Italian Officers Suspended Amid Rape Allegations

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information, please see:

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

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

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

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

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

 

Germany cracks down on far-left internet platforms

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe

Riots erupted in Hamburg at the G20 summit in July. Image courtesy of Getty Images.

BERLIN, Germany – The German government shut down a far-left anti-capitalist website on August 25th.

The crackdown on extremism comes several weeks after anti-capitalist groups stormed the G20 summit in Hamburg. In July, the groups clashed with police, ending in violence between the two parties.

At the summit, hundreds of anti-capitalist protestors descended on Hamburg. The protestors lit cars on fire and looted near where the world leaders were convening.

The police used water cannons and tear gas to disburse the protestors. The skirmish ended with 76 police officers injured. An unknown number of protestors were injured as well.

Germany decided to take down the websites they alleged had ties to the violence at the G20 summit. The main website, linksunten.indymedia.org, was said to have been used to organize the unauthorized protest in Hamburg.

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere told reporters that the websites were taken offline because they were “sowing hate against different opinions and state officials.”

While there is a Constitutional right to freedom of expression and right to peaceably assemble in Germany, de Maiziere argues that the “alt-left” websites are outside the realm of constitutional protection.

Defining the online portal as an “association” rather than a media outlet is one way the websites are not protected.

As an association, Constitutional applications are less strict. A postwar statute criminalized inciting hatred against “segments of the population.” Since the websites are not considered media outlets, they run counter to the criminal codes.

According to authorities, officers searched the home of the websites operator. They seized laptops and minor weapons like knives and pipes.

Authorities have been grabbling with the rise of digital platforms for extremist views since the recent rise of the “alt-right” both in western Europe and elsewhere. Germany has already banned a far-right website, taking “Altermedia Deutschland” offline in January.

But this is one of the first reported aimed at “leftist” groups. One of the main reasons for such was the resonance of encouraging violence online. It was alleged that one of the websites shut down had instructions on building a Molotov cocktail, along with calling police officers “murderers” and “pigs.”

Spokesperson Ula Jelpke for German political party The Left, has called the decision an “illegitimate act of censorship.”

De Maiziere disagrees, saying that the websites “legitimize violence against police officers,” and that “this is absolutely unacceptable and incompatible with our liberal democratic order.”

For more information, please see:

The New York Times – Germany, in a First, Shuts Down Left-Wing Extremist Website – 25 August 2017

BBC News – Germany bans far-left protest website over G20 riots – 25 August 2017

Reuters – Germany Bans Far-Left Website After G20 Violence – 25 August 2017

The Washington Post – In clampdown on left-wing ‘hate’, Germany bars website tied to G-20 violence – 25 August 2017

Reuters – Dozens of police injured in G20 protests as Merkel seeks consensus – 6 July 2017

The Guardian – G20 protests: police fire water cannon into anti-capitalist rally – 6 July 2017

CNN – G20 protests: Police, demonstrators clash in Germany – 6 July 2017

Vehicular terror attack in Barcelona leaves Spain shaken

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe

Crowds gather to honor the lives of the 13 victims of the van attack on Las Ramblas. Image courtesy of the New York Times.

BARCELONA, Spain – It was yet another day of terror in the world on August 17th as a van rammed into tourists in Barcelona.

It was the deadliest terror attack in Spain since 2004, when nearly 200 people were killed in an attack on commuter trains in Madrid.

A van plowed into crowds walking on one of Barcelona’s most popular tourist areas, Las Ramblas. 13 people were dead while over 100 were left wounded by the attack.

South of Barcelona, another victim was hit by a second attacker. The victim died from the injuries she sustained in the attack.

Five of the attackers have been shot dead by Barcelona police. Four other suspects have been detained across the Catalan region in Spain.

The attack on Las Ramblas was set into motion when a house in the Spanish countryside was destroyed by a bomb on the previous night. Police suspected the house was part of a terror ring, and that it was used to make bombs. One person died in the explosion. Another was critically wounded.

