European Convention on Human Rights to Rule on Ireland’s Abortion Ban

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch, Reporter

STRASBOURG, France – The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) will hear an action on Wednesday brought by three Irish women, alleging that Ireland’s abortion ban has put their health and well-being at risk.

Abortion was originally banned and the procedure criminalized in Ireland in 1861 by the Offences against the Person Act.  A 1992 Ireland Supreme Court ruling legalized abortions when there was a “real and substantial risk to the life of the mother.”  This exemption included the risk of potential suicide on the part of the woman.  There has still been no statutory language from the national government to clearly establish the correct application and scope of that court decision.  Ireland is a signatory to the ECHR.

All three women involved in this case were forced to travel to England to obtain an abortion.  According to the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA), since 1980 138,000 women have been forced to travel abroad from Ireland to gain access to an abortion.  This has resulted in “extreme…physical, financial and emotional hardship” on the women affected.  IFPA noted that the Irish abortion ban goes “against the majority of [Irish] citizens…[are] broadly in favor of liberalising the law.”

The Ireland Attorney General, Paul Gallagher, is heading the legal team that will represent the official state position in front of the ECHR.  He is expected to argue that Ireland is “entitled to rely on the ‘margin of appreciation doctrine'”.  Traditionally, this doctrine has allowed individual member states to have a degree of discretion in interpreting the ECHR’s law differently than other states.  Additionally, since domestic alternatives to the issue at hand have not been exhausted, the ECHR lacks jurisdiction.

The Irish women who brought the case are supported by the IFPA.  Their argument centers on a claim that the Irish abortion ban violates numerous provisions of ECHR, including Article 2 (right to Life), Article 3 (prohibition of Torture), Article 8 (Right to Respect for Family and Private Life) and Article 14 (Prohibition of Discrimination).

If their claim is successful it would create minimum degree of access for women, not just in Ireland but all signatory nations, to an abortion that has the purpose of protecting the woman’s health and well-being.

For more information, please see:

IRISH EXAMINER – Criticism ahead of abortion ban fight – 8 December 2009

TAIWAN NEWS – European Court of Human Rights puts pro-life Ireland in hot seat – 8 December 2009

INDEPENDENT – State defends ban on abortion as women take case to Europe – 7 December 2009

THE GUARDIAN – Women challenge Irish abortion ban in court – 7 December 2009

Illness Postpones Nazi War Crimes Trial

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MUNICH, Germany – The trial of a former Nazi prison guard who has been charged with the murders of thousands of Jews at a Polish camp was postponed on Wednesday because of a medical infection.

The judge of the Munich Court determined that the 89-year old John Demjanjuk was not medically capable to attend the court proceedings.  Demjanjuk had attended the first few days of hearings, albeit in a hospital bed.  Because of a worsening infection, however, prison doctors advised against transporting him to the courtroom.  The trial has been scheduled to resume Dec. 21.

During the first few days of the trial, Demjanjuk did not say anything.  While there he was either in a hospital bed or wheelchair.  He has maintained his denial in playing any role in the killings at the Sobibordeath camp in Poland in 1943.  Demjanjuk claims that during that time he was a Soviet prisoner of war in a German camp.

Originally born in Ukraine, Demjanjuk was a soldier in the Russian army before being captured by Nazis.  He then worked as a prison camp guard.  After the war, he was able to emigrate to the United States.  In 1986 the United States deported him to Israel and subsequently sentenced to death in 1988.  His conviction was overturned, however, by the Israeli Supreme Court.

In 2002 the U.S. Department of Justice revoked his citizenship for lying when he first arrived in the country about his past as a Nazi.  Until he was extradited in May from the United States he had been living in Ohio.  Following his extradition to Germany, he was formally charged with 27,900 counts of being accessory to murder.

