Pope Francis Apologizes for ‘Grave Errors’ Made in Chile Sex Abuse Case

By: Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

VATICAN CITY – After admitting “grave errors” in judgment concerning Chile’s sex abuse scandal, Pope Francis has invited three survivors to meet with him at the end of April.

Pope Francis Arrives in St. Peter’s Square on April 11th. Photo courtesy of Andrew Medichini.

The invitation comes after public outcry following the Pope’s visit to Chile in January and his defense of Bishop Juan Barros following accusations that Barros ignored sexual abuses committed by Rev. Fernando Karadima.

Sixty-four victims testified that Bishop Juan Barros had witnessed and ignored abuses suffered at the hands of Karadima.

During his visit to Chile in January, Francis accused Karadima’s victims of trying to assassinate Barros’ character.

After public outcry, Francis ordered Archbishop Charles Scicluna to investigate the scandal.

For decades, the Catholic church has been rocked by scandals involving thousands of priests accused of abusing countless more children.

In a letter to the public, Pope Francis apologized for his “grave errors in judgment” and blamed a lack of “truthful and balanced information” for his initial misgivings. He thanked the sixty-four individuals who testified against Barros and praised their courage to come forward and bare the “wounds of their souls.”

Juan Carlos Cruz, one of the survivors invited to the Vatican to meet with the Pope, hopes that the meetings will bring attention to survivors of sex abuse in the church worldwide.

Barros’ three main accusers plan to continue their fight “until zero tolerance about abuse and cover-up in the church becomes a reality,” they said in a statement.

“It’s about the thousands of survivors who have gone through horrible things, who have been disrespected, discredited. That culture has to change,” said Cruz. “It has to be about every survivor. I hope that this is a sign that this will not be the norm.”

A research organization called BishopAccountability, which tracks clergy abuses around the world, called Francis’ actions “long overdue but welcome.” Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of the organization, says that the decades-long pattern of abuses can only be thwarted by major systemic reform.

In his letter, Francis called for an emergency meeting with Chile’s bishops to discuss the scandal.

“From now on I ask forgiveness of all those I offended and I hope to be able to do it personally in the coming weeks,”Francis said.

For more information, please see:

CNN – Three Church sex Abuse Survivors to Meet With Pope – 13 April 2018

Huffington Post – Abuse Survivors Demand Concrete Action After Pope Admits his ‘Serious Errors’ – 13 April 2018

U.S. News and World Report – Chile Victims Meet Pope April 28-29 at Vatican – 13 April 2018

The Washington Post – Pope Admits he Made ‘Grave Errors’ in Chile sex Abuse Case – 11 April 2018

Two Women Stole More Than $800k From Elderly Woman

By: Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

CONNECTICUT, U.S.A. – Two women from Terryville Connecticut have been arrested for stealing from an elderly woman who passed away April 5, 2018. 71-year-old Sandra Pelkey and 60-year-old Mary Jeannie Benedetto have been stealing from the victim for over 10 years totaling more than $800,000 USD.

Pelkey was the woman’s caregiver and Benedetto was hired to do the interior design of the victims home. They were described as a mother daughter duo in one article and a pair of sisters in another. But the pair raised eyebrows of a banker and the victims Merrill Lynch wealth management advisor. The victim no longer wished to discuss finances with her wealth management advisor. The bank and the Merrill Lynch employee noticed that some checks were being written for large amounts to the two women and notified police.

Sandra Pelkey and Mary Jeannie Benedetto were arrested for stealing more than $800,000 from an elderly woman. Photo Courtesy of New Haven Police Department.

Police visited the home and the door was answered by the victim who was very confused. She indicated to them that Pelkey was her caregiver and Benedetto was hired to redo the inside of her home. Questions also came about over the purchase of a BMW because the victim no longer drives. The victim was under the impression that the car was just waiting to be delivered but it had been sold by Pelkey and Benedetto.

It was discovered that a hand written power of attorney was used to buy and sell the car. The victims daughter stated that the signature was in fact her mothers, but that the rest of the document was not in her handwriting. The victim has an alcohol abuse problem and her daughter believes that she was being encouraged to drink by the two women who used this to their advantage.

The police investigated the situation for nine months before any arrests were made. They discovered the abuse had been going on for ten years. However, they could only charge the pair with what had happened within the last five years because of the statute of limitations. Additionally, the police believe they discovered a second victim in New Haven and alerted the local police.

“Such victims lose faith in the world and the system that was supposed to protect them, for even if the perpetrators are caught and ordered to pay restitution, many offenders use any means necessary to avoid paying, often liquidating their assets and hiding them out of reach or declaring bankruptcy,” said Officer Hartman who worked on the case.

Benedetto and Pelkey are due back in court on May 4.

