighting intensifies,” the report said.
The following day, the United Nations called for a humanitarian pause in airstrikes to allow an estimated 20,000 trapped civilians a chance to escape the embattled city.
Since the start of the Syrian conflict, Lebanon’s government has officially adopted a policy of ‘disassociation’ toward the war next door. However, now some Lebanese political parties and organizations allied with Bashar al-Assad seem to be trying to overthrow the policy.
As pro-government fighters inch closer to ISIS’ last Syrian stronghold, Deir Ezzor, Syria Deeply talks with Hassan Hassan of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy about the main stakeholders involved and the battle’s potential impact on Syria’s balance of power.
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 email, Twitter or Facebook.
“This Is Us”: White Supremacy in the United StatesIn the wake of Charlottesville, some took to Twitter to distance the United States from the white supremacist march using #ThisIsNotUs. But this is us, writes Virginie Ladisch, and white Americans have an obligation to educate themselves about the history and persistence of white supremacy in their country.
AfricaMillions of citizens voted in the presidentital election in Kenya amidst fears of a recurrence of voter-fraud and widespread violence that marked past elections. Opposition leader Raila Odinga claimed “massive” fraud following the reelection of Uhuru Kenyatta, leading to protests. At least five died in the aftermath. Appeals judges at the International Criminal Court ordered to review the case of Laurent Gbagbo, the former president of Cote d’Ivoire who is being charged for crimes against humanity, to determine whether or not he should be released from detention while still on trial. A notorious warlord wanted for crimes against humanity in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka, surrendered to UN peacekeepers and was transferred to stand trial for his allegations. Prosecutors at the ICC have endorsed 121 witnesses, including some forced wives, in the trial of Dominic Ongwen, a former child soldier turned rebel commander accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity in northern Uganda. An estimated 80,000 apartheid victims still have not benefited from the special reparations fund issued by the Department of Justice in South Africa through the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act, and reported struggling financially with the minimal compensation awarded to them. The Minister of Federal Government in Sudanrenewed its efforts to involve armed movements in national peace processes, and to reintegrate demobilized fighters into all states. The proposed genocide apology from Germany for colonial-era massacres committed in Namibia from 1904 to 1908 has been delayed, further impeding upon redress for the approximately 75,000 victims killed by German authorities. The United Nations announced that it was investigating mass graves found in a town in Mali, where various human rights abuses were also discovered by the UN mission in the country over competition for land control.
Colombia’s transitional justice system received case files on 12,000 alleged military criminals and is in the process of verifying which cases qualify as war crimes. The country will institute a transitional justice tribunal and truth commission in the coming months following the selection of judges. The UN also removed more than 7,000 weapons from demobilization zones where former FARC guerillas handed their arms over under the peace deal. Governments in the Caribbeanstrengthened pressure on Europe to pay reparations for human rights violations committed during the transatlantic slave trade, and included Norway and Sweden in their list of countries to be held accountable. Nurses of the Canadian Association of Perinatal and Women’s Health in Canadaare working to seek justice for the hundreds of Indigenous women victims who were forcibly sterilized in Canadian hospitals in the 1970s, and to raise awareness about health care discrimination against Indigenous women specifically. Ottawa also announced its first Indigenous court, which is meant to address the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in Canada’s criminal justice system. In Argentina, four former federal judges in Argentina were sentenced to life in prison for crimes against humanity committed during the country’s last dictatorship
AsiaThe International Commission of Jurists urged reform in Nepal’s transitional justice measures in a discussion paper focused on the inclusion of victims and human rights organizations. Likewise, the budget for rehabilitation allotted for more than seven hundred kamaiya families in the country reportedly failed to utilize 120 million of its rupees or reach just land compensation, but government officials are working on special programs to settle the freed communities. An International Crisis Group report revealed that Tamil speaking women in Sri Lanka are still seeking truth and justice for wartime human rights violations, and that little has been accomplished to reach reconciliation among communities. Aung San Suu Kyi encouraged national dialogue and the inclusion of the military in Myanmar’s move to civilian rule at the Forum on Myanmar Democratic Transition. Meanwhile in the country, women continue to struggle to have their voices heard in peace processes, and are building a rights movement to access full participation.
