Macron threatens Syria over alleged chemical attacks

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

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information, please see:

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

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

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

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

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

Drive-by shootings injured six, shaking Italian city


Bystanders near the location of the shootings. Image courtesy of EPA/BBC News.

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe

MILAN, Italy – Italian police detained a suspected gunman on the morning of February 3rd in the town of Macerata.

The arrest comes after the man opened fired on several people, all of whom are foreign nationals. It has been stated that all six victims of the shootings were black.

The shootings were likely racially motivated. Reports indicate that the man, 28-year-old Luca Traini, gave a Fascist salute upon arrest.

Additionally, Italian news organizations speculate that the shooting may have been in response to the murder of an 18-year-old girl by a 29-year-old Nigerian migrant.

The homicide of Pamela Mastropietro sparked outrage by many locals. Shortly after the arrest of the murder suspect, several people took to the victim’s mother’s social media pages to post racially-charged comments.

Many of these comments urged revenge against foreign migrants.

While it remains to be seen whether the alleged shooter was motivated by revenge for Pamela Mastropietro, Macerata’s mayor believes the killings were racially motivated.

The mayor of Macerata, Romano Carancini, told CNN he “believes” the drive-by shootings “to be connected to the recent slaying” of Ms. Mastropietro.

“The closeness of these two events makes you imagine that there is a connection,” Mr. Caracini said.

It also appears that the shootings occurred close to where Ms. Mastropietro’s body was found earlier this week.

More information about the alleged shooter is slowly being released.

The alleged shooter was formerly a candidate in the close by town of Carridonia. His party affiliation was with the Northern League, a right-wing anti-immigration group in Italy.

Italy’s general election for a new national government will be held on March 4th. The newly revamped “Northern League” is now called simply “the League”.

Matteo Salvini, the leader of the League, has used the murder of Ms. Mastropietro in his campaign for control over Italy’s government. The League has joined a coalition of other far-right wing parties, including the 5-Star Movement.

Meanwhile, current Prime Minister of Italy, Paolo Gentiloni, has suspended his own campaign in reaction to the shootings.

“One thing is certain,” Mr. Gentiloni stated, “horrendous crimes and criminal behavior will be prosecuted and punished. This is the law.”

“Hatred and violence will not succeed in dividing us.”

Mr. Caracini echoes this sentiment, telling CNN, “we must be united against hatred.”

For more information, please see:

ABC News – The Latest: Italy PM condemns drive-by shooting of Africans – 3 February 2018

CBS News – Italy, Macerata attack: Gunman targets black foreigners in drive-by shooting – 3 February 2018

The Independent – Italy drive-by shootings: Gunman ‘targeting black people’ opens fired on pedestrians in city of Macerata – 3 February 2018

CNN – Man arrested in Italy in drive-by shootings of foreigners – 3 February 2018

BBC News – Italy drive-by attack targets immigrants in Macerata – 3 February 2018

Crackdown on anti-Putin protests leads to several arrests

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe

Russian police pat down a protester. Image courtesy of Nikolay Koreshkov.

MOSCOW, Russia – Several protesters were arrested by the Russian police in Moscow on November 5th.

News outlets are reporting anywhere from 86 to 260 have been arrested at an unauthorized gathering at Manezh Square.

The rally was allegedly planned by a group known in Russia for their anti-Vladimir Putin stance. The group, called Artpodgotovka, has been labeled an “extremist” group by a Russian court.

Russia’s security agency also reported that it had arrested several group members suspected of plotting to firebomb government buildings.

This is not the first time President Putin has sent in law enforcement to arrest people who oppose him.

In early October, 290 protesters were arrested among 26 cities. The protests were marches against Mr. Putin, taking place on his birthday.

Thousands reportedly marched against Mr. Putin’s government.

Free speech and assembly rights in Russia have been severely limited since Mr. Putin took presidential power in 2012.

Before that, Mr. Putin served as prime minister since 1999.

Much of the anti-Putin sentiment is stoked by fears of another revolution.

This year marks the 100-year anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution, the event that led to a massive civil war with millions of casualties.

The Russian government, the Kremlin, will not commemorate this event for fears of stoking anti-government sentiment.

Dima Litvinov is the great-grandson of Maxim Litvinov, who was a Soviet foreign minister after the Bolshevik revolution.

He says that his great-grandfather would be “horrified by the extreme nationalism and religious intolerance that is going up in Russia.”

He adds, “Russia, in a way, hasn’t moved on. People feel detached from the ability to affect their fate and the government. The authorities like it that way.”

Mr. Litvinov may not be far off.

The November 5th protesters are alleged to have been led by nationalist politician Vyacheslav Maltsev. Mr. Maltsev is an outspoken critic of Mr. Putin.

Mr. Maltsev has called publicly for Mr. Putin to be impeached. He also has said that a “revolution is imminent.”

