Parents Arrested After Authorities Found Their 13 Children Chained and Malnourished

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

PERRIS, California, USA – David and Louise Turpin were arrested on suspicion of torture and child endangerment. They are both being eld in lieu of a $9 million bail. Police were called by the couple’s 17 year old daughter who dialed 911 on a deactivated cell phone. She said she had escaped out a window of her parents house where she and her siblings had been kept. She also had photographs to back up her claims. The authorities were shocked by her size and emaciated appearance. Although she is 17, authorities thought she was only 10 based on her appearance.

David and Louise Turpin have both been arrested after their 13 children were found chained and malnourished in their home. Photo Courtesy of Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.

Upon there arrival, authorities noted the home appeared dirty and had a foul stench. Three of the children were found in chains. The 13 children in total ranged from ages 2-29. Because of their malnourished appearance and small stature, authorities originally thought all of the children were minors. Authorities said the parents were not currently showing any signs of mental illness that would explain what they did to their children.

Susan Von Zabern said the 911 call received Sunday, which was cross-reported to social workers, was “the first opportunity we had to intervene.” Currently, it is unclear how long the abuse has been occurring but, she said, “their condition indicates it has been a prolonged period of time.” Social workers are trying to place them with family, but will put them through background checks to make sure that they are able and stable.

Local authorities had no prior contact with the Turpin’s. Additionally, the Police Department in Murrietta, where the family lived previously, also had no interactions with them during the four years they lived there.

The Turpin’s had registered their home as a private school as allowed by California law. Many who choose to homeschool their children in California do register their homes as private school. It first appeared in the state registry in 2010 as a private, nonreligious, co-ed institution when the family first moved there. But only six of the thirteen children were enrolled. The information contained in the registration likely gave authorities little insight into the children’s lives or even how many children there were.

“We really knew nothing about them,” said Grant Bennett, superintendent of the Perris Union High School District. “If they were in home school from the beginning, they wouldn’t have even been on our radar.”

The children are recuperating in the hospital, continuing to improve their health and hope for a better future from this point on.

For more information, please see:

L.A. Times – In Perris, a House of Horrors Hidden in Plain Sight – 17 January 2018

CNN – Found Shackled and and Emaciated, Children of Torture Suspects are Freed – 16 January 2018

ABC News – 13 Siblings Age 2-29 Held Captive by Parents, Some Shackled, Officials Say – 15 January 2018

Myanmar Arrests Two Reuters Journalists

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

YANGON, Myanmar – On 12 December 2017 two journalist from Reuters were arrested by the Myanmar government.  The two journalists are Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27. Alongside of the them, two police officers were arrested as well. The two reporters have been formally charged with obtaining state secrets, after investigating the existence of a mass grave in the Rakhine state.

Photo of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, arrested. Photo courtesy of Myanmar’s Ministry of Information.

The situation is considered to be related to the wider Rohingya crisis in Myanmar. Lone and Oo have been working on stories related to the Rohingya. On 12 December, the two planned to meet two police officers over dinner. The officers had returned from a supervising job in the state of Rakhine.

Two days after the arrest, the Myanmar Ministry of Information released a statement, on their Facebook, in conjunction with the arrests. The post mentioned that two journalists and two police officers arrested were charged under Section 3.1 of the 1923 Official Secrets Act for “illegally acquired information with the intention to share it with foreign media.” Officials say the two journalists forced the police officers to disclose the information. It has been revealed that the officers have not been charged. However, the two journalist could face up to 14 years in prison, if found guilty.

The international community has been supportive in calling for the release of the journalists. The British remarked, “We will make it clear in the strongest possible terms that we feel that they need to be released at the earliest possible opportunity.”

Many believe that these arrests represent a crackdown on freedom of speech and press freedom. The Swedish Foreign Minister said the arrests threatened “democratic and peaceful development of Myanmar and that region.”

While the United States called the arrests “highly irregular,” this is not the first case of journalists being arrested.   Eight journalist and affiliated staff have been arrested this year in Myanmar for just doing their job—reporting.

 For more information, please see:

 Fortify Rights – Myanmar: Release Wrongfully Arrested Journalists, Protect Press Freedoms – 14 December 2017

Reuters – Myanmar faces mounting calls for release of Reuters journalists – 15 December 2017

The New York Times – Reuters Reporters Are Charged In Myanmar With Obtaining State Secrets – 10 January, 2018 

The New York Times – Arrests of Reuters Reporters in Myanmar Add to Fears About Press Freedom – 13 December 2017

Veterans are Experiencing CTE

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON D.C.,  U.S.A. – Veterans put their lives on the line for America every day during their time in the military. Although we hope they survive their time of duty, many are unaware of the consequences of their services once they return home. One example of this is the traumatic brain injuries experienced by veterans as a result of combat.

