Syria Justice and Accountability Centre: Race to the Ballot Box – UN Must Learn from Past Mistakes, Avoid Pre-Mature Elections in Syria

SJAC Update | December 12, 2017
Syrians cast their vote in a controversial presidential election in 2014. Although the government claimed voter turnout was at 73%, many observers criticized the process and said the results were illegitimate. | Photo from Wikimedia

Race to the Ballot Box: UN Must Learn from Past Mistakes, Avoid Pre-Mature Elections in Syria

Last week, the eighth round of UN-sponsored peace negotiations between the Syrian government and the opposition began in Geneva. Leading the talks, Syria Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura prioritized discussion of elections. In March 2016, de Mistura had proposed an 18-month timeline for the election date, and the issue has continued to be on the top of his agenda. His emphasis on elections is likely a strategic one. Elections would symbolize a turning point in the conflict and signal that recovery is on the horizon. It would also lessen an overwhelming obstacle in the negotiations – who will lead in post-conflict Syria – by leaving the decision to the Syrian public. Despite these benefits, the Special Envoy should bear in mind lessons-learned from past transitional elections and avoid prioritizing a short-term win over adherence to best practices.

Some scholars argue the promise of early elections is vital to peace and democracy in post-conflict settings because they facilitate peace settlements, encourage international actors to contribute peacekeeping forces, and expedite democratization processes. But elections also carry a number of risks, particularly in unstable post-conflict contexts:

  1. Renewed violence: In transitional elections, security issues are a primary concern. Early elections in the absence of demobilization or disarmament efforts increases the likelihood that one side to the conflict will reject the results and return to armed conflict. This is especially true when there is no means of power-sharing and government institutions have not been rebuilt. In 2010, a presidential election in Côte d’Ivoire descended the nation into a renewed civil conflict after losing candidate Laurent Gbagbo refused to cede power and forces loyal to each candidate took up arms.
  2. Inaccessible ballot locations: Insecurity and violence will also prevent voters from going to the polls. Moreover, some 11 million Syrians have fled their homes since the war began. Ensuring that displaced peoples have a safe, confidential, and practical means of voting will require resources, infrastructure, and coordination with states that are hosting refugees. Without security at ballot boxes or an opportunity for the displaced to vote, the results of any election will be skewed and seen as illegitimate.
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


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War Crimes Prosecution Watch: Volume 12, Issue 20 – December 11, 2017



Michael P. Scharf

War Crimes Prosecution Watch

Volume 12 – Issue 20
December 11, 2017

James Prowse

Technical Editor-in-Chief
Samantha Smyth

Managing Editors
Rina Mwiti
Alexandra Mooney

War Crimes Prosecution Watch is a bi-weekly e-newsletter that compiles official documents and articles from major news sources detailing and analyzing salient issues pertaining to the investigation and prosecution of war crimes throughout the world. To subscribe, please email and type “subscribe” in the subject line.

Opinions expressed in the articles herein represent the views of their authors and are not necessarily those of the War Crimes Prosecution Watch staff, the Case Western Reserve University School of Law or Public International Law & Policy Group.




Central African Republic

Sudan & South Sudan

Democratic Republic of the Congo



Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)

Lake Chad Region — Chad, Nigeria, Niger, and Cameroon





Rwanda (International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda)





Court of Bosnia & Herzegovina, War Crimes Chamber

International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

Domestic Prosecutions In The Former Yugoslavia



Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia

Special Tribunal for Lebanon

Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal

War Crimes Investigations in Burma

Israel and Palestine





North & Central America

South America


Truth and Reconciliation Commission



Gender-Based Violence

Commentary and Perspectives


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Syria Deeply: Diplomacy and deadlock in Syria; Moscow declares end of ISIS and partial withdrawal of Russian forces

Syria Deeply
Dec. 12th, 2017
This Week in Syria.

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

As part of our Deeply Talks series, Syria Deeply will host a live 30-minute conversation with Rami Khouri, senior public policy fellow at the American University of Beirut, and Maxim Suchkov, editor of Al-Monitor’s Russia-Mideast coverage, about the recent flurry of diplomatic discussions that aims to set the stage for a settlement to the near seven-year conflict. To RSVP and to receive dial-in instructions, click here. To submit questions for our editors or guests, email our community editor Kim Bode ( or tweet us @SyriaDeeply with the hashtag #DEEPLYTALKS.

Peace Talks: The Syrian government’s delegation returned to Geneva on Sunday to rejoin United Nations-sponsored peace talks, just a day before Kazakhstan’s foreign ministry announced that a new round of negotiations in Astana is scheduled to start next week.

Two-day talks in the Kazakh capital are expected to begin December 21, days after U.N.-sponsored discussions in Geneva are expected to end. The U.N. special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, previously said talks in the Swiss city would run until December 15, but as of Tuesday it remained unclear how long negotiations will continue.

The lead negotiator in the government’s delegation to Geneva, Bashar al-Jaafari, quit negotiations more than a week ago, and said that there would “be no progress” as long as the opposition did not reverse its call for the removal of President Bashar al-Assad before the start of a political transition.

As they have in previous rounds of Astana negotiations, representatives from Russia, Iran and Turkey are expected to attend the talks later this month. However, Iraq’s ambassador to Russia, Haidar Mansour Hadi, said on Tuesday that Baghdad would also like an invitation to Astana, according to Russian TASS news.

“I want to ask the Russian leadership to invite Iraq to attend the talks in Astana,” Hadi said in a meeting with Russian politician Konstantin Kosachev.

