By Sarah Purtill Impunity Watch Reporter, North America
WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. – On Wednesday, November 8th, the Senate progressed legislation that makes online sex trafficking more difficult. The legislation makes it easier to penalize operators of websites that allow for and facilitate sex trafficking. This piece of legislation is the most detailed form of action this year that will toughen regulation of internet companies. Major U.S. internet companies stopped opposing the legislation and so now it is moving forward. The legislation will amend a law that has been on the books for decades and has been considered a shield for internet companies.
The Senate Commerce Committee voted unanimously to pass the measure which gives states and sex-trafficking victims the ability to sue social media networks, advertisers and other companies online that do not keep such explicit content off their platforms. The measure amends Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. As it stands now, the act typically protects companies from liability for the activity of its users. Currently, the bill has bipartisanship support. Although, it needs to be passed by both Houses of Congress and signed by President Trump before it officially becomes a law.
Republican Senator Rob Portman, who co-authored the bill, known as the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act said, “This is a momentous day in our fight to hold online sex traffickers accountable and help give trafficking survivors the justice they deserve.” Many feel these changes are needed after concerns from how these platforms were used by Russia in the 2016 election.
Right now, more than 40 Senators co-sponsored the bill and Ivanka Trump has endorsed it. However, internet companies have long argued that the way the law stands now has allowed for innovation in Silicone Valley to thrive.
Surprisingly, the Internet Association announced their support for the bill last week following changes that were made to it. The Internet Association includes companies such as Amazon, Facebook and Google. The changes that were made stated that criminal charges would be based on violations of federal human trafficking laws and that the standard for liability would require a website to have “knowingly” assisted in facilitating human trafficking.
The opposition to the bill comes from Democratic Senator Ron Wyden who placed a hold on the bill. The Senator claims that if the bill is set before the Senate for a vote, as it stands, it favors large companies at the expense of smaller startups and “stifles innovation.”“After 25 years of fighting these battles, I’ve learned that just because a big technology company says something is good, doesn’t mean it’s good for the internet or innovation,” Wyden said in a statement. “Most innovation in the digital economy comes from the startups and small firms, the same innovators who will be harmed or locked out of the market by this bill.”
Additionally, dozens of civil liberties organizations said the bill places a threat on free speech online and harms small companies who do not have as many resources available to them to police their platforms for such use.
BEIJING, China – On Tuesday, November 7th, the Chinese government banned tourism to the North Korean capital Pyongyang. This order was issued right before President Donald Trump’s first official visit to China.
Based on numerous sources, Chinese tour groups based out of the border city of Dandong have been ordered to stop all trips to Pyongyang. The companies were also ordered to run only one-day trips to the North Korean city opposite of Dandong called Sinuiju. Previously, the Chinese tour companies were allowed to run three-day or longer trips to North Korea.
The government did not provide a reason for this recent ban. Although some believe that it is because there aren’t many people traveling to Pyongyang, many believe that it is connected to increasing sanctions against North Korea.
With 80 percent of all foreign visitors to North Korea coming from China, the experts believe that it will have an impact with the North Korean economy. Currently, tourism is one of few ways North Korea is able to earn hard currency. Moreover, a think-tank in South Korea has reported that tourism generates around $44 million in annual revenue for the North. In 2012, around 237,000 Chinese visited North Korea.
During his two-day trip to China, President Trump discussed with Xi Jinping on a number of issues. Most importantly, the two leaders discussed North Korea’s nuclear missile tests.
Earlier this year, the United States banned all travel to North Korea after the death of a 22 year-old student, Otto Warmbier. The University of Virginia student was held in North Korea for more than a year and died soon after arriving back to the United States.
By: Katherine Hewitt Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia
KABUL, Afghanistan – On 3 November 2017 Fatou Bensouda, a prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC), put forth a request to start an investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Afghanistan. Her investigation will focus on crimes committed since 1 May 2003 in Afghanistan as well as others linked to the armed conflict since 1 July 2002.
She completed a preliminary examination of the events in Afghanistan and believes that all requirements, stated in the Rome Statute, to develop a case are present. The analysis began more than ten years ago.
