Syria Deeply: Join Our Deeply Talks – The Humanitarian Catastrophe in East Ghouta

Dear Syria Deeply community,

Please join us on Tuesday, February 27, at 10:30 a.m. EDT (4:30 p.m. CET), for a 30-minute conversation with Dr. Annie Sparrow, a critical-care pediatrician and public health professional, and Dr. Mohamad Katoub, advocacy manager for the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), about the deteriorating healthcare situation in East Ghouta. The call will be moderated by Alessandria Masi, Syria Deeply’s managing editor, and Hashem Osseiran, deputy managing editor.

We will discuss the humanitarian implications of the ongoing government offensive, the international community’s response, and the feasibility of civilian evacuations in light of escalated attacks on opposition-held areas further north.

To RSVP and receive dial-in instructions, click here.

We invite you to read up on our recent interview with Dr. Annie Sparrow. And please send us your questions, as well as any comments you would like us to address in the discussion. You can respond to this email or tweet @SyriaDeeply using the hashtag #DeeplyTalks.

Warm regards,

Kim Bode
Community Editor


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1 Tweet Brought 120 Volunteers to Shovel Snow for Elderly

By: Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

CHICAGO, United States – Many elderly people struggle to get out of their homes following snowy weather. Particularly, those with asthma, neuropathy, and oxygen tanks. This was the case after snowy weather in Chicago on the weekend of February 10th. Many of these senior citizens called Jahmal Cole about their inability to shovel their drive ways and side walks. “When you’re getting emails and calls, you don’t want to let people down,” said Cole. “I wasn’t trying to make a campaign. This was literally me trying to help out my neighbors. We had to organize on the spot,” he said.

Chicagoan Jahmal Cole is a community organizer in Chatham who runs the non-profit, My Block My Hood My City. He runs it without office space and only two full time staff members. My Block My Hood My City both organizes and brings teenagers from under-served communities on different field trips. With one tweet, Cole called for volunteers to help clear the snow of elderly neighbors in Chatham . That one tweet was retweeted more than 22,000 times and liked over 64,000 times.

What did that tweet say? “Meet me at the 79th St. Red Line stop at 10:00 am tomorrow. I got hoodies, hats and lunch for anybody that comes through.” The following morning, 120 people showed up offering to help shovel, some even bringing shovels of their own. “The people who showed up, they showed that whether people have privilege or don’t have privilege, everyone recognizes a need,” said Cole. Cole had brought 10 shovels and his 15 person van. With all the volunteers, he had to go buy more shovels. Then, he sent the volunteers to dozens of addresses that needed snow removal.

Jahmal Cole and 120 volunteers shoveled snow for the elderly in a Chicago neighborhood. Photo Courtesy of Jahmal Cole.

The volunteers came from all over, including Rogers Park, Roseland and even Indiana (a two and a half hour bus ride away). Men and women of all ages shoveled for more than four hours. The next day, 11 more people showed up. About his efforts, Cole said, “My mindset is always, ‘What’s something simple that I can do that’ll have a positive impact on my block and my neighborhood’? You don’t have to have a law degree to shovel your neighbor’s walkway.”

When all was said and done, Cole and the all of the volunteers went out to lunch at a neighborhood restaurant. “I’m proud of our city. We’re getting things done,” Cole said. “People could have been doing anything in the world. They could have been home with families or making snowmen, but they came out to help.”

For more information, please see:

KMOV – How 1 Tweet inspired 120 People to Shovel Snow for the Elderly – 14 February 2018

CNN – How 1 Tweet Inspired 120 People to Shovel Snow for the Elderly in a Chicago Neighborhood – 13 February 2018

Independent – Chicago Man’s Tweet Asking for 10 Volunteers to Help Clear Snow for Elderly Draws 120 After Going Viral – 13 February 2018

Victims of Human Rights Abuses in UAE Share their Stories with UN Investigators

Justin Santabarbara
Impunity Watch Reporter, The Middle East

GENEVA, Switzerland – As the United Nations is preparing their annual human rights review for the Middle East, several of the investigators are taking some time to hear from individuals, who state that human rights abuses continue to be rampant and violent. Naji Hamdan, David Haigh, Mahmood al-Jaidah, and Khaled Mohamed Amed each sat on a panel at the Geneva Press Club to share their experiences with UN investigators and researchers.

