European Human Rights Court Finds Discrimination In Bosnian Constitution

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch, Reporter

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina – The European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday that the national constitution of Bosnia-Herzegovina discriminates against Jews and Roma and must be amended.

Currently in Bosnia only Muslim Bosniaks, Roman Catholic Croats, and Christian Orthodox Serbs are allowed to run for political office, while Jews and Roma are forbidden.  This ruling by the European Court of Human rights came about after two activists, Jakob Finci, a Bosnian Jew and the current Bosnian ambassador to Switzerland, and Dervo Sejdic who is of Roma ethnicity, filed a complaint in the Court in 2006.  Past attempts by both men to run for national office in Bosnia were thwarted by the constitutional provision that the Court ruled on.

Following the ruling, Finci applauded the Court’s action.  “I am delighted that the European Court has recognized the wrong that was done in the constitution 14 years ago.  The Bosnian politicians need to right the wrongs in the constitution quickly.”

Bosnia, as a party to the Convention that established the European Court of Human Rights, is now obligated to amend its Constitution.  In making its decision, the court noted that “authorities must use all available means to combat racism, thereby reinforcing democracy’s vision of a society in which diversity is not perceived as a threat but as a source of enrichment.”  Bosnia had previously agreed to modify its election laws to put them in line with the European Convention on Human Rights, a requirement for EU membership.

The Bosnian Constitution was drafted as a part of the broader Dayton Peace Accords, which ended the nearly four year war in the former Yugoslavian republic between Bosnian, Serbian, and Croatian ethnic groups.  The constitution currently separates the population of the nation between “constituent peoples”, including Bosnians, Croats, and Serbs, as opposed to “others”, including Jews and Roma.

Past attempts to amend Bosnia’s election laws have had little success.

For more information, please see:

AP – Court: Bosnia discriminates against Jews and Roma – 22 December 2009

DW – European Court rules Bosnia’s constitution is discriminatory – 22 December 2009

EUROPEAN VOICE – Human rights rebuffs Bosnia – 22 December 2009

RADIO FREE EUROPE – European Court Condemns Bosnia Over Jews – 22 December 2009

VOA – European Court: Bosnia’s Constitution Unfair to Jews, Roma – 22 December 2009

Spanish Legislation Takes First Step Towards Easing Ban on Abortion

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MADRID, Spain – The lower-house of the Spanish parliament voted on Thursday to approve a bill that would legalize access to abortion.  Abortion has in almost all cases been categorizes as an illegal act.  This new legalization would all abortions to be legally carried out for the first fourteen weeks of the pregnancy without any government restrictions.

Currently in Spain abortions are only legal in cases of rape or out of concern for the health of the mother.  And while as a matter of law abortions are very difficult to obtain, in practice many of the 100,000 abortions that are legally performed in Spain are carried out under the mother’s health exception.  The bill will now be presented in the upper-house.  If it is approved there, this legislation will face a final vote by the whole parliament.

Legalizing a broader right to access to abortion has been a leading domestic priority for Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.  The current Socialist government under Zapatero was able to gather 184 votes in the lower house, Congress of Deputies, by eliminating the most controversial provision of the bill, which would have allowed any woman over the age of 15 the right to have an abortion without their parent’s consent.  In reaching the necessary number of votes, the Socialist government joined forces with smaller political parties in the lower house.

The movement towards legalization has been described by its leaders as a fight for women’s rights.  The Socialist Party’s spokeswoman Carmen Monton declared that this movement is about “…legislating women’s right to decide whether to be mothers.”

The Catholic Church and Popular Party (PP) have led the opposition to this legislation.  A leader of the PP noted at a rally outside the parliament that the legislation would “[banalize] the meaning of human life.”  The Catholic Church has declared that if abortion is legalized, anyone who participates in assisting abortion procedures may face excommunication.

A vote on this bill in the upper house of the parliament is expected to take place in early 2010.

For more information, please see:

AFP – Spanish lawmakers vote to legalise abortion – 18 December 2009

AP – Spanish lawyers vote to ease abortion law – 18 December 2009

EARTHTIMES – Spanish parliament approves liberalization of abortion – 17 December 2009

Leading Russian Prison Officials Fired In Aftermath of Lawyer’s Death

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia – Following a investigation into the death of lawyer Sergi L. Magnitsky last month, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has fired 20 leading national prison officials.