While several of the protesters are being released from detainment, Mr. Maltsev is reportedly living abroad after a Moscow court issued an arrest warrant for him.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Russia protests: At least 260 nationalist Putin opponents held – 5 November 2017

The Washington Post – Russia struggles with legacy of 1917 Bolshevik Revolution – 5 November 2017

ABC News – At least 86 Russian nationalist protesters reported arrested – 5 November 2017

Reuters – Police detain dozens in Moscow amid fear of anti-government attacks – 5 November 2017

The New York Times – At Least 86 Russian Nationalist Protesters Reported Arrested – 5 November 2017

CNN – Russian police arrest hundreds in protests on Putin’s birthday – 8 October 2017

Spain government deprives Catalonia of autonomy

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe

Protesters march against the Spanish government’s decision in Barcelona, including the Catalan President in the center. Image courtesy of Ivan Alvarado. 

BARCELONA, Spain – Several weeks after the controversial referendum for Catalan independence, the Spanish government has announced it will place direct federal government rule over the region.

This means that Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy will invoke Article 155 of the Constitution. Article 155 effectively deprives Catalonia of its autonomous status within the country.

Recently, the Spanish government asked the Catalonian government whether it was declaring independence or not. This move on October 20th comes after Catalonia failed to respond to Mr. Rajoy’s calls for talks between the two governments.

Carles Puigdemont, the leader of the Catalan government, was given until 10 o’clock a.m. on Thursday, October 19th to openly declare independence or not.

Subsequently, Mr. Puigdemont, through a spokesperson, told ABC News that he was ready to “show internationally how pacifist and open to dialogue Catalonia is.” The spokesperson added, “Spain refused to meet him in person despite the ongoing conflict.”

With the imposition of Article 155, the Spanish government now has the Constitutional authority to take administrative control of Catalonia.

This means a new election will be held, possibly in January, to bring in new regional leaders.

The Spanish government has told citizens to ignore local governmental directives, including law enforcement, until the new elections.

Several thousand protestors marched in the streets of Barcelona on October 21st in response to the decision.

Some Catalan parliament leaders are calling Mr. Rajoy’s move a “de facto coup d’etat.”

One of the leaders, Carme Forcedell, called Rajoy’s move an “enormous political irresponsibility” that “trespassed all limits.”

But the Spanish Foreign Minister, Anfonso Dastis, has asserted that this does not amount to a “coup.”

“If anyone has attempted a coup, it is the Catalan regional government,” Mr. Dastis said.

This is the first time Article 155 has been brought up since before Spain became a democracy. It has led some to fear for the future of freedom in the country, which was ruled by a military dictatorship between 1939-1975.

The last time Catalonia did not have autonomy was under the dictator’s rule between those years.

This has led to many fears over the future of Spanish democracy and control over Catalonia.

As tensions continue to rise, Catalonia will be under the authority of the government from Madrid until further notice.

Mr. Rajoy hopes to have elections within the next six months.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Spain Catalonia: Foreign minister denies ‘coup’ by Madrid – 22 October 2017

CNN – Catalonia’s leaders slam Spanish government plans for direct rule – 22 October 2017

The Guardian – Spain calls on Catalans to respect its decision to impose direct rule – 22 October 2017

The New York Times – Spain Will Remove Catalonia Leader, Escalating Secession Crisis – 21 October 2017

CNBC – Spanish government aims for January regional elections in Catalonia – 20 October 2017

ABC News – Spain prepares to suspend Catalonia’s autonomy amid independence disagreement – 19 October 2017

Austria turns far to the right after October election

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe

Sebastian Kurz walks through a crowd of supporters. Image courtesy of Sean Gallup.

VIENNA, Austria – After center-right candidate Sebastian Kurz won a surprising victory in the Austrian election, he is now calling for discussion with “alternative right” groups in the country, hoping to give them a voice in the national government.

Mr. Kurz is Austria’s current foreign minister. On October 15th, Austrians voted to give Mr. Kurz’ party, the People’s Party, the power to form the next government. This means that Mr. Kurz is likely to be Austria’s next Chancellor.

The vote reflected a right-wing shift in Austria. The third-place vote-getters were the Freedom Party, a far-right, anti-immigration party with ties to Neo-Nazism.

Mr. Kurz and his party seem to echo the sentiments of the Freedom Party.

During his time as foreign minister, Mr. Kurz was responsible for stopping the flow of refugees into Austria by shutting down borders on the Balkan route. During the campaign, he promised to do the same thing on the Mediterranean route of asylum seekers.

Mr. Kurz’s anti-Muslim sentiment has come out in other policy points. He cited a study that allegedly found that Islamic kindergartens, religious schools permitted under Austrian law, contribute to a “parallel society.”

Yet Mr. Kurz and his party insisted on the campaign trail that shifting to the right is merely an issue of popular viewpoint in Austria.

An anonymous adviser for Mr. Kurz stated that “most European populations don’t want to become half-Afghan or half-Syrian or half-African.” The adviser added that “you have to accept it. If you don’t, we’ll go to the extreme far right.”

