Trump Invites Philippines President, Nicknamed “The Punisher,” to White House

By Sarah Lafen
Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, North America

 

WASHINGTON D.C., United States — On Saturday, April 29, President Trump invited Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte to the White House during a “very friendly conversation” over the telephone.  Duterte is nicknamed “the Punisher” and is accused of effectuating a drug war that has killed over 7,000.  Duterte has also been accused of ordering extrajudicial killings of drug suspects.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte speaks with reporters in Manila on Friday (Photo Courtesy of NPR)

The White House released a statement that explained that Trump invited Duterte to the U.S. so the two leaders can discuss the “important of the United States-Philippines alliance.”  The White House also commented that on the phone on Saturday, the two discussed the difficulty the Philippine government is facing in fighting “very hard” to rid the country of drugs.

White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus supported the invitation in a statement to reporters, commenting on the importance of U.S. outreach to other Asian nations in the ongoing nuclear threat issue posed by North Korea.  Priebus acknowledged the issue of human rights, however argued that the North Korean problem takes precedence.  Priebus noted that “[t]he issues facing us developing out of North Korea are so serious that we need cooperation at some level with as many partners in the area as we can get to make sure we have our ducks in a row.”

Trump administration officials are preparing for criticism from human rights groups.  Two senior officials said they expect the State Department and National Security Council to raise internal objections, as the two departments were allegedly surprised by the invitation.

Duterte has been accused of encouraging civilians to kill anyone attempting to sell or buy drugs.  In his final campaign speech before being elected, Duterte announced to the crowd “[f]orget the laws on human rights.”  In December, Duterte released a statement alleging that Trump told him that he was going about the war on drugs in the Philippines “the right way.”  A few weeks after that statement, the top human rights official within the United Nations called for Duterte to be investigated for murder.

In a statement, the White House declined to comment on details of Duterte’s possible trip, however stated that Trump is looking forward to his trip to the Philippines in November.

 

For more information, please see:

CNN — Trump Invites Philippines’ Duterte to the White House — 30 April 2017

The Huffington Post — Trump will Meet President Duterte, Despite Philippines’ Ongoing Extrajudicial Killings — 30 April 2017

NPR — Trump Invites Controversial Philippines Leader to White House — 30 April 2017

The New York Times — Trump’s ‘Very Friendly’ Talk with Duterte Stuns Aids and Critics Alike — 30 April 2017

U.N. Peacekeepers Ran Sex-Ring in Haiti

By Sarah Lafen
Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, North America

 

Port-au-Prince, HAITI — Over 100 U.N. Peacekeepers stationed in Haiti are implicated in a child sex ring.  According to an investigation which focused on the presence of the Peacekeepers across the world over the past 12 years, over 2,000 allegations of sexual abuse by Peacekeepers were reported.  From 2004 to 2007 in Haiti, over 134 Sri Lankan Peacekeepers exploited an average of nine children per day.  While 144 Peacekeepers were sent home after an internal U.N. report on the abuse, none have been sent to jail.

A woman who was raped and impregnated by a Peacekeeper wipes her tears during an interview (Photo Courtesy of AP).

One teenage Haitian boy said he was gang-raped in 2011 by Uruguayan Peacekeepers who filmed the assault on a cell phone.  The report also revealed that dozens of Haitian women were also raped, while dozens of others engaged in “survival sex” with the Peacekeepers.  One victim girl told U.N. investigators that from ages 12-15 she had sex with about 50 Peacekeepers, including a “Commandant” who paid her 75 cents.

Haitian lawyer Mario Joseph is working towards getting compensation for victims of a cholera outbreak, which has been linked to Nepalese Peacekeepers, that killed an estimated 10,000 people.  Joseph is also trying to get child support for a dozen Haitian women who were impregnated by   Peacekeepers.  Joseph asked people to “Imagine if the U.N. was going to the United States and raping children and bringing cholera,” noting that “[h]uman rights aren’t just for rich white people.”

U.S. Senator Bob Corker agreed with Joseph, and recalled his own disgust at the hearing of the U.N. sexual abuse cases uncovered last year in Africa.  Corker commented that “If [he] heard that a U.N. peacekeeping mission was coming near [his] home in Chattanooga, [he would] be on the first plane out of here to go back and protect [his] family.”

This past March, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced several new measures to help combat sexual abuse by Peacekeepers.  However, the report had little impact and never materialized.

This sex-ring scandal comes on the heels of the April 13th vote by the U.N. Security Council to end the Peacekeeping mission in Haiti.  On the same day, Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., mentioned the scandal in her remarks to the U.N.  Haley asked “[w]hat do we say to these kids? Did these peacekeepers keep them safe?”

The U.N. has no jurisdiction over Peacekeepers, which means the countries who provide the troops are left responsible for their punishment.