After being arrested last year on alleged tax-evasion charges and his relationship to British investor William Browder, who was considered a security threat by the Russian government, Magnitsky had been held in a jail in Moscow.  He was awaiting trial for allegedly participating in tax evasion.

Magnitsky had worked as a lawyer for HSBC and Hermitage Capital Management, Browder’s company, prior to his arrest.  Those companies had been under investigation for tax fraud by the Russian government.  According to his supporters, Magnitsky was being pressured by the government to testify against Browder and Hermitage.  In recent years Browder had become a well-known critic of what his saw corruption in the Russian private sector.

According to his lawyers, Magnitsky had been denied medical attention during his time in prison, and this led to his death as a result of heart failure and toxic shock.  The investigation that resulted in the prison officials firing indicated that standard procedures were violated during the handling of Magnitsky.

Pretrail detention, a practice which is commonplace in so-called ‘white-collar cases’, have garnered heightened scrutiny by some in the Russian business community following his death.  The threat of long-term pretrail detention has been used as a form of coercion against others in the past who have been charged with crimes.

The director of the Federal Penitentiary Service, Alexander Reimer, has commented that it has not been verified whether Magnitsky’s death was a result of the violations of procedure.  Among those fired included the head of the Moscow prisons and the individuals responsible for the medical care of prisoners and pretrial detention.

Regarding his arrest, Magnitsky’s former boss Jamison Firestone has stated that “Sergei was falsely imprisoned by law enforcement officers who he accused of aiding a theft of $230 million from the Russian Treasury.”  Firestone also noted that the government’s investigation into the prison officials has taken the spotlight off the larger question that still needs answering, why “Sergei was put in prison in the first place and why his conditions were made so bad.”

For more information, please see:

WALL STREET JOURNAL – Russia Fires Jailers After Lawyer Death – 12 December 2009

AP – Russia: Officials fired in lawyer jail death probe – 11 December 2009

NEW YORK TIMES – Top Russian Prison Officials Are Dismissed by Medvedev – 11 December 2009

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia – Following a investigation into the death of lawyer Sergi L. Magnitsky last month, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has fired 20 leading national prison officials.

After being arrested last year on alleged tax-evasion charges and his relationship to British investor William Browder, who was considered a security threat by the Russian government, Magnitsky had been held in a jail in Moscow.  He was awaiting trial for allegedly participating in tax evasion.

Magnitsky had worked as a lawyer for HSBC and Hermitage Capital Management, Browder’s company, prior to his arrest.  Those companies had been under investigation for tax fraud by the Russian government.  According to his supporters, Magnitsky was being pressured by the government to testify against Browder and Hermitage.  In recent years Browder had become a well-known critic of what his saw corruption in the Russian private sector.

According to his lawyers, Magnitsky had been denied medical attention during his time in prison, and this led to his death as a result of heart failure and toxic shock.  The investigation that resulted in the prison officials firing indicated that standard procedures were violated during the handling of Magnitsky.

Pretrail detention, a practice which is commonplace in so-called ‘white-collar cases’, have garnered heightened scrutiny by some in the Russian business community following his death.  The threat of long-term pretrail detention has been used as a form of coercion against others in the past who have been charged with crimes.

The director of the Federal Penitentiary Service, Alexander Reimer, has commented that it has not been verified whether Magnitsky’s death was a result of the violations of procedure.  Among those fired included the head of the Moscow prisons and the individuals responsible for the medical care of prisoners and pretrial detention.

Regarding his arrest, Magnitsky’s former boss Jamison Firestone has stated that “Sergei was falsely imprisoned by law enforcement officers who he accused of aiding a theft of $230 million from the Russian Treasury.”  Firestone also noted that the government’s investigation into the prison officials has taken the spotlight off the larger question that still needs answering, why “Sergei was put in prison in the first place and why his conditions were made so bad.”

For more information, please see:

WALL STREET JOURNAL – Russia Fires Jailers After Lawyer Death – 12 December 2009

AP – Russia: Officials fired in lawyer jail death probe – 11 December 2009

NEW YORK TIMES – Top Russian Prison Officials Are Dismissed by Medvedev – 11 December 2009

Voided Votes in Romanian Presidential Runoff Election To Be Recounted

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

BUCHAREST, Romania – The Romanian Constitutional Court announced, amid allegations of voting fraud, that 138,000 previously voided votes from Sunday’s presidential runoff election will be recounted.

