Afghan Military Units Accused of Child Rape Receive U.S. Aid

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

KABUL, AfghanistanIn a report released on January 18, 2018, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction noted ‘gross human rights abuses’ by the Afghan military. Several of these included child sexual assault, though the full scope of the sexual abuse is unclear as a result of a lack of resources and access.

Of a total of 75 incidents recorded from 2010-2016 by the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, “7 involved child sexual assault, 46 involved other gross violations of human rights, and 22 were classified at a level above Secret because of the sensitivity of the information or the sources and methods used to obtain the information.” However, the U.S. Military personnel reported 5,753 human rights violations for the same time span.

Afghan Military Units continue to receive U.S. Military Aid despite child sex abuse cases. Image courtesy of Ghulamullah Habibi.

The cases of child sexual abuse by members of the Afghan military frequently refer to widespread practice of bacha bazi (boy play), where underage boys are kept as sex slaves for Afghan commanders.

According to the Leahy Law, U.S. military aid cannot be given to foreign military involved in human rights violations. However, U.S. aid has continued to flow to the Afghan military despite the 5,753 reports and 75 confirmed incidents. Additionally, many of the U.S. servicemen have seen negative consequences (even death) as a result of reporting child rapes and sexual abuse.

How does the U.S. military evade the Leahy Law? There is a loophole called the “notwithstanding clause” that states the Afghan military should receive aid no matter what. In this manner, 14 Afghan units continued to be supported despite allegations of child rapes against them.

A U.S. Senate committee hopes that this report will be a step forward to closing the legal loophole.

For more information, please see:

The New York Times – Afghan Pedophiles Get Free Pass From U.S. Military, Report says – 23 January 2018

The Washington Examiner – Senate targets loophole Defense Department used to support Afghan forces accused of human rights abuses – 23 January 2018

The Washington Post – Pentagon and watchdog at odds over efforts to prevent sexual abuse of children by Afghan troops – 23 January 2018

Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction – (U) Child Sexual Assault in Afghanistan: Implementation of the Leahy Laws and Reports of Assault by Afghan Security Forces – 18 January 2018

The Guardian – US military fails to tackle sexual abuse of children by Afghan allies, report finds – 24 January 2018 

Myanmar and Bangladesh Agree to Repatriation Timeline

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar – With more than 740,000 Rohingya Muslims having fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh since October 2016, Bangladesh has been overwhelmed with refugees. An initial agreement between the two countries was signed in November of 2017, though an official implementation timeline was only recently established.

Image of Rohingya Refugee Camp. Photo Courtesy of Roger Arnold.

The agreement lays out that Myanmar will take 1500 Rohingya refugees back each week, with 300 per day and with all returning within two years. This begins on 23 January 2018.  However at this rate it will take closer to 10 years to repatriate all 740,000 refugees.   Bangladesh sees the goal of 300 persons each day as a starting point and hopes that the numbers will increase as time goes on. Bangladesh strives to send families back together as well as orphans and “children born out of unwarranted incidence.” This deal is only applicable to those who fled between the October 2016 violence and the latest round in 2017.

In preparation Myanmar plans to build two transport camps. One can accommodate up to 30,000 people.   Bangladesh will build 5.

As a result of the violence, 350 Rohingya villages burned down.   While Myanmar rebuilds, little attention is given to the Rakhine state. Myanmar’s foreign secretary U Myint Thu stated that there are plans to build new villages for the Rohingya. The plan is that “the returnees will build their homes by themselves.” It is a cash-for-work program in which the Myanmar government “will give them both money and jobs.”

The repatriation act is not without its critics. Little has been done to rectify the repression of Rohingya in Myanmar, and human rights activists are concerned that there can be no safe returns if grievances aren’t addressed. For a community leader in a Rohingya Refugee camp, the “first priority is, they have to grant us citizenship as Rohingya. Secondly, they have to give back our lands. Thirdly, our security must be ensured internationally. Otherwise, this is not good for us.” Restrictions on Rohingya movement have not been waived either.

The UN High Commission for Refugees encourages refugees to only return if they feel safe. The statement from the U.S. reads that the timeline was of less importance compared to the safety of the people. While the reparation is voluntary, most refugees say they will only return if their safety is assured, their homes rebuilt, and their land returned to them.

For more information, please see:

The BBC – Rohingya crisis: Bangladesh and Myanmar agree repatriation timeframe – 16 January 2018

Reuters – Bangladesh agrees with Myanmar to complete Rohingya return in two years – 16 January 2018

The Washington Post – Bangladesh, Myanmar aim to finish Rohingya return in 2 years – 16 January 2018

Syria Deeply: New Syria peace talks begin in Sochi, no cease-fire in Eastern Ghouta, and Turkey may extend Operation Olive Branch

Syria Deeply
Jan. 30th, 2018
This Week in Syria.

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

Sochi talks: The Moscow-sponsored “Congress of the Syrian National Dialogue” began in the Russian Black Sea resort city of Sochi on Monday. These are the first Syria negotiations to be held in Russia, though Moscow has previously led the trilateral talks in Astana.

