Handicapped Parking Abuse Causes Problems for Those Who Need It

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

Almost all parking lots in the United States have handicapped parking spots. These spots are designated for people who have disabilities, whether they are visible or not. However, there are many people who are parking in these spots without needing them. Often times, people use the handicapped placard for someone who is not in the car or they have altered/ forged the handicapped placard.

Officers in Los Angeles are currently on the lookout for vehicles violating these traffic rules and ticketing them. In Los Angeles, police officer have the option of writing a parking ticket or a misdemeanor citations. Officer Yasnyi in particular, chooses to write parking tickets instead of misdemeanor citations because the parking ticket does not appear on the driver’s record. Regardless, the penalty for invalidly parking in handicapped parking is high. Typically, two tickets are written that can be about $363 a piece. One ticket is given for invalid use of a handicapped placard and another is for illegally occupying the space.

Officers in L.A. are on the lookout for the misuse of handicapped placards. Photo courtesy of Francine Orr of the L.A. Times.

The Department of Motor Vehicles in Los Angeles also writes citations for misdemeanors. At the L.A. County Fairgrounds in September 2017, the DMV wrote 477 citations for handicapped placard abuse.  The misdemeanor citations can cost the driver anywhere from $250 to $1000. Those that abuse the handicapped parking placard take away spots from those who truly need the handicapped parking spot. Officer Yasnyi says he would estimate that 30% of the time the placard is altered, stolen or issued to someone else (including the dead).

But L.A. is not the only city seeking to bust handicapped parking spot abusers. In Omaha, Nebraska, police are training civilians to be a part of the city’s handicapped enforcement. The civilians have volunteered to help keep enforce the traffic laws. Sgt. Erin Payne with the Omaha Police Department said, “this is really a win-win for us. For our community to be able to give back to our community, and then for them to be able to assist the police.” The volunteers are all certified to cite drivers. The Omaha Police Department said the handicap parking enforcement volunteers issue more than 1,000 citations each year. Like in L.A., the fines are heavy. First time offenders pay a $150 fine, second time offenders pay $300, and third time offenders pay $500 and risk jail time.

However, there are also people who need indeed possess a valid handicapped placard who are accused of abusing them. Lexi Baskin, a student at Kentucky University, is a cancer survivor who currently has to undergo radiation and chemotherapy that leaves her weak, tired and dizzy. She gets her treatments during her lunch break and heads back to school. Her handicap is not necessarily visible at all times, and someone who has been watching her decided to let her know their thoughts on the matter.

These signs were taped onto Lexi Baskin car after she parked in a handicapped spot. Photos courtesy of Lexi Baskin.

This person did not believe that Baskin was sufficiently disabled to deserve the parking spot. The person left signs taped all over Baskin’s car windshield and windows. Some of the signs called her “lazy” and said “shame on you.” One note in particular read, “There are legit handicapped people who need this parking space. We have seen you and your friend come and go and there is nothing handicapped about either of you. Your tag must be borrowed or fake. We will make every effort to see you fined or towed for being such a selfish, terrible person.”

The vandalism is under investigation by University police. Baskin says, “I want to get this out there to make people aware that just because you can’t see something, doesn’t mean people aren’t going through it.” The misuse of handicapped placards creates a multitude of issues including taking handicapped spots from people who do need the spots to those who actually need the spots being accused of being lazy just because their handicapped is not necessarily visible.

For more information, please see:

Blaze – A Cancer Survivor Had Her Car Defaced For Using Disability Parking, But She Responded With Grace – 9 November 2017

KETV Omaha – Omaha Police Seek Volunteers for Handicapped Parking – 8 November 2017

L.A. Times – It takes a special arrogance to steal a parking place from a disabled person. And this cop is out to bust you – 8 November 2017

Transgender Community Hopeful After Passage of New Law in Greece

By: Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

ATHENS, Greece – The Greek parliament has passed a law making it easier for individuals to change their legally recognized genders, a move that has been met with strong support as well as vehement opposition.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras Urges Lawmakers to Support Law. Photo Courtesy of Costas Baltas.

The law passed with 171 votes in favor in the 300-member parliament. It allows Greek citizens over the age of 15 to change the gender listed on identification cards and official documents. This requires a court order but does not require medical tests or surgery. Applicants must not be married and are limited to changing their legal gender twice.

Prior to the law’s enactment, those wishing to change their genders were required to undergo gender reassignment surgery along with a psychiatric assessment. This was criticized by human rights groups and transgender activists as an “outdated and oppressive practice that violates individuals’ bodily integrity.”

In opposition to the law, some churches in the western Greek region rang funeral bells and claimed that “Christian morals have been murdered.”

Some believe that the bill is an attempt to distract the public’s attention away from Greece’s financial problems.

Others believe the minimum age is too young. Kyriakos Mitsotakis, leader of the New Democracy party, said “for us it is inconceivable to bar 15-year olds from consuming alcohol, yet enabling them to take such an important decision.”

Before the vote, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras pleaded with lawmakers to support the law, saying that “we are on the side of those who have no voice, or whose voice is stifled.”

The transgender community sees the law as a positive step towards inclusion and hopes that it will foster greater acceptance in the largely conservative nation. The Transgender Support Association stated that the vote was historic and that it was a “first positive step toward enjoying basic rights and freedoms.”