For more information, please see:

AP – Demjanuk trial day canceled due to illness – 2 December 2009

JTA – Illness forces Demjanjuk trial postponement – 2 December 2009

NEW YORK TIMES – Germany: Demjanjuk Trial Delayed – 2 December 2009

REUTERS – German court cancels third day of Demjanjuk trial – 2 December 2009

RTT NEWS – Demjanjuk’s War Crimes Trial Postponed Due To Illness – 2 December 2009

War Crime Trial Against Serbian Nationalist To Resume

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands – The trial for Serbian nationalist Vojislav Seselj has been scheduled to begin again in January.  This comes after the trial was suspended last year after the prosecution raised questions regarding the reliability of witnesses.

Seselj is charged with the torture and killing of non-Serbians, including Bosnians and Croatians from to 1993 while the leader of the Serbian Radical Party (SRS).  Seeslj was also a supporter and friend of former Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milsoevic.  The war crimes for which he has been charged were allegedly committed by volunteers recruited by the SRS.

After a number of witnesses for the prosecution declared that they wished to testify on behalf of Seselj, instead of the prosecution, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia relinquished authority over the case which originally began in November of 2007.  The court was concerned at the time there may have been witness intimidation.  The case was then transferred to The Hague.

Although the would not go into further detail, the judges overseeing the case stated that “new facts have emerged which need to be taken into account.”  The court has also taken additional measures to ensure the “efficient protection of the security of the victims and witnesses.”  The protected witnesses will now be called to give testimony directly to the court, rather than allowing them to be called by either party.  The trial is scheduled to begin again on January 12, 2010.

The allegations of witness intimidation is not the first hurdle in the nearly six years since Seselj’s surrender to authorities in February of 2003.  This past July Seselj was convicted to contempt of court for publicly releasing the name of a witness whose identity was being kept secret by the court.  He was sentenced to a year and half in jail that violation.  In 2006, he commenced a hunger strike after a court failed to agree to demands his made regarding his legal representation.  Seselj has since decided to represent himself at trial.

For more information, please see:

AP – Serb nationalist’s war crimes trial to resume – 25 November 2009

JAVNO – Serb leader’s war crimes trial set to resume – 25 November 2009

RADIO FREE EUROPE – Suspended Seselj War Crime Trail To Resume – 25 November 2009

SETIMES – Seselj’s Hague trial to resume in January – 25 November 2009

ADNKRONOS – Netherlands: War Crimes trial of Serbian leader to resume – 24 November 2009

Youth Separatists Linked to ETA Arrested in Basque Region

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MADRID, Spain – On Thursday Spanish police arrested 36 members of Segi, a youth group with ties to ETA across the Basque and Navarre regions.

These arrests were part of a larger investigation coordinated by Supreme Court Judge Fernando Grande-Marlaska and the Spanish government targeting the separatist movement in the region.  The youth suspects, including suspected leaders of Segi have allegedly been involved with militant activities associated with the larger goals of ETA.  According to Spanish officials, Segi followers have also been involved in acts of vandalism and attacks on government buildings, banks and opposing political parties.  Segi was outlawed by the Spanish government in 2007.  In addition to documents and computers, explosive-making materials were also confiscated in the police raids that included 46 houses.

There has been a ceasefire in place between ETA (meaning Euskadi ta Askatasuna, or “Basque Homeland and Liberty”) and the Spanish central government since 2007.  ETA, which was founded in 1959 to achieve independence for the mountainous region along the border between France and Spain, has been listed as a terrorist organization by the Spain, as well as the United States and the European Union.  It has been weakened in recent years, however, by the increased efforts of law enforcement in France and Spain.

According to Christian Aguerre, a former journalist who has covered the ETA movement, stated that despite these efforts, it would be difficult to ever completely eradicate the Basque separatist movement since the nationalist ideals will always draw in new members.  However, waning support for ETA was evident in the recent elections, when a non-nationalist party gained power in the Basque region parliament for the first time in decades.

