UK Supreme Court to Rule on Abortion Ban in Northern Ireland

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

LONDON, England – Activists in Northern Ireland are urging lawmakers in the United Kingdom to overturn the current restrictions on abortion in the country.

A Protestor at a Rally in Belfast. Photo Courtesy of Charles McQuillan. 

In June, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Council (NIHRC) was unsuccessful in its efforts to convince judges that the rights of sexual assault victims and women with fatal fetal abnormalities were being violated.

The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom will hear evidence from the United Nations Human Rights Committee beginning on Tuesday, November 7th. The hearing is scheduled to last three days and end with a vote. The Supreme Court in London is the final court of appeal. Ireland will hold a referendum in 2018 regarding its strict abortion laws.

Criminalization of abortion began in 1861 with the passage of the Offences against the Person Act. Abortion is currently still illegal in Northern Ireland, but a provision was added in 1945 that allows for termination of a pregnancy if there is a threat to the life of the mother. Those who break the law face life imprisonment.

Human rights activists believe that the strict laws strip women of their fundamental human rights. Nathalie Lieven, lead counsel for the NIHRC said that “The impact of the criminal law in Northern Ireland does amount to inhuman and degrading treatment by the state.”

In 2016, the legislature voted against allowing abortions in cases of rape, incest or fetal abnormality.

Ms. Lieven says that the laws cause “trauma and humiliation” and criminalize those who are already in “exceptionally vulnerable position(s).”

The NIHRC has provided testimony from women who have been denied abortion to bolster their case. Ashleigh Topley was four-and-a-half months into her pregnancy in 2013 when she was told by doctors that her baby’s limbs were not growing and that the baby would die. Ms. Topley was forbidden from terminating the pregnancy. Her baby girl’s heart stopped when she went into labor after thirty-five weeks.

A poll conducted by Amnesty International found that the majority of citizens favor a woman’s choice to terminate a pregnancy given certain factors. 85% of citizens in Northern Ireland would support the choice for abortion if the pregnancy is the result of rape, 81% if there is a diagnosis of fetal abnormality and 89% if a woman’s health is at risk.

Colm O’Groman, Executive Director of Amnesty International in Ireland, stated that the public shows strong support for “women making their own decisions about their pregnancies.” He points to the poll as evidence that the issue is not as divisive as the media portrays it.

“Public support varies on the precise gestational limits but it remains solidly behind women making their own decisions about their pregnancies,” said O’Groman.

Litigation regarding the law was initiated by NIHRC is 2014 and has been ongoing ever since.

For more information, please see:

The Guardian – Supreme Court to Hear Challenge to Northern Ireland Abortion law – 23 October 2017

BBC News – Abortion Laws ‘Punish Sex-Crime Victims’ – 26 October 2017

Reuters – UK Supreme Court Hears Attempt to Change Northern Ireland Abortion law – 24 October 2017

The Washington Post – Rights Group Challenges N Ireland Abortion ban at top Court – 24 October 2017

Poland Opposes Visit by White Supremacist Richard Spencer

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

WARSAW, Poland – Richard Spencer, the American white nationalist, is not welcome in Poland.

Richard Spencer. Photo Courtesy of David J. Phillip.

The Polish government has issued statements condemning Spencer’s views as a threat to democracy and objecting to his upcoming visit to Warsaw. Foreign minister Witold Waszczykowski stated that Spencer should not appear publicly in Poland, describing him as someone who “defames what happened during World War II, defames the Holocaust.”

Spencer is the white supremacist who organized the Charlottesville, Virginia rally that killed a counter-protestor in August after the rally turned violent. He has since held other rallies and is looking to expand his message to Europe.

He was invited by several far-right Polish organizations to speak at a conference in Warsaw that took place on November 10th. The National Social Congress announced that Spencer would speak at a panel discussion during its “Europe of Future” meeting. The annual conference is organized by the far-right to celebrate Polish Independence Day. In past years, marches held on November 11th by far-right extremists were some of the largest extremist gatherings in Europe.

Spencer’s followers consist of members of the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and white supremacists. They support his condemnation of diversity and embrace his far-right ideologies including nationalism, racism and anti-Semitism. Studies show that anti-Semitism and xenophobia is on the rise in Poland, which will likely help Spencer draw an audience there.

The government had been pressured to prevent Spencer from speaking at the event. “Spencer’s views strike not only the Jewish community or other minority groups. The hatred that Spencer and his followers proclaim is a threat to all who are close to the values of human rights and democracy,” said Agnieszka Markiewicz, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Central European office.

When the Polish Border Guard was contracted regarding the issue, a spokeswoman declined to divulge any information, citing privacy regulations. Spencer did not end up attending.

In 2014, Hungary Spencer’s think tank, the National Policy Institute, was prevented from holding a conference. When Spencer defied the ban, he was arrested, deported and banned from entering Europe’s 26 visa-free countries for three years.