The Constitutional Court, in a released statement, explained that “the court decided by a majority of votes to re-examine the annulled votes and have the [Romanian] Central Election Bureau recount them to establish whether there are any differences between the signed ballots and reality.”

The final vote initially indicated that Romanian President Triain Basescu had defeated the Social Democratic Party candidate Mircea Geoana by approximately 70,000 votes, less than 1% of the 10.4 million votes cast.  Geoana and the Social Democratic Party have called for a new election as a result of alleged ballot stuffing, multiple voting and bribing.  Following the election results were announced, both leading candidates claimed victory.

It is unlikely that the results of the recount will overturn Basescu’s victory in a election that was called following the collapse of the coalition government of Prime Minister Emil Boc since October.  Until a victor is named in this presidential election, however, a new prime minister can’t be named or a federal government formed.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a regional election monitoring group, initially approved of the election practices.  “The conduct of the second round confirms our initial assessment that this election was held generally in line with OSCE commitments.”

Nevertheless, immediately following the election, Geoana called for the recount.  “The required democratic solution is to contest the outcome of election at the Constitutional Court.”

For more information, please see:

AP – Romania’s court orders void votes re-examined – 12 December 2009

FINANCIAL TIMES – Romanian Court orders recount of votes – 12 December 2009

BBC – Romania court orders recount of void votes – 11 December 2009

NEW YORK TIMES – Romania: Court Rules on Vote – 11 December 2009

REUTERS – Romanian court calls partial recount in runoff – 11 December 2009

REUTERS – Basescu wins Romanian election, rivals cry foul – 7 December 2009

European Convention on Human Rights to Rule on Ireland’s Abortion Ban

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch, Reporter

STRASBOURG, France – The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) will hear an action on Wednesday brought by three Irish women, alleging that Ireland’s abortion ban has put their health and well-being at risk.

Abortion was originally banned and the procedure criminalized in Ireland in 1861 by the Offences against the Person Act.  A 1992 Ireland Supreme Court ruling legalized abortions when there was a “real and substantial risk to the life of the mother.”  This exemption included the risk of potential suicide on the part of the woman.  There has still been no statutory language from the national government to clearly establish the correct application and scope of that court decision.  Ireland is a signatory to the ECHR.

All three women involved in this case were forced to travel to England to obtain an abortion.  According to the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA), since 1980 138,000 women have been forced to travel abroad from Ireland to gain access to an abortion.  This has resulted in “extreme…physical, financial and emotional hardship” on the women affected.  IFPA noted that the Irish abortion ban goes “against the majority of [Irish] citizens…[are] broadly in favor of liberalising the law.”

The Ireland Attorney General, Paul Gallagher, is heading the legal team that will represent the official state position in front of the ECHR.  He is expected to argue that Ireland is “entitled to rely on the ‘margin of appreciation doctrine'”.  Traditionally, this doctrine has allowed individual member states to have a degree of discretion in interpreting the ECHR’s law differently than other states.  Additionally, since domestic alternatives to the issue at hand have not been exhausted, the ECHR lacks jurisdiction.

The Irish women who brought the case are supported by the IFPA.  Their argument centers on a claim that the Irish abortion ban violates numerous provisions of ECHR, including Article 2 (right to Life), Article 3 (prohibition of Torture), Article 8 (Right to Respect for Family and Private Life) and Article 14 (Prohibition of Discrimination).

If their claim is successful it would create minimum degree of access for women, not just in Ireland but all signatory nations, to an abortion that has the purpose of protecting the woman’s health and well-being.

For more information, please see:

IRISH EXAMINER – Criticism ahead of abortion ban fight – 8 December 2009

TAIWAN NEWS – European Court of Human Rights puts pro-life Ireland in hot seat – 8 December 2009

INDEPENDENT – State defends ban on abortion as women take case to Europe – 7 December 2009

THE GUARDIAN – Women challenge Irish abortion ban in court – 7 December 2009

Illness Postpones Nazi War Crimes Trial

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MUNICH, Germany – The trial of a former Nazi prison guard who has been charged with the murders of thousands of Jews at a Polish camp was postponed on Wednesday because of a medical infection.

