Merkel Agrees to Limit Refugees Entering Germany

 By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

BERLIN, Germany – German Chancellor Angela Merkel has agreed to limit the number of refugees allowed to enter Germany each year to 200,000, a decision that has elicited both support and criticism in the nation.

Angela Merkel and Horst Seehofer, leader of the Christian Social Union Party. Image courtesy of The Guardian.

The German Christian Social Union and the Christian Democratic Union  were in talks for hours before an agreement could be reached.

Many German voters had been angered with Merkel’s previous open-door policy, which effectively allowed in anyone who could reach the country. In 2015, this policy allowed over one million people in.

In July, Merkel stated “on the issue of an upper limit, my position is clear. I won’t accept one.”

Many see the policy as a concession to the demands of the far-right Alternative for Germany party, or AfD, which was propelled in September’s elections where Merkel lost millions of voters. The AfD campaigned on an anti-Islam, anti-migrant platform, becoming the third largest party in Parliament. The new measure is seen in many as a way of winning back voters.

Many believe that Merkel must negotiate with smaller parties in order to form a cohesive coalition government. Ms. Merkel believes the policy is necessary, saying that “Germany needs a stable government and the prerequisite for this was a common negotiating position.”

In 2016, the number of refugees capped at 280,000. That number has since fallen drastically, with fewer than 124,000 people applying for asylum in the first eight months of 2017. Experts are saying that the proposed limit is in line with current immigration trends.

The new policy is not being described as a limit, as no one who is seeking asylum will be turned away at the borders once the 200,000 limit has been reached. The figure can be altered should a new refugee crisis emerge.

The policy is being criticized, with Karl Kopp, director for European Affairs at Pro Asyl, a German refugee charity, saying that the policy is “not compatible with international law” and “totally unacceptable.”

Simone Peters, head of the Green Party, claimed that “The figure is completely arbitrary, fixed purely ideologically. As far as we’re concerned the fundamental right to asylum applies. When you throw together asylum seekers, refugee contingents, resettlement programs and family members joining refugees all in one pot, and then set a limit of 200,000, one group will be thrown under the bus.”

For more information, please see:

CNN – Merkel Changes Tune on German Refugee Cap – 9 October 2017

The Guardian – Germany: Merkel Agrees to 200,000 Refugees Cap in Bid to Build Coalition – 9 October 2017

The New York Times – Germany’s Angela Merkel Agrees to Limits on Accepting Refugees – 9 October 2017

Fate of Catalonia rests on Catalan president’s shoulders

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe

Supporters of Catalonia’s independence wave Catalan flags in Barcelona, outside of the Catalan parliament building. Image courtesy of Nakam/Zuma Wire/Rex/Shutterstock.

BARCELONA, Spain – Catalonia has yet to determine whether they have declared independence.

On October 10th, Catalonia’s president, Carles Puigdemont decided the southern region of Spain would not immediately declare independence from its mother country.

The statement came after Mr. Puigdemont signed an official declaration of independence. Soon after, Mr. Puigdemont announced the suspension.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has accused the Catalan president of deliberately confusing the Spanish government.

On October 11th, the government officially stated that the “ball was now firmly back in Puigdemont’s court.”

What the Catalonian government does next will determine whether the Spanish government will strip Catalonia of its autonomy using Article 155 of the federal constitution. If this happens, administrative control over Catalonia will be given to the Spanish government.

The struggles over the past several days have caused some divide within Spain itself.

The Constitution itself was established in the late 1970s after years of an authoritarian regime, where Catalans were severely oppressed by a dictator.

Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez, of Spain’s main opposition leadership, has expressed support for using the Constitution to deprive Catalonia of its autonomy.

The support was in exchange for an agreement to form a commission to change the Constitution.

Both sides of the spectrum argue that the other side is a threat to democracy.

Prime Minister Rajoy accused separatists of “foisting their will on all the people of Catalonia,” indicating that they ignore the Catalans who do not want to secede.

Yet Mr. Puigdemont, Catalonia’s president, sees Catalonia as an autonomous region that has “won the right to be independence” as a result of the vote held on October 1st.

“The people’s will” is to break free from the central government in Madrid, Mr. Puigdemont stated in front of the Catalan parliament in Barcelona.

On the day of the election, the Spanish government sent police troops in to various towns and cities around Catalonia. This led to several clashes between Catalans and police, with hundreds reportedly injured.

The chaos that day has led to the launch of an investigation into the allegations of police brutality. The main question is whether law enforcement used excessive force against people who were peacefully assembling to vote or protest.

If the Spanish government does choose to invoke Article 155, it may cause more civil unrest similar to the kind seen on October 1st.

Meanwhile, Mr. Puigdemont told CNN that he is sending a message of “calmness”, stating, “[w]e are facing a political problem that we need to solve with politics and not with police.”

For more information, please see:

The Guardian – Spanish PM asks Catalonia: have you declared independence or not? – 11 October 2017

The New York Times – Spain Asks Catalonia: Did You Declare Independence or Not? – 11 October 2017

BBC News – Catalonia: Spain takes step towards direct rule – 11 October 2017

The Guardian – Catalonia’s suspended declaration of independence: what happens next? – 11 October 2017

BBC News – Catalonia independence declaration signed and suspended – 10 October 2017

Al-Jazeera – Catalan vote: Claims of Spanish police brutality probed – 3 October 2017

 

France Passes Controversial Counterterrorism Bill

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

PARIS, France – On Tuesday, October 3rd, the French Parliament approved a national counterterrorism security bill, significantly expanding the state’s power to fight terrorism. Activists are calling it a historic threat to civil liberties.