The Polish Foreign Ministry said “As a country which was one of the biggest victims of Nazism, we believe that the ideas promoted by Mr. Spencer and his followers could pose a threat to all those who hold dear the values of human rights and democracy.”

For more information, please see:

The Guardian – Poland to Richard Spencer – Keep Out – 27 October 2017

The New York Times – Poland Objects to Visit by White Nationalist Richard Spencer – 27 October 2017

Newsweek – Richard Spencer is too Racist for Poland’s Right-Wing Government – 27 October 2017

The Washington Times – Poland Opposes Visit From Richard Spencer, White Nationalist and Charlottesville Rally Participant – 27 October 2017

Hate Crimes on the Rise in England and Wales

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

LONDON, England – Hate crimes are on the rise in the United Kingdom, according to authorities.

Candlelight Vigil Following Manchester Attack. Photo Courtesy of Andrew Testa.

The rise comes following Britain’s vote to leave the European Union in 2016 along with a wave of extremist attacks since then.

Between 2016 and 2017, there were 80,393 reported offenses, compared to 62,518 between 2015 and 2016. This 29 percent rise is the largest since official hate crime figures were published five years ago.

The crimes spiked surrounding significant events such as the European Union referendum, known as “Brexit,” and extremist attacks on the Westminster Bridge, Manchester Arena and the London Bridge.

Last year’s Brexit campaign was supported by many right-wing and nationalist groups. The vote spurred concerns that minorities and immigrants would be susceptible to hate crimes as a result.

Of the crimes reported, approximately 80 percent were based on race, 10 percent on sexual orientation and 7 percent on religion. A number of these crimes were recorded as disability hate crimes and others as motivated by transgender hate.

The rise in figures may partially be attributed to the broadened definition of what constitutes a hate crime. Hate crimes are now categorized if victims of verbal or physical assaults consider them as such. Public awareness and increased reporting may also be a factor, as authorities are also considered better able to record and document such incidents.

Amber Rudd, Home Secretary, said that “no one in Britain should have to suffer violent prejudice, and indications that there was a genuine rise in the number of offenses immediately following each of this year’s terror attacks is undoubtedly concerning.”

Governmental funds are being designated to protect places of worship and support community projects.

Tougher sentences are being handed down by courts dealing with hate crimes. The Crown Prosecution Service published data showing that sentences increased if the crimes were motivated on the grounds of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability.

However, the number of cases being prosecuted has dropped from 15,542 between 2015 and 2016 to 14,480 between 2016 and 2017.

“We must continue to encourage all those affected by hate crimes to speak out, and in doing so send a clear message that hate and prejudice can have absolutely no place in modern Britain,” said Mustafa Field, director of the Faiths Forum for London.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Rise in Hate Crime in England and Wales – 17 October 2017

The Guardian – Hate Crime Surged in England and Wales After Terrorist Attacks – 17 October 2017

The New York Times – U.K. Reports Big Rise in Hate Crime, Citing Brexit and Terrorist Attacks – 17 October 2017

The Washington Post – Britain Reports Hate Crimes Spike After Brexit Votes, Attack – 17 October 2017

Violence at Independence Vote in Catalonia Injures Hundreds

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

BARCELONA, Spain – Nearly 900 civilians and over 400 police officers were injured in clashes sparked by the Catalan independence referendum on October 1st.

A Police Officer Struggles With a Demonstrator in Spain. Photo Courtesy of Luca Piergiovanni / EPA-EFE / REX/ Shutterstock.

Videos at the scene show police dragging people out of voting stations, throwing them down stairs and kicking them. Rubber bullets were also fired at civilians.

Human Rights Watch, a human rights organization based out of New York, sent a representative to Barcelona to investigate the allegations of police brutality, declaring that the Spanish state “has a duty to protect the rights to peaceful assembly and free expression.”

Government officials in Spain defended the police action and called it proportional to the threat. Force was used under orders from Madrid to shut down voting stations and seize ballot boxes.

Citizens of Catalonia have long harbored a desire for independence from Spain. Catalonia is a region in Spain with its own language and culture. However, Spain’s constitution of 1978 gives the government exclusive power to hold referendums, and it considered the referendum to be unconstitutional.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy had promised to do anything in his power to stop the referendum from taking place. He thanked the police for their “firmness and serenity” in the situation.

Over two million people were able to vote despite the violence. Of those, 90 percent voted for the secession of Catalonia. Many were prevented from casting their votes.

Eyewitnesses report that police were indiscriminate in who they targeted. There were reports of children and elderly people being injured.

“The police didn’t beat just people who were going to vote ‘Yes,” they forced and kicked at everybody, old people included,” said Pau Subira Zirita, a witness.

Violence also ensued between the Catalan regional police and the Civil Guards, a paramilitary force sent in from around Spain.