The judge of the Munich Court determined that the 89-year old John Demjanjuk was not medically capable to attend the court proceedings.  Demjanjuk had attended the first few days of hearings, albeit in a hospital bed.  Because of a worsening infection, however, prison doctors advised against transporting him to the courtroom.  The trial has been scheduled to resume Dec. 21.

During the first few days of the trial, Demjanjuk did not say anything.  While there he was either in a hospital bed or wheelchair.  He has maintained his denial in playing any role in the killings at the Sobibordeath camp in Poland in 1943.  Demjanjuk claims that during that time he was a Soviet prisoner of war in a German camp.

Originally born in Ukraine, Demjanjuk was a soldier in the Russian army before being captured by Nazis.  He then worked as a prison camp guard.  After the war, he was able to emigrate to the United States.  In 1986 the United States deported him to Israel and subsequently sentenced to death in 1988.  His conviction was overturned, however, by the Israeli Supreme Court.

In 2002 the U.S. Department of Justice revoked his citizenship for lying when he first arrived in the country about his past as a Nazi.  Until he was extradited in May from the United States he had been living in Ohio.  Following his extradition to Germany, he was formally charged with 27,900 counts of being accessory to murder.

For more information, please see:

AP – Demjanuk trial day canceled due to illness – 2 December 2009

JTA – Illness forces Demjanjuk trial postponement – 2 December 2009

NEW YORK TIMES – Germany: Demjanjuk Trial Delayed – 2 December 2009

REUTERS – German court cancels third day of Demjanjuk trial – 2 December 2009

RTT NEWS – Demjanjuk’s War Crimes Trial Postponed Due To Illness – 2 December 2009

War Crime Trial Against Serbian Nationalist To Resume

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands – The trial for Serbian nationalist Vojislav Seselj has been scheduled to begin again in January.  This comes after the trial was suspended last year after the prosecution raised questions regarding the reliability of witnesses.

Seselj is charged with the torture and killing of non-Serbians, including Bosnians and Croatians from to 1993 while the leader of the Serbian Radical Party (SRS).  Seeslj was also a supporter and friend of former Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milsoevic.  The war crimes for which he has been charged were allegedly committed by volunteers recruited by the SRS.

After a number of witnesses for the prosecution declared that they wished to testify on behalf of Seselj, instead of the prosecution, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia relinquished authority over the case which originally began in November of 2007.  The court was concerned at the time there may have been witness intimidation.  The case was then transferred to The Hague.

Although the would not go into further detail, the judges overseeing the case stated that “new facts have emerged which need to be taken into account.”  The court has also taken additional measures to ensure the “efficient protection of the security of the victims and witnesses.”  The protected witnesses will now be called to give testimony directly to the court, rather than allowing them to be called by either party.  The trial is scheduled to begin again on January 12, 2010.

The allegations of witness intimidation is not the first hurdle in the nearly six years since Seselj’s surrender to authorities in February of 2003.  This past July Seselj was convicted to contempt of court for publicly releasing the name of a witness whose identity was being kept secret by the court.  He was sentenced to a year and half in jail that violation.  In 2006, he commenced a hunger strike after a court failed to agree to demands his made regarding his legal representation.  Seselj has since decided to represent himself at trial.

For more information, please see:

AP – Serb nationalist’s war crimes trial to resume – 25 November 2009

JAVNO – Serb leader’s war crimes trial set to resume – 25 November 2009

RADIO FREE EUROPE – Suspended Seselj War Crime Trail To Resume – 25 November 2009

SETIMES – Seselj’s Hague trial to resume in January – 25 November 2009

ADNKRONOS – Netherlands: War Crimes trial of Serbian leader to resume – 24 November 2009

Youth Separatists Linked to ETA Arrested in Basque Region

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MADRID, Spain – On Thursday Spanish police arrested 36 members of Segi, a youth group with ties to ETA across the Basque and Navarre regions.

These arrests were part of a larger investigation coordinated by Supreme Court Judge Fernando Grande-Marlaska and the Spanish government targeting the separatist movement in the region.  The youth suspects, including suspected leaders of Segi have allegedly been involved with militant activities associated with the larger goals of ETA.  According to Spanish officials, Segi followers have also been involved in acts of vandalism and attacks on government buildings, banks and opposing political parties.  Segi was outlawed by the Spanish government in 2007.  In addition to documents and computers, explosive-making materials were also confiscated in the police raids that included 46 houses.