Naji Hamdan (L) with Mahmood Al-Jaidah, survivors of torture in the UAE. Photo Courtesy of Middle East Eye.

The UAE human rights panel, which took place at the Geneva Press Club, detailed instances of rape, electrocution, and sleep deprivation. Each of the panel’s participants stated that they were detained for “anti-terror” crimes. Each were arrested by members of the secret intelligence services, which the UN has stated will weigh unfavorably against the UAE. the UN has counted arrests by intelligence services as kidnappings.

Hamdan, who gave the most detailed account of all the participants, stated that after being arrested by secret intelligence services, he was held in a freezing underground bunker with little food or water. Additionally, Hamdan stated that he was severely beaten over a period of 89 days, and for as long as 13 hours per day. Hamdan stated that despite being strapped to an electric chair, and the repeated blow to the head, the worst part was the threats made against his family for unsatisfactory answers to the interrogators’ questions.

Hamdan’s ACLU legal representatives asserted that he was tortured “by proxy” at the request of the United States.

In previous years, the UN has sent its researchers and investigators advisory notices regarding the purported human rights violations. The CIRI Human Rights Report has echoed this sentiment over the past violation reviews. CIRI has detected a strong decline in the state of personal integrity human rights in the UAE, as well as workers’ human rights. Additionally, the trends between the two subdivisions of review tends to echo much of the directives from the United Nations.

For more information, please see:

23 January 2018 – Middle East Eye -A Qatari citizen’s two years of abuse and false imprisonment by the UAE

21 January 2018 – Middle East Eye – Survivors of UAE Torture Detail Abuse Ahead of UN Human Rights Review 

CIRI Human Rights Report 

Colombian students wear miniskirts in protest against sexism

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

MEDELLIN, Colombia – A university in Colombia is facing backlash after advising its female students not to wear miniskirts or “tight-fitting clothes.” Students on campus wore short skirts in protest of the university’s sexist advice.

Students put on miniskirts and shorts in protest. Image Courtesy of Mariana Duque Diez.

Pontifical Bolivarian University, known as UPB, is located in Medellin, Colombia. On the university website, campus authorities instructed that female students refrain from wearing miniskirts to avoid “distracting classmates and teachers.” It warned that “tight-fitting clothes” could disrupt their peer’s educational experience.

The original post appeared on January 30th and was circulated by many students’ social media. It was under a heading, “How should you dress to go to university?” Some of the recommendations were unisex, but the majority were aimed at women. The advice read, “There is nothing more uncomfortable than distracting your classmates or teachers. For this reason, we suggest you don’t wear low necklines, short skirts or tight-fitting clothes.”

Students reacted strongly against the advice. They said the sexist advice was not helpful to Colombia, a country that already struggles with an overtly “machismo” culture.  Male and female students joined in a campaign to wear short skirts to campus. They shared a rallying call online so that people would not be scared. The call said, “Whether or not you are distracted does not depend on my skirt. Tomorrow, everyone wears skirts.” The next day, students shared pictures of themselves and classmates in shorts and skirts around the university.

UPB has since deleted the post. In defense, it says the tips were only meant as general suggestions and the article was mostly aimed at new students. The university released a statement that said, “The UPB respects the right to express personalities, and has never imposed a dress code on students.” The following day, the university acknowledged that the matter was under investigation.

One student, Helena Munera, shared her view of the campaign, “Those who think that we are fighting for our right to wear short skirts or low necklines are very wrong. What we are asking for is an end to messages that encourage disrespect of women.” Others shared her message and promoted the idea that short skirts are not a green light for cat calls or harassment. One student said that the event made her feel underrepresented by the old-fashioned institutional position.

This is not the first time the university has been accused of sexism. In 2015, UPB started summer classes for girls aged 5-10. The focus of the course was good manners and the title was “Girls’ things.”

For more information, please see:

Times Higher Education – Colombian students stage miniskirt protest over ‘sexist’ advice – 14 February 2018

Colombia Focus – Skirting the issue – 10 February 2018

BBC News – Colombian students in miniskirt protest against sexism – 9 February 2018

International Business Times – Colombian University Students Wear Miniskirts To Protest Against Sexism – 9 February 2018

Human Rights in South Africa after Jacob Zuma

By: Adam King
Impunity Rights News Reporter, Africa

Newly elected President Cyril Ramaphosa. Photo courtesy of NPR/ Associated Press.