 

For more information, please see:

Telesur — UN Peacekeepers Gave Haitian Kids Snacks to be Part of Sex Ring — 15 April 2017

Foreign Policy — U.N. Peacekeepers Ran a Child Sex Ring in Haiti — 14 April 2017

Independent — UN Peacekeepers in Haiti Implicated in Child Sex Ring — 14 April 2017

Associated Press — AP Exclusive: UN Child Sex Ring Left Victims but no Arrests –12 April 2017

 

Airbnb Host Denies Asian-American Guest Service Based on Race

By Sarah Lafen
Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON D.C., United States — An Airbnb host in California was banned from the company after cancelling a guest’s reservation at the last minute based on the guest’s race.  Dyne Suh, a 25-year old law student at the University of California, Los Angeles, recently posted pictures to her Facebook account earlier this week that showed a message conversation with an Airbnb host who refused to rent to her because of she was Asian.

A portion of the conversation between Suh and the Airbnb host (Photo Courtesy of The Huffington Post)

Suh and her fiancé booked an Airbnb residence in Big Bear Lake, California for February 2017.  After conversing with the host about adding two additional guests, Suh messaged the host to inform her that the group was close to the residence when the host started “spewing racism.”

One message from the host read “I wouldn’t rent to u if u were the last person on earth,” and another “One word says it all: Asian.”  Suh told the host that she would report the comments to Airbnb, and the host responded “It’s why we have Trump.”  The host also said that she would “not allow this country to be told what to do by foreigners.”

Suh has participated in anti-Trump events in the past, however asserts that this incident was unprovoked.  She said that for her to “now have someone say something racist to [her] and say it’s because of Trump, it was [her] fears coming true.”  Suh believes that people who previously held these beliefs now feel “emboldened” to speak them.  She commented that “[n]o matter how well [she] treat[s] others, if you’re Asian you’re less than human, and people can treat you like trash.”

A spokesperson for Airbnb told reporters that the host has been permanently removed from the company.  Airbnb also wrote in an email that “[that] behavior is abhorrent and unacceptable.”  Last year, Airbnb conducted a comprehensive review of the company and found that “minorities struggle more than others to book a listing.”  This finding caused the company to implement a new policy which requires all hosts to treat all guests “with respect.”  The new policy explains that “no matter who you are, where you are from, or where you travel, you should be able to belong in the Airbnb community.”

 

For more information, please see:

Fortune — Airbnb Banned a Host who Reportedly Cancelled a Guest’s Reservation over her Race — 8 April 2017

NY Daily News — California Airbnb Host Banned for Naming President Trump as Reason to Refuse Asian-American Guest — 8 April 2017

The Telegraph News — Airbnb Host Cancels Asian Woman’s Reservation at the Last Minute, Telling her: ‘It’s Why we Have Trump’ — 8 April 2017

KTLA — Riverside Woman Denied Lodging on Airbnb During Big Bear Snow Storm Because of her Race — 7 April 2017

U.S. Women’s Soccer Team Reaches New Labor Agreement with Better Pay

By Sarah Lafen
Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON D.C., United States — On Tuesday, the United States’ women’s national soccer team and U.S. Soccer, the team’s governing body, agreed to a new five-year agreement.  The new agreement follows a year-long dispute over demands for equal pay.  The team’s previous agreement expired in 2012, but was extended while negotiations took place.  Some players brought the situation to court to explore the possibility of going on strike to protest a lack of progress in negotiations, however U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman ruled against the players last year.

U.S. women’s national soccer team members Tobin Heath, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Samantha Mewis at a game in March (Photo Courtesy of the New York Times)

While the new agreement will not match the women’s national team pay with the men’s national soccer team pay, it does outline better working conditions, travel arrangements, increase per diem stipends, and match bonuses.  Because the agreement will last through 2021, the team will not have to renegotiate terms for upcoming major events, such as the 2019 World Cup and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati called the agreement an “important step” for women’s soccer.  Gulati praised the agreement and said that “[it] helps to ensure the strength of the women’s national team, provide stability and growth potential for the National Women’s Soccer League, and over time strengthen the elite player development process at the grassroots level.”

U.S. women’s team veteran Megan Rapinoe said she was “very proud” of the team throughout the negotiation process.  Rapione thinks there is still progress to be made for the women’s team and women in general, the Women’s National Team Players Association should be proud of their accomplishment with the new agreement.  National team player Alex Morgan said the agreement “felt very empowering.”  Morgan commented that she “felt really happy with the agreement that [they] reached and the fact that [they] can now do what [they] came for and play soccer.”

The agreement was reached on National Equal Pay Day, which is the date that marks how far into the year women have to work in order to earn the same amount of pay that men made the previous year.  The women’s soccer agreement mirrors that of the women’s national hockey team.  Last week, USA Hockey and the U.S. women’s national hockey team reached an agreement to improve compensation.  Some of the women’s national hockey team players threatened to boycott the women’s world championship tournament unless they saw improvements in pay and financial support.

