Pope Francis Apologizes for ‘Grave Errors’ Made in Chile Sex Abuse Case

By: Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

VATICAN CITY – After admitting “grave errors” in judgment concerning Chile’s sex abuse scandal, Pope Francis has invited three survivors to meet with him at the end of April.

Pope Francis Arrives in St. Peter’s Square on April 11th. Photo courtesy of Andrew Medichini.

The invitation comes after public outcry following the Pope’s visit to Chile in January and his defense of Bishop Juan Barros following accusations that Barros ignored sexual abuses committed by Rev. Fernando Karadima.

Sixty-four victims testified that Bishop Juan Barros had witnessed and ignored abuses suffered at the hands of Karadima.

During his visit to Chile in January, Francis accused Karadima’s victims of trying to assassinate Barros’ character.

After public outcry, Francis ordered Archbishop Charles Scicluna to investigate the scandal.

For decades, the Catholic church has been rocked by scandals involving thousands of priests accused of abusing countless more children.

In a letter to the public, Pope Francis apologized for his “grave errors in judgment” and blamed a lack of “truthful and balanced information” for his initial misgivings. He thanked the sixty-four individuals who testified against Barros and praised their courage to come forward and bare the “wounds of their souls.”

Juan Carlos Cruz, one of the survivors invited to the Vatican to meet with the Pope, hopes that the meetings will bring attention to survivors of sex abuse in the church worldwide.

Barros’ three main accusers plan to continue their fight “until zero tolerance about abuse and cover-up in the church becomes a reality,” they said in a statement.

“It’s about the thousands of survivors who have gone through horrible things, who have been disrespected, discredited. That culture has to change,” said Cruz. “It has to be about every survivor. I hope that this is a sign that this will not be the norm.”

A research organization called BishopAccountability, which tracks clergy abuses around the world, called Francis’ actions “long overdue but welcome.” Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of the organization, says that the decades-long pattern of abuses can only be thwarted by major systemic reform.

In his letter, Francis called for an emergency meeting with Chile’s bishops to discuss the scandal.

“From now on I ask forgiveness of all those I offended and I hope to be able to do it personally in the coming weeks,”Francis said.

For more information, please see:

CNN – Three Church sex Abuse Survivors to Meet With Pope – 13 April 2018

Huffington Post – Abuse Survivors Demand Concrete Action After Pope Admits his ‘Serious Errors’ – 13 April 2018

U.S. News and World Report – Chile Victims Meet Pope April 28-29 at Vatican – 13 April 2018

The Washington Post – Pope Admits he Made ‘Grave Errors’ in Chile sex Abuse Case – 11 April 2018

War Crimes Prosecution Watch: Volume 13, Issue 5 – April 16, 2018


FREDERICK K. COX
INTERNATIONAL LAW CENTER

Founder/Advisor
Michael P. Scharf

War Crimes Prosecution Watch

Volume 13 – Issue 5
April 16, 2018

Editor-in-Chief
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 warcrimeswatch@pilpg.org 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.

Contents

AFRICA

CENTRAL AFRICA

Central African Republic

Sudan & South Sudan

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Burundi

WEST AFRICA

Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)

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

Mali

EAST AFRICA

Uganda

Kenya

Rwanda (International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda)

Somalia

NORTH AFRICA

Libya

EUROPE

Court of Bosnia & Herzegovina, War Crimes Chamber

International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

Domestic Prosecutions In The Former Yugoslavia

MIDDLE EAST AND ASIA

Iraq

Syria

Afghanistan

Yemen

Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia

Special Tribunal for Lebanon

Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal

War Crimes Investigations in Burma

Israel and Palestine

North Korea

AMERICAS

North & Central America

South America

TOPICS

Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Terrorism

Piracy

Gender-Based Violence

Commentary and Perspectives

WORTH READING


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Two Women Stole More Than $800k From Elderly Woman

By: Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

CONNECTICUT, U.S.A. – Two women from Terryville Connecticut have been arrested for stealing from an elderly woman who passed away April 5, 2018. 71-year-old Sandra Pelkey and 60-year-old Mary Jeannie Benedetto have been stealing from the victim for over 10 years totaling more than $800,000 USD.

Pelkey was the woman’s caregiver and Benedetto was hired to do the interior design of the victims home. They were described as a mother daughter duo in one article and a pair of sisters in another. But the pair raised eyebrows of a banker and the victims Merrill Lynch wealth management advisor. The victim no longer wished to discuss finances with her wealth management advisor. The bank and the Merrill Lynch employee noticed that some checks were being written for large amounts to the two women and notified police.

Sandra Pelkey and Mary Jeannie Benedetto were arrested for stealing more than $800,000 from an elderly woman. Photo Courtesy of New Haven Police Department.

