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

By: Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information, please see:

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

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

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

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

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

By: Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information, please see:

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

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

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

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

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

Thousands Again Protest ‘Stop Abortion’ Bill in Poland

By: Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information, please see:

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

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

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

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

Following Public Outcry, France Sets Legal Age of Consent

By: Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

PARIS, France – Lawmakers in France are in the process of formalizing the age of sexual consent after public outcry over two cases involving preteens.

Demonstrators Gather to Protect Sexual Abuse and Harassment in France. Photo Courtesy of Claude Paris.

France’s government has proposed new laws, one of which makes the age of sexual consent fifteen years. The legislation will be one of several measures taken by the government to combat sexual harassment and violence in the country.

The current law in France criminalizes sex with children under fifteen. However, prosecutors in those cases must prove that the sex was by force.

New measures also include increased prison sentences for perpetrators. There will  be on-the-spot street fines issued for sexual harassment. Repeat offenders will face increasing fines.

The bill will also present sanctions for online harassment.

Additionally, underage rape victims will be able to report sexual violence until they are 48 years old, ten years longer than the current limit.

Prison sentences for rape involving penetration will  increase from the current sentence of five years to ten years.

The push for new laws has gained momentum recently in France due to two high-profile cases involving eleven-year-old girls. The perpetrators in those cases, who were 28 and 30, were acquitted, causing an uproar in France and prompted the government to discuss tightening laws aimed toward combating sexual violence.

Marlene Schiappa, French Equality Minister, said that “we want to fix an age in the law below which it’s always forbidden to have sex with children, with young girls. Below which it’s always considered as a rape.”

President Macron supports the bills and hopes that the new laws ensure that “women are not afraid to be outside.”

In polls conducted in the country, ninety-two percent surveyed support extension of the statute of limitations, ninety percent support on-the-spot street fines and sixty-nine percent support setting the age of consent at fifteen years of age.

It is crucial that the laws of the republic make it clear that it is not allowed to harass or intimidate women…whether in the public space, on public transport or online” Schiappa said. “There can be no lawless zones.”

Age of consent laws vary internationally. Neighboring European countries such as the United Kingdom, Spain and Russia set the age of consent at 16, whereas in Germany, Italy and Hungary it is 14.

Fore more information, please see:

BBC News – France to set Legal age of Sexual Consent at 15 – 6 March 2018

CNN – France to set age of Sexual Consent at 15 After Rape Outcry – 6 March 2018

Newsweek – France to set age of Sexual Consent at 15, Paving way for Rape Charges – 6 March 2018

NPR – France Moves to Make 15 Legal age of Consent for sex – 6 March 2018

USA Today – French Bull Puts 15 as age of Consent for sex, Includes on-the-spot Fines for Harassment – 21 March 2018

Russian Media Boycotts Parliament Following Sexual Harassment Decision

By: Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia – Several Russian media outlets have boycotted Parliament in Russia after sexual misconduct charges were dropped against Leonid Slutsky, head of its international affairs committee.

Darya Zhuk, left, and Farida Rustamova, both reporters in Russia, accused Leonid Slutsky of sexual misconduct. Photo courtesy of Vasily Maximov.

On Thursday, March 22nd, Slutsky was cleared of sexual misconduct charges by the ethics commission in Russia. Since then, nearly all of Russia’s independent news agencies have decided to boycott coverage of the Duma, the lower chamber of Russian Parliament.

Accusations against Slutsky began in February 2018, when several female journalists accused Slutsky of making unwelcome sexual advances towards them.

Farida Rustamova of BBC Russia, said that Slutsky told her to leave her fiancé and “ran his hand, the flat of his palm, up against my nether region.”

Another accuser, Yekaterina Kotrikadze, deputy editor-in-chief at a Russian television station, said that in 2011 Slutsky pushed her against a wall and attempted to kiss her.

“He asked me to come without a camera,” said Kotrikadze. “He brought me into his office, locked the door and tried to pin me against the wall and somehow kiss and touch me. I got away and ran.”

Slutsky denied the allegations and mocked his accusers. In a Facebook post dated February 23rd, Slutsky stated that “attempts to make Slutsky into a Russian Harvey Weinstein look like a cheap and crude provocation … and are bound to fail.”

The ethics commission investigating the accusations released a verdict on March 22nd sating that it had “not found any violations of behavioral norms.”

The commission also took aim at the timing of the women’s allegations, suggesting that they were an attempt to undermine the presidential election in Russia that week.

