BRIEF: Khieu Samphan Halts Cooperation

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Jacques Verges, the lawyer for Khieu Samphan, has said that his client will no longer cooperate with the Khmer Rouge Tribunalbecause thousands of pages of evidence had yet to be translated to French. Jacques Verges stated that without the translation, he is unable to effectively defend his client. The court documents are in English only thus far.

Tribunal co-investigating judge Marcel Lemonde told AFP that other suspects have invoked their right to “remain silent at every stage of the proceedings.” However, Marcel Lemonde said that it would not delay the court’s investigation into the crimes. In an email, he said, “We have to organize the investigation differently, that’s it.”

Jacques Verges has been nicknamed “devil’s advocate” because of his past work defending the world’s most notorious criminals. During his legal career, he has defended Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie and Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, also known as Carlos the Jackal.

For more information, please see:

AFP – Khmer Rouge Leader Halts Cambodian Genocide Court Cooperation: Report – 20 February 2008

BRIEF: Pakistan’s Election

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan- Pakistan held parliamentary elections on Monday in what was called a free and fair process by the media and the international community.  The Pakistan People’s Party (formerly led byBenazir Bhutto) won the most parliamentary seats with 86, and Nawaz Sharif’s party came in as a strong second with 65.

President Pervez Musharraf‘s party won the least amount of seats with 37.  This loss shows that voters no longer believe in the party’s policies and raises doubts over whether or not Musharraf will be able to maintain power for much longer.

Although some critics have doubts over whether they will be able to reach an agreement, the opposition parties have stated that they will form a coalition government.  As it won the most seats, the Pakistan People’s Party will choose the new prime minister.  Benazir Bhutto‘s widower, Asif Ali Zardari, who is now leading the party, has said he will not accept the position and instead his party will pick another MP.

President Musharraf has accepted his party’s defeat and has called for reconciliation amongst the parties.  He has rejected any suggestion that he should step down as President.  As this was a parliamentary election it does not effect the President’s position; however if the parliament reached a two-thirds majority decision, it could remove Musharraf from office in the future.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Bhutto widower ‘rejects PM role’ – 20 February 2008

Reuters – Musharraf urged to go as rivals win Pakistan poll – 19 February 2008

Chinese rights activist who spoke against Olympics Goes on Trial

By Ariel Lin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China – A former laid-off factory worker, Yang Chunlin was involved with farmers outside Jiamusi demanding redress for farmland taken from them by officials for development. He collected more than 10,000 signatures for his petition against illegal land seizures by officials and writing essays denouncing official wrongdoings.  To rally support, he posted the petition on the Internet with the title: “We want human rights, not the Olympics.”

Yang was arrested in July 2007 for charges of “inciting subversion against state power.” In recent months, Human Rights Watch has documented the use of similar charges against six other dissidents and activists, indicating a trend of suppressing speech in advance of the August 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

According to Yang’s family, in eight months in detention, Yang has been given little contact with his lawyer and family.  He was tortured by being shackled to an iron bed for a long period of time while in detention awaiting trial.  Police were accused of intimidating his relatives and threatening his lawyers prior to the trial.  However, Human Rights Watch said it was unable to verify the claim but also said the use of the so-called shackle boards or “disciplinary beds” was well documented in Chinese prisons.

The case was originally scheduled to take place behind closed doors.  But the Intermediate Court decided to open the trial to the public mainly due to Chinese government’s fear of bad publicity related to the Olympics.  Human Rights Watch repeatedly reported, grave and uncorrected procedural violations throughout Yang’s case that amounted to a denial of due process.  Those included serious allegation of torture and the court’s refusal of investigation, denial of access to his defense lawyer, police intimidation against relatives, and threats made against the defense lawyers.

The trial of Yang on February 19 lasted less than a day.  About 30 to 40 people attended the trial, including members of Yang’s family.  Yang appeared at the court hearing with his hands and feet shackled.  After his lawyers protested, Yang was unshackled but then made to sit with his legs tied to a metal chair.  Yang and his lawyer pleaded not guilty.  A verdict is expected in the coming weeks.