U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura is attending the talks, where he is expected to lead a new constitutional commission that will be set up at the two-day Sochi talks, according to Reuters.

Last week, a Turkish official told Hürriyet Daily News that around 1,600 participants were expected to take part in negotiations, but a number of delegations have since said they would boycott the Sochi talks.

The Syrian Negotiation Commission – the opposition’s main negotiating bloc – said on Friday that it would not be attending the Sochi congress, AFP reported. Many other Syrian opposition groups have said they will boycott the congress. However, members of the Moscow platform, “a dissident faction of the opposition,” said it will attend, according to Al Jazeera.

Kurdish authorities have also said that they will boycott Sochi talks because of a continued Turkish assault on Afrin, according to Middle East Eye.

According to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, “The fact that some representatives of the processes currently taking place in Syria are not participating is unlikely to stop this congress from going ahead, and is unlikely to seriously undermine the importance of the congress,” he said on a conference call with reporters on Monday.

No cease-fire in Eastern Ghouta: After Syrian opposition reports of a cease-fire agreement in the Eastern Ghouta on Friday, fighting continued between pro-government and rebel forces over the weekend in the Damascus suburbs.

On Friday, a rebel official said that during recent U.N.-sponsored peace talks in Vienna, Russia said it would put pressure on the Syrian government to enforce a cease-fire in the area, Reuters reported. Damascus never acknowledged the cease-fire.

At least 23 aerial raids and 40 missiles targeted the city of Harasta and its outskirts and dozens of artillery and aerial raids targeted the city of Arbin on Monday, killing 34 civilians, including at least one child and one woman, in Eastern Ghouta, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. SOHR said on Sunday that government bombardment in the area killed eight people between then and Saturday.

Operation Olive Branch: Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan made repeated threats to expand Turkey’s ongoing operation against the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG)-controlled city of Afrin to other Kurdish-controlled areas of northern Syria.

On Friday, Erdogan said operations could extend eastward all the way to the Iraqi border, where the United States – Turkey’s NATO ally – has troops deployed. On Saturday, Turkey’s foreign minister called on the U.S. to withdraw its forces from Manbij ahead of a potential Turkish attack, but the commander of the U.S. Central Command, General Joseph Votel, told CNN on Sunday that withdrawing from Manbij was “not something we are looking into.”

Erdogan later said that “step by step, we will clean our entire border,” in a speech following one of the first significant gains Turkish troops and allied rebels made since Operation Olive Branch began nine days ago. On Sunday, they seized Mount Barsaya, which is located near the Kurdish town of Afrin and overlooks the town of Kilis on the Turkish side of the border and Azaz on the Syrian side.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that Turkish airstrikes between Sunday and Monday killed 13 people, including five children and three women, and injured another five, all from the same family in the village of Kobla in northeastern Afrin city.

On Friday, Turkish airstrikes damaged roughly 60 percent of the ancient Ain Dara neo-hittite temple, built by the Arameans in the first millennium B.C., in Afrin, according to the BBC. “The Turkish regime’s destruction of the Ain Dara Temple was a barbaric act, and a completion of the plan led by this regime to destroy the Syrian cultural heritage,” Mahmoud Hammoud, Syria’s director general for antiquities and museums, said, according to state-run news agency SANA.

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International Nuremberg Principles Academy: Launch of Lexsitus Open Access Online Service for ICL

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The International Nuremberg Principles Academy – in co-operation with the Centre for International Law Research and Policy (CILRAP) – is pleased to announce the launch of Lexsitus, a new online service to support the learning of, and work with, legal sources in international criminal law.

Lexsitus offers visually integrated access to lectures, commentary, case law, preparatory works, and digests, at the level of every article of the Statute of the International Criminal Court. This includes more than 230 subtitled lectures (with full-text searchable transcripts) by a diverse Lexsitus Faculty of 50 experts, including Klaus Rackwitz, Director of the Nuremberg Academy.

On its landing page you find a user-friendly audio-visual tutorial, and introductions by leaders in the field such as Prosecutors Serge Brammertz (Vice-President of the Advisory Council of the Nuremberg Academy), Benjamin B. Ferencz, Richard J. Goldstone, and Mirna Goransky, Judges Marc Perrin de Brichambaut and LIU Daqun, Professors Morten Bergsmo and Narinder Singh, and Dr. Alexa Koenig.

Lexsitus seeks to contribute to ongoing and future efforts to develop capacity in international criminal law and international human rights law. It is also relevant to our discussions on dissemination of international law, proper access to law and thereby access to justice.

You find more information about Lexsitus here. We invite you to explore this new open access service, which is now part of the global commons.

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Cultural Custom in Nepal Leaves Woman Dead

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

KATHMANDU, Nepal – On January 8, 2018, Ms. Gauri Bayak, age 21 of Nepal, was found dead inside a smoke-filled hut by her sister-in-law. She lived in a village in Achham, a western district of Nepal. She had been banished to sleep in a shed as a result of menstruation.