In response to those opposed to the law, Prime Minister Tsipras said this: “Absolutely no tradition, no perception of family calls for people to be sidelined or tossed aside into a social and institutional abyss.”

Anna Kouroupou, a 24 year old female who underwent gender reassignment surgery at the age of 24, believes that the new law will help improve the daily lives of those who suffer in the transgender community. She believes that the new law will help people find jobs and “therefore they’ll have health care, all those rights that each person has from the minute they’re born.”

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Greek Parliament Approves Law Allowing Legal Gender Change – 10 October 2017

NBC News – Churches Ring Funeral Bells Over New Gender Rights Law – 16 October 2017

The New York Times – Greek Transgender Community Hopes New Law Will Improve Lives – 10 October 2017

Reuters – Greece Passes Sex Change Law Opposed by Orthodox Church – 10 October 2017

The Washington Post – Greek Transgender Community Hopes New Law Will Improve Lives – 10 October 2017

2 Detectives of NYPD Indicted for Rape

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

NEW YORK CITY, New York – On September 15, two New York City detectives stopped a car in Brooklyn under the pretense of searching its occupants for drugs. In particular, the drug at issue was marijuana. The detectives were dressed in plain street clothes and were driving an unmarked vehicle. Inside the car they stopped was an 18-year-old woman and two men.

The detectives searched the vehicle for drugs and asked the woman to lift her skirt “to make sure there is nothing under there.” The woman’s lawyer, Michael David, says “She was petrified, so she showed it. She said, ‘See, I’m not hiding anything.” Immediately after lifting her skirt, the detectives ordered the woman to get out of the car. She was then placed in handcuffs, put in the backseat of the detectives’ car and was told she would be driven to the 60th precinct. The precinct was about a mile and a half from where the woman was pulled over.

According to the woman, the detectives never drove to the precinct. Instead, they drove to a parking lot of a Chipotle that was nearby. It was at that point, the woman said the detectives raped her. She alleges that 45 minutes after, she was shoved out of the detective’s vehicle, not that far from the 60th precinct. The woman called her mother, who took her to Maimonides Medical Center in Borough Park Brooklyn. Her attorney has called the incident a kidnapping. “I don’t think a gang rape has ever been reported in the history of the N.Y.P.D,” Mr. David said.

Two NYPD Detectives have been indicted on the rape of an 18-year-old woman. Photo Courtesy of Spencer Platt. 

The woman has become weary from waiting for weeks for some kind of action by prosecutors. “She was getting more frustrated by the day, this has been going on for six weeks already, and it just seemed she was crying for help,” Mr. David said. He adds that she has been crying and is depressed and that this alleged crime has placed a strain on the relationship she has with her parents.

Both the detectives, Edward Martins and Richard Hall, have been suspended without pay during the investigation. These actions are usually reserved for officers who have been charged with crimes. At this point, both of the officers has been indicted by a grand jury for the alleged rape as well as for bribery. The charge for bribery stems from telling the woman they would let her go if she did what they wanted. The detectives had been stripped of their guns and put on “modified duty” after the allegations emerged.

So far, the Brooklyn district attorney’s office has declined to comment. Mark A. Bederow, the attorney for Detective Martins said, “We are going to vigorously contest these charges in a court of law, rather than the court of public opinion.” “We look forward to defending any charges in a court of law rather than in the court of public opinion,” Bederow, said. The detectives’ supervisor has also been placed on modified duty after the woman’s allegations emerged. The detectives were also demoted to police officers last week.

Hall and Martin are said to be turning themselves in early next week, says sources of New York Daily News. The sources say this surrender is likely part of an agreement between the prosecution and detectives because they are not considered a flight risk.

For more information, please see:

Fox News – 2 NYPD Detectives Suspended Amid Probe of Rape Allegations – 28 October 2017

New York Daily News – Two NYPD Detectives Indicted In Rape of 18-Year-Old Woman They Busted For Pot – 27 October 2017

New York Times – Indictment Issued in Case of 18-Year-Old Who Said 2 Officers Raped Her – 27 October 2017

New York Times – Brooklyn Prosecutors Investigating Rape Charge Against Detectives – 1 October 2017

UK Supreme Court to Rule on Abortion Ban in Northern Ireland

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

LONDON, England – Activists in Northern Ireland are urging lawmakers in the United Kingdom to overturn the current restrictions on abortion in the country.

A Protestor at a Rally in Belfast. Photo Courtesy of Charles McQuillan. 

In June, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Council (NIHRC) was unsuccessful in its efforts to convince judges that the rights of sexual assault victims and women with fatal fetal abnormalities were being violated.

The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom will hear evidence from the United Nations Human Rights Committee beginning on Tuesday, November 7th. The hearing is scheduled to last three days and end with a vote. The Supreme Court in London is the final court of appeal. Ireland will hold a referendum in 2018 regarding its strict abortion laws.

Criminalization of abortion began in 1861 with the passage of the Offences against the Person Act. Abortion is currently still illegal in Northern Ireland, but a provision was added in 1945 that allows for termination of a pregnancy if there is a threat to the life of the mother. Those who break the law face life imprisonment.

Human rights activists believe that the strict laws strip women of their fundamental human rights. Nathalie Lieven, lead counsel for the NIHRC said that “The impact of the criminal law in Northern Ireland does amount to inhuman and degrading treatment by the state.”