PRETORIA, South Africa — The resignation of South African President Jacob Zuma comes with a call for a renewed focus on human rights in South Africa. As Amnesty International reports,

“Under his leadership, we’ve seen a failure to ensure access to justice for victims of a range of human rights violations. For example, almost six years after 34 striking mineworkers in Marikana were killed by police, there has been no justice for victims or their families.”

Zuma assumed the presidency in 2009, and was re-elected for a subsequent five-year term that began in May of 2014. The incident at Marikana began as a protest, but turned violent when police forces clashed with protesters,

“At Marikana, 3,000 rock drill operators at the mine stopped work as they tried to force an increase in their wages, from ZAR5, 400 ($648) a month to ZAR12, 500 ($1,500) a month. Tensions increased over the following days, with AMCU president Joseph Mathunjwa declaring the members were prepared to “die here” if necessary. The stand-off later escalated into violence, leaving 34 dead, 78 injured and 259 arrested on various charges, according to South Africa National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega.”

Marikana is one example of the challenges that newly elected President Cyril Ramaphosa will face. Mr. Ramaphosa seems to acknowledge the problems that his administration will have to tackle early on in his tenure,

“We are determined to build a society defined by decency and integrity, that does not tolerate the plunder of public resources, nor the theft by corporate criminals of the hard-earned savings of ordinary people.”

While Mr. Ramaphosa’s energy is a welcomed change for some, others are not persuaded,

“The leader of the far-left Economic Freedom Fighters party (EFF), Julius Malema, said he welcomed the commitments to shrink the cabinet and take back land. “He (Ramaphosa) has a lot of ideas but no plan of how to go about it, but let’s give the benefit of doubt,” Malema said.”

Mr. Ramaphosa also has a questionable history as a member of many corporate boards — among which include a mining company,

“In 2012, as a board member of the mining firm Lonmin, he urged police to intervene and stop an illegal strike after 10 miners were killed. Emails revealed he called the strike “dastardly criminal. The next day, police shot and killed 34 miners. Dozens more were injured in what amounts to the deadliest act of violence in post-apartheid South Africa. Ramaphosa long has claimed innocence; that he was using his political connections with the minister of police to stop the violence from spreading. An investigating commission cleared Ramaphosa of wrongdoing, but to opponents, such as the upstart Economic Freedom Fighters, a leftist political party, Ramaphosa had sold out. The union organizer sided with management.”

Only time will reflect the urgency of human rights in South Africa under Mr. Ramaphosa’s regime.

For more information, please see:

Reuters — “South Africa’s Ramaphosa hails ‘new dawn’, warns of tough decisions” — 16 February 2018

NPR — “South Africa Elects Cyril Ramaphosa As Its New President” — 15 February 2018

Amnesty International — “South Africa: Post-Zuma government must ensure access to justice for victims of human rights violations” — 12 February 2018

K24TV Kenya — “South African Miners Shot Dead” — 12 August 2012

CNN — “What’s behind South Africa’s mine violence?” — 14 September 2012

Child Rapist Convicted in Pakistani Court

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – On 17 February 2018, Imran Ali was found guilty of rape an murder of Zainab Ansari, a 7 year old girl.  He received life imprisonment with the death sentence on four counts.

Protests spark after the rape and murder of Zainab Amin. Photo Courtesy of Mohsin Raza.

Ali confessed to raping 9 girls in total and killing 7 of them over 18 months. DNA evidence provided by the police from eight girls, including Zainab Ansari, matched Ali’s. He will sit trial for the other cases at a later point.

Zainab was declared missing on 4 January 2018 after leaving her house. She was on her way to her Aunt’s house, 30 miles away, where she was to partake in lesson on the Quran. Just 4 days later her body was found lying on a trash dump near her home.

The prosecution team provided the court with substantial evidence. Over 50 witnesses testified. The DNA matches were entered as evidence against Ali. There was also video footage from security camera show Zainab walking off with a man.

Police discovered that Ali was a neighbor of Zainab’s family. He was a construction worker and known for his pious demeanor. He was arrested two weeks after he killed Zainab.