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – China: Olympic Activist Deprived of Due Process – 19 February 2008

The International Herald Tribune – Chinese land rights activist who opposed Olympics goes on trial – 19 February 2008

AFP – Activist who spoke out against Olympics stands trial – 19 February 2008

Associated Press – China Land Rights Activist Goes on Trial – 19 February 2008

BRIEF: Former Khmer Rouge Commander Sam Bith Dies

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Sam Bith, former Khmer Rouge guerilla, died on Saturday at the age of 74 while serving a life sentence for abducting and murdering three Western backpackers 14 years ago. According to his wife, Sam Bith was suffering from high blood pressure and diabetes.

Sam Bith was a Khmer Rouge commander in southwestern Cambodia when a train carrying the backpackers was ambushed. Nearly a dozen Cambodians died during the incident. The three backpackers, Australian David Wilson, Briton Mark Slater, and Frenchmen Jean-Michael Braquet, were then abducted and held for three months.

The Khmer Rouge Tribunal did not charge Sam Bith because the court’s jurisdiction was limited to crimes between 1974-1979 when Cambodia was controlled by the regime.

For more information, please see:

International Herald Tribune – Former Khmer Rouge Commander Dies While Serving Life Sentence for Foreigners’ Murders – 16 February 2008

The Jurist – Former Khmer Rouge Commander Dies While Serving Cambodia Life Sentence – 16 February 2008

Culture of Impunity in Nepal Criticized as Elections Begin

By Kristy Tridhavee
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer,
Asia

KATHMUNDU, Nepal – UN Commissioner for Human Rights Loise Arbour criticized the culture of impunity in Nepal after the country failed to prosecute killers of a 15-year Nepalese national, Maina Sunuwar. In 2004, Maina Sunuwar was killed after being tortured and raped under army custody.

Government officials said that the army took disciplinary action against the responsible officers through a court marital and brief imprisonment. However, human rights officers have criticized the punishment as insufficient and demanded a civilian trial.

Arbour commented, “[The Maina case] presents a significant opportunity for the government of Nepal to send a signal that the culture of impunity is ending. The successful prosecution of those responsible for her murder will strengthen the rule of law and uphold victims’ rights to a remedy.”

The culture of impunity in Nepal can detrimentally affect the stability of the country. The country has undergone a decade long conflict between the government and Maoists in the region. Arbour added, “Lack of accountability in this and numerous other cases is helping to perpetuate a culture of impunity in Nepal. And there is a danger this could become a barrier to achieving lasting peace.”

The government and Maoists rebels have set April 20th for the national assembly. The assembly is expected to prepare a new constitution and formally end the 240 year old monarchy. The April vote is central to the peace agreement with Maoists because it would admit the former rebels as part of the political mainstream.

However, three ethnic groups from the southern plains of Nepal have threatened to boycott the April vote unless the region is given autonomy. Nearly 26 million Madheshis, almost half of the nation, live in the region. The Madheshis want to become a largely autonomous state and want more power in the central government.

For more information, please see:

Reuters India –Ethnic Groups Threaten to Boycott Nepal Polls – 18 February 2008

The Times of India – End Culture of Impunity in Nepal: UN – 17 February 2008

United Press International – Nepalese Impunity Could Affect Security – 18 February 2008

BRIEF: Executed Chinese Prisoners Used in “The Body Exhibit”

BEIJING, China –Dr. Gunther von Hagens, who invented the process to preserve human bodies with a liquid plastic, has revealed that he no longer accepts bodies from China because he suspected they had been executed prisoners. After examining the bodies, he detected suspicious injuries and instead cremated the bodies. According to Dr. Gunther von Hagens, there is a black market providing bodies to Chinese companies that later export them oversees. A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said it was investigating the allegations.