In 2016, the legislature voted against allowing abortions in cases of rape, incest or fetal abnormality.

Ms. Lieven says that the laws cause “trauma and humiliation” and criminalize those who are already in “exceptionally vulnerable position(s).”

The NIHRC has provided testimony from women who have been denied abortion to bolster their case. Ashleigh Topley was four-and-a-half months into her pregnancy in 2013 when she was told by doctors that her baby’s limbs were not growing and that the baby would die. Ms. Topley was forbidden from terminating the pregnancy. Her baby girl’s heart stopped when she went into labor after thirty-five weeks.

A poll conducted by Amnesty International found that the majority of citizens favor a woman’s choice to terminate a pregnancy given certain factors. 85% of citizens in Northern Ireland would support the choice for abortion if the pregnancy is the result of rape, 81% if there is a diagnosis of fetal abnormality and 89% if a woman’s health is at risk.

Colm O’Groman, Executive Director of Amnesty International in Ireland, stated that the public shows strong support for “women making their own decisions about their pregnancies.” He points to the poll as evidence that the issue is not as divisive as the media portrays it.

“Public support varies on the precise gestational limits but it remains solidly behind women making their own decisions about their pregnancies,” said O’Groman.

Litigation regarding the law was initiated by NIHRC is 2014 and has been ongoing ever since.

For more information, please see:

The Guardian – Supreme Court to Hear Challenge to Northern Ireland Abortion law – 23 October 2017

BBC News – Abortion Laws ‘Punish Sex-Crime Victims’ – 26 October 2017

Reuters – UK Supreme Court Hears Attempt to Change Northern Ireland Abortion law – 24 October 2017

The Washington Post – Rights Group Challenges N Ireland Abortion ban at top Court – 24 October 2017

Poland Opposes Visit by White Supremacist Richard Spencer

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

WARSAW, Poland – Richard Spencer, the American white nationalist, is not welcome in Poland.

Richard Spencer. Photo Courtesy of David J. Phillip.

The Polish government has issued statements condemning Spencer’s views as a threat to democracy and objecting to his upcoming visit to Warsaw. Foreign minister Witold Waszczykowski stated that Spencer should not appear publicly in Poland, describing him as someone who “defames what happened during World War II, defames the Holocaust.”

Spencer is the white supremacist who organized the Charlottesville, Virginia rally that killed a counter-protestor in August after the rally turned violent. He has since held other rallies and is looking to expand his message to Europe.

He was invited by several far-right Polish organizations to speak at a conference in Warsaw that took place on November 10th. The National Social Congress announced that Spencer would speak at a panel discussion during its “Europe of Future” meeting. The annual conference is organized by the far-right to celebrate Polish Independence Day. In past years, marches held on November 11th by far-right extremists were some of the largest extremist gatherings in Europe.

Spencer’s followers consist of members of the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and white supremacists. They support his condemnation of diversity and embrace his far-right ideologies including nationalism, racism and anti-Semitism. Studies show that anti-Semitism and xenophobia is on the rise in Poland, which will likely help Spencer draw an audience there.

The government had been pressured to prevent Spencer from speaking at the event. “Spencer’s views strike not only the Jewish community or other minority groups. The hatred that Spencer and his followers proclaim is a threat to all who are close to the values of human rights and democracy,” said Agnieszka Markiewicz, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Central European office.

When the Polish Border Guard was contracted regarding the issue, a spokeswoman declined to divulge any information, citing privacy regulations. Spencer did not end up attending.

In 2014, Hungary Spencer’s think tank, the National Policy Institute, was prevented from holding a conference. When Spencer defied the ban, he was arrested, deported and banned from entering Europe’s 26 visa-free countries for three years.

The Polish Foreign Ministry said “As a country which was one of the biggest victims of Nazism, we believe that the ideas promoted by Mr. Spencer and his followers could pose a threat to all those who hold dear the values of human rights and democracy.”

For more information, please see:

The Guardian – Poland to Richard Spencer – Keep Out – 27 October 2017

The New York Times – Poland Objects to Visit by White Nationalist Richard Spencer – 27 October 2017

Newsweek – Richard Spencer is too Racist for Poland’s Right-Wing Government – 27 October 2017

The Washington Times – Poland Opposes Visit From Richard Spencer, White Nationalist and Charlottesville Rally Participant – 27 October 2017

Spanish Tourist Killed by Brazilian Police Officer in Rio de Janeiro

By: Fernando Oliveira
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – On October 23, 2017, at about 9:30pm, Maria Esperanza Jimenez, a 67 years old Spanish tourist who was doing a guided tour into a favela named Rocinha, in the Southern Zone of Rio de Janeiro city, was shot down by a police officer.

Shot that reached the victim`s neck. Courtesy by Globo TV.

The victim was in a Fiat Freemont along with four other passengers – her brother, her sister in law, a Brazilian guide, Rosângela Cunha, and an Italian driver rooted in Brazil, Carlos Zanineta, when they failed to stop on a police blockade at a slum area called Largo do Boiadero.

According to the preliminary investigations, Lieutenant Davi dos Santos Ribeiro fired his rifle against the car soon after it failed to stop at the road blockade. To Valéria Aragão, the Chief Investigator of the case, Ribeiro said he opened fire because he thought they were trying to escape from the blockade, only realizing that it was a tourist car when he and the other police officers approached the vehicle.

