“Not one less:” Thousands Protest in Mexico Following the Murder of Mara Castilla

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

PUEBLA, Mexico On Sunday, September 17, thousands marched in the streets of Mexico City and Puebla after the body of Mara Fernanda Castilla—a 19-year-old university student gone missing the week before—was found.

Protestors marching against femicides in Mexico. Photo Courtesy of CNN Español.

Mara had gone missing on September 8, after hailing a driver from a popular ride-sharing app called Cabify; she got in the vehicle and the driver drove to her home. Security footage showed that the driver idled in front of her house, ended the ride, and drove away, but Mara never got out of the car.

Her body was found a week later in a ditch near a motel.  She had been raped and strangled.

The Cabify driver has been arrested for deprivation of liberty and murder.

Sunday’s marches took place throughout the states of Mexico and Puebla, with people protesting a perceived disregard from the Mexican authorities toward femicides—killings of women and girls specifically due to their gender, usually accompanied with sexual violence.  As per the Observatorio Ciudadano Nacional del Feminicidio, only 25% of reported murders are investigated as femicides.

According to Luis Ernesto Derbez, director of Universidad de la Américas Puebla (UDLAP), in an interview with Forbes Mexico, a lack of judicial infrastructure is one of the greatest problems in combating impunity in Mexico today.  This means that less than 1% of reported crimes are seen through to their conclusion. The population ratio of judges to people is approximately 4.2 judges per every 100,000 people, while the international average is closer to 16.23 judges per 100,000 people.  UDLAP has conducted a multi-year study called the Global Impunity Index (Índice Global de Impunidad), in which Mexico scored 4th highest impunity in the world.

Mara was a political science major at Universidad Popular Autónoma del Estado de Puebla. She is the 82nd victim of femicide in the state of Puebla this year.

For more information, please see:
Al-Jazeera – “Mexicans march against femicide after teen’s murder” – 18 September 2017

BBC Mundo – “Femicidio en México: Mara Castilla, el asesinato de una joven de 19 años en un taxi que indigna a un país violento” – 18 September 2017

El País – “Mara no se fue, a Mara la mataron” – 18 September 2017

The Guardian – “Outrage as Mexican student killed after using ride-hailing service” – 18 September 2017

Observatorio Ciudadano de Derechos Sexuales y Reproductivos – “Feminicidios en Puebla al 17 de septiembre de 2017” – 17 September 2017

CNN Español – “El trágico fin de Mara Castilla, la joven mexicana que desapareció tras tomar un coche de Cabify” – 16 September 2017

Forbes México – “México es el cuarto país con mayor impunidad en el mundo” – 28 August 2017

A Weekend of Protests Follow Ex-Cop’s Acquittal for 2011 Shooting

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

ST. LOUIS, MissouriOn Friday, September 15, St. Louis Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson acquitted white former police officer Jason Stockley charged with first-degree murder of Anthony Lamar Smith, a black man.

Hundreds of people protesting in St. Louis on Friday following Jason Stockley’s acquittal of the 2011 murder of Anthony Lamar Smith. Photo Courtesy of The Washington Post.

In December 2011, Officer Stockley and his partner (who was not charged) engaged Mr. Smith in a high-speed car chase when he fled the scene of a suspected drug deal.  The officers rammed Mr. Smith’s vehicle.  Officer Stockley got out of the police SUV armed with his service revolver as well as an unauthorized AK-47, approached Mr. Smith’s car, and fired five shots into the car.  Mr. Smith was killed as a result.  Officer Stockley reported finding a handgun lodged between the center console and the passenger seat.

Prosecutors alleged the handgun was planted by Stockley after the shooting since it did not have Mr. Smith’s DNA on it, only Stockley’s.  Dashcam footage also recorded Officer Stockley telling his partner that he was “going to kill this [redacted], don’t you know it” immediately prior to their ramming of Mr. Smith’s vehicle.

Stockley was charged in May 2016.  He waived his right to a jury trial, opting instead for a bench trial where questions of both fact and law would be decided by the presiding judge.

Judge Wilson determined that the two points of contention alleged by the prosecution in the case were as follows:

  1. Whether Officer Stockley planted the gun found in Mr. Smith’s car.
  2. Whether Officer Stockley’s statement made prior to the end of the vehicle pursuit indicated premeditation.

Judge Wilson ruled that Officer Stockley’s comment lacked context and that there was no evidence that the handgun found in Mr. Smith’s car had been planted. “This Court, in conscience, cannot say that the State has proven every element of murder beyond a reasonable doubt, or that the State has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in self-defense.” Officer Stockley was found not guilty of Anthony Lamar Smith’s murder.

Protests around St. Louis began on Friday shortly after news of the acquittal, and continued throughout Saturday and well into Sunday afternoon.