Police visited the home and the door was answered by the victim who was very confused. She indicated to them that Pelkey was her caregiver and Benedetto was hired to redo the inside of her home. Questions also came about over the purchase of a BMW because the victim no longer drives. The victim was under the impression that the car was just waiting to be delivered but it had been sold by Pelkey and Benedetto.

It was discovered that a hand written power of attorney was used to buy and sell the car. The victims daughter stated that the signature was in fact her mothers, but that the rest of the document was not in her handwriting. The victim has an alcohol abuse problem and her daughter believes that she was being encouraged to drink by the two women who used this to their advantage.

The police investigated the situation for nine months before any arrests were made. They discovered the abuse had been going on for ten years. However, they could only charge the pair with what had happened within the last five years because of the statute of limitations. Additionally, the police believe they discovered a second victim in New Haven and alerted the local police.

“Such victims lose faith in the world and the system that was supposed to protect them, for even if the perpetrators are caught and ordered to pay restitution, many offenders use any means necessary to avoid paying, often liquidating their assets and hiding them out of reach or declaring bankruptcy,” said Officer Hartman who worked on the case.

Benedetto and Pelkey are due back in court on May 4.

For more information, please see:

NBC Connecticut – Women Stole $800,000 from Elderly New Haven Woman: Police – 10 April 2018

New Haven Patch – $800,000 Stolen From Elderly Victim Over 10 Years: Ne Haven PD – 10 April 2018

WFSB – New Haven Elderly Woman Scammed of Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars – 10 April 2018

CT Post – Police: Women Stole More Than $800k From Elderly Woman – 19 March 2018

Syria Justice and Accountability Centre: Statement issued by Syrian organizations in support of the work of the IIIM

SJAC Update | April 18, 2018
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Statement issued by Syrian organizations in support of the work of the IIIM

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

 We, the signatories to this letter, are Syrian organizations working on human rights documentation, accountability, and transitional justice in Syria. Reaffirming our commitment to the demands of justice and accountability, standing in solidarity with all victims in Syria and recognizing their demands for justice and redress, we would like to make the following statement to the General Assembly of the United Nations and to the Secretary-General in support of the mandate of the IIIM. We wish to refer to the following points:

  1. Support the work of the IIIM and cooperate with its team:

In its resolution establishing the IIIM (A/71/L.48) in December 2016, the United Nations General Assembly called upon various bodies, including Syrian civil society, to cooperate fully with the IIIM, in particular to provide the IIIM with any information or documents these bodies may possess, as well as any other forms of assistance relevant to the IIIM mandate.

Over the past year and a half, Syrian civil society has worked diligently to support the IIIM’s work. Civil society has introduced the Syrian people to the mechanism, leading to a greater understanding of the IIIM’s mandate. This process included holding three consultative meetings with the mechanism’s team in Lausanne, Switzerland, recently culminating in the signing of a protocol of cooperation between the IIIM and Syrian civil society organizations. This protocol aims at ensuring mutual understanding between the parties in terms of opportunities for cooperation, furthering the parties’ common objective of ensuring justice and accountability for victims of crimes committed in Syria.

The signatory organizations look forward to working with the mechanism’s team to advance the justice and accountability agenda for all victims in Syria and would like to encourage international and local organizations to cooperate with the mechanism and support its mandate.

 

 

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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 info@syriaaccountability.org.
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Former Brazilian leader in police custody

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CURITIBA, Brazil – Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva surrendered himself to police after a day-long standoff. The politician has begun his twelve-year prison term for money laundering and corruption.

Demonstrators protest outside of the Federal Police Department in Curitiba, Brazil. Image Courtesy of Denis Ferreira.

Lula was taken into custody on Saturday in Sao Paulo and was flown to the southern city of Curitiba. Just hours earlier, he told thousands of supporters that he would surrender to police while still maintaining his innocence. Lula argues that his corruption conviction is just a way to keep him from running for re-election in October.

Judge Sergio Moro ordered the arrest warrant for Lula, giving him until 5 p.m. Friday to present himself to police. Instead, Lula chose to hunker down in the metal workers union headquarters where his rise to power began. The once very popular leader still has a large support base who gathered at the headquarters to keep him from going to jail.

When he first tried to leave, dozens of people blocked the gate where his car was trying to exit. His supporters had a few minutes of tense words with the guards until Lula got out of the car and went back into the building. He emerged a second time later that night surrounded by bodyguards who kept supporters away. He reported to police and was transported by helicopter to his cell in Curitiba.

Currently, Lula is appealing his conviction for corruption. The Supreme Federal Tribunal, the country’s top court, decided in a six to five vote that Lula could not remain free while appealing his conviction. However, it would only take one justice to change his mind for Lula to be released while pursuing his appeals. These could take months if not years. Additionally, Lula is facing six separate pending trials for corruption.