One member of Parliament, Oksana Pushkina, did side with the journalists and pledged to seek adoption of a legal framework for the prosecution of sexual harassment.

Despite the committee’s decision, the accusations against Slutsky have ushered in the #MeToo movement in Russia. The boycott that has ensued in response to the allegations against Slutsky is the first of its kind in Russia.

Kotrikadze is not surprised by the ethics commission’s decision, but is optimistic about the media’s response to the accusations.

“I really think that the reaction of my colleagues, and lots of Russian media outlets, is the best thing I could imagine. This is the first time in Russian history that the journalists have not obeyed the decision of the state.”

For more information, please see:

ABC News – Russian Media Boycott Country’s Parliament Over Sexual Harassment Claims – 22 March 2018

CNN – Media Outlets Boycott Russian Parliament Over Sexual Harassment Scandal – 23 March 2018

The New Yorker – Russia Finally Gets its #MeToo Movement – 23 March 2018

The New York Times – Russian News Outlets Boycott Parliament After Harassment Decision – 22 March 2018

U.S. News and World Report – Russian Lawmaker Cleared of Sexual Harassment Accusations – 21 March 2018

‘Punish a Muslim Day’ Letters Spark Fear in England

By: Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

LONDON, England – A national counterterrorism investigation is underway after several people received letters targeting Muslims in England.

Muslims Pray Outside A Mosque in England. Photo Courtesy of Andrew Testa.

According to authorities, residents of at least six communities in England have received anonymous letters in the mail urging them to commit acts of violence against Muslims on April 3rd. The sender seems to be targeting communities with large Muslim populations.

The letters arrived in plain white envelopes and designate April 3rd as “Punish A Muslim Day.” The letters express anger at what the author considers to be lax immigration policies in Europe and Muslim immigrants in particular.

The letters go on to provide a chart indicating “points” to be awarded, for crimes committed against Muslims, with the number of points increasing as the violent acts escalate in nature. 25 points would be awarded for pulling a head scarf off of a woman. 500 points would be awarded for murdering a Muslim.

It is not known where the letters originated from or who is responsible for sending them. The country’s counterterrorism forces are investigating the letters. The North East Counter Terrorism Unit is coordinating the investigation and has indicated that the letters are presumed to be linked.

Iman Matta, the director of Tell Mama UK, an organization in the United Kingdom that tracks anti-Muslim activity, told reporters that the letters have “caused quite a lot of fear within the Muslim community. They are asking if they are safe, if their children are safe to play outdoors. We have told them to keep calm.”

There are approximately 4.1 million Muslims in England, comprising over 4 percent of the country’s population.

Attitudes towards Muslims in the country have worsened in recent years. In one survey, more than half of the respondents stated that they believe Islam poses a threat. A quarter of those surveyed call the religion “dangerous.”

Hate crimes against Muslims in England rose signficantly between the years 2015-2016, where 62,518 crimes were reported, and 2016-2017, where 80,393 crimes were reported, according to statistics. This represents a 29% increase.

Naz Shah, a member of parliament in Bradford West, one of the communities that received letters, said that the individuals sending the letters are “inciting violence against the Muslim community.” She went on to say that “we stand shoulder by shoulder, and stand side by side, because nothing will divide us.”

A police spokesperson for the North East Counter Terrorism Unit indicated that “anyone with concerns about a communication they may have received should contact their local police force.”

For more information, please see:

BBC News – ‘Punish a Muslim day’ Letters Probed by Terror Police – 11 March 2018

Newsweek – ‘Punish a Muslim Day’ Game Spreads Across U.K. in Letters Urging People to Burn Mosques and rip off Hijabs – 12 March 2018

The New York Times – ‘Punish a Muslim Day’ Letters Rattle U.K. Communities – 11 March 2018

The Washington Post – Anonymous Letters in Britain Urge People to ‘Punish’ Muslims by Bombing Mosques, Nuking Mecca – 13 March 2018

Facebook Blocks Far-Right Group Britain First

ByJenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

LONDON, England – In response to mounting pressure, Facebook has banned the group Britain First, a far-right Anti-Muslim group that was promoted by President Trump on Twitter last year.

Leaders and Supporters of Britain First March in London. Photo Courtesy of Daniel Leal-Olivas.

Facebook announced on Wednesday, March 7th that it had taken down several pages associated with the group due to their repeated violations of the social media network’s community standards.