For more information, please see:

NBC Connecticut – Women Stole $800,000 from Elderly New Haven Woman: Police – 10 April 2018

New Haven Patch – $800,000 Stolen From Elderly Victim Over 10 Years: Ne Haven PD – 10 April 2018

WFSB – New Haven Elderly Woman Scammed of Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars – 10 April 2018

CT Post – Police: Women Stole More Than $800k From Elderly Woman – 19 March 2018

Former Brazilian leader in police custody

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CURITIBA, Brazil – Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva surrendered himself to police after a day-long standoff. The politician has begun his twelve-year prison term for money laundering and corruption.

Demonstrators protest outside of the Federal Police Department in Curitiba, Brazil. Image Courtesy of Denis Ferreira.

Lula was taken into custody on Saturday in Sao Paulo and was flown to the southern city of Curitiba. Just hours earlier, he told thousands of supporters that he would surrender to police while still maintaining his innocence. Lula argues that his corruption conviction is just a way to keep him from running for re-election in October.

Judge Sergio Moro ordered the arrest warrant for Lula, giving him until 5 p.m. Friday to present himself to police. Instead, Lula chose to hunker down in the metal workers union headquarters where his rise to power began. The once very popular leader still has a large support base who gathered at the headquarters to keep him from going to jail.

When he first tried to leave, dozens of people blocked the gate where his car was trying to exit. His supporters had a few minutes of tense words with the guards until Lula got out of the car and went back into the building. He emerged a second time later that night surrounded by bodyguards who kept supporters away. He reported to police and was transported by helicopter to his cell in Curitiba.

Currently, Lula is appealing his conviction for corruption. The Supreme Federal Tribunal, the country’s top court, decided in a six to five vote that Lula could not remain free while appealing his conviction. However, it would only take one justice to change his mind for Lula to be released while pursuing his appeals. These could take months if not years. Additionally, Lula is facing six separate pending trials for corruption.

Polls conducted before he was jailed report that Lula was the frontrunner for the October presidential election. He claims that he is a political prisoner of the opposition party. Lula said, “The police and ‘Car Wash’ investigators lied. The prosecution lied, and I don’t forgive them for giving society the idea that I am a thief.”

Supporters have staged a “Free Lula” camp outside of the federal building where he is being held. They say they will not budge until he is released. Police estimated about 700 people camping around the building with more expected to arrive. The leader of the Workers’ Party, Gleisi Hoffmann, said Lula is a political prisoner and the party will not give up the fight to have him released.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Brazil ex-leader Lula’s supporters camp outside jail – 9 April 2018

Irish Times – Former Brazilian president Lula hands himself over to police – 8 April 2018

Washington Post – Still popular, Brazil’s Lula starts serving jail sentence – 8 April 2018

Chicago Tribune – Once wildly popular, Brazil’s da Silva is jailed to start 12-year sentence for graft – 7 April 2018

Times Union – Former leader of Brazil in police custody – 7 April 2018

Viktor Orban: ‘Significant Changes’ can be Expected in Hungary

By: Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

BUDAPEST, Hungary – Viktor Orban has just won re-election in Hungary, and wants the nation to know that “significant changes and modifications can be expected.”

Viktor Orban addressing a crowd in Budapest. Photo courtesy of Tamas Kovacs.

Orban’s party now has a supermajority of seats in Hungary’s parliament, having won 134 of the 199 seats in the national assembly.

Orban led his campaign on an anti-immigration platform. As the incumbent Prime Minister, Orban has employed various tactics in order to gain public support.

His influence has even found its way into school textbooks. One book espouses Orban’s belief that refugees pose a threat to Hungary, stating that “it can be problematic for different cultures to coexist.”

Orban’s tactics have been a point of contention in the European Union. As part of his campaign for re-election, he pledged to tighten Hungary’s borders and prevent migrants from getting into the country.

Orban believes that the European Union, the United Nations, and philanthropist George Soros intend to turn Hungary into an “immigrant country.”

As part of his efforts to prevent migrants from coming into the country, Orban supports the “Stop Soros” bill that would prevent civic workers in their efforts to assist and support asylum seekers. If the bill is passed, civic groups would be forced to obtain government permits. In addition, they would not be able to operate within five miles of Hungary’s borders, which is typically where migrants file claims seeking admission into the country.

Orban is outspoken in his belief that Hungary’s borders should not be opened to migrants. He once said to a Hungarian television station: “We will never allow Hungary to become a target country for immigrants. We do not want to see significantly sized minorities with different cultural characteristics and backgrounds among us. We want to keep Hungary as Hungary.”

Between 2015 and 2016, a wave of over one million migrants arrived in Europe. During that time, the European Commission proposed compulsory quotas be enacted to distribute the asylum-seekers to European Union member nations. Orban vehemently opposed the proposal, and in June of 2015 erected a barrier fence along the southern border of Hungary.

During his campaign, Orban refused to speak to opponents or the media, instead choosing to limit his appearances to rallies for is supporters.

Opponents of Orban believe that he is weakening the democratic system and attempting to concentrate too much power in too few hands. He has responded to these observations with assurances that “Hungary continues to stand on constitutional foundations. Within those, we will do everything that serves the interests of the Hungarian people.”