 

For more information, please see:

NPR — In ‘Important Step,’ U.S. Women’s Soccer Team Reaches New Labor Deal — 6 April 2017

The Huffington Post — On Equal Pay Day, U.S. Women’s Soccer Players Finally Strike a Deal — 5 April 2017

The New York Times — Long Days, Google Docs and Anonymous Surveys: How the U.S. Soccer Team Forged a Deal — 5 April 2017

PBS News Hour — U.S. Women’s Soccer Scores Higher Pay, Better Conditions in New Labor Agreement — 5 April 2017

Drug Cartels Blamed for Mass Graves in Veracruz

By Sarah Lafen
Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, North America

MEXICO CITY, Mexico — Within the past two weeks, two mass graves have been found in Veracruz, Mexico that are attributed to the work of local drug cartels.  Sometime within this past week, over 250 human skulls were found in a mass grave in the Mexican state Veracruz, according to state attorney general Jorge Winckler.  Winckler did not comment on the exact day they found the grave, however he noted that this particular site might be the largest grave in Mexico.

Clothing hangs on a fence that surrounds a recently discovered mass grave in Alvarado (Photo Courtesy of Reuters)

Mexican authorities believe the human remains belong to victims of drug cartels and organized crime from recent years.  Identification of the remains has begun, however has proved to be a slow and complicated process.  Authorities are working to match the skulls to those in their database of missing people.  Members of Colectivo Solecito, a group of relatives of the missing victims, aided discovery of the mass grave.

Martha Gonzalez, a member of Colectivo Solecito, noted that some will finally get closure as a result of the discovery.  She recognized that although the authorities just give her the bones of her victim relative, she will be able to keep them somewhere safe, “put a flower on it,” and will be able to know they “are really there and resting.”

This past Sunday, another 47 skulls were unearthed from a few different locations near the town of Alvarado.  Winckler said that the remains were found in eight different unmarked graves found within a 120-square meter area.  So far, authorities have been able to match the remains to five people.

Winckler blames drug traffickers for using Veracruz for many years as a dumping ground for bodies.  An ongoing turf war between the Zetas cartel and the Jalisco New Generation cartel is suspected to contribute to the high amounts of violence in the area.  On March 1, 2017, 11 bodies were found near a popular tourist site.

Winckler also blamed the previous state government for not taking enough action to find and identify the bodies of people reported missing.  Alluding to former governor Javier Duarte, who has charges of money laundering, organized crime, and looting state coffers against him, Winckler pointed out that “[f]or many years, the drug cartels disappeared people and the authorities were complacent.”

 

For more information, please see:

BBC — Mexico Violence: Skulls Found in New Veracruz Mass Grave — 20 March 2017

Reuters — Mexico Drug War Investigators Unearth 47 More Skulls in Mass Graves — 20 March 2017

Newsweek — Drug Cartels Blamed for Mass Grave Discovery in Mexico — 19 March 2017

CNN — ‘One Big Mass Grave’: More than 250 Human Skulls Found in Mexico — 15 March 2017

United States Revised Travel Ban Challenged in Federal Court

By Sarah Lafen
Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, North America

 

WASHINGTON D.C., United States — On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Theodore Chuang heard two hours of arguments challenging and supporting President Trump’s revised executive order banning travel from six Muslim-majority countries.  The revised order will suspend the U.S. refugee program for 120 days, prohibit the issuance of visas to those from Yemen, Sudan, Syria, Libya, Somalia and Iran for 90 days, and decrease the number of refugees allowed to enter the U.S. in 2017 from 110,00 to 50,000.

Attorneys for the ACLU, National Immigration Law Center and members of the International Refugee Assistance Project speak outside of the U.S. District Court in Maryland court on Wednesday (Photo Courtesy of The Guardian)

Refugee rights organizations brought suit in federal court in Maryland claiming that the revised travel ban illegally targets a religious group.  Among others, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) asked Chuang to halt the order entirely, and argued that it represents a “pretext to discriminate against Muslims.”  Justin Cox, lawyer for the National Immigration Law Center, told Chuang that those affected feel the order targets Islam and condemns their religion.

The U.S. government responded to the claims made by refugee groups by saying that all references to religion have been eliminated from the revised order.  The government encouraged Chuang to focus on the exact wording of the order, and urged that the words indicate the ban is aimed at preventing terrorism.

The government also argues that people from the countries targeted by the travel ban “warrant additional scrutiny in connection with [the] immigration policies because the conditions in these countries present heightened threats.”  However, analysts at the Department of Homeland Security have indicated that citizenship is an “unlikely indicator” of ties to terrorism.