Polls conducted before he was jailed report that Lula was the frontrunner for the October presidential election. He claims that he is a political prisoner of the opposition party. Lula said, “The police and ‘Car Wash’ investigators lied. The prosecution lied, and I don’t forgive them for giving society the idea that I am a thief.”

Supporters have staged a “Free Lula” camp outside of the federal building where he is being held. They say they will not budge until he is released. Police estimated about 700 people camping around the building with more expected to arrive. The leader of the Workers’ Party, Gleisi Hoffmann, said Lula is a political prisoner and the party will not give up the fight to have him released.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Brazil ex-leader Lula’s supporters camp outside jail – 9 April 2018

Irish Times – Former Brazilian president Lula hands himself over to police – 8 April 2018

Washington Post – Still popular, Brazil’s Lula starts serving jail sentence – 8 April 2018

Chicago Tribune – Once wildly popular, Brazil’s da Silva is jailed to start 12-year sentence for graft – 7 April 2018

Times Union – Former leader of Brazil in police custody – 7 April 2018

Viktor Orban: ‘Significant Changes’ can be Expected in Hungary

By: Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

BUDAPEST, Hungary – Viktor Orban has just won re-election in Hungary, and wants the nation to know that “significant changes and modifications can be expected.”

Viktor Orban addressing a crowd in Budapest. Photo courtesy of Tamas Kovacs.

Orban’s party now has a supermajority of seats in Hungary’s parliament, having won 134 of the 199 seats in the national assembly.

Orban led his campaign on an anti-immigration platform. As the incumbent Prime Minister, Orban has employed various tactics in order to gain public support.

His influence has even found its way into school textbooks. One book espouses Orban’s belief that refugees pose a threat to Hungary, stating that “it can be problematic for different cultures to coexist.”

Orban’s tactics have been a point of contention in the European Union. As part of his campaign for re-election, he pledged to tighten Hungary’s borders and prevent migrants from getting into the country.

Orban believes that the European Union, the United Nations, and philanthropist George Soros intend to turn Hungary into an “immigrant country.”

As part of his efforts to prevent migrants from coming into the country, Orban supports the “Stop Soros” bill that would prevent civic workers in their efforts to assist and support asylum seekers. If the bill is passed, civic groups would be forced to obtain government permits. In addition, they would not be able to operate within five miles of Hungary’s borders, which is typically where migrants file claims seeking admission into the country.

Orban is outspoken in his belief that Hungary’s borders should not be opened to migrants. He once said to a Hungarian television station: “We will never allow Hungary to become a target country for immigrants. We do not want to see significantly sized minorities with different cultural characteristics and backgrounds among us. We want to keep Hungary as Hungary.”

Between 2015 and 2016, a wave of over one million migrants arrived in Europe. During that time, the European Commission proposed compulsory quotas be enacted to distribute the asylum-seekers to European Union member nations. Orban vehemently opposed the proposal, and in June of 2015 erected a barrier fence along the southern border of Hungary.

During his campaign, Orban refused to speak to opponents or the media, instead choosing to limit his appearances to rallies for is supporters.

Opponents of Orban believe that he is weakening the democratic system and attempting to concentrate too much power in too few hands. He has responded to these observations with assurances that “Hungary continues to stand on constitutional foundations. Within those, we will do everything that serves the interests of the Hungarian people.”

For more information, please see:

BBC News – The man who Thinks Europe has Been Invaded –  6 April 2018

BBC News – Viktor Orban Victory in Hungary: German Minister Warns EU – 9 April 2018

The New York Times – How Viktor Orban Bends Hungarian Society to His Will – 27 March 2018

Time – Hungary’s Far Right Leader Is Going Nowhere—and Europe Should Be Worried – 11 April 2018

The Washington Post – Hungary’s Viktor Orban to Make ‘Significant Changes’ in Govt – 10 April 2018

Trial for Domestic Terrorists Continues in Kansas

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WICHITA, Kansas — On Monday, March 19, the trial began for the three Kansas militia members who attempted to bomb an apartment complex that houses Somali refugees.

The defendants are alleged to have targeted the Garden City Apartments on Mary Street due to its high concentration of Muslim families. Photo Courtesy of Benjamin Rasmussen, NY Mag. 

Patrick Stein, Gavin Wright, and Curtis Allen—the ‘Crusaders’—each face charges of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and conspiracy against civil rights for allegedly planning to detonate truck bombs in an apartment complex of Garden City, a small rural town in southwest Kansas, the day after the November 2016 Presidential election.  The ‘Crusaders’ are a splinter group of the militia Kansas Security Force with violent anti-government and anti-Muslim views.

In 2014, the International Rescue Committee opened an office in Garden City, Kansas, to resettle refugees from war-ravaged countries like Somalia, many of whom are Muslim, and many of whom found jobs within the local meatpacking industry.  Witnesses testified that the Pulse Nightclub massacre on June 12, 2016, was the catalyst that shifted the Crusaders’ attitudes from ugly bigotry and complaints of “they’re taking our jobs,” to actual violent ideation and attempts at recruitment of other like-minded individuals.