While terror group ISIS has stated that the attackers were “soldiers of the Islamic State”, they have offered no proof of such.

People from 34 different countries have been reported among the victims. Of those, one 7-year-old boy from Australia remains missing. Australia’s prime minister Malcom Turnbull told the Tasmanian State Liberal Conference that attacks by vehicles are becoming the “new approach to terrorism.”

Indeed, this attack settles in as the sixth of its kind in the past year. Similar terror attacks were carried out in Nice, Berlin, London, and Stockholm all within the past thirteen months.

Vehicles, once considered safe, have become a mode of weaponry unexpected by experts.

One reason for this may be the fact that it is difficult to protect against attacks by vehicles. Automobiles are on every street, and people trust that drivers will follow the rules of the road. Any accidents are considered random, not targeted as an attack.

Turning vehicles into weapons may increase fear and distrust among individuals. Terror groups seek to instill fear into victims, and cars may be seen as a way to increase that fear.

“This kind of attack, using one of the most ordinary objects of daily life, could heighten that effect,” writes Amanda Taub for the New York Times.

Yet these attacks have brought people together, especially in Barcelona. People united on Las Ramblas shortly after the attacks to honor the victims.

“No tinc por!” crowds chanted in Catalan after a moment of silence. Translated, the chant states, “I’m not afraid!”

For more information, please see:

The New York Times – Van Hits Pedestrians in Deadly Barcelona Terror Attack – 17 August 2017

The New York Times – As Vehicle Attacks Rise, an Ordinary Object Becomes an Instrument of Fear – 17 August 2017

NBC News – Spain Terror: American Among 14 Killed in Van and Car Attacks – 18 August 2017

CNN – Deadly Barcelona attack is worst day of violence in Spain – 18 August 2017

BBC News – Barcelona and Cambrils attacks: ‘I’m not afraid’ – 18 August 2017

CNN – Spain attacks: Police hunt Barcelona driver, probe suspected bomb factory – 19 August 2017

NGOs suspend refugee rescue operations off Libyan coast

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe

A Libyan Coast Guardsman looks over a boat of migrants in the Mediterranean Sea. Image courtesy of Getty Images.

ROME, Italy – Nongovernmental aid group Doctors Without Borders has suspended work in Libya due to threats by the Libyan Coast Guard.

The Italian Coast Guard’s rescue coordination center told Doctors Without Borders on August 11th about the alleged threats by Libya, saying that the threat poses a “security risk”.

After the notice, Doctors Without Borders decided to temporarily discontinue use of its largest rescue boat in Libyan waters because of an “increasingly hostile environment for lifesaving rescue operations.”

Many migrants are smuggled from Libya by human traffickers in small, dangerous dinghies. The Italian Coast Guard has worked with its Libyan counterpart over the problem. In July, Italy sent naval ships to Libya to help curb human smuggling across the Mediterranean.

The Italian government has been searching for solutions to the crisis for some time. One of these solutions has been by imposing strict rules on nongovernmental aid groups. The government has urged groups like Doctors Without Borders to agree to allow Italian judicial authorities to board their ships.

Another rule involves forbidding nongovernmental aid groups from entering Libyan waters without explicit authorization by the government.

Any group that does not abide by the rules may not be permitted to dock in Italian ports.

To an extent, it appears that the rules may have curbed a small part of the crisis. In July, the amount of Libyan migrants arriving in Italy was reduced to half of what it was prior. About 11,459 migrants from Libya arrived on Italy’s shores in July 2017. In July 2016, that number was at 23,522.

Doctors Without Borders has refused to sign on to Italy’s rules on rescuing off the Libyan coast.

But it is not the only group that has heeded governmental warning over Libyan threats.

After the announcement by Doctors Without Borders, a German nongovernmental aid group, Sea Eye, also decided to suspend rescue operations in Libyan waters.

“A continuation of our rescue work is not currently possible,” founder of Sea Eye, Michael Buschheuer, said in a statement. “It would be irresponsible towards our crews.”

Doctors Without Borders will continue to have medical personnel present on other ships. But their largest rescue vessel, the Prudence, will be out of commission.