It is custom in Nepal to force women who are menstruating to sleep outside the house. The community sees menstruating women as impure, contaminating the home, and angering the gods. They are barred from touching food, men, cattle, and religious icons. Thus, they are excluded from the house and forced to sleep outdoors in small sheds or huts. This practice is known as chhaupadi. It is believed that not following this practice will lead to bad fortune such as death or sickness of family members or livestock.

Image of a Menstruation hut. Photo courtesy of Navesh Chitrakar.

These huts are often poorly insulated and unheated. During the winter temperatures can drop below freezing in Nepal, thus the necessity to build the fire that ultimately lead to Bayak’s death. Additionally, there have been reports of wild animal attacks on the women sleeping in these menstruation huts. Married women typically spend only a few days from home while unmarried women will remain away from home for a week.

The practice was officially banned in Nepal in 2005, but many remote villages still practice this ritual. In 2017, the Nepali government passed a second legislation that criminalized chhaupadi. As a result anyone caught to have forced a women to go through with chhaupadi will face three months in jail and a 3,000 rupee fine.

Traditions have been slow to change as chhaupadi is a deeply rooted religious and culture practice in Nepal. Aid workers have found success with reducing the number of days menstruating women spend secluded outside as well as with promoting the use of secluded rooms inside the home.

The district’s Women’s Rights official said that women’s families should ‘take responsibility and stop this practice’ to protect women’s rights.

 For more information, please see:

The Strait Times- Nepali woman sent to ‘menstruation hut’ dies of suspected smoke inhalation – 10 January 2018

The Guardian – Woman in Nepal dies after being exiled to outdoor hut during her period – 12 January 2018

Times of India – Nepali woman suffocates in ‘menstruation hut’ – 10 January 2018

Colombia swarmed with Venezuelan refugees

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CUCUTA, Colombia – Colombia reports that 550,000 Venezuelans have entered the country. Frustrated citizens in border towns protest and demand that the refugees be removed.

People trying to cross into Colombia from Venezuela through Simon Bolivar international bridge. Image Courtesy of Luis Parada.

On Monday, January 22, a protest in Cucuta between Colombians turned into a shoving match. The group was protesting the approximately 615 Venezuelans living in their area. They referred to the refugee’s shelters as “Hotel Caracas” and demanded that they be removed.

The Mayor, Cesar Omar Rojas, tried to reason with the crowd and asked for two days to implement a “progressive dislocation” for Venezuelans without the proper paperwork. He stated, “Whoever is undocumented has to leave the country. Whoever is here legally, with a passport, we will all look for a way for them to be transferred to another part of the country.”

Migration officials report that most of the Venezuelans in the country are there illegally. The government is under extreme pressure to care for this large number of migrants, and the number is only growing. One million Venezuelans have registered for a migration card which allows them to cross the border to purchase food, shelter, and medical care that they cannot get at home. In 2017, an average of 30,000 people used the card each day to find scarce goods.

Still, Colombia has given 126,000 refugees legal permission to stay. This includes the group of 69,000 who took advantage of humanitarian visas in July. Local Colombians say they are not against all Venezuelans, just the ones that come to the country to do harm. The border between Colombia and Venezuela has had troubles with smuggling and tension due to the price differentials.

Colombia’s finance minister, Mauricio Cardenas, confirmed that he would make an “urgent call” for aid at the upcoming World Economic Forum in Davos. Also, the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the UN will send more aid to Colombia to help with the increasing number of refugees. Migration flows out of Venezuela are reaching historic proportions as thousands of people cross the western border each day. Colombia has prepared for these waves with plans for refugee camps similar to those that house Syrian refugees in Turkey and Lebanon.

Cardenas remarked, “Colombia has adopted a policy of open arms to these migration flows to show solidarity. We have offered urgent medical attention and school places to all Venezuelans. This all comes at a cost, and Colombia has assumed that cost.”

For more information, please see:

UNTV – Uproar over uptick of Venezuelans at Colombian border – 23 January 2018

Breitbart – Over half a million Venezuelans migrate to Colombia amid humanitarian crisis – 23 January 2018

BBC News – Colombia says 550,000 Venezuelans have fled to the country – 19 January 2018

Curacao Chronicle – Exact Numbers Venezuelan Refugees According to the UNHCR – 21 December 2017

Syrian Rebel Forces Reject Peace Talks In Russia

Matthew Sneed
Impunity Watch Reporter, The Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria – On December 25, Syrian rebel forces publicly announced that they would not attend the peace talks in scheduled in Sochi in January. The approximately 40 rebel groups, including military factions who had previously participated in talks in Geneva, said Russia failed to put pressure on the Syrian government to end the conflict.

A rebel fighter pours tea away from the front lines of battle. Photo courtesy of Alaa Al-Faqir.

According to the rebels, Russia asked the group to cease calling for the resignation of Assad. The rebels released a statement in which they said “Russia is an aggressor country that has committed war crimes against Syrians. It stood with the regime militarily and defended it politically and over seven years preventing UN condemnation of [Syrian President Bashar] Assad’s regime.”