The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muiznieks, urged Spain to conduct “swift, independent and effective” investigations into the conduct of the police and their use of force in the situation.

“I urge you to ensure, in co-operation with other authorities in charge of law enforcement, that swift, independent and effective investigations are carried out into all allegations of police misconduct and disproportionate use of force during the events of 1 October 2017 in Catalonia,” he said.

Anais Franquesa Griso, a human rights lawyer, is working with several organizations, including Human Rights Watch, to collect information from those injured or whose rights were deprived. This information will be reported to international human rights organizations.

For more information, please see:

Aljazeera – Catalan Vote: Claims of Police Brutality Probed – 3 October 2017

Los Angeles Times – Amid Scenes of Chaos and Violence, Catalonia Independence Vote is Projected to Pass Overwhelmingly – 1 October 2017

The Local – Council of Europe Human Rights Chief Urges Spain to Launch Probe Into Police Action in Catalonia – 9 October 2017

The New York Times – Catalonia Leaders Seek to Make Independence Referendum Binding – 2 October 2017

Reuters – Madrid Representative in Catalonia Apologizes for Police Violence During Independence Vote – 6 October 2017

Merkel Agrees to Limit Refugees Entering Germany

 By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

BERLIN, Germany – German Chancellor Angela Merkel has agreed to limit the number of refugees allowed to enter Germany each year to 200,000, a decision that has elicited both support and criticism in the nation.

Angela Merkel and Horst Seehofer, leader of the Christian Social Union Party. Image courtesy of The Guardian.

The German Christian Social Union and the Christian Democratic Union  were in talks for hours before an agreement could be reached.

Many German voters had been angered with Merkel’s previous open-door policy, which effectively allowed in anyone who could reach the country. In 2015, this policy allowed over one million people in.

In July, Merkel stated “on the issue of an upper limit, my position is clear. I won’t accept one.”

Many see the policy as a concession to the demands of the far-right Alternative for Germany party, or AfD, which was propelled in September’s elections where Merkel lost millions of voters. The AfD campaigned on an anti-Islam, anti-migrant platform, becoming the third largest party in Parliament. The new measure is seen in many as a way of winning back voters.

Many believe that Merkel must negotiate with smaller parties in order to form a cohesive coalition government. Ms. Merkel believes the policy is necessary, saying that “Germany needs a stable government and the prerequisite for this was a common negotiating position.”

In 2016, the number of refugees capped at 280,000. That number has since fallen drastically, with fewer than 124,000 people applying for asylum in the first eight months of 2017. Experts are saying that the proposed limit is in line with current immigration trends.

The new policy is not being described as a limit, as no one who is seeking asylum will be turned away at the borders once the 200,000 limit has been reached. The figure can be altered should a new refugee crisis emerge.

The policy is being criticized, with Karl Kopp, director for European Affairs at Pro Asyl, a German refugee charity, saying that the policy is “not compatible with international law” and “totally unacceptable.”

Simone Peters, head of the Green Party, claimed that “The figure is completely arbitrary, fixed purely ideologically. As far as we’re concerned the fundamental right to asylum applies. When you throw together asylum seekers, refugee contingents, resettlement programs and family members joining refugees all in one pot, and then set a limit of 200,000, one group will be thrown under the bus.”

For more information, please see:

CNN – Merkel Changes Tune on German Refugee Cap – 9 October 2017

The Guardian – Germany: Merkel Agrees to 200,000 Refugees Cap in Bid to Build Coalition – 9 October 2017

The New York Times – Germany’s Angela Merkel Agrees to Limits on Accepting Refugees – 9 October 2017

France Passes Controversial Counterterrorism Bill

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

PARIS, France – On Tuesday, October 3rd, the French Parliament approved a national counterterrorism security bill, significantly expanding the state’s power to fight terrorism. Activists are calling it a historic threat to civil liberties.

Demonstrators Protest Counterterrorism Bill in France. Photo courtesy of The Washington Post.

The bill was passed in response to a wave of terrorist activity that began in November 2015 when 130 people were killed in attacks in Paris. A state of emergency was declared at the time and has been extended six times. Since then, the number of lives taken by terrorist violence has risen to 239.

The legislation, which was enacted at the behest of President Emmanuel Macron, allows French police to conduct searches and seizures and place suspects under house arrest with little court intervention or supervision. With judicial approval, police will also be able to raid private property, impose restrictions on people’s movements, and use electronic surveillance tags.

Mosques and other places of worship will be shut down if intelligence agencies believe religious leaders are promoting radical ideology or justifying terrorist acts.

Activists are concerned with the abuses that may arise with this legislation and its potential to infringe on civil rights and discriminate against French Muslims, the country’s largest minority.

“A project like this one constitutes a threat to our rights because it replaces facts by suspicion,” said Jacques Toubon, who now serves as the country’s human rights watchdog.