For more information, please see:

BBC News – The man who Thinks Europe has Been Invaded –  6 April 2018

BBC News – Viktor Orban Victory in Hungary: German Minister Warns EU – 9 April 2018

The New York Times – How Viktor Orban Bends Hungarian Society to His Will – 27 March 2018

Time – Hungary’s Far Right Leader Is Going Nowhere—and Europe Should Be Worried – 11 April 2018

The Washington Post – Hungary’s Viktor Orban to Make ‘Significant Changes’ in Govt – 10 April 2018

Trial for Domestic Terrorists Continues in Kansas

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WICHITA, Kansas — On Monday, March 19, the trial began for the three Kansas militia members who attempted to bomb an apartment complex that houses Somali refugees.

The defendants are alleged to have targeted the Garden City Apartments on Mary Street due to its high concentration of Muslim families. Photo Courtesy of Benjamin Rasmussen, NY Mag. 

Patrick Stein, Gavin Wright, and Curtis Allen—the ‘Crusaders’—each face charges of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and conspiracy against civil rights for allegedly planning to detonate truck bombs in an apartment complex of Garden City, a small rural town in southwest Kansas, the day after the November 2016 Presidential election.  The ‘Crusaders’ are a splinter group of the militia Kansas Security Force with violent anti-government and anti-Muslim views.

In 2014, the International Rescue Committee opened an office in Garden City, Kansas, to resettle refugees from war-ravaged countries like Somalia, many of whom are Muslim, and many of whom found jobs within the local meatpacking industry.  Witnesses testified that the Pulse Nightclub massacre on June 12, 2016, was the catalyst that shifted the Crusaders’ attitudes from ugly bigotry and complaints of “they’re taking our jobs,” to actual violent ideation and attempts at recruitment of other like-minded individuals.

Curtis Allen, who was in charge of writing the group’s manifesto to frame the terror attacks as a patriotic defense of the US Constitution against Muslim immigrants, also had prior convictions for domestic battery.  On October 11, Allen’s girlfriend called 911 to report he had beaten her, and the arresting agents found him illegally possessing two dozen firearms and thousands of rounds of ammunition in his home.

Patrick Stein sought material support from an undercover FBI agent to acquire materials to make explosives.  He was arrested shortly afterwards by the FBI on October 14, 2016, after delivering to them 300 pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer—which is the same raw material that was used by Timothy McVey in the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. He regularly referred to Muslims as “cockroaches,” and had nicknamed himself “Orkin-man” in reference to the extermination company.

The alleged plan was to detonate truck bombs around the apartment complex and shoot the survivors afterward in an attempt to do the maximum amount of damage.

The three men were indicted in October 2016 and pled not guilty to the charges.

During the jury selection process, the defense team argued that the pool of jurors for the case was drawn from more urban areas close to the federal courthouse in Wichita, and that this selection would exclude rural and conservative jurors.  The presiding judge informed the defense attorneys that the surrounding area included rural jurors as well.  One of the defense attorneys told the judge that the difference in belief systems between rural jurors around Wichita is substantially different from that of the population of rural southwest Kansas.  The prosecution cited case law that finds groups of prospective jurors are not considered distinctive groups by geographic location.

The theme of the defense team’s argument has been that defendants were swayed to action by fake news on Facebook and undercover FBI involvement.  The defense team has also sought to suppress evidence of 28,000 pages of defendants’ Facebook material, including anti-Muslim posts, pro-Trump memes, and fake news stories.

According to the Huffington Post, one of the defense attorneys cross-examined an FBI agent and asked why the FBI did not inform local police about the possible attack so that the police could have warned the defendants against the attack.  “Hey knucklehead,” the attorney suggested the police say. “We know what you’re talking about. Knock it off.”

On redirect, the prosecution asked the FBI agent if it was standard procedure to respond for law enforcement officers to a plot to bomb buildings and commit mass murder by calling the suspect a “Knucklehead” and asking them to “Knock it off.”  The agent said it was not.

For more information, please see:

Huffington Post – White Militiamen Charged In Plot To Massacre Muslims Argue They’re Just ‘Knuckleheads’ – 11 April 2018

KWCH – Defense begins questioning, manifest read in Garden City bomb plot trial – 11 April 2018

The Philadelphia Tribune – Jury selection starts in bombing plot aimed at Somalis – 23 March

The Washington Post – Trial opens for Kansas men accused of plotting to bomb Muslims – 22 March 2018

Huffington Post – Trump Backers Charged in Anti-Muslim Terror Plot May Argue They’re Just Facebook Warriors – 21 March 2018

KCUR – Trial Starting For Kansas Militiamen Accused of Mosque Bomb Plot In Garden City – 19 March 2018

Chicago Tribune – Attorneys for men in plot to bomb Kansas mosque want Trump voters on jury – 4 January 2018

New York Magazine – The Plot to Bomb Garden City, Kansas – 12 December 2017

Attacks Across Afghanistan Leave Police and Children Dead

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

KABUL, Afghanistan – On April 14 and 15, several attacks occurred across Afghanistan late at night and early in the morning.  It appears that three of the attacks were coordinated, targeting government posts.  Two all-girls schools were also attacked.  No organization has claimed responsibility, but the government suspects the Taliban attacked the government facilities.