Mr. Kurz People’s Party did not gain enough votes in the election to lead the country on their own. In a coalition government, this means that the People’s Party will have to partner with another to achieve its goals.

Mr. Kurz has said that this partner will likely be the Freedom Party.

To back up his choice, Mr. Kurz said that the Freedom Party has shown a “will to bring change in Austria together.”

Austria has been moving consistently further right in the several years since the refugee crisis began.

If the new government is a coalition between two right wing parties, it may lead to even stricter restrictions on refugees fleeing war in the middle east.

Ramazan Demir is an imam and leader of the Islamic Religious Community in Austria. He has expressed concerns over where Austria is going in recent years.

“They did their politics on the backs of Muslims,” Mr. Demir said about the rise of the far-right parties in Austria.

“There’s never been this much Islamophobia in Austria.”

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Austria: Sebastian Kurz opens talks with Freedom Party – 24 October 2017

The Independent – Austria election winner Sebastian Kurz invites far-right Freedom Party to enter government – 24 October 2017

The Washington Post – For Austria’s Muslims, country’s hard-right turn is an ominous sign – 20 October 2017

Wall Street Journal – Austrian Election Winner Sebastian Kurz Prepares for Talks With Far Right – 20 October 2017

NPR – Austria Election: Center-Right Party Head Likely Next Prime Minister – 15 October 2017

Fate of Catalonia rests on Catalan president’s shoulders

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe

Supporters of Catalonia’s independence wave Catalan flags in Barcelona, outside of the Catalan parliament building. Image courtesy of Nakam/Zuma Wire/Rex/Shutterstock.

BARCELONA, Spain – Catalonia has yet to determine whether they have declared independence.

On October 10th, Catalonia’s president, Carles Puigdemont decided the southern region of Spain would not immediately declare independence from its mother country.

The statement came after Mr. Puigdemont signed an official declaration of independence. Soon after, Mr. Puigdemont announced the suspension.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has accused the Catalan president of deliberately confusing the Spanish government.

On October 11th, the government officially stated that the “ball was now firmly back in Puigdemont’s court.”

What the Catalonian government does next will determine whether the Spanish government will strip Catalonia of its autonomy using Article 155 of the federal constitution. If this happens, administrative control over Catalonia will be given to the Spanish government.

The struggles over the past several days have caused some divide within Spain itself.

The Constitution itself was established in the late 1970s after years of an authoritarian regime, where Catalans were severely oppressed by a dictator.

Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez, of Spain’s main opposition leadership, has expressed support for using the Constitution to deprive Catalonia of its autonomy.

The support was in exchange for an agreement to form a commission to change the Constitution.

Both sides of the spectrum argue that the other side is a threat to democracy.

Prime Minister Rajoy accused separatists of “foisting their will on all the people of Catalonia,” indicating that they ignore the Catalans who do not want to secede.

Yet Mr. Puigdemont, Catalonia’s president, sees Catalonia as an autonomous region that has “won the right to be independence” as a result of the vote held on October 1st.

“The people’s will” is to break free from the central government in Madrid, Mr. Puigdemont stated in front of the Catalan parliament in Barcelona.

On the day of the election, the Spanish government sent police troops in to various towns and cities around Catalonia. This led to several clashes between Catalans and police, with hundreds reportedly injured.

The chaos that day has led to the launch of an investigation into the allegations of police brutality. The main question is whether law enforcement used excessive force against people who were peacefully assembling to vote or protest.

If the Spanish government does choose to invoke Article 155, it may cause more civil unrest similar to the kind seen on October 1st.

Meanwhile, Mr. Puigdemont told CNN that he is sending a message of “calmness”, stating, “[w]e are facing a political problem that we need to solve with politics and not with police.”

For more information, please see:

The Guardian – Spanish PM asks Catalonia: have you declared independence or not? – 11 October 2017

The New York Times – Spain Asks Catalonia: Did You Declare Independence or Not? – 11 October 2017

BBC News – Catalonia: Spain takes step towards direct rule – 11 October 2017

The Guardian – Catalonia’s suspended declaration of independence: what happens next? – 11 October 2017

BBC News – Catalonia independence declaration signed and suspended – 10 October 2017

Al-Jazeera – Catalan vote: Claims of Spanish police brutality probed – 3 October 2017


Tensions in Spain rise as court blocks Catalonia parliament from meeting

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe

Supporters of independence for Catalonia marching in the streets of Barcelona. Image courtesy of Getty Images.

BARCELONA, Spain – Less than a week after Catalonia’s vote for independence from Spain, the highest federal court in the country has blocked the constitutionality of the vote.

On October 5th, the court ruled that allowing the Catalan parliament to meet and consider declaring independence violates the rights of the Catalonian Socialist Party’s members of parliament.

The court urged that any session of the Catalan parliament defying its decision would be “null.”

They also added that any leaders who hold the session could face “criminal action” if they choose to ignore the court’s verdict.