In order for a case to develop in the ICC, a prosecutor must bring forth a case with evidence to a Pre-Trail Chamber. After listening to the case and reviewing the evidence provided from the preliminary investigation, the ICC can approve or deny the request for a formal judicial investigation.
Bensouda identified three categories of actors that would be involved in ICC investigations. She believes abuses were committed by the Taliban, U.S. Soldiers/Central Intelligence Agency officials, and Afghanistan government officials. The Rome Statue, which governs the actions of the ICC, states that anyone can be prosecuted for crimes that happened within a country that signed the Rome Statue. Therefore, despite the U.S. not being a signatory of the ICC, U.S. officials could still be tried in court.
Human Rights supporters applaud this movement. Many crimes have gone unnoticed and unpunished in Afghanistan over the past 10 plus years. They hope that this investigation will shed light on what has been happening as well as bring justice to the victims.
BERLIN, Germany – Young refugees are being pushed into prostitution in Germany by the people hired to protect them, a new report finds.
A program by public broadcaster ZDF called “Frontal 21” ran in Germany on Tuesday, November 7th. The broadcast alleges that employees of security companies in Berlin are pushing refugees at accommodation centers into prostitution.
The security guards reportedly meet with refugees – including minors – in shelters and encourage them to take up prostitution. The guards earn commissions for each referral.
ZDF interviewed several security guards who admitted to the practice and indicated that young men are particularly vulnerable. One guard indicated that “they need to be of a certain age, attractive. From 16 years and up; the younger they are, the more expensive they are.”
Another guard responsible for the oversight of several shelters admitted to a network of pimps within the refugee homes.
Several refugees corroborated the guards’ statements. A 20 year-old Afghan migrant told ZDF that after his refugee application was rejected, he was approached by a security guard with an offer. He was told that “for sex with a woman you get €30, maybe even €40”. He stated that he had to earn money to survive but that “I’m ashamed of what I do.”
A social worker in Berlin interviewed by ZDF stated she has been monitoring the situation. She witnessed guards giving money to residents at a shelter and confirmed with the residents that prostitution is occurring.
Berlin’s Department for Integration, Labor and Social Affairs have advised that the allegations are being taken seriously and are under investigation.
“We have to take this very seriously, because it is totally unacceptable to exploit the material hardships that many refugees and migrants are in,” said Steffen Seibert, spokesman for the German government. “It would be morally reprehensible if they were forced into prostitution.”
The allegations against the guards come after the United Nations reported in September that 75% of youth migrants coming into Europe are victims of forced labor, sexual abuse, child marriage and other exploitation.
“If the allegations of security staff profiting from and driving refugees into prostitution are true, these would be very serious charges,” said Steffen.
The allegations come amidst concerns over how to accommodate migrants in Germany. Between 2015 and 2016, over one million refugees arrived.
Impunity Watch Reporter, The Middle East
SANAA, Yemen – On November 6, the Saudi military coalition announced that it would close all land, air, and sea ports to the Arabian Peninsula. The decision comes as the Saudis continue to fight the Houthi movement in Yemen. The coalition stated that the purpose was to slow the flow of arms to the Houthis from Iran.
Saudi Arabia accused Iran of directly arming the rebels, calling it, a “direct military aggression.” Tensions are also escalated after a ballistic missile was intercepted near the Saudi capital. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman said providing rockets to the rebels “may be considered an act of war.”
Nikki Haley, permanent representative of the US to the United Nations, believes that the missile could have been supplied by Iran. If true, then Iran would be in violation of two UN resolutions. First, Tehran is prohibited from buying, selling, or transferring weapons outside of the country without prior approval from the UN Security Council. Second, they are prohibited from selling weapons to Houthi leaders or their allies.
Despite the closure of ports following the missile strike, the Saudi coalition has said that humanitarian aid would be able to pass into Yemen under strict rules. However, some agencies have already experienced difficulties trying to enter the region. According to U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq, the UN was expected to have two flights into Yemen on November 6, but both flights were cancelled. “We are in touch with our counterparts and we’re trying to see whether we can get our normal access restored, and we’re hopeful that we will be able to continue our normal operations,” he said.
The Red Cross has experienced difficulties as well. They stated that their shipment of chlorine tablets had been blocked. The tablets are crucial to fighting cholera, a disease which affects about 90,000 people in the area.