Putin’s Promises: President Vladimir Putin said he ordered a “significant part” of Moscow’s troops to begin their withdrawal from Syria on Monday, during a surprise visit to Russia’s Hmeimim air base near the coastal Syrian province of Latakia.

“The conditions for a political solution under the auspices of the United Nations have been created,” Putin said, according to Reuters. “Friends, the Motherland is waiting for you. You are coming back home with victory,” he said, according to the Associated Press.

Russia’s commander in Syria, Gen. Sergei Surovikin, said Moscow will withdraw “23 warplanes, two helicopter gunships, special forces units, military police and field engineers.” He did not specify how many soldiers and weapons would remain, but said it would be enough to “successfully fulfill the tasks” of stabilizing the situation in Syria, according to the Associated Press.

Putin has previously made similar statements but they did not result in a major or permanent withdrawal of Russian forces from Syria.

Moscow’s decision comes days after it declared the complete defeat of the so-called Islamic State in Syria. “There is not a single village or district in Syria under the control of [ISIS]. The territory of Syria has been completely liberated from fighters of this terrorist organization,” senior military officer Sergei Rudskoi told reporters.

Syria Deeply has not been able to independently confirm the absence of ISIS in every “single village or district” in the country.

Read our Daily Executive Summaries

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Women at the Forefront of Saving Syria’s Heritage

Syrian women at home and abroad are leading efforts to safeguard Syria’s cultural heritage and ensure that traditions are preserved in the wake of years of conflict and widespread displacement.



Eyes on Damascus: Exchange Rates, Financial Restrictions and Subsidized Fuel

As the Syrian government and foreign powers look to wind down the war in Syria, we are closely monitoring developments on the ground in the capital for our monthly report from Damascus.



Escaping Europe: Why Some Syrian Refugees Have Chosen to Leave

The route from Turkey to Greece was once crowded with Syrian asylum seekers fleeing to Europe. But in recent months some refugees have begun to move in the opposite direction because of what they describe as a rise in anti-Muslim sentiment in host countries.

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Community Insight



Conversations: Life as a Paramedic During ISIS’ Rule of Raqqa

Youmna al-Dimashqi,  Independent Syrian Freelance Journalist

For medical professionals in ISIS’ former stronghold of Raqqa, trying to save lives meant risking shelling, airstrikes and arrest.



Syria’s Largest Militant Alliance Steps Further Away From al-Qaida

Mona Alami,  Nonresident Fellow, Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East

The Hayat Tahrir al-Sham Alliance is distancing itself from hard-line al-Qaida loyalists in its latest attempt to reinvent itself as a pragmatic local player among the opposition, writes Levant researcher and journalist Mona Alami.



A Nation in Pieces: Views From Syrians in Exile

Sima Ghaddar,  Contributor, The Century Foundation

Syrians living in Lebanon, Europe and the U.S. reveal a common conviction that national unity and a common sense of identity are necessary to rebuild the country, but most say that both seem distant in a country divided along ethnic-sectarian lines.


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 email, Twitter or Facebook.

Miami Herald Publishes Investigation into Abuses of Florida Juvenile Justice System

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

MIAMI, Florida — On Tuesday, October 10, the Miami Herald published a series of the results of a 2-year long investigation into the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice’s history of abuses toward juveniles in their care.

The entrance to the Palm Beach Youth Academy in West Palm Beach, FL. Photo Courtesy of Emily Michot, Miami Herald.

This investigation was launched following the death of 17-year-old Elord Revolte, who was beaten to death by fellow detainees on August 30, 2015, and was at least the twelfth questionable juvenile detainee death since 2000.  The investigation examined a 10-year span of records ranging from incident reports, investigations, court cases, archived surveillance tapes and interviews with former inmates, their families, guards, and other staff members.

Allegations range from fights between the detainees set up by staffers for their entertainment (Palm Beach Juvenile Correctional Facility), to multiple counts of confirmed sexual relationships between staff and detainees, to a severe medical neglect of detainees.

Elord Revolte’s death was an instance of a ‘honey-bun hit’, where a staffer would offer a honey-bun—or some other kind of sweets, fast food, etc.—as a bounty in exchange for beating up the targeted inmate.  This food bounty would allow the staffers to avoid Abuse Hotline charges by turning detainees into enforcers in order to outsource discipline. The DJJ investigation estimates between 12 and 16 other detainees participated in the assault upon Elord.

According to the DJJ’s Investigation Report into the matter, Elord was placed on medical confinement for a “24-hour concussion precaution” following the August 30 assault. On the morning of August 31, he complained of a “crackling” chest pain and told a nurse that he needed to go to the hospital.  Around 4:45 p.m., Elord was taken by a nurse to the hospital in a state vehicle.  He was admitted to Jackson Memorial Hospital’s emergency room at 5:17 p.m. Elord Revolte died at 11:05 p.m., 30 hours after the assault as a result of a heart attack caused by his extensive internal bleeding.

Five juvenile justice officers were fired by the DJJ as a result of the investigation for poor performance, negligence, and failure to perform duties as assigned.

Following the publication of the Miami Herald series ‘Fight Club’, the Secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice Christina Daly, issued a press release stating:

“DJJ has not, does not and will not ever tolerate or condone mistreatment of children in our care. Staff who are not well intentioned to help transform the lives of our children have no place within this agency. Anyone who is found to have encouraged, enticed, or ordered youth to engage in fights or assault other youth is, and will be, held accountable to the full extent of the law, including criminal prosecution. We consistently work to identify, investigate and hold fully accountable any staff member who does not meet our high standards – both within DJJ facilities and with our contracted providers.”