Despite Catalan leader’s call for “peace and accord” in their quest for independence, violence erupted after the vote on October 1st, much of it stemming from citizens clashing with Spanish police.

The Prime Minister of Spain, Mariano Rajoy, has also stated that the situation will “escalate further” if the Catalan government declares independence.

“[The] best [solution] would be a return to legality and the swiftest possible confirmation that there won’t be a unilateral independence declaration, because that way still greater harm could be avoided,” Mr. Rajoy said in a statement to the Spanish news agency Efe.

King Felipe of Spain has also condemned Catalan attempts to secede from the country, calling Catalan actions as “an unacceptable attempt” to take over the institutions placed there by the federal government.

The vote on October 1st has caused much division, both within the region of Catalonia and outside of it.

The New York Times reports a rise of nationalist sentiment throughout Spain, with many pushing openly against Catalonia.

And while 90% of the votes counted on the October 1 election were in favor of independence, the voter turnout hovered at only 42%. This in part may be due to the many anti-secession Catalans who boycotted the election, hoping to avoid giving “legitimacy” to the vote.

Both anti- and pro-independence rallies are reportedly planned for the next several days.

When asked what they thought about the high court’s decision, the Catalan government told CNN, “we will see.”

Indeed, it remains to be seen whether Catalonia will carry forth with their attempt to gain independence from Spain.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Catalan crisis: Spanish court bars MPs’ independence vote – 5 October 2017

The Washington Post – Catalonia poses a real crisis for both Spain and Europe – 5 October 2017

CNN – Spanish court blocks Catalan parliament’s independence move – 5 October 2017

The Guardian – Spanish court blocks Catalan parliament from declaring independence – 5 October 2017

The New York Times – Catalonia Separatism Revives a Long-Dormant Spanish Nationalism – 5 October 2017

Clashes with Spanish government as Catalans move to vote for independence

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe

Police fire rubber bullets at Catalans attempting to vote. Image courtesy of AP Photos.

BARCELONA, Spain – Despite the Spanish government deeming the vote “illegal”, citizens in the Catalonia region of Spain on October 1st held an independence referendum.

Catalonia has sought independence from Spain for several years. Barcelona, one of Spain’s biggest cities, is nestled in the region.

Catalonia has its own language, and many of its residents have never felt “Spanish”. This was part of the driving force behind the October 1st vote.

Polls suggest that 7.8 million people in Spain support Catalan independence.

Despite this, the government in Madrid has fought against allowing Catalan to sever from Spain.

The federal government has seized voting materials, imposed fines on officials for supporting the election, and sent several groups of law enforcement to prevent the vote from happening.

Protests quickly erupted in the streets of Barcelona on Sunday, October 1st, which quickly led into violent clashes between law enforcement and citizens.

The police, in riot gear, stormed into an elementary school polling station, while election activists grabbed the ballot boxes, hiding them in various places around the school.

Once the police left, voting recommenced.

However, that was not the end of the chaos.

More than 300 people were reportedly injured in clashes with law enforcement.

Some of the injuries suffered came from rubber bullets from police, who shot at crowds lined up to vote outside polling centers.

Police also faced protestors, dragging them and whipping them with batons.

The scene in Catalonia is being called a “mass act of civil disobedience”. While Spain is a democratic country, its history with authoritarian governments is still fresh in the minds of some citizens.

“The government today is in a position to affirm that we can celebrate the referendum of self-determination-not as we wanted, but [as democracy] guarantees,” Jordi Turull, spokesman for the Catalan government, stated at a news conference.

Under dictator Francisco Franco in the early 1900s, Catalonia was heavily repressed. Citizens were barred from speaking Catalan disallowed to give children traditional Catalan names.

Democracy would not be completely established in Spain until the 1970s. The push for Catalonian independence would not come to its full extent until the financial crisis of 2007 and 2008.

Catalonia was given autonomy, but not independence or sovereignty, by the central government in Spain five years ago.

But on election day, Spain rescinded that autonomy and took control of Catalonian’s finances.

Even with popular opinion indicating a majority of support for independence, it is unclear what will happen next.

“Spain let us vote in 2014,” one of the organizers of the October 1st vote said to ABC News. He was referring to the vote in 2014, where most people who voted said “yes” on a ballot to sever from Spain.

That vote did not go anywhere.

“This time they refuse [to let us vote] because they know it’s happening,” he added. “I hope it’s the last battle.”

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Catalan referendum: ‘Hundreds hurt’ as police try to stop voters – 1 October 2017

The Telegraph – Catalan Referendum: Riot police ‘fire rubber bullets’ at crowd as they block voters at besieged polling stations – 1 October 2017

The Washington Post – Clashes during Catalan independence vote injure more than 300, including 12 police officers – 1 October 2017

The New York Times – Catalans, Elated but Fearful, Brace for Independence Vote – 29 September 2017

ABC News – What you need to know about the Catalan independence referendum – 26 September 2017

BBC News – Catalonia referendum: Madrid moves to take over local policing – 23 September 2017

Far-right not far behind in 2017 German election results

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe

A far-right campaign sign urging Germans to stop “Islamification” of Germany. Image courtesy of Getty Images. 

