Human Rights Organizations call for the Release of 2 Uzbek Journalists

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BISHKEK, Uzbekistan – On February 14, various human rights organizations called for Uzbekistan to investigate the claims of torture and mistreatment of two journalists currently in jail – Bobomurod Abdullaev and Hayot Nasriddinov. The statement also called for the immediate release of the two as well as other journalists detained. Twelve groups partook in this petition: Amnesty International, the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, Civil Rights Defenders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR), the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Reporters Without Borders, Freedom Now, ARTICLE 19, and the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights.

Left: Hayot Nasriddinov. Right: Bobomurod Abdullaev. Photo courtesy of AsiaTerra and Fergananews.

Both were arrested in the later half of 2017. Abdullaev was a reporter for Fergana. He was arrested for “conspiracy to overthrow the constitutional regime” by the National Security Service (SNB). His articles were described as ‘extremist’ and as part of a conspiracy theory to overthrow the government. The charge comes with a 20 year jail sentence. He told relatives of his torture and mistreatment.

Nariddinov was a blogger and economist. The reasoning for his arrest is unclear, but it is believed to be similar to Abdullaev’s. He could also face up to 20 years of prison if charged. There are concerns that he is also facing ill-treatment.

Abdullaev shared his abuse with his mother and wife, when they visited him in January. He said he was approached by SNB who did not show identification. He was beaten, a bag thrown over his head, and pushed into a car. He was kept naked standing in freezing jail cell with no food for 5 days.

On January 31st, the chief of the SNB was replaced. Under his tenure there were multiple cases of torture and ill treatment. Two SNB officers involved in the abuses have been suspended from the case, reportedly.

Central Asia Director at Human Rights Watch said, “At a time when the Uzbek government appears to be taking steps to reform the country’s feared security services, reports of a journalist’s torture in their custody should prompt an immediate investigation and decisive, public condemnation.”

For more information, please see:

 Committee to Protect Journalists – CPJ joins call for Uzbekistan to investigate claims jailed journalists were tortured – 14 February 2018

Human Rights Watch – Uzbekistan: Investigate Torture of Journalist- 14 February 2018

Article 19 – Uzbekistan: Investigate torture of journalist – 14 February 2018

Peru’s ex-President Fujimori could face another trial despite pardon

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

LIMA, Peru – A Peruvian court ruled Monday that former President Alberto Fujimori can stand trial for killings. The decision comes in spite of the fact that the current President had already granted Fujimori a pardon for these human rights abuses.

Ex-President Fujimori being wheeled out of a Lima clinic. Image Courtesy of Luka Gonzales.

Essentially, the court decided not to apply the grace that current President Kuczynski granted him. This ruling has paved the way for Fujimori to finally be tried for his alleged responsibility for the murders of six people in the town of Pativilca. The event occurred in 1992 when a paramilitary group under Fujimori’s orders kidnapped, tortured, and killed six farmers by death squad. Prosecutors asked to try the ex-president and 23 others for these crimes against humanity.

However, President Kuczynski’s office decided to grant the 79-year-old a “humanitarian pardon.” This heavily criticized pardon was granted on the grounds of Fujimori’s declining health. The President cited low blood pressure and an irregular heartbeat as justification. Doctors diagnosed Fujimori with a progressive, degenerative and incurable illness. They said prison conditions would put him at risk. The President said, “I am convinced that those of us who consider ourselves democrats cannot allow Alberto Fujimori to die in prison. Justice is not vengeance. All pardons are by nature controversial.” In response, protests erupted over the pardon. Peruvians were outraged and demonstrations turned violent in clashes with the police.

Now, the Peruvian court has made a historic decision in refusing to honor this pardon.  Amnesty International sees it as an important advance in the fight against impunity. They say it reinforces the obligation of the Peruvian state to guarantee victims’ right to truth, justice, and reparation. The Americas Director at Amnesty International, Erika Guevara Rosas, said, “Today the victims, families and Peruvian society have achieved an important step towards justice and preserving the memory of the victims of these crimes.”

Fujimori has indicated that he is prepared for the legal process ahead. His lawyer, Miguel Perez, stated that “Mr. Fujimori is not scared or does not oppose being summoned in this process as a defendant.” His son also remarked that he believes that the political process will treat his father fairly and acquit him of the charges.