One concern is that the legislation is too vague in its language. Police will be able to exercise the measures described in the bill if they have “serious reasons” to suspect someone is involved in terrorist activity.

Many French citizens support the bill and do not believe that it threatens their liberty. They believe that they are more vulnerable to violence without the measures in place.

Other countries have tightened up security in response to terrorist threats, but the French laws are among the broadest in scope.

The United Nations sent a letter to the French government in late September regarding the “restrictions to fundamental liberties” that would be a consequence of the law.

Other critics of the law point to the fact that since the emergency measures have been put in place in 2015, none of them have prevented terrorist attacks.

Marwan Muhammad, director of the Collective Against Islamophobia in France, an advocacy group that fights discrimination, said that a result of the measures will be that “what was problematic and exceptional will now become problematic and normal.”

For more information, please see:

BBC – France Approves Tough New Anti-Terror Laws – 4 October 2017

New York Times – French Parliament Advances a Sweeping Counterterrorism Bill – 3 October 2017

Reuters – France Backs Tough Anti-Terrorism Laws After Wave of Attacks – 3 October 2017

Washington Post – French Muslims Enraged by Passage of Macron’s Version of Patriot Act – 3 October 2017

Austria Criminalizes the Wearing of Burqas in Public

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

VIENNA, Austria – On Sunday, October 1st, Austria implemented a law prohibiting Muslim women from wearing Burqas in public.

Woman wearing a niqab. Photo courtesy of The Guardian.

The “Prohibition for the Covering of the Face” law, commonly known as the “Burqa Ban,” was approved in May of 2017 and implemented on October 1st. It prohibits women from wearing burqas and niqabs in public.

The decision to prohibit burqas comes at a time when anti-Muslim bigotry is at an all-time high, both in Europe and the United States. The law has thus far garnered strong support in the predominantly Catholic country, reflecting anti-Muslim attitudes.

Similar sentiments have become increasingly prevalent in other European countries. In the midst of elections in Germany in September, the anti-migrant Alternative for Germany party campaigned with posters featuring the slogan “Burqas? We prefer Bikinis.”

The upcoming national election in Austria is looking favorably to those who are campaigning on an anti-migrant message.

Five out of seven of those polled that support the law also said they will vote for the two parties that are linked to anti-Muslim rhetoric, the Freedom Party and the People’s Party.

Muslim women leaders are condemning the law, viewing the claim that it is intended to help women as insincere.

Carla Amina Baghajati, spokeswoman for the Austrian Islamic Religious Authority, criticized the law. “They believe that they are ‘freeing these women’ and that they’re taking action to secure the identity of Austria, but this is hypocritical as the idea of an open society is that everybody has the liberty to act and dress as they please as long as nobody else is harmed,” she said.

Activists and experts say that the ban violates religious rights and will only perpetuate the problem of Islamophobia.

Farid Hafez, a senior research fellow at Georgetown University’s Bridge Initiative, said that “Islamophobia is a problem in Austria as it is a problem and a challenge to democracy, human rights and religious freedom in many European countries today.”

Sebastian Kurz, Foreign Minister of Austria, said that the burqa “is not a religious symbol but a symbol for a counter-society.”

Those who defy the law and continue to cover their faces can be fined up to $175. Police are authorized to use force for anyone resisting the law.

Laws such as these are already in effect in France and Belgium. The Alternative for Germany is also calling for such measures.

The ban affects approximately 150 women.

For more information, please see:

The Guardian – Austria’s Full-Face Veil Ban is a Kneejerk Reaction to the Rise of the Far Right – 1 February 2017

USA Today – Austria Becomes Latest European Country to Ban Burqas – But Adds Clown Face Paint, Too – 27 September 2017

PBS – ‘Burqa Ban” Law Signals Rightward Political Turn in Austria – 30 September 2017

Aljazeera – Austria Face Veil Ban ‘Criminalizes’ Muslim Women – 1 October 2017

BBC – Austrian Ban on Full-Face Veil in Public Places Comes Into Force – 1 October 2017

New York Times – Austria’s ‘Burqa Ban’ Law Comes Into Force – 1 October 2017

Washington Post – ‘Burqa Ban’ Law Signals Rightward Political Turn in Austria – 1 October 2017

Dozens of LGBT People Arrested and Detained in Azerbaijan

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

BAKU, Azerbaijan – Dozens of gay and transgender people in Azerbaijan’s capital city Baku have been detained and sentenced to jail this month.

People Gather in Support of LGBT Community in Madrid, Spain. Photo Courtesy of CBC News.

Those arrested have been sentenced to up to thirty days in jail. They are also being demanded to provide names and addresses of gay and transgender acquaintances.

The detainees have been subjected to beatings and medical examinations, according to the Civil Rights Defenders, a human rights group based out of Sweden. Transgender women have been forced to have their heads shaved.