There has been a ceasefire in place between ETA (meaning Euskadi ta Askatasuna, or “Basque Homeland and Liberty”) and the Spanish central government since 2007.  ETA, which was founded in 1959 to achieve independence for the mountainous region along the border between France and Spain, has been listed as a terrorist organization by the Spain, as well as the United States and the European Union.  It has been weakened in recent years, however, by the increased efforts of law enforcement in France and Spain.

According to Christian Aguerre, a former journalist who has covered the ETA movement, stated that despite these efforts, it would be difficult to ever completely eradicate the Basque separatist movement since the nationalist ideals will always draw in new members.  However, waning support for ETA was evident in the recent elections, when a non-nationalist party gained power in the Basque region parliament for the first time in decades.

For more information, please see:

BARCELONA REPORTER – 34 Basque separatists suspected supporters of ETA detained – 24 November 2009

CANADIAN PRESS – Spanish police arrest 34 suspected ETA supporters – 24 November 2009

CNN – Dozens arrested over ‘Basque separatist ties’ – 24 November 2009

EITB – Basque operation against Segi: 36 arrests made – 24 November 2009

IOL – 36 arrested over ETA-link youth group – 24 November 2009

VOICE OF AMERICA – Spanish Police Arrest Suspected ETA Members – 24 November 2009

European Human Smuggling Operation Broken Up

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

LONDON, United Kingdom – European Union and numerous national law enforcement agencies arrested 23 gang members on Tuesday suspected of transporting more than 2,000 illegal immigrants into Europe.

Suspects were arrested in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Italy.  Ocriest, French immigration enforcement agency, as well as law enforcement agencies from a number of other European nations, coordinated the investigation and arrests.  The investigation that led to these arrests began over eighteen months ago.  Eventually a smuggling operation, entering the continent in Turkey, then moving to Greece, Italy, Germany and eventually their final destination nations, was uncovered.

Arrests made by the UK’s Serious Organized Crime Agency also confiscated identity documents, cell phones, and cash.  Overall, 13 people were arrested in France, four in the UK, two in Greece, two in the Netherlands and one in Italy.

The immigrants that were smuggled into Europe by the gang members were largely from Iraq and Afghanistan.  Those that were smuggled in paid up to 15,000 euros for transportation from Iraq to Europe.  For additional payments, these immigrants were able to have a personal escort and transportation to their final destination.  During one of the arrests of suspects in the UK, seven illegal immigrants were detained.

The EU estimates that there are approximately 8 million illegal immigrants in Europe.  According to Mikael Jensen, deputy head of Europol’s Crimes Against Persons Unit, most individuals smuggled into Europe within the last three years have been Iraqi.  These arrests mark the third operation conducted by Europol since mid 2008 against illegal human smuggling networks.  This past June Europol arrested 75 in another smuggling network which brought in immigrants from Iraq.

These coordinated efforts by European government investigations come at a time when there is increased domestic political pressures to counter the increased illegal immigrant populations, and the impact they have in the areas of national security and employment, in their respective countries.

For more information, please see:

VOXY – 22 People Smugglers Arrested – 18 November 2009

TAIWAN NEWS – France: Illegal immigration network dismantled – 18 November 2009

AHN – Coalition of European Law Enforcement Groups Arrest 23 In Human Trafficking Ring – 17 November 2009

BBC – Traffickers targeted in EU raids – 17 November 2009

REUTERS – Police nab smugglers who brought 2,000 into EU – 17 November 2009

Former Nazi Charged For WWII Massacre Of Jewish Laborers

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

BERLIN, Germany – A 90 year-old German has been charged with the World War II killings of 58 Jews in March of 1945.

According to German prosecutors, Adolf Storms was a squad leader within the 5th SS Panzer Division operating in Duisburg, Austria.  He took part of the murder of 57 Jewish forced laborers.  The remains of the massacre were found in 1995.

With the war winding down, Storm allegedly devised the plan to kill the prisoners he was guarding.  He escorted the Jewish laborers into a wooded area, where he proceeded to execute each one.

