Data Reveals that Rendition Planes Landed in Poland

By Elizabeth A. Conger
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

WARSAW, Poland – Polish flight authorities have admitted their involvement in the CIA’s secret program for the rendition of high-level terrorist suspects from Iraq and Afghanistan. After six years of denying denying their involvement, Warsaw’s air control service confirmed that at least six CIA rendition flights landed in Szymany airfield in northern Poland. 

Two human rights groups, the Open Society Justice Initiative, based in New York, and the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, based in Warsaw, received the flight logs from the Polish Air Navigation Services Agency in September, and released reports regarding Polish involvement in the rendition program on Monday after analyzing the data for the past several months.

Darian Pavli, a lawyer with the Open Society Justice Initiative, said: “The thing that is quite shocking is that the European investigations requested these specific flight records some four years ago…The Poles all these years said that they could not locate them, the flights didn’t exist.”

For years human rights investigators have asserted that Poland was the location of one of the “black sites,” part of of the network of the CIA’s overseas prisons where suspected Al-Qaeda operatives were detained and subjected to brutal interrogation techniques. Polish authorities repeatedly denied the allegations, and refused to cooperate with international investigations.

An extensive Council of Europe investigation in 2007 found that a prison facility located near the Szymany airfield was rented by the CIA from the Poles and used to detain “especially sensitive high-value detainees.” The Council’s report accused fourteen European governments of permitting the CIA to run detention centers or carry out rendition flights between 2002 and 2005.  According to former American intelligence officials, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, chief plotter of the 9/11 attack, was interrogated at the  secret base near the Syzmany airport after his capture in 2003. 

CIA spokesman, Paul Gimigliano, said: “The agency does not discuss publicly where facilities related to its past detention program may, or may not, have been located.”

The Polish Air Navigation Services released flight data showing that at least two of the planes linked to CIA rendition flights, a Boeing 737 and a Gulfstream V, flew from Kabul and Rabat, in Morocco, to Syzmany at least six times between February and September 2003. Kabul and Rabat are the locations of the detention of at least two of the rendition detainees. Flight logs also revealed an attempted cover up by the CIA and Polish authorities, with aviation authorities being told that several of the flights were destined for Warsaw, rather then Syzmany, and names of pilots having been changed.

The Polish government declined to comment on the contents of the reports issued by the two rights groups, but Foreign Ministry spokesman, Piotr Paszkowski, said that the prosecutor’s office was currently investigating the allegations.

Adam Bodnar, head of the legal division at Warsaw’s Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, said: “These flight records reinforce the troubling findings of official European inquiries and global human rights groups, showing complicity with CIA abuse across Europe.”

He added: “Of course Polish authorities may help the CIA in the fight against terrorism, but they are bound by the Polish Constitution, which prohibits torture.” 

For more information, please see:

The Guardian – Poland admits role in CIA rendition programme – 22 February 2010

The New York Times – Data Shows Rendition Planes Landed in Poland – 22 February 2010

The Wall Street Journal – Poland Delivers Official Confirmation of CIA Flights – 22 February 2010

Washington Post – Details posted on alleged CIA-flights to Poland – 22 February 2010

Montenegrin Political Opposition Leader Attacked

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

PODGORICA, Montenegro – The opposition political leader in Montenegro was attacked outside of his home in the capital city of Podgorica on Saturday.

Nebojsa Medojevic, the leader of the political party Montenegro Movement for Change (PZP), has been an outspoken critic of current Prime Minister Milo Dukanovic.  Among the allegations that Medojevic has made against the Prime Minster is that he has been protecting the former Yugoslavian republic’s organized crime elements and its illegal drug trade.

According to police reports the attacker threatened to kill Medojevic and warned him “to stop mentioning the name of Branislav Micunovic”, one of the nation’s wealthiest individuals.  In the past Medojevic as described Micunovic as having control over the country’s police forces and being “the most powerful person in Montenegro”.  Shortly after the attack the local police announced that they had captured the individual who carried out the assault on Medojevic.  The PZP reported that the suspect in custody is a relative of Micunovic.

Following the attack Medojevic declared that he will not stop continuing his fight against organized crime in Montenegro.  “I am in fear of being killed and I expect there will be more attacks in the next few days, because the attack on me is a message from the mafia to stop my fight against crime-generating organizations and organized crime.”  Medojevic also commented that he thought the attack on him was an example of “classic Mafia-style intimidation.”