Curtis Allen, who was in charge of writing the group’s manifesto to frame the terror attacks as a patriotic defense of the US Constitution against Muslim immigrants, also had prior convictions for domestic battery.  On October 11, Allen’s girlfriend called 911 to report he had beaten her, and the arresting agents found him illegally possessing two dozen firearms and thousands of rounds of ammunition in his home.

Patrick Stein sought material support from an undercover FBI agent to acquire materials to make explosives.  He was arrested shortly afterwards by the FBI on October 14, 2016, after delivering to them 300 pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer—which is the same raw material that was used by Timothy McVey in the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. He regularly referred to Muslims as “cockroaches,” and had nicknamed himself “Orkin-man” in reference to the extermination company.

The alleged plan was to detonate truck bombs around the apartment complex and shoot the survivors afterward in an attempt to do the maximum amount of damage.

The three men were indicted in October 2016 and pled not guilty to the charges.

During the jury selection process, the defense team argued that the pool of jurors for the case was drawn from more urban areas close to the federal courthouse in Wichita, and that this selection would exclude rural and conservative jurors.  The presiding judge informed the defense attorneys that the surrounding area included rural jurors as well.  One of the defense attorneys told the judge that the difference in belief systems between rural jurors around Wichita is substantially different from that of the population of rural southwest Kansas.  The prosecution cited case law that finds groups of prospective jurors are not considered distinctive groups by geographic location.

The theme of the defense team’s argument has been that defendants were swayed to action by fake news on Facebook and undercover FBI involvement.  The defense team has also sought to suppress evidence of 28,000 pages of defendants’ Facebook material, including anti-Muslim posts, pro-Trump memes, and fake news stories.

According to the Huffington Post, one of the defense attorneys cross-examined an FBI agent and asked why the FBI did not inform local police about the possible attack so that the police could have warned the defendants against the attack.  “Hey knucklehead,” the attorney suggested the police say. “We know what you’re talking about. Knock it off.”

On redirect, the prosecution asked the FBI agent if it was standard procedure to respond for law enforcement officers to a plot to bomb buildings and commit mass murder by calling the suspect a “Knucklehead” and asking them to “Knock it off.”  The agent said it was not.

For more information, please see:

Huffington Post – White Militiamen Charged In Plot To Massacre Muslims Argue They’re Just ‘Knuckleheads’ – 11 April 2018

KWCH – Defense begins questioning, manifest read in Garden City bomb plot trial – 11 April 2018

The Philadelphia Tribune – Jury selection starts in bombing plot aimed at Somalis – 23 March

The Washington Post – Trial opens for Kansas men accused of plotting to bomb Muslims – 22 March 2018

Huffington Post – Trump Backers Charged in Anti-Muslim Terror Plot May Argue They’re Just Facebook Warriors – 21 March 2018

KCUR – Trial Starting For Kansas Militiamen Accused of Mosque Bomb Plot In Garden City – 19 March 2018

Chicago Tribune – Attorneys for men in plot to bomb Kansas mosque want Trump voters on jury – 4 January 2018

New York Magazine – The Plot to Bomb Garden City, Kansas – 12 December 2017

Attacks Across Afghanistan Leave Police and Children Dead

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

KABUL, Afghanistan – On April 14 and 15, several attacks occurred across Afghanistan late at night and early in the morning.  It appears that three of the attacks were coordinated, targeting government posts.  Two all-girls schools were also attacked.  No organization has claimed responsibility, but the government suspects the Taliban attacked the government facilities.

Image of burned girls’ school in Logar Province. Photo courtesy of the Afghanistan Ministry of Education.

Two government checkpoints were attacked in the Sancharak District of Sar-i-Pul. This region has a history of bouncing back and forth between Taliban and government control.   Naqibullah Daqiq, the governor, said Taliban forces attacked with night-vision equipment and sniper rifles.  One guard was killed in the initial confrontation.  When local pro-government militiamen arrived, they attempted to engage the attacking forces. Another 10 were killed.

An attack in the Helmand province left 4 young children dead after a rocket hit their home and another child was wounded in a separate attack.

In Faryab province, the district of Dawlat Abad, 2 more government checkpoints were attacked. The police chief, Nematullah Tofan, reported that 4 government defenders were shot in the head by Taliban snipers and consequently died.

An additional two checkpoints in the Jaghatu district of Ghazni Province were attacked early in the morning on April  15.  Eight officers in this encounter died with another 4 wounded.

On Sunday afternoon, a group attacked three university guards in Jalalabad, who were on break for worship. The men rode by on motorcycle and opened fire while the men were praying.  Two died on site.  The third guard ran but was killed shortly as the gunmen followed him.