In a statement, Facebook said: “We are an open platform for all ideas, and political speech goes to the heart of free expression. But political views can and should be expressed without hate. People can express robust and controversial opinions without needing to denigrate others on the basis of who they are.”

Britain First is estimated to have about 1,000 members. To spread its belief that Islam is destroying Britain, members have used tactics such as confronting Muslims on the street and in mosques.

In November 2017, President Trump amplified the group’s hate-mongering rhetoric by retweeting several of the group’s anti-Muslim videos, a first for a modern American president.

The President’s behavior was condemned by British Prime Minister Theresa May as well as human rights groups. He cancelled a trip to Britain in January 2018.

The anti-fascist organization called HOPE Not Hate reported that the Britain First Facebook page has over 2 million likes, making it one of the most-liked political Facebook pages, second only to the royal family.

Two leaders of the group, Paul Golding and Fayda Fransen, were recently convicted of religiously aggravated harassment hate crimes and given jail sentences. The two posted videos online of them harassing Muslims at their homes in 2017.

Facebook says that this decision has not been made lightly. The platform is intended to be an open forum for ideas and beliefs. However, “there are times when legitimate political speech crosses the line and becomes hate speech,” the company said.

The group was given several warnings that its content was violating Facebook’s standards regarding hate speech. When it did not comply with the requests, the page was removed. The group may not establish a replacement page.

Matthew Collins, head of research at HOPE Not Hate, called Facebook’s decision to remove the group’s page “long overdue…We are delighted that Facebook has finally faced up to its responsibility as a publishing platform and removed this hate-preaching organization.”

“I call on social media companies to show a stronger duty of care so that they can live up to their promise to be places that connect and unify, not divide or polarize,” said Sadiq Khan, London’s mayor.

For more information, please see:

CBS News – Facebook Bans Anti-Muslim Group Retweeted by Trump – 14 March 2018

USA Today – Why Facebook Banned anti-Muslim group Britain First – 14 March 2018

The New York Times – Facebook Blocks Britain First, a Far-Right Anti-Muslim Group Promoted by Trump – 14 March 2018

The New York Times – Anti-Muslim Extremists Retweeted by Trump Are Convicted of Hate Crimes – 8 March 2018

NBC News – Facebook Bans Britain First for Inciting ‘Animosity and Hatred’ Against Minorities – 14 March 2018

The Washington Post – Facebook Removes Home Page of Far-Right Group Britain First – 14 March 2018

Norway Plans to Ban Semi-Automatic Weapons

By: Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

OSLO, Norway – Almost seven years after the last mass shooting in Norway, the country is making moves to ban semi-automatic weapons.

Flags and Flowers Adorn a Memorial Site Neat the 2011 Utoya Massacre in Norway. Photo courtesy of Lefteris Pitarakis.

If the new legislation is passed, semi-automatic weapons and other previously legal weapons will be reclassified as “military-style” and banned. Citizens would be required to surrender any semi-automatic weapons in their possession. Future sales would be prohibited.

The law has been in talks since 2011, when on July 22nd  Anders Behring Breivik murdered 77 people, mostly children, in a bombing and mass shooting on Utoya Island. There has not been a mass shooting in the country since then. However, the incident led the country to review existing laws and propose tightened ones.

A 2012 report by a commission formed in response to the Utoya massacre recommended a ban on semi-automatic weapons as one of its 31 recommendations to combat gun violence.

Øystein Mæland, Norway’s police chief, called for stricter laws pertaining to semi-automatic weapons after the attack.

The legislation comes at a time when gun violence is a considerable problem in the world, especially in the United States of America. Norway has 1.11 gun deaths per 100,000, compared to 10.54 per 100,000 in the United States.

Norway is one of many countries wishing to strengthen their gun laws. In Australia, 57,000 citizens recently surrendered firearms to the government during a gun amnesty in the country. With the recent high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, activists are calling for heightened measures to combat gun violence.

Norway already has some of the strictest gun laws in the world, requiring background checks and secure gun storage, among other things. Certain categories of guns are banned altogether.

The country has a high rate of gun ownership, but boasts low levels of gun violence, thanks in part to the strict gun laws in place. Most residents use them for hunting and outdoor sports.

The ban is planned to take effect in 2021, a decade after the mass shooting.

Petere Frlocih, a Conservative member of Parliament’s committee on judicial affairs, said “today it has become clear that there is a parliamentary majority in favor of the government’s proposal. Semi-automatic weapons will therefore be banned in Norway.”