For more information, please see:

ABC News – Exclusive: Secret Trade in Chinese Bodies – 14 February 2008

Journalist Tortured for 22 hours in Bangladesh

By Kristy Tridhavee
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

DHAKA, Bangladesh – Tasneem Khalil, a journalist with Human Rights Watch (HRW), CNN, and The Daily Star, has accused theBangladesh military of torturing him in retaliation for his media activity. In May 2007, the Directorate General Forces of Intelligence arrested Tasneem Khalil in his home and transferred him to a torture cell.

Tasneem Khalil recently shared his experience in the Bangladesh torture cell. In his report to HRW, Tasneem Khalil wrote, “…all of them started hitting the table with hands and sticks and started shouting at me. ‘How dare you write against our brothers in RAB? You are a burden on society. You are an immoral, unethical insect, an anti-state criminal.’ Someone came around the table and started punching me on my head again.”

After hours of beatings, Tasneem Khalil agreed to write a confession. When his blindfold was taken off, he saw for the first time the room he was being held in. He reported: “The room I was in was a torture cell. It was a small room with no windows, one doorway with a wooden door, and a second grill, like in a prison. The room was soundproofed with a wooden wall covered with small holes, like in an old recording studio. There were two CCTV cameras in the corners attached to the ceiling. There was a fan. I was sitting in front of a table and three batons were on the table, along with some stationery. One was a wooden baton, about a meter long. The other two were covered with black plastic. Poking out of the end of these two were metal wires which appeared to fill the plastic covers. … Then I glanced behind me and I saw what looked like a metal bed frame. It was the same size as a normal single bed, but it was placed on a platform with steps up to it. The bed had straps fitted at the top and bottom, presumably for tying people on to it. There was a wheel to change the angle of the bed to lift it up or down. There were spikes at the top of the bed. Right beside that there were ropes fitted to the ceilings with rubber loops for wrists to go through.”

Tasneem Khalil was released after 22 hours in captivity. International and national authorities pressed the Bangladesh interim government to free him. Tasneem Khalil then went into hiding for a month before international authorities again pressed Bangladesh leaders to allow him to leave for asylum in Sweden.

Bangladesh is currently under an interim government authorized by a reform agenda. Since January 2007, the interim government has campaigned to eliminate corruption and abuse of political power. However, in the name of reform, the government has used torture and executions to extract information and punish critics of the army’s role as de facto rulers.

HRW urged the country to make human rights a priority. Brad Adams, Asia Director of HRW, said, “While few would dispute that corruption, organized crime, politicization of the bureaucracy and political violence had to be addressed in Bangladesh, the interim government must realize that reform cannot be built on midnight knocks on the door and torture. A peaceful democratic society requires respect for basic rights.”

HRW also has questioned the motivation and purposes of the Bangladesh interim government. Brad Adams furthered stated, “The security forces have been arbitrarily detaining and torturing people, but there have been no serious attempts at holding those responsible for these criminal acts to account. Why hasn’t the government made the protection of Bangladeshis from this scourge a priority? Are they reformers, or do they just say they are reformers?”

For more information, please see:

HRW – The Torture of Tasneem Khalil: How the Bangladesh Government Abuses its Powers under a State of Emergency

HRW – Bangladesh: Tortured Journalist Describes Surviving Military Beatings –14 February 2008

News Report India – Military Torture of Bangladesh Journalist Alleged – 14 February 2008

Reuters India– Bangladeshi Tells of 22 Hours of Torture – 14 February 2008

BRIEF: Malaysian Parliament Dissolved to Call Early Elections

PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia – Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi dissolved the country’s Parliament to instigate early elections.  According to Malaysian law, elections must be held within 60 days of parliament being dissolved.  However, it is typical that the election commission calls for an election long before the 60 day deadline.

The move for early elections has sparked criticism from Anwar Ibrahim.  Anwar Ibraham, former deputy primer and member of the Democratic Action Party, notes that the timing of the early election precludes him from taking part.  He is unable to stand for office until March under an ban imposed when he was jailed in 1998.

Experts foresee that the elections will be quite controversial because of the recent ethnic tensions between Indians and the Malay majority, rising food prices, and allegations of corruption in judiciary.