Officer Stockley’s defense attorney, Neil Bruntrager, also represented Darren Wilson, the officer who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and whose lack of indictment by grand jury sparked protests around the United States in 2014.

In 2015, The Guardian began an investigative project called “The Counted” to document the number of people killed by police in the United States.  The database includes 1093 reports of people being killed by police in the US in 2016.

For more information, please see:
The Guardian – More protests expected over acquittal of white officer in police killing – 17 September 2017

Al-Jazeera – Ex-officer cleared in killing of Anthony Lamar Smith – 16 September 2017

New York Daily News – Here’s why a judge acquitted a St. Louis cop of first-degree murder – 16 September 2017

The Washington Post – Police and protesters clash in St. Louis after former officer who shot black driver acquitted on murder charges – 16 September 2017

National Public Radio – Protests in St. Louis After Ex-Cop Acquitted In Anthony Lamar Smith Murder Case – 15 September 2017

Vox News – St. Louis police shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith: ex-cop Jason Stockley found not guilty of murder – 15 September 2017

The Guardian – “The Counted: People killed by police in the US” – Series

Elders Forgotten During and After Hurricanes Pay the Price

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

FLORIDA, U.S.A. – In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills is under investigation for the death of 8 residents. The nursing home lost a transformer during the storm that powered their air conditioning. The rest of the power remained unaffected.

The temperature and humidity levels in Florida rose after the hurricane. The nursing home attributes the residents’ deaths to “a prolonged outage of our air conditioning system due to Hurricane Irma.” The second floor of the facility was called “excessively hot” by Police Chief Tomas Sanchez.

Nursing home administrator Jorge Carballo said, “Staff set up mobile cooling units and fans to cool the facility and continually checked on our residents’ well-being to ensure they were hydrated.” He added that the nursing home was cooperating with the authorities following this tragedy.

After a resident died in the facility late on September 12th, three more residents were found dead on the second floor of the building. An evacuation of the nursing home was done on the morning of September 13th. But it was too late for four more residents, who died in hospitals after the evacuation.

Across the street from the Hollywood Hills nursing home is Memorial Regional Hospital. This close-proximity was the reason some chose the nursing home for their family. Jeffrey Nova chose Hollywood Hills for his mother because the hospital was so close. His mother, Gail Nova was one of the residents who passed away.

Florida Governor Rick Scott is demanding answers. He said officials had been in contact with the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills. “If they find that this facility was not meeting the state’s high standards of care, they will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law” the Governor said in a statement.

In previous years, the nursing home has had safety violations and citations. Two of these citations were for not following generator regulations in 2014 and 2016. In both these instances, the nursing home did correct the problems.

Residents at Texas nursing home, La Vita Bella, sit in water up to their chests as they await assistance. Photo Courtesy of Time

Other nursing homes in both Florida and Texas have been evacuated due to Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Harvey. La Vita Bella nursing home residents in Texas sat in water up to their chests before they were evacuated. The residents were airlifted out after pleas were tweeted out for assistance.

But seniors in nursing homes are not the only ones who do not get the assistance they need quickly. Seniors that do not live in nursing homes are often alone with no one to help them. These seniors are reluctant to ask for help for fear of being institutionalized.

Many of them require wheelchairs, walkers or other means of assistance for medical necessity. Seniors also may be dependent on electronic devices out of medical necessity.  According to a 2005 study, about 50% of Americans needing dialysis were 65 or older. In these cases, when there is a power outage, it could create life threatening situations.

Howard Gleckman of Forbes suggests some solutions for how we can help the elderly in these disasters. Some of these suggestions are mapping at risk seniors living at home, creating easy to use technology so seniors can request assistance and making shelters accessible to the elderly the way that we have for pets.

Although many seniors are reluctant to ask for help, it can’t hurt to offer assistance, even when they don’t need it.

For more information, please see:

CNN – At least 8 dead after Irma leaves Florida nursing home with no A/C – 13 September 2017

Florida Government – Gov. Rick Scott: I am Demanding Answers on Fatalities in Broward – 13 September 2017

Forbes – Why Big Storms Like Irma And Harvey Are Killing Frail Elders – 13 September 2017

ABC News – Why hurricane preparation and recovery is especially difficult for many senior citizens – 12 September 2017

Time – ‘Need Help ASAP.’ The Story Behind the Photo of Nursing Home Residents Trapped in Hurricane Flood Water – 28 August 2017

Goodbye Columbus Day for L.A. and Others

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

LOS ANGELES, U.S.A. – Around the United States, the second Monday of every October has nationally and traditionally been known as Columbus Day since 1937. Now, the holiday is being replaced in L.A. and other cities around the country. L.A. saw a near unanimous vote to replace Columbus Day. The day will now be a celebration of indigenous people. L.A. joins cities such as Seattle, Phoenix and Denver along with the states of South Dakota and Vermont in changing the holiday.