“This decision is a very good thing, even if it comes belatedly,” said Lisabeth Kristine Roynemand, the head of a support group for victims of gun violence and their families. Her eighteen-year-old daughter was killed in the 2011 massacre.

Not everyone supports the proposed legislation. Farmers and hunters in the nation are protesting the measures.

For more information, please see:

Chicago Tribune – Norway and Australia Move Forward With new gun Control Measures, as U.S. Debate Rages on – 1 March 2018

The Guardian – Norway set to ban Semi-Automatic Guns From 2021, 10 Years After Utoya Shooting – 27 February 2018

Huffington Post – Norway Ready To Ban Semi-Automatic Weapons Starting In 2021, Says Lawmaker – 28 February 2018

Reuters – Norway set to ban Semi-Automatic Weapons – 1 March 2018

Washington Post – As U.S. gun Debate Rages on, Australians Hand in 57,000 Firearms, and Norway is set for a Broad ban – 1 March 2018

Religious Leaders Condemn Iceland’s Proposal to Ban Male Circumcision

By: Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

REYKJAVIK, Iceland – Religious groups are criticizing legislation being considered in Iceland that would ban male circumcision for non-medical reasons.

A Jewish religious male circumcision ceremony is performed. Photo courtesy of Anton Podgaiko.

Iceland’s Parliament is debating legislation that would impose a six-year prison term for circumcisions performed for non-medical reasons.

The legislation was proposed in response to the country’s outlaw on female genital mutilation in 2005. It would outlaw circumcision on children and establish an age of consent after-which an individual could undergo the procedure.

Supporters of the legislation believe that children should be old enough to give informed consent before undergoing the procedure. They believe that the practice infringes on the rights of individuals who are not yet capable to make the decision on their own. They also point to potential risks of the procedure, which include bleeding and infection.

“We are talking about children’s rights, not about freedom of belief,” said Silja Dögg Gunnarsdóttir, a lawmaker who proposed the new legislation. “Everyone has the right to believe in what they want, but the rights of children come about the right to believe.”

Jewish and Muslim religious leaders are condemning the proposal as an attack on religious freedom.

Circumcision is a procedure where the foreskin is removed from the penis. It is usually performed shortly after birth or during childhood. Jews and Muslims perform circumcisions as religious rituals to mark a child’s relationship with God.

“Protecting the health of children is a legitimate goal of every society, but in this case this concern is instrumentalized, without any scientific basis, to stigmatize certain religious communities,” said Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the Catholic Church in the European Union.

“It’s… part of our faith,”said Imam Ahmad Seddeeq at the Islamic Cultural Center of Iceland. “It’s something that touches our religion and I believe that this is… a contravention [of] religious freedom.”

The practice is not limited to religious reasons and is commonly practiced throughout the world across all ethnicities. An estimate by the World Health Organization in 2009 found that one in three men in the world are circumcised.

The American Academy of Pediatrics conducted a review in 2012, finding that the benefits of circumcision outweigh any risks associated with the procedure and issuing the following statement: “The health benefits of circumcision include lower risks of acquiring HIV, genital herpes, human papilloma virus and syphilis. Circumcision also lowers the risk of penile cancer over a lifetime; reduces the risk of cervical cancer in sexual partners, and lowers the risk of urinary tract infections in the first year of life.”

However, the group also stated that the benefits were not enough to recommend universal circumcision.

Circumcision is currently legal throughout Europe.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Iceland’s Mooted Circumcision Ban Sparks Religious Outrage – 19 February 2018

CNN – Iceland’s Proposed Ban on Male Circumcisions Upsets Jews, Muslims – 20 February 2018

Huffington Post – Iceland’s Proposed Ban on Male Circumcision Alarms Religious Leaders – 19 February 2018

Newsweek – Iceland Angers Jewish and Muslim Leaders Over Proposal to Ban Infant Male Circumcision – 19 February 2018

USA Today – Iceland Could Become First Country to Ban Male Circumcision – 19 February 2018

Simon Wiesenthal Center Considers Travel Advisory

By: Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information, please see:

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

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

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

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

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

Polish Prime Minister Blasted for ‘Jewish Perpetrators’ Remark

By: Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Both Morawiecki and Netanyahu believe that the dialogue should continue.

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

For more information, please see:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Protests in Italy Follow Racially-Motivated Shooting Spree

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

ROME, Italy – Thousands of protesters across several Italian cities marched against racism on February 10, 2018, days after an Italian extremist opened fire on African migrants in the city of Macerata.