The discovery of her body sent people into the streets to protest the government’s delayed response to bring justice to Zainab and her family. The case has also sparked debates on sexual abuse and how to protect women and children from sexual assault.

While her parents are “thankful to the chief justice” for the respect and sensitivity in the case, emotions are still tense as her mother said, “I want him hanged where he threw Zainab’s body. And he should be stoned. Hanging him is just ordinary for him. Everyone should take part in stoning him. And this thing about four hangings, one hanging, two hangings, what difference does it make? I want him hanged where he killed my girl.”

For more information, please see:  

The Guardian – Pakistan court sentences man to death for rape and murder of girl,7 – 17 February 2018

 The New York Times – Pakistan Serial Killer Sentenced to Death for Murder and Rape of Girl, 7 – 17 February 2018

Al Jazeera – Kasur rapist-murderer sentenced to death in Pakistan – 17 February 2018

Syria Deeply: Eastern Ghouta ‘spiraling out of control,’ and Turkey’s operation in Afrin grows increasingly complex

Syria Deeply
Feb. 20th, 2018
This Week in Syria.

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

Eastern Ghouta: After more than four years of siege, it’s hard to imagine that the situation in Eastern Ghouta could become even more dangerous and devastating. However, aerial bombardments have increased in the suburbs of Damascus, as the Syrian government allegedly prepares for a ground offensive on the besieged opposition-held enclave.

More than 100 people were killed in government attacks on the Eastern Ghouta on Monday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. The monitoring group added that this number was expected to rise as many of those injured remain in critical condition, but that it was already the highest one-day death toll in Eastern Ghouta in three years.

“It’s indescribable. It reminded me of what we used to see in Aleppo – shelling day and night,” Khalid Abulabed, a field doctor in the Damascus suburb, told Al Jazeera. “Nothing is excluded from the shelling, not schools, not residential areas, not even markets, which has caused a significant increase in the number of people martyred and wounded.”

The SOHR claimed that the stepped-up attacks are a prelude to a government-led ground offensive in the Eastern Ghouta. Syria has been sending reinforcements to the area since February 5, Agence France-Presse reported on Sunday. “The reinforcements are complete; the attack is just waiting for a green light,” SOHR head Rami Abdulrahman told AFP.

The SOHR and pro-government media are reporting negotiations between rebels and the Syrian government over the evacuation of al-Qaida-linked militants from the Eastern Ghouta in a last-ditch effort to spare the region a full-out attack, AFP said. However, the main rebel groups in the area denied that these talks took place.

Panos Moumtzis, the U.N. regional coordinator for the Syria crisis, said in a statement released on Monday that “the humanitarian situation of civilians in East Ghouta is spiraling out of control. Many residents have little choice but to take shelter in basements and underground bunkers with their children.”

Afrin: The situation in Afrin is becoming even more complex, after reports on Tuesday that pro-government forces entered the northern Syrian city to help defend Kurdish forces battling Turkish-backed troops in Ankara’s “Operation Olive Branch” in the area.

Syrian state-run TV reportedly showed a convoy of pro-government forces entering Afrin on Tuesday, according to Reuters.

SANA reported on Monday that “popular forces” would enter Afrin “within hours.” Turkey’s foreign minister later responded to the report, threatening to confront pro-government forces if they enter the Kurdish enclave, the Associated Press reported.

“If the regime is entering to protect the YPG, then no one can stop us, stop Turkey or the Turkish soldiers,” Mevlut Cavusoglu said, according to AP.

On Friday, Kurdish forces accused Turkey of carrying out a chemical attack in a village in the northwest of Afrin, near the Turkish border, and a spokesman for the Kurdish YPG militia in Afrin told Reuters that six people suffered breathing problems after the attack. Turkey dismissed the accusations as “baseless,” but the SOHR and SANA news agency echoed the YPG’s claims.

Read our Daily Executive Summaries

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The recent uptick in clashes between Israel, Iran and Syria risks circling the conflict back to decades-old hostilities between Damascus and Tel Aviv in battles over the Golan Heights.



Why Syria and the U.S. Clashed for Control East of the Euphrates

The U.S. coalition’s show of force against a pro-government attack in Deir Ezzor last week is not a change in American engagement policy, but a sign that Washington’s interest in Syria will increasingly come under threat.