BERLIN, Germany – German Chancellor Angela Merkel won a fourth term after the general election on September 24th.

The results come during a shift in European politics. Many frustrations have risen over the migrant crisis, including Germany’s high intake of refugees coming from the middle east.

Despite this, Chancellor Merkel’s conservative party won a slim majority in Germany’s coalition government. The Social Democrats, whom the conservatives work closely with, came in second with 33%.

But 13% of the vote went to the far-right party Alternative for Deutschland, raising concerns for many about potential opposition.

Indeed, Alternative for Deutschland (“AfD”) has already begun to express this sentiment.

The head of the AfD party, Alexander Gauland, has already told supporters that the government should “dress warmly” in preparation.

The vote makes AfD the third largest party in the coalition government.

This is the first time in over 60 years that a far-right nationalist party has had any control in the German government.

AfD raises many concerns within Germany. The party is vehemently anti-immigration, including the taking in of refugees, and has expressed anti-Muslim sentiment in many of its platforms.

Leaders of the party have suggested that Germany stop “apologizing” for its past Nazi ideology, stating, “If the French are rightly proud of their Emperor…We have the right to be proud of the German soldiers in two world wars.”

The AfD favors closure of German borders, citing fears over “Islamification” of the west.

Part of the policy platform includes banning the Burka, a common clothing item for Muslim women, and cutting off any foreign funding for mosques in Germany.

Its election “manifesto” contains a section explaining why the party believes that “Islam does not belong in Germany.”

“It is worrying,” said Michael Fuchs, a member of the Christian Democrat Bundestag*. “[For the first time since World War II] there will be a political party within the walls of the Reichstag building which does not distance itself from the Nazi past and which tolerates members who publicly express themselves in racist and xenophobic language.”

Political scientists in Germany cite disillusionment and frustration with establishment as two possible reasons for why AfD received such a large percentage of the vote.

“Many voters have felt that the two parties have not addressed the issue of immigration and German cultural identity,” Gideon Botsch, a political scientist from the University of Potsdam said.

“And that has led them to consider voting for the AfD.”

This election leads to a complicated situation for Chancellor Merkel. It remains to be seen whether the AfD will have any impact on the refugee population of Germany in the future.

For more information, please see:

New York Times – Angela Merkel Is Headed for German Election Victory as Far Right Enters Parliament – 24 September 2017

The Guardian – German elections 2017: Angela Merkel makes gains, exit poll says – live updates – 24 September 2017

CNN – German election: Angela Merkel set for fourth term as far-right surges – 24 September 2017

The Independent – German elections: Far-right wins MPs for first time in half a century – 24 September 2017

ABC News – Merkel wins fourth term as German far-right party makes gains – 24 September 2017

NPR – Far-Right German Party Could Lead Opposition After Sunday’s Election – 22 September 2017

Al-Jazeera – Who are Germany’s far-right AfD? – 21 September 2017

BBC News – What does Alternative for Germany (AfD) want? – 18 September 2017

Bombing at London underground station leaves city defiant, not deflated

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe

The London tube station where an IED went off, minutes after the attack. Image courtesy of BBC Broadcast.

LONDON, United Kingdom – Twelve years ago, a bomb went off in the London Underground subway system, killing 52 people and leaving others injured.

On September 15th, 2017, a bomber targeted the London underground. It is the first attack on the London transit system since the one in 2005.

This time, 29 were injured, but no one died.

Still, Prime Minister Theresa May raised the terror threat level for the United Kingdom to “critical”.

The police have arrested one suspect, an 18-year-old, after a raid on the suspect’s house in Surrey. While it is unclear whether the suspect was affiliated with any international terror organization, terror group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (“ISIS” or “Daesh”) have taken responsibility for the attack.

But the police have urged people to avoid “pure speculation,” after U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted a suggestion that the Scotland Yard knew about the attack before it was to happen.

Prime Minister May also called Mr. Trump’s statement “unhelpful”.

Police continue to release limited information regarding the arrest and the continued investigation.

Despite the terror threat level set at “critical”, people in the city continued about their business in the wake of the attack. Londoners went to work, tourists gathered outside of Buckingham Palace to snag photos, and the only underground station closed was the Parsons Green one, where the bomb was detonated.

In an editorial for the London-based newspaper The Guardian, the writers suggest that this “lack of excitement” for this attack may be what the country needs.

“The terrorists want to rouse terror and the kind of anger which quenches reason,” they write. “it’s important and we should continue to keep our heads over what is by any reasonable standard a pinprick attack.”

In its title, the editorial aptly suggested that Londoners “keep calm and carry on”. This phrase comes from a motivational poster produced by the British government to boost the morale of the public during World War II, while Great Britain was a constant target of air strikes by the Axis powers.