For more information, please see:

BARCELONA REPORTER – 34 Basque separatists suspected supporters of ETA detained – 24 November 2009

CANADIAN PRESS – Spanish police arrest 34 suspected ETA supporters – 24 November 2009

CNN – Dozens arrested over ‘Basque separatist ties’ – 24 November 2009

EITB – Basque operation against Segi: 36 arrests made – 24 November 2009

IOL – 36 arrested over ETA-link youth group – 24 November 2009

VOICE OF AMERICA – Spanish Police Arrest Suspected ETA Members – 24 November 2009

European Human Smuggling Operation Broken Up

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

LONDON, United Kingdom – European Union and numerous national law enforcement agencies arrested 23 gang members on Tuesday suspected of transporting more than 2,000 illegal immigrants into Europe.

Suspects were arrested in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Italy.  Ocriest, French immigration enforcement agency, as well as law enforcement agencies from a number of other European nations, coordinated the investigation and arrests.  The investigation that led to these arrests began over eighteen months ago.  Eventually a smuggling operation, entering the continent in Turkey, then moving to Greece, Italy, Germany and eventually their final destination nations, was uncovered.

Arrests made by the UK’s Serious Organized Crime Agency also confiscated identity documents, cell phones, and cash.  Overall, 13 people were arrested in France, four in the UK, two in Greece, two in the Netherlands and one in Italy.

The immigrants that were smuggled into Europe by the gang members were largely from Iraq and Afghanistan.  Those that were smuggled in paid up to 15,000 euros for transportation from Iraq to Europe.  For additional payments, these immigrants were able to have a personal escort and transportation to their final destination.  During one of the arrests of suspects in the UK, seven illegal immigrants were detained.

The EU estimates that there are approximately 8 million illegal immigrants in Europe.  According to Mikael Jensen, deputy head of Europol’s Crimes Against Persons Unit, most individuals smuggled into Europe within the last three years have been Iraqi.  These arrests mark the third operation conducted by Europol since mid 2008 against illegal human smuggling networks.  This past June Europol arrested 75 in another smuggling network which brought in immigrants from Iraq.

These coordinated efforts by European government investigations come at a time when there is increased domestic political pressures to counter the increased illegal immigrant populations, and the impact they have in the areas of national security and employment, in their respective countries.

For more information, please see:

VOXY – 22 People Smugglers Arrested – 18 November 2009

TAIWAN NEWS – France: Illegal immigration network dismantled – 18 November 2009

AHN – Coalition of European Law Enforcement Groups Arrest 23 In Human Trafficking Ring – 17 November 2009

BBC – Traffickers targeted in EU raids – 17 November 2009

REUTERS – Police nab smugglers who brought 2,000 into EU – 17 November 2009

Former Nazi Charged For WWII Massacre Of Jewish Laborers

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

BERLIN, Germany – A 90 year-old German has been charged with the World War II killings of 58 Jews in March of 1945.

According to German prosecutors, Adolf Storms was a squad leader within the 5th SS Panzer Division operating in Duisburg, Austria.  He took part of the murder of 57 Jewish forced laborers.  The remains of the massacre were found in 1995.

With the war winding down, Storm allegedly devised the plan to kill the prisoners he was guarding.  He escorted the Jewish laborers into a wooded area, where he proceeded to execute each one.

Storms participation in this massacre was discovered last year by an 28-year old University of Vienna student, Andreas Forster, while researching the massacre.  After looking up Storms in the telephone book Forster informed his professor, Walter Manoschek, of his discovery.  Manoschek went to Storms home in Duisburg, Germany and interviewed him regarding his activities in WWII.  Forster turned over the information to German state prosecutors.  In December of 2008 local authorities raided Storms’ home.

Storms told Manoschek that he does not remember the killings in question.  After the war Storms was detained in a US prisoner of war camp, but was released.  It has been reported that Storms changed the spelling of his name after the war, which may explain why he has gone undiscovered for so long.

While charges have been filed against Storms, the investigation by state prosecutors continues.  Prosecutor Andreas Brendel has stated that he has gathered testimony from three former Hitler Youth members who can offer eye witness testimony that will be used against Storms.

Whether the age of Storms will influence the prosecutor’s final decision to move forward with the investigation has not been decided.