According to the DJJ, one of their biggest problems is a 60% turnover rate for entry-level officers due to low pay.  Other issues include inadequate background checks that result in the hiring of personnel with a history of violent and sexual abuses, as well as a tolerance for cover-ups.   However, in a presentation to the Senate Criminal Justice committee, Secretary Daly stated that the “crime rate among Florida youth has dropped by 37 percent since 2010, and the state has also seen a sharp drop in the number of children arrested or placed in DJJ custody,” and that the arrest rate for girls dropped by more than half.

The Miami Herald reports that over the past 10 years, “DJJ has investigated 1,455 allegations of youth officers or other staffers failing to report abusive treatment of detainees— or, if they did report an incident, lying about the circumstances. That’s nearly three times a week.”

For more information, please see:

Miami Herald – Despite challenges, Florida’s juvenile justice system continues to improve – 10 November 2017

Florida Politics – Juvenile Justice Secretary talks ‘Fight Club’ during Senate presentation – 23 October 2017

Miami Herald – Juvenile justice chief defends agency, calling abuses ‘isolated events’ – 23 October 2017

Tampa Bay Times – Fight Club: Dark secrets of Florida juvenile justice – 11 October 2017

Florida Department of Juvenile Justice – Setting the Record Straight: Miami Herald Omits Facts, Ignores Reforms in Series Targeting DJJ – 10 October 2017

Miami Herald – Dark secrets of Florida’s juvenile justice system: A Miami Herald investigation – 10 October 2017

Miami New Times – After Herald Catches Prison Guards Running Child “Fight Clubs,” State Attacks Reporters – 10 October 2017

Miami Herald – 5 fired at Miami-Dade lockup where teen died in beat-down – 30 September 2015

Female Leaders Tackle Gender Equality at Summit in Iceland

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

REYKJAVIK, Iceland – Over 400 political leaders from around the world gathered in Iceland on Wednesday, November 28th to discuss gender equality.

Former President of Iceland Vigdis Finnbogadottir. Photo Courtesy of David Keyton.

The group, comprised mostly of female political leaders, convened to address barriers to progress in the quest for gender equality.

The summit, held annually, is sponsored by the Women Political Leaders Global Forum, an organization intent on increasing the number of female political leaders in the world, in collaboration with the Council of Women World Leaders, a network for female prime ministers and presidents.

The theme of this year’s summit was “We can do it!”, a reference to Iceland’s success in achieving gender equality.

Iceland is known for being a champion of gender equality. For the past nine years, the World Economic Forum has identified the country as having the smallest gender gap, with pay being a factor considered along with life expectancy and access to educational opportunities. Iceland has the highest employment rate of females worldwide, with 8 out of 10 women there employed.

Iceland was the first country in the word to elect a female president. In 1980, Vigdis Finnbogadottir defeated three male candidates.

There is a great disparity in the ratio of male to female political leaders in other parts of the world. Women make up only 7 percent of heads of state and comprise less than a quarter of parliamentary seats worldwide.

The pay gap is another topic of concern. The World Economic Forum’s most recent index suggests that under current trends it will take another 217 years for the pay gap to close between men and women. In Iceland, the pay gap is projected to close by 2022.

On November 20th, the European Union recommended a two-year plan to close the gender pay gap. The plan recommends sanctions for companies that do not provide equal pay as well as the monitoring of policies to ensure discrimination is not taking place.

On average, women earn 16.3 percent less hourly than men. This number has remained steady for the past five years.

In addition to addressing pay gaps and the lack of political diversity, the summit addressed the recent tide of allegations of rampant sexual harassment throughout the world.

“That kind of behavior, which is now deemed widely unacceptable, has been one of the barriers to women getting ahead,” said New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark. “Lots of sectors — parliaments, film industries and others — are having to face their past and say, ‘We are going to do it better.’”

While strides have been made in terms of achieving greater gender equality, proponents believe there is much left to be done. At the summit, Finnbogadottir received an honorary award at and addressed the crowd.  “Gender equality has changed tremendously in Iceland since then but we still got some ways to go,” she said.

For more information, please see:

Reuters – EU Proposes Two-Year Plan to Close Gender Pay Gap – 20 November 2017

The Guardian – Only 23% of the World’s Politicians are Women. It’s Time for That to Change – 29 November 2017

Press Herald – Iceland Summit Stresses Gender Equality in Politics – 29 November 2017

The Washington Post – Women Leaders Tackle Gender Equality at Iceland Summit – 29 November 2017

The New York Times – A Man Among Female Leaders: ‘The Risk of Mansplaining Is Very High’ – 2 December 2017

Business Day: Dutch businessman convicted of Liberian war crimes arrested in Cape Town

Picture: ISTOCK

Picture: ISTOCK

The Hague — A Dutch businessman, convicted in April of selling weapons to ex-Liberian president and warlord Charles Taylor, was arrested in SA on a Dutch warrant, officials said on Friday.

“Blood timber” trader Guus Kouwenhoven was sentenced as an accessory to war crimes for providing arms to Taylor’s government in violation of a UN embargo. He has been living in Cape Town and had refused to return to the Netherlands for trial, citing health problems. He was not present at the trial.