While Russia claims that its attacks are directed towards militants, both the rebels and residents claim that airstrikes have killed hundreds of civilians. In addition, they bombed civilian areas away from the front-lines of battle.

The rebels further stated that, “Russia has not contributed one step to easing the suffering of Syrians and has not pressured the regime that it claims is a guarantor by moving in any real path towards a solution.”

The Syrian national dialogue congress, which is scheduled for January 29 and 30, is also backed by Iran and Turkey. While Russia and Iran support the government of Syria, Turkey supports the opposition. Syrian officials said they would attend the talks and that they are open to the agenda of new elections and possibly amending the constitution. The main point of contention between the two sides centers around the fate of Assad. The opposition continues to call for his removal from power, a position that the government says it will not consider.

The rebels continue to express faith in the UN-led Geneva process, and have called on the global community to end the violence in the region. The Geneva talks began in 2014 but have made little progress since.

Another hurdle for the talks in Sochi is determining who else should be invited to the conversation. Turkey insisted that the Kurdish group know as the PYD should not be invited to participate. The PYD controls about 25% of Syrian territory and wants independent control from the other factions. While Kurdish officials will attend, Russia stated that it did not invite members of the PYD.

While multiple cease-fire agreements in regions across Syria brokered by Russia, Iran, and Turkey have reduced the violence, the government continues to fight in regions close to the capital. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights have determined that at least 20 people have been killed in airstrikes in southern Idlib since December 25.

For more information please see:

Boston Globe – Syria rebels, opposition reject Russia-proposed talks – 26, Dec. 2017

Reuters – Syrian rebel groups reject Russian-sponsored Sochi Conference – 25, Dec. 2017

The Guardian – Rebel group rejects talks on Syrian conflict hosted by Russia – 25, Dec. 2017

Ahed Tumimi awaits trial following arrest for slapping Israeli Officers

Matthew Sneed
Impunity Watch Reporter, The Middle East

ISRAEL– Ahed Tamimi, 16, is waiting to hear whether the Israeli Military Court will release her on bail, or if she will be required to remain in jail until her trail begins. Tamimi made headlines after she was arrested for slapping two Israeli solders who entered her yard.

Bassem Tamimi discusses his daughter’s actions as part of the “popular resistance” which takes place on nearly a weekly basis to protest Israeli occupation. Photo courtesy of Majdi Mohammad.

On December 15, a protest began in the West Bank Village of Nabi Saleh in response to President Trump’s declaration that the United States would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. This decision triggered multiple Palestinian protests. During the protest, Ahed’s fifteen-year-old cousin was severely injured by rubber bullets fired into the crowds by the military. When Tamimi saw two Israeli soldiers outside of her home, she confronted them and slapped the solders in the face. She was arrested on December 19 in the middle of the night.

The military is planning to “throw the book” at the teenage girl, “whose indictment includes a dozen counts of assault, incitement, interference with soldiers, and stone-throwing in incidents since April 1, 2016.” She now faces up to fourteen years in prison.

It is unlikely that Ahed will be released considering the military courts in the West Bank deny bail to children approximately 70% of the time. A 2013 UNICEF report found that most children plead guilty in order to be released. Children in military court proceedings are often not allowed the presence of their lawyers or parents during interrogations. It is possible that this trial could take months, as the prosecutor has listed eighteen witnesses he plans to summon.

Her story, told in both pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian papers, demonstrates the divide between the two groups. A Jerusalem Post op-ed stated that Ahed was being used for the “two components of the Palestinian war to annihilate Israel: terrorism and propaganda.” In contrast to this, an op-ed published on Monday by the Qatari-based Al-Jazeera described the Palestinian belief that “Ahed Tamimi is the Palestinian Rosa Parks.”

Ahed is not the only member of her family to protest against Israeli control. Her father, Bassem Tamimi, was an activist in the first Palestinian protests in the 1990s. These protests helped create the interim Israeli-Palestinian deals of the decade. Her family regular participates in what Palestinians call “popular resistance.” Palestinians gather on almost a weekly basis to protest Israeli occupation along the West Bank. Bassem said that he is proud of his daughter and her actions have resonated with the people because she is not “seen as the victim.” He further stated that “When you look at her, you feel proud, not sad.”

For more information please see:


Human Rights Watch – Israeli Prosecutors Throw Book at Palestinian Child Protestor – 14, Jan. 2018

Independent – Ahed Tamimi: 16-year-old Palestinian girl who kicked and slapped Israeli soldiers could face 14 years in prison – 9, Jan. 2018

AP News – Case against Palestinian teen spotlights her activist family – 9, Jan. 2018

Advocate General Supports Residency Rights for Same-Sex Spouses in EU

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

BRUSSELS, Belgium – In a major step forward for the European Union, an advocate general of the European court of justice said that residency rights should be accorded to all same-sex couples regardless of whether the member country legally recognizes same-sex marriages.

Clay Hamilton, left, and Adrian Coman fought for Hamilton’s residency in Romania. Photo Courtesy of Vadim Ghirda.