Storms participation in this massacre was discovered last year by an 28-year old University of Vienna student, Andreas Forster, while researching the massacre.  After looking up Storms in the telephone book Forster informed his professor, Walter Manoschek, of his discovery.  Manoschek went to Storms home in Duisburg, Germany and interviewed him regarding his activities in WWII.  Forster turned over the information to German state prosecutors.  In December of 2008 local authorities raided Storms’ home.

Storms told Manoschek that he does not remember the killings in question.  After the war Storms was detained in a US prisoner of war camp, but was released.  It has been reported that Storms changed the spelling of his name after the war, which may explain why he has gone undiscovered for so long.

While charges have been filed against Storms, the investigation by state prosecutors continues.  Prosecutor Andreas Brendel has stated that he has gathered testimony from three former Hitler Youth members who can offer eye witness testimony that will be used against Storms.

Whether the age of Storms will influence the prosecutor’s final decision to move forward with the investigation has not been decided.

For more information, please see:

AFP – Former SS member, 90, charged over Nazi massacre – 17 November 2009

AP – 90-year-old charged in Germany for Nazi-era crimes – 17 November 2009

CNN – 90-year-old man charged over Nazi massacre – 17 November 2009

DW-WORLD – Court charges former Nazi for murdering Jewish laborers – 17 November 2009

THE GUARDIAN – Former Nazi SS member charged with killing Jewish labourers – 17 November 2009

REUTERS – German Prosecutors Charge 90 – Year – Old Former SS Man – 17 November 2009

Russian Police Officer Posts Allegations of Corruption on Internet

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia – A Russian police officer, with his remarks on widespread corruption within the country’s police forces, has taken the rare step of voicing his concerns publicly.

In a video posted on his own website this past week appealing directly to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Major Alexei Dymovsky accused his superiors in Novorossiisk’s police force of a number of actions and policies, indicating a widespread culture of corruption within the police force.  According to Dymovsky, as an officer he was required to met monthly arrest quotas, even if it meant arresting the innocent.  Additionally, the low pay of officers have led many officers to accept bribes as a means of supplementing their income.  Following the posting of his video, Dymovsky was immediately fired from his position.

In a Moscow press conference on Tuesday, Dymovsky stated that he possessed over 150 hours of taped conversations with his superiors that will support his allegations of criminal behavior in the department.  In addition to losing his job, Dymovsky claimed that his phone has been tapped and he was being followed.  His bank and cell phone accounts have also been shut off.  He is asking to present the evidence he has compiled to Putin personally.

In his homemade video Dymovsky declared that “We have to serve the law, not the generals.  I want to keep working and I want to achieve justice.”

Dymovsky’s recent statement are only the latest allegations regarding police corruption.  This past April a Moscow police officer killed three people in a supermarket.  The aftermath of this led to the Moscow chief of police being fired.  Just last month a regional Interior Minister was arrested for the selling of contraband materials.  These stories have diminished the credibility of Russia’s law enforcement community among the public.  A poll published by the Levada Center indicated that two-thirds of Russians do not trust the police, while 64 percent do not believe that the police are effective.

Interior Ministry representatives, as well as local Novorossiysk officials, have publicly denied the Major’s allegations.  An investigation by regional officers has concluded that Dymovsky’s claims are false.  Nevertheless the Interior Minister promised there to be a investigation into the Major’s claims, and any police officer linked to these allegations would be prosecuted.

Since being posted onto YouTube on Tuesday, Dymovsky’s video has been viewed over a million times.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Russia admits police corruption – 10 November 2009

CBS NEWS – Whistleblower Tackles Russian Police Corruption – 10 November 2009

RADIO FREE EUROPE – ‘YouTube’ Whistleblower Arrives In Moscow On Police Day, As Scandal Deepens – 10 November 2009

REUTERS – Russian ex-officer’s anti-corruption blog causes stir – 10 November 2009

Russian Constitutional Court Considers Ending Ban On Death Penalty

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe
MOSCOW, Russia – The Russian Constitutional Court is considering the reinstatement of the death penalty in the country’s criminal justice system.

When Russia joined the Council of Europe in 1996 it agreed to outlaw executions in accordance with Protocol Six of the European Convention.  However, the Council’s proposed ban on the death penalty was never ratified by the Duma, the Russian legislature.  In 1999 the nation’s Constitutional Court found that the death penalty could no longer be used until jury trials were established in all of the country’s regions.  Currently jury trials have been established in every region except Chechnya.  But given the coming expiration of this ban on January 1, when the Northern Republic of Chechnya adopts jury trials, the Constitutional Court has been asked by the Russian Supreme Court to review this ban to see whether it needs to be extended.