For more information, please see:

The Guardian – Rescue ship suspends work after ‘threats by Libyan coastguard’ – 13 August 2017

Al-Jazeera – German NGO halts refugee rescue operations off Libya – 13 August 2017

The New York Times – Doctors Without Borders Suspends Migrant Rescue Patrols Off Libyan Coast – 12 August 2017

Reuters – MSF suspends Mediterranean rescues as migrant dispute mounts – 12 August 2017

L.A. Times – Doctors Without Borders suspends rescue ships off Libya over security concerns – 12 August 2017

The Guardian – Number of migrants arriving in Italy from Libya falls in half by July – 11 August 2017

Tourists arrested in Berlin for Nazi salute

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe 

The Reichstag building in the heart of Berlin. Image courtesy of Getty Images.

BERLIN, Germany – Two tourists from China were arrested in Berlin on August 5th for giving a Nazi salute.

The two men were outside of the Reichstag, the German parliament building.

In Germany, using symbols affiliated with the Nazis is illegal. Modern applications of these laws are often used to curb the rise of “alternative right” (alt-right) movements in the country.

The tourists were released when their bond was paid. They still will face criminal proceedings.

Though years have passed, Nazism has become popular among the alt-right crowd all across the European continent.

In April 2017, a Dutch drugstore chain stocked “color by number” coloring books, one page of which produced a caricature of Adolf Hitler. The drugstore immediately made a public apology and withdrew the coloring books from the store.

And in Austria in February 2017, a man was arrested while he was dressed as Hitler. The man was visiting Hitler’s birthplace of Braunau am Inn.  Glorifying Nazism is a crime in Austria as well.

Yet despite the sparse reminders of Germany’s horrible past, many continue to fight the current Nazi, or Neo-Nazi, movement.

A 70 year-old woman in late July spoke with news outlet Al-Jazeera about her anti-Fascist fight. She detailed her work on painting over and defacing any pro-Nazi street art she sees. The woman, Irmela Mensah-Schramm, has been doing this for three decades now.

Mensah-Schramm has been caught vandalizing before, and told by a judge to admit her charges and to promise to stop defacing property. But she held her ground, refusing to promise anything, and instead promising to not pay her fines for vandalizing.

Support of Nazism and Nazi ideals remains a crime in much of Europe. Yet the continent continues to see a rise in alt-right political candidates, some of whose values appear to coincide with the ideology of Nazism.

Violent crime against refugees and non-Western Europeans has also risen with the alt-right movement. Nearly 3,533 attacks on refugees or pro-refugee accommodations have been documented in Germany alone, as of 2016.

Of those, about 560 people were injured, 43 of those children.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Chinese tourists arrested for Hitler salute in Germany – 6 August 2017

The Telegraph – Chinese tourists arrested for giving Hitler salute outside Reichstag building in Berlin – 6 August 2017

The Guardian – Chinese tourists arrested for making Hitler salutes outside Reichstag – 5 August 2017

ABC News – Berlin: 2 Chinese tourists detained for making Nazi salutes – 5 August 2017

Al-Jazeera – Germany: 70-year-old anti-fascist defaces neo-Nazi art – 28 July 2017

BBC News – Hitler coloring book removed by Dutch shop after outrage – 6 April 2017

BBC News – Hitler lookalike arrested in Austria – 13 February 2017

 

Battle over EU migrant crisis continues in Court of Justice

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe 

Migrants enter Austria and Hungary in 2015. Image courtesy of Getty Images.

LUXEMBOURG, Luxembourg – The European Court of Justice held against Asylum seekers from Syria and Afghanistan in a case on June 26.

The asylum seekers arrived in Croatia during the migrant crisis of 2015-2016. The families were then transported to Austria and Slovenia without proper visas. Many migrants seek to move north upon entry in places like Greece and Turkey. Countries in the north often have more resources to give refugees a better life.

Austria sought to deport the refugees back to Croatia under the Dublin rule.