For more information, please see:

International Herald Tribune – Malaysia to Hold Early General Elections Amid Anger over Prices, Ethnic Tensions – 13 February 2008

BRIEF: Citing Darfur, Spielberg Drops Out of Beijing Olympics

BEIJING, China – In a statement released on Tuesday, film director Steven Spielberg announced his withdrawal as artistic adviser for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Mr. Spielberg accused China of not doing enough to resolve the crisis in Darfur, saying “I have made repeated efforts to encourage the Chinese government to use its unique influence to bring safety and stability to the Darfur region of Sudan. Although some progress has been made [the situation] continues to worsen and the violence continues to accelerate.”

At least 200,000 people have been killed and two million forced from their homes in the five-year conflict.

Actress Mia Farrow, who has campaigned against what she calls the “Genocide Olympics,” praised Mr. Spielberg’s decision, hoping it would influence others to drop out of the Olympic Games.

In response, the Chinese Embassy in Washington called Mr. Spielberg and Ms. Farrow’s actions unfair for linking the Games to Darfur. They said the event should not be politicized.

Although human rights groups have applauded Mr. Spielberg’s decision, some are unhappy with the focus on Darfur alone. Richard Just of The New Republic said Mr. Spielberg made it seem “as if Darfur were the only reason one might think twice about serving as a propagandist for the Beijing Olympics.”

For more information, please see:

Reuters – Olympics – EU rights champion backs Spielberg over Games – 13 February 2008

The New York Times – Mia Farrow Gains Ground in Campaign Against Beijing Games – 13 February 2008

BBC News – Spielberg in Darfur snub to China – 13 February 2008

BRIEF: South Korea Holds First Jury Trial

DAEGU, South Korea – As part of an effort to reform its legal system, a nine-member jury trial was held on Tuesday for the first time in South Korea’s legal history.

The new juries will only be used in certain criminal cases. Its findings are non-binding, however, and judges will retain the final say in verdicts and sentences.

South Korea’s judicial system is considered by many to be outdated, a remnant of its former authoritarian rule. The system is undergoing gradual changes since the National Assembly agreed last May to introduce changes including giving testimony and evidence greater weight.

Following the trial, the court president said the innovation was “a significant step to not only improve human rights, but also to win the public’s trust.”

For more information, please see:

The Korea Times – Nation’s First Trial by Jury Held at Daegu District Court – 12 February 2008

BBC – S Korea holds first trial by jury 12 February 2008

Economic Times – South Korea launches jury system – 12 February 2008

US Denounces Proposed Myanmar Referendum

By Juliana Chan
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

YANGON, Myanmar – Myanmar’s military government announced on Saturday they would hold a referendum on a new constitution in May and general elections in 2010.

The United States and pro-democracy activists in Myanmar have denounced the regime’s plans for “its lack of seriousness about an open and fair process for the restoration of democracy.”

Dana Perino, White House spokeswoman, said the problem was not the setting of the date for elections, but  with the regime’s non-transparent and exclusive processes. “The drafting process for the constitution does not incorporate the views of opposition parties or all ethnic groups, nor does this timeframe allow for adequate debate on the pros and cons of the proposed constitution.”

Sean McCormack, State Department spokesman, said the proposed constitution was a “sham referendum [drafted] in a closed process by a hand-picked committee dominated by senior regime officials.” The proposal includes non-democratic features, including a ban on pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyifrom running for office because she married a foreigner. “No referendum held under these conditions […] can be free, fair, or credible,” Mr. McCormack added.

Saturday’s announcement is widely seen as an attempt to deflect international pressure after last September’s suppression of pro-democracy protesters that killed at least 31 people. The junta has also failed to meet pledges it made to begin talks on political changes.

If elections are held, however, it would be the first since 1990, when Ms. Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won a landslide victory that the junta ignored.