Azerbaijan government officials claim that the arrests are part of a crackdown on the illegal sex trade in Baku, but Samed Rahumli, a lawyer who is assisting the victims, said the police “targeted homosexuals in general, not prostitutes as they have claimed.”

Rahumli reported that those “detained were subjected to inhuman treatment and torture. Their heads were shaved, some were electroshocked.”

In some instances, police posed online as gay or transgender people looking for dates.

One victim, who identified himself as Hasan, reported that police claimed he was a sex worker, beat him and demanded he provided information pertaining to his alleged clients.

According to activists, the reasoning provided by the government is being used as a pretext for persecution of the LGBT community.

The detainees were being held under “administrative detention”, which is a legal practice in Azerbaijan that allows for the bypass of public hearing prior to sentencing.

A survey conducted in 2016 by a human rights organization ranked Azerbaijan as the worst of 49 European counties in which to be gay.

International organization Human Rights Watch reported that men have been outed to their families and that these relatives have been encouraged to carry out honor killings.

Several victims have been evicted from their apartments as a result of the raids.

The arrests are reminiscent of the detainment and torture of gay men in Chechnya earlier this year. In some cases there, victims were killed.

A spokesman for the country’s interior ministry said “these raids are not against all sexual minorities. The arrested are people who demonstratively show a lack of respect for those around them, annoy citizens with their behaviour, and also those whom police or health authorities believe to be carriers of infectious diseases.”

Evelyne Paradis, European executive director of the International Lesbian,Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, called “for the immediate release of anyone still in detention.”

For more information, please see:

ABC News – Dozens of LGBT People Detained in Azerbaijan Capital – 29 September 2017

CBC News – Azerbaijan Arresting More LBGT People ‘day by day’, Activist Says 30 September 2017

The Guardian – Outcry as Azerbaijan Police Launch Crackdown on LGBT Community – 28 September 2017

Independent – Mass Arrests of LGBT People in Azerbaijan Condemned by Human Rights Groups – 28 September 2017

NBC News – Dozens of LGBTQ Reportedly Arrested in Azerbaijan – 26 September 2017

New York Times – Azerbaijan Detains Dozens of Gay and Transgender People – 29 September 2017

Washington Post – Dozens of LGBT People Detained in Azerbaijan Capital – 29 September 2017

United Nations Reports ‘Grave’ Human Rights Abuses in Crimea

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

GENEVA, Switzerland – In a report published on September 25th, the United Nations cited grave instances of human rights abuses in Crimea.

People Wave Flags in Observation of the Third Anniversary of Russia’s Annexation of Crimea. Photo Courtesy of the New York Times.

“There is an urgent need for accountability,” UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said of the situation.

The United Nations ordered the human rights investigation in December 2016. The report is based on interviews conducted from Ukraine, as investigators were not allowed access into the region.

Among the abuses found are incidences of illegal arrests, allegedly taking place to instill fear and stifle opposition. There is also evidence of torture, and a finding of at least one extra-judicial execution. Additionally, between 2014 and 2015, dozens of people were abducted, and ten still remain missing.

The abuses are alleged to have been perpetrated by the Federal Security Service, Russian police officers and a paramilitary group.

Crimea was illegally annexed by Russia in 2014 in a referendum that was and is not recognized by the international community. It has been condemned by the European Union as well as the United States and has resulted in sanctions against Russia.

The human rights abuses are primarily directed at the Tatars, a Turkic speaking minority in Crimea that makes up about 12% of its population.

The report states that “while those human rights violations and abuses have affected Crimean residents of diverse ethnic backgrounds, Crimean Tatars were particularly targeted especially those with links to the Mejlis.”

The Tatar parliament, the Mejelis, boycotted the referendum on joining Russia and were deemed an extremist organization and banned by Moscow in 2016. The Tatar community has since been limited in its ability to celebrate important dates and display cultural symbols.

Tatyana Moskalkova, Russia’s human rights ombudsman, states that the report is “an unjust and biased assessment of the human rights situation in Crimea.” A Crimean official has also stated that the report is not objective or indicative of reality.

Thousands of Crimean residents have fled rather than be subject to forced Russian citizenship.

The report notes that hundreds of Crimean prisoners were illegally transferred to Russian jails, an act that violates international law. Three detainees who were transferred died after they did not receive medical treatment for serious medical conditions.

“The frequency and severity of these human rights violations, together with the lack of accountability, has created an atmosphere of impunity which encourages the further perpetuation of such violations,” said Fiona Frazer, lead of the investigating mission.