Under the rule, individuals coming into Europe must seek asylum in the first country of entry. In this case, that country is Croatia.

While an exception to the rule does exist, the court held that it was not applicable in this case. Asylum seekers are only permitted to be transferred to another country under “exceptional circumstances.”

Despite the influx of migrants coming in to southern European countries, the court ruled that this did not constitute an “exceptional circumstance”.

Countries can also allow entry of an asylum seeker on humanitarian grounds. However, the court reasoned that the exception is not “tantamount to the issuing of a visa, even if [the admission] can be explained by exceptional circumstances characterized by a mass influx of displaced people into the EU”.

The asylum seekers will be deported to Croatia, where they can seek asylum there.

Austria is one of several northern European countries that has declined to take on refugees, despite the European Union’s quotas. The quotas were designed to offset the influx into poorer countries like Italy and Greece.

Hungary and Slovakia have also been against taking in refugees. The Court of Justice released an additional decision on July 26 that dismissed the two country’s claim against the mandatory relocation of asylum seekers.

The two nations sought to have the EU plan for relocation annulled. The arguments were rejected by the Advocate General of the court, Yves Bot.

“The contested decision automatically helps to relieve the considerable pressure on the asylum systems of Italy and Greece following the migration crisis of 2015,” he said. “[It is] thus appropriate for attaining the objective which it pursues.”

The relocation of migrants in the EU reached a “record level” in June, according to the European Commission. The EU continues to push forward against the countries that have failed to meet their obligations for accepting migrants.

The EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos is calling on EU member states to “step up efforts” to re-locate migrants from Italy.

“Relocation works if the political will is there,” he says, adding, “Italy still needs our support.”

For more information, please see: 

CNN – Court: Responsibility remains with state of entry – 26 July 2017

CNN – Lawyer urges dismissal of Hungary, Slovakia case – 26 July 2017

Reuters – Top EU court adviser deals blow to easterner’s refugee battle – 26 July 2017

The Guardian – EU court backs migrant deportations by Austria, Slovenia – 26 July 2017

Politico – Top court clears Austria, Slovenia of turning back asylum seekers – 26 July 2017

Washington Post – The Latest: EU migrant relocation reached record in June – 26 July 2017

BBC News – EU migrant crisis: Austria can deport Asylum seekers, court says – 26 July 2017

German Foreign Ministry advises against travel to Turkey

By: Sara Adams 
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe 

Germany’s Foreign Minister speaks at a press conference on July 20. Image courtesy of AP.

BERLIN, Germany – German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel advised citizens against traveling to Turkey, in a time of rising tension between the two countries.

The tension comes from Turkey’s actions since the failed coup against the government in 2016. In the past year, the Turkish government has arrested at least 50,000 people, including journalists and opposition members. Of those, 22 have been German citizens.

German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel was among those arrested in the past year. He was detained on terror charges in February. Six of the human rights activists arrested in June were jailed in Turkey on July 18 while they await trial.

The jailing of the activists is what some are saying triggered Berlin to issue a warning against travel to Turkey.

Relations between Turkey and Germany have become a key topic as Germany approaches a general election in September. Foreign Minister Gabriel is part of the Social Democrats, a rival to Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democrats.

Despite the rivalry, Chancellor Merkel has backed the Foreign Minister’s warning against traveling to Turkey.

Foreign Minister Gabriel is reviewing the relations between the two countries. While he says that Germany “wants Turkey to become part of the west,” he also urged that “it takes two to tango.”

Germany is considering review of an export credits system that benefits Turkey. They are also considering how to handle Turkey’s bid to join the European Union.

Meanwhile, Turkey has stated that it will “reciprocate” what it calls “blackmail and threats” by Berlin. The Turkish Foreign Ministry blames the tensions on Germany’s “double-standard attitude” toward Turkey.

Counsel of Europe’s Secretary General Throbjorn Jagland joins the calls for freeing the prisoners in Turkey.

“Human rights defenders should be able to fulfill their activities freely without being subject to arbitrary interferences by the authorities,” he said in a statement on June 20.