Analysis: A Model For Rebuilding Infrastructure in Northwestern Syria

The Idlib Health Directorate is a model for local networks providing public services in opposition-controlled areas and for rebuilding northwestern Syria’s shattered healthcare system, writes Abdulkarim Ekzayez, a Syrian medical doctor and fellow at Chatham House.

973ab3c3-9b8d-4a6d-9ac8-50621f4257fe.png EDITOR’S PICKS

Community Insight



In Syria’s Tangled Conflict, a Kind of Regional War Has Already Begun

Samer Abboud,  Associate Professor of international Studies, Arcadeia University

A general state of war exists between antagonistic, intervening states in Syria, even if it remains undeclared and unacknowledged. However, the form this war will take, and the conditions for escalation, remain unclear, writes Syria researcher and professor Samer Abboud.



Analysis: Iran and Israel Eye Containment in Syria

Yossi Melman,  Israeli Security and Intelligence Commentator

The downing of an Israeli warplane on Saturday threatened to escalate tensions between Israel and Iran. But now the two adversaries are actively trying to avoid a full blown confrontation, writes Israeli security and intelligence commentator Yossi Melman.


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.

War Crimes Prosecution Watch: Volume 13, Issue 1- February 19, 2018



Michael P. Scharf

War Crimes Prosecution Watch

Volume 13 – Issue 1
February 19, 2018

Taylor Frank

Technical Editor-in-Chief
Ashley Mulryan

Managing Editors
Sarah Lucey
Lynsey Rosales

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 Justice and Accountability Centre: Syria and the Collapse of the International System

SJAC Update | Feb 20, 2018
Vladimir Putin, Hassan Rouhani, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Russia, 2017. The three guarantors of the “de-escalation zones” in Syria. Photo from Wikipedia

Syria and the Collapse of the International System

The past few weeks have seen the emergence of a new narrative about the conflict in Syria. It is not, as had been widely reported towards the end of 2017, winding down, but rather entering a new phase. While the intervention of foreign powers has defined the war for years, the past few months have seen a profound shift. Not only are foreign powers becoming increasingly active on the ground, they are also increasingly focused on each other. The last two weeks alone have seen incendiary remarks from Turkey regarding the US position in Manbij, Israeli strikes against Iranian air defense, and three foreign states (Israel, Russia, and Turkey) losing aircraft in Syria. The possibility for direct clashes is growing. At this stage of the conflict, with the Syrian government having regained much of its territory, and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) largely destroyed, it should be time for all parties to refocus on negotiations instead of escalating tensions on the battlefield to the detriment of civilians.

One vital aspect of the internationalization of the conflict has been the flagrant violation of international law. Combined with the failures of the UN Security Council and the UN-mediated peace process, the war in Syria is now taking place completely outside of the international system. The following is an analysis of the actions of three of the major international actors in the conflict, and the United Nations, which has failed to avert the crisis.

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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Detained Migrants Face Forced Repatriation to China

By: Katherine Hewitt
News Reporter, Asia 

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – A group of 11 migrants are detained in Malaysian custody.  It is probable that these 11 are a part of a group that escaped from a Thailand immigration detention center back in November of 2017. Originally, a group of 200 were found in Thailand’s Sonskhla province.  They were detained while authorities verified their nationality.  A group of 20 escaped and 11 of them are these migrants now detained in Malaysia.

Uyghur in Turkey protesting the Chinese. Photo Courtesy of Lefteris Pitarakis.

The group identifies themselves as Turkish citizens.  However, China claims them as members of an ethnic group called Uyghurs who are a Muslim Turkish minority living in Western China.  While China demands them back, the migrants have asked to be sent to Turkey.

Many Uyghurs have fled China as a result of the authoritarian governance in the region.  The Chinese government conducts house aids and restricts islamic practices, culture, and language.  Through the years several Uyghurs have been forcibly deported back to China.  Upon their returns, they face threats of imprisonment and torture.  China rationalizes this state behavior by blaming the group for ‘terrorist’ attacks.

Malaysia and China have tightened their relationship over the past years. China has been pushing Malaysia to return the migrants.

International Customary Law holds Malaysia accountable to not send those in custody to a place where persecution, torture, and other human rights violations are a risk.