The Police Director of Montenegro,Veselin Veljovic, has stated that the “police have no information on the well-known…businessman Branislav Micunovis having any connections to Drako Saric, or the cocaine smuggling business.”

For more information, please see:

NOVINITE – Montenegro Opposition Leader Allegedly Attacked by Mafia – 21 February 2010

RADIO MONTENEGRO – Montenegrin opposition seeks security council session after attack on party head – 21 February 2010

SETIMES – Montenegrin opposition leader assaulted – 21 February 2010

B92 – Montenegrin politician attacked and threatened – 2o February 2010

Reforms Passed to Tackle Tremendous Backlog at the European Court of Human Rights

By Elizabeth A. Conger
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

The European Court of Human Rights, Strasbourg, France [Source: AP]
The European Court of Human Rights, Strasbourg, France - Source: AP
INTERLAKEN, Switzerland – The Council of Europe has announced plans to streamline procedures at the European Court of Human Rights. The reforms, designed to alleviate the court’s current backlog of 120,000 cases, were agreed upon by ministers from the Council of Europe’s forty seven member states at a meeting in Interlaken on Friday.

Embodied in Protocol 14, the reforms allow for one judge, rather than three, to decide on a case’s admissibility. Furthermore, cases similar to those previously brought before the court will be decided by a three-judge panel, rather than the original seven-member panel. Judges will be able to strike off the record those cases with similarities to those already decided, and reject those cases where the applicant has suffered no “significant disadvantage.” Protocol 14’s reforms will also allow the Committee of Ministers, charged with supervision of the enforcement of judgments, to work more effectively in ensuring that national governments enforce compliance with court decisions.

Judgments at the Court of Human Rights have taken an average of six years or more. Without reform, it is estimated that the current backlog in cases would remain on the docket until 2056.

More than 27,000 of the pending cases originate in Russia, and deal primarily with alleged abuses by Russian security forces in Chechnya involving extra-judicial killings, torture, disappearances, and dismal prison conditions. Russia had initially resisted the reforms, viewing the court as anti-Russian. However, Russia finally agreed to the reforms in January after the Council of Europe agreed to a provision stating that a Russian judge would participate in any decisions about Russia.

Initially created in 1959 as a court of last resort for Europeans who believed that their fundamental rights had been infringed in their home country, the European Court of Human Rights underwent reform on November 1, 1998.  The reform of the court established it as a full time entity, and allowed for the hiring of full-time judges. Most of cases in recent years have come from Russia, Turkey, Ukraine and Romania. It has delivered more than 10,000 judgments since 1998, and has handled a wide array of issues such as book banning in Turkey, crucifixes in Italian classrooms, the right of homosexuals to serve in the British Army, and the disappearances of Chechen rebels.

Karina Moskalenko, a Russian lawyer who runs a civil justice organization to aid Russians seeking to have their cases heard in Strasbourg, told Deutsche Welle that although it is not ideal having to go to France to get a fair hearing, the unreliability of the current justice system in Russia leaves no other option. She said:

“It would be much better if our citizens were protected by Russian courts or authorities, but as long as that is not the case, it’s good that people know who they can turn to.”

The first measures of Protocol 14 are scheduled for implementation in June of 2011, and a review of the reforms will be made in five years.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Mammoth backlog prompts European rights court reforms – 19 February, 2010

Swissinfo.ch – Ministers agree to reform European rights court – 19 February, 2010

Deutsch Welle – Strasbourg, the great white hope for human rights – 18 February 2010

VOA – European Court Facing Huge Backlog – 18 February 2010

Czech Republic Outlaws Political Party

By Kenneth F. Hunt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

PRAGUE, Czech Republic – The highest court in the Czech Republic banned a right-wing political party this week, allegedly to protect Czech democracy. This is the first time that a party has been banned in the country for reasons other than financial irregularities since the country broke away from Slovakia in 1993.

The Czech Republic’s Supreme Administrative Court (NSS) outlawed the Workers’ Party on Wednesday February 17 based on factual findings that indicated a history of using racist and xenophobic language and related violence.

The Court felt that, specifically, homophobic and anti-Semitic language and a checkered history of violence towards gypsy groups constituted a were indicative  threat to Czech democracy.  The Court also linked the Workers’ Party to neo-Nazi and other white supremacy groups. Judge Vojtech Simicek rationalized the decision “as a preventive one”, necessary “to maintain the constitutional and democratic order in the future.”