For more information, please see:

Anadolu Agency – UN Says Russia Violating Crimea Tatars’ Rights – 25 September 2017

BBC News – UN Accuses Russia of Violating Human Rights in Crimea – 25 September 2017

New York Times – Russia Committed ‘Grave’ Rights Abuses in Crimea, UN Says – 25 September 2017

Reuters – Russian Occupation of Crimea Marked by Grave Human Rights Violations – 25 September 2017

Washington Post – UN Human Rights Office: Russia Violating International Law in Crimea – 25 September 2017

Syrian Activist and her Daughter Murdered in Turkey

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

ISTANBUL, Turkey – A Syrian activist and her daughter, a journalist, were fatally stabbed in their home on September 21st in Istanbul’s Uskudar neighborhood.

Orouba Barakat and her daughter, Halla. Photo Courtesy of BBC News.

Orouba Barakat, 60, and her daughter, Halla, 23, were found stabbed to death in their Istanbul apartment.

Orouba was a prominent activist for the Syrian National Coalition, although she was critical of some of the opposition groups. She left Syria in the 1980s and worked for some time covering economic and political affairs for Arab newspapers. She had recently been investigating allegations of torture in prisons run by the Assad regime.

Halla was born in North Carolina. She was a freelance journalist for Orient News, TRT World and ABC News. Friends contacted police when Halla did not show up for work.

In the weeks leading up to their deaths, both women had received threats from Syrian regime supporters. A Turkish newspaper, The Cuhhiryet, published details indicating there were similarities between the killings of the mother and daughter and those known to have been committed by the Islamic State.

Family members believe that the killings were perpetrated by the Assad government. Orouba and Halla had been critical of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.

Orouba’s sister, Shaza, said of the killings “We accuse the Syrian regime, the gangs, because we are against the unjust government, this deadly oppressor, which has killed three quarters of the Syrians and displaced the rest, and destroyed all of Syria.”

Another relative, Suzanne Barakat, noted that the women “were vocal activists in the Syrian revolution, speaking truth to power, and raising awareness about the atrocities committed by the Assad regime.”

There have been four other Syrian journalists murdered in Turkey since 2015.

The US State Department released the following statement concerning the murders: “The United States is deeply saddened by the deaths of Arouba and Halla Barakat. Halla served as a journalist for Orient News and we remember the courageous work of her mother, Orouba, a Syrian activist who reported on the Syrian regime’s atrocities. The United States condemns the perpetrators of these murders and we will closely follow the investigation.”

Orouba and Halla had been friends with American humanitarian worker Kayla Mueller, who was taken hostage by ISIS in Aleppo, Syria in 2013 and killed 18 months later.

Before their deaths, Orouba and Halla were preparing to start a charity for Syrian women living in refugee camps in Turkey in Mueller’s honor.

For more information, please see:

ABC News – Syrian-American Journalist and her Mother, Friends of ISIS Hostage Kayla Mueller, Killed in Turkey – 22 September 2017

BBC News – Syrian Activist and Journalist Daughter ‘Murdered’ in Istanbul – 22 September 2017

New York Times – Syrian Activist and her Daughter Fatally Stabbed in Turkey – 22 September 2017

People – American Journalist and Activist Mom Found Strangled and Stabbed in Turkey: Reports – 22 September 2017

Washington Post – Syrian Activist, Journalist Daughter Found Dead in Turkey – 22 September 2017

According to UN Report, Migrant Children Endure Severe Human Rights Abuses

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

GENEVA, Switzerland – According to a September 5th report released by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), more than 75 percent of migrant children attempting to reach Europe are victims of severe human rights abuses.

Young Child Awaiting Rescue. Photo Courtesy of Yahoo! News UK.

The findings are based on testimonies obtained from over 22,000 migrants and refugees, including 11,000 children, given to the International Organization for Migration, the UN’s Migration Agency.

Afshan Khan, UNICEF Europe Regional Director, said of the findings, “the stark reality is that it is now standard practice that children moving through the Mediterranean are abused, trafficked, beaten and discriminated against.”

The victims reported being subjected to a myriad of abuses, including sexual exploitation, forced labor, child marriage and beatings.

A 17-year-old girl from Nigeria reported being raped, held captive and threatened with violence. An Afghan boy recalled being forced into labor and beaten if he stopped working. Another child said, “if you try to run, they shoot you. If you stop working, they beat you. We were just like slaves. At the end of the day, they just lock you inside.”

UNICEF reports that children originating from sub-Saharan Africa are particularly at risk. Those travelling from Libya along the Mediterranean route are vulnerable due to the route being laden with crime and a lack of policing. The risk also increases for children who are travelling alone and over long periods of time.

The UNICEF report comes amid a substantial increase in the number of children migrating to Europe in recent years. Between 2010 and 2011, 66,000 children travelers were reported. That number has now surged to over 300,000.

The children making these harrowing journeys are often unaccompanied. Of those under 18 years of age arriving to Italy via the Mediterranean Sea passages from North Africa in 2016, 92% were alone.