For more information, please see:

AFP – Former SS member, 90, charged over Nazi massacre – 17 November 2009

AP – 90-year-old charged in Germany for Nazi-era crimes – 17 November 2009

CNN – 90-year-old man charged over Nazi massacre – 17 November 2009

DW-WORLD – Court charges former Nazi for murdering Jewish laborers – 17 November 2009

THE GUARDIAN – Former Nazi SS member charged with killing Jewish labourers – 17 November 2009

REUTERS – German Prosecutors Charge 90 – Year – Old Former SS Man – 17 November 2009

Russian Police Officer Posts Allegations of Corruption on Internet

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia – A Russian police officer, with his remarks on widespread corruption within the country’s police forces, has taken the rare step of voicing his concerns publicly.

In a video posted on his own website this past week appealing directly to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Major Alexei Dymovsky accused his superiors in Novorossiisk’s police force of a number of actions and policies, indicating a widespread culture of corruption within the police force.  According to Dymovsky, as an officer he was required to met monthly arrest quotas, even if it meant arresting the innocent.  Additionally, the low pay of officers have led many officers to accept bribes as a means of supplementing their income.  Following the posting of his video, Dymovsky was immediately fired from his position.

In a Moscow press conference on Tuesday, Dymovsky stated that he possessed over 150 hours of taped conversations with his superiors that will support his allegations of criminal behavior in the department.  In addition to losing his job, Dymovsky claimed that his phone has been tapped and he was being followed.  His bank and cell phone accounts have also been shut off.  He is asking to present the evidence he has compiled to Putin personally.

In his homemade video Dymovsky declared that “We have to serve the law, not the generals.  I want to keep working and I want to achieve justice.”

Dymovsky’s recent statement are only the latest allegations regarding police corruption.  This past April a Moscow police officer killed three people in a supermarket.  The aftermath of this led to the Moscow chief of police being fired.  Just last month a regional Interior Minister was arrested for the selling of contraband materials.  These stories have diminished the credibility of Russia’s law enforcement community among the public.  A poll published by the Levada Center indicated that two-thirds of Russians do not trust the police, while 64 percent do not believe that the police are effective.

Interior Ministry representatives, as well as local Novorossiysk officials, have publicly denied the Major’s allegations.  An investigation by regional officers has concluded that Dymovsky’s claims are false.  Nevertheless the Interior Minister promised there to be a investigation into the Major’s claims, and any police officer linked to these allegations would be prosecuted.

Since being posted onto YouTube on Tuesday, Dymovsky’s video has been viewed over a million times.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Russia admits police corruption – 10 November 2009

CBS NEWS – Whistleblower Tackles Russian Police Corruption – 10 November 2009

RADIO FREE EUROPE – ‘YouTube’ Whistleblower Arrives In Moscow On Police Day, As Scandal Deepens – 10 November 2009

REUTERS – Russian ex-officer’s anti-corruption blog causes stir – 10 November 2009

Russian Constitutional Court Considers Ending Ban On Death Penalty

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe
MOSCOW, Russia – The Russian Constitutional Court is considering the reinstatement of the death penalty in the country’s criminal justice system.

When Russia joined the Council of Europe in 1996 it agreed to outlaw executions in accordance with Protocol Six of the European Convention.  However, the Council’s proposed ban on the death penalty was never ratified by the Duma, the Russian legislature.  In 1999 the nation’s Constitutional Court found that the death penalty could no longer be used until jury trials were established in all of the country’s regions.  Currently jury trials have been established in every region except Chechnya.  But given the coming expiration of this ban on January 1, when the Northern Republic of Chechnya adopts jury trials, the Constitutional Court has been asked by the Russian Supreme Court to review this ban to see whether it needs to be extended.

In addition to addressing the issue of the moratorium, the Constitutional Court must also address the issue of whether the reinstating of the death penalty would violate Russia’s international obligations.  Russia is currently the only member of the 47 countries that make up the Council of Europe to not ratify the ban.

Although the death penalty remains in the nation’s criminal code, the death penalty moratorium is still adhered to in Russia.