In 2008, the government unsuccessfully attempted to ban the Worker’s Party, but a trial court dismissed the government’s petition.

For sure, the Workers’ Party has a history of “overzealous” protesting. In particular,  the Workers’ Party has often been involved with organizing and staging anti-gypsy communities in close proximity to Roma communities. These events, according to various press accounts, “typically” end in violence.

For example, in November 2008, 500 or more Worker’s Party members protested in the town of Litvinov. When the group attempted to march on a Roma suburb, some 1,000 riot police were called to diffuse the situation. Seven police and seven demonstrators were injured as a result.

The Workers’ Party has already launched an effort to appeal the decision. Workers’ Party leader Tomas Vandas says that the result was entirely political and designed to exclude the Party from national elections in May, calling the timing “highly suspicious”.

Mr. Vandas also disputed links to neo-Naziism or white supremacy, claiming there is “absolutely nothing” in the Party’s manifesto that indicates these extreme views.

Workers’ Party officials said that even if an appeal does not succeed, the Party will dissolve and regroup under a different name. Mr. Vandas suggested that the Party may now be called the Affiliated Workers’ Social Justice Party.

The Workers’ Party is normally unsuccessful in gaining a significant share of votes in Czech elections. For example, in 2008, only 1% of the electorate voted for Worker’s Party.

Nonetheless, political commentators and human rights group are worried that the NSS ruling will give the government precedent to dismantle other anti-establishment political parties, like the Communist Party which won 14 percent of the vote in 2009 elections.

For more information, please see:

EU OBSERVER – Czech court bans far-right Workers Party – 19 February 2010

BBC – Far-right Czech Workers’ Party to challenge court ban – 18 February 2010

NEW YORK TIMES – Czech Court Bans Far-Right Party – 18 February 2010

PRAGUE POST – Despite ban, Workers Party vows to go on – 17 February 2010

Polish Government Withdraws Internet Censorship Legislation

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

WARSAW, Poland – Facing growing public outcry, Poland’s Prime Minister announced on Thursday that he would be withdrawing the internship censorship legislation currently before the parliament.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s decision came amidst growing doubt regarding the constitutionality of the proposed internet restriction ban.  The legislation had already been sent to Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal, a court designed to resolve issues of constitutionality.  Prior to the decision to withdrawal the legislation, the Prime Minister held had an online discussion with some of the leaders of the legislation’s opposition.

The proposed internet censorship legislation was part of the government’s larger anti-gambling campaign.  Under the proposed legislation, every internet provider in Poland would have been required to block certain websites selected by the government.  The Office of Electronic Communication and the Office of the Finance Ministry, as well as a number of the nation’s law enforcement agencies, were to be in charge of regulating the website ‘blacklist’.

Public protests to the internet legislation were almost immediate.  A petition of 77,000 signatures was submitted to Polish President Lech Kaczynski, requesting that he veto the legislation.  Some in the opposition have been fearful that giving the government the authority to ban gambling websites may lead in the future to the banning of other websites that the government disagrees with.  “Government [censorship] can be compared to gagging citizens even before they start to speak.  It’s  something that even George Orwell could not predict in his famous novel, 1984.”

For more information, please see:

WALL STREET JOURNAL – Poland Abandons Internet Censorship Plans – 18 February 2010

POLSKIE RADIO – Government abandons internet “black list” idea – 17 February 2010

WALL STREET JOURNAL – Polish PM Takes Censorship Debate Offline – 5 February 2010

POLSKIE RADIO – Protest against internet censorship in Poland grows – 29 January 2010

Russian Officials Cover Up Civilian Deaths

By Kenneth F. Hunt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia – A human rights watchdog and Kremlin-friendly ombudsman blamed Russian federal officials with the deaths of four civilians killed in Ingushetia on February 11 and 12. Moreover, evidence is mounting that officials covered up the identities of the casualties and the cause of their death.

On Tuesday February 16, Nurdi Nukhadjiyev, the human rights ombudsman in Chechnya, said that federal forces were to blame for the deaths of four innocent civilians who were killed during an effort by the Kremlin to root out Islamic militants in the Ingushetia region.

This comes just one day after Memorial, a Moscow-based human rights watchdog group, similarly accused the Kremlin of a direct role in the death of the civilians.