Image of burned girls’ school in Logar Province. Photo courtesy of the Afghanistan Ministry of Education.

Two government checkpoints were attacked in the Sancharak District of Sar-i-Pul. This region has a history of bouncing back and forth between Taliban and government control.   Naqibullah Daqiq, the governor, said Taliban forces attacked with night-vision equipment and sniper rifles.  One guard was killed in the initial confrontation.  When local pro-government militiamen arrived, they attempted to engage the attacking forces. Another 10 were killed.

An attack in the Helmand province left 4 young children dead after a rocket hit their home and another child was wounded in a separate attack.

In Faryab province, the district of Dawlat Abad, 2 more government checkpoints were attacked. The police chief, Nematullah Tofan, reported that 4 government defenders were shot in the head by Taliban snipers and consequently died.

An additional two checkpoints in the Jaghatu district of Ghazni Province were attacked early in the morning on April  15.  Eight officers in this encounter died with another 4 wounded.

On Sunday afternoon, a group attacked three university guards in Jalalabad, who were on break for worship. The men rode by on motorcycle and opened fire while the men were praying.  Two died on site.  The third guard ran but was killed shortly as the gunmen followed him.

Earlier in the week on April 11, a group attacked a girls’ high school in Logar Province.  They attacked and locked up the guardsmen and proceeded to burn down the school.

For more information, please see:

The Washington Post – Officials: 4 kids, 2 police killed in Afghan attacks – 14 April 2018

The New York Times – Attacks in Afghanistan Leave Dozens Dead and 2 Schools Burned – 15 April 2018

Voice of America – Insurgents Attack Checkpoint in Afghanistan, Kill 4 Police – 15 April 2018

Brazilian state seeks to close border with Venezuela

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

RORAIMA, Brazil – The governor of Brazil’ northern state of Roraima asked the Supreme Court for permission to temporarily close the only land border crossing with neighboring Venezuela. This move would halt the massive influx of Venezuelan migrants.

Venezuelan families sleeping in Simon Bolivar public square in Boa Vista’s city center. Image Courtesy of Reynesson Damasceno.

Roraima Governor Suely Campos petitioned the high court to order the federal government to increase assistance in her state to deal with the humanitarian crisis. She also requested that the border be closed until the government implements orderly immigration procedures. Campos explained that she had to go to the top court because the federal government had not responded to her state’s requests.

Campos justifies her request by pointing out that the Venezuelan economic crisis causes more than 500 immigrants to cross the open border every day. She says the process is disorderly and most are allowed to enter with no visa, just by showing a Venezuelan document. This has overloaded health, housing, and education services. It is bringing threat of disease and social disorder. Many of these immigrants walked hundreds of kilometers to reach the state capital, Boa Vista, and end up sleeping in the streets.

Campos says, “we have to require more documents, vaccination cards, criminal background checks, the inspection of cars. There has to be a way to contain this influx.” She later told Brazilian media that Brazil’s President Michel Temer has been ineffective in helping her state contain the crisis.

President Temer, attending the Summit of the Americas in Lima, stated that closing the border was “unthinkable.” He said his government was delivering assistance requested by Roraima, and he hoped the Supreme Court would deny the governor’s request to shut the border. The president remarked, “I have just read the petition and I noticed that many of the measures requested are already being taken, such as the shipment of resources and personnel who are going there to provide social assistance and medical care.”

In February, the federal government declared an emergency to boost funding for Roraima and doubled the number of troops at the border. The government also started using Air Force planes to move refugees to larger Brazilian cities. Additionally, closing the border would violate international treaties. President Temer said, “closing borders is not a habit of Brazil. Brazil would not close borders, and I hope that is the understanding of the Supreme Court.”

Since last year, more than 50,000 Venezuelan refugees have fled Venezuela and crossed into Roraima. This influx was approximately equal to ten percent of the state’s population of 520,000 people.

For more information, please see:

Xinhua Net – Brazilian president says closing border with Venezuela “unthinkable” – 14 April 2018

The Santiago Times – Brazilian state asks Supreme Tribunal to temporarily close Venezuela border – 14 April 2018

Business Insider – Brazil state seeks to shut Venezuelan border to stop refugee flow – 13 April 2018

National Post – Brazilian governor wants to close border with Venezuela – 13 April 2018

Thousands Again Protest ‘Stop Abortion’ Bill in Poland

By: Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

WARSAW, Poland – On March 23rd, thousands of protesters across the Poland marched in response to plans to fortify country’s already strict abortion laws.

Demonstrators in Warsaw Protest New ‘Stop Abortion’ Legislation. Photo courtesy of Marcin Obara.

A new bill in parliament intends to ban abortions that are performed as a result of fetal abnormalities, one of the few instances in which an abortion is currently allowed in the country.