According to a new study, U.S. veterans are likely to suffer the same kind of brain disease as concussion victims.  Boston University has been doing a study on Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), which is the disease in question here. CTE is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in people who have had repetitive brain trauma (often athletes), including symptomatic concussions as well as asymptomatic sub-concussive hits to the head that do not cause symptoms.

At the Veterans Affairs Center in Bedford Massachusetts, researchers study brains for signs of CTE which can only be done during autopsy. Photo Courtesy of Gretchen Ertl.

The repetitive brain trauma triggers the progressive degeneration of brain tissue, including a build-up of an abnormal protein called tau. These changes in a brain can begin months, years, or even decades after the last brain trauma or end of active duty or athletic involvement. Common symptoms of CTE include memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, suicide, Parkinsonism, and ultimately progressive dementia.

Veterans from combat zones often experience different kinds of trauma from exposure to blast waves. At Boston University, neuropathologist Dr. Ann McKee discovered CTE in veterans, which at this time can only be confirmed through brain autopsies. So far, 65 percent of the brains she has seen of deceased veterans exposed to combat blasts showed CTE.

Dr. McKee stated that a blast wave can damage a brain in the same way as a physical blow. “This blast injury creates a tremendous… ricochet or whiplash injury to the brain inside the skull.” The effects on the brain are not readily seen on images, she says, “This has been what everyone calls an invisible injury.”

Following in Dr. McKee’s footsteps, Dr. Sam Gandy, of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, began using newly developed technology to find the markers of CTE in living veterans in order to alert those who may have the disease and help find a way to stop the disease’s deadly progress. These images from new technology will be crucial in his work with drug companies to develop a treatment.  “That’s step one,” he tells Alfonsi, “Just to stop it dead in its tracks. And then we can worry about making people feel better.”

For more information, please see:

CBS News – Combat Veterans Suffering From Same Brain Disease as Concussion Victims – 4 January 2018

CNN – Could Veterans Have Concussion Related CTE? – 6 April 2015

New York Times – Brain Ailments in Veterans Likened to Those in Athlete’s – 16 May 2012

BU Research CTE Center –FAQ 

Former Cardinal Involved in Sex Abuse Scandal Dies at 86

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

ROME, Italy – The former archbishop of Boston who was instrumental in covering up child molestation by priests within the Catholic Church, died on Wednesday, December 20th in Rome.

Cardinal Bernard Law. Photo Courtesy of Ken Lambert.

Cardinal Bernard Law was a spiritual leader in Boston, America’s fourth largest Catholic archdiocese, from 1984 until he resigned in 2002 amidst the scandal that rocked the Catholic Church.

In 2002, The Boston Globe ‘s Spotlight Investigative reporting team published a series of stories that implicated Law in a systematic cover-up of rampant sexual abuse of children by priests in the Boston diocese.

Upon learning of child molestations by priests, Law and his predecessors transferred the priests from parish to parish without notifying the victims’ parents or the police of the abuse. Cardinal Law never faced criminal charges.

When the allegations came to light in 2002, the Catholic Church in Boston faced hundreds of lawsuits. The Boston diocese went nearly bankrupt due to the scandal, and was forced to sell property to fund over 100 million dollars in settlements with over 500 victims.

More than 70 priests in the Boston area were found to have committed abuses. The investigation in Boston prompted nationwide investigations in American cities and throughout the world.

Survivors of the abuse were outraged at the Vatican’s decision to conduct a full cardinal’s funeral for Law despite his role in enabling the abuse.

After Law’s resignation from the archdiocese in Boston, he moved to Rome and served as archpriest of the Papal Liberian Basilica of St. Mary Major until he retired in 2011.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests urged the Church against celebrating Law’s life and asked it instead to focus on protecting children and helping survivors. The group asked, “Why was Law promoted when Boston’s Catholic children were sexually abused, ignored, and pushed aside time and time again?”

Many of the victims of abuse feel that the decision to honor Law is opening up wounds that have never healed.

Cardinal Law’s successor, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, apologized to victims of sex abuse by clergy and stated that there is a greater sensitivity to the situation in the church today.

“I think that it’s unfortunate that he’s had such a high-profile place in the life of the church, but I think going forward that kind of decision would not be made,” said Law’s successor, Cardinal Sean O’Malley. “But unfortunately, we’re living with the consequences of that.”

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Bernard Law: Disgraced US Cardinal Dies in Rome – 20 December 2017

CNN – ‘Chop Him Up:’ Accusers Seethe Over Vatican Funeral Plans for Cardinal Law – 20 December 2017

The New York Times – Cardinal Law and the U.S.-Rome Sex Abuse Divide – 20 December 2017

The Washington Post – Cardinal Law, Disgraced Figure in Church Scandal, Dead at 86 – 20 December 2017

How the Elderly and Disabled “Disappear”

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

LITCHFIELD PARK, Arizona – The Center for Disease Control estimates that more than two million Americans use wheelchairs in their daily lives and approximately 6.5 million depend on canes, walkers or crutches. Right now, about 15% of the population in America is 65 or older. It is estimated that by 2060, 25% of the population will be 65 or older.  What those numbers do not tell, is how those people are treated by society.