There have been some calls for the reinstatement of the death penalty to be applied to those involved in terrorism in Chechnya.  Polls indicate that a majority of Russians are in favor of the death penalty.  President Dmitry Medvedev and many of the leaders in the Duma, however, have indicated their desire to not see the death penalty re-introduced.  A spokeswoman for the Federation Council, the upper house of the legislature, expressed the sentiment of some legislators.  “The states that kills criminals – its citizens – should not expect an improvement in the moral climate of the country.”

Vladimir Lukin, Russia’s chief human rights ombudsman, noted statistics that the use of the death penalty in other countries has not acted as an effective deterrent to crime.

Not all Russian political leaders are supportive of continuing the moratorium.  Alexander Bastrykin, the head of the investigative committee of prosecutors, is among those supporters.

A spokesman for the Constitutional Court indicated that the court’s decision may come before the new year.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Russia to decide on death penalty moratorium – 10 November 2009

RIA NOVOSTI – Russia’s Constitutional Court hears arguments on death penalty – 10 November 2009

AP – Russian court looks at death penalty ban extension – 9 November 2009

FOCUS NEWS – Top Russian court set to rule on death penalty moratorium – 9 November 2009

REUTERS – Russian High Court Debates Reinstating Death Penalty – 9 November 2009

RT – To kill or not to kill, that’s the Supreme Court’s question – 31 October 2009

Suspects Arrested in Killings of Russian Human Rights Lawyer and Journalist

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia – Two suspects have been charged by a Moscow city court in the murders of a Russian human rights lawyer and journalist.

Nikita Tikhonov and Yevgenia Khasis, allegedly members of a Russian neo-Nazi organization, were charged Thursday with the Moscow murders of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova.  The chief of the Federal Security Service, Alexander Bortnikov, confirmed that the two suspects were arrested during a larger initiative targeting domestic extremist groups.  In addition to a long record of opposing the actions of Russian security officials, Markelov, 35, had also been a the lawyer for journalist Anna Politkovskaya and worked on behalf of a Chechen family who’s daughter had been killed by a Russian Army officer.  Baburova, 25, was a student journalist.

Investigators have confirmed that it was Tikhonov who actually killed the two victims, while Khasis served as a lookout.  The announcement of these arrests, made by the nation’s top law enforcement official and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, came as the Kremlin has faced increased criticism for failing to properly investigate the continued killings and disappearances of leading human rights activists and opposition journalists in recent years.

Both Tikhonov and Khasis are members of the radical nationalist organization Russian National Unity.  Additionally, according to Bortnikov, Tikhonov has been a member of United Brigade 88, an extreme right-wing ultra nationalist organizations.  United Brigade 88 has been engaged in a campaign of anti-immigrant violence.

Tikhonov’s lawyer has commented that it was the intention of Tikhonov to kill only Markelov.  Markelov had worked in the past to obtain tougher punishments for those were responsible for the 2006 killing of a Russian anti-fascist organizer and had encouraged security officials to arrest Tikhonov.  Tikhonov, although never arrested, had been a additional suspect in that killing.  The lawyer went on to indicate that Baburova death was accidental, since he had been leaving a news conference with Markelov when the shooting took place.

For more information, please see:

AP – Two Suspects in Killings of Lawyer, Journalist Arrested – 6 November 2009

NEW YORK TIMES – Man Admits to Killing Russian Rights Lawyer, Stanislav Markelov, and Reporter – 6 November 2009

RADIO FREE EUROPE – Two Arrests Made In Moscow For Markelov, Barburova Murders – 6 November 2009

WASHINGTON POST – Russia Arrests 2 in deaths of human rights lawyer, journalist – 6 November 2009

THE OTHER RUSSIA – Suspect Confesses to Murder of Russian Lawyer – 5 November 2009

Free Press Activists Arrested in Moscow

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia – Approximately 50 people were arrested Saturday at a protest in Moscow.  The protest, which took place in Triumfalnaya Square in the center of the capital, focused on the efforts of the Kremlin since current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin rose to power in 2000 to suppress independent media sources and nongovernmental human rights organizations.  The protest was a part of Strategy 31, which has been a national effort to pressure the government to recognize and uphold the freedom of assembly rights guaranteed in paragraph 31 of the Russian Constitution.