For more information, please see:

AFP – Activists reject Myanmar charter, fear violence during vote 11 February 2008

Bloomberg – Myanmar Elections Plan ‘Not Satisfactory’ to U.S. – 11 February 2008

Reuters – U.S. assails Myanmar election pledge; U.N. cautious – 12 February 2008

AP – Myanmar Activists Denounce Planned Polls – 11 February 2008

BRIEF: New Report on Silenced Dissent in Sri Lanka

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka- A new report released by Amnesty International (AI) has found that threats to media freedom are very serious in Sri Lanka, and have been since the civil war resumed in 2006.  AI is concerned that the Sri Lanka government is not meeting its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Many reporters have been illegally detained under recently enacted Emergency Regulations.  Not only are reporters’ rights threatened, but so are their lives.  In just the past two years, at least 10 journalists, mostly Tamil, have been killed and others have been abducted and tortured.  According to AI, the people responsible have not been punished by the government.

For more information, please see:

Amnesty International – Sri Lanka: Silencing Dissent – 7 February 2008

Impunity Watch – Sri Lanka: Poor Human Rights Record Noted on Day of Independence – 3 February 2008

Victims Take Part in Nuon Chea’s Hearing

By Kristy Tridhavee
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Nuon Chea made his first public appearance at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal in a hearing regarding his bail. Nuon Chea’s attorneys requested the tribunal release him on bail pending trial because authorities interrogated him without his attorneys. During the bail hearing, victims from the Khmer Rouge regime also spoke.

A victim who survived the Khmer Rouge regime’s atrocities participated in the hearings to argue against releasing Nuon Chea on bail. Theary Seng, a Cambodian-American who is now a lawyer, told the tribunal of her experiences under the regime as a child. She said, “My brother, who was younger than me, and I were put in prison under Mr. Nuon Chea’s regime. We were not informed of our rights. There was no due process and we were arrested arbitrarily. They treated us inhumanely — for us, the graveyard was our playground. Here Mr. Nuon Chea is afforded all the protection of the best legal principles and ideals (in) both domestic and international law.”

Theary Seng’s testimony marks an important event in international law. Helen Jarvis, a tribunal spokeswoman, referred to the appearance of regime survivors “historic.” She continued, “To actually stand across the room from someone who a victim feels is responsible for their suffering is very important and at the leading edge of international justice.”

Victims have also submitted complaints regarding the regime’s crimes to the tribunal. Since October 2007, the tribunal has received about 500 complaints. Presently, the complaints are being scanned, processed, and analyzed. They also will be sent Co-Investigating Judges for use in their investigations. Co-Prosecutors will determine if the complaints will warrant new investigations. Robert Petit, one of the tribunal prosecutors, said, “Information received from victims is crucial to our success. The Court is lucky that so many people have come forward and submitted complaints, because it gives us a lot of information to work with.”

During the first public hearing Nuon Chea did not react to Theary Seng’s accounts and instead spoke about Cambodia’s present growth and presence in the world community. He said, “My fellow Cambodians, today Cambodia is enjoying peace, solidarity and national reconciliation and its development is improving gradually. But difficulties remain due to the influence of foreign countries that are hindering Cambodia’s growth.” Nuon Chea also praised PrimeMinster Hun Sea, an ex-Khmer Rouge fighter who defected to Vietnam in the late 1970’s. He later returned to Cambodia with the Vietnamese invasion in 1979.

The Khmer Rouge Tribunal is expected to rule on Nuon Chea’s bail request in the next few days. However, it is highly unlikely he will be released because of dangers to his life from surviving victims and the risk he may flee.

For more information, please see:

AFP – Khmer Rouge Victim Confronts Regime Leader in Court – 8 February 2008

Reuters – Pol Pot Number Two Blames Outsiders for Ills – 8 February 2008

UN News Centre – UN-backed Tribunal Processing over 500 Khmer Rouge Victims’ Complaints – 7 February 2008

Nepal Issues Exit Permits for Bhutan Refugees

By Kristy Tridhavee
Impunity Watch Reporter,
Asia

DAMAK, Nepal – Nepal has issued the first set of exit permits to Bhutan refugees who have voluntarily chosen resettlement. About 107,000 refugees have been living in Nepal for the last 17 years in refugee camps. The refugees fled Bhutan in 1990’s because of persecution from the royal family.