The hearing concluded without a ruling.  Chuang told court attendees that he “appreciated[d] everyone’s advocacy” and will issue a ruling as soon as possible.  According to ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt, Chuang pressed both the advocacy groups and the government about their respective claims.  Chuang asked the government why he should not consider all of President Trump’s comments regarding Muslim immigration, and asked the refugee rights groups whether President Trump is forbidden from limiting immigration from anywhere in the world just because of comments he made during his campaign.  Gelernt also said that Chuang asked whether a nationwide ban or a limited halt would be the appropriate remedy.

Hawaii’s challenge to the revised executive order will soon be heard in federal court, and Washington is also requesting a hearing in federal court to challenge the ban.

 

For more information, please see:

The Guardian — Hawaii Judge to Issue Ruling on Revised Trump Travel Ban Before it Takes Effect — 15 March 2017

Independent — Donald Trump’s Revised ‘Muslim Travel Ban’ Under Scrutiny by US Federal Courts Day Before Introduction — 15 March 2017

USA Today — Clock Ticks as Trump’s Revised Travel Ban Faces Multiple Court Challenges — 15 March 2017

The Washington Post — Federal Judge in Hawaii Freezes President Trump’s New Executive Order — 15 March 2017

Women in U.S. Strike – ‘A Day Without a Woman’

By Sarah Lafen


Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, North America

 

WASHINGTON D.C., United States — Last Wednesday, on the holiday designated International Women’s Day by the United Nations, the female activist group who organized the Women’s March on January 21 organized a strike by women in the workplace.  Women across the nation skipped work, wore red to signify love and sacrifice, and refused to spend money to support the cause.

Protestors rally at Washington Square Park in Manhattan on Wednesday (Photo Courtesy of The New York Times)

One thousand people gathered on a city block in New York City, and eventually moved to Trump International Hotel.  According to the Women’s March on Washington group, 10 organizers were arrested in NYC for blocking traffic.  In Providence, Rhode Island, the municipal court shut down because eight employees stayed home from work for the day.  Schools in Alexandria, Virginia, Chapel Hill-Carrboro, North Carolina, and Prince George’s County, Maryland were all closed for the day due to the amount of teachers who skipped work.

Spokeswoman Cassady Findlay explained that organizers of the strike were inspired by the recent “Day Without an Immigrant” protests which were held last month.  Findlay said that the goal of the strike was to highlight the effect of women on the United States’ socio-economic system, and would demonstrate how the work of women keeps communities and economies functioning.  Findlay told reporters that “[women] provide all this value and keep the system going, and receive unequal benefits from it.”

Shannon Craine, of San Francisco, told reporters that while it was a diverse crowd, everyone was at the protest for the “same reasons.”  Craine emphasized that everyone who attended the strike “care[s] about women’s rights” and that there are some things “[they] are just not willing to negotiate about.”

Conservative group Right2Speak is organizing a “positive counter-movement” to the strike.  Right2Speak wants to encourage women to “to continue working, serving, giving, sharing and loving their communities, their families and their endeavors.”  The group is also encouraging women to use the hashtag on social media #NotMyProtest and #WeShowUp accompanied by pictures of them working.

Protestors held signs reading “Resist like a girl” and “Power to the resisters forever!”

 

For more information, please see:

CBS New York — ‘Day Without a Woman’ Celebrates Female Power on International Women’s Day — 8 March 2017

The Huffington Post — ‘A Day Without a Woman’ was a Day of Activism Across the Country — 8 March 2017

The New York Times — ‘Day Without a Woman’ Protest Tests a Movement’s Staying Power — 8 March 2017

USA Today — Conservative Group Counters #DayWithoutAWoman with #WeShowUP — 7 March 2017

U.S. Considers Withdrawing from U.N. Human Rights Council

By Sarah Lafen
Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, North America

 

WASHINGTON D.C., United States — The United States is considering leaving the United Nations Human Rights Council.  A final decision to withdraw would most likely include Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, and President Trump.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks at the Security Council meeting last week at at UN Headquarters in New York. (Photo Courtesy of The Times of Israel)

According to sources connected with current U.S. officials, the council has been accused of being biased against Israel by pushing critical resolutions and issuing “scathing” statements about the country.  The council drew criticism in 2012 for inviting a speaker from the Palestinian Hamas terror group to speak at a meeting.

Countries known for human rights violations, including China and Saudi Arabia, are members of the council.  Russia was also a member until last year when it lost its seat after the U.N. General Assembly voted to remove it due to Moscow’s role in the Syrian conflict.  A former U.S. State Department official commented that there are also questions regarding the council’s overall usefulness.  Tillerson recently expressed skepticism about the council in recent meetings with State Department officials.

Last week, Haley criticized the council for failing to discuss the buildup of illegal Hezbollah weapons, strategies for defeating the Islamic State terrorist organization, and holding Bashar Assad accountable for the deaths of Syrian civilians.

The State Department has not directly commented on the rumored withdrawal, however spokesman Mark Toner told reporters that the “delegation will be fully involved in the work of the HRC session which [started] Monday.”