London mayor Sadiq Khan also urged citizens to not be intimidated by the threat of terror.

“[We] condemn the hideous individuals who attempt to used terror to harm us and destroy our way of life,” he stated.

“As London has proven again and again, we will never be intimidated or defeated by terrorism.”

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Parsons Green: Armed police search house over Tube bombing – 16 September 2017

CNN – London Tube attack latest: Arrest made as terror threat raised to ‘critical’ – 16 September 2017

The Guardian – Parsons Green bombing: police arrest man and raid Surrey house – 16 September 2017

The New York Times – ‘Bucket Bomb’ Strikes London’s Vulnerable Underground – 15 September 2017

The Guardian – The Guardian view on the London tube bomb: keep calm and carry on – 15 September 2017

BBC News – 7 July London bombings: What happened that day? – 3 July 2015

ECHR limits employers’ infringement on private communications of employees

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe

The ECHR, located in France. Image courtesy of Getty Images.

STRASBOURG, France – The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled against employers surveilling their employees internet use earlier this month.

The ruling, released the first week of September, held that employers must notify employees that their emails and other internet usage may be monitored.

The case has been in the works since 2007, when instant messaging and e-mailing was growing in popularity.

A man in Romania, Bogdan Barbulescu, was terminated from his job when his employer discovered he was using the company’s messaging system to communicate with family members.

Mr. Barbulescu’s superiors brought printouts of the private messages, some of which were intimate, to prove that he was violating the company’s policy against private messaging during work hours.

Mr. Barbulsecu brought suit in Romanian court, alleging that the company violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees “respect for private and family correspondence.”

The Romanian court dismissed his claim. When the lower ECHR chambers ruled against him, finding no violation of privacy, Mr. Barbulescu appealed to the higher chambers.

There, the judges ruled in his favor 11-6, finding that the Romanian judges were incorrect when they dismissed Mr. Barbulescu’s case.

Even though Mr. Barculsecu was aware of the limitations on workplace internet use, the Court reasoned that this was not enough to substantiate such a violation of privacy.

“Although it was questionable whether Mr. Barculescu could have had a reasonable expectation of private in view of his employer’s restrictions on internet use, of which he had been informed, an employer’s instructions could not reduce private social life in the workplace to zero,” the court wrote.

Further, it was questionable what the company’s motives were for monitoring Mr. Barculsecu’s private correspondence in the first place. No evidence was presented by the company that explained why the company was investigating.

The landmark decision calls into question how far the right to privacy goes in Europe.

“It does not [generally] prohibit monitoring [of communications],” said Esther Lynch, the European Trade Union’s confederal secretary. Instead, she says it “sets high thresholds for its justification.”

“This is a very important step to better protect worker’s privacy.”

While the ECHR does not have the power to create legislation, its rulings set precedent used to guide national courts when they are tasked with interpreting the European Convention.

France, in particular, has represented to the court that the decision will carry implications on privacy and employment law. It may effectively bar employer’s ability to terminate employees over private communications.

For more information, please see:

The Telegraph – Landmark European ruling heralds end of snooping bosses spying on worker’s emails and instant chats – 5 September 2017

The New York Times – European Court Limits Employers’ Right to Monitor Worker’s Email – 5 September 2017

BBC News – ECHR court reverses ruling on sacking over private messages – 5 September 2017

Reuters – European court rules companies must tell employees of email checks – 5 September 2017

The Guardian – Employers’ rights to monitor office emails to be decided by European court – 4 September 2017

Against Hungarian and Slovakian resistance, ECJ upholds EU redistribution plan

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe

A police officer stands guard near the border between Serbia and Hungary. Image courtesy of of AP.

LUXEMBOURG, Luxembourg – The European Court of Justice (“ECJ”) ruled September 7th in favor of the European Union’s migrant redistribution scheme.

The case was brought by Hungary and Slovakia, two members of the European Union that have refused to take their share of the migrants flooding into the European continent.

The two countries have been at odds with the governing body of the EU since September 2015, when the relocation plan passed. EU member countries have since been required to take their portion of refugees and migrants from Greece and Italy.

Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, the Czech Republic, and Poland all voted against the relocation plan. Among the four countries, only Slovakia accepted any refugees, but not enough to meet their quota.

Migrant and refugee concerns have grown to become a largely divisive issue within the European Union.

Since the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union in June 2016, far-right politics has spread through the European mainland, mostly revolving around anti-immigration, isolationist policy points.

Heinz-Christian Strache, leader of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party, criticized the decision by the ECJ, saying that it is a way of taking away state “right[s] to self-determination and decision-making when it comes to receiving [asylum-seekers].”

Hungary’s foreign minister Peter Szijjarto took harsher words to describe the binding decision by the court, stating that “politics has raped European law and values.”

But the EU Migration Commissioner, Dimitris Avramopoulos, stands by the ECJ’s ruling. He called for unity on Twitter, saying it is “time to work in unity and implement solidarity in full.”

