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

Russian Authorities Searching for “Black Widow” Suspected of Planning Suicide Bombing at Sochi Games

by Tony Iozzo
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

SOCHI, Russia – Russian authorities are searching for a woman they believe to be planning to carry out a suicide bombing at the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

Ruzana Ibragimova is suspected of plotting a suicide bombing on the Sochi Winter Games. (Photo courtesy of BBC News)

Ruzanna Ibragimova, a 23-year-old native of Dagestan in the North Caucasus region, is thought to be the widow of an Islamic militant. She is deemed a “black widow”, as she is attempting to avenge her husband’s death through an attack. Ibragimova is believed to have traveled to Sochi earlier this month, somehow managing to penetrate strict security at the site of the Games. Two other females also allegedly planning to carry out suicide bombings are wanted in Sochi.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is conducting one of the largest security operations in the history of the Olympics, as over 30,000 police and Russian ministry troops have been deployed to the area. Authorities have severely limited access to Sochi by the public. Wanted posters with the images of the suspected suicide bomb-plotters have been put up in the area.

The Russian government considers Islamist militants from Dagestan and the nearby republics of Ingushetia and Chechnya to be a major security threats to the Sochi Games. Security fears have been increased after two suicide bomb attacks killed 34 people in the southern city of Volgograd back on December 29th and 30th.

Several countries’ Olympic associations have been sent email threats regarding specific athletes; however most have been dismissed as not credible by the International Olympic Committee. The IOC stated that the emails seemed to be “a random message from a member of the public,” and did not pose a threat, but also stated that they would be taken very seriously.

British Olympic Association officials stated that they “receive correspondence of every type and it is not uncommon to come across something like this that lacks credibility. It is extremely important in matters such as this that everyone maintains a level head and a sensible perspective,” stated spokesman Darryl Seibel.

U.S. President Barack Obama offered America’s “full assistance” in making the Olympics “safe and secure” in a telephone conversation with the Kremlin on Tuesday, the White House stated. Two U.S. warships will be on standby in the Black Sea upon commencement of the Games on February 7th. The U.S. has also offered to supply Russia with hi-tech equipment to help detect improvised explosives.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Russia Hunts Suspected Female Sochi Suicide Bomber – 22 January 2014

The Independent – Race to Find Sochi “Bomber” Casts Chill Over Winter Olympics – 22 January 2014

Mirror News – The “Black Widow” Suicide Bomber Thought to be in Hiding in Winter Olympic Games City of Sochi – 22 January 2014

ABC News – Urgent Search for “Black Widow” Suicide Bomber, May Already be in Sochi – 20 January 2014

Ukraine Restrains Protesters with New Laws against Anti-Government Expression

By Ben Kopp
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

KYIV, Ukraine – New prohibitions recently signed into law were reported to make anti-government expression more difficult in Ukraine. Strong criticism has come from western countries.

Protesters rallied against Ukraine’s government amidst rising tensions, many taping “dictatorship” over their mouths. (Photo courtesy of Guardian)

In late November 2013, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich sparked massive pro-Europe rallies when he abandoned a free trade deal with the European Union, in favor of stronger ties with Russia. The deal would have been not only a landmark, but also a step toward Ukraine’s future entrance into the EU.

Since the free trade deal collapsed, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians began protesting against the government on the streets of Kyiv; and several hundreds of people began camping out in the city’s Independence Square as well as the area surrounding City Hall.

Action from riot police injured several in the final week of 2013. The United States and EU condemned that violence.

On 16 January 2014, Ukraine’s parliament rushed to pass laws prohibiting nearly all forms of anti-government protests, despite scuffles with opposition lawmakers who attempted to prevent the parliament session. The next day, President Yanukovich signed those prohibitions into law.

“I am deeply concerned by the events in Kyiv,” EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton said, adding that the legislation was “restricting the Ukrainian citizens’ fundamental rights.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said, “The steps that were taken yesterday are anti-democratic, they’re wrong, they are taking from the people of Ukraine their choice and their opportunity for the future. We will continue to stay focused on this issue, but this kind of anti-democratic maneuver is extremely disturbing and should be a concern to every nation that wants to see the people of Ukraine be able to not only express their wish but see it executed through the political process.”

Ukraine Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara accused the West of “meddling in the internal affairs of our state.”

The new laws prohibit unauthorized tents, stages, or amplifiers. Anyone, including organizations, providing such equipment or facilities for protests would be liable to a fine or detention of up to fifteen years for “mass violation” of public order.

“The law fully restricts all types of expression, across all platforms. It makes it possible to shut down websites, block access to the Internet. It makes it possible to control all SIM cards so they can track any person who says something bad about the government at a forum, on blogs, or even from a mobile phone,” says Director of Kyiv’s Media Law Institute Taras Shevchenko.

Ukraine’s new bans on anti-government protest added to tensions that were scheduled to appear at a new rally—called by the opposition—in Kyiv on 19 January 2014.

During the laws’ enactment, Yanukovich fired his chief-of-staff, Serhiy Lyovochkin, who allegedly wanted to step down after the 30 November 2013 riot police attack against student protesters. However, reports of Lyovochkin’s desire to leave were officially denied, and Yanukovich’s office gave no reason for Lyovochkin’s departure.