Demonstrators Protest Counterterrorism Bill in France. Photo courtesy of The Washington Post.

The bill was passed in response to a wave of terrorist activity that began in November 2015 when 130 people were killed in attacks in Paris. A state of emergency was declared at the time and has been extended six times. Since then, the number of lives taken by terrorist violence has risen to 239.

The legislation, which was enacted at the behest of President Emmanuel Macron, allows French police to conduct searches and seizures and place suspects under house arrest with little court intervention or supervision. With judicial approval, police will also be able to raid private property, impose restrictions on people’s movements, and use electronic surveillance tags.

Mosques and other places of worship will be shut down if intelligence agencies believe religious leaders are promoting radical ideology or justifying terrorist acts.

Activists are concerned with the abuses that may arise with this legislation and its potential to infringe on civil rights and discriminate against French Muslims, the country’s largest minority.

“A project like this one constitutes a threat to our rights because it replaces facts by suspicion,” said Jacques Toubon, who now serves as the country’s human rights watchdog.

One concern is that the legislation is too vague in its language. Police will be able to exercise the measures described in the bill if they have “serious reasons” to suspect someone is involved in terrorist activity.

Many French citizens support the bill and do not believe that it threatens their liberty. They believe that they are more vulnerable to violence without the measures in place.

Other countries have tightened up security in response to terrorist threats, but the French laws are among the broadest in scope.

The United Nations sent a letter to the French government in late September regarding the “restrictions to fundamental liberties” that would be a consequence of the law.

Other critics of the law point to the fact that since the emergency measures have been put in place in 2015, none of them have prevented terrorist attacks.

Marwan Muhammad, director of the Collective Against Islamophobia in France, an advocacy group that fights discrimination, said that a result of the measures will be that “what was problematic and exceptional will now become problematic and normal.”

For more information, please see:

BBC – France Approves Tough New Anti-Terror Laws – 4 October 2017

New York Times – French Parliament Advances a Sweeping Counterterrorism Bill – 3 October 2017

Reuters – France Backs Tough Anti-Terrorism Laws After Wave of Attacks – 3 October 2017

Washington Post – French Muslims Enraged by Passage of Macron’s Version of Patriot Act – 3 October 2017

Tensions in Spain rise as court blocks Catalonia parliament from meeting

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe

Supporters of independence for Catalonia marching in the streets of Barcelona. Image courtesy of Getty Images.

BARCELONA, Spain – Less than a week after Catalonia’s vote for independence from Spain, the highest federal court in the country has blocked the constitutionality of the vote.

On October 5th, the court ruled that allowing the Catalan parliament to meet and consider declaring independence violates the rights of the Catalonian Socialist Party’s members of parliament.

The court urged that any session of the Catalan parliament defying its decision would be “null.”

They also added that any leaders who hold the session could face “criminal action” if they choose to ignore the court’s verdict.

Despite Catalan leader’s call for “peace and accord” in their quest for independence, violence erupted after the vote on October 1st, much of it stemming from citizens clashing with Spanish police.

The Prime Minister of Spain, Mariano Rajoy, has also stated that the situation will “escalate further” if the Catalan government declares independence.

“[The] best [solution] would be a return to legality and the swiftest possible confirmation that there won’t be a unilateral independence declaration, because that way still greater harm could be avoided,” Mr. Rajoy said in a statement to the Spanish news agency Efe.

King Felipe of Spain has also condemned Catalan attempts to secede from the country, calling Catalan actions as “an unacceptable attempt” to take over the institutions placed there by the federal government.

The vote on October 1st has caused much division, both within the region of Catalonia and outside of it.

The New York Times reports a rise of nationalist sentiment throughout Spain, with many pushing openly against Catalonia.

And while 90% of the votes counted on the October 1 election were in favor of independence, the voter turnout hovered at only 42%. This in part may be due to the many anti-secession Catalans who boycotted the election, hoping to avoid giving “legitimacy” to the vote.

Both anti- and pro-independence rallies are reportedly planned for the next several days.

When asked what they thought about the high court’s decision, the Catalan government told CNN, “we will see.”

Indeed, it remains to be seen whether Catalonia will carry forth with their attempt to gain independence from Spain.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Catalan crisis: Spanish court bars MPs’ independence vote – 5 October 2017

The Washington Post – Catalonia poses a real crisis for both Spain and Europe – 5 October 2017

CNN – Spanish court blocks Catalan parliament’s independence move – 5 October 2017

The Guardian – Spanish court blocks Catalan parliament from declaring independence – 5 October 2017

The New York Times – Catalonia Separatism Revives a Long-Dormant Spanish Nationalism – 5 October 2017

Austria Criminalizes the Wearing of Burqas in Public

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

VIENNA, Austria – On Sunday, October 1st, Austria implemented a law prohibiting Muslim women from wearing Burqas in public.

Woman wearing a niqab. Photo courtesy of The Guardian.