Jens Laerke, Office for the Co-ordination for Humanitarian Affairs spokesman, said, “If these channels, these lifelines are not kept open, it is catastrophic for people who are already in what we have said is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis at the moment.”
The situation has grown increasingly worse for a country that primarily relies on imports for items necessary for survival such as food, fuel, and medicine. The UN reports that approximately seven million people in the country are “on the brink of famine.”
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By: Emily Green Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
CARACAS, Venezuela – Chile’s Foreign Ministry granted political asylum to one of Venezuela’s most prominent opposition leaders, Freddy Guevara. He has taken refuge in the Chilean ambassador’s residence.
The Ministry said in a statement that “it had welcomed congressman Freddy Guevara as a guest, in line with Chile’s humanitarian tradition.” Mr. Guevara, 31, is the vice-president of Venezuela’s National Assembly. He has been accused of instigating violence during opposition protests, and asks for political protection because he feels there are imminent threats to his security.
Mr. Guevara arrived in Caracas On November 4 with his girlfriend to take refuge with the Chilean embassy. This concluded a suspenseful 24-hour period in which vehicles belonging to the Sebin intelligence police surrounded Mr. Guevera’s home and forced him into hiding. Mr. Guevara is currently in the ambassador’s residence which is located in an exclusive country club neighborhood with walled-in estates and a golf course. There was no sign of activity at the refuge the following morning.
The Supreme Court of Venezuela is calling for Mr. Guevara’s arrest on allegations of inciting unrest and violence during months of anti-government protests. The National Assembly’s president, Julio Borges, claims President Maduro’s government is behind the court’s ruling. Several other key opposition members have been prosecuted, jailed, or stripped of their political rights since Maduro was elected in 2013. Mr. Borges stated, “Venezuela is hungry for food, but also freedom, justice and dignity.”
The government-stacked Supreme Court barred Mr. Guevara from leaving the country and has called on the Constitutional Assembly to strip his immunity from prosecution. The Constitutional Assembly was recently created to replace the National Assembly and is filled with pro-government members. President Maduro has given the Constitutional Assembly virtually unlimited power. However, law says that the opposition-controlled National Assembly should be the one to determine whether a legislator should lose constitutional immunity. This attempt to shift power away from the National Assembly and prosecute one of its leaders demonstrates Maduro’s effort to tighten his grip on power.
Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza spoke on behalf of the government and labelled Guevara a coward. He tweeted, “some people are brave when it comes to inciting violence, destruction and death, but when justice is done, they run away in shameful cowardice.” Other government authorities also publicly mocked him for taking refuge in the embassy.
The United States has denounced the pro-government Constitutional Assembly for taking his immunity. Mr. Guevara was often on the front lines of protests demanding early elections, humanitarian aid to alleviate hunger, freedom for imprisoned dissidents, and respect for the National Assembly.
By Sarah Purtill Impunity Watch Reporter, North America
WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. – The Davis family wanted to add to their family by adopting a child. After being in contact with Debra Parris of The European Adoption Consultants (EAC), Jessica and Adam Davis were told about a little girl named Mata. EAC said that Mata’s father was deceased and that her mother was severely neglecting her. The EAC informed the Davis family they had to decide quickly if they wanted to adopted Mata and so they quickly adopted her.
As Mata’s English improved, the Davis’s learned more about Mata’s mother. The way Mata spoke of her mother did not reflect what the Davis’s were told. Jessica Davis then became suspicious. After a skype call between Mata and her mother, Jessica’s suspicions were confirmed. During the skype conversation, Mata’s mother revealed it was not her intention to give up Mata for good.
Instead, Mata’s mother explained how she was tricked into giving Mata up. Mata’s mother had been told that Mata would be given a great educational opportunity if she was sent away. Her mother was also told that Mata would one day return and that her mother would always be a part of her life. Mata’s mother unknowingly signed away her parental rights when she thought her daughter was being given a once in a life time experience.