The website Human Rights Watch issued a statement calling a hypothetical withdrawal by the U.S. from the council “misguided and short-sighted.”  U.N. Director of the website, Louis Charbonneau, predicted that the withdrawal might “significantly set back U.N. efforts to protect human rights around the world.”  Charbonneau noted the U.S.’s crucial role in encouraging the council to establish commissions that helped uncover violations in North Korea and Syria and commented that withdrawal would hinder the U.S.’s influence in the international community.

Former President George W. Bush refused to join the council after it was created following the termination of the U.N. Human Rights Commission.  Former President Barack Obama, however, joined the council once he was elected.

 

For more information, please see:

The Independent — U.S. ‘Considers Withdrawing from U.N. Human Rights Council — 27 February 2017

The Nation — U.S. Considers Quitting U.N. Human Rights Council — 27 February 2017

The Times of Israel — U.S. Considering Leaving Human Rights Council – Report — 26 February 2017

Politico — Sources: U.S. Considers Quitting U.N. Human Rights Council — 25 February 2017

U.S. Supreme Court Takes up Case of Mexican Border Shooting

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON D.C., United States — On February 21, the United States Supreme Court took up the 2010 case of an unarmed 15-year old Mexican national who was shot and killed by U.S. Border Patrol agent Jesus Mesa at the border between Mexico and the U.S.  The shooting was recorded on a cell phone video.

Some of Sergio Hernandez’s relatives visit the Ciudad Juarez area of the U.S.-Mexico border on the anniversary of his death in 2012 (Photo Courtesy of NPR).

The facts of the shooting are in dispute.  The family of Sergio Hernandez, the deceased, claims that their son was playing with his friends along the Mexican border near El Paso, Texas.  The U.S. government, however, claims that the shooting occurred while “smugglers” attempted to cross the border illegally, and were throwing rocks at Mesa.

Hernandez’s family is suing Mesa for violating Hernandez’s constitutional rights.  They were denied legal recourse in the lower courts, who ruled that the boy lacked constitutional protection inside Mexico.  Bob Hilliard, the lawyer representing the family, spoke of a press release issued by the FBI’s El Paso office, and said that “the statement literally says [Mesa] was surrounded by these boys, which is just objectively false” and that the video footage clearly shows there was no one surrounding Mesa at the time of the shooting.

Mesa maintains that he shot the boy in self-defense after being surround by the teenagers throwing rocks.  Mesa’s lawyers claim that this scenario will come to light via video footage from other cameras on the scene that have not yet been released to the public.

At the oral argument for the case, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg stated that the case “has, as far as the conduct is concerned, United States written all over it” and cited the actions of Mesa, who was in El Paso when he shot Hernandez.  Justice Sonia Sotomayor suggested there should be some type of civil remedy available for the family.

The court’s more conservative justices, however, claim that no constitutional claim has been allowed against a federal official for about 30 years.  The justices warned against creating such a claim that would lead to other similar claims made by foreign nationals outside of the U.S.

The question in front of the Supreme Court is whether or not the Hernandez family has the right to sue.

 

For more information, please see:

ABC — Supreme Court Hearing Case of Teen Shot Dead in Mexico by Border Agent in US — 21 February 2017

CNN — US Border Patrol Shooting of Mexican National goes to Supreme Court — 21 February 2017

NPR — Supreme Court to Decide if Mexican Nationals May Sue for Border Shooting — 21 February 2017

USA Today — Supreme Court Divided Over U.S.-Mexico Border Shooting — 21 February 2017

U.N. Considering Removing Peacekeepers from Haiti

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, North America

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — After 13 years, the United Nations is considering removing the military component of stabilization mission in Haiti.  The mission, known as MINUSTAH, will soon undergo a “reconfiguration” according to Herve Ladsous, U.N. deputy secretary-general, due to progress made on the island over the past few years.  MINUSTAH costs an estimated $346 million per year.

UN peacekeepers from Sri Lanka patrol Port-au-Prince in Haiti (Photo Courtesy of Miami Herald)
UN peacekeepers from Sri Lanka patrol Port-au-Prince in Haiti (Photo Courtesy of Miami Herald)

Ladsous cites the recent success of political elections, the inauguration of the new president, and the development of the police force as signs of progress.  The country has made such significant improvements that the “security throughout the country cannot be compared with that of 10 years ago.”

Newly-sworn in Haitian President Joyenel Moise met with Ladsous last week, and will be the first Haitian president since 2004 to govern without the U.N.’s prominent military presence.  Ladsous believes that the work left to be done in Haiti is to be done primarily by the Haitians, however the U.N. will be “perfectly ready to mobilize” if needed.  During Ladsous’ visit to Haiti, no one objected to the proposed removal of the peacekeepers.