Dutch prosecution spokesman Bart Vis said Kouwenhoven would appear before a judge in SA on Friday and a court there would rule later on the Dutch extradition request.

Known in Liberia as “Mister Gus”, Kouwenhoven ran two timber companies from 2000 to 2003 and used them as cover to smuggle arms, according to the Dutch court that sentenced him to 19 years in prison in April 2017.

At the time, Liberia was in the grip of a civil war between then president Taylor’s government and several rebel factions. Liberia’s string of conflicts since the 1990s left an estimated 250,000 people dead. Thousands more were mutilated and raped, and all sides in the conflict used child soldiers.

Taylor stepped down in 2003. He was arrested in 2006 and, in 2012, sentenced to 50 years in prison for aiding and abetting war crimes in neighbouring Sierra Leone by the UN’s Special Court for Sierra Leone.


Pope Francis Visits Myanmar as Rohingya Crisis Looms

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar – Pope Francis visited Myanmar for four days as the country deals with Asia’s worst humanitarian crisis in decades. At the Yangon sports ground, Pope Francis delivered his first public mass in the country. Tens of thousands of people gathered to listen to his speech where the Pope demanded “respect for each ethnic group.” In his homily, Pope Francis talked about forgiveness and ignoring the desire to revenge.

Pope Francis travels to Myanmar for a four-day trip before heading to Bangladesh to meet with Rohingya refugees. Photo courtesy of Lauren DeCicca.

However, during his trip, Pope Francis did not publicly speak about the persecuted Muslim minority. The authorities believe that as many as 620,000 have fled to Bangladesh to avoid persecution in Myanmar. During his homily, he did not directly reference violence against the Rohingya.

The recent events in Myanmar has led the international community to accuse the country of ethnic cleansing. In Myanmar, the term Rohingya is rejected, and the people are labeled as “Bengalis.”

Although many Rohingya activists did not blame the Pope directly, they voiced their concerns to his advisors who appeared to have persuaded the Pope to avoid bringing up the Rohingya issue in a public setting.

On Wednesday, November 29th, in response to many criticisms, a papal spokesman stated the moral authority of the Pope “still stands.” He further stated that people can “criticize what is said or not but the Pope is not going to lose any moral authority on this question here,” referring to the Rohingya crisis.

Whether the Pope should address the Rohingya issue has been debated fiercely within the Vatican. Among many voices, the most vocal was Charles Maung Bo, Myanmar’s first cardinal. He has been very vocal about defending the Rohingya and condemned those who have persecuted them. However, before the Pope’s visit, he advised the Pope to refrain from using the word.

Pope Francis is scheduled to fly to Bangladesh where he will meet Rohingya refugees on Thursday, November 30th.

For more information, please see:

ABC – Pope heads to Bangladesh with Rohingya crisis looming large – 29 November, 2017

BBC – Pope in Myanmar: All or nothing for the Rohingya – 29 November, 2017

The Guardian – Pope Francis disappoints Rohingya by failing to condemn persecution – 29 November, 2017

Mosquitos still a risk to Brazil public health

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — Although the number of Zika cases have dropped significantly, Brazil’s public health is still threatened as summer approaches. Outbreaks of Zika, Dengue fever, and Chikungunya fever are all possible in the coming warmer climate.

The larvae of the mosquito Aedes aegypti. Image Courtesy of Eduardo Knapp.

All three of these diseases are carried by the same bug, the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is endemic to Brazil. The Zika outbreak received the most attention in 2015. The world watched as mosquitos plagued the country and created tragic stories of malformations in babies of infected women. Although Dengue and Chikungunya fevers were not in the spotlight, they were spread by the same mosquito and caused a record 800 deaths in Brazil that same year. Most of these deaths occurred in the impoverished northeast region where urbanization grows rapidly. In total, these mosquitos infected approximately 4 million people in the country.

However, statistics show that Brazil has seen some improvement since then. Only 16,800 new cases of Zika were reported from January to November in 2017. This is compared to the 214,100 cases during those months in 2016. Similarly, the number of cases of Dengue fever and Chikungunya fever also fell by 83.7% this year.

Despite these positive trends, at least 357 Brazilian cities are still at risk of a renewed outbreak. These cities are considered at risk because larvae from infectious mosquitos were found in more than 4% of properties visited. In comparison, 2,450 cities were found to be a satisfactory situation where mosquito larvae were found in less than 1% of property. The Northeastern area has the highest number of cities at risk. Scientists expect outbreaks in the upcoming summer because conditions are conducive for mosquitos to thrive. They warn that the most common type of breeding site for these mosquitos are storage areas of water in drums, barrels, and vats.

Of the diseases, Dengue fever is the most dangerous and can be lethal in its hemorrhagic form. Chikungunya can lead to chronic joint problems as well. As the mildest of the three diseases, Zika still poses severe risks because of its effect on pregnant women. When women are infected during gestation, their fetuses can develop malformations such as microcephaly. Microcephalic newborns’ brains do not develop properly and are left with smaller than normal heads. This can lead to intellectual disabilities, poor motor functions, and several other issues.

One example of mosquitos’ ability to spread disease comes from the Acre State in Brazil. For decades, residents lived in the perfect climate for mosquitos, yet there were none to be found. In 2000, it got its first case of Dengue, and only ten years later there were 35,000 cases. Studies link this sudden infection to commercial development. Researchers wrote, “the landscape changes that occurred in the last decade have created favorable conditions for the establishment of dengue virus transmission.” New roads and airstrips provided jobs and economic advancement, but also more mosquitos and hosts for the virus. The increase in human movement caused their capital Rio Branco to go from classification as “dengue-free” to “highest risk” by the Brazilian Ministry of Health.