Nancy Root is an 82, child-polio survivor who today calls herself a cripple. Five years ago, after the death of her husband, Nancy’s condition began to change. Her arms got weaker and her legs got wobblier. Nancy recounted when she disappeared. She was in a shopping mall that was rather large so she decided to use a wheelchair because her legs were not as good as they used to be. Nancy says during that shopping trip, she waited longer for service in the mattress store that she and her friend were shopping in.

Nancy Root can recall the occasion where she first disappeared. Photo Courtesy of Conor E. Ralph of the New York Times.

Nancy says after this, she began noticing how much people withdrew from her. When she was in the chair, people did not look at her. Instead, they looked around her, through her, or to whoever was pushing her chair. “They think I’m mentally incapacitated. I’m sure of that. I’d stake my life on it,” she said. She says doctors offices are the worst. The receptionists usually do not address her. Instead, they will address the person pushing the wheelchair with questions like, “Does this lady have an appointment?”

But Nancy still has her mental wit about her. People just assume that because she is in the chair, she is not as aware as someone who is not in a chair.  She said, “They don’t allow this lady to have a brain.” Nancy experiences this everywhere; at the movie theater, on airplanes, in restaurants. Nancy is not the only person to experience this. Many people who have disabilities or who are older experience this kind of treatment regularly. People often edit them out of the frame.

Part of the problem is that people do not want to bring attention to people’s disabilities or they are worried about saying the wrong thing. So, instead of being inclusive, it is easier to just remain in blissful ignorance to avoid a potentially awkward situation. But this phenomenon means people are being isolated and ignored which may negatively impact their lives and social interactions. It has been argued that it is inadvertently cruel to exclude part of the population simply because the interaction might be awkward. The first step toward changing this is bringing the issue to light.

For more information, please see:

National Review – Bruni “Gets It” About Disability Bias – Except for Assisted Suicide – 17 December 2017

New York Times – Are You Old? Infirm? Then Kindly Disappear – 16 December 2017

Shooting and Bombing in Southern Thailand Leaves Several Injured

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

 BANGKOK, Thailand – For the past 13 years, armed conflict has been waging in Southern Thailand. The clashes are between Muslim-Malay insurgents and Thai troops and police.   Most of the victims of the shootings and bombs are civilians. These attacks happen nearly daily.   The Muslim-Malay fighters hope to gain more autonomy in this conflict.

Forensic scientists at the scene of a shooting and bombing incident in southern Thailand in April. Photo courtesy of EPA// The Malaysian Insight.

Since the junta seized power in 2014 and started peace talks, incidents decreased. “This year’s [2017] death toll is the lowest ever if no significant incidents happen in the coming days” reports a Deep South Watch representative. As of a November 2017 report, the latest monthly report available on Deep South Watch’s webpage, there have been 37 incidents. This resulted in 18 death and 18 injured. Most of the victims have been male and between the ages of 18 and 59.

Adding to this list are 6 Thai rangers and a woman who were injured in a separate shooting and bombing on December 26, 2017.

The December 26th incident was a shooting. Four rangers drove through Jalan Kampung Daging-Kampung Bilok in Narathiwat, when “unknown individuals fires multiple shots at the vehicle.” All four received gunshot injurious. A stray bullet injured a civilian woman.

About half an hour later, a bomb exploded close to the scene of the shooting. Two rangers, helping the shooting victims, were injured. 

For more information, please see:

 The Malaysian Insight – 6 rangers, woman hurt in southern Thailand shooting and bombing – 26 December 2017

The Straits Times – Death toll in Thailand’s southern conflict hits record low – 27 December 2017

 Deep South Watch – Summary of Incidents in Southern Thailand, November 2017 – 7 December 2017

French President Defends Migration Policy

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

CALAIS, France – Amidst continued criticism of his treatment of France’s migrant issue, French President Emmanuel Macron travelled to the port city Calais, a center of the country’s migrant problem, to defend his policies.

President Macron Visited A Migrant Center in France. Photo Courtesy of Michel Spingler.

Before Macron was elected in May 2017, he campaigned as a supporter of migrants. At the time, his opponent was staunchly against allowing migrants into the country.

However, since his election, critics complain that Macron has betrayed his supporters by allowing continued expulsions of migrants and police crackdowns targeted at migrants.

The coastal city of Calais has become a symbol of France’s migrant problem. Upwards of 700 migrants are currently in the area, most hoping to make it to the United Kingdom by way of the English Channel.

Calais was once home to a migrant camp of 7,000 people that became known as the “Jungle.” The camp was dismantled in 2016.