If the countries fail to comply with the binding order of the ECJ, the threat of further legal action hovers. The European Commission, the EU’s executive, has already brought action against Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic for their failure to comply with the mandatory relocation program.

They may face heavy fines if they do not comport with the new decision.

The fate of the asylum-seekers also rests in the hands of the five European Union member states who have resisted compliance.

Since August 30th, only 27,412 asylum seekers in Greece and Italy have been transferred to 24 other countries. The relocation scheme called for relocating 120,000.

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban has specifically called out Brussels, the center of the EU government, for actions he believe violate state sovereignty.

“[The question is raised] of principles: Whether we are an alliance of European free nations with the commission representing our interests, or a European empire which has its center in Brussels and which can issue such orders,” Mr. Orban said in a statement. “The real battle is just beginning.”

For more information, please see:

The Washington Post – Hungary and Slovakia challenged Europe’s refugee scheme. They just lots badly. – 8 September 2017

Al-Jazeera – Hungary to fight EU migrant quotas despite setback – 8 September 2017

Reuters – Austria’s Freedom Party Criticizes ECJ Ruling on Migrant Quotas – 7 September 2017

BBC News – Europe migrant crisis: EU court rejects quota challenge – 6 September 2017

The Guardian – EU court dismisses complaints by Hungary and Slovakia over refugee quotas – 6 September 2017

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

CNN – Top EU court rejects Hungary and Slovakia migrant relocation case – 6 September 2017

British soldiers, civilian arrested for involvement in Neo-nazi terror group

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe

National Action gives Nazi salutes at a rally in the UK. Image courtesy of Joel Goodman, LNP.

LONDON, United Kingdom – Members of neo-Nazi group National Action were arrested on September 5th under charges stemming from the Terror Act of 2000.

The four men arrested are all serving members of the British Royal Army.  A fifth person, a civilian, has been arrested on the same charge.

National Action was labeled a terror organization in December 2016 by the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd. Subsequently, an order was released by Parliament to make it a criminal offense to be affiliated in any way with National Action.

The group is the first of its kind to be banned outright in the United Kingdom. The majority of the groups banned under the Terror Act of 2000 are extreme Islamists.

When the decision was made, Ms. Rudd released a statement openly condemning National Action, saying that it is a “racist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic organization.”

“It stirs up hatred, glorifies violence, and promotes a vile ideology,” she stated. “I will not stand for it. It has absolutely no place in a Britain that works for everyone.”

White nationalist groups, often coined “alternative-right”, are on the rise around the world.

In August this year, neo-Nazis in the United States descended on Charlottesville, Virginia, to protest the taking down of confederate statutes. One counter-protester died when a car driven by a self-proclaimed Neo-Nazi rammed into her.

But the United States is not the only country that has faced violence from groups affiliated with white supremacy.

Jo Cox, British Member of Parliament for the Labor party, was shot, stabbed, and killed in June 2016. The evidence at trial sought to show that the shooter, Thomas Mair, was involved in alternative-right politics, including affiliation with Neo-Nazis.

At the trial, Mair identified himself to the judge saying “My name is death to traitors, freedom for Britain.”

“Death to traitors” is the same slogan that is on the former National Action website.

National Action was quick to praise the death of Jo Cox. After the news, one tweet by the group’s Twitter page read “Only 649 MPs to go.”

The Terror Act of 2000 permits arresting those suspected of being members in proscribed terror groups. While there was no imminent threat of danger to the public, the police said that the arrests were “pre-planned” and “intelligence-led.”

Four of the detainees are being held at West Midlands police station. The other is being held in Cyprus at the British army base.

The Army could only confirm that the arrests were made under the Terror Act. Any further comment was denied, stating that this is “now the subject of a civilian police investigation.”

The results of the investigation remain to be seen.

For more information, please see:

The Guardian – Five army men held over alleged membership of banned UK neo-Nazi group – 5 September 2017

CBS News – 4 alleged neo-Nazi soldiers accused of plotting terror – 5 September 2017

BBC News – Neo-Nazi arrests: National Action suspects are in the Army – 5 September 2017

CNN – Jo Cox’s husband remembers her death, one year on – 16 June 2017

BBC News – Far-right group National Action to be banned under terror laws – 12 December 2016

The Guardian – Jo Cox killed in ‘brutal, cowardly’ and politically motivated murder, trial hears – 14 November 2016


Merkel takes stronger stance against Turkey for detaining Germans

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe

German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Image courtesy of Getty Images.

BERLIN, Germany – German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for a decisive reaction to Turkey’s arrest of two more German citizens on Friday, September 1st.

The detainees are being held in Turkey on political charges. They join the twelve others who have been imprisoned in Ankara since February.

Chancellor Merkel believes that under the circumstances, it would be inappropriate to “carry out further discussions with Ankara about its participation in a European Union customs union.”