When Jessica and Adam realized the information they had been told by the EAC was not true, they realized they had to reunite Mata with her mother. Jessica Davis contacted the U.S. State Department for guidance on how to proceed with the situation. The State Department told Jessica, “you can just keep her if you want.” She responded with, “I didn’t purchase her at Walmart.” Jessica was fearful that if the government notified EAC, something would happen to Mata’s mother. After a three-year journey, and $65,000, Mata was returned to her mother.
The Davis’s were crushed by this experience. They wanted to adopt a child as it was in line with their religious beliefs. Adam said, “We unwittingly placed an order for a child. The only trauma this poor kid ever experienced was because we essentially placed an order for a child.” The Davis’s had filed paperwork to vacate Mata’s adoption and the Ugandan government gave Mata’s mother her parental rights back. Jessica and Adam both believe that other Ugandan children like Mata are being trafficked without the American families who were “adopting” them being aware.
CNN investigated these claims and found that children were being taken from their homes in Uganda. Their mothers were being promised the same thing Mata’s mother was being promised, an educational opportunity for their children. The children were then placed in orphanages and sold for as much as $15,000. CNN also discovered that multiple families had been tricked by EAC. EAC was an adoption agency started by Margaret Cole. Cole started the adoption agency after she lost her child to SIDS.
EAC has been responsible for placing more than 2,000 children from overseas in homes across America since 1991. The agency continued to grow and handled adoptions from countries around the globe. CNN states, “tax records from 2000 to 2015 show that EAC reported more than $76.1 million in revenue and more than $76.3 million in expenses over that period.” In 2004, several families raised questions about their adoptions through EAC in story for Cleveland Magazine. Cole claimed back then that she had a “radar” for the shady businesses involved in adoptions but now stories like the Davis’s shows that this clearly is not the case. CNN has also been unable to locate Cole to receive commentary on CNN’s investigation.
EAC has been shut down by the State Department for 3 years. Since the shut down, the FBI has raided the building and taken away materials. The Ohio attorney general’s office filed suit in June to have the adoption agency ended for good. The EAC “failed to adequately supervise its providers in foreign countries to ensure” that they didn’t engage inthe “sale, abduction, exploitation or trafficking of children,” according to the State Department. The Ugandan government shut down the orphanage that Mata had been placed in. In a letter to CNN, they said the orphanage had been closed for “trafficking of children,” “operating the children’s home illegally” and “processing guardianship orders fraudulently.”
A study done by the Ugandan government and sponsored by UNICEF in 2015 revealed that Ugandan parents were being deceived and bribed with financial incentives and orphanages were often complicit. The orphanages did not always verify information about children’s histories before putting them in the orphanage.
Mata’s story is similar to that of Violah. At 7-years-old, she was adopted by Stacey and Shawn Wells. Like the Davis’s, the Wells were coerced into making a decision quickly on whether or not they would adopt Violah. They paid EAC about $15,000 for the adoption. Violah lived with the Wells family for a year and during that time, they too saw inconsistencies with the adoption agencies story. They were told that Violah had been abandoned. But the longer Violah was with them, the more they learned how her mother took her to church and cooked dinner with her.
Violah also spoke about the day that she and her sister were taken away from their mother. After hearing Violah’s story, Shawn went on a Facebook page for the group Reunite. The page shared a post about a mother whose children were taken away from her against her will. Stacey knew that the woman in the post was Violah’s mother. The Wells thought they were adopting an orphan, but instead, Stacey says, “she was made an orphan.”
The Wells wanted to reunite Violah with her mother like the Davis’s reunited Mata with her mother. Stacey and Shawn reached out to Reunite’s Riley who told the Wells that Violah’s mother was lied to. She had been told Violah would get an education in America. It’s the same lie the traffickers told Mata’s mother. Violah’s mother had four children taken from her and she has only been reunited with two of them.
Violah and Mata are from the same village in Uganda. They have become friends since their return home. Mata’s mother said she was “very, very, very happy” that Mata has been returned to her. Violah’s mother also said she was “very happy and very grateful.” Now that the girls have been reunited with their mothers, they have kept in touch with the Davis and Wells families. The girls have blossomed since returning home.
By: Emily Green Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
LIMA, Peru –Peru’s Miss Universe Pageant broke from tradition in early November and dedicated the stage to raising awareness for gender violence. Instead of the standard answers, participants gave hard-hitting statistics about femicide that plagues their country.