Far-Right Demonstrators From the Group Forza Nuova Clash With Police on February 8, 2017. Photo Courtesy of Fabio Falcioni.

Approximately 15,000 protestors showed up in Macerata in an effort to quell the rise of neo-fascist parties in Italy. Protesters also marched in Milan, Turin, Rome and other cities across Italy.

The protests came in response to a February 3rd attack on migrants. An Italian gunman identified as Luca Traini, opened fire in the city of Macerata in drive-by shootings that lasted about two hours. By the time he was apprehended by authorities, Traini had shot and wounded six African migrants.

Traini’s attack was racially motivated, partly in retaliation for the recent murder of a young Italian woman. A Nigerian migrant was arrested in connection with her murder.

The protests come just weeks ahead of elections in Italy.

Immigration has become a highly-discussed topic in Italy since the nation experienced  a wave of migrants starting in 2011.  It has been a key theme in campaigns.

Matteo Silvini, the anti-migrant leader of the political party known as the League, has pledged to expel thousands of migrants from Italy if elected. At a recent campaign rally, Silvini expressed his eagerness “to start expelling all the illegals one by one, to defend, above all, the women, the girls.”

At a rally, Silvini said the protest made him “ashamed as an Italian.”

Surveys show that many Italians believe that migrants are responsible for many violent crimes in the nation.

In anticipation of the government-authorized demonstration, schools and shops were closed down and mass-transit was halted. There was a heavy police presence at the protest in Macerata, which was held inside a fenced-off perimeter.

Far-right protests coincided with anti-fascist protests. In Piacenza, a city in Northern Italy, a far-right fringe group known as CasaPound clashed with police. Supporters of Forza Nuova, a neo-fascist party, clashed with police days earlier in an unauthorized demonstration.

Many marchers carried banners denouncing violence and racism. Some carried balloons bearing the names of the shooting victims.

One more coordinated anti-fascist demonstration is scheduled to take place on February 24th, a week before the election.

Francesco Piobbicchi, a demonstrator, told Reuters: “We are here because we want to be a dam against this mountain of hate which is spreading continuously, a social hate against migrants and, in general, against the poor.”

For more information, please see:

ABC News – Marchers Protest Racism in Italy After Africans are Shot – 10 February 2018

BBC News Macerata: Anti-Racism Protest After Migrant Shooting in Italy – 10 February 2018

CNN – Italians Protest Against Fascism Following Shooting of African Migrants – 10 February 2018

Reuters – Italians March Against Racism After Shooting Spree Against Migrants – 10 February 2018

Far-Right Extremist Wounds Six in Two-Hour Shooting Rampage

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

ROME, Italy – In a rampage that lasted two hours, a right-wing Italian extremist shot and wounded six Africans on February 3rd in the small Italian city of Macerata.

Luca Traini is accused of shooting six people in Macerata, Italy. Photo Courtesy of Guido Picchio.

Draped in Italy’s tricolor flag, Luca Traini, a 28-year-old Italian, shot six victims in drive-by shootings that he carried out for two hours before he was detained by authorities. He specifically targeted dark-skinned pedestrians.

Traini’s rampage was in retaliation to an 18-year-old Italian woman’s murder weeks before. A 29-year-old Nigerian immigrant has been charged in her murder.

“He did it out of an ill-conceived sense of revenge,” said Lt. Col. Michele Roberti, local commander of  Italy’s Carabinieri, an elite police force.

Traini has confessed to the  racially-motivated rampage. Italian authorities discovered a copy of Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” and other Nazi paraphernalia in a search of Traini’s home following the attacks.

An acquaintance of Traini said that he has become radicalized over the past six years. “More than a criminal, he’s an individual with psychological problems,” said Francesco Clerico, owner of the gym where Traini trained for a decade before being he was banned.

Italy has become one of a number of European nations to experience an influx of migrants who have come by way of crossing the Mediterranean. Since 2011, over 625,000 migrants have crossed into Italy, many having been rescued off of boats at sea.

Italy’s electoral campaign has become heated, with anti-migrant sentiments being a key theme.

Traini was an unsuccessful  candidate for Italy’s Northern League, an anti-migrant party that is now known simply as League, in elections in 2017.

As national elections approach on March 4th, anti-migrant sentiments have become prevalent, with party leaders such as Matteo Salvini vowing to expel 150,000 migrants from the country and close off the border to newcomers.