Hundreds of city police and Interior Minister officers surrounded the approximately 100 protesters and 100 journalists who were in attendance.  The leaders of the rally disputed those numbers, claiming that 70 people had been detained and more than 500 people had been in attendance.  Among those in attendance was the United Civil Front and the National Bolshevik Party.  The protest had not received the required authorization, the government citing a prior planned ‘military celebration’ in the same square.

Among the protesters was Lyudmila Alexeyeva, a well known human rights activists in Russia.   Alexeyeva exclaimed that she had come “to defend the constitution.”  She also stated that “the idea to organize the demonstrations on the 31st of the month here in the capital is to attempt to make a tradition of peaceful gatherings to allow citizens the chance to defend the Russian constitution.”  Eduard Limonov, the National Bolshevik Party leader, was also present.

Another protester declared that he “[wanted] Russia to be free, not to rot in a policeman’s nightmare.”

A pro-Kremlin youth group, known as Rossiya Molodoya, were also at the rally.  Leaflets and flares were used by this organization in an attempt to instigate the human rights protesters.  Soon after their actions, the police who were already surrounded the human rights protesters in the square stepped in and arrested the activists.  They were taken to nearby police stations.

For more information, please see:

HUFFINGTON POST – Human Rights Protesters Arrested in Moscow for Demanding Freedom of Assembly – 3 November 2009

ITAR-TASS – Unauthorized rally thwarted in Moscow, 50 people detained – 1 November 2009

PRESSTV – 50 human rights protesters arrested in Russia – 1 November 2009

THE OTHER RUSSIA – 70 Oppositionists Detained in Moscow Rally – 1 November 2009

REUTERS – Russian police detain 50 at human rights protest – 31 October 2009

RUSSIA TODAY – Opposition leaders detained in Moscow while trying to rally – 31 October 2009

Austrian Students Protest Over Worsening Educational Conditions

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

VIENNA, Austria – Student groups in Austria protested again yesterday against what they see as poor educational conditions in the nation’s schools.  Approximately 30,000 students marched this past week in Vienna in opposition of proposed educational reforms and in favor of an overhaul in the nation’s educational system.  These marches, which have taken place in many of the country’s largest cities in recent days, have been organized by student organizations.

Students and teachers at the Academy of Fine Arts (AFA) in Vienna protested against this new educational reform proposal that is being adopted across Europe.  These reforms, known as the Bologna Process, are meant to the make it easier for students to study abroad and obtain degrees that can be recognized in other nations.  The AFA protesters alleged, however, that these reforms would prevent their ability to construct personally tailored degree programs.

The lack of funding for Austrian universities that currently exists has caused some of the student leaders to call for an end to free access to higher education.  Student Dominik Karas commented that “to increase the standard of education it would be better to reinstall tuition fees.”

Students at the University of Vienna also are calling for the elimination of entrance exams and fees for foreigners and longterm students.  Students have occupied one the school’s lecture halls for almost a week in an effort to draw attention to the funding issues.

The calls of the students involved in these protests have been directed at the national political leaders of Austria, notably the Prime Minister and Finance Minister.  Sigrid Maurer, Chairman of the Austrian Union of Students, has stated that these leaders must “take the education agenda into their hands.”

The student organizations are also calling for the end to alleged sex discriminations in certain university policies.  Currently females and foreign students are barred from certain university facilities.

This is not the first time that the Bologna Process educational reforms been met with student opposition.  In September students in Barcelona clashed with police over the implication these reforms.

For more information, please see:

XINHAUANET – Austrian students take to streets to demand more rights – 30 October 2009

PRESSTV – Austrian students urge education reform – 30 October 2009

EURONEWS – Austria’a students demand reforms – 29 October 2009

ASSOCIATED PRESS – Austrian students protest poor conditions, reforms – 26 October 2009

Moldovan Presidential Election Postponed

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

CHISINAU, Moldova – The Moldovan presidential elections that were scheduled for October 23 have been postponed by the country’s Constitutional Court.  Since only one party had put forth a candidate, the Court concluded that the election could not go forth.