The opening segment of Sunday night’s Miss Peru 2018 contest presented an unexpected set of figures to the audience. The time came for contestants to reveal their most intimate measurements on stage including bust, waist, and hip size. One woman responded, “my name is Camila Canicoba and I represent the department of Lima. My measurements are: 2,202 cases of murdered women reported in the last nine years in my country.” Each participant answered in the same way, offering horrific statistics about violence against women in place of their measurements. Another woman offered, “my measurements are: the 65 percent of university women who are assaulted by their partners.”
The pageant organizers later explained that the protest was planned. As each woman spoke, images of brutalized women and newspaper clippings about femicide killings flashed across the enormous screen. Pageant organizer and former beauty queen Jessica Newton sees the event as an opportunity to empower women. In a country with an appalling record for gender violence, the pageant is an effective way to reach the country. The program concluded with a question and answer portion where women were asked how they would change the legal code to better protect women.
Latin American beauty pageants are sometimes criticized as sexist and patriarchal in their portrayal of women. Many are quick to criticize the pageant for maintaining a swimwear segment where contests pose in bikinis. However, pageant supporters disagree. They argue that they should be treated with respect regardless of what they are wearing. Newton responds, “if I walk out in a bathing suit I am just as decent as a woman who walks out in an evening dress.”
Gender violence is an escalating problem in Peru, but awareness is growing. One of the most widely publicized cases was that of Lady Guillen. After showing photos of her bruised face that spanned all the way back to 2012, the judge decided that there was not enough evidence to prove her life was in danger. Her ex-boyfriend was released after only four years in prison. This case, along with many others, sparked the women’s rights campaign in Peru. In August, more than 50,000 people took part in a march in the capital, Lima, to protest the lenient sentences given to perpetrators of violence against women. The movement has continued under the slogan #NiUnaMenos (Not One Less).
The ultimate winner of the competition, Romina Lozano, said her “measurements were 3,114 female victims of trafficking that have been registered since 2014”. She also answered in her final question that she would “implement a database containing the name of each aggressor, not only for femicide but for every kind of violence against women”.
Accordingly, Human Rights Watch released a report that around 700 women were murdered in Peru between 2009 and 2015. Also, more than 50% of Peruvian women will experience severe domestic violence in her lifetime. These startling statistics make the #NiUnaMenos movement even more crucial.
[Jennifer Trahan is an Associate Clinical Professor at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University.]
As Jens Ohlin has written, a highly awaited verdict came out Wednesday, November 22, sentencing Ratko Mladic, former commander of the Main Staff of the Bosnian Serb Army (VRS), to life in prison for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed from 1992-1995.
The verdict was not unexpected given Mladić’s lengthy trial, and that his involvement as commander of the troops who committed the Srebrenica massacre was recorded on well–known news footage. Wire intercepts of his communications were until recently hanging on display on the walls of the Potočari memorial near Srebrenica, in the former battery factory that had also housed UN peacekeepers.
This high-level verdict is an extremely significant one for the ICTY. Mladić was convicted of:
genocide and persecution, extermination, murder, and the inhumane act of forcible transfer in the area of Srebrenica in 1995;
persecution, extermination, murder, deportation and inhumane act of forcible transfer in municipalities throughout Bosnia;
murder, terror and unlawful attacks on civilians in Sarajevo; and
hostage-taking of UN personnel.
The only count of which he was acquitted was the “greater genocide” theory—genocide in additional municipalities in Bosnia in 1992. The verdict is subject to appeal, as is the sentence.
These were extremely brutal crimes with large numbers of victims—over 8,300 alone in and around Srebrenica, over 13,000 in Sarajevo, after a multi-year campaign of sniping and shelling its citizens. The ICTY’s proceedings were extensive, thorough, (and lengthy). Trial commenced in May 2012, and according to the ICTY, there were 530 trial days, 592 witnesses, and nearly 10,000 exhibits introduced into evidence.
While the verdict is coming late in the day no doubt for some victims and their families (for example, 22 years after the Srebrenica massacre), this is not entirely the ICTY’s fault. Mladić spent nearly 16 years on the run, and was only captured and sent to The Hague in 2011.