Earlier in the week on April 11, a group attacked a girls’ high school in Logar Province.  They attacked and locked up the guardsmen and proceeded to burn down the school.

For more information, please see:

The Washington Post – Officials: 4 kids, 2 police killed in Afghan attacks – 14 April 2018

The New York Times – Attacks in Afghanistan Leave Dozens Dead and 2 Schools Burned – 15 April 2018

Voice of America – Insurgents Attack Checkpoint in Afghanistan, Kill 4 Police – 15 April 2018

I Am Syria: The Fate of Douma City

The Fate Of Douma City

On April 7th 2018, reports started coming in from medics that civilians were coming in for treatment displaying symptoms of a chemical attack. Shortly after, video and pictures surfaced showing tens of dead bodies of women and children, along with scenes of families who suffocated in bunkers that became gas chambers after the attacks with no escape. Final death tolls reported 55 civilians dead and at least 1,000 injured.

On April 7th 2018, reports started surfacing that civilians were coming into Syrian hospitals displaying symptoms of a chemical attack. Shortly after, video and pictures surfaced showing tens of dead bodies of women and children, along with scenes of families suffocated in bunkers that became gas chambers after filling up with chlorine gas. Final death tolls reported 55 civilians dead and at least 1,000 injured.

​After being captured by rebel forces in 2012, government forces counterattacked the area of Eastern Ghouta in May 2013, beginning a siege.  Government forces then imposed restrictions on humanitarian supplies to Eastern Ghouta while simultaneously striking the area with air artillery.

In August 2013, Eastern Ghouta witnessed the deadliest chemical attacks since the Iran-Iraq war. Government forces launched rockets in the area containing sarin gas that killed over 1,700 people. Civilians never recovered and lived mostly on aid from outside sources.

Despite de-escalation agreement attempted in late 2017, the situation escalated in November. Between the start of heavy fighting in November 2017 up until the escalation through February 2018, the SNHR reported that 1,121 civilians had lost their lives, including 281 children and 171 women. There were more than 18 attacks on medical facilitates, 32 attacks on local markets and 11 attacks on schools. The SNHR also reported that chemical weapons and four cluster munitions were used by Syrian government, and government backed forces.

​In March, government forced broke up Eastern Ghouta, but Douma city was controlled by Jaysh al-Islam, who was holding onto the area and not evacuating like other rebel groups. Negotiations with the group stalled on April 6th 2018, resuming air strikes.

On April 7th 2018, two attacks took place in Douma City. One in north-western Douma on Saada Bakery, and the next on Martyrs Square according to the Violations Documentation Center (VDC).

Medics began reporting they were treating civilians with symptoms consistent with those of chlorine gas, and reported strong chlorine odor. Symptoms included acute dyspnea, conjunctivitis, and oral foaming.

​Aid groups and eyewitnesses immediately began blaming the Syrian regime and their allies for the chemical attack. Many agreed the attacks were aimed to break the will of rebel groups so they would let go of the area and evacuate. Groups also noted that Regime forces and allies have used chemical weapons numerous times during the seven year war. The UN found that three of these occasions included the use of chlorine gas.
Shortly after the attacks, Russian military operatives announced that the Syrian Government was in full control of the town as rebels controlling the area surrender.

On April 12th, it was announced that the fact-finding team from the Organization of Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was on its way to Syria to investigate the chemical attacks.

The international community was quick to denounce the attacks, claiming action would be taken against the Syrian regime and their allies. On April 14th, 2018, the US, backed by Britain and France led air strikes against Syria, targeting area they claimed were vital to Syria’s chemical weapons program.  Shortly after the air strikes, the US, France and Britain laid out evidence that the chemical attacks were perpetrated by the Syrian Regime. They cited eyewitness accounts of government helicopters in the area, and accounts of the same helicopters taking off from the nearby airfield.

The future of Douma city and Eastern Ghouta is unclear as the investigation by the OPCW in still underway. The small agricultural town of Eastern Ghouta on the outskirts of the capital city of Damascus, is home to over 400,000 people that are still in dire need of aid and medical attention after the chemical attacks.

​After being captured by rebel forces in 2012, government forces counterattacked the area in May 2013, beginning the siege on Eastern Ghouta.  Government forces then imposed restrictions on humanitarian supplies to the area while simultaneously striking the area with air artillery.

In August 2013, Eastern Ghouta witnessed the deadliest chemical attacks since the Iran-Iraq war. Government forces launched rockets in the area containing sarin gas that killed over 1,700 people. The area never recovered and lived mostly on aid from outside sources.

Despite de-escalation agreement attempted in late 2017, the situation escalated in November. Between the start of heavy fighting in November 2017 up until the escalation through February 2018, the SNHR reported that 1,121 civilians had lost their lives, including 281 children and 171 women. There were more than 18 attacks on medical facilitates, 32 attacks on local markets and 11 attacks on schools. The SNHR also reports that chemical weapons and four cluster munitions were used by Syrian government, and government backed forces.