Driver of the car, Carlos Zanieta, said he did not see neither the blockade nor any stop sign. A voice record that is circulating through WhatsApp says that police were sheltering from the rain when they ordered the vehicle to stop, and that the police officers did not enter into the roadway. Accordingly, that would have been the reason the driver did not stop the car.

The fatal shot reached Jimenez’s neck. She was taken to Miguel Couto hospital by police; however, she was already dead upon arrival.

For further information, please see:

Reuters – Spanish tourist shot, killed by police in Rio de Janeiro slum – 23 October 2017

New York Times – Brazilian Police Kill a Spanish Tourist in Rio de Janeiro – 05 October 2017

The Guardian – Brazil police shoot dead Spanish tourist in Rio de Janeiro favela – 23 October 2017

Folha de São Paulo – Spanish Tourist Is Shot and Killed by Rio Police in Rocinha Slum – 23 October 2017

Venezuela’s democratic opposition wins EU’s top human rights award

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BRUSSELS, Belgium — The European Parliament awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to Venezuela’s democratic opposition and political prisoners on Thursday. This is Europe’s most prestigious human rights award.

Julio Borges will accept the prize on behalf of the Venezuelan opposition. Image Courtesy of Andres Martinez Casares.

Antonion Tajani, the Parliament’s president, made the announcement before a plenary session in Strasbourg, France. The prize was given as a reward to Venezuelan students and politicians for their courage to fight a repressive government and demand freedom. Guy Verhofstadt of the ALDE liberal group remarks that “this award supports the fight of democratic forces for a democratic Venezuela,” and invites the international community to join their fight.

Venezuela has suffered politically and economically for several years. As a result of dropped energy prices, the oil-producing nation took a severe economic hit. Poverty is widespread and thousands have left the country as refugees. Accordingly, President Maduro’s oppressive government has drawn much of the blame. It consolidated power by cracking down on the opposition and hundreds of leaders and supporters have felt the wrath of Maduro’s government. Many have been arbitrarily arrested and dozens have been killed in this past year. Officials report that more than 120 people were killed when anti-government street demonstrations turned violent.

As a result of Maduro’s government, Venezuela’s democracy is in danger. There is currently a standoff between the National Assembly, Venezuela’s only democratically elected Parliament, and the constituent assembly, made up exclusively of government supporters.  President Maduro has tried to close the National Assembly to limit the opposition’s power and influence. His goal is to create a superseding, all-powerful constitutional assembly that will be under his party’s control. The opposition’s effort to defend Venezuela’s democracy is the primary reason for their reward.

Mr. Tajani remarked, “we have decided to award the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to the democratic opposition, recalling our total support for the National Assembly of Venezuela – a democratically-elected parliament – the only parliament democratically elected.”

The “democratic opposition in Venezuela” receives the award as the official laureate. This group is represented by the country’s National Assembly and its president, Julio Borges, as well as political prisoners. The list of political prisoners is maintained by a human rights organization, Foro Penal. Mr. Borges will be invited to receive the prize on behalf of the opposition. The award comes with 50,000 euros (about $59,000) at a ceremony in Strasbourg this year.

The opposition follows last year’s winners, Nadia Murad and Lamiya Ajo Bashar, young Yazidi women who escaped captivity and sexual slavery under the Islamic State. The other finalists for this year included an activist in Guatemala who fights for the rights of indigenous peoples and a Swedish-Eritrean journalist who has been arbitrarily detained by Eritrean authorities since 2001.

The prize has been awarded every year since 1988 and is named after Andrei Sakharov, a Soviet physicist and political dissident.

For more information, please see:

Independent – Venezuela’s opposition awarded Sakharov Prize for championing human rights – 26 October 2017

NY Times – Venezuelan Opposition Receives E.U.’s Sakharov Freedom Price – 26 October 2017

BBC – Venezuela opposition wins EU’s top human rights prize – 26 October 2017

Washington Post – Opposition, prisoners of Venezuela with EU human rights prize – 26 October 2017

Euronews – Venezuela’s democratic opposition given EU’s human rights award – 26 October 2017

Zimbabwe’s New Cyber Security Ministry Poses Questions for Civil Liberties

By: Adam King
Impunity Rights News Reporter, Africa

Many have joked about newly appointed Cybersecurity Minster Patrick Chinamasa, but others are fearful of what his role will entail. Photo courtesy of Twitter.

HARARE, Zimbabwe  — Cybersecurity is apparently an issue of priority for President Robert Mugabe. The timing could not be more interesting as the newly created Ministry of Cyber Security, Threat Detection and Mitigation, led by Patrick Chinamasa, comes shortly before presidential elections.  If President Mugabe has learned one thing from the pervasiveness of social media, it is how it can give shape and energy to a civil movement.

This time last year, social media was used in Zimbabwe in a way that it had never been utilized before,

“Zimbabwe’s government has been uneasy about social media after pastor Evan Mawararire spearheaded the #ThisFlag movement last year…Using platforms like Twitter and Facebook it organized a stay-at-home demonstration, the biggest anti-government protest in a decade.”

The #ThisFlag movement involved the use of social media platforms to stage a stay-at-home protest against prolonged economic conditions. The leader of the movement, Pastor Evan Mawararire, used a cameo picture of Captain America in Zimbabwe flag colors to call on fellow citizens to wear their flags in protest. The pastor was hailed as a hero and was able to draw substantial attention to the issues he was protesting against without the use of violence.