The “Black Friday” protests were conducted across the country as a result of the proposal.

Abortion is currently banned for the most part in Poland. Currently, abortions are allowed in cases of rape, incest, when there is serious threat to the mother’s health or if the fetus has been found to have severe, irreversible damage.

However, illegal abortions are rampant in Poland. For every 1,000 to 2,000 legal abortions there are an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 illegal ones.

A letter from over 200 groups stressed that “This bill would further hinder women, particularly those from low-income and rural communities, from accessing safe abortion care….and place women’s health and lives at risk and violate Poland’s international human rights obligations.”

Europe’s human rights watchdog, The Council of Europe, is urging lawmakers to reject the bill, stressing that violates Poland’s human rights commitments.

Proponents of the bill say that 96% of abortions performed in 2016 were on fetuses diagnosed with Down Syndrome.

Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda, supports the bill and has promised to sign it if it is approved by parliament.

A bill drafted in 2016 proposed to ban all abortions, even those where it was essentially guaranteed that the fetus would die.  The bill also would have limited access to prenatal care as well as contraception. This proposal was rejected after it initiated nationwide demonstrations, with more than 150,000 Polish citizens mobilizing across the country to oppose it.

The same women’s groups that protested in 2016 came back out in force to oppose the latest legislation which is entitled “Stop Abortion.”

Droves of people took to the streets with signs reading “Girl Power” and “My body, my choice.”

Critics of the bill fear that if already strict abortion laws are made even more stringent, women will travel to other countries to obtain abortions or resort to unsafe methods, putting their lives at risk.

Draginja Nadazdin, director or Amnesty International, spoke on the matter, saying “Women in Poland are strong and determined and we will defeat this threat. But we should not have to fight our own members of parliament to get our basic rights.”

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Poland Abortion: Protests Against Bill Imposing new Limits – 26 March 2018

CNN – Poles March Against Abortion ban, Again. – 23 March 2018

Newsweek – Black Friday Protests Against ‘Stop Abortion’ Bill Planned in Poland – 23 March 2018

New York Times – Polish Women Protest Proposed Abortion Ban (Again) – 23 March 2018

Protests in Southern Kashmir

By: Katherine Hewitt
News Reporter, Asia

KASHMIR, India – In Southern Kashmir, conflict between soldiers and rebels left 19 dead over March 31st and April 1st.

Funeral prayers being said over one of the dead from clash in southern Kashmir. Photo Courtesy of Mukhtar Khan.

The government raided three villages, Dialgam, Dragad, Kachdora in the Shopian district, in response to a tip-off that rebels were present.   They were members of the largest rebel party in Kashmir – Hizbul Mujahideen. During the ensuing gun battle, 13 rebels were killed.  Among them were top commanders. Three soldiers were also killed.

Villagers marched in the direction of the conflict to help the rebels get away in the confusion.  Indian soldiers fired live ammunition into the crowds.  As one villager Manzoor Ahmad noted: “The forces fired live ammunition at the civilians. Several young people received pellet injuries in their eyes; two people received bullets in front of my eyes.”  In the end 4 civilians lost their lives and more than 25 were wounded.  Homes were also damaged in the conflict.  It was reported that the Indian forces attached civilian homes with explosives.

On April 1, many villagers took to the streets protesting the previous day and nights events.  They chanted anti-India slogans and demanded the end of Indian rule.

As a result, the government has restricted mobile internet access in the region and cut off train routes.  Additionally, paramilitary troopers were rushed into volatile parts of Kashmir to guard the streets and prevent future protests.  Some areas are now under curfew as well.

The separatist leaders in response to the killings called for a citywide shutdown.  Many business have also participated in the shutdown.

For more information please visit: 

AlJazeera – Massive anti-India protests erupt in southern Kashmir –  1 April 2018 

Washington Post – Anti-India protests erupt in Kashmir amid deadly fighting – 1 April 2018 

Chicago Daily Herald  –  Anti-India protests erupt in Kashmir as troops kill 8 rebels – 1 April , 2018

Complaint Expected Regarding YouTube Collecting Data From Children

By: Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

SAN BRUNO, California – A complaint is expected in federal court on Monday, April 9th, claiming YouTube has been violating a children’s privacy law. More than 20 consumer advocacy groups are expected to come together and file the complaint. The advocacy groups claim that YouTube has been both collecting and profiting from collecting the personal information of children on its main site. YouTube, a subsidiary of Google, says their platform is only meant for those 13 years of age and older.

The advocacy groups contend that YouTube has been violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. The federal law states that companies are supposed to obtain consent from the parents of children younger than 13 before they collect their data. The law is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission and the advocacy groups are asking that the FTC starts enforcing the law on YouTube.

Over 20 advocacy groups are expected to bring a complaint against YouTube for allegedly violating the Children’s Privacy Protection Act. Photo courtesy of Artur Debat/Getty Images.