EuropeA court in Kosovoruled to detain Agim Sahitaj for committing war crimes against Kosovo Albanian civilians in 1999. The proposed Albanian language law in Macedonia that came from the country’s 2001 Ohrid peace accord and would extend the use of Albanian throughout the region, is set to appear before parliament for adoption soon. The initial releases of the approximately 6,000 men and women held in the Omarska detention camp in Bosnia in 1992 was commemorated on the sixth of August, and victims and other civilians honored those who died under the command of the Bosnian Serb forces. Polanddemanded compensation from Germany for World War II damages, claiming that the country has failed to take full political, moral, and financial responsibility.
MenaFollowing protests, Tunisia‘s parliament delayed voting on a bill that calls for amnesty for former public officials accused of corruption during the rule of president Ben Ali. President Michel Aoun of Lebanonvisited the historic region of Chouf to celebrate the 16th anniversary of reconciliation between Christian and Druze communities in Mount Lebanon that facilitated co-existence following the country’s Civil War. German prosecutors arrested a 29-year-old man from Syria for alleged war crimes that he committed with the Islamic State after he joined in 2014.
One of many tweets by journalists and commentators about Hafez Al-Assad’s ranking at the Math Olympiad in Brazil. | Credit: @AASchapiro
Assad’s Son, Math Competitions, and Solving the Syrian Nepotism Equation
On July 17, Hafez Al-Assad, the son of Bashar Al-Assad, participated in the International Math Olympiad competition in Brazil as a member of the Syrian national team. Hafez scored last on the team and received one of the lowest rankings in the entire Olympiad competition. Syrian commentators were quick to ridicule his scores, but their commentary overlooked how Hafez gained admission on the team in the first place. There are no available details about the qualifying process, but one simple answer is that, as the son of the President, Hafez had priority to enter the prestigious competition – a practice of nepotism so common in Syria that many overlooked it. Syria has a long history of nepotism within its government and economic institutions. As a form of institutionalized corruption, nepotism must be addressed during Syria’s transition to ensure that government is ethical, impartial, and representative of all Syrians.
Nepotism is the use of power to provide jobs or other opportunities to unqualified or undeserving family or friends – a form of corruption because officials use public office for private gain. While there is no international standard for combatting nepotism, there are some international instruments that provide guidelines and principles. For example, Article 25(c) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) states that citizens have “the right and the opportunity” to access public service roles “on general terms of equality.” Moreover, Articles 7 through 9 of the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) encourages countries to create systems to prevent conflicts of interest, institute codes of conduct for public officials, and establish objective criteria for issuing government contracts.
Countries have adopted these principles into their national frameworks in various ways. Some countries include anti-nepotism and conflict of interest provisions in their constitutions. Such is the case in Article 26 of Colombia’s constitution. Other countries maintain ethical standards or codes of conduct to establish clear guidelines for public officials. While codes are important to set standards, the difficulty is often in upholding those standards in practice. For example, Jordan adopted a code of conduct for public sector employees that was a positive step towards implementing UNCAC, but the Jordanian government has struggled to fully operationalize it among all bureaucratic agencies.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
MALE, Maldives – The Maldives is planning to carry out its first execution since the mid-1950s. The last execution in the country was carried out during the British colonial rule which ended five decades ago.
As the Maldives government plans to carry out its first execution in 60 years, many human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International, Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network, and Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development have expressed concerns about the recent decision. These organizations have sent a letter to President Abdulla Yameen about human rights violations. According to these organizations, three prisoners who are on death row did not receive fair trials.
Currently, Hussain Humaan Ahmed, Ahmed Murrath, and Mohammed Nabeel are believed to be at risk of execution. All three were convicted of murder since 2009.
In 2014, Mr. Yameen’s administration reintroduced the death penalty. After the military coup removed then president Mohamed Nasheed, Mr. Yameen’s government worked towards restoring the death penalty in the Maldives.