Western states are now left to wonder how much further Ukraine’s government is willing to return to Soviet-era relations.
For further information, please see:

Guardian – Ukrainian President Approves Strict Anti-Protest Laws – January 17, 2014

RadioFreeEurope RadioLiberty – Does ‘Black Thursday’ Mark End of Ukraine’s Democratic Decade? – January 17, 2014

Reuters – Ukraine Leader, Defying West, Signs Laws against Protests – January 17, 2014

RIA Novosti – Ukrainian Leader Signs Laws Dubbed “Charter for Oppression” – January 17, 2014

UN Panel Questions Vatican on Child Sex Scandal

by Tony Iozzo
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

GENEVA — A United Nations panel questioned representatives from the Vatican on Thursday about its handling of decades worth of reports regarding sexual abuse by members of the clergy.

Reps from the Vatican were peppered with questions by the UN panel on Thursday. (Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera)

Thursday’s panel was the first such interrogation of the Vatican by an international body. The United Nations committee in Geneva is examining the Vatican’s failure to adhere to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The UNCRC calls on countries that adopt the agreement to protect children from sexual and physical abuse. The UN committee will issue final observations and recommendations on February 5th, but it has no authority to issue sanctions, and its recommendations are nonbinding.

The Vatican representatives contended that the sexual abuse cases were not the responsibility of the Vatican, but rather of local law enforcement and local dioceses to investigate and prosecute the offenders. The representatives did concede that the Church could “do better to prevent these crimes.”

“The Holy See gets it. Let’s not say too late or not, but there are certain things that need to be done differently.” Bishop Charles J. Scicluna, the Vatican’s chief prosecutor of sexual abuse up until 2012, stated to the panel.

The Center for Constitutional Rights submitted documents and victims’ testimony as evidence that the Vatican had allowed sexual abusers to remain in their posts and even transported them to different locations without informing law enforcement officials or local dioceses.

The UN panel questioned Bishop Scicluna about why the Vatican does not require local dioceses to report abusive conduct to authorities. “Our guidelines have always said the domestic law of the country needs to be followed,” he simply stated.

During Thursday’s UN panel, Pope Francis participated in a morning Mass with a private audience and Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, the former archbishop of Los Angeles. Last year, leaked documents revealed that Cardinal Mahoney had a history of protecting priests accused of sexual abuse. The documents were released via a court-order, and Cardinal Mahony was relieved of his duties shortly thereafter.

At the Mass, the Pope delivered a homily about scandal in the church, never mentioning sexual abuse, but speaking to “those failings of priests, bishops, laity.” Francis stated, “Scandals in the church happen because there is no living relationship with God and his word.”

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Vatican Defends Child-Protection Record – 16 January 2014

BBC News – UN Panel Confronts Vatican on Child Sex Abuse by Clergy – 16 January 2014

The Guardian – UN Condemns Vatican Over Handling of Clerical Sex Abuse of Children – 16 January 2014

New York Times – UN Panel Questions Vatican on Handling of Clergy Sexual Abuse – 16 January 2014

The Washington Post – Vatican Defends Sex Abuse Record to UN Panel – 16 January 2014

Protesters in Northern Spain Support Transfer of Imprisoned Members of Group Labeled Terrorist by EU, U.S.

by Tony Iozzo
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

BILBAO, Spain – Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in northern Spain on Saturday to protest the imprisonment of members of a separatist group known as “ETA.”

Thousands took to the streets on Saturday in northern Spain. (Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera)

Tens of thousands of protesters formed a demonstration in the city of Bilbao, in Spain’s Basque region, after a judge had banned an initial demonstration to demand concessions for the ETA prisoners, such as being imprisoned in facilities closer to their families.

Spain’s Basque region has seen an ongoing standoff between authorities and secessionists in the area. ETA has been campaigning for an independent Basque homeland in northern Spain and southwestern France for over 40 years. The organization, which has been labeled a terrorist organization by the European Union and the United States, has been blamed for 829 murders.

The organization has been depleted in recent years due to the arrests and imprisonment of its leadership in both Spain and France. Roughly 520 members have been imprisoned, and only an estimated few dozen active fighters are on the run. The ETA pledge to end armed activity back in 2011, but Spain and France remain opposed to negotiating with the organization due to its past.

On Friday, a judge of the highest criminal court in Madrid issued a ruling against a planned demonstration to explicitly support the imprisoned ETA members, reasoning that the protest was organized by a banned terrorist group. Both Basque nationalist and separatist parties called for a new “rights march” for Saturday. They had originally called for a silent demonstration, but shouts and cries were audible when family members of the prisoners marched. Shouts such as “Basque prisoners home!” could be heard.

The conservative Basque National Party, which governs Spain’s northern region, and a left-wing pro-independence party combined forces for Saturday’s march. Between them they accounted for more than half of the votes in the last regional elections, as pro-independence Basques set their sights on a political solution.

“Parties and unions that represent the political majority of this land decided they had to call this demonstration to defend the right to freedom of expression,” Pernando Barrena, spokesman for the left-wing party, stated.

The spokesman for the Basque National Party, Josu Erkoreka, stated that the original ban on the first planned demonstration was “incomprehensible to the Basque people.”

On Saturday, an additional judge ruled that the new gathering called by the parties was not illegal.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Thousands March in Bilbao in Support of ETA – 12 January 2014

Fox News – Large March in North Spain Calls for ETA Prisoners to be Allowed to Serve Jail Terms Near Home – 12 January 2014

The Washington Post – March in North Spain Backs Return of ETA Prisoners – 12 January 2014

BBC News – Huge March in Spain After Ban on ETA Prisoner Rally – 11 January 2014