Human Rights activists like Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch want Malaysia to “allow these individuals access to a fair process to determine their refugee claims, not ship them to China based on Beijing’s demands.”

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – Malaysia: Don’t Send 11 Detainees to China – 9 February 2018

Radio Free Asia – China Demands Return of 11 Uyghur Escapees Caught in Malaysia: Officials – 8 February 2018 

The New York Times – Exclusive: Uighur Thai Jail Escapees Detained in Malaysia and China Wants Them Back-Sources – 8 February 2018

Polish Prime Minister Blasted for ‘Jewish Perpetrators’ Remark

By: Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

WARSAW, Poland – Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki is being blasted for a remark he made at the Munich Security Conference on February 17th.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s Speaks at the Munich Security  Conference. Photo Courtesy of Thomas Kienzie.

The comment was made by Morawiecki in reference to an inquiry from an Israeli journalist regarding a new law passed in Poland making it illegal to make comments purporting that Poland was complicit in the Holocaust.

The law was signed by President Andrzej Duda despite a strong push against its passage.

The legislation has been condemned internationally, with critics saying the law is intended to whitewash the role that some Poles played in the Holocaust. Many believe it is an attempt by Poland to rewrite history.

The law states that “whoever accuses, publicly and against the facts, the Polish nation, or the Polish state, of being responsible or complicit in the Nazi crimes committed by the Third German Reich… shall be subject to a fine or a penalty of imprisonment of up to three years”.

An Israeli journalist asked Morawiecki if it would be considered a crime in the country for him to share a story about his parents being reported to the Nazis by their Polish neighbors.

“Of course it’s not going to be punishable, not going to be seen as criminal, to say that there were Polish perpetrators, as there were Jewish perpetrators, as there were Russian perpetrators, as there were Ukrainian, not only German perpetrators,” Morawiecki said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was also in attendance at the conference, called the statement “outrageous. There is a problem here of an inability to understand history and a lack of sensitivity to the tragedy of our people.”

In response to the outrage sparked by Morawiecki’s comment, Joanna Kopcinska, a government spokeswoman from Poland, issued a statement indicating that his comments “were by no means intended to deny the Holocaust, or charge the Jewish victims of the Holocaust with responsibility for what was a Nazi German perpetrated genocide,” and that Morawiecki  “has repeatedly and categorically opposed denial of the Holocaust — the murder of European Jewry — as well as anti-Semitism in all its forms.”

Netanyahu and Morawiecki spoke on the phone after the remarks, with Netanyahu indicating to Morawiecki that his comments were unacceptable.

Both Morawiecki and Netanyahu believe that the dialogue should continue.

Kopcinska stated that Morawiecki’s comments “should be interpreted as a sincere call for open discussion of crimes committed against Jews during the Holocaust, regardless of the nationality of those involved in each crime.”

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Israel Rebukes Poland PM for ‘Jewish Perpetrators’ Remark – 18 February 2018

Bloomberg – Poland Stokes Holocaust law Storm as Israeli Leader Lashes Out – 17 February 2018

Boston Herald – Poland Tries to Frame PM’s Holocaust Remarks as Frank Debate – 18 February 2018

Los Angeles Times – Israelis Slam Polish Prime Minister’s Remarks About ‘Jewish Perpetrators’ – 17 February 2018

Newsweek – Polish Prime Minister’s Jewish Holocaust ‘Perpetrators’ Comments Spark Outrage in Israel – 18 February 2018

VA won’t Change Their Motto for Gender Neutrality

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, D.C., USA – A quote from America’s 16th President currently stands as the motto for Veterans Affairs. In his second Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln stated, “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.” The language of this quote has been under fire by many who believe it is outdated and/or sexist. IAVA Executive Director Allison Jaslow wrote a strongly worded letter in October of 2017. The letter went unanswered by VA Secretary David Shulkin. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America also called on VA Secretary David Shulkin in November to change the motto.

For the last 59 years, the VA motto has been a quote from President Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. Photo Courtesy of Stars and Stripes/ Veterans Affairs.

Despite the outcry for change, a spokesperson for Secretary Shulkin’s office stated that the VA will continue to use it’s motto. “[The] VA is proud of Lincoln’s words as a historic tribute to all Veterans, including women Veterans, whose service and sacrifice inspires us all,” Secretary Shulkin’s spokesperson said. In response to the spokesperson,  Jaslow said, “They’re missing the point — that women don’t feel comfortable at the VA. That action enshrined not only a motto, but a culture too that often renders women veterans invisible at the agency, even to this day. Every day that the VA preserves this motto, it ignores and obscures the needs of far too many women veterans.”