During his visit, Macron outlined France’s stance toward immigration and asylum. He maintained that those entitled to be in France will be given shelter and support, while those who are in the country illegally will be expelled.

“To stay in Calais and build makeshift shelters and even set up squats is a dead end. The alternative is clear; people can get to the reception centers where everyone’s case will be examined and those who have the right, given asylum in our country,” Macron said in a speech while in Calais.

In his speech, Macron also called for French law enforcement officers to act with respect towards migrants. According to a Human Rights Watch Report published in the summer of 2017, French police “routinely use(d) pepper spray on child and adult migrants while they…[were]… sleeping or in other circumstances in which they pose(d) no threat.” Although Macron discredited some accounts, he maintained that if the alleged abuses did occur that they will be punished.

Macron has worked to establish checkpoints overseas in order to separate economic migrants from asylum seekers. Those who are seeking political asylum are given priority over those seeking entry into the country for economic reasons.

A new migrant policy is expected to be released next month. Plans will be unveiled to quicken the application process for those seeking asylum as well as expel those who are in the country illegally faster.

France received over 100,000 asylum applications in 2017. Approximately 85,000 migrants were refused entry into the country.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – France Will not Allow Another ‘Jungle’ Camp in Calais, Says Macron – 16 January 2018

The Guardian – France Will not Allow Another Refugee Camp in Calais, Says Macron – 16 January 2018

The New York Times – Macron Defends Migration Policy in France, Walking A Fine Line – 16 January 2018

The Washington Post – France’s Macron Pushes Back Against Angry Allies to Defend Crackdowns on Migrants – 16 January 2018

UN reports more than 100 activists murdered in Colombia in 2017

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Columbia – The United Nations reports that more than 100 human rights activists have been killed in Colombia in 2017, denouncing the government’s inactions.

Colombia’s government and rebels signed peace accords and ended their civil war this year. Image Courtesy of Anadolu Agency.

The UN urges the Colombian government to be more accountable and provide better protections for its activists. The peace accord, which ended a 50-year civil war, was signed by the Colombian government and FARC rebels last year. Since it was signed, activists have been particularly at risk in regions that were vacated by rebel fighters. These zones are often rural and now have a power vacuum because of the withdrawal of rebels.

The UN report shows that more than half of the 105 human rights activists and community leaders murdered this year were killed by gunmen. At least eleven other cases are still under investigation. This count does not yet include the events that transpired in December, when a community leader in Puerto Colombia, Putumayo was murdered along with his eight-year-old daughter. The activist, Pablo Oviedo, was walking with his daughter when they were ambushed by multiple gunmen and shot several times. They were declared dead at a hospital in Puerto de Asis. Oviedo’s two brothers are both human rights activists and have been declared missing.

Even more tragically, these murders occurred hours after the Colombian Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas participated in a security council meeting to address the city’s increased violence. Social leaders that attended this meeting wore masks to avoid being victims of the violence.

The UN human rights office states, “We note with deep concern the persistence of cases of killings of human rights defenders in the country. Cases of killings of male and female leaders and [rights] defenders have occurred in areas from which the FARC has left, and which has created a vacuum of power by the state.”

To put this in perspective, UN reports show that 45 rights defenders were killed in 2014, 59 in 2015, and 127 in 2016. Local groups explain that leaders who speak out against rights abuses and activists campaigning for land rights are targeted because they threaten the economic interests of organized crime groups. Most victims belong to Afro-Colombian and indigenous groups.

In December, Defense Minister Villegas stated that authorities are working to bring those responsible for the murders to justice. The UN human rights office maintains that “the prevention of attacks and aggressions against human rights defenders involves investigation, prosecution and punishment of those responsible.”

Out of all recorded murders of human rights defenders last year, three out of four took place in the Americas.

For more information, please see:

The Guardian – More than 100 human rights activists killed in Colombia in 2017, UN says – 21 December 2017

Telesur – Murder of Colombian Social Leader Highlights UN Condemnation – 21 December 2017

Business Standard – More than 100 rights and labour activists killed in Colombia – 21 December 2017

Democracy Now – Colombia: 100 Human Rights Activists Killed in 2017, According to U.N. – 21 December 2017

Thomson Reuters – Colombia rights activists facing danger, U.N. says – 20 December 2017

Former Peruvian president granted divisive pardon

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

LIMA, Peru – Alberto Fujimori ruled Peru in the 1990s and was sentenced to 25 years in prison for human rights abuses and corruption. On Sunday, Peru’s current president, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, granted him a medical pardon.

Protestors gather outside of the hospital where Fujimori is being treated. Image Courtesy of Guadalupe Pardo.

Fujimori expressed his gratitude to President Kuczynski in a video from his hospital bed. He explains that the pardon had a strong impact on him, creating “a mix of extreme happiness as well as sorrow.” He stated, “I’m aware that the results produced by my government were well received by some, but I recognize that I have let down others. Those I ask for forgiveness from the bottom of my heart.”