Now that the path is clear, human rights organizations demand that he be tried if there is sufficient and admissible evidence against him. Prosecutors are seeking a 25-year sentence and reparations to the victim’s families. Still, Fujimori’s attorney said that he might appeal the court’s decision.

For more information, please see:

The Santiago Times – Peru’s ex-President Fujimori to be tried for 1992 killings despite recent pardon – 20 February 2018

BBC News – Peru’s ex-President Fujimori ordered to stand trial again – 20 February 2018

CNN – Ex-Peru leader Fujimori can be tried over killings despite pardon – 20 February 2018

Voice of America – Peru Court: Pardoned Fujimori Could Face Another Human Rights Trial – 19 February 2018

Amnesty International – Peru: Fujimori may be tried after decision not to apply grace in Pativilca case – 19 February 2018

Venezuelan migrants desperate for cash

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CUCUTA, Colombia – The deepening crisis in Venezuela has triggered a mass migration into Colombia. Desperate migrants are forced to do whatever they can to make money and survive.

Man looking to buy locks of hair for hair extensions in Colombia. Image Courtesy of John Otis.

Under socialist President Maduro, Venezuelans suffer from widespread food shortages, medicine shortages, and hyperinflation. As of December, the Colombian immigration department reports that more than half a million migrants have crossed into Colombia in the last two years. This exodus rivals the Syrian refugee crisis and has been labeled the world’s “least-talked-about” immigration crisis.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced earlier this month that they would take measures to tighten the border. Venezuelans responded by rushing to cross the border before the new rules took hold. The Tachira River bridge is one of the busiest crossing points and is clogged with people. Many carry boxes of possessions and suitcases with them, but still are in desperate need of money. For most, the first opportunity comes right when they arrive. Dealers of precious metals wait for migrants to unload their jewelry. People hand over their rings, brooches, and necklaces. The dealers check the purity of the metal and then offer cash.

One shop owner, Jose Alvarado, negotiates prices around $7 for a woman’s silver bracelet and $275 for a man’s gold ring. Alvarado expresses compassion and recalls a heartbreaking case of a couple who sold their wedding rings after 40 years of marriage. He says, “People cry a lot when they sell their jewelry. But they have no choice.”

Venezuelans have found that selling their hair is another way to make money. Several wigmakers now walk around Cucuta with advertisements that they give cash for hair. The going rate in the border town for women’s hair is about $10, less than one third of the price in the nation’s capital. One woman, Ms. Hernandez, said “I sold my hair to feed my girl.”

Some other ways to survive include selling street food, performing street music, and working construction. However, others resort to prostitution or street crime. The massive number of migrants has made it impossible for all those who want to work to find a job. Most of their daily earnings are immediately spent on food, water, and paying to use bathrooms in cafes.

The situation has put a huge strain on locals. In an effort to reduce the tension, President Santos remarked, “I would like to ask all Colombians to steer clear of xenophobia and hostilities toward Venezuelans.” Despite this, migrants report being robbed at knifepoint and practically run down by cars. One young man from Caracas explained how unwelcome he felt and commented, “We are rats to them.”

President Santos has adopted several measures to counter the crisis. There will be programs to help legal immigrants gain access to residency and there will be task forces to control the homeless population.

For more information, please see:

Herald Tribune – Santos Urges Colombians to Reject Xenophobia toward Venezuelan Migrants – 21 February 2018

Colombia Reports – Curfews in central Colombia after looting and violence – 21 February 2018

NPR – Venezuela’s Deepening Crisis Triggers Mass Migration Into Colombia – 20 February 2018

NY Times – In Colombia Border Town, Desperate Venezuelans Sell Hair to Survive – 17 February 2018

Simon Wiesenthal Center Considers Travel Advisory

By: Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

WARSAW, Poland – The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights organization, is considering issuing a travel advisory for Jews traveling to Poland.

Gate at Auschwitz Death Camp in Poland. ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ (Work Makes One Free) is written overhead. Photo courtesy of Scott Barbour.