Well-done trials of international tribunals also take time, particularly when so many victims and so many crimes are involved. Funder states often complain about the high costs of international trials, but these costs pale in comparison to peacekeeping expenditures that might have been required had high-level perpetrators not been indicted and apprehended. And, if one measures the number of crime scenes involved or number of victims whose crimes were adjudicated, then costs seem not nearly as high. States’ representatives and tribunal critics who make these cost arguments should reflect: would they really like to argue to remaining family members that justice for their loved ones is not worth it?
Victims may or may not feel some “closure” at this verdict. Complete closure is of course impossible, as no one can restore their loved ones. But hopefully surviving victims and family members of those who did not survive will take some measure of solace from the verdict.
As Marko Milanovic has written, denial of crimes and partial denial of crimes is still a pervasive problem among certain communities in the former Yugoslavia (particularly in Repŭblika Srpska and Serbia), and today’s verdict is not anticipated to change that. Yet, establishing the facts, hearing witness testimonies, and introducing documentary evidence is extremely significant in its own right, and helps create a solid record that makes denial harder, and perhaps will make it gradually less and less plausible.
Finally, the Mladić verdict can also give us hope for future prosecutions—that justice is sometimes delayed, but remains possible and one needs to remember this. For years (when I was a junior attorney at Human Rights Watch) there was only an “arrest Mladić and Karadžić campaign,” and we had no idea if these two fugitives from justice would ever be apprehended. It took years of concerted pressure and economic leverage from the US and the EU, but the arrests did occur, and the trials did occur. So, as we look on as mass crimes continue today in other countries (such as Syria and Myanmar), and the geopolitical roadblocks to seeing any kind of comprehensive justice solutions, we should remember this long trajectory that the ICTY’s work took, and the need to stay the course.
Welcome to our weekly summary of Syria Deeply’s top coverage of crisis in Syria.
This week saw an unprecedented amount of diplomatic discussions aimed at setting the stage for a settlement to the nearly seven-year conflict in Syria. The uptick came ahead of the eighth round of talks in Geneva and the first Russia, Iran and Turkey-sponsored all-Syria congress aimed at bringing together representatives from the Syrian opposition, government and civil society.
We’ve rounded up what you need to know about Wednesday’s simultaneous but separate meetings between Moscow, Tehran and Ankara in Sochi and the Syrian opposition in Riyadh, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s discussions with several heads of state, including U.S. President Donald Trump, and the upcoming talks on Syria.
Assad Visits Russia: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met his Russian counterpart in the Black Sea resort in Sochi on Monday. Assad reportedly met with Russian President Vladimir Putin for three hours to discuss a possible settlement to the conflict in Syria.
“Regarding our joint operation to fight terrorists in Syria, this military operation is indeed coming to an end,” Putin said
Assad also spoke to Russian military generals during his surprise visit to Sochi. “I have conveyed to [Mr Putin], and on his behalf to the Russian people, our gratitude for Russia’s efforts to save our country,” Assad told the Russian generals. “In the name of the Syrian people, I greet you and thank you all, every Russian officer, fighter and pilot that took part in this war.”
The visit – believed to be the second time the Syrian president has left the country since the war began in 2011 – came just two days before the presidents of Russia, Iran and Turkey met in Sochi to discuss settling the conflict in Syria. Moscow had reportedly previously assured Iranian and Turkish leaders that it would “work with the Syrian leadership” to ensure any forthcoming agreement “would be viable.”
Syria On The Line: Putin and Trump then discussed a political settlement for Syria in a phone call on Tuesday. Putin reportedly informed Trump of the “need to keep Syria’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity intact,” according to Moscow’s statement. The two leaders reportedly stressed the importance of U.N.-led peace talks in resolving the Syrian conflict, according to a statement released by the White House. Putin also on Tuesday also discussed Syria with a number of other leaders, including Saudi king Salman, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Reuters reported.
Trilateral Talks In Sochi: The presidents of Russia, Iran and Turkey then met in the Russian resort town of Sochi on Wednesday to discuss a solution to the conflict in Syria.. Talks wrapped up on Wednesday evening with an agreement between the three countries’ leaders to hold an all-Syria congress aimed at “gathering delegates from various political parties, internal and external opposition, ethnic and confessional groups at the negotiating table,” Putin said.
