Unseen President Unsuccessfully Attempts to Resolve Ukrainian Unrest

By Ben Kopp
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

KYIV, Ukraine – Ukrainian tensions remained high following President Yanukovich’s attempted relief to the opposition. However, world leaders offered help.

Ukrainian opposition continues to stand against the government, despite amnesty and the repeal of anti-protest laws. (Photo courtesy of RT)

Unseen since taking sick leave, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich repealed anti-protest legislation, and signed an amnesty into law for activists detained during massive protests. Amidst news reports of a prominent opposition activist’s kidnapping and torture claims, many rejected Yanukovich’s decision because he conditioned it on activists leaving occupied buildings.

“There’s no point in signing this amnesty law,” said an improvised clinic worker at Kyiv’s occupied city hall. “No one will leave here until this government is gone.”

Concerned for demonstrators’ health in Arctic temperatures, opposition leaders urged protesters not to take to the streets for their weekly rallies. However, media outlets continued to replay video of activist Dmytro Bulatov’s story of kidnap and torture, which has kept anti-government tensions high.

Bulatov disappeared on 22 January 2014, at the hands of unknown kidnappers. Since Bulatov’s return, an interior ministry official has accused him of faking his claims to stir unrest.

“There isn’t a spot on my body that hasn’t been beaten. My face has been cut. They promised to poke my eye out. They cut off my ear,” Bulatov said. “They crucified me by nailing me to a door with something and beat me strongly all the while.”

In a statement, the Defense Ministry said, “The military and the Ukrainian armed forces … called on the supreme commander to take immediate steps, within the framework of the law, to stabilize the situation in the country and reach agreement with society.”

While Yanukovich has expressed concerns that Ukraine is on the verge of civil war, the military refused to take sides. A Defense Ministry news website quoted retired Admiral Serhiy Rybak, as he recalled Ukrainian peacekeeping missions abroad: “No political ambition is worth a drop of human blood.”

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen tweeted that the “military must remain neutral” even if it were to become involved in the crisis.

Moscow highlighted its economic over Ukraine by refusing its planned purchase of $2 billion of Ukrainian government bonds. The move contributed to the currency falling to its lowest point against the dollar in over four years.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry planned to meet opposition leaders, on the sidelines of a security conference in Munich.

“Our message to Ukraine’s opposition will be the full support of President Obama and of the American people for their efforts,” Kerry said in Berlin before the meetings. “But we will also say to them that if you get that reform agenda… we would urge them to engage in that because further standoff, or further violence that becomes uncontrollable, is not in anybody’s interests.”

Kerry also said, “We would … say to our friends in Russia this does not have to be a zero (sum) game, this is not something where Ukraine should become a proxy and trapped in some kind of larger ambition for Russia or the United States.”

For further information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Tension Grips Ukraine over Torture Claims – February 1, 2014

BBC News – Stand-Off over ‘Tortured’ Ukrainian Activist Dmytro Bulatov – January 31, 2014

Reuters – Ukraine President Signs Amnesty but Anger Remains, Currency Slumps – January 31, 2014

RT – Russia’s Emergency Loan to Ukraine on Hold until Govt Forms – January 30, 2014

Times Of India – Ukrainian President Takes Sick Leave, No Crisis Solution in Sight – January 30, 2014

EU Authorities Arrest Kosovo Serb Politician on War Crimes Charges

by Tony Iozzo
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MITROVICA, Kosovo – A top Kosovo Serb politician has been detained by the European Union’s police and justice mission on suspicion that he committed war crimes.

Ivanovic was ordered detained for a month on Monday, EU officials say. (Photo courtesy of BBC News)

EU officials state that Oliver Ivanovic has been identified as a suspect as a result of a war crimes investigation that examined the Kosovo conflict of the 1990’s. No details of the alleged crimes have been released to the public, but reports indicate that Ivanovic, 60, is suspected of having tortured and killed numerous Albanians. Ivanovic is also believed to have a main organizer of a since-disbanded Kosovo Serb vigilante group widely known as the “Bridgewatchers.” The Bridgewatchers are suspected of widespread violence against ethnic Albanians.

Ivanovic turned himself into EU authorities voluntarily on Monday while accompanied by his lawyer. He was ordered to be detained for a month while investigators look into crimes “which occurred in 1999 and 2000 against Albanian victims,” Ivanovic’s lawyer, Nebojsa Vlajic, stated. Ivanovic has been transferred to a prison in Pristina.

Ivanovic is considered to be a moderate politically. He lost a recent election to be mayor of the Serb area of the northern town of Mitrovica to Krstimir Pantic. Ivanovic’s supporters believe that the recent war crimes charges are politically motivated, and untrue.

Ivanovic is the first senior Kosovo Serb official to be arrested by the European Union Rule of Law Mission (EULEX) on suspicion of war crimes against ethnic Albanians. EULEX has authority to investigate and prosecute cases that the local judiciary and police are either unable or unwilling to handle.