In addition to addressing the issue of the moratorium, the Constitutional Court must also address the issue of whether the reinstating of the death penalty would violate Russia’s international obligations.  Russia is currently the only member of the 47 countries that make up the Council of Europe to not ratify the ban.

Although the death penalty remains in the nation’s criminal code, the death penalty moratorium is still adhered to in Russia.

There have been some calls for the reinstatement of the death penalty to be applied to those involved in terrorism in Chechnya.  Polls indicate that a majority of Russians are in favor of the death penalty.  President Dmitry Medvedev and many of the leaders in the Duma, however, have indicated their desire to not see the death penalty re-introduced.  A spokeswoman for the Federation Council, the upper house of the legislature, expressed the sentiment of some legislators.  “The states that kills criminals – its citizens – should not expect an improvement in the moral climate of the country.”

Vladimir Lukin, Russia’s chief human rights ombudsman, noted statistics that the use of the death penalty in other countries has not acted as an effective deterrent to crime.

Not all Russian political leaders are supportive of continuing the moratorium.  Alexander Bastrykin, the head of the investigative committee of prosecutors, is among those supporters.

A spokesman for the Constitutional Court indicated that the court’s decision may come before the new year.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Russia to decide on death penalty moratorium – 10 November 2009

RIA NOVOSTI – Russia’s Constitutional Court hears arguments on death penalty – 10 November 2009

AP – Russian court looks at death penalty ban extension – 9 November 2009

FOCUS NEWS – Top Russian court set to rule on death penalty moratorium – 9 November 2009

REUTERS – Russian High Court Debates Reinstating Death Penalty – 9 November 2009

RT – To kill or not to kill, that’s the Supreme Court’s question – 31 October 2009

Suspects Arrested in Killings of Russian Human Rights Lawyer and Journalist

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia – Two suspects have been charged by a Moscow city court in the murders of a Russian human rights lawyer and journalist.

Nikita Tikhonov and Yevgenia Khasis, allegedly members of a Russian neo-Nazi organization, were charged Thursday with the Moscow murders of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova.  The chief of the Federal Security Service, Alexander Bortnikov, confirmed that the two suspects were arrested during a larger initiative targeting domestic extremist groups.  In addition to a long record of opposing the actions of Russian security officials, Markelov, 35, had also been a the lawyer for journalist Anna Politkovskaya and worked on behalf of a Chechen family who’s daughter had been killed by a Russian Army officer.  Baburova, 25, was a student journalist.

Investigators have confirmed that it was Tikhonov who actually killed the two victims, while Khasis served as a lookout.  The announcement of these arrests, made by the nation’s top law enforcement official and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, came as the Kremlin has faced increased criticism for failing to properly investigate the continued killings and disappearances of leading human rights activists and opposition journalists in recent years.

Both Tikhonov and Khasis are members of the radical nationalist organization Russian National Unity.  Additionally, according to Bortnikov, Tikhonov has been a member of United Brigade 88, an extreme right-wing ultra nationalist organizations.  United Brigade 88 has been engaged in a campaign of anti-immigrant violence.

Tikhonov’s lawyer has commented that it was the intention of Tikhonov to kill only Markelov.  Markelov had worked in the past to obtain tougher punishments for those were responsible for the 2006 killing of a Russian anti-fascist organizer and had encouraged security officials to arrest Tikhonov.  Tikhonov, although never arrested, had been a additional suspect in that killing.  The lawyer went on to indicate that Baburova death was accidental, since he had been leaving a news conference with Markelov when the shooting took place.

For more information, please see:

AP – Two Suspects in Killings of Lawyer, Journalist Arrested – 6 November 2009

NEW YORK TIMES – Man Admits to Killing Russian Rights Lawyer, Stanislav Markelov, and Reporter – 6 November 2009

RADIO FREE EUROPE – Two Arrests Made In Moscow For Markelov, Barburova Murders – 6 November 2009

WASHINGTON POST – Russia Arrests 2 in deaths of human rights lawyer, journalist – 6 November 2009

THE OTHER RUSSIA – Suspect Confesses to Murder of Russian Lawyer – 5 November 2009

Free Press Activists Arrested in Moscow

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia – Approximately 50 people were arrested Saturday at a protest in Moscow.  The protest, which took place in Triumfalnaya Square in the center of the capital, focused on the efforts of the Kremlin since current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin rose to power in 2000 to suppress independent media sources and nongovernmental human rights organizations.  The protest was a part of Strategy 31, which has been a national effort to pressure the government to recognize and uphold the freedom of assembly rights guaranteed in paragraph 31 of the Russian Constitution.