“Google has been continually growing its child-directed service in the United States and all over the world without any kind of acknowledgment of this law and its responsibilities. It’s living in a world of online fiction and denied that it’s serving children,” said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy.

YouTube defines itself as for viewers of 13 years of age or older and directs those younger than that to YouTube Kids. YouTube Kids has filtered versions of the videos and content that can be found on YouTube. The distinction YouTube gives between its’ main site and YouTube Kids is important in terms of the law. The reason for this is the rules on disclosure and parental consent that kick in for sites with supposed “actual knowledge” that they are dealing in the personal information of children under the age of 13.

The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act was passed in 1998 and updated in 2012.  It was updated to accommodate for the development of mobile devices. The update made it clear that companies were still to obtain parental permission before collecting the personal information of children. Some of this information includes identity, contact and location.

But YouTube’s terms of service state that if you are visiting the site, you are affirming that you are at least 13 years of age. By watching a video on YouTube, the policy says, viewers give parent company, Google, permission to collect the data tied to the user’s device, location, browsing habits, phone number and more. The advocacy groups say that this is the kind of information the Act requires parental consent for.

YouTube provided a statement that said they had not yet received the complaint but protecting kids and families has always been a top priority for us.”

For more information, please see:

CBS – YouTube Violates Children’s Privacy, Consumer Groups Claim – 9 April 2018

New York Times – YouTube is Improperly Collecting Children’s Data, Consumer Group Says – 9 April 2018

Verge – Consumer Advocacy Groups Complain That YouTube is Collecting Information From Children – 9 April 2018

Former Opposition Party Leader Calls for Election Boycotts in Cambodia

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – In November of 2017, the Supreme Court of Cambodia dissolved the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), the main opposition party to Prime Minister’s Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).  Now, the former leader of the CNRP is asking people to boycott the upcoming elections in protest of the party’s ban.  The current leader of the CNRP, Kem Sokha, was arrested in late 2017 on charges of treason.

Former CNRP leader, Sam Rainsy (front left) with Kem Sokha, the current leader who is in jail facing charges of treason. Photo courtesy of Tang Chhin Sothy.

Following the ban on the CNRP several countries have cut aid, imposed travel bans, and condemn the actions.  Many nations like Japan are demanding free and fair elections in Cambodia.  The CPP is predicted to win the next election almost completely unopposed.

Sam Rainsy, the former CNRP leader, recently tweeted, “I call on all my Cambodian fellow compatriots who believe in democracy to boycott the  July 29, 2018 elections if the CNRP is not allowed to participate.”  Rainsy has been extremely critical of the current Prime Minister, Hun Sen, for several years now; it is not clear whether his tweet reflects his personal beliefs or those of CNRP.

A spokesperson of the CPP said of Rainsy’s tweet, “The CNRP is already dead by the Supreme Court’s decision.  Even if Sam Rainsy appeals until he dies, people no longer believe him.”

Many of the former members of the CNRP and its factions have found exile in the United States.  It is here that they continue to mobilize and speak on Cambodian politics.  One professor of diplomacy says, “Is the spirit of the CNRP still alive? Of course it’s still alive.”  It is just continuing its work elsewhere until its reconstituted.

For more information please visit:

Reuters – Cambodia’s former opposition leader calls for election boycott – 8 April 2018

South China Morning Post – Cambodia’s former opposition leader Sam Rainsy calls for election boycott if his dissolved party remains excluded – 8 April 2018

Voice of America – Cambodia’s Former Opposition Leader Calls for Election Boycott – 8 April 2018

Asia Times – Can Cambodia’s fractured opposition survive? – 5 April 2018 

US Supreme Court Again Decides in Favor of Qualified Immunity for Law Enforcement in Shootings

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON D.C.  — On Monday, April 2, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a 7-2 decision to grant qualified immunity from prosecution to a police officer, Andrew Kisela, who shot a woman, Amy Hughes, for holding a kitchen knife outside her home.

Officers are entitled to qualified immunity as long as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known. Photo Courtesy of J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press.

In May 2010, Kisela and his partner responded to a 911 call reporting a woman acting erratically and hacking a tree with a kitchen knife.  They were joined by another police officer and saw Hughes—carrying a large kitchen knife—and her roommate, Sharon Chadwick, exiting their house.  The three officers drew their weapons and ordered Hughes to drop the knife.  When Hughes did not acknowledge the officers’ presence, Kisela shot Hughes four times.  The entire encounter occurred in less than a minute.

While the three officers later testified that they believed Hughes to be a threat to her roommate, Chadwick said that Hughes was speaking to her calmly from six feet away and that Chadwick at no time felt threatened by Hughes.  Kisela was the only officer to shoot at Hughes, and he did so without warning.

Hughes sued Kisela in a §1983 claim for $150,000 in damages, alleging that his use of deadly force was a violation of her Fourth Amendment rights.  Initially, a federal judge had granted summary judgment in favor of Kisela, but that ruling was reversed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Supreme Court’s per curiam decision overturned the Ninth Circuit’s ruling in favor of Hughes without full briefings or oral arguments.  Justice Sotomayor wrote a dissenting opinion and was joined by Justice Ginsberg.