The “Prohibition for the Covering of the Face” law, commonly known as the “Burqa Ban,” was approved in May of 2017 and implemented on October 1st. It prohibits women from wearing burqas and niqabs in public.

The decision to prohibit burqas comes at a time when anti-Muslim bigotry is at an all-time high, both in Europe and the United States. The law has thus far garnered strong support in the predominantly Catholic country, reflecting anti-Muslim attitudes.

Similar sentiments have become increasingly prevalent in other European countries. In the midst of elections in Germany in September, the anti-migrant Alternative for Germany party campaigned with posters featuring the slogan “Burqas? We prefer Bikinis.”

The upcoming national election in Austria is looking favorably to those who are campaigning on an anti-migrant message.

Five out of seven of those polled that support the law also said they will vote for the two parties that are linked to anti-Muslim rhetoric, the Freedom Party and the People’s Party.

Muslim women leaders are condemning the law, viewing the claim that it is intended to help women as insincere.

Carla Amina Baghajati, spokeswoman for the Austrian Islamic Religious Authority, criticized the law. “They believe that they are ‘freeing these women’ and that they’re taking action to secure the identity of Austria, but this is hypocritical as the idea of an open society is that everybody has the liberty to act and dress as they please as long as nobody else is harmed,” she said.

Activists and experts say that the ban violates religious rights and will only perpetuate the problem of Islamophobia.

Farid Hafez, a senior research fellow at Georgetown University’s Bridge Initiative, said that “Islamophobia is a problem in Austria as it is a problem and a challenge to democracy, human rights and religious freedom in many European countries today.”

Sebastian Kurz, Foreign Minister of Austria, said that the burqa “is not a religious symbol but a symbol for a counter-society.”

Those who defy the law and continue to cover their faces can be fined up to $175. Police are authorized to use force for anyone resisting the law.

Laws such as these are already in effect in France and Belgium. The Alternative for Germany is also calling for such measures.

The ban affects approximately 150 women.

For more information, please see:

The Guardian – Austria’s Full-Face Veil Ban is a Kneejerk Reaction to the Rise of the Far Right – 1 February 2017

USA Today – Austria Becomes Latest European Country to Ban Burqas – But Adds Clown Face Paint, Too – 27 September 2017

PBS – ‘Burqa Ban” Law Signals Rightward Political Turn in Austria – 30 September 2017

Aljazeera – Austria Face Veil Ban ‘Criminalizes’ Muslim Women – 1 October 2017

BBC – Austrian Ban on Full-Face Veil in Public Places Comes Into Force – 1 October 2017

New York Times – Austria’s ‘Burqa Ban’ Law Comes Into Force – 1 October 2017

Washington Post – ‘Burqa Ban’ Law Signals Rightward Political Turn in Austria – 1 October 2017

Dozens of LGBT People Arrested and Detained in Azerbaijan

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

BAKU, Azerbaijan – Dozens of gay and transgender people in Azerbaijan’s capital city Baku have been detained and sentenced to jail this month.

People Gather in Support of LGBT Community in Madrid, Spain. Photo Courtesy of CBC News.

Those arrested have been sentenced to up to thirty days in jail. They are also being demanded to provide names and addresses of gay and transgender acquaintances.

The detainees have been subjected to beatings and medical examinations, according to the Civil Rights Defenders, a human rights group based out of Sweden. Transgender women have been forced to have their heads shaved.

Azerbaijan government officials claim that the arrests are part of a crackdown on the illegal sex trade in Baku, but Samed Rahumli, a lawyer who is assisting the victims, said the police “targeted homosexuals in general, not prostitutes as they have claimed.”

Rahumli reported that those “detained were subjected to inhuman treatment and torture. Their heads were shaved, some were electroshocked.”

In some instances, police posed online as gay or transgender people looking for dates.

One victim, who identified himself as Hasan, reported that police claimed he was a sex worker, beat him and demanded he provided information pertaining to his alleged clients.

According to activists, the reasoning provided by the government is being used as a pretext for persecution of the LGBT community.

The detainees were being held under “administrative detention”, which is a legal practice in Azerbaijan that allows for the bypass of public hearing prior to sentencing.

A survey conducted in 2016 by a human rights organization ranked Azerbaijan as the worst of 49 European counties in which to be gay.

International organization Human Rights Watch reported that men have been outed to their families and that these relatives have been encouraged to carry out honor killings.

Several victims have been evicted from their apartments as a result of the raids.

The arrests are reminiscent of the detainment and torture of gay men in Chechnya earlier this year. In some cases there, victims were killed.

A spokesman for the country’s interior ministry said “these raids are not against all sexual minorities. The arrested are people who demonstratively show a lack of respect for those around them, annoy citizens with their behaviour, and also those whom police or health authorities believe to be carriers of infectious diseases.”

Evelyne Paradis, European executive director of the International Lesbian,Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, called “for the immediate release of anyone still in detention.”