Hundreds of city police and Interior Minister officers surrounded the approximately 100 protesters and 100 journalists who were in attendance.  The leaders of the rally disputed those numbers, claiming that 70 people had been detained and more than 500 people had been in attendance.  Among those in attendance was the United Civil Front and the National Bolshevik Party.  The protest had not received the required authorization, the government citing a prior planned ‘military celebration’ in the same square.

Among the protesters was Lyudmila Alexeyeva, a well known human rights activists in Russia.   Alexeyeva exclaimed that she had come “to defend the constitution.”  She also stated that “the idea to organize the demonstrations on the 31st of the month here in the capital is to attempt to make a tradition of peaceful gatherings to allow citizens the chance to defend the Russian constitution.”  Eduard Limonov, the National Bolshevik Party leader, was also present.

Another protester declared that he “[wanted] Russia to be free, not to rot in a policeman’s nightmare.”

A pro-Kremlin youth group, known as Rossiya Molodoya, were also at the rally.  Leaflets and flares were used by this organization in an attempt to instigate the human rights protesters.  Soon after their actions, the police who were already surrounded the human rights protesters in the square stepped in and arrested the activists.  They were taken to nearby police stations.

For more information, please see:

HUFFINGTON POST – Human Rights Protesters Arrested in Moscow for Demanding Freedom of Assembly – 3 November 2009

ITAR-TASS – Unauthorized rally thwarted in Moscow, 50 people detained – 1 November 2009

PRESSTV – 50 human rights protesters arrested in Russia – 1 November 2009

THE OTHER RUSSIA – 70 Oppositionists Detained in Moscow Rally – 1 November 2009

REUTERS – Russian police detain 50 at human rights protest – 31 October 2009

RUSSIA TODAY – Opposition leaders detained in Moscow while trying to rally – 31 October 2009

Austrian Students Protest Over Worsening Educational Conditions

By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

VIENNA, Austria – Student groups in Austria protested again yesterday against what they see as poor educational conditions in the nation’s schools.  Approximately 30,000 students marched this past week in Vienna in opposition of proposed educational reforms and in favor of an overhaul in the nation’s educational system.  These marches, which have taken place in many of the country’s largest cities in recent days, have been organized by student organizations.

Students and teachers at the Academy of Fine Arts (AFA) in Vienna protested against this new educational reform proposal that is being adopted across Europe.  These reforms, known as the Bologna Process, are meant to the make it easier for students to study abroad and obtain degrees that can be recognized in other nations.  The AFA protesters alleged, however, that these reforms would prevent their ability to construct personally tailored degree programs.

The lack of funding for Austrian universities that currently exists has caused some of the student leaders to call for an end to free access to higher education.  Student Dominik Karas commented that “to increase the standard of education it would be better to reinstall tuition fees.”

Students at the University of Vienna also are calling for the elimination of entrance exams and fees for foreigners and longterm students.  Students have occupied one the school’s lecture halls for almost a week in an effort to draw attention to the funding issues.

The calls of the students involved in these protests have been directed at the national political leaders of Austria, notably the Prime Minister and Finance Minister.  Sigrid Maurer, Chairman of the Austrian Union of Students, has stated that these leaders must “take the education agenda into their hands.”

The student organizations are also calling for the end to alleged sex discriminations in certain university policies.  Currently females and foreign students are barred from certain university facilities.

This is not the first time that the Bologna Process educational reforms been met with student opposition.  In September students in Barcelona clashed with police over the implication these reforms.

For more information, please see:

XINHAUANET – Austrian students take to streets to demand more rights – 30 October 2009

PRESSTV – Austrian students urge education reform – 30 October 2009

EURONEWS – Austria’a students demand reforms – 29 October 2009

ASSOCIATED PRESS – Austrian students protest poor conditions, reforms – 26 October 2009