Fujimori suspended civil liberties and oversaw a violent crackdown on the opposition during his presidency from 1990 to 2000. In 2007, he was extradited from Chile and sentenced to jail for six years on charges of bribery and abuse of power. Two years later, he was sentenced to another 25 years for human rights abuses from his rule. Fujimori was convicted of authorizing military death squads.

Critics denounce the pardon and claim it was motivated by a desire to reward Fujimori’s son, Kenji. The congressman helped the president survive a crucial impeachment vote last week when the conservative Popular Force party, who controls Congress, tried to impeach him over a corruption scandal. However, they failed because Kenji split the party’s vote, thus allowing the president to stay in power.

President Kuczynski’s office states that he granted a “humanitarian pardon” to Fujimori and seven other people in similar condition. Doctors have declared that he has a progressive, degenerative, and incurable illness.

However, protestors rallied as soon as the pardon came to light and claim that the pardon was carried out in an illegal manner. They say the president was trying to save his own skin and the pardon was treason. One protestor stated, “The reality is that this sadly was a political agreement between the Fujimorists and the current government.”

Activists and protestors gathered by the thousands in Lima, the capital, in late December. Human rights experts and political analysts join in the criticism. President Kuczynski pardoned one of the few Latin American strongmen who has been held accountable in judicial proceedings for abuses committed during his reign. The South American representative for the UN High Commission for Human Rights claims that “not putting victims at the center of this decision derails the progress the Peruvian state has made on truth, justice, memory, and reparations.”

The pardon has already cost the president the support of three allies in Congress. They resigned in protest and leave him with only 15 allies left in the lawmaking body.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Peru’s Alberto Fujimori speaks after divisive pardon – 26 December 2017

NY Times – From a Hospital Bed, Alberto Fujimori Asks Peru to ‘Forgive Me’ – 26 December 2017

Latina – Thousands of Peruvians Protest the Pardon of Former President Fujimori – 26 December 2017

Bloomberg – Peru’s President Back Under Fire for Freeing Leader – 26 December 2017

CNN – Peru’s ex-leader Fujimori asks for forgiveness amid heated protests – 26 December 2017

Kyrgyzstan Court Raids Independent TV Station

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan – Central Asia is known for its repressive regimes, yet Kyrgyzstan stands out with its partnerships that promote democracy. Even being labeled a “Partner for Democracy” and holding elections in 2017, the country still has a ways to go to improve democracy and human rights.

The closing of an independent national television station, NTS, is another act in the long list of media freedom violations that have occurred in 2017. The station was closed late in the year, on the 19th of December. A court order froze NTS’s property and court officers raided the station. The order reads that all “properties, assets, equipment and everything else must be seized.” The officials registering the equipment stated that they did not intend to interrupt broadcasting, and the show did continue with its normal broadcast.

NTS Building. Photo Courtesy of RFE|RL.

In the meantime with NTS is off the air, Jalbyrak is available online. It’s a new Internet TV Channel company officials launched in the aftermath. As of the 21st of December, some programs of NTS are allowed to continue broadcasting.

The Director-General Jainak Usen plans to challenge the court ruling. The Supreme Court officials have also stated that they are looking into the court order against NTS as the Prosecutor-General’s Office, the Interior Ministry, and the State Committee for National Security say they have no information on the freezing of NTS’s assets and equipment.

The court decision comes after a lawsuit filed by Grexton Capital LTD and Ayant LLC against NTS.

NTS happens to be owned by the opposition runner-up from the 2017 presidential elections in Kyrgyzstan, Omurbek Babanov. Shortly after the election, there was an investigation into his campaign election as it is reported that he stirred up ethnic tensions. Babanov has since left the country and his location is not known.

Additionally, a sister radio station to NTS closed in November as a result of authorities not renewing their license to broadcast.

For more information, please see:

 Human Rights Watch – Another Blow to Media Freedom in Kyrgyzstan – 20 December 2017

Radio Free Europe| Radio Liberty – Kyrgyz Officials Impound TV Station Property Owned By Opposition Politician Babanov – 19 December 2017

Radio Free Europe| Radio Liberty – Kyrgyz NTS TV On Air Despite Impoundment Of Property – 21 December 2017

bne – Kyrgyz court officials raid election runner-up Babanov’s TV station – 21 December 2017

Argentina passes controversial pension reform amid protests

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Argentina’s government passed a controversial reform of the country’s pension system on Tuesday, December 19. The bill has prompted violent protests in the city’s capital.

A demonstrator waves an Argentine flag outside of Congress. Image Courtesy of Victor R. Caivano.