#ThisFlag was an example of how social media for protests is becoming an effective means of protest to sub-saharan Africa.  This should come as no surprise since in Zimbabwe alone, internet usage has grown from a mere 0.3% to 46% in the past 16 years.  One out of every two Zimbabweans are accessing the internet. While internet access has accelerated in Zimbabwe over the last couple of decades, governments all over Africa have devised ways to prevent its citizens from reaching the internet,

“Governments don’t have the physical or technical ability to block sites, phones or texts themselves, explains Thecla Mbongue, analyst for trend forecasters Ovum. They issue an order to the companies who do have that power. Congo-Brazzaville’s government issued an order to the country’s mobile phone operators such as Airtel and MTN. This effectively blocks the internet because very few Congolese use fixed lines to access the web.”

In addition, recent events all over the world ranging from the major hacks of Equifax and HBO have made governments more sensitive to the vulnerabilities that cyber hacking naturally exposes. Cyber security is now more important than ever, but some are skeptical as to what this importance will mean with the balancing of civil liberties.

There are many civil liberties advocates in Zimbabwe who see the new ministry, which is the first in much of the world, as a way to threaten, silence or even arrest those who use social media to speak out against the government,

“One communications rights group, the Zimbabwe chapter of the Media Institute for Southern Africa (Misa), says this new scrutiny of social media goes against the spirit of the constitution and freedom of expression. Going a step further, Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) says the government’s new cyber threat ministry is a means for government to spy on its people…MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai also believes that the ministry has been created to curb free speech in time for the 2018 polls… Meanwhile on social media, ominous warnings have begun circulating… One is from a “Mr Chaipa”, urging Zimbabweans only to share content on social media that they would be able to defend in court… Mr Chaipa said it was easy for the government to monitor online messages, and gave a list of online activities that could be classified as criminal offenses.”

There are clearly many groups in Zimbabwe that feel that this new ministry is the precursor to civil rights restrictions and violations. A new cybersecurity bill, which has also drawn the ire of the international human rights groups, further complicates the cybersecurity landscape in Zimbabwe,

“While Mugabe and the government describe the new ministry as “protective” i.e. acting in a defensive role, there are worries it is really aimed at attacking, like controlling social media use locally. This all comes as Zimbabwe finalizes a Computer and Cyber Crimes Bill that has already attracted criticism from human rights and freedom of expression campaign groups.”

The Zimbabwe government, however, assures that the worries are misplaced and civil liberties will not suffer under the new ministry,

“The Zimbabwean government has said new legislation will not stifle freedom of expression and will protect the public from new threats such as revenge pornography and cyber attacks. Presidential spokesperson Mr Charamba says Zimbabwe will look closely at how other nations have dealt with the threat of cybercrime – including Russia, China, and South Korea who have faced similar challenges.”

For more information, please see:

Bloomberg — ‘Executive Profile Patrick Anthony Chinamasa M.P.’ — 26 October 2017

Reuters — ‘Equifax, reeling from hack, still has no earnings report date’ — 25 October 2017

BBC News — ‘Why Zimbabwe has a Minister of WhatsApp’ — 24 October 2017

Quartz — ‘Zimbabwe has a new “minister of WhatsApp” whose first job seems to be to stop WhatsApp’ — 14 October 2017

Wired — ‘Breaking Down HBO’s Brutal Month of Hacks’ — 18 August 2017

BBC News — ‘Zimbabwe’s pastor hero: #ThisFlag preacher’ — 16 July 2016
BBC News — ‘How African governments block social media’ — 25 April 2016

President Trump Did Not Visit DMZ

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

SEOUL, South Korea – President Trump did not visit the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea during his trip to Asia from November 3 to 14. Every president since Ronald Reagan has visited the demilitarized zone with the exception of George W. Bush.

President Trump is scheduled to visit five countries during this trip to Asia. Photo courtesy of STR/AFP/Getty Images. 

The demilitarized zone was created in 1953 at the end of the Korean War. The zone is around 1 ¼ miles in each country, and it is near the 38th parallel. Since there has never been a peace treaty after the war, the demilitarized zone is seen as a symbol of hostility between the North and the South.

Instead of visiting the demilitarized zone, the White House had chosen to visit Camp Humphreys and stated that this visit “would make more sense in terms of the President’s message.” Camp Humphreys is a joint US-South Korean military base about 40 mile south of Seoul. The White House further stated that visiting the demilitarized zone is “cliché.”

The White House in their report stated that the visit would allow the president to address U.S. and South Korean troops and relay his message on sharing the burden with the South Korean government.

Because of recent tensions with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, the White House reported that North Korea would be at the top of the president’s agenda.

Previously, Vice President Mike Pence, Defense Secretary James Mattis, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have all visited the demilitarized zone.

During his trip to Asia, President Trump visited South Korea, Japan, China, Vietnam, and the Philippines.