The travel advisory is being considered in light of a recent spike in anti-Semitism in Poland following the passage of a new law imposing fines and prison sentences for individuals who suggest that Poland was complicit in the Holocaust. Over three million Polish Jews were murdered in the country during the genocide. Only ten percent of the Polish Jewish community survived. Several of the most deadly death camps run by the Nazi regime were constructed and run in Poland.

The “Holocaust Speech Law” has been condemned internationally and spurred a bitter feud between Israel and Poland.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized the law, which takes effect on February 28th, saying “One cannot change history, and the Holocaust cannot be denied.”

The travel advisory, if issued, would “urge Jews to limit their travel to Poland only to visit ancestral graves and Holocaust-era death camps,” the Simon Wiesenthal Center said in a statement issued on February 22nd.

“In wake of the controversial new Holocaust Law in Poland and the anti-Semitism it has unleashed that has left the Jewish community shaken, the Simon Wiesenthal Center is considering issuing a Travel Advisory for world Jewry.”

More than 8,000 people in Poland, including many liberal Poles, troubled by the Holocaust Speech law’s passage and the rise in anti-semitism and hateful rhetoric,  have signed a letter to “our Jewish friends” denouncing the escalating wave of hatred.

Jews in Poland are fearful of discrimination and persecution in the wake of the bill’s passage. Many are worried the law’s passage could trigger violence against Jews in the country.

Matylda Jonas-Kowalik, a student at Warsaw University in Poland, worries for her safety. “This is my home. I have never lived anywhere else and wanted this to keep being my home… “But this makes me very anxious. I don’t know what to expect.”

An open letter posted to the Union of Jewish Communities website in Poland calls the Polish government to action. The letter states in part, “as representatives of Polish Jewish organizations, we call on public institutions, police, media outlets, schools, and members of the Polish public to combat anti-Semitism, and we are eager to cooperate with them in this critical mission.”

For more information, please see:

ABC News – Polish Jews Stunned, Scared by Eruption of Anti-Semitism – 17 February 2018

CNN – Poland’s Jewish Groups Say Jews Feel Unsafe Since New Holocaust Law – 20 February 2018

The Guardian – Poland’s Jews Fear for Future Under New Holocaust Law – 10 February 2018

Newsweek – Nazi Hunter Group Mulls Warning Jews Against Travel to Poland in Wake of Holocaust Law – 22 February 2018

Reuters – Jewish NGO Simon Wiesenthal Center Considers Travel Advisory for Poland – 22 February 2018

Syria Deeply: The latest developments on the situation in the Eastern Ghouta and the U.N. Security Council’s call for a 30-day cease-fire

 

Feb. 26th, 2018

 

 

 

 

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

Healthcare Under Attack: As part of our Deeply Talks series, Syria Deeply will host a live 30-minute conversation on Tuesday, February 27 at 12 pm ET, with Annie Sparrow, a critical-care pediatrician and public health professional, and Mohamad Katoub, a medical worker from Eastern Ghouta and advocacy manager for the Syrian Medical Society, about the deteriorating healthcare situation in Eastern Ghouta. To RSVP and receive dial-in instructions, click here. Submit questions for our editors or guests by responding to this email or tweet @SyriaDeeply using the hashtag #DeeplyTalks.

Increased attacks on the rebel-held enclave in the Eastern Ghouta have severely damaged the region’s already strained medical infrastructure. We invite you to read up on our recent interview with Annie Sparrow about the unprecedented pressures on healthcare facilities in Eastern Ghouta, and the repeated failure to deliver life-saving aid.

Eastern Ghouta: It has been one of the deadliest weeks in the opposition-held suburbs of Damascus, since Eastern Ghouta came under siege more than four years ago. Despite the United Nations Security Council resolution that passed on Saturday calling for a 30-day cease-fire to allow for aid deliveries and medical evacuations, at least 24 people were killed in attacks on the area in the since Sunday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).

Sunday’s casualties bring the total death toll to around 530 people killed since the government launched an intensified bombing campaign on the opposition enclave last week, according to Agence France-Presse, who cited the SOHR.

Russian president Vladimir Putin on Monday ordered a “humanitarian pause” in Eastern Ghouta, beginning on Tuesday that would only be in effect from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. local time daily, Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu announced. Shoigu added that a “humanitarian corridor” would also be created to facilitate civilian evacuations from the area, but did not give any additional details on that process.