After 12 hours of debate and several demonstrations outside of the chamber, the reform passed the lower house by a 128-116 vote. The legislation had already cleared the Senate and would essentially change the formula by which pension benefits are calculated. It bases them largely on inflation instead of wage growth and tax contributions, which economists expect to lower the amounts paid. Another controversial change in the new law is the increase in retirement age from 65 to 70 for men and from 60 to 63 for women. Protestors have communicated their fear that the changes will have a heavy impact on the poor.

This legislation is a key element of the economic changes being implemented by President Mauricio Macri’s government. The goal is to reduce Argentina’s high deficit and attract investments. At a press conference at the presidential palace, the president said, “We’ve created a formula that defends (retirees) from inflation and guarantees that they will be better. Our priority is to take care of the retirees.”

However, opposition law makers, union leaders, and other critics attack the bill. They claim it will cut pension and retirement payments. Also, it could take away aid for some poor families because consumer prices are expected to decrease. Opposition lawmaker Agustin Rossi states, “We tried to impede it from passing, but we couldn’t get the numbers. This harms retirees.”

The vote was originally scheduled for a week earlier, but civil unrest delayed it. In response, President Macri promised an additional payment to existing pensioners as a concession. However, demonstrations continued. The day before the vote, protestors threw stones, fireworks, and improvised explosive devices at police. The police used tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons in turn. Protests continued into the night. Almost 150 people were injured in these riots and about 60 were arrested.

Regardless of the protestors’ violent clashes with police, Congress approved the measures the next morning. The opposition called for peaceful protests to continue. Argentines have had a tradition of marching while banging pots and pans since the 2001-2002 economic collapse. Demonstrators have continued this peaceful form of protest. Argentina’s largest union contributed by calling a 24-hour strike which grounded hundreds of flights.

President Macri acknowledged that there will undoubtedly be people who disagree with the reforms. He said, “It would be illogical to have unanimity. But I’m asking them not to doubt the intention because I’m convinced that it will help them.”

For more information, please see:

Times of Malta – Violent clashes erupt in Buenos Aires as Congress tries at pension reform – 19 December 2017

Fox News – Argentina’s Congress approves pension reform amid strikes – 19 December 2017

BBC News – Argentina passes pension reform despite violent protests – 19 December 2017

Reuters – Argentina Congress passes pension reform after protests, clashes – 19 December 2017

Miami Herald – Argentina leader defends pension reforms approved in Congress – 19 December 2017

China Publicly Executes 10 People

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China – Officials in Lufeng, a city in southern Guangdong province, publicly sentenced 12 people to death. The city of Lufeng is about 100 miles from Hong Kong. Four days before the execution, a court in Lufeng invited the public to watch the execution. Thousands gathered at a local sports stadium to watch the sentencing.

Thousands gather to watch public executions in Lufeng. Photo courtesy of The Paper.

The 12 people were brought into the stadium on the back of police vehicles with their sirens blaring. It was reported that seven of the 10 executed were convicted of drug-related crimes. The others were found guilty of murder and robbery. According to a video from the trial, their sentences were read on a small platform. While the 10 people were executed, the local media was unsure about what happened to the other two people.

Although the exact numbers are not published to the public, according to a human rights NGO, it is estimated that China executed around 2,000 people last year. The number of people executed in China is estimated to be more than the rest of world combined.

About five months ago, eight people were sentenced to death publicly for drug-related crimes. Although public trials in China are rare, the town of Lufeng has seen such sentences carried out before. In 2014, when the town was a spot for a drug bust, around 3,000 police officers arrested nearly 180 people. During the bust, three tonnes of crystal-meth were confiscated. It was reported that around 7,000 people watched as 55 people were sentenced. In this region, the police reported that 10 tonnes of drugs were seized in 10 months. The officials further reported that over 13,000 drugs cases were solved.

The Guardian – Thousands in China watch as 10 people sentenced to death in sport stadium – 17 December, 2017

BBC – China public executions over drugs alarm web users – 18 December, 2017

Independent – China sentences 10 people to death in sports stadium as thousands watched – 18 December, 2017

Austria Becomes Latest European Country to Legalize Same-Sex Marriage

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

VIENNA, Austria – Beginning in 2019, same-sex couples will be allowed to marry in Austria.

Marchers at The Regenbogenparade, or Rainbow Parade, in Vienna. Photo Courtesy of Alex Halada.

On Tuesday, December 5th, Austria’s Constitutional Court published a ruling that lifts the ban on same-sex marriage by the end of 2018 –  unless the government lifts the ban prior to that.

The words “two people of different sex” will be removed from Austria’s marriage law and same-sex couples will have access to the same benefits and privileges as those currently granted to heterosexual partners, including adoption and support for fertility treatments.

Same-sex couples have been allowed to enter into civil partnerships since 2010, but have not been given the option to legally marry.

The ruling was prompted by the Court’s examination of a 2009 law, following a complaint made by two women already in a civil partnership who were now allowed to enter into a legal marriage by authorities in Vienna.