For more information, please see:

Folha De S.Paulo – Brazil Has at Least 357 Cities at Risk of a Renewed Aedes Linked Outbreak – 29 November 2017

Xinhua Net – Outbreak risks remain in summer though Zika cases down 92 pct in Brazil – 29 November 2017

NPR – Why a Brazilian State Went From 0 Cases of Dengue To 35,000 A Year – 28 November 2017

ICFI – Brazil cuts science budget amid mounting yellow fever threat – 8 November 2017

Egypt sentences 16 men to three years for ‘debauchery’

Matthew Sneed
Impunity Watch Reporter, The Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt – A court in Cairo sentenced sixteen men to jail because of their identification as gay. Each received a three-year sentence for being found guilty of “inciting debauchery” and “abnormal sexual relations.” Fourteen of the convictions were handed down on November 26, with two more following on the next day.

Egypt began a cracking down on LGBT activities following the waving of the rainbow flag at a concert in September. Photo courtesy of Rainbow Egypt

Al-Ahram, a newspaper owned by the Egyptian government, reported that police raided an apartment in Cairo in September. At the apartment, they found the men in “indecent positions” and alleged that the men were engaging in prostitution with other men. “The defendants denied being homosexuals,” reported the paper. The prosecution ordered that the suspects be subjected to medical examinations to determine if they had committed homosexual acts.

The arrests have been part of an increased crackdown on the LGBT community in Egypt following an incident where a rainbow flag was waived during a concert in Cairo. The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) stated that at least seventy-five people have been arrested since the rainbow flag was raised on September 22. Of those arrests, ten are believed to be in connection to raising the flag while the rest stem from entrapment through dating apps. In addition, it was reported that at least 5 men received anal examinations.

While homosexuality is not a crime under Egyptian law, officials have used the 1961 prostitution law to charge people they believe engaged in homosexual activities. However, the Egyptian Parliament had proposed a bill that would make same-sex activity illegal. For the first time in the history of the nation, it would define “homosexuality.” Promoting or engaging in same-sex activities could lead to five years in prison and a combination of charges could result in a sentence of up to fifteen years. In addition, the publication of LBGT-friendly material would warrant a three-year sentence.

The U.S. State Department has expressed concerns regarding the actions of the Egyptian Government. One official stated, “We urge countries to uphold and respect their international human rights obligations and commitments,” said the official. “The United States will continue to engage on issues of universal human rights and democracy.”

On November 1, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) “urged Egyptian House of Representatives Speaker Ali Abdel Aal Sayyed Ahmed to publicly condemn the criminalization bill and the broader anti-LGBT crackdown.”

For more information please see:

BBC – Egypt jails 16 for ‘debauchery’ as LGBT crackdown continues – 28, Nov. 2017

Washington Blade – State Department reiterates concern over Egypt ant-LGBT crackdown – 28, Nov. 2017

Independent – Egypt LGBT crackdown: 16 men jailed for three years on ‘debauchery’ charges

Violent crime remains a major problem in Venezuela

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela – Violence in Venezuela has reached startling levels. While the country struggles with economic turmoil and political instability, violent crime continues to increase.

Soldiers stand on an armored vehicle in Venezuela. Image Courtesy of Ricardo Mazalan.

In the five-month period between May and September 2017, there were 520 cases of children and adolescents orphaned by violence in the nation’s capital. It is reported that every day, four children lose one of their parents due to acts of violence in Caracas.  The Victim’s Monitor project registry is consistently collecting information on homicides there. Its goal is to characterize crimes, identify patterns of violence and their consequences, and then use them to create public policies to reduce homicides. The “Instinto de Vida” (“Instinct for Life”) is Venezuela’s homicide reduction campaign.

Also during those five months, 755 people died violently in Caracas. Of those, 280 were parents. As a result, women and children are suffering in these violent municipalities. In many cases, it is the breadwinner of the family that is killed and leaves his family in even worse economic conditions. Many children are forced to leave school to find the resources to survive, often during to petty drug trafficking or prostitution.

Additionally, the prolonged grief is hurting society. One psychologist, Manuel Llorens, asserted that murder is more difficult to deal with than natural or accidental deaths, and that it “produces a mixture of pain, anger, impotence and resentment.” He also says that due to the psychosocial consequences, “the social fabric is broken, and spaces for coexistence and consensual solutions for common problems are reduced.”

For the families that do survive, Venezuela’s culture fosters a significant problem with violence against women. The issue is so common that Venezuela has implemented projects to raise awareness about the reality of violence against women. They encourage people to recognize it as a violation of human rights. Statistics show that the abuse of women extends to psychological violence as well as physical.

However, violence is not limited to civilians. Even soldiers have been ordered to avoid traveling at night and refrain from revealing their military IDs. A “radiogram” sent by Venezuela’s military was discovered that reflects concern over soldiers’ safety. In one of the most violent countries in the world, military personnel attract thieves rather than scaring them away.

One retired general, Antonio Rivero, confirmed, “This is a totally contradictory situation. The document admits that not even security officials, who should be armed … are safe in Venezuela.” It is estimated that 282 police, soldiers, guards, and other security personnel have been killed this year. In an effort to keep them safe, soldiers are ordered to avoid places of “dubious reputation,” avoid nighttime risks, and refrain from using cellphones while stopped at traffic lights.