Qualified immunity protects ‘all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.’ To challenge qualified immunity, courts must determine through precedent (1) if the official’s conduct counts as a violation of the plaintiff’s rights; and (2) if the plaintiff’s rights were clearly established.  The Supreme Court determined that Kisela’s conduct, by shooting Hughes four times as she stood still in front of her house, did not violate any of Hughes’ established rights.

In her dissent, Justice Sotomayor wrote that the Supreme Court’s “one-sided approach to qualified immunity transforms the doctrine into an absolute shield for law enforcement officers, gutting the deterrent effect of the Fourth Amendment,” and that “it tells officers that they can shoot first and think later, and it tells the public that palpably unreasonable conduct will go unpunished.”

The Washington Post noted that the Supreme Court has developed a trend of siding in favor of law enforcement officers by reversing lower courts that deny qualified immunity to police.  Police officials applaud the Supreme Court’s broad approach, which they say give officers the benefit of the doubt and protect them from “frivolous lawsuits.”  Critics such as the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute believe this approach virtually absolves law enforcement from accountability for their misconduct.

The majority’s decision comes 15 days after police officers killed Stephon Clark while he was standing in his grandmother’s backyard in Sacramento, California.  It comes 3 days after the Louisiana Attorney General declined to file charges against the two Baton Rouge police officers that shot Alton Sterling at point-blank range outside of a convenience store while they had him pinned to the ground.  As of April 1, there have been 325 reports of people killed by police in the United States since January 1, 2018.

For more information, please see:

NPR – Police Shootings Stir Outrage Among Some, But Not The Supreme Court – 3 April 2018

The Washington Post – Ariz. woman survives police shooting, but Supreme Court says the officer is immune from her lawsuit – 3 April 2018

The Hill – Supreme Court rules police officer cannot be sued for shooting Arizona woman in her front yard – 2 April 2018

The New York Times – Supreme Court Rules for Police Officer in Excessive Force Case – 2 April 2018

SCOTUS Blog – Kisela v. Hughes – 2 April 2018

Slate – The Conservatives vs. Sonia Sotomayor – 2 April 2018

The Washington Post – What is “qualified immunity,” and how does it work? – 14 July 2015

Woman’s Rape Kit Has Finally Been Tested – 10 Years Later

By: Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

NEW YORK, USA – Natasha Alexenko was 20 years old on August 6, 1993 when a man held a gun to her back. She had been trying to get her keys out when she felt the gun against her back. She heard that man say “If you don’t do everything I say I’ll blow your brains out.” The man brought Alexenko into the stairwell of her building where he sexually assaulted her at gun point. Alexenko went to the hospital that night for a rape kit. But it was not until 10 years later that she finally got the call from the New York County’s District Attorney’s office informing her that the rap kit had finally been tested.

“I was like, ‘This is great, it’s moving forward — I can’t believe it after all these years,’” says Alexenko. “It wasn’t until later that I thought, ‘Holy mackerel! Why on Earth did this take so long?’” Alexenko was unsure why it took so long to be tested. “It just doesn’t make sense,” Alexenko said.  “Why would you put someone through this very invasive, whole-body exam, which is traumatizing in itself, take their rape kit and just let it sit there?”

Natasha Alexenko founded Natasha’s Justice Program to help fight againSt the backlog of rape kits across the United States. Photo Courtesy of Len Marks.

After her rape, Alexenko moved back home to Ontario. In Canada she had the support of her mother and close friends. But she ended up drinking heavily to try to get through the pain. “I just felt so much grief,” says Alexenko. She felt this way because she was not able to explain her assailants face to the police. “I blamed myself for not being able to help catch this man who was still out there, probably hurting other people.”

Four years after she received the call from the DA’s office, Alexenko’s assailant was caught. Victor Rondon was arrested in Las Vegas for jaywalking and then extradited to New York after he was finger printed by police. A year later, he was found guilty of eight counts of violent assault. He was also found guilty of burglary, robbery, two counts of rape, sodomy and sexual abuse. He was sentenced to 44 to 107 years in prison.

“I was just grateful that he was put behind bars,” said Alexenko, who fainted when she saw him at his trial. “My body just shut down. It wasn’t just that I was remembering stuff; it was like I was there.” In 2011, Alexenko founded Natasha’s Justice Program. The goal of the nonprofit is to get rid of the backlog of rape kits in the United States.

Alexenko’s story is not unique. In fact, her rape kit had been one of 17,000 unprocessed rape kits held in a storage facility in New York. Fortunately, New York City has since eliminated that backlog. Around the United States, there were 70,000 unprocessed rape kits in 2015. There are estimates that put that number in the hundreds of thousands.

According to Alexenko, people have started taking sexual assault and the backlog of rape kits much more seriously. The US Department of Justice announced it would be dedicating $41 million in federal grant money to test the 70,000 known unprocessed rape kits nationwide in 2015. So far, many communities have taken advantage of it.