The four civilians were killed along with 18 suspected Islamic insurgents during the two-day operation. Memorial, and now Mr. Nukhazhiyev, claims the civilians were caught in cross-fire while gathering wild garlic in the forest during the aerial and artillery bombardment in the Sunza district of Ingushetia over the weekend.

Initially, local and federal officials claimed that 22 Islamic militants were killed. But these new revelations indicate that four of the deaths were civilians. These reports directly contradict the information provided by Russian counter-terrorism officials after the weekend operations.

In addition to the death count revelation, Memorial claims that the cause of death is different than reported by Russian officials. Memorial claims that three civilians were killed by gunfire while one was knifed in the back. Russian officials still maintain that all deaths can be attributed to air bombardment.

But despite denial of these allegations, Ingushetian leader Yunus-Bek Yevkurov apologized for the “unfortunate deaths” of the civilians and compensated their families. But in doing so, Mr. Yevkurov emphasized that the civilians were only victims of cross-fire, and denied allegations of intentional killings of the civilians.

Despite these gestures, Mr. Nukhadjiyev claims that the ongoing investigations of the killings will not be objective because of the interests of the Kremlin to cover up the truth. Mr. Nukhadjiyev wants a formal investigation into the civilian deaths by independent prosecutors.

For more information, please see:

E TAIWAN NEWS – Russian rights advocate blames police for deaths – 16 February 2010

RADIO FREE EUROPE – Rights Activists Dispute Russian Account Of Chechen Killings – 16 February 2010

NEW YORK TIMES – Russia’s Version of Four Deaths Disputed – 15 February 2010

Members of Polish Ethnic Group Jailed and Fined in Belarus

By Elizabeth A. Conger
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

HRODNA, Belarus –  On Sunday, police in Belarus arrested approximately forty members of a banned Polish cultural group, the Union of Poles (ZPB).  Members of the ZPB were arrested as they travelled to a court hearing in the  northwestern town of Volozhyn.

The ZPB, a nonpolitical organization with approximately 20,000 members, promotes Polish language and culture among ethnic Poles living in Belarus. It has been banned for the past five years, ever since it elected Anzhelika Borys as it’s leader in 2005.  The ZPB is currently the largest NGO in Belarus.

A protest was held on February 10, 2010, after police seized a building owned by ZPB, which housed the ZPB’s headquarters. Members of the ZPB were travelling to the court in Volzhyn on Sunday in order to attend the court hearing regarding the confiscation of the house when they were arrested by Belarusian police. 

The Polish government  has condemned the actions of Belarusian authorities, and recalled the its ambassador from Belarus.

Photo: Anzhelika Borys, Chairwoman of the ZPB, elected in 2005. [Source: RFE/RL]
Photo: Anzhelika Borys, Chairwoman of the ZPB, elected in 2005.
Three ZPB members were sentenced to jail today by a court in the western Belarusian city of Hrodna, while dozens of others remain in detention. The court fined Anzhelika Borys, ZPB Chairwoman, one million Belarusian rubles ($360), while ZPB Deputy Chairman Meczislaw Jaskiewicz, spokesman Igor Bancer, and Council Chairman Andrzej Poczobut were sentenced to five days in jail.  Borys has gone into hiding to avoid being taken into militia custody, and she has reportedly given her mobile phone to Bancer to avoid being traced.

Poland’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Andrzej Kremer, told the AFP news agency that the Polish government was:  “deeply worried by the operations being pursued against the representatives of the Polish minority in Belarus.”

Polish media reported that Polish Foreign Minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, has given the Belarusian Foreign Minister, Syarhey Martynau, a letter for President Lukashenko warning him that if Minsk continued to violate the rights of its Polish minority, the Polish government would ban Belarusian government officials from entering Poland and would recommend that Belarus be blocked from entering the EU.

Roughly 400,000 ethnic Poles currently live in Belarus. Human rights groups have accused the Belarusian government of repressing the rights of ethnic Poles living in Belarus. The Belarusian government only recognizes a breakaway faction of the Union of Poles which has declared its loyalty to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. 

Lukashenko has ruled Belarus since 1994, and human rights activists have criticized his authoritarian tactics, which he has used to stifle dissent.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Belarus arrests members of ethnic Polish group – 15 February 2010

RFE – Belarus Fines, Gives Jail Terms to Ethnic Poles – 15 February 2010

thenews.pl – Militia arrests more Poles in Belarus – 15 February 2010

Far-Right British Political Party Amends Bylaws To Allow Non-Whites As Members

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

LONDON, United Kingdom – A British far-right political party that until how has limited its membership to whites has decided, facing legal potential legal action, to allow non-white citizens the opportunity to apply for membership.