​In March, government forced broke up Eastern Ghouta, but Douma city was controlled by Jaysh al-Islam, who was holding onto the area and not evacuating like other rebel groups. Negotiations with the group stalled on April 6th 2017, resuming air strikes in the area.

On April 7th 2017, two attacks took place in Douma City. One in noth-western Douma on Saada Bakery, and the next on Martyrs Square according to the Violations Documentation Center (VDC).

Medics began reporting treating civilians with symptoms consistent with those of chlorine gas, and reported strong chlorine odor. Symptoms included acute dyspenea, conjunctivitis, oral foaming and miosis.

​Aid groups and eyewitnesses immediately began blaming the Syrian Regime and their allies for the chemical attack. Many agreed the attacks were aimed to break the will of rebel groups so they let go of the area and evacuate. Groups also noted that Regime forces and allies have used chemical weapons numerous times during the seven year war. The UN found that three of these occasions included the use of chlorine gas.  Shortly after the attacks, Russian military operatives announced that the Syrian Government was in full control of the town as rebels controlling the area surrender.

On April 12th, it was announced that the fact-finding team from the Organization of Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was on it’s way to Syria to investigate the chemical attacks.

The international community was quick to denounce the attacks, claiming action would be taken against the Syrian Regime and their allies. On April 14th, 2017, the US, backed by Britain and France led air strikes against Syria, targeting area they claimed were vital to Syria’s chemical weapon program.  Shortly after the air strikes, the US, France and Britain laid out evidence that the chemical attacks were perpetrated by the Syrian Regime. They cited eyewitness accounts of government helicopters in the area, and taking off from the nearby airfield.

The future of Douma city and Eastern Ghouta is unclear as the investigation by the OPCW in still underway. The small agricultural town of Eastern Ghouta on the outskirts of the capital city, is home to over 400,000 people that are still in dire need of aid and medical attention after the chemical attacks.

Brazilian state seeks to close border with Venezuela

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

RORAIMA, Brazil – The governor of Brazil’ northern state of Roraima asked the Supreme Court for permission to temporarily close the only land border crossing with neighboring Venezuela. This move would halt the massive influx of Venezuelan migrants.

Venezuelan families sleeping in Simon Bolivar public square in Boa Vista’s city center. Image Courtesy of Reynesson Damasceno.

Roraima Governor Suely Campos petitioned the high court to order the federal government to increase assistance in her state to deal with the humanitarian crisis. She also requested that the border be closed until the government implements orderly immigration procedures. Campos explained that she had to go to the top court because the federal government had not responded to her state’s requests.

Campos justifies her request by pointing out that the Venezuelan economic crisis causes more than 500 immigrants to cross the open border every day. She says the process is disorderly and most are allowed to enter with no visa, just by showing a Venezuelan document. This has overloaded health, housing, and education services. It is bringing threat of disease and social disorder. Many of these immigrants walked hundreds of kilometers to reach the state capital, Boa Vista, and end up sleeping in the streets.

Campos says, “we have to require more documents, vaccination cards, criminal background checks, the inspection of cars. There has to be a way to contain this influx.” She later told Brazilian media that Brazil’s President Michel Temer has been ineffective in helping her state contain the crisis.

President Temer, attending the Summit of the Americas in Lima, stated that closing the border was “unthinkable.” He said his government was delivering assistance requested by Roraima, and he hoped the Supreme Court would deny the governor’s request to shut the border. The president remarked, “I have just read the petition and I noticed that many of the measures requested are already being taken, such as the shipment of resources and personnel who are going there to provide social assistance and medical care.”

In February, the federal government declared an emergency to boost funding for Roraima and doubled the number of troops at the border. The government also started using Air Force planes to move refugees to larger Brazilian cities. Additionally, closing the border would violate international treaties. President Temer said, “closing borders is not a habit of Brazil. Brazil would not close borders, and I hope that is the understanding of the Supreme Court.”

Since last year, more than 50,000 Venezuelan refugees have fled Venezuela and crossed into Roraima. This influx was approximately equal to ten percent of the state’s population of 520,000 people.

For more information, please see:

Xinhua Net – Brazilian president says closing border with Venezuela “unthinkable” – 14 April 2018

The Santiago Times – Brazilian state asks Supreme Tribunal to temporarily close Venezuela border – 14 April 2018

Business Insider – Brazil state seeks to shut Venezuelan border to stop refugee flow – 13 April 2018

National Post – Brazilian governor wants to close border with Venezuela – 13 April 2018

Thousands Again Protest ‘Stop Abortion’ Bill in Poland

By: Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

WARSAW, Poland – On March 23rd, thousands of protesters across the Poland marched in response to plans to fortify country’s already strict abortion laws.