In an opinion published on January 11th, Melchior Wathelet, a European court of justice advocate general in Luxembourg, issued an opinion stating that gay spouses had residency rights even in member countries where gay marriage is not authorized.

“Although member states are free to authorize marriage between persons of the same sex or not, they may not impede the freedom of residence of an EU citizen by refusing to grant his or her spouse of the same sex, a national of a non-EU country, a right of permanent residence in their territory,” Wathelet said.

The European court of justice is the highest court in Europe. The court of justice still needs to rule on the case. Opinions given by advocate generals are non-binding, but they are usually followed by the court in full.

The opinion arose out of a case in Romania surrounding Arian Coman, a Romanian national, and his husband, Claibourn Robert Hamilton. The couple married in Brussels in 2010. A few years later they wanted to move to Romania from their residence in New York, but Hamilton was denied the right to residence there because he could not be classified as the spouse of Coman in the country. Romania does not recognize same-sex marriages.

In his opinion, Wathelet stated that the European Union was neutral on the gender of a spouse. Current law permits non-European Union spouses to move to the member nation of his or her spouse.

Coman and Hamilton are thrilled with the verdict. “Romanian citizens can’t be divided into good and gay. We can’t be treated as inferior citizens, lacking equal rights, based on prejudices that some have about homosexuality,” Coman said in a written statement.

Currently, 22 of the 28 member nations of the European Union either legally recognize same-sex marriages or have some protections in place.

“In view of the general evolution of the societies of the member states of the EU in the last decade in the area of authorization of same-sex marriage” recognition of marriage as “a union between two persons of the opposite sex” is no longer an appropriate categorization.

Legislation which would legally recognize same-sex marriages remains to be enacted in Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – EU top Court Told Same-Sex Spouses Have Residence Rights – 11 January 2018

The Guardian – Gay Spouses Have Rights in all EU Countries, Says European Court Official – 11 January 2018

The New York Times – Same-Sex Spouses Should Have E.U. Residency Rights, Court is Told – 11 January 2018

Reuters – EU Court Adviser Backs EU-Wide Recognition of Same-Sex Spouses – 11 January 2018

U.S. News and World Report – Gay Couples Merit EU Residency Rights, Court Adviser Says – 11 January 2018

Hunger drives Venezuelans to desperation

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela – As the economic crisis in Venezuela deepens, the hunger crisis grows. Impoverished citizens begin riots and fight through mobs to feed their starving families.

Venezuelans scavenge the polluted river for pieces of valuable metal. Image Courtesy of Ariana Cubillos.

To put the crisis in perspective, the opposition-controlled legislature reported that inflation rates topped 2,600 percent in 2017. Now, 81.8 percent of Venezuelan households are in poverty. Venezuelans suffer personal insecurity, food scarcity, medicine shortages, and money insufficiency which has driven 1.2 million people to leave the country. Pope Francis labelled this a humanitarian crisis.

Many struggling citizens have started to accept groceries in exchange for their services. To avoid spiraling prices, people are choosing to receive food for their work. One plumber explained, “I have to adjust to the situation. I ask my customers ‘What do you have in your pantry?’ when we are discussing my fees.

Additionally, looting has become a common practice throughout the country. The Venezuelan Conflict Observatory reported that 400 small protests and 100 instances of looting have taken place across 19 states. In a supermarket in Maracaibo, residents waited in line for hours to buy corn. When they were told that only members of pro-government community councils could make purchases, the line turned into a mob. Angry residents forced their way into the store to grab food before police arrived. Similar situations of mass looting occur all over the country. Trucks, food collection centers, and state-run supermarkets have all been victims.

The Bolivarian National Guard tries to keep order with gunshots and tear gas, but is having a difficult time. The situation is only getting worse as the minimum monthly salary is at US $5, barely enough for a kilogram of meat and a carton of 30 eggs. The government has subsidized a food program to send food to the poorest areas of the country and millions of families depend on them.

On January 11, hunger-driven Venezuelans turned their attention to farms. Groups of desperate citizens broke into a farm in Merida and dismembered about 40 cows for their meat. Videos on social media show men running around a pasture in pursuit of a cow and beating it to death. Ranchers have resorted to paying armed groups to secure their properties.

The coordinator of the Venezuelan Conflict Observatory states, “The desperation, impunity and serious humanitarian crisis that we are experiencing in Venezuela continues to deepen and is leading people to commit this type of crime.”

Correspondingly, poor Venezuelans have turned to the Guaire River in Caracas. Young men and boys search the polluted water for small pieces of metal which may earn them food for their families. The water acts as a sewer for the city’s waste and is known to be filthy. Desperate citizens are ignoring the health risks associated with the water. One native remarked, “As long as I can remember, the Guaire was this open sewage. It certainly seems to reflect the depth and extent of the desperation that this particular crisis has spawned.”