While praising the progress Haiti has made in stabilizing itself, Ladsous issues a warning to those who are tempted to “take advantage of this temporary period to return to illegality, commit crimes, violations of human rights.”  He assures that Haiti “will not accept that.”  Ladsous also notes that there is still a significant amount of work left to do improving the police force, the law, human rights, and the status of women.  Specifically, the Haitian National Police is expected to reach its full strength of 15,000 members

Brian Concannon, head of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, criticizes MINUSTAH for their “slow, expensive and limited progress in its primary mission.”  In support of his criticisms, Concannon cites the introduction of cholera and sexual misconduct by peacekeepers in Haiti as areas of concern.

MINUSTAH was last renewed in October 2016 for a six month period, as opposed to its usual year renewal.  The UN Secretary-General is expected to make recommendations to the UN Security Council regarding the removal of military component on March 15.

 

For more information, please see:

Jamaica Observer — UN Peacekeeping Chief Says Solid Progress Made in Haiti — 15 February 2017

Atlanta Black Star — UN May Change Peacekeeping Protocols in Light of Haiti’s Improving Security Situation — 14 February 2017

Miami Herald — A Haiti Without U.N. Peacekeepers? After Almost 13 Years, it May Happen — 14 February 2017

VOA — UN Considers Removing Military Peacekeepers from Haiti — 9 February 2017

Puerto Rican Government Approves Referendum for Statehood

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — On February 3, Puterto Rican Governor Ricardo Rossello approved a non-binding referendum to determine whether the U.S. territory will become a state or remain a territory.  To be held on June 11, 2017, the referendum will allow voters to either choose statehood or independence.  If the majority of voters choose independence, a second referendum will be held in October.

Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rossello (Photo Courtesy of Fox News)
Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rossello (Photo Courtesy of Fox News)

Governor Rossello called the referendum a “civil rights issue” and noted that “the time will come in which the United States has to respond to the demands of 3.5 million citizens seeking an absolute democracy.”  Rossello also commented that “colonialism is not an option for Puerto Rico.”

Supporters of the referendum say it could help the territory overcome a decade-long economic crisis.  They say it would also grant the territory more equality in that it would allow them to vote in presidential elections, and would grant them more voting powers in Congress.  Statehood would also allow Puerto Rico to receive more Social Security and Medicare benefits.

Some are concerned with the way the referendum is worded.  Edwin Melendez, director for the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College worries that the referendum “doesn’t leave room for any other options.”  Melendez does not believe that it is evident statehood currently reflects the majority opinion.

If the U.S. Congress recognizes Puerto Rico as a state, it could receive an additional $10 billion in federal funds per year, and its government agencies would be able to file for bankruptcy, which they are not currently allowed to do under state and federal laws.  Puerto Rico has held four referendums in the past that have resulted in no action from the U.S. Congress, who has the final say in any changes to Puerto Rico’s status.

In addition to the referendum, Puerto Rican legislators are expected to vote on a bill that would allow Governor Rossello to hold elections to choose two senators and five representatives and send them to Congress to demand statehood.

 

For more information, please see:

Jurist — Puerto Rico Governor Approves Statehood Referendum — 4 February 2017

ABC — Puerto Rico Gov Approves Referendum in Quest for Statehood — 3 February 2017

Fox — Puerto Rico Gov Approves Referendum in Quest for Statehood — 3 February 2017

Salon — Quest for Statehood: Puerto Rico’s New Referendum Aims to Repair Economic Disaster — 3 February 2017

Trump Expected to Sign Refugee Ban Executive Order

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

 

WASHINGTON D.C., United States — Donald Trump is expected to sign an executive order (EO) which would restrict immigration from several countries in the Middle East and Africa, five of which are countries that the U.S. bombed under the Obama administration.  The EO would also deny visas from applicants from countries the Trump administration deems high-risk.

A newly-built section of the border wall between the US and Mexico (Photo Courtesy of RT)
A newly-built section of the border wall between the US and Mexico (Photo Courtesy of RT)

According to sources within the administration, the EO is suspected to block Syrian refugees from entering the U.S. indefinitely, suspend all refugee admissions for 120 days while the Trump administration decides which countries are high and low risk, temporarily suspend visa issuances to applicants from countries with security screening that the Trump administration deems inadequate, and cap the total refugee admissions for 2017 at 50,000 (as opposed to the 11,000 recommended by the Obama administration).

Though the list of countries included in the EO is not yet finalized, however some of the countries that are under consideration include Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen.

Trump’s proposed EO has been subject to criticism due to its possible implications on U.S. foreign policy.  Stephen Legomsky, previous chief counsel of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services under the Obama administration, explained that while the president has the legal authority to limit refugee admissions into the U.S., doing so would be a “terrible idea” from a policy standpoint because of the immediate humanitarian need for refugees.

This EO threatens a deal made with Australia in late 2016, in which the U.S. agreed to resettle over 1,000 refugees who are currently residing in Papua New Guinea and South Pacific nation Nauru on Australia’s behalf.  Though Australia will not comment on the nationalities of these refugees, sources working for the refugees told reporters that about one third of the asylum-seekers originate from countries that would be covered by the EO if it is put into place.