For more information, please see:

Miami Herald – Crime is so bad in Venezuela that even soldiers were ordered to avoid driving at night – 28 November 2017

Stratfor – Venezuela: Why 2018 Will Be a Painful Year – 28 November 2017

InSightCrime – In Caracas, 4 Children Orphaned Every Day by Violence – 27 November 2017

Telesur – Venezuela Launches Campaign to Counter Violence Against Women – 1 November 2017

FIFA Advisers Warn Fans of Homophobia and Racism Ahead of World Cup Games

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia – FIFA’s anti-discrimination advisers are warning LGBTQ soccer fans that displays of affection at next year’s World Cup games could be met with violence.

In Sochi, Protests Against Russia’s “Gay Propaganda” Law Took Place at the Winter Olympic Games in 2014. Photo Courtesy of Tatyana Makeyeva.

Fare, an anti-discrimination organization that campaigns for equality in soccer, is partnering with FIFA to control fan behavior at the World Cup games next year.

Hate crimes against LBGTQ people in Russia have doubled since the country instituted a law banning “gay propaganda” in 2013. The law has thwarted gay pride marches and allowed gay rights activists to be detained. It is also believed to have incentivized and condoned violence against LGBTQ people.

Similar concerns were raised at the 2014 Winter Olympics Games in Sochi following the enactment of the “gay propaganda” law.

The legislation was deemed illegal by Europe’s top human rights court in June, but Russia says it will not honor the ruling.

“(Offenders) have become more aggressive and less fearful,” said Svetlana Zakharova, a Russian LGBT Network Board Member. “It seems to them that, to some extent, the government supports their actions. Many perpetrators openly talk about their crimes as noble deeds.”

Researchers say that the number of hate crimes that has occurred in the country in recent years is likely to be much higher than documented, as many crimes go unreported or are not investigated or prosecuted.

Homosexuality was decriminalized in Russia in 1993 but remained classified as a mental illness until 1999. Russia was ranked the second least-LGBT friendly nation in Europe, behind Azerbaijan, in 2016.

For the first time in FIFA’s 113 year history, the organization has added a human rights element to its statute.

“If there are any cases of abuse, or even possibility of human rights defenders or journalists being forced into a difficult corner, then according to our statutes and human rights policy FIFA will intervene,” said Federico Addiechi, Head of Sustainability and Diversity at FIFA.

FIFA and Fare will have crowd-monitors at the games. They will be on the lookout for displays of racism, political extremism and homophobia. Matches will be stopped or abandoned if such displays occur and persist.

Fare plans to administer cautionary guides to fans traveling to the tournament. The guides will include information about the current LGBTQ situation in Russia and will advise people to use caution when traveling in areas not considered to be welcoming to the LGBTQ community.

For more information, please see:

Reuters – LGBT Hate Crimes Double in Russia After Ban on ‘Gay Propaganda’ – 21 November 2017

Newsweek – Anti-LGBT Hate Crimes Double Since ‘Gay Propaganda’ Law in Russia – 23 November 2017

The Guardian – Gay Fans Warned Holding Hands at Russian World Cup Will be Dangerous

The New York Times – Ahead of World Cup, Fans Are Warned About Homophobia and Racism in Russia – 28 November 2017

NBC News – ‘Danger’ for Gay Fans at World Cup in Russia, FIFA Advisers Warn – 29 November 2017

Cambodia to Shut Down Cambodian Center for Human Rights

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

Phnom Penh – The Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) is a leading human rights organization in Cambodia. It was created in 2002 by Kem Sokha to promote International Human Rights Law and to provide free legal aid to victims. Kem Sokha is also the leader of the opposition party and was recently jailed by the Prime Minister.

On 26 November 2017, Prime Minister Hun Sen called for the Center for Human Rights to be closed down. He accused foreigners of creating the center to push their agendas. He went further to accuse the CCHR of taking orders from foreigners. Sen said that if the CCHR had been created by a person of the Khmer nationality there would be no issue with the organization.

Prime Minister Hun Sen. Photo Courtesy of Samrang Pring. 

The Center for Human Rights believes that this is just a stunt pulled by Prime Minister Hun Sen to hold onto power; however, acts like this just draw criticism from the Cambodian people. The director also feels that citizens do not believe the accusations as many people are in favor of the Western political alignment.

The Director put out an official statement that read: “CCHR calls upon the Royal Government of Cambodia to enter into a meaningful dialogue with CCHR representatives in relation to these allegations, in the firm belief that any misperceptions about the nature of CCHR’s work and neutrality could be clarified, and the matter resolved.”

The CCHR indicated that any neutral and impartial investigation would find no evidence of wrong actions.

For more information, please see:

 Human Rights Watch – Cambodia: Hun Sen Seeks to Shut Major Rights Group – 27 November 2017

Voice of America – Cambodian Rights Group Next in Long Line – 27 November 2017

Reuters – Cambodia’s Hun Sen calls for closure of rights group founded by rival – 26 November 2017

Former Trump Aide Accused of Conspiracy to Kidnap a US-Resident

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON D.C. — On Friday, November 10, the Wall Street Journal published an article stating that Retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn was allegedly involved in a plan to kidnap a US-resident Turkish dissident on behalf of the Turkish government in exchange for approximately $15 million dollars.

Retired Lt. General Michael Flynn served as national security advisor to the Trump administration for only 24 days before he was asked to resign. Photo Courtesy of Carolyn Kaster, Associated Press.

Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric who has resided in Pennsylvania since 1999, has been blamed by Turkish government officials for the failed coup against Turkish President Erdogan’s administration in summer of 2016.  Turkey has requested Gulen’s extradition under the US-Turkey extradition treaty for Mr. Gulen’s alleged role in the coup, but the Department of Justice has so far denied the requests.

Flynn’s company, Flynn Intel Group, was hired in August 2016 by a firm with ties to Turkish government officials to investigate Mr. Gulen and to present the results of the investigation in a short film.  While the film project was never completed, Flynn’s company received $530,000 in November, and Flynn himself wrote an opinion piece about Fethullah Gulen published on November 8, 2016, in The Hill.

In a mid-December meeting at the “21” Club in New York, Turkish officials allegedly offered Michael Flynn and his son, Michael Flynn Jr. approximately $15 million dollars to assist in the forcible removal and “extra-legal” extradition of Gulen to Turkey.  The alleged plan included discussions of transporting Gulen by private jet to Imrali, a Turkish prison island.  This meeting occurred after the Trump administration had named Flynn the next national security advisor.

President Trump asked for Flynn’s resignation as his national security advisor in mid-February 2017, twenty-four days after Flynn’s appointment.  Flynn also served for two months in 2014 as the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency before being dismissed by President Obama for insubordination after “failing to follow guidance from superiors.”

Flynn registered as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) on March 7, 2017, several weeks after his resignation as national security advisor.  Lawfare posits that at the time of his dealings with Turkish officials, Michael Flynn was no longer simply a private citizen lobbying in favor of a foreign government, and whose disclosure of dealings to the Department of Justice would comply with FARA.  Since Flynn had already been tapped to serve as national security advisor in the Trump administration, he was a public official “in transition,” and public officials are prohibited from acting as foreign agents under 18 U.S.C. § 219.

Not only was General Flynn an unregistered foreign agent during his dealings with Turkish officials, he received well over the $5,000 maximum for lobbyists, and if the allegations in the Wall Street Journal article are true, Flynn may be charged with conspiracy to kidnap.  Even if Flynn intended to instead use his position as national security advisor to return Mr. Gulen to Turkey by legal means, the fact that he was possibly offered $15 million dollars to do so may still constitute egregious felonious conduct.  Lawfare states the matter plainly: “It’s no more legal to take $15 million to use your influence as national security adviser to bring about an outcome than it is to kidnap someone.”

The New York Times notes that President Trump’s firing in March 2017 of Former FBI Director James Comey after Comey’s refusal to halt the investigations into Flynn led to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller. Robert Mueller has, in turn, led the investigation as to whether associates of President Trump colluded with Russian agents in their efforts to manipulate the 2016 US presidential election.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Flynn’s lawyers earlier had entered into a joint defense agreement with President Trump’s legal team that allowed them to share information surrounding Mr. Mueller’s investigation that would otherwise be subject to attorney-client privilege.  As of November 24, Michael Flynn’s lawyers stopped cooperating with White House attorneys defending the President in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Flynn’s decision to end cooperation with the White House attorneys may signify that Flynn has entered into plea deal discussions with Mr. Muller’s team, which recently indicted Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, and George Papadopoulos—all three former campaign aides of President Trump.

JustSecurity has compiled a timeline of the Trump administration’s knowledge of the federal investigations into the relationship of Michael Flynn and Turkey.

For more information, please see:

The New York Times – A Split From Trump Indicates that Flynn is Moving to Cooperate With Mueller – 23 November 2017

Just Security – Turkey on Valentine’s Day: Did Trump Obstruct Investigation of Flynn as a Foreign Agent? – 17 November 2017

CNN Politics – WSJ: Muller probes Flynn role in plot to deliver cleric to Turkey – 11 November 2017

The Guardian – Ex-Trump aide Flynn investigated over plot to kidnap Turkish dissident – report – 10 November 2017

Lawfare Blog – What to Make of the Latest Story About Flynn and Gulen? – 10 November 2017

The Wall Street Journal – Mueller Probes Flynn’s Role in Alleged Plan to Deliver Cleric to Turkey – 10 November 2017

The Wall Street Journal – Accused Turkish Cleric Assails President on Anniversary of Coup Attempt – 14 July 2017

NY Daily News – Michael Flynn, Turkish officials secretly discussed removing exiled Muslim cleric from U.S. – 24 March 2017

The New York Times – Michael Flynn Was Paid to Represent Turkey’s Interests During Trump Campaign – 10 March 2017

Associated Press – Flynn, fired once by a president, now removed by another – 14 February 2017

Syria Deeply: Walk-outs in Geneva, Israel strikes near Damascus, and ‘catastrophe’ in Eastern Ghouta

Syria Deeply
Dec. 5th, 2017
This Week in Syria.

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

As part of our Deeply Talks series, Syria Deeply will host a live call next week, examining the recent flurry of diplomatic discussions aimed at setting the stage for a settlement to the nearly seven-year conflict. Keep an eye on your inbox this week for the invitation. 

Peace talks: The eighth round of peace talks opened in Geneva last Tuesday, and by Friday, the Syrian government delegation had quit, saying they would not return without a change in the opposition’s stance toward President Bashar al-Assad.

Chief government negotiator Bashar al-Jaafari said there would be “no progress” as long as the opposition did not reverse its call for the removal of Assad before the start of a political transition. The opposition High Negotiation Committee (HNC) adopted this position two weeks ago during their own talks in Saudi Arabia, where they had hoped to form a stronger, more unified front before heading to Geneva.