The 1998-1999 conflict began in Kosovo after ethnic Albanians rebelled against NATO bombings in Belgrade, which prompted an extreme crackdown.

Roughly 120,000 ethnic Serbs currently live in Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008 and accounts for 1.8 million inhabitants, most of whom are ethnic Albanians. However, the approximately 40,000 Kosovo Serbs living in the northern part of the country do not recognize Kosovo’s independence. Serbia also rejects Kosovo’s secession. Despite this, Kosovo has been recognized by over 100 countries, including the United States and most EU states.

For more information, please see:

B92- Lawyer: Accusations Against Ivanovic “Politically Motivated” – 29 January 2014

BBC News – Kosovo Serb Politician Oliver Ivanovic Arrested Over War Crimes – 28 January 2014

InSerbia – Ivanovic Suspected of Crimes Committed in 1999, 2000 – 28 January 2014

Reuters – EU Arrests Moderate Kosovo Serb Leader in War Crimes Probe – 27 January 2014


German Newspaper Publishes Heinrich Himmler’s Letters and Photos

by Tony Iozzo
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

BERLIN, Germany –  Excerpts from a collection of photographs and approximately 700 letters and notes penned by Heinrich Himmler were published for the first time on Sunday.

A documentary on the collection will be premiered next month at the Berlin International Film Festival. (Photo courtesy of New York Daily News)

The German newspaper, Welt am Sonntag, published parts of the collection in seven pages of its Sunday edition. The letters and notes are thought to be written by Himmler himself. Some of the pictures depict the Holocaust-era Nazi officer gently: posing with his family, and feeding a baby fawn.

The excerpts, which include Himmler’s love letters to his wife, will be a part of an eight-part series that the newspaper is planning to publish. According to the newspaper, two American soldiers found the collection at the end of the war in May 1945 inside of a safe in Himmler’s Bavarian home. Fast forwarding to the 1980’s, the collection surfaced again in Israel, in the possession of Chaim Rosenthal, a holocaust survivor. Rosenthal sold the collection in 2007 to Israeli film director Vanessa Lapa’s father, who gave them to Lapa.

Lapa then approached the German newspaper three years ago about the collection. The newspaper has since verified the authenticity of the collection by historians. Lapa will unveil a documentary that she directed on the Himmler collection at the Berlin International Film Festival next month.

Himmler’s wife, Marga, shared Himmler’s hatred of Jewish people, as they both regularly referred to Jews in derogatory terms in their letters to each other. In a letter dated June 21, 1928, Himmler wrote to Marga: “Don’t be upset about those Jews, good, good wife, if only I could help you.” Ten years later, Marga wrote in a diary entry dated Nov. 14, 1938, “Those Jews, when will that pack finally leave us so that we can enjoy our lives again.”

The collections document the progression of Himmler’s career from the beginning in the 1920’s, to the Holocaust of the 1940’s. Himmler does not explicitly write about the happenings of World War II. However, small quotes in the collection reveal his involvement, as when he writes to his wife “I’m going to Auschwitz, kisses, yours Heini.” Himmler committed suicide on May 23, 1945, in Lueneburg, Germany, after he was captured by British forces.

For more information, please see:

New York Daily News – German Newspaper Publishes Top Nazi Himmler’s Letters and Photos – 27 January 2014

AP News – German Newspaper Publishes Top Nazi’s Letters – 26 January 2014

Fox News – German Newspaper Publishes Top Nazi’s Letters – 26 January 2014

The Local – Caviar, Auschwitz, Love- Himmler’s Letters to Wife – 26 January 2014

Ukrainian Standoff Escalates as Yanukovych Seeks to Avoid Possible Emergency State

By Ben Kopp
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe Desk

KYIV, Ukraine – Ukrainian opposition leaders scoffed at what has been deemed President Viktor Yanukovych’s moment of weakness in the recent months of tension. Meanwhile, leaders and protesters throughout Europe support dialogue between Ukraine’s government and the opposition.

Ukrainian protests spread, including a siege on the Justice Ministry. (Photo courtesy of Voice of Russia)

In November 2013, anti-government protests erupted in Ukraine; particularly, over President Viktor Yanukovych’s rejection of a deal that would have brought Ukraine and the European Union closer. In mid-January, tensions led to a number of fatalities, as police and protesters clashed. All three primary opposition leaders attended a funeral for Mikhail Zhiznevsky, a Belarussian national who was shot and killed at the height of the violence.

Activists occupied regional administrations in ten Ukrainian regions, where they protested against president-appointed governors. In four Ukrainian cities, thousands of activists laid siege to local government offices. Police broke up a rally in Zaporizhya with batons and stun grenades.

As protests spread into Eastern Ukraine, high tensions in Kyiv led to dozens of protesters seizing control over the Justice Ministry, smashing windows and erecting barricades. Ukraine said that it may issue a state of emergency if the situation at the Justice Ministry worsens.