The political environment of this southeastern European country has been unstable since parliamentary elections were held six months ago.  Following victories by the Communist Party, there were large-scale protests in the capital of Chisinau regarding allegations of election fraud.  Past attempts at holding presidential elections in May and June of 2009 failed, which brought about the most recent election.

As a result of the most recent election, the opposition parties boycotted the parliamentary votes necessary to elect a new president.  This prevented the Communist Party’s candidate from receiving the necessary numbers of votes to take office and forced the dissolution of the parliament.

The Constitutional Court gave a parliamentary commission until November 11 to come to a compromise.  If not, elections may not be held until next year.  The commission has proposed a number of constitutional amendments regarding election law that may resolve future electoral issues.

The only candidate that is currently in the running for the presidency in Marian Lupu.  Lupu, who is the former Communist parliament leader, has become the head of the Democratic Party, which is a part of the Alliance for European Integration (AEI), a four-party political alliance.  The Communist Party has stated that it will not put forth its own candidate nor will it support Lupu.  Due to ambiguity in the Moldovan Constitution, which requires that the election be competitive, it may be the strategy of the Communist Party that by withholding a candidate they can thereby force yet a new round of parliamentary elections.

For more information, please see:

EUROPEAN VOICE – Moldovan election on ice – 23 October 2009

MOLDPRESS – Moldovan presidential election to be held in two weeks – 23 October 2009

RADIO FREE EUROPE – Moldova Postpones Presidential Election – 22 October 2009

RIANOVOSTI – Moldova’s parliament delays presidential election – 22 October 2009

AFP – Official: Moldova presidential vote may be postponed – 19 October 2009

Basque Protests In Spain Following Arrest of ETA Members

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

SAN SEBASTIAN, Spain – Thousands of people marched through the streets of the San Sebastian in northern Spain on Saturday to protest the arrests of ETA members and call for their release.  Members of the Basque region’s nationalist political movements, unions, and militant groups were among those who participated in the protest.

A Spanish judge ordered the arrest earlier this week of five men whom are accused of attempts to revive Batasuna, which was the political arm of the Basque-separatist movement ETA.  Among those arrested were Arnaldo Otegi, the former spokesman and leader of Batasuna, and Rafael Diez Usabiaga, a leader of the Basque movement.  They are alleged to be a part of a terrorist sect.  According to the Spanish Interior Ministry the police had been watching the suspects for months.  They were “[following] ETA directives.”

Batasuna has been banned in Spain since 2003 due to alleged links to ETA.  ETA has operated in southwestern Europe for over four decades and is responsible for conducting terrorist attacks, resulting in the deaths of approximately 825 people.  The goal of this decades-old organization has been the independence of the Basque region of northern Spain and southwestern France.  Both the European Union and the United States list ETA as a terrorist organization.

A 15 month cease-fire that the ETA had agreed to in 2005 was called off after talks between the separatist group and the Spanish government broke down.  After the collapse of the negotiations, the Spanish Prime Minister Rodriguez Zapatero has refused in re-engage the Basque separatist movement.  This new stance towards ETA comes at a time when both the Spanish and French governments have increased their efforts at dismantling ETA.

For more information, please see:

BBC – France detains ‘top Eta leader’ – 19 October 2009

SPANISH NEWS – Protests Against Basque Militants Arrests – 19 October 2009

EITB – Thousands turn out in San Sebastian to protest against arrests – 18 October 2009

AFP – Thousands protest arrests of Basque nationalists – 17 October 2009

EXPATICA SPAIN – Basque separatist leader jailed in Spain – 17 October 2009

TAIWAN NEWS – Spain jails 5 outlawed Basque party members – 17 October 2009

Kosovo And Macedonia Settle Longstanding Border Dispute

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

PRISTINA, Kosovo – On Friday Kosovo and Macedonia settled a long-term border dispute that has existed since Kosovo announced its independence.  The agreement reached clearly defines a stretch of border between the two nations.  Diplomatic ties between these two countries should be established immediately following the ratification of the border agreement.