Demonstrators in Warsaw Protest New ‘Stop Abortion’ Legislation. Photo courtesy of Marcin Obara.

A new bill in parliament intends to ban abortions that are performed as a result of fetal abnormalities, one of the few instances in which an abortion is currently allowed in the country.

The “Black Friday” protests were conducted across the country as a result of the proposal.

Abortion is currently banned for the most part in Poland. Currently, abortions are allowed in cases of rape, incest, when there is serious threat to the mother’s health or if the fetus has been found to have severe, irreversible damage.

However, illegal abortions are rampant in Poland. For every 1,000 to 2,000 legal abortions there are an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 illegal ones.

A letter from over 200 groups stressed that “This bill would further hinder women, particularly those from low-income and rural communities, from accessing safe abortion care….and place women’s health and lives at risk and violate Poland’s international human rights obligations.”

Europe’s human rights watchdog, The Council of Europe, is urging lawmakers to reject the bill, stressing that violates Poland’s human rights commitments.

Proponents of the bill say that 96% of abortions performed in 2016 were on fetuses diagnosed with Down Syndrome.

Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda, supports the bill and has promised to sign it if it is approved by parliament.

A bill drafted in 2016 proposed to ban all abortions, even those where it was essentially guaranteed that the fetus would die.  The bill also would have limited access to prenatal care as well as contraception. This proposal was rejected after it initiated nationwide demonstrations, with more than 150,000 Polish citizens mobilizing across the country to oppose it.

The same women’s groups that protested in 2016 came back out in force to oppose the latest legislation which is entitled “Stop Abortion.”

Droves of people took to the streets with signs reading “Girl Power” and “My body, my choice.”

Critics of the bill fear that if already strict abortion laws are made even more stringent, women will travel to other countries to obtain abortions or resort to unsafe methods, putting their lives at risk.

Draginja Nadazdin, director or Amnesty International, spoke on the matter, saying “Women in Poland are strong and determined and we will defeat this threat. But we should not have to fight our own members of parliament to get our basic rights.”

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Poland Abortion: Protests Against Bill Imposing new Limits – 26 March 2018

CNN – Poles March Against Abortion ban, Again. – 23 March 2018

Newsweek – Black Friday Protests Against ‘Stop Abortion’ Bill Planned in Poland – 23 March 2018

New York Times – Polish Women Protest Proposed Abortion Ban (Again) – 23 March 2018

Syria Deeply: Join our Deeply Talks – Making Sense of the Syria Strike

Dear Syria Deeply community,

Join Syria Deeply on Monday, April 16, at 11:00 a.m. ET (4:00 p.m. CET) for a special session of Deeply Talks, covering the fallout of the joint U.S., U.K. and France strike in Syria, and what it could mean for the conflict at large, the welfare of civilians, the persistence of ISIS and jihadi groups and the growing footprint of Iran and Russia in Syria.

In a 30-minute live conversation, our editors Alessandria Masi, Lara Setrakian and Hashem Osseiran will discuss the motivations behind the first coordinated action by western governments against the Syrian government targets, whether or not it could deter the future use of chemical weapons against civilians and the strike’s potential impact on relations between Russia and the U.S.

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

Please send us your questions and 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 of Geopolitics
News Deeply

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Protests in Southern Kashmir

By: Katherine Hewitt
News Reporter, Asia

KASHMIR, India – In Southern Kashmir, conflict between soldiers and rebels left 19 dead over March 31st and April 1st.

Funeral prayers being said over one of the dead from clash in southern Kashmir. Photo Courtesy of Mukhtar Khan.

The government raided three villages, Dialgam, Dragad, Kachdora in the Shopian district, in response to a tip-off that rebels were present.   They were members of the largest rebel party in Kashmir – Hizbul Mujahideen. During the ensuing gun battle, 13 rebels were killed.  Among them were top commanders. Three soldiers were also killed.

Villagers marched in the direction of the conflict to help the rebels get away in the confusion.  Indian soldiers fired live ammunition into the crowds.  As one villager Manzoor Ahmad noted: “The forces fired live ammunition at the civilians. Several young people received pellet injuries in their eyes; two people received bullets in front of my eyes.”  In the end 4 civilians lost their lives and more than 25 were wounded.  Homes were also damaged in the conflict.  It was reported that the Indian forces attached civilian homes with explosives.

On April 1, many villagers took to the streets protesting the previous day and nights events.  They chanted anti-India slogans and demanded the end of Indian rule.

As a result, the government has restricted mobile internet access in the region and cut off train routes.  Additionally, paramilitary troopers were rushed into volatile parts of Kashmir to guard the streets and prevent future protests.  Some areas are now under curfew as well.

The separatist leaders in response to the killings called for a citywide shutdown.  Many business have also participated in the shutdown.