For more information, please see:

ABC News – Dozens of LGBT People Detained in Azerbaijan Capital – 29 September 2017

CBC News – Azerbaijan Arresting More LBGT People ‘day by day’, Activist Says 30 September 2017

The Guardian – Outcry as Azerbaijan Police Launch Crackdown on LGBT Community – 28 September 2017

Independent – Mass Arrests of LGBT People in Azerbaijan Condemned by Human Rights Groups – 28 September 2017

NBC News – Dozens of LGBTQ Reportedly Arrested in Azerbaijan – 26 September 2017

New York Times – Azerbaijan Detains Dozens of Gay and Transgender People – 29 September 2017

Washington Post – Dozens of LGBT People Detained in Azerbaijan Capital – 29 September 2017

Clashes with Spanish government as Catalans move to vote for independence

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe

Police fire rubber bullets at Catalans attempting to vote. Image courtesy of AP Photos.

BARCELONA, Spain – Despite the Spanish government deeming the vote “illegal”, citizens in the Catalonia region of Spain on October 1st held an independence referendum.

Catalonia has sought independence from Spain for several years. Barcelona, one of Spain’s biggest cities, is nestled in the region.

Catalonia has its own language, and many of its residents have never felt “Spanish”. This was part of the driving force behind the October 1st vote.

Polls suggest that 7.8 million people in Spain support Catalan independence.

Despite this, the government in Madrid has fought against allowing Catalan to sever from Spain.

The federal government has seized voting materials, imposed fines on officials for supporting the election, and sent several groups of law enforcement to prevent the vote from happening.

Protests quickly erupted in the streets of Barcelona on Sunday, October 1st, which quickly led into violent clashes between law enforcement and citizens.

The police, in riot gear, stormed into an elementary school polling station, while election activists grabbed the ballot boxes, hiding them in various places around the school.

Once the police left, voting recommenced.

However, that was not the end of the chaos.

More than 300 people were reportedly injured in clashes with law enforcement.

Some of the injuries suffered came from rubber bullets from police, who shot at crowds lined up to vote outside polling centers.

Police also faced protestors, dragging them and whipping them with batons.

The scene in Catalonia is being called a “mass act of civil disobedience”. While Spain is a democratic country, its history with authoritarian governments is still fresh in the minds of some citizens.

“The government today is in a position to affirm that we can celebrate the referendum of self-determination-not as we wanted, but [as democracy] guarantees,” Jordi Turull, spokesman for the Catalan government, stated at a news conference.

Under dictator Francisco Franco in the early 1900s, Catalonia was heavily repressed. Citizens were barred from speaking Catalan disallowed to give children traditional Catalan names.

Democracy would not be completely established in Spain until the 1970s. The push for Catalonian independence would not come to its full extent until the financial crisis of 2007 and 2008.

Catalonia was given autonomy, but not independence or sovereignty, by the central government in Spain five years ago.

But on election day, Spain rescinded that autonomy and took control of Catalonian’s finances.

Even with popular opinion indicating a majority of support for independence, it is unclear what will happen next.

“Spain let us vote in 2014,” one of the organizers of the October 1st vote said to ABC News. He was referring to the vote in 2014, where most people who voted said “yes” on a ballot to sever from Spain.

That vote did not go anywhere.

“This time they refuse [to let us vote] because they know it’s happening,” he added. “I hope it’s the last battle.”

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Catalan referendum: ‘Hundreds hurt’ as police try to stop voters – 1 October 2017

The Telegraph – Catalan Referendum: Riot police ‘fire rubber bullets’ at crowd as they block voters at besieged polling stations – 1 October 2017

The Washington Post – Clashes during Catalan independence vote injure more than 300, including 12 police officers – 1 October 2017

The New York Times – Catalans, Elated but Fearful, Brace for Independence Vote – 29 September 2017

ABC News – What you need to know about the Catalan independence referendum – 26 September 2017

BBC News – Catalonia referendum: Madrid moves to take over local policing – 23 September 2017

United Nations Reports ‘Grave’ Human Rights Abuses in Crimea

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

GENEVA, Switzerland – In a report published on September 25th, the United Nations cited grave instances of human rights abuses in Crimea.

People Wave Flags in Observation of the Third Anniversary of Russia’s Annexation of Crimea. Photo Courtesy of the New York Times.

“There is an urgent need for accountability,” UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said of the situation.

The United Nations ordered the human rights investigation in December 2016. The report is based on interviews conducted from Ukraine, as investigators were not allowed access into the region.

Among the abuses found are incidences of illegal arrests, allegedly taking place to instill fear and stifle opposition. There is also evidence of torture, and a finding of at least one extra-judicial execution. Additionally, between 2014 and 2015, dozens of people were abducted, and ten still remain missing.

The abuses are alleged to have been perpetrated by the Federal Security Service, Russian police officers and a paramilitary group.

Crimea was illegally annexed by Russia in 2014 in a referendum that was and is not recognized by the international community. It has been condemned by the European Union as well as the United States and has resulted in sanctions against Russia.

The human rights abuses are primarily directed at the Tatars, a Turkic speaking minority in Crimea that makes up about 12% of its population.

The report states that “while those human rights violations and abuses have affected Crimean residents of diverse ethnic backgrounds, Crimean Tatars were particularly targeted especially those with links to the Mejlis.”

The Tatar parliament, the Mejelis, boycotted the referendum on joining Russia and were deemed an extremist organization and banned by Moscow in 2016. The Tatar community has since been limited in its ability to celebrate important dates and display cultural symbols.

Tatyana Moskalkova, Russia’s human rights ombudsman, states that the report is “an unjust and biased assessment of the human rights situation in Crimea.” A Crimean official has also stated that the report is not objective or indicative of reality.