For more information, please see:

PanAm Post – Recent Wave of Looting Shows Extent of Hunger in Venezuela – 15 January 2018

Oil Price – Is Venezuela’s Oil Industry Bouncing Back? – 15 January 2018

Voice of America – Venezuelans Seek Treasure in Polluted River – 14 January 2018

Miami Herald – Hungry Venezuelans rely on work-for-food barter as economy spirals – 12 January 2018

Reuters – Food riots grip western Venezuela, mob reportedly slaughters cattle in field – 11 January 2018

Iceland Becomes First Country to Enact Mandatory Equal Pay Law

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

REYKJAVIK, Iceland – Iceland has enacted a new law that requires all companies and government agencies to pay men and women equally.

Iceland’s Parliament in Reykjavik. Photo Courtesy of Frank Augstein.

The legislation was announced by Iceland’s parliament, which is approximately 50 percent female, on International Women’s Day.

The new law, known as the Equal Pay Standard, requires that all companies with more than 25 employees obtain an official certification showing they provide equal pay for work of equal value. The law is not voluntary, as opposed to many existing equal pay laws currently in existence throughout the world.

In order to remain compliant, companies must analyze their salary structures every three years. The analysis must then be provided to the government for recertification. Companies not in compliance will face penalties including fines.

Iceland has been at the forefront of the push for wage equality. However, despite strides that have been made in recent years, gender pay gap problems have not been eliminated.

Demonstrations occurred in October 2016 to protest the wage gap. In one instance, thousands of women coordinated a walk-out from their jobs at a coordinated time of 2:38 pm. Women’s rights groups calculated this to be the time when women stopped being paid for equal work and began working for free.

Ms. Valdimarsdottir, one of the organizers of the walk-out, said “We have come a long way and we are in the forefront of gender equality in the world. But we are so far from having equality in Iceland.”

Iceland has maintained the best overall score on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report for the past nine years. This report measures wage differences between men and women in areas such as health, economics, politics and education in 144 countries. Iceland ranks 5th in the report for wage equality.

The law is largely supported by the general population in Iceland, with just 21 percent in opposition.

While critics say that the cost of audits will be expensive, many proponents believe that the law will be of greater benefit to society as a whole.  “This is a cost that… we decided that… would be of benefit to society and that was of more benefit than… saving companies money” said Brynhildur Heidar- OG Omarsdottir, managing director of the Icelandic Women’s Rights Association.

Iceland has vowed to eradicate the gender pay gap entirely by 2022.

For more information, please see:

CBS News – Women of Iceland are now Required to Earn Equal pay to men – 3 January 2018

The New York Times – Iceland Makes Companies Prove That They are not Paying Women Less – 3 January 2018

NPR – New Law in Iceland Aims at Reducing Country’s Gender pay gap – 5 January 2018

Murder of Human Rights Lawyer Sparks Protests in Kiev

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

KIEV, Ukraine – A well-known human rights lawyer and activist was murdered just days after helping to block an influential Ukrainian judge’s nephew from being released from jail.

A Photo of Iryna Nozdrovska Adorns her Coffin. Photo Courtesy of Efrem Lukatsky.

Iryna Nozdrovska’s body was discovered in a river by a passerby in Ukraine’s capital city of Kiev on January 1st. She had been stabbed multiple times.

Nozdrovska rose to fame in Ukraine for her role in preventing the release of the driver who ran down her sister while under the influence of drugs and alcohol in 2015.

Dmytro Rossoshansky was sentenced to seven years in jail this past May for the death of Svitlana Sapatanyska, Nozdrovska’s sister. Rossoshansky ran down Svitlana while she walked to work. He was found to be under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

Rossoshansky had served just eight months of his sentence before applying for amnesty. Nozdrovska spearheaded a public campaign to bring awareness to the case and help prevent Rossoshansky from being released. His application was denied in December.

Nozdroska received several death threats before and after the original trial as well as during the hearing on appeal this past December. Rossoshansky’s father told Nozdrovska at the appeal “this will end badly for you.” Nozdrovska was steadfast in her efforts despite these threats, and said of the case, “I will win…if it costs me my life.”

A rally outside the police headquarters drew hundreds of supporters on January 2 in Kiev in response to Nozdrovska’s murder. The protesters called for an investigation into her death.

Nozdrovska’s murder comes at a time when calls for reform in the criminal system have risen. A staggeringly low 0.5 percent of Ukrainians said that they trusted Ukrainian judges in a survey conducted in 2016.

Mykhailo Zhernakov, a former judge and the current director of a judicial reform group, Dejure, said, “It’s almost a cliché case, where a relative of a judge avoids punishment and the person who tries to fight this injustice is herself punished in the most horrible way.”

Corruption is deeply rooted in Ukraine’s court-system. Nozdrovska’s struggle for justice and ultimate victory for her sister became a symbol in Ukraine for the fight against corruption.

The governments’ response to the murder is “a test of our society’s ability to protect female activists and to ensure justice as a whole,” the Ukrainian foreign minister, Pavlo Klimkin said.