Afrin: Turkey’s “Operation Olive Branch” continued in the Kurdish enclave of Afrin on Sunday despite the U.N. Security Council’s resolution for a 30-day nationwide cease-fire across Syria.

On Monday, Syrian state-run news and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that a Turkish airstrike in the village of Yalan Quz in Afrin killed at least five people. The Turkish army also reportedly captured three villages near the northern Syrian town from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia and shelled Afrin on Sunday, the Associated Press reported, citing Turkey’s official news agency.

Ankara on Sunday said that the cease-fire would not affect operations against the YPG in Afrin, according to AFP.

“We welcome the resolution adopted by the U.N. Security Council in response to the worsening humanitarian situation all across Syria, in particular in Eastern Ghouta,” Turkey’s foreign ministry said in a statement. But it added that Turkey “will remain resolute in fighting against the terrorist organizations that threaten the territorial integrity and political unity of Syria.”

 

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A look at the major developments of one of the deadliest weeks in the besieged Damascus suburbs of Eastern Ghouta.

 

DISPLACEMENT

‘I Was Something She Bought’: Syrian Men Marry To Survive

Although much has been written about Syrian refugee women in Turkey being sold into marriage, little is known of the Syrian men selling themselves in wedlock. Two such refugees share their stories to shed light on what they say is a growing trend.

 

 

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Community Insight

 

OPPOSITION GROUPS & REBEL FORCES

Braving Bombs, Health Workers Struggle to Save Lives in Eastern Ghouta

Areeb Ullah,  Journalist, Middle East Eye

 

The Syrian government has targeted a number of hospitals and medical clinics in East Ghouta recently, complicating attempts to provide life-saving care to the nearly 400,000 people trapped under bombardment, writes journalist Areeb Ullah.

 

 

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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.

 

 

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Activist Returned to Tajikistan Against His Will

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BISHKEK, Tajikistan – A Tajik man, Namunjon Sharipov, was extradited back to his come country on February 19, 2018 against his own will. Sharipov was living in Turkey at the time when Turkish forces arrested him on the 16th.

Image of Namunjon Sharipov in Turkey. Photo Courtesy of the Sharipov family.

Sharipov immigrated to Turkey in 2015 after political turmoil in Tajikistan. He is a high-ranking member of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), an opposition party of the Tajik government. The party was deemed a terrorist organization after a coup attempt on the Tajik government. There were no links between the IRPT and the coup. Nevertheless, several members of the party were arrested and found guilty.

On February 2nd, Tajik officials appeared at Sharipov’s business, a tea house, to encourage him to return to Tajikistan voluntarily and denounce the IRPT. The officials offered him money and ‘whatever he wanted.’ However, Sharipov gave no definite answer.

In the following days, the interactions became more heated. The officials threatened to cause problems for Sharipov if he did not comply with their request.

Turkish police became involved on February 5th when they arrested Sharipov on the street outside his tea house. The officials at the detention house, where he was taken, notified Sharipov of the Tajik arrest warrant against him for being a terrorist. The officials went further to say that he would not be deported. They suggested that he leave Turkey and travel to a safer country.

However, neither Sharipov nor his lawyer were informed that Tajikistan filed a formal extradition order. His lawyer was preparing travel accommodations to another country for Sharipov on February 19th under the direction of Turkish officials. However on that day, Tajik officials drove Sharipov to the airport and forced him on a plane destined for Tajikistan.

While there are reports that Sharipov notified a Radio Free Europe office in Tajikistan that he was safe and free, there are doubts to the credibility of this. It is believed that he is being held against his will and being forced to make contact with outside sources. There are also concerns about torture as those arrested after the aforementioned coup were reported to have been tortured.

For more information, please see:

National Helsinki Committee – Tajikistan: Activist Forcibly Returned From Turkey – 21 February 2018

Times of Central Asia – Tajikistan: banned Islamic party activist forcibly returned from Turkey – 21 February 2018

Human Rights Watch – Tajikistan: Activist Forcibly Returned From Turkey – 20 February 2018

Options for People with Mental Illness in America Continue to Decline

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

Washington, D.C., U.S. – Psychiatric Services published a study that estimates about 3.4% of Americans suffer from some sort of serious psychological problems. That amounts to over 8 million Americans, roughly the population of New York City.  What’s worse is that there is a severe shortage of inpatient care in the United States which continues to rise wit the number of people suffering from psychological problems.