Thousands of Crimean residents have fled rather than be subject to forced Russian citizenship.

The report notes that hundreds of Crimean prisoners were illegally transferred to Russian jails, an act that violates international law. Three detainees who were transferred died after they did not receive medical treatment for serious medical conditions.

“The frequency and severity of these human rights violations, together with the lack of accountability, has created an atmosphere of impunity which encourages the further perpetuation of such violations,” said Fiona Frazer, lead of the investigating mission.

For more information, please see:

Anadolu Agency – UN Says Russia Violating Crimea Tatars’ Rights – 25 September 2017

BBC News – UN Accuses Russia of Violating Human Rights in Crimea – 25 September 2017

New York Times – Russia Committed ‘Grave’ Rights Abuses in Crimea, UN Says – 25 September 2017

Reuters – Russian Occupation of Crimea Marked by Grave Human Rights Violations – 25 September 2017

Washington Post – UN Human Rights Office: Russia Violating International Law in Crimea – 25 September 2017

Syrian Activist and her Daughter Murdered in Turkey

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

ISTANBUL, Turkey – A Syrian activist and her daughter, a journalist, were fatally stabbed in their home on September 21st in Istanbul’s Uskudar neighborhood.

Orouba Barakat and her daughter, Halla. Photo Courtesy of BBC News.

Orouba Barakat, 60, and her daughter, Halla, 23, were found stabbed to death in their Istanbul apartment.

Orouba was a prominent activist for the Syrian National Coalition, although she was critical of some of the opposition groups. She left Syria in the 1980s and worked for some time covering economic and political affairs for Arab newspapers. She had recently been investigating allegations of torture in prisons run by the Assad regime.

Halla was born in North Carolina. She was a freelance journalist for Orient News, TRT World and ABC News. Friends contacted police when Halla did not show up for work.

In the weeks leading up to their deaths, both women had received threats from Syrian regime supporters. A Turkish newspaper, The Cuhhiryet, published details indicating there were similarities between the killings of the mother and daughter and those known to have been committed by the Islamic State.

Family members believe that the killings were perpetrated by the Assad government. Orouba and Halla had been critical of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.

Orouba’s sister, Shaza, said of the killings “We accuse the Syrian regime, the gangs, because we are against the unjust government, this deadly oppressor, which has killed three quarters of the Syrians and displaced the rest, and destroyed all of Syria.”

Another relative, Suzanne Barakat, noted that the women “were vocal activists in the Syrian revolution, speaking truth to power, and raising awareness about the atrocities committed by the Assad regime.”

There have been four other Syrian journalists murdered in Turkey since 2015.

The US State Department released the following statement concerning the murders: “The United States is deeply saddened by the deaths of Arouba and Halla Barakat. Halla served as a journalist for Orient News and we remember the courageous work of her mother, Orouba, a Syrian activist who reported on the Syrian regime’s atrocities. The United States condemns the perpetrators of these murders and we will closely follow the investigation.”

Orouba and Halla had been friends with American humanitarian worker Kayla Mueller, who was taken hostage by ISIS in Aleppo, Syria in 2013 and killed 18 months later.

Before their deaths, Orouba and Halla were preparing to start a charity for Syrian women living in refugee camps in Turkey in Mueller’s honor.

For more information, please see:

ABC News – Syrian-American Journalist and her Mother, Friends of ISIS Hostage Kayla Mueller, Killed in Turkey – 22 September 2017

BBC News – Syrian Activist and Journalist Daughter ‘Murdered’ in Istanbul – 22 September 2017

New York Times – Syrian Activist and her Daughter Fatally Stabbed in Turkey – 22 September 2017

People – American Journalist and Activist Mom Found Strangled and Stabbed in Turkey: Reports – 22 September 2017

Washington Post – Syrian Activist, Journalist Daughter Found Dead in Turkey – 22 September 2017

According to UN Report, Migrant Children Endure Severe Human Rights Abuses

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

GENEVA, Switzerland – According to a September 5th report released by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), more than 75 percent of migrant children attempting to reach Europe are victims of severe human rights abuses.

Young Child Awaiting Rescue. Photo Courtesy of Yahoo! News UK.

The findings are based on testimonies obtained from over 22,000 migrants and refugees, including 11,000 children, given to the International Organization for Migration, the UN’s Migration Agency.

Afshan Khan, UNICEF Europe Regional Director, said of the findings, “the stark reality is that it is now standard practice that children moving through the Mediterranean are abused, trafficked, beaten and discriminated against.”

The victims reported being subjected to a myriad of abuses, including sexual exploitation, forced labor, child marriage and beatings.

A 17-year-old girl from Nigeria reported being raped, held captive and threatened with violence. An Afghan boy recalled being forced into labor and beaten if he stopped working. Another child said, “if you try to run, they shoot you. If you stop working, they beat you. We were just like slaves. At the end of the day, they just lock you inside.”

UNICEF reports that children originating from sub-Saharan Africa are particularly at risk. Those travelling from Libya along the Mediterranean route are vulnerable due to the route being laden with crime and a lack of policing. The risk also increases for children who are travelling alone and over long periods of time.

The UNICEF report comes amid a substantial increase in the number of children migrating to Europe in recent years. Between 2010 and 2011, 66,000 children travelers were reported. That number has now surged to over 300,000.