Native Americans in LA City Hall dance while Council members vote to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day. Photo Courtesy of Los Angeles Times.

Another city joining the change is Ithaca, NY. Ithaca has a local connection to the change as it sits on what used to be the lands of the Cayuga Nation and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. Ithaca wants to be more conscientious of the contributions made to their local community by Native Americans.

Many have strong opinions on changing Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day. Native American activists believe that the celebration of Columbus Day is the “celebration of genocide of indigenous people.” For Native Americans, Christopher Columbus’ arrival in North America signified the beginning of the atrocities and destruction that they experienced.

There is one group that has been actively fighting against the change from Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day. Some Italian-Americans are strongly against changing the holiday. They claim the potential change is “an affront to their heritage.”

Historian Dominic Candeloro said, “I have no problem with it. I also happen to be an Italian-American. The one problem we have with the proclamation is it ignores the 900-pound gorilla in the room and that’s Columbus Day. You’re replacing the traditions of one ethnic group with the traditions of another ethnic group.”

Candeloro believes Indigenous Peoples Day should be celebrated in conjunction with Columbus Day. In some cities, this is still possible. L.A. has declared October 12th to be Italian Heritage Day. It was in 1492, on October 12th that Columbus arrived in the Bahamas.

Robin Abcarian of the LA Times writes, “History is written by victors, and promulgated by their descendants.” But now there is a call to correct the narrative of the victors to more accurately represent history. This has been seen around the country with the call to change Columbus Day and with the removal of Confederate soldier statutes.

The story told to children in schools about Columbus day is traditionally told as a happy one. By giving the story this narrative, author Howard Zin believes it serves as a justification of the genocide of an entire group of people. By changing the narrative of the story to include the side of Native American’s it may be possible to erase the “whitewashed American history curriculum.”

For more information, please see:

Chicago Tribune – Oak Park approves celebration of Indigenous People Day – 7 September 2017

Cornell Sun – City Passes Resolution to Recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day – 7 September 2017

Los Angeles Times – Replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day is a long overdue victory for civil rights – 1 September 2017

Huffpost – Los Angeles Replaces Columbus Day With Holiday Celebrating Indigenous People – 31 August 2017

Canada Does Good for Refugees, but also Doesn’t?

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

TORONTO, Canada – Canada is known around the world as accepting of immigrants and refugees. Personal stories about the positive experiences immigrants and refugees have in Canada come out every day. Seidu Mohammad, a Ghanaian refugee in Canada is chasing his dream of being a professional soccer player. His team is currently on a winning streak and the pressure is on to keep it going.

Ahmed Hussen prepares for a citizenship ceremony in Toronto. Photo Courtesy of The New York Times

Ahmed Hussen is another refugee who came to Canada from Somalia 25 years ago. He was named immigration czar in January 2017 and is the first refugee to be appointed to the spot.  After coming to Canada, he worked to get himself through college and then law school. He proclaimed “everyday generosity of Canadians … helped me each and every step of the way.”

Hussen continues to promote Canada’s open door policy despite pressure to close the border. This pressure stems from the Canadian refugee processing system being overwhelmed by Haitians who have lined up at a ditch in Champlain N.Y. out of fear of deportation from the United States.

But Hussen is not the only one addressing the refugee problem. While Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau personally welcomed a planeload of Syrian refugees arriving in Canada in December of 2015, by September of 2017, it appears that welcome does not apply to Haitian refugees from the United States.

Trudeau claims “for someone to successfully seek asylum it’s not about economic migration. It’s about vulnerability, exposure to torture or death or being stateless people.”  The turn away of Haitian refugees disagrees with Trudeau’s statement.

Haitian human rights lawyer Patrice Florvilus believes Canada’s claims that “things have returned to normal” in Haiti is not true. Florvilus believes Canada should grant Haitians refugee status, “if Canada wants to become a real beacon for refugees.”

Haitian refugees are not the only ones having trouble getting into Canada. Syrian refugees who can make it to Canada are usually the “richest and most well-educated members of their society” because they are the ones who are able to pay off human smugglers. The political ramifications here do not bode well for Syria.

Typically, refugees who seek asylum in the geographical vicinity of the country they are escaping from return when the conflict ends. But those who travel across oceans do not come back. This means that when the Syrian conflict ends, the country will see a shortage of doctors, dentists and nurses. Essentially, this system of migration is a lottery for the rich and powerful.

While Canada has done plenty of good for many refugees, it may not have truly earned its reputation as an open and inviting place for refugees and asylum seekers.