This move comes as part of a concerted effort on the part of the Trump administration to reduce the number if illegal immigrants who live in the U.S.  As part of this plan, Trump is also expected to direct the construction of a border wall along the U.S. Mexico border in the near future.

 

For more information, please see:

International Business Times — Donald Trump Muslim Immigration Ban: US Bombs Most Countries on Restricted Refugee List — 25 January 2017

Reuters — Trump Expected to Order Temporary Ban on Refugees — 25 January 2017

RT — Trump to Order Mexican Border Wall, Ban Refugees from 7 Muslim Countries —  25 January 2017

The Huffington Post — Trump Prepares to Halt Syrian Refugee Admissions, Limit Muslim Entry — 24 January 2017

U.S. and Cuba Sign Memorandum of Understanding to Fight Human Trafficking

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

HAVANA, Cuba — This past Monday, Barack Obama’s administration met with Cuban officials to discuss the sharing of information regarding international crimes, including human trafficking.  Both the US State Department and the Cuban Interior Ministry signed the “memorandum of understanding” just a few days after the Obama administration ended the 21-year old “wet foot, dry foot” immigration policy which allowed any Cuban who made it on to US soil to stay and become a legal resident.  Since the repeal of this immigration policy, Cubans who attempt to enter the U.S. illegally will be subject to removal from the country, even if they have been smuggled into the U.S. by human traffickers.

Obama waves to the crowd as he delivers a speech in Havana, Cuba in March 2016 (Photo Courtesy of Reuters)
Obama waves to the crowd as he delivers a speech in Havana, Cuba in March 2016 (Photo Courtesy of Reuters)

In the memorandum of understanding, both countries expressed “their intention to cooperate in prevention, confrontation, surveillance, investigation, and prosecution” as well as the “need to establish cooperation between law enforcement and judicial bodies of both nations to effectively address these challenges.”

Planned actions include the exchange of information and the designation of specific liaison officers which will help improve bilateral communication between the two nations.  In addition, both the U.S. and Cuba will carry out joint investigations and may station law-enforcement officials in each other’s countries to enforce the goals of the memorandum.

U.S. National Security Council explained that “[t]he goals of [Obama’s] Cuba policy have been simple: to help the Cuban people achieve a better future for themselves and to advance the interests of the United States.”  The Obama administration further commented that it is in the interest of both countries to fight international crimes such as human smuggling and child sexual abuse.

The memorandum was signed by Jeffrey DeLaurentis, chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, and Cuban interior minister Vice Adm. Julio Cesar Gandarilla.  It was witnessed for the U.S. by Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes.

This memorandum came as a last-minute effort by the Obama administration to strengthen ties with Cuba before the Trump administration took office.  Trump has threatened to disintegrate relations with Cuba unless Cuba gives the US a “better agreement.”

 

For more information, please see:

International Business Times — US and Cuba Sign MoU to fight Terrorism, Drug Trafficking — 17 January 2017

ABC — US, Cuban Interior Ministry Sign Law-Enforcement Deal — 16 January 2017

Reuters — Cuba, United States to Fight Terrorism, Drug Trafficking and Other Crimes — 16 January 2017

Miami Herald — Obama Ends Controversial Policy that Allowed Cubans to Enter U.S. Without Visas — 12 January 2017

Cholera Outbreak Worsens Humanitarian Crisis in Haiti

By Portia K. Skenandore-Wheelock
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

LES CAYES, HAITI — Hurricane Matthew has left southwestern Haiti with a humanitarian crisis, especially in Sud and Grand Anse. Homes were destroyed, crops drowned, and ocean water flooded fresh water wells, leaving 1.4 million people without shelter, food, and safe water. Basic health services are also limited and the contamination of fresh water sources has caused a previous cholera outbreak to spread, quickly increasing the patient load of these already strained health facilities.

Cholera is a severe gastro-intestinal disease that rapidly dehydrates those infected by triggering diarrhea and vomiting. It becomes deadly when patients lose so much fluids that their organs shut down. Cholera can be contained with water purification and basic sanitation supplies such as bleach, soap, and gloves. It can also be treated with IV fluids but there are limited deliveries of the supplies needed to significantly address the outbreak. Dr. David Sack, professor at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore says, “A patient with cholera should never die. If they get to a treatment center in time, if they still have a breath, we can save their life.”