Kosovo’s Prime Minister Hashim Thaci has stated that this agreement, which had been in the works for months, will “[deepen] regional cooperation and stability.”  The government of Macedonia still needs to ratify the agreement before it can go into effect.

Under this agreement, approximately 6,100 acres of land will become part of Macedonia.  Part of this land is owned by ethnic Kosovo Albanians.  It lies in the same area where other Kosovo Albanians began an insurgency against Macedonia in 2001.  The original border in this area was set up between Macedonia and Yugoslavia in 2001 while the United Nations was administering Kosovo.  In the past this area had been used by Albanian guerrillas for smuggling and gun running.

Following the agreement, U.S. Ambassador to Kosovo Christopher Dell noted that the agreement was a positive sign.  “This agreement opens the door to the establishment of full diplomatic relations between the two countries.”  Since Kosovo declared its independence from then Yugoslavia in 2008, 62 countries presently recognize Kosovo as a independent state, including the United States.  A number of eastern European nations, including Russia, have continued to refuse to recognize Kosovo’s independence.

There are still more than 1,000 international peace keepers patrolling this border area of Kosovo.

A similar border dispute still exists between Kosovo and its western neighbor Montenegro.  Negotiations have not begun.

For more information, please see:

RADIO FREE EUROPE – Kosovo Lawmakers Ratify Border Deal With Macedonia – 17 October 2009

REUTERS – Kosovo Lawmakers Back Border Deal With Macedonia – 17 October 2009

RIANOVOSTI – Kosovo says border with Macedonia demarcated – 17 October 2009

AP – Kosovo, Macedonia sign border deal – 16 October 2009

MACEDONIAN INTERNATIONAL NEWS AGENCY – Report: Macedonia, Kosovo to agree on border demarcation, diplomatic relations soon – 16 October 2009

SOFIA ECHO – Kosovo and Macedonia poised for border deal – 14 October 2009

Belarusian Laborer Alleges He Was Tortured Into Murder Confession

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

TATARYA VILLAGE, Belarus – A Belarusian laborer who claims that he was tortured into confessing to a murder is facing a looming state execution.  Vasily Yusepchuk was convicted on June 29 by the Brest Regional Court for allegedly murdering six elderly woman.  The deadline for staying the execution of Yusepchuk passed on Tuesday, as the Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko did not grant a pardon to Yusepchuk.

The use of capital punishment has been outlawed in every European nation other than Belarus.  And in recent years Belarus has decreased its use of the practice.  In 2008 only 4 people were executed by the state and only two so far this year.  Critics of Yusepchuk’s conviction, including the Council of Europe, have pointed out that Belarusian judges have been pressured in the past to sentence to death defendants against whom there was questionable evidence.

“We are deeply concerned that Vasily Yusepchuk…may face imminent execution after the Belarus Supreme Court has rejected his appeal against the death penalty.”

The calls from human rights organizations to pardon Yusepchuk comes at the time when the Belarusian President has been attempting to court favor with the west.

Medical experts for Yusepchuk have stated that the confession that Yusepchuk gave to police was a result of torture.  Amnesty International has confirmed that Yusepchuk was beaten twice will being detained prior to trial.  Additionally, other international human rights organizations have noted that Yusepchuk is illiterate and “under torture…could have confessed to anything.”

Yusepchuk’s mother believes that her son’s conviction came about as a result of his Gypsy ethnicity, also known as Roma.

Growing outcry in the face of the execution has surfaced in a number of European cities.  Protesters gathered outside of the Belarus embassy in Moscow on Thursday to protest Yusepchuk upcoming execution, as well as the continued use of the death penalty by Russia’s western neighbor.

For more information, please see:

CBS NEWS – Gypsy Laborer Face Execution In Belarus – 13 October 2009

THE OLYMPIAN – Gypsy laborer faces execution in Belarus – 13 October 2009

WORLD AP – Gypsy laborer faces execution in Belarus – 13 October 2009