The South Asia director for Amnesty International, Biraj Patnaik, stated that the talks of executions were a “feeble attempt to look tough and distract attention” from the current political climate against the president.
The United Nations Human Rights Committee has been working to stop the Maldivian government from conducting planned executions. In their recent letters, the committee stated that “should your government go ahead with the executions, it would violate Maldives’ obligations under international law, including to protect the three men’s right to life.”
By: Sara Adams Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe
ROME, Italy – Nongovernmental aid group Doctors Without Borders has suspended work in Libya due to threats by the Libyan Coast Guard.
The Italian Coast Guard’s rescue coordination center told Doctors Without Borders on August 11th about the alleged threats by Libya, saying that the threat poses a “security risk”.
After the notice, Doctors Without Borders decided to temporarily discontinue use of its largest rescue boat in Libyan waters because of an “increasingly hostile environment for lifesaving rescue operations.”
Many migrants are smuggled from Libya by human traffickers in small, dangerous dinghies. The Italian Coast Guard has worked with its Libyan counterpart over the problem. In July, Italy sent naval ships to Libya to help curb human smuggling across the Mediterranean.
The Italian government has been searching for solutions to the crisis for some time. One of these solutions has been by imposing strict rules on nongovernmental aid groups. The government has urged groups like Doctors Without Borders to agree to allow Italian judicial authorities to board their ships.
Another rule involves forbidding nongovernmental aid groups from entering Libyan waters without explicit authorization by the government.
Any group that does not abide by the rules may not be permitted to dock in Italian ports.
To an extent, it appears that the rules may have curbed a small part of the crisis. In July, the amount of Libyan migrants arriving in Italy was reduced to half of what it was prior. About 11,459 migrants from Libya arrived on Italy’s shores in July 2017. In July 2016, that number was at 23,522.
Doctors Without Borders has refused to sign on to Italy’s rules on rescuing off the Libyan coast.
But it is not the only group that has heeded governmental warning over Libyan threats.
After the announcement by Doctors Without Borders, a German nongovernmental aid group, Sea Eye, also decided to suspend rescue operations in Libyan waters.
“A continuation of our rescue work is not currently possible,” founder of Sea Eye, Michael Buschheuer, said in a statement. “It would be irresponsible towards our crews.”
Doctors Without Borders will continue to have medical personnel present on other ships. But their largest rescue vessel, the Prudence, will be out of commission.
PYONGYANG, North Korea – On August 6th, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to pass Resolution 2371 to impose new sanctions on North Korea. The resolution received 15 votes in the affirmative by the member states as North Korea continues to test its intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capabilities. North Korea’s actions are in clear violation of United Nations resolutions.
After difficult negotiations with China, Nikki Haley, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, stated that the newly imposed sanctions will cut North Korea’s annual export revenue by $1 billion. Ambassador Haley went further to state that the sanctions are “the strongest sanctions ever imposed in response to a ballistic missile test.”
Although China has protected North Korea in the past by using its veto power on the United Nations Security Council, Beijing voted in favor of the resolution. Liu Jieyi, the Chinese Ambassador to the United Nations, was also cautious of the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in South Korea by the United States. Both Russia and China have expressed their discomfort in THAAD and warned against disturbing the regional security.
The United States Secretary of State stated that the United States does not hope for a regime change in North Korea. As Secretary Tillerson attends the Association of Southeastern Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum in the Philippines, the conversation is expected to heavily focus on North Korea.
The ASEAN foreign ministers were divided on a proposal presented by the United States on suspending North Korea from the ASEAN Regional Forum.
Secretary Tillerson will be meeting with his Japanese counterpart and South Korean counterpart on Monday to discuss the issue further. The South Korea’s foreign ministry stated that “the three foreign ministers will share their assessments of situations caused by the series of provocations by North Korea and discuss necessary future countermeasures.”
By: Sara Adams Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe
BERLIN, Germany – Two tourists from China were arrested in Berlin on August 5th for giving a Nazi salute.