The children making these harrowing journeys are often unaccompanied. Of those under 18 years of age arriving to Italy via the Mediterranean Sea passages from North Africa in 2016, 92% were alone.

“For people who leave their countries to escape violence, instability or poverty, the factors pushing them to migrate are severe, and they make perilous journeys knowing that they may be forced to pay with their dignity, their wellbeing or even their lives,” said IOM Regional Director for the European Union, Norway and Switzerland, Eugenio Ambrosi.

UNICEF’s report has prompted calls for the European Union and other parties to “put in place lasting solutions that include safe and legal migration pathways, establishing protection corridors and finding alternatives to the detention of migrant children,” said Khan.

For more information, please see:

ABC News – CORRECTION: United Nations – Children Migrants Story – 12 September 2017

Abdolu Agency – UNICEF says Many Young Migrants Face Exploitation – 12 September 2017

UNICEF – Up to Three Quarters of Children and Youth Face Abuse, Exploitation and Trafficking on Mediterranean Migration Routes – 12 September 2017

UN News Centre – Abuse, Exploitation and Trafficking ‘Stark Reality’ for Migrant Children Trying to Reach Europe – 12 September 2017

Reuters – ‘Just Like Slaves’; African Migrant Children Face Highest Risk of Abuse: Report – 11 September 2017

Yahoo! News UK – Young Migrants Face Abuse on Way to Europe – UN – 11 September 2017

Far-right not far behind in 2017 German election results

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe

A far-right campaign sign urging Germans to stop “Islamification” of Germany. Image courtesy of Getty Images. 

BERLIN, Germany – German Chancellor Angela Merkel won a fourth term after the general election on September 24th.

The results come during a shift in European politics. Many frustrations have risen over the migrant crisis, including Germany’s high intake of refugees coming from the middle east.

Despite this, Chancellor Merkel’s conservative party won a slim majority in Germany’s coalition government. The Social Democrats, whom the conservatives work closely with, came in second with 33%.

But 13% of the vote went to the far-right party Alternative for Deutschland, raising concerns for many about potential opposition.

Indeed, Alternative for Deutschland (“AfD”) has already begun to express this sentiment.

The head of the AfD party, Alexander Gauland, has already told supporters that the government should “dress warmly” in preparation.

The vote makes AfD the third largest party in the coalition government.

This is the first time in over 60 years that a far-right nationalist party has had any control in the German government.

AfD raises many concerns within Germany. The party is vehemently anti-immigration, including the taking in of refugees, and has expressed anti-Muslim sentiment in many of its platforms.

Leaders of the party have suggested that Germany stop “apologizing” for its past Nazi ideology, stating, “If the French are rightly proud of their Emperor…We have the right to be proud of the German soldiers in two world wars.”

The AfD favors closure of German borders, citing fears over “Islamification” of the west.

Part of the policy platform includes banning the Burka, a common clothing item for Muslim women, and cutting off any foreign funding for mosques in Germany.

Its election “manifesto” contains a section explaining why the party believes that “Islam does not belong in Germany.”

“It is worrying,” said Michael Fuchs, a member of the Christian Democrat Bundestag*. “[For the first time since World War II] there will be a political party within the walls of the Reichstag building which does not distance itself from the Nazi past and which tolerates members who publicly express themselves in racist and xenophobic language.”

Political scientists in Germany cite disillusionment and frustration with establishment as two possible reasons for why AfD received such a large percentage of the vote.

“Many voters have felt that the two parties have not addressed the issue of immigration and German cultural identity,” Gideon Botsch, a political scientist from the University of Potsdam said.

“And that has led them to consider voting for the AfD.”

This election leads to a complicated situation for Chancellor Merkel. It remains to be seen whether the AfD will have any impact on the refugee population of Germany in the future.

For more information, please see:

New York Times – Angela Merkel Is Headed for German Election Victory as Far Right Enters Parliament – 24 September 2017

The Guardian – German elections 2017: Angela Merkel makes gains, exit poll says – live updates – 24 September 2017

CNN – German election: Angela Merkel set for fourth term as far-right surges – 24 September 2017

The Independent – German elections: Far-right wins MPs for first time in half a century – 24 September 2017

ABC News – Merkel wins fourth term as German far-right party makes gains – 24 September 2017

NPR – Far-Right German Party Could Lead Opposition After Sunday’s Election – 22 September 2017

Al-Jazeera – Who are Germany’s far-right AfD? – 21 September 2017

BBC News – What does Alternative for Germany (AfD) want? – 18 September 2017

Modern Slavery Ring Dispelled With Conviction of Eleven Family Members in UK

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

LINCOLNSHIRE, England – A family of eleven has been sentenced to a total of approximately 80 years in prison for administering a modern slavery ring on their property for decades.

Victims Were Forced to Live in Horrendous Conditions. Photo Courtesy of BBC.

For 26 years, the Rooney family, who ran a driveway resurfacing company, targeted vulnerable men on the streets and in shelters in Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire, and London, promising them money, accommodations and food in exchange for work. Many of the victims, whose ages ranged from 18 to 63, were homeless, had mental disabilities or drug and alcohol problems.

When the men arrived to the worksite, they were forced to live in small caravans without running water, plumbing or heat.