“The militants in Syria have sustained a decisive blow and now there is a realistic chance to end the multi-year civil war,” Putin said, according to the Guardian.
An official source at Syria’s Foreign and Expatriates Ministry told state-run news agency SANA that Damascus welcomed the final statement from Sochi, “in light of the Syrian Arab Republic’s commitment to support any political step that respects the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Syria and contributes to sparing the blood of the Syrian people.”
The congress is expected to take place in early December and assemble 1,400 delegates from the regime, opposition, and civil society groups, Syria expert Sami Moubayed wrote in Gulf News. The opposition has yet to issue a statement about the Sochi agreement.
Opposition Meets In Riyadh: Parallel to the Sochi meeting, Syrian opposition representatives gathered for their own set of talks in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday. The opposition High Negotiation Committee (HNC) is hoping to form a stronger, more unified front ahead of the upcoming Syria peace talks in Geneva.
Wednesday’s meeting came two days after Riad Hijab, top HNC negotiation, announced his resignation, citing attempts to force the opposition to come to terms with Assad’s survival.
“With his resignation, Hijab preempted the Riyadh conference on Wednesday, which was planning to form a (new) HNC, elect a new head coordinator, and form a delegation to Geneva talks,” a senior opposition official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The rise of independent Syrian news outlets created more opportunities for women in the media, but many of Syria’s female journalists still face higher security risks than their male colleagues and rampant sexism in the workplace.
As Islamic State continues to lose territory in its major strongholds in Syria, activists and civil society organizations are leading deradicalization efforts, hoping ultimately to erase the militants’ ideological legacy.
Physicians for Human Rights program assistant Maram Haddad speaks to doctors and medical professionals in the Eastern Ghouta district outside Damascus about the devastating impact of the intentional use of siege and the lack of medical and food supplies in aid convoys.
As ISIS pulls out of eastern Syria, U.S.-backed forces will have to contend with stabilizing this territory. But without local allies, the security of SDF-held territory will be challenged, write journalist Omar Abu Layla and security expert Nicholas A.. Heras.
Syria Deeply’s expert community weighed in on how the capture of resource-rich territory from ISIS in east Syria could affect competition to control the country’s gas and oil and how it could impact the parties fighting ISIS.
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.
Rights groups are calling out the Dutch government for “inhuman conditions” in Dutch terror jails.
Amnesty International (Amnesty) and The Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) produced a sixty-page report that details inhumane treatment of those both convicted of and suspected of terror offenses in the country.
The allegations are focused on two maximum security jails, where detainees are held in special terrorism units, the De Schie prison and the New Vosseveld prison.
The report finds that inmates are typically held in individual cells for periods of 19 – 22 hours a day. When they are allowed out of their cells, contact is severely limited.
Both those convicted and not are subjected to routine and frequent “full-nudity body searches that are invasive and humiliating.”
Many inmates are hesitant to discuss private and personal matters with visiting family members due to strict audio and video surveillance and physical monitoring by prison authorities.
Prison officers often accompany inmates to medical examinations and are present in the rooms while confidential medical examinations are being conducted.
In compiling their report, Amnesty and OSJI conducted interviews with approximately 50 people, including 19 former detainees.
One of the problems with the system is that anyone who is awaiting trial for a terrorism-related crime is automatically placed in a terrorism unit, which allegedly “undermines their right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.”
Crime in the Netherlands has been on a steady decline since 2004 as a result of a focus on rehabilitation instead of punishment. As a result, prison conditions for those incarcerated for non-terror offenses have improved. However, as the report finds, the conditions in jails and prisons for convicted terrorists and terrorist suspects have deteriorated.
“Many of the measures routinely used in the terrorist units can unnecessarily isolate and humiliate people and as such violate The Netherlands’ human rights obligations,” Amnesty International Netherlands representative Doutje Lettinga said, “Even a person who poses no proven security threat can be held in one of the country’s harshest detention regimes.”
In response to the report, Dutch authorities have expressed willingness to make reforms. However, both Amnesty and OJSI do not think that the government’s plans adequately address the human rights concerns in the terrorism units.