“For people who leave their countries to escape violence, instability or poverty, the factors pushing them to migrate are severe, and they make perilous journeys knowing that they may be forced to pay with their dignity, their wellbeing or even their lives,” said IOM Regional Director for the European Union, Norway and Switzerland, Eugenio Ambrosi.

UNICEF’s report has prompted calls for the European Union and other parties to “put in place lasting solutions that include safe and legal migration pathways, establishing protection corridors and finding alternatives to the detention of migrant children,” said Khan.

For more information, please see:

ABC News – CORRECTION: United Nations – Children Migrants Story – 12 September 2017

Abdolu Agency – UNICEF says Many Young Migrants Face Exploitation – 12 September 2017

UNICEF – Up to Three Quarters of Children and Youth Face Abuse, Exploitation and Trafficking on Mediterranean Migration Routes – 12 September 2017

UN News Centre – Abuse, Exploitation and Trafficking ‘Stark Reality’ for Migrant Children Trying to Reach Europe – 12 September 2017

Reuters – ‘Just Like Slaves’; African Migrant Children Face Highest Risk of Abuse: Report – 11 September 2017

Yahoo! News UK – Young Migrants Face Abuse on Way to Europe – UN – 11 September 2017

Modern Slavery Ring Dispelled With Conviction of Eleven Family Members in UK

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

LINCOLNSHIRE, England – A family of eleven has been sentenced to a total of approximately 80 years in prison for administering a modern slavery ring on their property for decades.

Victims Were Forced to Live in Horrendous Conditions. Photo Courtesy of BBC.

For 26 years, the Rooney family, who ran a driveway resurfacing company, targeted vulnerable men on the streets and in shelters in Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire, and London, promising them money, accommodations and food in exchange for work. Many of the victims, whose ages ranged from 18 to 63, were homeless, had mental disabilities or drug and alcohol problems.

When the men arrived to the worksite, they were forced to live in small caravans without running water, plumbing or heat.

In addition to the dilapidated conditions, the men worked seven days a week, from dawn to dusk, in all kinds of weather. They were fed poorly or sometimes not at all. They were also subjected to beatings and denied medical care for their injuries and illnesses. One man, whose captivity spanned 25 years, was forced to dig his own grave.

“Your victims had reached a position where they were cowed into submission. Any resistance, they knew, was futile. It would have been met by you recruiting other family members and delivering more violence,” Judge Thomas Spencer told the Rooney family.

While the men they abused lived in squalid conditions, the family lived extravagantly, driving expensive cars and taking lavish vacations. Judge Spencer, who sentenced the family, called the abuses “akin to the gulf between medieval royalty and the peasantry.”

The Director of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary’s fraud investigation unit, Simon York, said: “This was a truly appalling case. These people lived a life of luxury by exploiting and abusing highly vulnerable individuals. They stripped them of their humanity, forcing them to live and work in terrible conditions.”

Judge Spencer also warned that abuse of this kind could be happening nationwide on a “shocking scale.”

Detectives said last month that the number of victims of modern slavery and human trafficking in the United Kingdom is currently estimated to be in the tens of thousands.

There are currently over 300 policing operations in the United Kingdom working to identify and prosecute cases of modern slavery.

“The severity of these crimes is underlined by the sentences imposed by the judge, Chief Superintendent Chris Davison, Head of Crime for Lincolnshire Police, said of the case. “The victims will never get the years back that were taken away from them, but I hope this provides them with some comfort that justice has been served and demonstrates that we will do everything in our power to try and stop others suffering in the ways that they did.”

For more information, please see:

BBC – Rooney Traveller Family Jailed for Modern Slavery Offences – 12 September 2017

The Guardian – 11 Family Members in Lincolnshire Jailed in ‘Chilling Slavery Case’ – 12 September 2017

The Guardian – Modern Slavery at UK Traveller Site may be tip of Iceberg, Warns Judge – 13 – September 2017

Independent – Rooney Family Behind Modern Slavery Ring in Lincolnshire Jailed for Total of 79 Years –  12 September 2017

Independent – Slaves on our Streets: Why London is a Global hub for Modern Slavery 13 September 2017

The Irish Times – 11 Members of Traveller Family Jailed in UK Slavery Case – 12 September 2017

Metro – Millionaire Family who Kept 18 Homeless men as Slaves Jailed for 80 Years – 13 September 2017

After EU Ruling, Prime Minister of Hungary Vows to Continue Fight Against Migrants

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

BUDAPEST, Hungary – After the European Union on September 6th dismissed Hungary and Slovakia’s challenge against mandatory migrant quotas, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban vowed to continue fighting.

Serbian Migrants Outside Hungarian Border Fence, 2015. Photo Courtesy of The New York Times.