On 25 January 2014, Yanukovych offered opposition leaders posts within the government, including offering Arseniy Yatsenyuk (Fatherland party) prime minister and Vitali Klitschko deputy prime minister. The next day, Ukrainian opposition leaders said the deal would not be enough to end the worst crisis since Ukraine gained independence.

In his offer, Yanukovych failed to address key demands, such as bringing forward presidential elections and releasing jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.

Klitschko, who is believed to have a personal rivalry with Yatsenyuk, said, “This was a poisoned offer by Yanukovych designed to split our opposition movement.”

However, opposition leaders have neither accepted nor expressly rejected any of Yanukovych’s proposals; but instead, stating that talks will continue. Feeling unprecedented pressure, Yanukovych’s office stated that Yanukovych is willing to consider constitutional amendments that would shift power and authority from himself to the prime minister.

Into the weekend, Europe urged dialogue within Ukraine. During his weekly Angelus prayer, Pope Francis expressed hope that “the search for common good may prevail in the hearts of all.” A crow and a seagull immediately attacked two doves released in hope of peace for Ukraine.

On 28 January 2014, Ukraine’s parliament will meet for a critical debate session. They are expected to debate key points of the crisis, including protest laws.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier described the situation as “not only tense but truly serious. The coming days could decide Ukraine’s path into the future.”

For a brighter day, Ukraine must hope that peace for its government and for its people is saved from assailants, both foreign and domestic.

For further information, please see:

Voice of Russia – Ukraine May Issue State of Emergency If Protesters Don’t Leave Justice Ministry – January 27, 2014

Associated Free Press –Ukraine Protests Spread as Opposition Snubs Compromise Offer – January 26, 2014

BBC News – Ukraine: President Yanukovych Blinks First over Protests – January 26, 2014

BBC News – Ukraine Protests ‘Spread’ into Russia-Influenced East – January 26, 2014

RadioFreeEurope RadioLiberty – Rallies Held Abroad for Ukraine – January 25, 2014

Impunity Watch – New Deaths Make Ukrainians Unsure How Long Tensions Must Continue – January 23, 2014

New Deaths Make Ukrainians Unsure How Long Tensions Must Continue

By Ben Kopp
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

KYIV, Ukraine – Continued tensions sparked fatalities in Ukraine, as government and opposition leaders called a fragile truce. Meanwhile, the country’s neighbors fought over what message to send Ukraine.

Violence flared amidst anti-government sentiments that have continued in Ukraine since late November 2013. (Photo courtesy of BBC News)

On 22 January 2014, clashes between activists and police ended with two dead for the first time since anti-government protests began in late November over Ukraine’s decision to back out of EU treaty talks.

Ukrainian authorities identified one of the deceased as Serhiy Nihoyan, the son of Armenian refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh. In December 2013, Nihoyan travelled from his home in eastern Ukraine to join the protests. The other man shot was a Belarusian citizen, Mikhail Zhyznewski, who joined the protest with Una-Unso, a Ukrainian far-right group. A third activist was later found dead in a forest near Kyiv, after his abduction last week.

In this light, Ukrainian opposition leaders began to observe a fragile truce, which may lead to a meeting with President Viktor Yanukovych, who asked parliament to hold an emergency session to discuss the ongoing crisis.

The speaker said the session will address the opposition’s  demand to remove government officials.

Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko asserted that he would lead pro-EU protesters “on the attack” if elections were not called. Ukrainian media outlets report that activists took over reigional state administrations in western cities; namely, Lviv and Rivne. The governor of Lviv, Oleg Salo has been forced out of office.

On 23 January 2014, Head of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso received assurances that President Yanukovych will not declare a state of emergency, after Barroso and Yanukovych spoke over the phone.

In the past week, hundreds of activists and dozens of police have been injured near Kyiv’s Independence Square.

Klitschko urged both the protesters and police cease all use of force until his talks with Yanukovych were completed. He planned three main demands to the talks:1) a snap presidential election; 2) the cancellation of the new anti-protest laws; and 3) the resignation of the government.

Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said opposition leaders should be “more humble” and “move away from the language of ultimatums.”

Azarov denied police responsibility for the deaths, saying that live ammunition was not carried.

The European Union promised that it would “rethink” its relationship with Ukraine if there was a “systematic violation of human rights.” Additionally, the United States accused Ukrainian officials of failing to “engage in real dialogue” and revoked the visas of “several Ukrainians who were linked to the violence.” Russia then accused the EU and US of improperly interfering in Ukrainian affairs.

To achieve peace, however, Ukraine must listen to its people above any foreign body.

For further information, please see:

CNN International – Ukraine: No Deal in Talks between Government and Protesters – January 24, 2014

Human Rights Watch – Ukraine: Police Beatings, Kidnappings in Kiev – January 24, 2014

BBC News – Ukraine Protests: Crisis Talks after Day of Bloodshed – January 23, 2014

Bloomberg Businessweek – Ukraine Opposition Urges Continued Truce – January 23, 2014