In addition to the dilapidated conditions, the men worked seven days a week, from dawn to dusk, in all kinds of weather. They were fed poorly or sometimes not at all. They were also subjected to beatings and denied medical care for their injuries and illnesses. One man, whose captivity spanned 25 years, was forced to dig his own grave.

“Your victims had reached a position where they were cowed into submission. Any resistance, they knew, was futile. It would have been met by you recruiting other family members and delivering more violence,” Judge Thomas Spencer told the Rooney family.

While the men they abused lived in squalid conditions, the family lived extravagantly, driving expensive cars and taking lavish vacations. Judge Spencer, who sentenced the family, called the abuses “akin to the gulf between medieval royalty and the peasantry.”

The Director of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary’s fraud investigation unit, Simon York, said: “This was a truly appalling case. These people lived a life of luxury by exploiting and abusing highly vulnerable individuals. They stripped them of their humanity, forcing them to live and work in terrible conditions.”

Judge Spencer also warned that abuse of this kind could be happening nationwide on a “shocking scale.”

Detectives said last month that the number of victims of modern slavery and human trafficking in the United Kingdom is currently estimated to be in the tens of thousands.

There are currently over 300 policing operations in the United Kingdom working to identify and prosecute cases of modern slavery.

“The severity of these crimes is underlined by the sentences imposed by the judge, Chief Superintendent Chris Davison, Head of Crime for Lincolnshire Police, said of the case. “The victims will never get the years back that were taken away from them, but I hope this provides them with some comfort that justice has been served and demonstrates that we will do everything in our power to try and stop others suffering in the ways that they did.”

For more information, please see:

BBC – Rooney Traveller Family Jailed for Modern Slavery Offences – 12 September 2017

The Guardian – 11 Family Members in Lincolnshire Jailed in ‘Chilling Slavery Case’ – 12 September 2017

The Guardian – Modern Slavery at UK Traveller Site may be tip of Iceberg, Warns Judge – 13 – September 2017

Independent – Rooney Family Behind Modern Slavery Ring in Lincolnshire Jailed for Total of 79 Years –  12 September 2017

Independent – Slaves on our Streets: Why London is a Global hub for Modern Slavery 13 September 2017

The Irish Times – 11 Members of Traveller Family Jailed in UK Slavery Case – 12 September 2017

Metro – Millionaire Family who Kept 18 Homeless men as Slaves Jailed for 80 Years – 13 September 2017

Bombing at London underground station leaves city defiant, not deflated

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe

The London tube station where an IED went off, minutes after the attack. Image courtesy of BBC Broadcast.

LONDON, United Kingdom – Twelve years ago, a bomb went off in the London Underground subway system, killing 52 people and leaving others injured.

On September 15th, 2017, a bomber targeted the London underground. It is the first attack on the London transit system since the one in 2005.

This time, 29 were injured, but no one died.

Still, Prime Minister Theresa May raised the terror threat level for the United Kingdom to “critical”.

The police have arrested one suspect, an 18-year-old, after a raid on the suspect’s house in Surrey. While it is unclear whether the suspect was affiliated with any international terror organization, terror group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (“ISIS” or “Daesh”) have taken responsibility for the attack.

But the police have urged people to avoid “pure speculation,” after U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted a suggestion that the Scotland Yard knew about the attack before it was to happen.

Prime Minister May also called Mr. Trump’s statement “unhelpful”.

Police continue to release limited information regarding the arrest and the continued investigation.

Despite the terror threat level set at “critical”, people in the city continued about their business in the wake of the attack. Londoners went to work, tourists gathered outside of Buckingham Palace to snag photos, and the only underground station closed was the Parsons Green one, where the bomb was detonated.

In an editorial for the London-based newspaper The Guardian, the writers suggest that this “lack of excitement” for this attack may be what the country needs.

“The terrorists want to rouse terror and the kind of anger which quenches reason,” they write. “it’s important and we should continue to keep our heads over what is by any reasonable standard a pinprick attack.”

In its title, the editorial aptly suggested that Londoners “keep calm and carry on”. This phrase comes from a motivational poster produced by the British government to boost the morale of the public during World War II, while Great Britain was a constant target of air strikes by the Axis powers.

London mayor Sadiq Khan also urged citizens to not be intimidated by the threat of terror.

“[We] condemn the hideous individuals who attempt to used terror to harm us and destroy our way of life,” he stated.

“As London has proven again and again, we will never be intimidated or defeated by terrorism.”

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Parsons Green: Armed police search house over Tube bombing – 16 September 2017

CNN – London Tube attack latest: Arrest made as terror threat raised to ‘critical’ – 16 September 2017

The Guardian – Parsons Green bombing: police arrest man and raid Surrey house – 16 September 2017

The New York Times – ‘Bucket Bomb’ Strikes London’s Vulnerable Underground – 15 September 2017

The Guardian – The Guardian view on the London tube bomb: keep calm and carry on – 15 September 2017

BBC News – 7 July London bombings: What happened that day? – 3 July 2015

ECHR limits employers’ infringement on private communications of employees

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe

The ECHR, located in France. Image courtesy of Getty Images.

STRASBOURG, France – The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled against employers surveilling their employees internet use earlier this month.

The ruling, released the first week of September, held that employers must notify employees that their emails and other internet usage may be monitored.