Despite her mother’s murder, her daughter, Anastasia Nozdrovska, is studying law at university in Kiev. “She always fought injustice in this country. She wanted me to be a fighter, too,” Nozdrovksa said.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Ukraine Murder Probe Over Lawyer Nozrovska’s Death – 2 January 2018

The Guardian – Killing of Lawyer Sparks Protests Against ‘Criminal System’ – 4 January 2018

The New York Times – In Ukraine, a Successful Fight for Justice, Then a Murder – 9 January 2018

NY Daily News – Funeral Held for Lawyer Found Stabbed in River – 9 January 2018

Irish Times – Ukraine Claims it has Caught Killer of Campaigning Lawyer – 9 January 2018

Department of Homeland Security Ends Temporary Protected Status for El Salvador

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON D.C.  — On Monday, January 8, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen M. Nielsen declared that El Salvador’s Temporary Protected Status (TPS) will end on September 9, 2019, affecting over 200,000 Salvadoran nationals residing in the US.  El Salvador has been part of the TPS humanitarian program since the 2001 earthquakes that significantly damaged the country’s infrastructure, and before that from 1990-1992 during its civil war.

El Salvador received Temporary Protected Status following the 2001 earthquakes that caused widespread damage across the country. Photo Courtesy La Prensa Gráfica, via Associated Press.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is a provision within the 1990 Immigration and Nationality Act to protect foreign nationals currently living in the United States by designating criteria upon which relief could be granted.

Prior to the implementation of the TPS program, the executive branch would designate certain countries for Extended Voluntary Departure (EVD), where immigration courts could exercise prosecutorial discretion to not pursue removal of nationals from those countries.  However, critics called the process too partisan and subject to political whims, citing the Regan administration’s failure to designate El Salvador for EVD during the civil war in the 1980s.

The program grants a temporary legal status—typically for a period of six to eighteen months—to migrants currently in the US who do may not qualify as refugees, but whose home countries are in some sort of crisis, such as civil unrest, wide-spread violence, or a natural disaster.  Applications have a $495 processing fee for the initial application as well as subsequent renewals. TPS beneficiaries may apply for a work permit and a driver’s license, and the TPS prevents their deportation.  According to the press release from the Department of Homeland Security, “the original conditions caused by the 2001 earthquakes [in El Salvador] no longer exist. Thus, under the applicable statute, the current TPS designation must be terminated.” However, the US government cited the pervasive gang violence as a factor for choosing to renew El Salvador’s TPS in 2016, and El Salvador remains one of the deadliest countries in the world with an average of 15 reported homicides a day.

Former Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly emphasized that TPS is ‘temporary’ after visiting Haiti in June 2017. Photo Courtesy Mark Wilson, Getty Images.

US foreign policy has itself severely impacted El Salvador’s current social climate.  During El Salvador’s civil war in the 1980s and early 1990s, the US government backed a repressive right-wing military regime that left 75,000 civilians dead and forced 2 million people to flee to the US.  In the mid-90s, the US began deporting Salvadorans en masse, including gangsters incubated with the US prison system who would then go on to form the Salvadoran branch of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13).  The rising gang violence began a new wave of refugees—primarily unaccompanied minors or women with their children—fleeing El Salvador for the United States.

Oscar Chacon, executive director of Alianza Americas—an immigrant advocacy group—said to Reuters, “Our (US) government is complicit in breaking up families — nearly 275,000 US-born children have a parent who is a TPS holder — and further destabilizing our neighboring countries.”

According to a 2017 report by the Center for Migration Studies, 51% of Salvadorans with TPS have lived in the US for more than 20 years, 34% have homes with mortgages and the majority of them live in California, Texas, New York and Washington DC.

Remittances to El Salvador from relatives abroad are at an all-time high and account for almost 20% of El Salvador’s GDP, while in 2016 the World Bank reported that economic growth had reached 2.4% and was the slowest growing economy of Central America.

El Salvador joins Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan as the fourth country in four months to lose its Temporary Protection Status.

For more information, please see:

Vox News – Thousands of Salvadoran TPS workers clean federal offices. Now their livelihoods are on the line. – 11 January 2018

The New Yorker – What the Salvadorans Being Kicked Out by Trump Face Back Home – 9 January 2018

Reuters – Salvadorans say going home not an option after U.S. axes protection – 9 January 2018

Vox News – Trump’s attacks on humanitarian immigration just became a full-blown war – 9 January 2018

The Guardian – US says 200,000 people from El Salvador must leave within 18 months – 8 January 2018

NPR – U.S. Ends El Salvador’s Protected Status, Affecting 200,000 Residents – 8 January 2018

The Intercept – Ignoring Violence in El Salvador, Trump Ends Years of Special Protective Status for Immigrants – 8 January 2018

The New York Times – Trump Administration Says That Nearly 200,000 Salvadorans Must Leave – 8 January 2018

Reuters – U.S. moves toward expelling 200,000 Salvadorans – 8 January 2018

The Washington Post – ‘We will lose practically everything’: Salvadorans devastated by TPS decision – 8 January 2018

Congressional Research Service – Temporary Protected Status: Current Immigration Policy and Issues – 17 January 2017

1,000 Danes Charged With Distribution of Child Pornography

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

COPENHAGEN, Denmark – Over 1,000 adults and teens are facing charges for distribution of child pornography in Denmark.