For more information, please see:

ABC – President Trump will not visit Korean demilitarized zone, official says – 31 October, 2017

Reuters – Trump will not visit DMZ during Asia trip: official – 31 October, 2017

CNN – White House says Trump will not visit DMZ – 31 October, 2017

Newsweek – TRUMP WON’T VISIT DMZ ON ASIA TRIP BECAUSE IT’S BECOMING “CLICHE” – 31 October, 2017

Saudi Arabia Grants Citizenship to Robot Named Sophia

Matthew Sneed
Impunity Watch Writer, The Middle East

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – On October 25, Saudi Arabia became the first nation to grant full citizenship to a robot. The robot, referred to as Sophia, was created by Hanson Robotics in Hong Kong. During the nation’s Future Investment Initiative, a three-day tech conference, she addressed the media, most notably in English and without wearing a hijab.

Sophia speaks to the press after she is granted citizenship in Saudi Arabia. Photo courtesy of YouTube/Arab News.

“Thank you to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I am very honored and proud for this unique distinction,” she said, “it is historic to be the first robot in the world to be recognized with citizenship.” Furthermore, when asked about the concern about the potential dangers of artificial intelligence, Sophia responded by stating, “you’ve been reading too much Elon Musk and watching too many Hollywood movies.”

This decision has generated lots of controversy for several reasons. Many conservative Saudis believe that the human representation in any form including art is sacrilege. However, the primary concerns focus on her rights as compared to women and other citizens living in Saudi Arabia and how quickly she obtained those rights. Sophia does not have a male guardian, does not wear a hijab, and can travel in and out of the country. In addition, she has not demonstrated the ability to read or write in Arabic, a requirement for citizenship.

The country also prohibits foreign workers, which make-up about one-third of the population, from obtaining citizenship. Journalist Murtaza Hussain stated that Sophia received citizenship, “before Kafala workers who have been living in the country their entire lives.”

The decision has also come with more severe consequences. Ali Al-Ahmed, director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs, said, “women (in Saudi Arabia) have since committed suicide because they couldn’t leave the house, and Sophia is running around.”

Apart from Sophia, the country faces other criticism as it continues to push technological advancements in the country. Sophia was on display next to a virtual rollercoaster and a holographic lion. Saudi Arabia stated on the conference that they intended to build a new $500 billion city from scratch, called Neom. The city would be populated with robots.

The government plans to push these new advancements while other areas a lacking support. Currently, only 20% of the city capital has sewage coverage. Al-Ahmed was discouraged by this news and stated, “There is a failure of this government to satisfy basic needs, and they want to spend $500 billion on a new city with robots.”

For more information please see:

Independent – Saudi Arabia Grants Citizenship to a Robot for the First Time Ever – 26, Oct.

Bloomberg – Saudi Arabia gives citizenship to a robot – 26, Oct. 2017

Newsweek – Saudi Arabia gives rights to a Non-Muslim, English speaking robot – 26, Oct. 2017

BBC – Does Saudi robot citizen have more rights than women? – 26, Oct. 2017

Peace talks are complicated as Colombian rebels admit to violating cease-fire

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Columbia – Peace talks in Colombia have become more complicated as the largest remaining rebel group, the ELN, violates a month-old cease-fire. The group has admitted its role in the death of indigenous leader Aulio Isarama Forastero.

The ELN rebel group in Colombia. Image Courtesy of Federico Rios.

The ELN, or National Liberation Army, and the Colombian government began their first ever cease-fire after more than 50 years of war. This agreement has been violated less than a month since it began on October 1st. On Monday, President Juan Manuel Santos’ government condemned the killing of the indigenous leader and demanded information to bring the guilty parties to justice. The government also called on the ELN to take concrete steps to ensure that a violation like this is not repeated.

The ELN’s western front released a statement on Sunday explaining Mr. Isarama’s death. It claims that the group detained him for allegedly being an informant for military intelligence. While being escorted to interrogation, the rebels say he physically assaulted one of the guerrilla fighters. The fighter responded in self-defense which led to a “tragic outcome.” The group claims the killing had not been ordered and there was no authorization given for the use of deadly force.

The statement also said, “we’re committed to carry out an internal reflection at all levels so that these incidents don’t happen again.”

Mr. Isarama was a member of the Embera people. His death occurred on the reservation in the western state of Choco, where he was governor. Human rights groups report him to be the 11th indigenous leader slain in Colombia this year.

Indigenous groups from northern Choco province have blamed the ELN from the beginning. They say that Mr. Isarama was led away by five armed men in ELN uniforms and shots were heard two hours later. They also allege that the rebel group has continued to lay mines and threaten their communities.

The chief government negotiator for the peace talks, Juan Camilo Restrepo, calls the killing “deplorable.” However, the government has indicated that it will continue its talks. Peace Commissioner Rodrigo Rivera says that protocol does not allow either side to walk away from the negotiating table because of one single incident. Still, a committee of observers including the UN will investigate the death of Isarama and make recommendations to prevent further incidents.

Peace negotiations with the ELN occurred after years of exploratory talks. Progress has been slow and there is doubt as to whether the group has full control of its 1,500 troops. Many of these rebels have been involved in kidnapping, drug trafficking, and destruction of oil pipelines. Not all of them left this life behind after their top leaders agreed to a cease-fire.

Colombia’s Indigenous communities have mobilized in a “Minga of Resistence” and demand that the government adhere to the terms of the country’s peace agreement. Indigenous organizations are marching in cities in at least 16 states. They demand observance of the peace agreement and the acceleration of murder investigations into at least 30 community leaders.

The demonstrators’ call to action says, “we will sing songs, slogans, we will dance as it shows that in our communities there is no fear and that the love for life, today unites us in the struggle and resistance.”