The case has been in the works since 2007, when instant messaging and e-mailing was growing in popularity.

A man in Romania, Bogdan Barbulescu, was terminated from his job when his employer discovered he was using the company’s messaging system to communicate with family members.

Mr. Barbulescu’s superiors brought printouts of the private messages, some of which were intimate, to prove that he was violating the company’s policy against private messaging during work hours.

Mr. Barbulsecu brought suit in Romanian court, alleging that the company violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees “respect for private and family correspondence.”

The Romanian court dismissed his claim. When the lower ECHR chambers ruled against him, finding no violation of privacy, Mr. Barbulescu appealed to the higher chambers.

There, the judges ruled in his favor 11-6, finding that the Romanian judges were incorrect when they dismissed Mr. Barbulescu’s case.

Even though Mr. Barculsecu was aware of the limitations on workplace internet use, the Court reasoned that this was not enough to substantiate such a violation of privacy.

“Although it was questionable whether Mr. Barculescu could have had a reasonable expectation of private in view of his employer’s restrictions on internet use, of which he had been informed, an employer’s instructions could not reduce private social life in the workplace to zero,” the court wrote.

Further, it was questionable what the company’s motives were for monitoring Mr. Barculsecu’s private correspondence in the first place. No evidence was presented by the company that explained why the company was investigating.

The landmark decision calls into question how far the right to privacy goes in Europe.

“It does not [generally] prohibit monitoring [of communications],” said Esther Lynch, the European Trade Union’s confederal secretary. Instead, she says it “sets high thresholds for its justification.”

“This is a very important step to better protect worker’s privacy.”

While the ECHR does not have the power to create legislation, its rulings set precedent used to guide national courts when they are tasked with interpreting the European Convention.

France, in particular, has represented to the court that the decision will carry implications on privacy and employment law. It may effectively bar employer’s ability to terminate employees over private communications.

For more information, please see:

The Telegraph – Landmark European ruling heralds end of snooping bosses spying on worker’s emails and instant chats – 5 September 2017

The New York Times – European Court Limits Employers’ Right to Monitor Worker’s Email – 5 September 2017

BBC News – ECHR court reverses ruling on sacking over private messages – 5 September 2017

Reuters – European court rules companies must tell employees of email checks – 5 September 2017

The Guardian – Employers’ rights to monitor office emails to be decided by European court – 4 September 2017

After EU Ruling, Prime Minister of Hungary Vows to Continue Fight Against Migrants

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

BUDAPEST, Hungary – After the European Union on September 6th dismissed Hungary and Slovakia’s challenge against mandatory migrant quotas, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban vowed to continue fighting.

Serbian Migrants Outside Hungarian Border Fence, 2015. Photo Courtesy of The New York Times.

The ruling issued by the EU reaffirms the requirement that EU members provide refuge for a specified share of asylum-seekers reaching Europe. Under the plan, Syrian, Iraqi and Eritrean refugees escaping violence in the Middle East and Africa are to be spread among the 28 member states of the EU. Hungary is required to take in 1,294 of these refugees. If they do not abide by the ruling, the EU has the right to impose fines.

The Mediterranean migrant crisis of 2015 prompted the EU to enact mandatory quotas for those seeking asylum. The initial purpose of the quotas was to ease the burden on Italy and Greece, as these countries were at the time being inundated. The number of migrants has since declined, which has made noncompliance easier for member-states opposed to the quota.

Prime Minister Orban maintains that Hungary is under no obligation to let anyone in.  “These countries with colonial legacy, which have become immigrant countries by now, want to impose on us Central Europeans their own logic … but Hungary does not want to become an immigrant country,” Orban said.

During the height of the migrant crisis, Budapest installed border fences and hired border police to patrol the fences to keep migrants out. Orban last month requested reimbursement funds from the EU for these measures. He has since been chided by the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker for this request and for failing to participate in the quota scheme.

This is not the first time that Hungary has been criticized. In July 2016, Human Rights Watch cited Hungary’s treatment of detained refugees and migrants as “breaking all the rules of asylum seekers.”

Orban believes that enforcement of the quota scheme “raises a very serious question of principles: whether we are an alliance of European free nations with the Commission representing our joint interests, or a European empire which has its center in Brussels and which can issue orders.”

This opposition is in contrast to Hungary’s position in 1989, when it allowed those under communist-ruled Eastern Europe to pass freely through its borders. At that time, Hungary declared that it was following “generally accepted international principles of human rights and humanitarian consideration.”

Since the current compulsory quota scheme was enacted, Hungary has not accepted a single refugee.

For more information, please see:

Aljazeera – Hungary to Fight EU Migrant Quotas Despite Setback – 8 September 2017

Anadolu Agency – Hungary Declares ‘Political Fight’ Over EU Ruling – 8 September 2017

Reuters – Hungarian PM Orban Says Will Fight After EU Ruling on Migrant Quota – 8 September 2017

The New York Times – Hungary is Making Europe’s Migrant Crisis Worse – 8 September 2017

The Washington Post –  Hungary and Slovakia Challenged Europe’s Refugee Scheme. They Just Lost Badly. – 8 September 2017

The New York Times – E.U. Countries Must Accept Their Share of Migrants, Court Rules – 6 September 2017