The two men were outside of the Reichstag, the German parliament building.
In Germany, using symbols affiliated with the Nazis is illegal. Modern applications of these laws are often used to curb the rise of “alternative right” (alt-right) movements in the country.
The tourists were released when their bond was paid. They still will face criminal proceedings.
Though years have passed, Nazism has become popular among the alt-right crowd all across the European continent.
In April 2017, a Dutch drugstore chain stocked “color by number” coloring books, one page of which produced a caricature of Adolf Hitler. The drugstore immediately made a public apology and withdrew the coloring books from the store.
And in Austria in February 2017, a man was arrested while he was dressed as Hitler. The man was visiting Hitler’s birthplace of Braunau am Inn. Glorifying Nazism is a crime in Austria as well.
Yet despite the sparse reminders of Germany’s horrible past, many continue to fight the current Nazi, or Neo-Nazi, movement.
A 70 year-old woman in late July spoke with news outlet Al-Jazeera about her anti-Fascist fight. She detailed her work on painting over and defacing any pro-Nazi street art she sees. The woman, Irmela Mensah-Schramm, has been doing this for three decades now.
Mensah-Schramm has been caught vandalizing before, and told by a judge to admit her charges and to promise to stop defacing property. But she held her ground, refusing to promise anything, and instead promising to not pay her fines for vandalizing.
Support of Nazism and Nazi ideals remains a crime in much of Europe. Yet the continent continues to see a rise in alt-right political candidates, some of whose values appear to coincide with the ideology of Nazism.
Violent crime against refugees and non-Western Europeans has also risen with the alt-right movement. Nearly 3,533 attacks on refugees or pro-refugee accommodations have been documented in Germany alone, as of 2016.
Of those, about 560 people were injured, 43 of those children.
By: Max Cohen Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
CARACAS, Venezuela – Sunday July 30th, 2017, Venezuela changed dramatically. As some protested, other Venezuelans voted in an election to create a Constituent Assembly, with the power to rewrite their country’s constitution, and perhaps most importantly, to oust the current opposition-led National Assembly. The election has since been deemed a fraud, and in the days since the new constituent assembly, the government of Nicolas Maduro have increasingly been engaging in increased unapologetically authoritarian acts.
According to the Venezuelan government, over 8 million people voted in the election, however an independent exit poll puts the turnout at half that number. Additionally, the company that makes the machines which were used in the election has publicly stated that the results were off by at least 1 million people. Two weeks prior, according to opposition leaders, around 7 million people voted in an unofficial referendum to keep the current constitution. Luisa Ortega Diaz, Venezuela’s now former attorney general, was fired by the Assembly in its first session on August 5th, 2017 after promising that she would investigate accusations of voter fraud surrounding the election.
The Venezuelan government has also jailed two critics of Maduro, opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez and veteran politician Antonio Ledezma. The two men have been accused of planning to flee the country and of violating their house arrests by making political statements and speaking to media. They were abducted from their homes in nighttime raids by security forces. Ledezma was released on August 4th, and placed back on house arrest. Additionally, two of the judges appointed by the National Assembly to an alternative Supreme Court have taken refuge in the Chilean Embassy and may seek asylum.
Protests and violence raged rampant in the streets during the election, with estimates of those killed in clashes with authorities ranging from 7 to 12 people. One of the candidates in the election was also killed in his home.
As of writing this article the Constituent Assembly has not yet dissolved the current National Assembly. Among the new leaders in the Constituent Assembly are Maduro’s wife and son. Opposition leaders in the National Assembly however, have pledged to remain in power regardless of what actions the Constituent Assembly takes, setting up the possibility of two governing bodies, each not recognizing the other.
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On June 29, 2017, the OPCW released its report on Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack which confirms that Sarin gas was used on April 4, 2017. However, the OPCW didn’t assign responsibility, as investigations regarding the identity of the perpetrator became part of the mandate of the Joint Investigative Mechanism which was established in accordance with Security Council Resolution 2235 that was adopted on August 7, 2015.