On Saturday the British National Party (BNP) met in Essex, England to met regarding the proposed change in membership rules.  Following the meet, party leader Nick Griffin declared that “anyone can be a member of this party.  We are happy to accept anyone as a member providing they agree with us that this country should remain fundamentally British.”

The BNP change comes when the party has faced recent legal challenges to their long standing rule banning any non-white British citizen from gaining membership.  A recent Central London County Court decision ordered the BNP to alter its bylaws or face potential legal action by the United Kingdom’s Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).  Opponents to the policies of the BNP declared that the party’s shift in membership rules does not reflect any moderation in the long-standing reactionary policies of the BNP.  Weyman Bennett, of United Against Fascism, noted that “regardless of the vote, the changes are cosmetic and have only happened because the courts forced them to stop racist practices.”

Following the membership rules change, the anti-fascist group Searchlight declared that “[the change] was a meaningless gesture by the BNP.  No one seriously believes that thousands of black and Asian Britons will now be queuing up to join Nick Griffin’s party.  The BNP are as racist and extremist as ever.”

While the BNP has never garnered more than a faction of a percentage of support among the British citizenry, in recent elections the BNP won its first seat in the European parliament, the legislative body of the European Union.  Rising national unemployment rates and frustration with the larger national political parties has also led to BNP candidates being elected to a handful of local councils.  One of BNP’s signature policies has been its opposition to the current immigration policies of the United Kingdom.  BNP still has not gained a seat in the United Kingdom’s parliament.

A British court is scheduled to rule in March on whether this BNP membership change goes far enough to comply with EHRC’s race relation laws.

For more information, please see:

IRISH TIMES – BNP votes to accept black members – 15 February 2010

AFP – Far-right party votes to drop white-only rule – 14 February 2010

REUTERS – Britain’s far-right party to ditch whites-only membership rule – 14 February 2010

Karadzic Appeal for New Attorney Denied by ICTY

By Kenneth F. Hunt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

THE HAGUE, Netherlands – The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) denied Radovan Karadzic’s appeal of a court-ordered appointment of an attorney to defend him in his impending war crimes case.

Mr. Karadzic, the former leader of Bosnian Serbs, requested that the ICTY, the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal sitting in The Hague, allow him to replace his British court-appointed attorney, Richard Harvey, with a lawyer of his own “heritage and language”. Mr. Harvey became Mr. Karadzic’s attorney in November 2009 when Karadzic boycotted court proceedings and insisted on defending himself.

Mr. Karadzic alleged that he had the right to “legal assistance of his own choosing” under the Statute of the ICTY Article 21(4)(d) and under ICTY case law.

The ITCY, in a written opinion, dismissed the appeal “in its entirety” noting that “[t]he right to self-represent[ation] is not absolute and may be subject to certain limitations.” As such, Mr. Karadzic’s “persistent obstructive behaviour has made it necessary, in the interests of justice, to limit his right to self-representation by assigning counsel to represent his interests.”

Mr. Karazdic’s trial will resume on March 1, assuming no more appeal delays occur, in order to give Mr. Harvey ample time to prepare a defense. The ITCY wants to strictly comply with this trial date so as to avoid a repeat of the situation surrounding former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic’s trial. Mr. Milosevic died in his jail cell during the fourth year of his extended trial.

When it resumes, Mr. Karadzic will face eleven charges of war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity for his role in the wars in Bosnia of the early 1990’s. Karadzic will likely face life in prison, especially if convicted of these crimes, which include a major role in the Srebrenica massacre that left 7,000 Bosnian Muslims dead.

According to Jurist, Mr. Karadzic’s trial will be the ITCY’s last.

For more inforation, please see:

BBC – Karadzic lawyer appeal rejected by ICTY – 12 February 2010

JURIST – ICTY dismisses Karadzic appeal of court-appointed lawyer – 12 February 2010

REUTERS – War crimes court rejects Karadzic appeal on lawyer – 12 February 2010

Russian Police Officers Charged With Assaulting Elderly Man in Ural Mountain City

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

YEKATERINBURG, Russia – An elderly man in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg was allegedly attacked and robbed by local police officers after being unable to produce identification.