There are many who think the VA has bigger problems to deal with right now rather than the currentness of the motto. Some of those problems include the long wait time for appointments and various scandals. Some of these scandals are centered around women. One such scandal was a Facebook group of over 30,000 members sharing pictures of nude female service members without their consent.

A study was also recently posted by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine which stated that many female combat veterans said that they weren’t believed about their war experience and often belittled by VA doctors. The study was conducted over 4 and a half years and focused on VA mental health services.

The director of the VA Center for Women Veterans, Kayla Williams, responded to the pleas from IAVA to change the motto. She unofficially has been using a modified version of the motto which states, “To care for those who shall have borne the battle and their families and survivors.”

“Recognizing that they can seem exclusionary to some women veterans, for many years I – along with other senior VA leaders – have honored the population we serve today by using a modernized version,” Williams said to Jaslow in a letter. “This symbolic update, which we are continuing to gradually incorporate alongside the original in digital and print materials, as well as spoken remarks, is an important acknowledgement of today’s veteran population.”

Jaslow calls for more change and for that change to be official. “I get it. The VA was designed for a male population, and culture change is hard,” Jaslow said. “But we’re talking 16 years we’ve been at war in Afghanistan. Women veterans are still feeling invisible and articulating they don’t feel comfortable at the VA. At what point are we going to get serious about addressing this?”

For more information, please see:

Washington Post – Is the VA Motto Outdated and Sexist? The Head of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Group Thinks So – 6 February 2018

Stars and Stripes – VA Disregards Request to Make Agency Motto Gender Neutral – 2 February 2018

Workers File Human Rights Complaint, Case Brought Against Them

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

BANGKOK, Thailand – A trial against 14 workers in Thailand was brought to court on February 7, 2018. The workers are charged with criminal defamation.

A worker at a chicken farm in Thailand. Photo Courtesy of Sukree Sukplang.

In July 2016, 14 workers filed a complaint against their employer with the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand on violations labor conditions. They accused Thammakaset Co. Ltd. of requiring 20-hour work days, making them work 40 days straight, forcing them to work overtime, paying below minimum wage, restricting movement, and holding onto identity documents.

While the Labor Ministry Officials mandated the company to pay 1.7 million Baht (48,600 USD) as workers compensation, the 14 have yet to receive the money. Thammakaset Co. Ltd. appealed this action in court.

Following this, Thammaskaset filed their criminal defamation case in October.   They defend that they have done no wrongdoings and that case hurts their company image.  The legal code in Thailand, in respect to criminal defamation, allows companies to take steps against those that accuse them of labor rights abuses.

Human Rights Watch and others have called for the government to oppose the criminal defamation charges against the 14 workers. The Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha has previously stated Thailand’s commitment to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and “actions, including enforcing a labor protection legislation that ensures fair treatment of workers and protects them from abuse and mistreatment.”

The first day of the trial witnesses of the prosecution spoke. On the following two days the workers gave their testimony.  If the 14 workers are found guilty, they could spend up to a year in jail and be fined up to 20,000 Baht (600 USD).

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – Thailand: Burmese Workers on Trail for Reporting Abuses – 7 February 2018

Reuters – Myanmar workers go on trail for accusing Thai Chicken farm of abuse – 7 February 2018

Fortify Rights – Thailand: Drop Criminal Defamation Lawsuits against 14 Myanmar Workers – 6 February 2018

Brazil’s military takes control of security in response to gang violence

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – The Brazilian military has taken full control over security in its crime-plagued capital. Organized crime has taken control of the state and this increased security is meant to restore order.

Brazilian soldiers search a resident of a favela. Image Courtesy of Mauro Pimentel.

Rio’s governor, Luiz Fernando Pezao, issued an appeal for help after chaos during the famous Rio Carnival. Several celebrations were spoiled by violence from gun fights and looting. Three police officers were killed in these violent clashes. The governor asked the national government to use military intervention because he saw it as the only way to tackle the heavily armed gangs. He apologized to the citizens affected saying, “We were not ready. There were mistakes in the first days and we reinforced the patrols.”