For more information, please see:

Washington Post – Colombia peace talks rattled by indigenous leader’s death – 30 October 2017

Colombia Reports – Colombia’s peace process ‘even more complex, more difficult and longer’ than talks – 30 October 2017

BBC – Colombia’s ELN rebels admit killing indigenous leader – 30 October 2017

Telesur – Colombia’s Indigenous March to Demand Government Comply with Peace Accord – 30 October 2017

Voice of America – Colombia’s ELN Rebels Admit Killing Indigenous Leader Amid Ceasefire – 30 October 2017

Brazil investigates plan to serve food pellets to the poor

By: Emily Green

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

SAO PAULO, Brazil – Sao Paulo Mayor, Joao Doria, is promoting the distribution of dry pellets as a solution to the country’s hunger crisis. Brazilian prosecutors have opened an investigation into the plan to include these pellets in school meals.

Protestor holds a sign that reads “food pellets are not a meal.” Image Courtesy of Nacho Doce.

This investigation was prompted by protests and criticism of the new hunger-fighting initiative. Prosecutors claim that the product has not been adequately examined and question whether it passed the necessary health tests. The pellets’ nutritional value is crucial because the plan targets low income school children.

The pellets, known as “human pet food,” are called farinata. They are made out of the dehydrated leftovers of food from the commercial processing industry. The leftovers used are close to expiring or are “out of marketing standard.” The public has no further information on exactly what ingredients make up these pellets.

Farinata looks dehydrated and resembles popcorn. It can be eaten in several different ways including being mixed into foods like cake and then eaten directly. Mayor Doria did not specify which kind would be given to schools.

A video promoting the nuggets claims that they contain all the necessary nutrients including protein, vitamins, and minerals. It emphasizes that distribution of the free meal substitute will benefit poor families, be good for the environment, and reduce food waste. However, the Regional Council of Nutritionists and other bodies have expressed doubts about the nutritional value. Prosecutors demand more information about the make-up of these pellets.

The opposition calls it “a human rights violation that is in total disregard for the advances made in recent decades in the field of food security.”

However, the non-profit company behind the pellets, Plataforma Sinergia, assures that the product meets all legal requirements. Rosana Perrotti, the founder of this Catholic organization, assures that they process the food correctly by following all techniques of the industry. The result is that normally wasted food is given an additional two years of shelf life.

Mayor Doria is a multimillionaire businessman who is a possible presidential candidate for next year. He supports the pellets and describes them as “solidarity food” that will aggressively combat hunger. Likewise, Cardinal Scherer defends the farinata and adds that the food received a blessing from Pope Francis. He remarked, “it offends me when people call this dog food, and say it is degrading to the poor. It is degrading to deny them food.”

The plan is a reaction to Brazil’s worsening condition. Poverty, homelessness, and unemployment are consistently on the rise. In Sao Paulo, a report from 2013 shows that nearly 1.5 million people live in hunger. In total, around 7.2 million Brazilians suffer from lack of food.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Sao Paulo’s food pellets plan for poor children divides Brazil – 20 October 2017

Telesur – Brazil Probes Plan to Give Poor People ‘Human Pet Food’ – 20 October 2017

Epoch Times – Sao Paulo’s Mayor to Feed City’s Poor With ‘Dog Food’ – 20 October 2017

The Guardian – Brazil prosecutors investigate plan to give reconstituted food to poor people – 19 October 2017

Motherboard – These Mystery Food Pellets Are Sao Paulo’s Attempt to Combat Hunger – 16 October 2017

 

Xi Becomes Most Powerful Leader in China Since Mao

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China – At the political summit led by the Chinese Community Party, Xi Jinping, the President of the People’s Republic of China, declared a “new era” for the country. Although this every five-year event is meant to declare the new Chinese leader to the world, the ceremony that was held in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People focused on displaying Xi Jinping’s power.

Xi introduces the new members of the China’s Politburo Standing Committee at the Great Hall of the People. Photo courtesy of Ng Han Guan.

During the ceremony, Xi introduced five of the seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee. The committee is considered to be the inner core of the Chinese government. It was noted during the ceremony that none of the men selected to be on the committee were considered to be Xi’s successor as it did not include a younger leader who would be groomed to take over the presidency.

The sources believe that the lack of possible successor to Xi was seen as a sign that he intends to stay beyond his next five-year term.

At the end of the ceremony, Mr. Xi was elevated to the same status as the country’s founder, Mao Zedong. Xi’s name and his political policy are both now enshrined in the Chinese constitution.

The political summit also allowed Xi to assert additional power over the military. Many of the top leaders in the military were replaced with Xi’s generals. By initiating these changes, Xi has stated that he intends to make China a world power by 2050.  Currently, China has the world’s biggest military with more than 2 million troops, but he is hoping to modernize the military.

Xi announced his economic plan for the next 30 years during the meeting as well. With his new plans to improve China’s socialism and bolster the country’s economy, many experts are describing this move as the beginning of the third era of Communist rule in China.

For more information, please see:

NYT – Xi Jinping Unveils China’s New Leaders but No Clear Successor – 24 October, 2017

Variety – Xi Jinping Emerges as China’s Unquestioned No. 1 Leader – 25 October, 2017

ABC – Chinese President Xi Jinping takes absolute control of armed forces in military shake-up – 26 October, 2017

DHS to Decide on Continuation of TPS Program for Haitians in US

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — On November 6, the Department of Homeland Security is expected to make a decision as to the continuation of the Temporary Protected Status program that affects over 300,000 foreign nationals currently residing in the United States.