Sergei Beloglazov, 62, was returning to his home from a supermarket when he was stopped by a police officer.  The officer demanded identification from Beloglazov.  When Beloglazov informed the officer that he did not have identification with him, the policeman proceeded to push Beloglazov to the ground and kicked him repeatedly.  He was then placed under arrest and placed in jail.  Russian citizens are required by law to have their identification papers on them at all times.

Russian pianist Sergei Beloglazov
Russian pianist Sergei Beloglazov

The story of Beloglazov’s attack was made public after the story was reported by a blogger on a social-networking website.  The day after the assault Beloglazov, who is a classical pianist and professor at Ural State University, filed a complaint with the local prosecutor Yury Ponomarev.  In the aftermath of the story breaking nationally, local police authorities promised to investigate the attack.  Ponomarev has assured the public that “if the police officers are guilty, the head of the Interior Ministry administration will sign an order for the police officers to be called to disciplinary account.”  As a result of the attack, Beloglazov has lost movement in his hands.

The police officers allegedly involved in the attack have been charged with exceeding their official authority through the use of violence, a charge punishable by up to ten years in prison.

The attack on Beloglazov marks that latest in a string of police brutality incidents in Russia within the last year.  Moscow police officer Denis Yevsyukov, who had been drinking while working, shot and killed three people in a city supermarket this past spring.  This most recent attack has inflamed public outcry on the issues of police brutality and corruption in local and national police forces.

For more information, please see:

RADIO FREE EUROPE – Controversy Brewing Over Police Beating Of Elderly Russian Pianist – 11 February 2010

BBC – Russia probes ‘police beating’ of pianist – 10 February 2010

THE OTHER RUSSIA – Charges Filed Against Police for Beating Composer – 10 February 2010

NEWS 24 – Cop beating of pianist probed – 10 February 2010

Chechen Human Rights Activists Detained

By Kenneth F. Hunt

Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

SHALI, Russia – Police in a Shali, a small town in the Republic of Chechnya in Russia, “arbitrarily” detained three human rights activists overnight on Sunday February 7.

According to Human Rights Watch, the three men were questioned separately through the night, not given access to an attorney, and allowed to make phone calls to human rights colleagues outside of Chechnya. Although the men were never under arrest, they were not allowed to leave the Shani precinct.

According to Aleksandr Cherkasov of Memorial Human Rights Center, a rights watchdog based in Moscow, claims that activists were not provided with an explanation for the basis of their detention.

Allegedly, the activists were detained because they met with a Shali citizen who had pertinent information about a local abduction victim. But no official explanation for the detention has yet been given. Moreover, Shanli police did not officially process any of the detentions.

The three prominent activists, Dmitry Yegoshin, Roman Veretennikov, and Vladislav Sadykov, were involved in an investigation of numerous abductions and killings of Chechens over the past years.  In particular, the activists were investigating the abduction and murder of Natalya Estemirova, a member of a Memorial branch in Chechnya. Ms. Estemirova was abducted by unidentified masked kidnappers. Her body was found dead in a vehicle that was shot at and struck dozens of times.

Human rights groups, including Memorial, claim that Ramzan Kadyrov, the President of the Republic of Chechnya, ordered Ms. Estemirova’s kidnapping and killing. Mr. Kadyrov has since dismissed these allegations as “slanderous”.

Human rights activists have accused Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov of ordering kidnappings and murders in the republic. Kadyrov has dismissed the allegations, calling them slanderous.

International human rights groups, including Amnesty International, Civil Rights Defenders, Front Line, and Human Rights Watch, have since released a statement to probe the detentions further.

The groups decried the detentions as continuing examples of Russian impunity. Specifically, Holly Cartner, the Europe and Central Asia Director at Human Rights Watch, said that “[t]his arbitrary detention clearly demonstrates that the Chechen law enforcement agencies continue harassing human rights defenders despite Prime Minister Putin’s recent call for a healthy working environment for human rights groups.”