Due to the economic crisis, Rio’s police budget has been slashed in recent years. Critics say that police do not even have enough money to pay for the petrol in their patrol cars. The financial problems have also emboldened criminal gangs. The national recession, slump in oil prices, and high levels of corruption has given organized crime an opportunity to gain power.

President Michel Temer said organized criminals have all but seized control of the state and compares the growing gang violence to “a cancer.” He has appointed General Walter Souza Braga Netto to oversee security in the capital. This army general was widely praised for his part in coordinating security for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

Residents of Rio try to go about their daily lives, but often find that violence gets in the way. Stray bullets have killed children in favelas, shoot-outs have closed down major highways, and mass robberies have ruined Carnival celebrations. Many criticize the fact that the state governor willingly gave up his power to the President. Even though most are happy that something is being done, many are skeptical of big political gestures like this when a presidential election is coming up.

For now, the army will regularly patrol some of the city’s most dangerous areas. It will be the first time the army has had such a high profile since Brazil’s return to democracy in 1985. Brazil’s National Congress still needs to approve the move.

President Temer explained, “Organized crime has almost taken over the state of Rio de Janeiro, it is a cancer that spreads throughout the country and threatens the tranquility of our people, so we have now enacted the federal intervention of the public security area of ​​Rio de Janeiro.”

For more information, please see:

Digital Journal – Brazil’s Temer announces new security ministry to combat violence – 18 February 2018

Euro News – Brazil’s military takes charge of Rio as gang violence spirals upwards – 18 February 2018

DW – Brazil to create new ministry for public security – 18 February 2018

BBC News – Rio de Janeiro violence: Brazil army to take control of security – 16 February 2018

NY Times – Brazil’s Military is Put in Charge of Security in Rio de Janeiro – 16 February 2018

Macron threatens Syria over alleged chemical attacks

President Macron spoke to reporters on February 13. Image courtesy of BBC News.

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe

PARIS, France – French President Emmanuel Macron warned the Syrian government on February 13th that France “would strike” if evidence was found that Syria used chemical weapons on its own people.

Chemical weapons are a severe violation of international treaties. Yet the United States government, along with several others, determined that the cause of a 2013 attack in Damascus was caused by chemical weapons.

The Syrian government has denied any use of chemical weapons against its citizens.

President Macron has previously stated that Syrian use of chemical weapons is a “red line” for France.

Last May, President Macron stated that this “red line”, if crossed, would “draw an immediate response” from France.

More recently, President Macron reaffirmed this line in a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin. In this phone call, the French President reaffirmed his concerns over Syria’s alleged use of chlorine gas on its citizens.

Reaffirming the “red line” to news reporters, President Macron said, “If we have proven evidence that chemical weapons proscribed in treaties are used, we will strike the place where they are made.”

Despite these statements, many have criticized France for failing to take a hard stance against the Syrian government’s atrocities.

Some members of the United Nations Security Council, of which France is a member, have felt that the European nation has not established whether they would view chlorine gas as a “chemical weapon.”

The “White Helmets”, Syria’s Civil Defence force, urged President Macron to “stop talking” and “take real action” against Syria’s government.

However, President Macron’s government remains indecisive. Speaking to reporters, the President stated that French intelligence had yet to find evidence that Syria had used illegal chemical weapons during its civil war.

France’s foreign minister sought to clarify President Macron’s remarks on February 14th, stating that France would only retaliate against Syria if the chemical attacks were “lethal” and “carried out by government forces.”

Calls for a cease-fire in Syria by France and the United Nations have ramped up in the past several months.

Yet as the fighting continues, so too does Syria’s humanitarian crisis. The future rests unclear.

For more information, please see:

Reuters – France says Syria red line only crossed if gas attacks ‘lethal’: minister – 14 February 2018

BBC News – France’s Macron threatens Syria strikes if chemical weapon use proven – 14 February 2018

The Telegraph – Macron: ‘France will strike’ if use of chemical weapons in Syria is proven – 13 February 2018

Reuters – ‘France will strike’ if proven chemical bombs used in Syria: Macron – 13 February 2018

Deutsche Welle – Macron: France will ‘strike’ if proven using chemical arms – 13 February 2018