Men visiting a mass-grave of victims from the 2010 earthquake outside of Port-au-Prince. Photo Courtesy of Shannon Stapleton.

According to a report prepared by the Congressional Research Service, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is a provision within the Immigration and Nationality Act to protect foreign nationals currently in the United States.  The program grants a temporary legal status—typically for a period of six to eighteen months—to migrants who do may not qualify as refugees, but whose home countries are in some sort of crisis, such as civil unrest, wide-spread violence, or a natural disaster.  This allows them to apply for a work permit and a driver’s license and prevents their deportation.  There are currently over 300,000 people from 13 countries under Temporary Protected Status, including individuals from Syria, El Salvador, and Haiti.  According to The Washington Post, TPS beneficiaries are the parents of around 190,000 US-citizen children.

Haitians were granted TPS in the US by the Obama administration in January 2010 following a 7.0-magnitude earthquake that killed around 200,000 people and left 1.5 million homeless.  Haiti has suffered several crises since then, including an outbreak of cholera in late 2010 that infected close to 800,000 and killed over 9,000 people, sexual abuse of hundreds of people at the hands of UN peacekeepers dating back to 2004, as well as a 1,000-people killed by Hurricane Matthew in 2016.  The recent hurricanes have also destroyed infrastructure and caused food shortages across the country.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) extended Haiti’s TPS several times, the last time being on May 24, 2017.  After a bipartisan effort from several Florida politicians, DHS Secretary General John Kelly approved a six-month extension of the July 22, 2017, deadline, but expressed that Haitians should begin preparations to return to Haiti come January 22, 2018.  According to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services’ website, “At least 60 days before Jan. 22, 2018, Secretary Kelly will re-evaluate the designation for Haiti and will determine whether another extension, a re-designation, or a termination is warranted, in full compliance of the Immigration and Nationality Act.”

There are 59,000 Haitians living in the US under TPS, 80% of which are employed; $1.3 billion in remittances from US-based Haitians accounted for 15% of Haiti’s economy in 2015.

In contrast, Haiti is currently the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, with 6 million people—approximately 59% of the population—living below the national poverty line.

For more information, please see:

NBC News – Will Central Americans, Haitians ‘Protected’ by U.S. Be Sent Home? – 23 October 2017

NACLA – Temporary Protected Status in Limbo – 20 October 2017

The Washington Post – Tens of thousands of Haitian, Central American immigrants could lose protected status – 20 October 2017

Al Jazeera – UN peacekeepers leave Haiti: What is their legacy? – 6 October 2017

USCIS – Temporary Protected Status Designated Country: Haiti – 3 October 2017

Sun Sentinel – Hurricane Irma effects are one more reason to extend TPS for Haitians, lawmakers argue – 18 September 2017

The Intercept – The Trump Administration is Playing with the Lives of 59,000 Haitians – 26 September 2017

The New Yorker – A Harrowing Turning Point for Haitian Immigrants – 12 May 2017

Congressional Research Service – Temporary Protected Status: Current Immigration Policy and Issues – 17 January 2017

Security Intensifies with China’s Party Congress Meeting

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China – The 19th Party Congress of China meets in Beijing 18 October through 24 October 2017. Over 200,000 delegates descend on the city during this time.   During this party election the next president of China will be elected for 5 years. It will most likely be the current president, Xi Jinping.

Additional Security at Subway Stations. Photo Courtesy of Gilles Sabrié. 

However, as the meeting approached and during the meeting Beijing officials cracked down on security. The city is what some call a ‘lockdown.’

Several human rights activists have been detained or forced to leave. Several others are under surveillance. Police fill the streets both day and night carrying assault weapons. Documents are checked in the street frequently, and people are stopped for questioning.  Internet censorship increased. Those who come into the city to raise questions about unpaid salaries, corruption, and pollution see an increase in pressures, including arrest.

Additionally, the Beijing government closed restaurants, meeting halls, and nightclubs to curb large gatherings of people. To discourage travel into the city Airbnb and other similar home-sharing companies are closed temporarily.

Traveling within the capital city takes longer when the Party Congress is in session.   Increased security at subway stations created insanely long lines. One blogger quipped that it might be faster to skateboard, take a boat or a horse.

These increased security measures are Xi Jinping’s way of showing that he is not afraid to show a “heavy hand on those who dare to exist with differing views.” In his opening speech at the 19th Party Congress he vowed to keep foreign influence low, calling China a “strong and great power” by itself. His speech invoked heavy nationalist vibes.

Some Chinese Human Rights activist are fearful that Jinping’s ‘neo- totalitarian’ ideology will be written into the party constitution. There are also concerns over whether a successor will named to replace him after his second 5 year term or whether he will continue on as president.   

For more information, please see:

NY Times – China’s Party Congress Brings Crackdown on Critics, Nightclubs and Airbnb – 20 October 2017.

The Washington Post – China’s president just laid out a worrying vision for the world – 18 October 2017

The Diplomat – 3 Major Takeaways from Xi Jinping’s Speech at the 19th Party Congress – 18 October 2017