For more information, please see:

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH – Watchdogs Call For Probe Into Chechen Detentions – 09 February 2010

MOSCOW TIMES – Rights Activists Detained in Chechnya – 09 February 2010

RADIO FREE EUROPE – Watchdogs Call For Probe Into Chechen Detentions – 09 February 2010

Serbian Government Considers Resolution to Officially Condemn the Srebrenica Massacre without using the Term ‘Genocide’

By Elizabeth A. Conger
Impunity Watch, Europe

BELGRADE, Serbia – Serbia’s parliament is considering the adoption of a long-awaited resolution whereby the Serbian government would officially condemn the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. The speaker of the Serbian parliament, Slavica Đukić-Dejanović, said that the resolution should be ready by March, despite wrangling in the Serbian parliament over use of the term ‘genocide’ to describe the mass killings.

The massacre at Srebrenica is the largest mass-murder to have occurred in Europe since the end of the second world war. Despite its designation as a U.N. ‘safe-zone,’ Bosnian Serb forces under the command of General Ratko Mladić murdered roughly 8,000 Muslim men and boys at the Bosnian enclave of Srebrenica in July of 1995. Mladić, wanted by the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) for charges of genocide and war crimes, still remains at large.

The Srebrenica massacre was designated as a genocide by the ICTY and the International Court of Justice (ICJ). In its ruling, the ICTY did not hold Serbia responsible for the genocide, but said that it was responsible for doing nothing to prevent the massacre.

In an interview with the newspaper Blic, Đukić-Dejanović said that sixty-seven percent of Serbians condemn the massacre. “It is our duty to respect their opinion and adopt a resolution [condemning the massacre]. I think it will be done between now and early March.”

Lawmakers in the ruling coalition are reportedly working on the text of the resolution. Opposition Liberal Democrats have singularly insisted that the term ‘genocide’ be used, while other parties have sought alternate terminology. The Serbian Progressive Party’s (SNS) deputy leader, Aleksandar Vučić, indicated that his party may not support a resolution incorporating the term ‘genocide.’

 When asked whether she would support a resolution incorporating the term ‘genocide,’ Đukić-Dejanović said that she would vote the way her parliamentary coalition voted, and that they were currently satisfied with the term ‘crime.’

 Nenad Prokić, of the Opposition Liberal Democratic Party, said:

 “We are the first country that is entering the EU with genocide in our suitcase – [a] limited territorial genocide. That is a very serious thing in a union based on peace…It is most important for us to recommend to our society and enter it into our schooling…so no one will ever do that in our name again.”

 For more information, please see:

B92 – Still no consensus on Srebrenica resolution – 8 February 2010

Blic – The adequate expression for Srebrenica is ‘crime’ – 8 February 2010

BSANNA – Resolution on Srebrenica to be adopted in early March – 8 February 2010

Javno – Serbian parliament to mull Srebrenica resolution – 8 February 2010

Belarusian Journalist Imprisoned After Clash With Police

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MINSK, Belarus – Ivan Shulha, a journalist for one of the few remaining independent media outlets operating in Belarus, was convicted of disorderly conduct and sentenced in ten days of jail after he allegedly clashed with police this past week.

Shulha, also a member of the nongovernmental organization Belarusian Association of Journalists, was arrested on Wednesday while police were attempting to enter the Minsk apartment of Michal Janczuka, a reporter for a Polish television network and coordinator of Belsat TV in Belarus.  When the police arrived at the apartment, those journalists present, including Shulha, initially refused to allow the police to enter.  After they eventually entered the apartment, Shulha was placed under arrest.  He was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest after he allegedly struck one of the officers at the scene.

Belarus reporter
Photo: Belsat TV journalist Ivan Shulha [Source: RFE]

Shulha is employed by Belsat TV, a media outlet based in Poland.  Belsat was created in 2007 by the Polish Foreign Ministry as a way to provide news coverage within Belarus that would not be under the control of the Belarusian government.  Belsat employees independent journalists to work in and cover free speech issues in Belarus.  By being a journalist accredited in Poland, Shulha is able to avoid having to go through the same process in Belarus.  An Belarusian accreditation process was recently enacted by the federal government as a way to control the remaining independent media outlets.

Belarusian law enforcement authorities have stated that they were attempting to enter Janczuk’s apartment after they had received noise complaints concerning that apartment.  Critics, however, point to this action by the police as just another example of the Belarusian government attempting to gain greater control over any opposition forces in the country.  They point to the recently enacted legislation giving the federal government the authority to monitor the internet use of individual in the nation as evidence of this.

In response to Shulha’s arrest, Belsat’s director Agnieszka Romaszewska declared that “the actions by the Belarusian authorities towards Belsat TV channel are another attempt to impede journalistic activity and discredit independent journalists.”