Continuing, the Secretary General stated that the lack of evidence against those jailed can lead to “fear, self-censorship and a chilling effect on Turkish civil society.”

Even so, the government in Ankara continues to hold steadfast to their own judicial processes.

A statement released by the Turkish Foreign Ministry insisted that “the independent Turkish judiciary must be trusted.”

The Ministry strongly condemned any suggestion that German citizens were not safe when traveling to Turkey.

“There is no such thing,” the Turkish Foreign Minister said. “as far as the judiciary could establish [those arrested were] not ordinary visitors, [but] people who engaged in illegal or suspicious activities.”

For more information, please see: 

BBC News – Germany warns citizens of Turkey risks amid arrests – 20 July 2017 

The Washington Post – The Latest: Turkey says it would reciprocate German threats – 20 July 2017 

Reuters – Germany warns citizens to be more careful in traveling to Turkey – 20 July 2017 

AP News – Germany raises pressure on Turkey after activists jailed – 20 July 2017 

LA Times – Turkish court jails an Amnesty director and 5 other human rights activists pending trial – 18 July 2017 

The Guardian – ‘Assault on freedom of expression’: Die Welt journalist’s arrest in Turkey – 28 February 2017  

Belgian ban on religious head coverings acceptable, European court rules

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe

A woman wears a niqab in Brussels. Image courtesy of AP.

STRASBOURG, France – The European Court of Human Rights upheld a Belgian ban on wearing full-face religious veils in public.

The ban was implemented by the Belgian government in 2011. The full-face coverings, including the niqab and burqa, is religious headwear worn by women of the Islamic faith. Burqas cover the entire face, including the eyes, while niqabs leave the eyes open.

Punishment for wearing these veils in public are as minor as fines, to more serious jail time.

The ECHR held that the ban was not a violation of religious freedom.

It was said that the Belgian government has the right to impose restrictions that “protect the rights and freedoms of others.” They also stated that the ban was “necessary in a democratic society.”

The debate about Muslim face coverings has raged for several years. Multiple European countries have imposed or proposed a similar ban to the one in Belgium. The most recent was in Norway, where discussions began about banning full-face veils in June.

Proponents of the ban argue that it is actually conducive to women’s freedom, rather than restrictive of it. One Belgian policymaker, Daniel Bacquelaine, said that “[forbidding] the veil as a covering is to give them more freedom.” He added, “if we want to live together in a free society, we need to recognize each other.”

It is true that many women in predominantly Muslim countries do not have a choice in wearing head coverings. Saudi Arabia and Iran both require by law that women have their heads covered in public.

Yet many Muslim women in western countries have expressed that they choose to wear head coverings on their own free will. Two of these include the women who brought the Belgian ban to the ECHR.

One of the women did not leave the house for fear of breaking the law for wearing her head covering. The other took off her veil in public.

More European countries have begun support for partial or complete bans on full-face veils.

The decision by the Court can be appealed. There will be three months to bring an appeal to the higher level, where five judges will determine whether there should be a second look at the decision.

For more information, please see:

NPR – European Court of Human Rights Upholds Belgium’s Ban on Full-Face Veils – 11 July 2017

BBC News – Belgian face veil ban backed in European court ruling – 11 July 2017

Independent – European Court of Human Rights upholds Belgium’s bans on burqas and full-face Islamic veils – 11 July 2017

The Telegraph – Belgian ban on Muslim full-face veil is legal, European Court of Human Rights rules – 11 July 2017

JURIST – Europe rights court upholds Belgium burqa ban – 11 July 2017

Reuters – Norway proposes ban on full-face veils in schools – 12 June 2017

The Washington Post – MAP: Where Islamic veils are banned, and where they are mandatory – July 1, 2014

Turkish authorities detain human rights activists

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe

Protesters speak out against the arrest of Amnesty International leader Taner Kilic in Turkey. Image courtesy of Getty Images.

ANKARA, Turkey – The government in Turkey detained several human rights activists on July 6 on an island off the country’s coast.