In a televised interview with the pro-government al-Mayadeen TV, Jaafari later said the government would not engage seriously in peace talks if the statement was not revoked, and said the decision on whether or not to resume negotiations this week was in Damascus’ hands.

The previous day, U.N. special envoy Staffan de Mistura told reporters that negotiations could run until December 15.

Israel strikes Syria: Israel again threatened Syria over Iran’s presence in the country, saying it would not tolerate Iran-backed forces along its border.

Israel fired missiles toward Damascus on Saturday, reportedly targeting a military site near the capital, according to CNN. Syria’s air defense system intercepted two Israeli surface-to-surface missiles but others caused material damage to the military position, according to state-run SANA news agency.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the missiles targeted an arms depot near al-Kiswa town south of Damascus, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. It was not immediately clear whether the Syrian army, Lebanese Hezbollah or other Iran-backed forces operated the warehouse.

“Let me reiterate Israel’s policy,” Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the Saban Forum, an annual gathering of American and Israeli leaders in Washington hosted by the Brookings Institution.

“We will not allow that regime [Iran] to entrench itself militarily in Syria, as it seeks to do, for the express purpose of eradicating our state.”

Damascus suburbs: Despite being a so-called de-escalation zone, the Eastern Ghouta area in the Damascus suburbs has been under heavy bombardment for more than 20 days. At least 192 people, including 43 children, 21 women and four members of the Civil Defense, have been killed since November 14, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

“There has been massive loss of life – hundreds and hundreds have been wounded,” special United Nations humanitarian adviser for Syria, Jan Egeland, said, describing the situation as a “catastrophe.”

“In general, there is no calm in this de-escalation zone. There is only escalation in this de-escalation zone,” Egeland said.

Amnesty International claimed the Syrian government used Soviet-made cluster munitions – which 100 countries have banned – in the Eastern Ghouta, killing at least 10 civilians since November 14.

What’s more, a crippling siege has left as many as 400,000 people trapped in the rebel-held area without access to health and basic living necessities.

Read our Daily Executive Summaries

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Upcoming coverage

For our readers in New York, please join us December 6 for News Deeply’s event Advancing Civilian Protection: Human Rights in Times of Upheaval or share this with friends and colleagues in the area.

You Might Be Able To Get Away With Murder In Part Of Yellowstone National Park

By: Sarah Louise Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

YELLOWSTONE PARK, U.S. – There is a little known fact about Yellowstone National Park that has captured the interest of many people around the country. Michigan State University law Professor, Brian Kalt, published a paper called “The Perfect Crime” which details how you can potentially get away with murder in a 50 square mile section of Yellowstone National Park in Idaho. Kalt writes that he has always wondered how there was a “forgotten constitutional provision, combined with an obscure statute, that together make it possible for people in the known to commit crimes with impunity.”

Kalt calls it the “zone of death.” It is created by a legal loophole. Before Montana, Wyoming and Idaho became states, Yellowstone National Park was founded in 1872. Although the majority of the park sits in Montana, there are portions that lie in both Idaho and Wyoming. As a national park, Yellowstone falls under federal jurisdiction. Kalt points out that the District Court which hears the issues in Yellowstone National Park sits in Wyoming. This is true despite the fact that Yellowstone also has land in those two other states. Thus, unlike any other District Court in the United States, the District of Wyoming includes land of other states. The zone of death is the 50 square miles of Yellowstone National Park that sits in Idaho.

Yellowstone National Park’s Idaho territory has been given the title “Zone of Death.” Photo Courtesy of the National Park Foundation.

If someone commits a murder in that section, they are automatically tried in Wyoming. However, the Constitution states that trials should be held in the state where the crime was committed. So, someone may demand the trial be held Idaho. Once there, a local jury would be called to serve on the case. But there is no one who lives in that 50 square mile section of Yellowstone in Idaho. Because that section is federal land, no one is allowed to live there. Unless the murder approves of the trial being held in Wyoming, the trial cannot be held at all.

“The courts may or may not agree that my loophole exists, and in any case this Essay is not intended to inspire anyone to go out and commit crimes,” Kalt concludes. “Crime is bad, after all – but so is violating the Constitution. If the loophole described in this Essay does exist it should be closed, not ignored. In sum, when Congress set up this park and admitted these three states, it made a mistake,” Kalt writes.

“Congress can be forgiven on the park side because Yellowstone was the world’s first national park, and there was no precedent.” He then adds that “But Congress should have known how to set up states, having done it forty times before.”

Kalt argues that there is a solid chance they could get away with murder using your Constitutional rights, but there are still other ways you could be punished.

“If the government could not prosecute you, your victims and their families could sue you. Of course, if they get wind of your Constitutional argument before you leave the scene of the crime, they could just give you a dose of your own medicine, administering vigilante justice with similar impunity.”

Currently, no changes have been made regarding this “loophole” for murder in Yellowstone National Park.

For more information, please see:

Forbes – ICYMI: You Can Get Away With Murder In Part Of Yellowstone National Park – 26 November 2017

Fox News – The Best Place to Commit a Crime in America? Yellowstone National Park – 22 November 2016

Vox – Yellowstone has a 50 Square Mile “Zone of Death” Where You Can Get Away With Murder – 29 October 2016

Vice – There’s a Section of Yellowstone Where You Can Get Away With Murder – 4 August 2016