Psychiatric hospitals across America continue to shrink in number. Photo Courtesy of Paul Sancya.

The Treatment Advocacy Center, a nonprofit organization that works to remove treatment obstacles for people with mental illness, published a study finding that, in 2012, there were only 50,509 state psychiatric beds. In raw numbers, that means that there were only 14 beds available for every 100,000 people suffering from a mental illness.

“Many times individuals who really do require intensive psychiatric care find themselves homeless or more and more in prison,” said Dominic Sisti, director of the Scattergood Program for Applied Ethics of Behavioral Health Care at the University of Pennsylvania“Much of our mental health care now for individuals with serious mental illness has been shifted to correctional facilities.”

Of the facilities that are still up and running today, many do not accept insurance. Considering most cost upwards of $30,000 a month, many people cannot afford the care. For low income individuals, their only hope is that they qualify for Medicaid. But even Medicaid has its limits. A provision in the law prevents the government from paying for long term care in such institutions.

Since so many cannot afford the care that they need, many end up in the emergency room during a mental health crisis. “We are the wrong site for these patients,” Dr. Thomas Chun, an associate professor of emergency medicine and pediatrics at Brown University, told NPR last year. “Our crazy, chaotic environment is not a good place for them.” Usually, hospitals only take people who need such care for up to 72 hours. At that point, they are released back into the community.

Over the last decade, the disappearance of such long term care facilities and psychiatric beds has increased. This is because of a trend in deinstitutionalization in the 1950’s and 60’s that has continued through today.”State hospitals began to realize that individuals who were there probably could do well in the community,” says Sisti. “It was well-intended, but what I believe happened over the past 50 years is that there’s been such an evaporation of psychiatric therapeutic spaces that now we lack a sufficient number of psychiatric beds.”

One place people may find new support is Nonprofits. NAMI Appalachian South, a regional chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness is one such nonprofit in North Carolina.

For more information, please see:

Smokey Mountain News – Nonprofits Offer Support, Funding to Mental Health – 21 February 2018

North West Herald – President Donald Trump’s Focus on Mental Health After School Shooting Denounced – 19 February 2018

NPR – How the Loss of U.S. Psychiatric Hospitals Led to a Mental Health Crisis – 30 November 2017

Pakistan’s Leading Human Rights Advocate Dies

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – On February 11th, 2018, Asma Jahangir, Pakistani’s leading human rights advocate died. According to her sister, Hina Jilani, a prominent rights activist, announced that Jahangir died of cardiac arrest.

Asma Jahangir, leading human rights activist dies at the age of 66. Photo courtesy of Arif Ali/ AFP.

In 2014, Jahangir received France’s highest civilian award and Sweden’s alternative to the Nobel Prize for her rights work. She spoke out for women and minority rights throughout her life and criticized Pakistan’s rights violations. Specifically, she was critical of Pakistan’s military, intelligence and right-wing parties. The former United Nations special rapporteur was 66.

In 1983, she was arrested for pro-democracy activities. She was again put under house arrest in 2007 for opposing military leader’s removal of Supreme Court chief justice. She also co-founded the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and the Women’s Action Forum.  She was the first female leader of Pakistan’s Supreme Court bar association. Jahangir served as the United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of religion and on human rights in Iran.

Some leaked documents suggested that some officers had planned to assassinate her. When the documents were leaked, she asked for an inquiry to find out “the forces who wanted to silence” her.

In the city of Lahore, thousands of people attended Jahangir’s funeral. Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi in a statement expressed his condolences and said that her death was a great loss. Moreover, Malala Yousafzai, Nobel Peace Prize winner called Jahangir a “savior of democracy and human rights.” The United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres has paid tribute to Jahangir following her death.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Asma Jahangir: Pakistan human rights champion dies – 11 February, 2018

The Straits Times – Asia Briefs: Pakistan human rights advocate dies – 12 February, 2018

Al Jazeera – Thousands pay respects to Pakistan’s ‘human rights giant’ – 14 February, 2018

Financial Times – Asma Jahangir, 1952-2018, human rights activist and lawyer – 16 February, 2018

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.

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