Hurricane Matthew has left 1.4 million people without shelter, food, or clean water in Haiti. (Photo courtesy of Reuters)
Hurricane Matthew has left 1.4 million people without shelter, food, or clean water in Haiti. (Photo courtesy of Reuters)

The initial cholera outbreak was brought by UN peacekeepers in 2010 and the hurricane has only exacerbated the problem. The Haitian Ministry of Health says the number of new cases has doubled nationwide and even more dramatically in areas severely hit by the storm. According the World Health Organization there are about 3 million cases a year and 90,000 deaths. Haiti currently has the worst epidemic and an outbreak in South Sudan is now spreading. So far the Haiti outbreak has made 800,000 people sick and killed more than 9,000. Since the population has not seen the disease before there is no immunity and the poor infrastructure for drinking water and sewage has made cholera difficult to contain.

The Haitian government, local communities, and organizations that work in Haiti are doing what they can in relief response but the need is urgent. The United Nations has only raised 28 percent of the $119 million they are seeking for Haiti’s recovery. Immediate mobilization of individuals, corporations, foundations, and governments are needed in order to prevent a significant loss in life. The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the Haitian Ministry of Health has organized a number of aid groups to launch a cholera vaccination campaign. The goal is to immunize 820,000 Haitians with a relatively new oral cholera vaccination. If the campaign is successful it will be the largest emergency cholera vaccination campaign in history. However PAHO representative for Haiti Jean Luc Poncelet says, “Vaccine is not the solution. It is one tool that we have to add to the ones we already have.” Two doses of the vaccine provide a 65 percent efficacy rate but due to a lack of the vaccine only one dose will be given, reducing the efficacy rate to about 50 percent. The long term solution is to improve access to clean water. The disease can survive for years in the environment but eradicating cholera is possible if living conditions improve enough to provide reliable access to clean water for almost everyone.

For further information please see:

The Guardian – Rise in Maternal Deaths Likely in Haiti, and UN Expert Speaks out on Cholera – 1 November 2016

Huffington Post – Haiti is Facing a Humanitarian Crisis we can Solve – so why aren’t we? – 1 November 2016

New York Times – Haiti Opens a Drive to Vaccinate 820,000 as Cholera Flares – 9 November 2016

NPR – Cholera 101: Why an Ancient Disease Keeps on Haunting us – 4 November 2016

 

Nicaragua Canal Protested as a Threat to Human Rights

By Portia K. Skenandore-Wheelock
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

NICARAGUA — A $50 billion, 172-mile canal is expected to be built by a Chinese firm across Nicaragua with the purpose of connecting the Caribbean Sea with the Pacific Ocean. The Panama Canal already accomplishes this but Nicaraguan officials say the canal is crucial to increasing global trade and the new canal can accommodate larger tankers, which the Panama Canal cannot, even with its current expansion. The proposed canal would be three times as long as the Panama Canal and twice as deep. The Nicaraguan government estimates that the revenues created by the project will be almost five times the country’s GDP and will pull more than 400,000 people out of poverty by 2018. The new canal would be an alternative to the Panama Canal, which is 102 years old and handles five percent of global maritime trade. The deal between Nicaragua and Wang Jing of HKND Group would give the firm consortium rights to operate the canal for 116 years. The company broke ground in 2014 but has made little progress since. There are suspicions that the firm may not have enough money to complete the project. There are also concerns that there may not be enough transport demand to support a second canal, especially one with numerous geographical barriers.

Nicaraguan farmers, environmentalists, and human rights groups are protesting construction of the canal. (Photo courtesy of the BBC)
Nicaraguan farmers, environmentalists, and human rights groups are protesting construction of the canal. (Photo courtesy of the BBC)

Nicaraguan farmers, environmentalists, and human rights groups are protesting construction of the canal. A coalition of farmers gathered 28,000 signatures in opposition to Law 840, which grants concession for the canal project. Both indigenous and peasant farmers are concerned the canal will ruin their crops, require evictions, and destroy the graveyards where their ancestors are buried. Rural residents like 39-year-old Francisca Ramirez are coming together to defend their rights, “I will not allow this area to be destroyed by a project which will only benefit a few, but will harm a vast number of people.”

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) says the canal is a threat to people, forests, and to Cocibolca Lake, Central America’s main fresh water reserve. So far, up to 120,000 peasants have no place to relocate to and they were given insufficient compensation for being forced off their land. President of FIDH Dimitris Christopoulos said, “Respecting nature and the rights of rural communities is not a luxury. It’s a duty. These projects will have a dramatic impact on the environment and on human rights. It is unimaginable to sell off territory as such. The government must back out.” The report cites environmental problems with hydrocarbon pollution, salinity, and turbidity. The report also says the canal deal breaches Nicaragua’s constitution and is denying citizens their rights to property, adequate housing, food, and water.

For further information, please see:

Amnesty International – “We Have Hope, we Have Human Rights, we will win This Fight” – 16 October 2016

BBC – Nicaragua Canal Scheme ‘Must be Dropped’ – 14 October 2016

Humanosphere – Nicaragua Canal: Rights Groups Protest Project That may Have Already Failed – 17 October 2016

Sky News – Nicaragua Canal Poses ‘Unimaginable’ Threat to Human Rights – 14 October 2016