For more information please visit: 

AlJazeera – Massive anti-India protests erupt in southern Kashmir –  1 April 2018 

Washington Post – Anti-India protests erupt in Kashmir amid deadly fighting – 1 April 2018 

Chicago Daily Herald  –  Anti-India protests erupt in Kashmir as troops kill 8 rebels – 1 April , 2018

Complaint Expected Regarding YouTube Collecting Data From Children

By: Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

SAN BRUNO, California – A complaint is expected in federal court on Monday, April 9th, claiming YouTube has been violating a children’s privacy law. More than 20 consumer advocacy groups are expected to come together and file the complaint. The advocacy groups claim that YouTube has been both collecting and profiting from collecting the personal information of children on its main site. YouTube, a subsidiary of Google, says their platform is only meant for those 13 years of age and older.

The advocacy groups contend that YouTube has been violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. The federal law states that companies are supposed to obtain consent from the parents of children younger than 13 before they collect their data. The law is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission and the advocacy groups are asking that the FTC starts enforcing the law on YouTube.

Over 20 advocacy groups are expected to bring a complaint against YouTube for allegedly violating the Children’s Privacy Protection Act. Photo courtesy of Artur Debat/Getty Images.

“Google has been continually growing its child-directed service in the United States and all over the world without any kind of acknowledgment of this law and its responsibilities. It’s living in a world of online fiction and denied that it’s serving children,” said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy.

YouTube defines itself as for viewers of 13 years of age or older and directs those younger than that to YouTube Kids. YouTube Kids has filtered versions of the videos and content that can be found on YouTube. The distinction YouTube gives between its’ main site and YouTube Kids is important in terms of the law. The reason for this is the rules on disclosure and parental consent that kick in for sites with supposed “actual knowledge” that they are dealing in the personal information of children under the age of 13.

The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act was passed in 1998 and updated in 2012.  It was updated to accommodate for the development of mobile devices. The update made it clear that companies were still to obtain parental permission before collecting the personal information of children. Some of this information includes identity, contact and location.

But YouTube’s terms of service state that if you are visiting the site, you are affirming that you are at least 13 years of age. By watching a video on YouTube, the policy says, viewers give parent company, Google, permission to collect the data tied to the user’s device, location, browsing habits, phone number and more. The advocacy groups say that this is the kind of information the Act requires parental consent for.

YouTube provided a statement that said they had not yet received the complaint but protecting kids and families has always been a top priority for us.”

For more information, please see:

CBS – YouTube Violates Children’s Privacy, Consumer Groups Claim – 9 April 2018

New York Times – YouTube is Improperly Collecting Children’s Data, Consumer Group Says – 9 April 2018

Verge – Consumer Advocacy Groups Complain That YouTube is Collecting Information From Children – 9 April 2018

Former Opposition Party Leader Calls for Election Boycotts in Cambodia

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – In November of 2017, the Supreme Court of Cambodia dissolved the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), the main opposition party to Prime Minister’s Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).  Now, the former leader of the CNRP is asking people to boycott the upcoming elections in protest of the party’s ban.  The current leader of the CNRP, Kem Sokha, was arrested in late 2017 on charges of treason.

Former CNRP leader, Sam Rainsy (front left) with Kem Sokha, the current leader who is in jail facing charges of treason. Photo courtesy of Tang Chhin Sothy.

Following the ban on the CNRP several countries have cut aid, imposed travel bans, and condemn the actions.  Many nations like Japan are demanding free and fair elections in Cambodia.  The CPP is predicted to win the next election almost completely unopposed.

Sam Rainsy, the former CNRP leader, recently tweeted, “I call on all my Cambodian fellow compatriots who believe in democracy to boycott the  July 29, 2018 elections if the CNRP is not allowed to participate.”  Rainsy has been extremely critical of the current Prime Minister, Hun Sen, for several years now; it is not clear whether his tweet reflects his personal beliefs or those of CNRP.

A spokesperson of the CPP said of Rainsy’s tweet, “The CNRP is already dead by the Supreme Court’s decision.  Even if Sam Rainsy appeals until he dies, people no longer believe him.”

Many of the former members of the CNRP and its factions have found exile in the United States.  It is here that they continue to mobilize and speak on Cambodian politics.  One professor of diplomacy says, “Is the spirit of the CNRP still alive? Of course it’s still alive.”  It is just continuing its work elsewhere until its reconstituted.

For more information please visit:

Reuters – Cambodia’s former opposition leader calls for election boycott – 8 April 2018

South China Morning Post – Cambodia’s former opposition leader Sam Rainsy calls for election boycott if his dissolved party remains excluded – 8 April 2018

Voice of America – Cambodia’s Former Opposition Leader Calls for Election Boycott – 8 April 2018

Asia Times – Can Cambodia’s fractured opposition survive? – 5 April 2018