“There’s been such a shift — and I think it’s because there have been so many survivors who have come forward,” says Alexenko. “There are so many amazing people who are fighting so hard.”

For more information, please see:

New York Post – I was Raped in 1993 – And No One Tested My Rape Kit for 10 Years – 4 April 2018

USA Today – Tens of Thousands of Rape Kits Go Untested Across USA – 16 July 2015

New York Post – DA Hailed After Pledging $35M to Eliminate Rape Kit Backlogs – 12 November 2014

Detained Journalists’ Lawyers Argue for Case Dismissal

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

YANGON, Myanmar – Court hearings have been taking place since January for two Reuters journalists that were arrested on December  12, 2017.  Myanmar officials arrested Wa Lone and Kyaw She Oo for obtaining state secrets from two police officers working in the Rakhine state.  The journalists had been working on a story in relation to the mass killings of Rohingya in the Rakhine state.

Wa Lone pictured after April 4, 2018’s case hearing. Photo Courtesy of Reuter/ Ann Wang.

So far, 17 witnesses gave testimony in court in 13 hearings that have taken place.  Lone’s and Oo’s lawyers say that the witnesses called forth by the prosecution are weak.  There are inconsistencies in the testimonies. Additionally, several procedural mistakes were revealed during the court sessions. Testimonies included a witness who burned notes from the time of the arrest, another who wrote the information down on his hand, and one who signed the search form before the section detailing the items seized had been filled in. The defense attorney has called for the dismissal of the case based on this.  The judge will decide at the next hearing on 11 April.

The prosecution team responded to the request to dismiss the case by stating that the information that the two journalist had was secret and that the journalist intended to hurt the country with that information. The defense team presented that that the prosecution could not establish that the information that the journalist obtained was secret as it had been published by both state and private media outlets.

Wa Lone told journalist after the court hearing, “We only did our work as reporters. I want the people to understand that and want to tell them that I never betrayed the country.”  She Oo said, “We followed the news and uncovered the Inn Din story. The reason why we did it is to give the vitally important information to the country.”

For more information please visit:

Reuters – lawyers for Reuters reporters argue for Myanmar court to dismiss case –  4 April 2018

Democratic Voice of Burma – Court hears arguments on motion to dismiss charges against Reuters duo – 4 April 2018

Washington Post -Lawyers ask Myanmar to dismiss case vs. Reuters journalists – 4 April 2018

Following Public Outcry, France Sets Legal Age of Consent

By: Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

PARIS, France – Lawmakers in France are in the process of formalizing the age of sexual consent after public outcry over two cases involving preteens.

Demonstrators Gather to Protect Sexual Abuse and Harassment in France. Photo Courtesy of Claude Paris.

France’s government has proposed new laws, one of which makes the age of sexual consent fifteen years. The legislation will be one of several measures taken by the government to combat sexual harassment and violence in the country.

The current law in France criminalizes sex with children under fifteen. However, prosecutors in those cases must prove that the sex was by force.

New measures also include increased prison sentences for perpetrators. There will  be on-the-spot street fines issued for sexual harassment. Repeat offenders will face increasing fines.

The bill will also present sanctions for online harassment.

Additionally, underage rape victims will be able to report sexual violence until they are 48 years old, ten years longer than the current limit.

Prison sentences for rape involving penetration will  increase from the current sentence of five years to ten years.

The push for new laws has gained momentum recently in France due to two high-profile cases involving eleven-year-old girls. The perpetrators in those cases, who were 28 and 30, were acquitted, causing an uproar in France and prompted the government to discuss tightening laws aimed toward combating sexual violence.

Marlene Schiappa, French Equality Minister, said that “we want to fix an age in the law below which it’s always forbidden to have sex with children, with young girls. Below which it’s always considered as a rape.”

President Macron supports the bills and hopes that the new laws ensure that “women are not afraid to be outside.”

In polls conducted in the country, ninety-two percent surveyed support extension of the statute of limitations, ninety percent support on-the-spot street fines and sixty-nine percent support setting the age of consent at fifteen years of age.

It is crucial that the laws of the republic make it clear that it is not allowed to harass or intimidate women…whether in the public space, on public transport or online” Schiappa said. “There can be no lawless zones.”

Age of consent laws vary internationally. Neighboring European countries such as the United Kingdom, Spain and Russia set the age of consent at 16, whereas in Germany, Italy and Hungary it is 14.

Fore more information, please see:

BBC News – France to set Legal age of Sexual Consent at 15 – 6 March 2018

CNN – France to set age of Sexual Consent at 15 After Rape Outcry – 6 March 2018

Newsweek – France to set age of Sexual Consent at 15, Paving way for Rape Charges – 6 March 2018

NPR – France Moves to Make 15 Legal age of Consent for sex – 6 March 2018

USA Today – French Bull Puts 15 as age of Consent for sex, Includes on-the-spot Fines for Harassment – 21 March 2018