The womens’ lawyer, Helmut Graupner, spoke of the the ruling on social media and applauded Austria’s Court for recognizing equality for same-sex couples as a “fundamental human right.” All the other European states with marriage equality introduced it as (just) “the political way.”

“The distinction between marriage and civil partnership can no longer be maintained today without discriminating against same-sex couples,” the Court stated. It also noted that keeping the two institutions separate suggests that “people with same-sex sexual orientation are not equal to people with heterosexual orientation.”

The decision brings Austria in line with more than a dozen other European countries that have recently legalized gay marriage. The Netherlands was the first. That decision came in 2001. There are now 25 countries in the world that have legalized same-sex marriage. Several European countries, including Bulgaria, Poland, Romania and Slovakia, have yet to follow suit.

The decision did not come without criticism. The far-right Freedom Party claimed that the ruling disrespected the concept of traditional marriage. “Now there is equal treatment for something that’s not equal,” said the party’s secretary general, Herbert Kickl.

The archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schöborn, told news outlets that he remained hopeful that the decision would be overturned in Austria, a largely Roman Catholic nation.

Despite the push-back, the Austrian People’s Party, led by Sebastian Kurz, winner of the general election in October, said it would accept the ruling.

“We are very happy,” said The Homosexual Initiative of Vienna chairman Christian Hoegl. “We want to use the opportunity for a renewed call for a fundamental reform of marriage.”

For more information, please see:

BBC News = Austrian Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Same-Sex Marriage – 5 December 2017

Chicago Tribune – Austrian Constitutional Court Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage – 5 December 2017

The Independent – Austria Court Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage From Start of 2019, Ruling all Existing laws Discriminatory – 5 December 2017

The New York Times – Austria Allows Gay Marriage in Court Ruling – 5 December 2017

Reuters – Austria’s Supreme Court Paves way for Same-Sex Marriage From 2019 – 5 December 2017

Salvadoran Tribunal Upholds 30-Year Sentence for Woman Jailed for Delivering a Stillborn Child

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — On Wednesday, December 13, San Salvador’s Second Court of Judgment in El Salvador upheld Teodora del Carmen Vasquez’s 30-year sentence for aggravated homicide against her unborn child.

Teodora Vasquez is escorted to her hearing to appeal her 2008 conviction for the death of her stillborn child. Photo Courtesy Oscar Rivera, Getty Images.

On July 13, 2007, Ms. Vasquez nine months pregnant and working when she began bleeding and feeling severe labor pains and called 911 to transport her to the hospital.  She waited for medical personnel for over four hours before fainting from blood loss in a restroom at work. She awoke to police accusing her of having killed the child—unaware that the child had already been born and that it was stillborn.  Ms. Vasquez was arrested and later convicted of aggravated homicide against her stillborn child.  The judge who convicted Ms. Vasquez in 2008 to the 30-year minimum sentence was the same judge who heard and denied her appeal in 2017.

During Ms. Vasquez’s appeal hearing, two medical experts testified to the child being born dead, and Ms. Vasquez not being responsible for the death of her child.  One testified that according to the results of the autopsy conducted by the Institute of Legal Medicine, the newborn had died of asphyxiation prior to birth due to complications from having been born outside of a hospital.  The second expert testified that the newborn was born dead and that the studies conducted during the criminal investigation by the prosecution were inadequate and incomplete.

The judge ruled that the defense’s medical experts did not present sufficient evidence to dispute the investigation carried out by the prosecution and that Ms. Vasquez’s appeal was denied.

Earlier in 2017, a 19-year old rape-survivor was sentenced to 30 years in prison after delivering a stillborn child at her home.  Prosecutors accused Evelyn Hernandez Cruz of not seeking prenatal care and alleged that she had aborted the fetus and thrown its remains into a latrine at her home.  The defense argued that Ms. Hernandez had not even known that she was pregnant, and had confused the labor pains with a stomach ache.  The defense is seeking an appeal following Ms. Hernandez’s conviction.

El Salvador, along with Malta, Andorra, Chile, Haiti, Honduras, and Nicaragua, have criminalized abortion in any and all cases.  This law, enacted in 1998, allows women to be charged with murder and other related charges in cases of abortion or suspected abortion and extends liability to medical practitioners that fail to report suspected abortions.

According to Al Jazeera, 17 women in El Salvador have been convicted of aggravated homicide under this law between 1999-2011 for losing their babies.  “In most cases, these are women without resources who suffer obstetric emergencies or spontaneous abortions [miscarriages] and, when they go to hospitals, they are reported by the medical staff, because they are afraid of prosecution,” Katia Recinos, one of Ms. Velasquez’s lawyers, told Al Jazeera. These women have been sentenced from 12 to 30 years in prison as a result.