The Turkish government has been working towards becoming a European Union member for several years. As a result of political turmoil starting with the failed coup d’etat in 2016, the country has not succeeded with their bid.

Tensions between Turkey and Germany have been rising since the arrests of human rights activists in February. Deniz Yucel has been held for 200 days in Turkey on charges of “terror propaganda.”

Later, German human rights activist Peter Steudtner and nine others were detained and charged with “committing crimes in the name of a terrorist organization without being a member.”

And in early August, Dogan Akhanli, Turkish-German critic of Turkey’s President Erdogan, was arrested in Spain. It remains unclear on what charges Mr. Akhanli is being held on. German Member of Parliament Volker Beck requested that Mr. Akhanli not be extradited to Turkey.

Other Europeans have been arrested in Turkey over alleged involvement in last year’s failed coup against President Erdogan.

Leaders across Europe have denounced President Erdogan’s actions. Germany has already threatened to place travel and trade restrictions on Turkey if the activists are not released from detainment.

The newest arrests come at a turbulent time in German politics. On September 24th, Germans will go to the polls to either re-elect Chancellor Merkel for a fourth term or to replace her.

President Erdogan earlier in August called on Turkish-German voters to boycott the two main parties in Germany, the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats. Erdogan also suggested a boycott of the Green Party, believing them to be “enemies of Turkey.”

It remains to be seen what the results of the election will be. But Chancellor Merkel and her main opponent, Martin Schulz, do agree on one thing: suspending talks of Turkey’s EU customs union bid.

“This is a development of dramatic significance,” Mr. Schulz stated at a recent campaign event. “As part of [Erdogan’s] paranoid counter-putsch, he is reaching out for our citizens on the territory of European Union states.”

For more information, please see:

Al-Jazeera – Turkey detains two Germans in relation to Gulen probe – 1 September 2017

Reuters – Germany may ‘rethink’ Turkey ties after two more Germans detained: Merkel – 1 September 2017

CNN – Germany accuses Turkey of arresting 2 more Germans for “political reasons” – 1 September 2017

BBC News – Time to ‘rethink’ turkey relations, says Merkel – 1 September 2017

Reuters – German writer critical of Turkey’s Erdogan arrested in Spain – 19 August 2017

BBC News – Erdogan critic Dogan Akhanli arrested in Spain – 19 August 2017

BBC News – Q&A: Turkey and the EU – 6 October 2004


World leaders work together in Paris over migrant crisis

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe

African and European heads of state convened in Paris for discussions on the migrant crisis. Image courtesy of AFP.

PARIS, France – French President Emanuel Macron played host to several world leaders in Paris on August 28 in a meeting over the migrant crisis.

Present were leaders from four European countries that have faced a heavy influx of migrants from Africa in the past several years.

Germany, France, Italy, and Spain sent their heads of state to Paris for the meeting. Alongside them were the presidents of Niger, Chad, and the head of Libya’s unity government.

President Macron praised Italy for their recent policies on nongovernmental aid rescues off the Libyan coast.

Italy has been working with Libya’s coast guard to reduce the number of illegal migrants coming to their shores.

“[This] is a perfect example of what we are aiming for,” President Macron said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for “urgent” rethinking of the European asylum system to curb the instances of illicit human trafficking across the Mediterranean.

She called for a system of asylum in which there is a defining line between having “legitimate humanitarian needs” and “fleeing poverty”.

Some of the African leaders at the mini-summit disagreed with the Chancellor’s approach. Niger’s President Mahamadou argues that poverty is the driving force behind migration. That driving force, he says, is what leads people into trafficking.

President Mahamadou says that the crux of the issue will always be development. Without more resources, he says, this problem will continue to exist.

Chad’s President Idriss Deby Itno concurred with Niger. He cited “poverty and a lack of education” as the main reasons Africans make the perilous journey to Europe.

Despite instances of disagreement, the nations did come to one policy covenant.

Plans were proposed that would entail migrants seeking asylum to apply for protection while they remain in Africa. Currently, there is no policy in place preventing migrants from coming to the European mainland and subsequently applying for asylum where they land.

President Macron suggested that the European Union pay 60 million euros to Africa in order to help with the process.

This is one of the first times Europe has worked directly with Africa to stem the crisis.

President Macron insists that the only way the migrant crisis can be solved is by coherence between the European Union and the African Union.

“[The issue is a] problem that concerns us all and that cannot be solved without us all,” he said in a statement after the meeting was over.

“This is a challenge for the European Union and the African Union…that [needs to be approached] with solidarity, humanity, and efficiency.”

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Migrant crisis: Macron unveils plans after meeting – 28 August 2017

Washington Post – Can Africa thwart the next migration crisis? European leaders think so. – 28 August 2017

Al Jazeera – EU, African leaders back new plan over migrant crisis – 28 August 2017

The Guardian – African and European leaders agree action plan on migration crisis – 28 August 2017

The New York Times – European Leaders Look to Africa to Stem Migration – 28 August 2017