Although he denounced violence as a solution to the problem, Salvini stated that “out-of-control migration brings chaos, rage, social clashes. Out-of-control migration brings drug-dealing, rapes, thefts and violence.”

Opponents of the League criticize Salvini’s rhetoric as inciting violence in the country. Laura Boldrini, president of the lower house of the Italian Parliament , said “what happened today in Macerata demonstrates that inciting hatred and excusing fascism, as Salvini does, has consequences.”

Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni urged leaders on both sides of the debate to end the “cycle of violence… Hate and violence won’t be able to divide us.”

For more information, please see:

ABC News – Hitler Book, Supremacist Flag Found in Italy Suspect’s Home – 4 February 2018

CNN – Silvio Berlusconi Says Migrants Causing ‘Serious Social Alarm’ in Italy – 5 February 2018

Los Angeles Times – Italian With Extreme Right-Wing Sympathies Suspected of Shooting 6 Africans – 3 February 2018

The New York Times – Italy’s Populists Turn up the Heat as Anti-Migrant Anger Boils – 5 February 2018

Reuters – Opponents say Berlusconi to Blame for Italy’s Migrant Crisis – 5 February 2018

The Washington Post –  Man Shoots, Wounds at Least 6 ‘People of Color’ in Italian City Amid Tensions – 3 February 2018

The Washington Post – Italy’s Berlusconi: 600,000 Migrants ‘Ready to Commit Crime’ – 5 February 2018

The Washington Post – A Gruesome Murder. A Hate-Filled Shooting Rampage. And a Reckoning With Immigration Before Italy Votes. – 6 February 2018

EU’s Top Court Condemns ‘Gay Testing’ of Asylum Seekers

European Court of Justice, Luxembourg. Photo Courtesy of Geert Vanden Wijngaert.

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

LUXEMBOURG – The European Union’s top court issued a ruling requiring Hungary to reconsider the case of a Nigerian man whose asylum application was denied after psychological tests could not determine his sexual orientation.

Officials in Hungary administered improper psychological tests, “namely the ‘Draw-A-Person-In-The-Rain’ test and the Rorschach and Szondi tests,” on an unidentified Nigerian man seeking refuge in the country, according to the ruling. The man was seeking asylum due to feared persecution he faced in Nigeria on account of his sexuality.

In April 2015, the man, known as “F”, applied for asylum in Hungary. He was then subjected to several psychological assessment tests that were allegedly used to determined his sexuality. At the conclusion of the tests, the psychologist determined the results of the tests were inconclusive and the man’s asylum application was rejected.

Same-sex marriage is prohibited in Nigeria.  According to polls conducted in the country, 90% of citizens support a continued ban on same-sex relationships. Homosexual acts are illegal in most African countries.

The EU ruled in 2013 that asylum could be granted to those who were jailed because of their sexual orientation.

The European Union’s top court found that the tests amounted to “a disproportionate interference in the private life of the asylum seekers.”

The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights reports that hundreds of asylum seekers seeking refuge in European Union are homosexuals fearing persecution in Africa, the Middle East and Chechnya.

In a similar case  in the Netherlands in 2014, the EU ruled that sexuality tests there violated the rights of asylum seekers.

The Court allows countries to seek expert opinions in assessing “the facts and circumstances relating to the declared sexual orientation of an applicant” but mandates that the procedures respect the EU Charter’s guaranteed fundamental human rights. Additionally, authorities may not base decisions on expert opinion alone and expert opinions must be considered as non-binding.

The use of psychological tests has been criticized for their intrusion into “the most intimate aspects of life”, according to the judgment. In 2010, authorities in the Czech Republic were criticized for their use of pornography in psychological tests.

The ruling has been called an “important step against one of the many problems and humiliations LGBT refugees still face in many EU member states” by Katrin Hugendubel, Advocacy Director for ILGA-Europe, a human rights advocacy organization in Europe.

The ruling is binding in the 28 member states of the EU.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Asylum Seekers Must not be Forced to Take ‘gay’ Tests – 25 January 2018

Newsweek – ‘Gay Tests’ for Refugees in Europe Should be Banned, Says Court – 25 January 2018

NPR – EU Court Rejects ‘Gay Test’ for Asylum Seekers – 25 January 2018

Reuters – EU Court Bars ‘Gay Test’ for Asylum Seekers – 25 January 2018