Among those detained were Amnesty International’s Turkey director, Idil Eser. It was left unclear what the individuals are being detained for. But in June, Amnesty International’s Turkey chair, Taner Kilic, was arrested along with 22 lawyers for alleged membership in a “terrorist” group.

The crackdown on human rights supporters comes from last year’s failed coup against Turkish President Erdogan. The government believes that Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen staged the coup.

Gulen exiled himself from Turkey in 1999, and has lived in Pennsylvania since. He has denied that he was involved in the coup. Gulen has been outspoken against the Turkish government previously.

Critics argue that President Erdogan is using last July’s failed coup and its subsequent State of Emergency as a means of suppressing dissent against his administration.

At least 50,000 people opposing Erdogan have been arrested under his authority. It has been reported that more than 100,000 people have been dismissed or suspended from their jobs.

Though it is not yet a member of the European Union, Turkey has been in the process of gaining EU membership for several years. Talks have been ongoing since 2005. In November 2016, the European Parliament voted to suspend discussions with Turkey regarding entry into the EU.

Debate has raged between European Parliament members regarding the best way to strengthen Turkey’s democratic processes. However, the EU has been weary of allowing Turkey into the Union due to the country’s stances on human rights and the death penalty.

The Turkish government’s crackdown expands beyond human rights activists and those who openly oppose President Erdogan. In June 2017, about 44 people were detained during an LGBT Pride march in Istanbul.

Turkish law enforcement used tear gas and plastic bullets against the people who attempted to gather for the parade.

The European High Commission for Human Rights (EHCR) condemned the actions. Commissioner Nils Muiznieks stating that “although a demonstration may annoy or cause offense to persons oppose to the ideas…This cannot serve as an admissible ground for prohibiting a peaceful gathering.” He also called the reports of police violence as “worrying”.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International has openly spoken against Erdogan for arrests of the group’s leaders. The group’s Secretary General, Salil Shetty, called the detainment “profoundly disturbing.”

“This is a grotesque abuse of power and highlights the precarious situation facing human rights activists in the country,” he added.

Despite critics, President Erdogan still remains more popular than not in Turkey. In April 2017’s referendum, 51.4% voted to expand the president’s executive power.

Amnesty International continues to call for the release of the detainees.

For more information, please see:

ABC News – Amnesty calls for release of rights activists held in Turkey – 6 July 2017

The New York Times – Turkey Detains a 2nd Amnesty International Leader – 6 July 2017

BBC News – Turkey police hold rights activists including Amnesty chief – 6 July 2017

The Telegraph – Turkey police detain Amnesty director and 12 other rights activists – 6 July 2017

CBS – Turkish police arrest dozens at Istanbul’s banned LGBT pride event – 26 June 2017

The Guardian – Turkey arrests Amnesty International head and lawyers in Gulenist sweep – 6 June 2017

BBC News – Turkey referendum: Vote expanding Erdogan powers ‘valid’ – 17 April 2017

The New York Times – Turkey and E.U. Near Breaking Point in Membership Talks – 23 November 2016

Italian government suggests shutting borders to prevent migrant entry

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe 

Migrants travel through a Northern Italian city. Image courtesy of AP.

ROME, Italy – The Italian government has threatened to close its ports to prevent an influx of migrants from entering the country.

The suggestion to close ports was suggested by Italy’s EU ambassador, Maurizio Massari, to EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos during a meeting.

About 73,000 migrants have entered Italy this year. The migrants are mostly from North African countries.

For those who are not aided by a nonprofit group, the route is treacherous. Smugglers from Libya stow away migrants on small fishing boats. Nonprofit aid groups like Doctors Without Borders, as well as the EU’s official rescue operation Frontex, rescue stranded migrants, dropping them off on Italy’s shores.

The Italian Coast Guard also joins in rescue efforts.

Nearly 2,000 have died on the journey or gone missing. In one instance, Italian authorities arrested a man for allegedly torturing migrants in Libya as they waited for passage on a smuggler’s boat.

The consideration of closing ports comes after the arrival on Italian shores of 11,000 migrants over the course of five days.