Jonathan Horowitz, speaking for the Open Society Justice Initiative, said that “any reforms must be carefully designed and implemented to ensure maximum transparency and compliance with The Netherlands’ human rights commitments. Security measures must not be excessive or arbitrary.”
By: Katherine Hewitt Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia
BINJAI, Indonesia – The adoption rules and religious differences in Indonesia mix together to prevent providing children better lives. Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim nation with Hindu, Christian, and Buddhist religious minorities among other traditional religions.
There are several religious laws that prohibit freedom of practice of religion in Indonesia. The “Religious Harmony, Empowering Religious Harmony Forums, and Constructing Houses of Worship” decree is one such law. Religious forums must be created in each province favoring the religious majority in the area. It restricts constructions of houses of worship, requires a list of at least 90 attendees, letters of support from 60 people, and recommendations from the local religious forum. There is also the Blasphemy law, which sentences people to jail for 5 years for deviations from one of the 6 officially protected religions.
Religious laws even infiltrate into adoptions. A 2014 law states that, “Adoptive parents should have the same religion as the child.”
This came into contention when a Christian woman tried to adopt an orphaned baby. Indonesian law states that “In cases in which the origin of the child is unknown, then the child’s religion is conformed to the religion of the majority of the local population.” The child was to be assimilated into the Muslim faith not the Christian faith, thus the woman could not adopt the child.
Ida Maharani Hutagaol, a policewomen in Binjai found the child almost dead in a cardboard box . She was part of the team that brought the child to the hospital. Since then she had become attached to the child, visiting him frequently.
She had filed the paperwork, met the requirements for income, health, and family background. The child was even to be listed as her sole inheritor. However, the Social Service rejected her.
This law, while discriminating against religious beliefs, also hinders child development of orphans in Indonesia. It makes it difficult for qualifying homes and families to adopt abandoned children because they are assimilated into the Muslim faith. The child is still reported to be in the orphanage.
The Social Services report that if the policewoman is still interested in adopting a child it is easy to do so if she visits an orphanage of her faith.
By: Sara Adams Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe
BARCELONA, Spain – Several weeks after the controversial referendum for Catalan independence, the Spanish government has announced it will place direct federal government rule over the region.
This means that Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy will invoke Article 155 of the Constitution. Article 155 effectively deprives Catalonia of its autonomous status within the country.
Recently, the Spanish government asked the Catalonian government whether it was declaring independence or not. This move on October 20th comes after Catalonia failed to respond to Mr. Rajoy’s calls for talks between the two governments.
Carles Puigdemont, the leader of the Catalan government, was given until 10 o’clock a.m. on Thursday, October 19th to openly declare independence or not.
Subsequently, Mr. Puigdemont, through a spokesperson, told ABC News that he was ready to “show internationally how pacifist and open to dialogue Catalonia is.” The spokesperson added, “Spain refused to meet him in person despite the ongoing conflict.”
With the imposition of Article 155, the Spanish government now has the Constitutional authority to take administrative control of Catalonia.
This means a new election will be held, possibly in January, to bring in new regional leaders.
The Spanish government has told citizens to ignore local governmental directives, including law enforcement, until the new elections.
Several thousand protestors marched in the streets of Barcelona on October 21st in response to the decision.
Some Catalan parliament leaders are calling Mr. Rajoy’s move a “de facto coup d’etat.”
One of the leaders, Carme Forcedell, called Rajoy’s move an “enormous political irresponsibility” that “trespassed all limits.”
But the Spanish Foreign Minister, Anfonso Dastis, has asserted that this does not amount to a “coup.”
“If anyone has attempted a coup, it is the Catalan regional government,” Mr. Dastis said.
This is the first time Article 155 has been brought up since before Spain became a democracy. It has led some to fear for the future of freedom in the country, which was ruled by a military dictatorship between 1939-1975.
The last time Catalonia did not have autonomy was under the dictator’s rule between those years.
This has led to many fears over the future of Spanish democracy and control over Catalonia.
As tensions continue to rise, Catalonia will be under the authority of the government from Madrid until further notice.
Mr. Rajoy hopes to have elections within the next six months.