In 2016, the left-wing opposition party FLMA introduced a bill that would decriminalize abortion in cases of where the pregnancy would put the life and health of the mother at risk, where the pregnancy would produce an unviable fetus, or when the pregnancy was due to rape, incest, or human trafficking. The right-wing majority party ARENA—with support from the Salvadoran Catholic Church—countered the bill by petitioning Congress to increase the maximum penalty in these cases to 50 years in prison.  Both pieces of legislation are still pending within their respective committees.

Doctors who are suspected of aiding pregnancy terminations are also persecuted under the 1998 anti-abortion law.  Dr. Zulma Mendez, who leads the HIV program at the San Rafael Public Hospital of San Salvador, told the New York Times that she was threatened with criminal prosecution for her work.  “I wanted to help a woman whose emergency contraception didn’t work after she was raped.  Naively, I called the Institute of Legal Medicine and told them what had happened.  I was told not to get involved, as I could be put behind bars.”

Ms. Vasquez has served 10 years of her 30-year sentence and will be 57 years old when she is released.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – El Salvador rejects appeal in baby death case – 14 December 2017

The Guardian – El Salvador court upholds 30-year jail sentence in stillbirth case – 14 December 2017

El Nuevo Herald – Ratifican condena de 30 años de cárcel a mujer que abortó en El Salvador – 13 December 2017

El Salvador: Noticias – Tribunal ratifica sentencia de 30 años a mujer condenada por el homicidio de su bebé – 13 December 2017

Al Jazeera – El Salvador woman jailed after stillbirth seeks freedom – 8 December 2017

The New York Times – In El Salvador, ‘Girls Are a Problem’ – 2 September 2017

CNN – The people fighting the world’s harshest abortion law – 10 July 2017

Al Jazeera – El Salvador rape victim jailed 30 years for stillbirth – 7 July 2017

Independent – El Salvador jails raped teenager for 30 years under murder laws after she said she suffered miscarriage – 6 July 2017

The Guardian – El Salvador’s anti-abortion law makes criminals of mothers who miscarry – 30 November 2015

UN expert reports no humanitarian crisis in Venezuela

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela — An independent expert for the UN’s top human rights body was allowed a rare visit to Venezuela. After spending a week in the country and assessing the situation, he reported that there is no humanitarian crisis.

Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza meets with UN expert. Image Courtesy of CancilleriaVE.

Alfred de Zayas, an independent expert on International Democratic and Equitable Order at the UN, made his visit in late November to assess the social and economic progress in Venezuela. He said he met with 16 government ministers, opposition groups, and “victims of repression,” and reported that the government did not give him any problems.

This was the first visit by a UN rights expert to Venezuela since 1996. De Zayas remarked, “I have succeeded in opening the door. After 21 years, Venezuela has accepted a UN expert to spend eight days there.”

During his visit, he pleaded with the government to release more than 20 people in custody. In addition, he gave a total of six pages of recommendations. Venezuela has already met one recommendation by agreeing to cooperate with some unspecified UN agencies.

While the country is being accused of undermining democracy, it also struggles with inflation and shortages of food and medicine. Its economy has taken severe hits since the decline in global oil prices in 2014. Contrary to most media reporting, De Zayas assured that there is no humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. He said he agrees with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN and the Economic Commission for Latin America who deny the humanitarian crisis.

However, he conceded that there are some shortages and delays in distribution. He has called on the international community to be aware of the monopolies, smuggling, and corruption that has emerged under the US-led economic and financial war. The conflict has resulted in pressures and sanctions. Last year, over 750 opposition-controlled offshore companies were accused of purposefully redirecting Venezuelan imports of raw food materials from the government to the private sector. On top of that, international sanctions have blocked millions of tons of food and other supplies from reaching the Venezuelan people.

De Zayas also remarked that the opposition and private media label the situation in Venezuela as a humanitarian crisis in an effort to promote international intervention. Opposition leaders made “the opening of a humanitarian channel” one of its chief demands in negotiations with the national government. He called the mainstream media coverage of the country “theatrical, hyperbole, and an exaggeration,” and said it does not help to resolve any problems. However, he said international solidarity is necessary to help them overcome the current crisis.

The UN expert will create recommendations to address Venezuela’s crisis and present them to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2018. He is now on his way to Ecuador for a similar investigative visit.

Finally, De Zayas has faced some criticism from advocacy groups. The UN Watch, among others,  alleged he was carrying out a “fake” investigation during his trip.

For more information, please see:

Washington Post – In rare visit, UN expert pleads with Venezuela – 12 December 2017

Chron – In rare visit, UN expert talks with Venezuela – 12 December 2017

Prensa Latina – UN Expert Notifies Social Progress in Venezuela and Ecuador – 12 December 2017

Venezuela Analysis – UN Expert: No Humanitarian Crisis in Venezuela – 6 December 2017

Telesur – No Humanitarian Crisis in Venezuela, says UN Expert, Condemning International Sanctions – 5 December 2017