The first set of exit permits allows refugees to resettle in third countries. TheUnited States has agreed to accept up to 60,000 refugees. Canada has indicated it will accept up to 5,000 refugees. Australia, Denmark, theNetherlands, New Zealand, and Norway have also shown interest in taking refugees.

Voluntary resettlement is a decisive issue among the refugees. Although some have agreed to be moved to third countries, others vow to regain their citizenship in Bhutan. There have been reports of clashes between the two groups. Some refugees have faced intimidations since the plans of resettlement were announced last November. Soon after, US Assistant Secretary of State Population, Refugees and Migration, Ellen Sauerbrey requested more security from Nepalese officials. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) also said, “While resettlement offers a welcome solution for those who voluntarily choose this option after 17 years in the camps, the UN refugee agency will continue to advocate for the option of voluntary return to Bhutan for those refugees who wish to do so.”

However, the UNHCR has welcomed the issuance of exit permits. A UNHCR statement read, “It was an important step towards finding a solution to the 17-year-old refugees’ problem. Thousands of Bhutanese refugees have applied for third country resettlement and the UNHCR has submitted the details of 10,000 refugees for resettlement to different countries.”

Presently, the refugees are in the midst of the resettlement process. Some are undergoing interviews and extensive medical exams while others are taking part in culture orientation programs.

According to estimates, the first refugees will arrive in the United States in March. A larger group will then exit Nepal in July.

For more information, please see:

The Himalayan Times – First Batch of Bhutanese Refugees to Leave for the United States by March – 4 February 2008

The Hindu – Nepal Issues Exit Permits to Bhutanese Refugees – 4 February 2008

Nepal News – Nepal Issues Exit Permits to Bhutanese Refugees for Third Country Resettlement – 4 February 2008

Nepal Issues Exit Permits for Bhutan Refugees

By Kristy Tridhavee
Impunity Watch Reporter,
Asia

DAMAK, Nepal – Nepal has issued the first set of exit permits to Bhutan refugees who have voluntarily chosen resettlement. About 107,000 refugees have been living in Nepal for the last 17 years in refugee camps. The refugees fled Bhutan in 1990’s because of persecution from the royal family.

The first set of exit permits allows refugees to resettle in third countries. TheUnited States has agreed to accept up to 60,000 refugees. Canada has indicated it will accept up to 5,000 refugees. Australia, Denmark, theNetherlands, New Zealand, and Norway have also shown interest in taking refugees.

Voluntary resettlement is a decisive issue among the refugees. Although some have agreed to be moved to third countries, others vow to regain their citizenship in Bhutan. There have been reports of clashes between the two groups. Some refugees have faced intimidations since the plans of resettlement were announced last November. Soon after, US Assistant Secretary of State Population, Refugees and Migration, Ellen Sauerbrey requested more security from Nepalese officials. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) also said, “While resettlement offers a welcome solution for those who voluntarily choose this option after 17 years in the camps, the UN refugee agency will continue to advocate for the option of voluntary return to Bhutan for those refugees who wish to do so.”

However, the UNHCR has welcomed the issuance of exit permits. A UNHCR statement read, “It was an important step towards finding a solution to the 17-year-old refugees’ problem. Thousands of Bhutanese refugees have applied for third country resettlement and the UNHCR has submitted the details of 10,000 refugees for resettlement to different countries.”

Presently, the refugees are in the midst of the resettlement process. Some are undergoing interviews and extensive medical exams while others are taking part in culture orientation programs.

According to estimates, the first refugees will arrive in the United States in March. A larger group will then exit Nepal in July.

For more information, please see:

The Himalayan Times – First Batch of Bhutanese Refugees to Leave for the United States by March – 4 February 2008

The Hindu – Nepal Issues Exit Permits to Bhutanese Refugees – 4 February 2008

Nepal News – Nepal Issues Exit Permits to Bhutanese Refugees for Third Country Resettlement – 4 February 2008