Danish Authorities are Charging Approximately 1,000 People With Distribution of Child Porn. Photo Courtesy of Dan Kitwood.

Authorities in Denmark have charged approximately 1,000 Danes with distribution of child pornography after a video depicting sex between two fifteen-year olds was shared online.

The Danish national police’s cyber crimes unit reported that all but eight of the individuals charged are under the age of 25. Several fourteen-year olds who distributed the video are being spared charges.

The video clips in question, one fifty seconds long and one nine seconds long, were distributed through the Facebook Messenger App. The videos were recorded in March of 2015 and depict two teenagers engaging in sexual acts.

The videos reportedly depict a girl being penetrated with foreign objects. The girl stated she consented to the sex but not to the video being recorded or distributed. In a 2016 interview, she stated, “I tried to forget that evening. I knew that it was filmed, but I didn’t realize they would think of passing the videos on to others.” She later stated that the video was used in order to blackmail her in to sending nude photos of herself to the individual who recorded it.

After the clip was posted to the live feed, Facebook contacted the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in the United States, who in turn contacted Dutch authorities.

Consensual sex between fifteen-year olds in Denmark is legal. However, the distribution of videos of teens engaged in sex violates Denmark’s child pornography laws. The minimum age for legal distribution of pornography is 18.

If convicted, those found guilty could face up to 20 days in prison. The conviction would remain on their records for ten years, during which time they could not become law enforcement officers or take certain positions working with children.

Mira Bech, a nineteen-year old who stated she saw the video and stored it, claimed “This will ruin my life. The world’s most ridiculous case. I couldn’t tell that the people in the video were under 18.”

The topic of explicit images being shared over social media without consent is not a new topic in Denmark. Emma Holten, who campaigns against bullying, said, “Four years ago, I would have felt sorry for them,” she said. “Back then you could have argued that they were not aware of that it was illegal, but today they know.”

For more information, please see:

CNN – Danish Police Charge 1,000 Young People With ‘Distribution of Child Porn’ – 16 January 2018

Newsweek – Child Porn Video Gets More Than 1,000 People Charged in Denmark for Sharing it – 16 January 2018

The New York Times – 1,000 Danes Accused of Child Pornography for Sharing Video of Teens – 16 January 2018

The Washington Post – Hundreds of Teens in Denmark Suspected of Sending Child Porn – 16 January 2018

Medical strike ends in Bolivia

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

LA PAZ, Bolivia — A nation-wide medical strike has come to an end in Bolivia after 47 days. The country’s doctors had ceased work in protest of the government’s new criminal code.

Bolivian President Evo Morales. Image Courtesy of Getty Images.

Bolivian doctors went on strike in protest of the government’s Presidential Decree 3385 which created the Supervision Authority for the National Health System, and Article 205 of the new penal code which would sanction professional negligence and medical malpractice. Protestors demanded that this new law be repealed because it would penalize medical professionals who cause health or bodily harm through negligence or malpractice.

Essentially, doctors who are found guilty of physically harming their patients will face heavier sanctions. Also, an entity would be created to control and monitor their work. The new punishments include five to nine years in prison, the suspension of a professional title, and the seizure of assets.

At the beginning, doctors, medical professionals, and medical students all refused to work and most local hospitals were shut down. Only emergency rooms remained functioning. Protestors took to the streets and clashed with police. In La Paz, the police resorted to firing tear gas into the crowd because rocks and small explosives were thrown at them. In a different form of protest, nine doctors at the Greater University of San Andres began a hunger strike. Protests and riots continued through Christmas.

On Tuesday, Bolivian President Evo Morales welcomed the end of the political strike by the doctors. The President remarked, “We salute the doctors and workers who never went on strike – they have the vocation of service – and those who allowed the political strike that caused so much harm to thousands of sick people to be lifted.” He emphasized the willingness of his government to work for “a sensible, solid, universal and free health care service.”

Bolivia’s physicians report that the strike ended after reaching an agreement with the government that it would prepare new legislation and shelve the bill that had already been drafted. However, others note that the end is a response to the President’s threat to take legal action. Just days earlier, Morales announced legal actions to restore health services and made claims of conspiracy.

The government denounces the strike and claims that it was staged by opposing political forces who favor private health care. The result was the postponement of more than 800,000 medical appointments and 10,000 surgeries.

The country will use a national health care conference in early March to move forward and develop a universal and free health care system for the entire population.

For more information, please see:

Telesur – Bolivia: Medical Strike Ends as Gov’t, Doctors Ratify Deal – 10 January 2018

Herald Tribune – Morales Welcomes End of Bolivian Doctor’s Strike – 10 January 2018

Euronews – Bolivian health professionals continue to protest against new criminal code – 23 December 2017

TVC News – Bolivian Health professionals protest against new criminal code – 22 December 2017