The government has suggested refusing docking privileges to boats that are not carrying Italy’s flag.

Other countries have closed their borders to migrants to prevent them from moving north, out of Italy. Poland and Hungary have avoided taking on refugees to lessen Italy’s burden. And on June 26, police at the French-Italy border sprayed tear gas at the 400 migrants attempting to travel north.

Critics have described this threat as a “panic measure.” Mattia Toaldo, a Libya expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said that he would be “surprised if [this move] is legal.”

EU leaders agree that Italy and Greece need to receive more aid in managing incoming refugees and migrants.

The move to close ports would not impact the European Union’s Frontex program. The program is governed by international law and cannot be altered. The commissioner’s office will be in charge of leading discussions for the policy change. These discussions will likely include the nongovernmental humanitarian aid groups.

For more information, please see:

Associated Press – Italy Threatens to Close Ports to NGO Migrant Rescue Ships – 28 June 2017

The Washington Post – World Digest: June 28, 2017 – 28 June 2017

BBC News – Migrant crisis: Italy threatens to shut ports – 28 June 2017

The Guardian – Italy considers closing its ports to boats carrying migrants – 28 June 2017

ABC News – The Latest: Aid group fears for migrants at Italy border – 27 June 2017

Reuters – Italian police use tear gas on migrants trying to enter France – 26 June 2017

 

European human rights court finds Russia’s ‘gay propaganda’ law discriminatory

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe

One of the activists involved in the case speaks after the hearing. Image courtesy of AP.

STRASBOURG, France – Russia’s law that banned the “promotion of homosexuality to minors” was ruled discriminatory on June 20 by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

The law, introduced in 2013, made it illegal to engage in any event or act that attempted to “promote” homosexuality to minors. Three activists were fined for violating the law when they staged pro-LGBT protests between 2009 and 2012.

The fines ranged from around 85 US dollars (USD) to upwards of 8,400 USD.

The activists were unsuccessful in their first appeals to Russian courts, where they argued that the laws were discriminatory. As a member of the European Convention on Human Rights, the ECHR has the power to hear the cases that Russian courts refused.

The ECHR found that the activists had been discriminated against. They opined that the laws encouraged prejudice and homophobia in a democratic society. Even though the intent of the law, to protect minors, was in the public interest, the Court found that the application of the laws were “arbitrary” and lacked a clear definition.

They also found that the law served no legitimate public interest.

The Court held that the discriminatory effect of the law was a violation of the people’s right to freedom of expression. The Russian government was ordered to pay the activists almost $55,000 (USD) in monetary damages.

Discrimination against the LGBT community in Russia has been prevalent for several years. Until 1993, homosexuality was a punishable criminal offense. Until 1999, homosexuality was considered a “mental illness.”

Nearby Chechnya has also been in the news lately regarding LGBT rights. It has been reported that the republic, located within Russia, has been detaining gay men in detention camps.

Though Russia is a member country of the Convention on Human Rights, a law was adopted in 2015 that would allow Russia to overrule judgments from the Court. The law, supported by President Putin, aimed to give the country the right to ignore ECHR decisions if they “conflict” with the constitution.

The Justice Ministry in Russia has spoken out against the decision, claiming that the law did not establish any measures “aimed at banning homosexuality…or its official censure.” The Ministry has stated that it will appeal the ruling within three months.

For more information, please see:

New York Times – Russia’s ‘Gay Propaganda’ Laws Are Illegal, European Court Rules – 20 June 2017

The Guardian – Russian ‘gay propaganda’ law ruled discriminatory by European court – 20 June 2017

Reuters – European court angers Russia with ‘gay propaganda’ ruling – 20 June 2017

BBC News – European Court blasts Russia ‘gay propaganda’ law – 20 June 2017

NBC News – European Court Angers Russia With ‘Gay Propaganda’ Ruling – 20 June 2017

CNN – Russian ‘gay propaganda’ law discriminatory, European court rules – 20 June 2017

BBC News – Russia passes law to overrule European human rights court – 4 December 2015