The ruling issued by the EU reaffirms the requirement that EU members provide refuge for a specified share of asylum-seekers reaching Europe. Under the plan, Syrian, Iraqi and Eritrean refugees escaping violence in the Middle East and Africa are to be spread among the 28 member states of the EU. Hungary is required to take in 1,294 of these refugees. If they do not abide by the ruling, the EU has the right to impose fines.

The Mediterranean migrant crisis of 2015 prompted the EU to enact mandatory quotas for those seeking asylum. The initial purpose of the quotas was to ease the burden on Italy and Greece, as these countries were at the time being inundated. The number of migrants has since declined, which has made noncompliance easier for member-states opposed to the quota.

Prime Minister Orban maintains that Hungary is under no obligation to let anyone in.  “These countries with colonial legacy, which have become immigrant countries by now, want to impose on us Central Europeans their own logic … but Hungary does not want to become an immigrant country,” Orban said.

During the height of the migrant crisis, Budapest installed border fences and hired border police to patrol the fences to keep migrants out. Orban last month requested reimbursement funds from the EU for these measures. He has since been chided by the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker for this request and for failing to participate in the quota scheme.

This is not the first time that Hungary has been criticized. In July 2016, Human Rights Watch cited Hungary’s treatment of detained refugees and migrants as “breaking all the rules of asylum seekers.”

Orban believes that enforcement of the quota scheme “raises a very serious question of principles: whether we are an alliance of European free nations with the Commission representing our joint interests, or a European empire which has its center in Brussels and which can issue orders.”

This opposition is in contrast to Hungary’s position in 1989, when it allowed those under communist-ruled Eastern Europe to pass freely through its borders. At that time, Hungary declared that it was following “generally accepted international principles of human rights and humanitarian consideration.”

Since the current compulsory quota scheme was enacted, Hungary has not accepted a single refugee.

For more information, please see:

Aljazeera – Hungary to Fight EU Migrant Quotas Despite Setback – 8 September 2017

Anadolu Agency – Hungary Declares ‘Political Fight’ Over EU Ruling – 8 September 2017

Reuters – Hungarian PM Orban Says Will Fight After EU Ruling on Migrant Quota – 8 September 2017

The New York Times – Hungary is Making Europe’s Migrant Crisis Worse – 8 September 2017

The Washington Post –  Hungary and Slovakia Challenged Europe’s Refugee Scheme. They Just Lost Badly. – 8 September 2017

The New York Times – E.U. Countries Must Accept Their Share of Migrants, Court Rules – 6 September 2017

Italian Officers Suspended Amid Rape Allegations

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

ROME, Italy – Two Italian Carabinieri officers have been suspended amid allegations they raped two US students in Florence.

Outside Florence Nightclub Where Officers Picked up Students. Photo Courtesy of Time.

On Friday, September 8, Italy’s defense minister Roberta Pinotti attended a forum on women’s issues in Milan where she stated that “investigation is still underway, but there is some basis in respect to the allegations.”

The rapes reportedly occurred in the early morning hours of September 7th.

Earlier, the women, ages 19 and 21, spent time at a nightclub in Florence. Patrol cars were called to the scene to investigate a fight that had broken out at the club. Two of the three patrol cars departed after the fight had been handled.

After the women were unsuccessful in their efforts to find a taxi, the remaining officers, who were in uniform at the time, offered to drive them home. Witnesses confirmed seeing the women enter the patrol car.

Upon arriving to the residence, the officers allegedly raped the women before they could reach their rooms. The women told investigators they were too frightened to scream during the assault.

Prosecutors in Florence are investigating the incident and have conducted DNA tests to verify the accusations. The results of those tests are pending.

The United State Embassy in Rome declined to comment on the situation “due to the sensitive nature of this case and to protect the privacy of those involved.”

The accused officers have been suspended on a precautionary basis while the investigation continues. The Carabinieri provincial officer command stated that the suspension is separate from the Florence prosecutors’ investigation into the criminal allegations.

In addition to the rape charges, the officers face disciplinary charges from driving the women home without notifying superiors.

“Rape is always a serious matter. But it’s of unprecedented seriousness if it is committed by Carabinieri in uniform, because citizens turn to them and to their uniform to have assurances and security” Pinotti said at the women’s forum.

The paramilitary Carabinieri are one of two of Italy’s main police forces, the other being the state police. The Carabinieri report to the Defense Ministry.

“If this is true, and I hope that light is shed on the matter as soon as possible, then it would be an act of unheard of gravity” said Tullio Del Sette, head of the army.

For more information, please see:

Time – 2 U.S. Students say They Were Raped by Policemen in Italy – 8 September 2017

New York Times – Two American Students Accuse Italian Police of Rape – 9 September 2017

Reuters – U.S. Students’ Rape Allegation has ‘Some Basis’, Minister Says – 9 September 2017

Washington Post – 2 Italian Police Suspended After Alleged Rape of US Students – 9 September 2017