For more information, please see:

FROM THE OLD – Belarus – Authorities step up pressure on independent journalists – 5 February 2010

CHARTER 97 – Agnieszka Romaszewska: Repressions won’t influence our position – 4 February 2010

POLSKIE RADIO – Belsat TV journalist accused of assaulting policeman – 4 February 2010

RADIO FREE EUROPE – Belarusian Journalist Jailed For Hooliganism – 4 February 2010

New Legislation Gives Belarusian Government Authority To Monitor Internet Use

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MINSK, Belarus – Recent legislation passed by Belarus will now give the federal government monitor the internet use of its citizens.

The decree, set to take effect on July 1, requires that the nation’s internet providers save all data concerning the websites visited by internet users in the nation for one year.  Upon request, that information must be turned over to law enforcement agencies.  Internet providers also will have to restrict access to any website that the government chooses.

National security concerns were the impetus for the legislation, according to Belarus’s President Alexander Lukashenko.  “To ensure the security of the state and it’s citizens,…Internet service providers will be required to identify devices used to connect to the Internet and keep information on those devices and the services provided.”

Criticism from the larger European community has called the decree a restriction of individual freedom.  Lucia Morillion, of Reporters Without Borders (RWB), commented that “whatever…president [Lukashhenko] is calling this decree, it is not done to improve the situation of Internet freedom in the country.”  Another response from the RWB declared that Belarus had “[fallen] to the level of North Korea and China…as an enemy of the Internet.”

The Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) was also quick to condemn the legislation, which will give the government greater control over what has been one of the few remaining arenas of free speech in the Eastern European country.  “It is complete control of information” said Andrei Bastunets, deputy chairman of the BAJ.

Belarus has long been criticized by international press watchdog organizations for the government’s extensive control over the country’s media.  There are currently no independent television or radio stations, and virtually all of the remaining opposition newspapers have been shut down by the government.

The recent internet legislation is likely to further damage the recent attempts by Belarus to become part of the larger European economic and political community.  President Lukashenko, who was re-elected to office in 2006 by results that were disputed by opposition groups in Belarus, has held the office since 1994.  Recent efforts by the President to gain better relationships with Europe has shaken the long-standing relationship that Belarus has traditionally had with Russia.

For more information, please see:

RADIO FREE EUROPE – EU Calls Belarusian Internet Decree ‘A Step In Wrong Direction’ – 4 February 2010

AFP – Opposition attacks Belarus Internet crackdown – 2 February 2010

DEUTSCHE WELLE – Belarus to further tighten Internet control – 2 February 2010

Jewish Cemetery Vandalized in Strasbourg On Holocaust Remembrance Day

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

STRASBOURG, France – A Jewish cemetery in Strasbourg was the target of anti-Semitic vandalism on Wednesday.


Jewish cemetery3
Photo: One of the desecrated tombstones in a Jewish cemetery in Strausbourg. [Source: Ynet]
According to The Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (CRIF), an umbrella group of Jewish organizations throughout France, there was extensive damage done to a number of the tombs in the Cronenbourg cemetery.  In addition to swastikas being drawn on 18 gravestones, the German words “juden ruas”, or “Jews out”, were written on one of the tombs.  Another 13 tombs were overturned.

After learning of the desecration, French President Nicolas Sarkozy declared that he “firmly condemns this unbearable act, the expression of odious racism.”  A member of the Israeli Knesset, Shlomo Molla, who was in Strasbourg attending events marking Remembrance Day, commented on the tomb’s vandalism.  “It was a horrible sight, which probably stemmed from the rising anti-Semitism [in] Europe.”

The fact that the vandalism occurred on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day is believed by some to be more than a coincidence.  Laurent Schmoll, a leader in Strasbourg’s Jewish community, noted that the vandalism occurred “at the moment we celebrate the anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps, and I think there has to be a link.”

This is not the first time that Strasbourg’s Jewish cemeteries has been targeted by anti-Semitic messages.  Similar acts in previous years have occurred on International Holocaust Remembrance Day in Strasbourg, a city home to approximately 17,000 Jews.

For more information, please see:

AP – Jewish cemetery desecrated in eastern France – 27 January 2010

JTA – French Jewish cemetery vandalized – 27 January 2010

YNET – Jewish cemetery in Strasbourg desecrated – 27 January 2010