For further information, please see:

National Post – Why Canada’s refugee policy may actually be doing more harm than good – 8 September 2017

New York Times – In Canada, an Immigration Minister Who Himself Is a Refugee – 6 September 2017

CBC News – Refugee who lost fingers to frostbite chasing soccer dreams – 5 September 2017

The Guardian – Welcoming Haitian refugees to Canada isn’t about generosity but justice – 29 August 2017

Guatemalan President blocked by Courts from expelling UN-backed Anti-Corruption Prosecutor

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala On Sunday, August 27, Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales ordered the expulsion from Guatemala of Ivan Velasquez, the Colombian prosecutor heading the UN supported anti-corruption panel CICIG.  Mr. Velasquez had requested that Guatemala’s Congress remove President Morales’ presidential immunity to investigation two days prior.

Guatemala’s Congress will make the decision on whether or not to revoke President Morales’ immunity to CICIG’s investigation. Photo Courtesy of The New York Times.

President Morales’ expulsion order was temporarily stopped by Guatemala’s Constitutional Court, in response to which the President protested that the court was infringing on his authority over foreign affairs. On Monday, September 4, the Supreme Court ruled that Mr. Velasquez’s request to remove President Morales’ immunity should be considered by Guatemala’s Congress.

Within the next few days, Guatemala’s Congress will form a small committee to examine the case and present their findings to the rest of Congress.  Two-thirds of the deputies in Congress would then have to vote in favor to remove presidential immunity. As reported by Al Jazeera, many of these deputies are also under investigation by CICIG.

The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) is a UN-backed organization that has been operating in Guatemala since 2007.  CICIG was begun to combat the widespread governmental and criminal collusion that flourished in Guatemala after 36 years of civil war.  Ivan Velasquez led the CICIG in an investigation that resulted in the resignation and arrest of Guatemala’s previous president, Otto Pérez Molina, in 2015 on corruption charges.

President Morales has been under investigation for allegations of corruption stemming from over $800,000 of undisclosed funds received by his political party, the National Convergence Front, during his 2015 presidential campaign.  According to Reuters, President Morales’ son and brother are currently under CICIG investigation for fraudulent behavior.

In a statement to the Guardian, Anabella Sibrain, director of NGO International Platform against Impunity stated: “What we’ve seen today is an arbitrary act against internationally backed anti-corruption figureheads, but it is also a strong message to the country’s increasingly robust social movements that they could be next.”

Supporters of President Morales claim that CICIG is an example of United Nations interference in a sovereign nation’s judicial processes and a gross overreach.

 For more information, please see:

Brookings – What Guatemala’s political crisis means for anti-corruption efforts everywhere – 7 September 2017

AlJazeera – Guatemala congress to weigh lifting Morales’ immunity – 4 September 2017

Reuters – Guatemalan president may be investigated in campaign finance case – 4 September 2017

AlJazeera – Guatemala top court sides with UN anti-corruption unit – 29 August 2017

The New York Times – Showdown in Guatemala Over Investigation of President – 28 August 2017

The Guardian – Crisis flares in Guatemala over corruption and organized crime – 27 August 2017

Protesters Rally Against KKK March in Virginia

By Sarah Lafen
Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, North America

 

WASHINGTON D.C., United States — Over one thousand protesters met the Ku Klux Klan in downtown Charlottesville, Virginia as the white supremacist group prepared for a march through the town protesting the city’s decision to take down a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a public park.  The anti-KKK protesters outnumbered the KKK members, and held signs that denounced racism and promoted racial tolerance.

Counter-protesters shout at members of the KKK at their rally in Charlottesville, Virginia (Photo Courtesy of CBS News)

Members of the Loyal White Knights chapter of the KKK, which is based in Pelham, North Carolina, wore robes, hoods, and carried the Confederate flags.  One member carried a poster that read “Stop the cultural genocide of white people!” while others shouted “white power.”  The organization claimed that the removal of the Lee statue is part of a wider effort to eliminate white history.  One member, James Moore, believes that “[t]hey’re trying to erase the white culture right out of the history books.”

In response to the rally, city officials organized events in other parts of the city and encouraged city residents to stay clear of the KKK members.  However, many residents still showed up at the rally to make sure their voices were heard.  A professor at the University of Virginia who is among those calling for the removal of the Lee statue, Jalane Schmidt, commented that it was important for her to be at the rally “because the Klan was ignored in the 1920s and they metastasized.” Schmidt emphasized that the KKK needs to know “that their ideology is not acceptable.”

Over one hundred police officers were at the rally to help maintain order.  After the rally concluded, officers led several people away in handcuffs and asked large groups to disperse.  Officers also declared the counter-protesters to be an “unlawful assembly” and used gas canisters to coerce them out of the area.

 

For more information, please see:

CBS News — At Virginia KKK Rally, Counter-protesters show up in Droves — 8 July 2017

USA Today — KKK Rally in Charlottesville met with Throng of Protestors — 8 July 2017

The Washington Post — Ku Klux Klan Rally Begins Amid Tension in Charlottesville — 8 July 2017

Yahoo News — KKK Marchers in Virginia Town met by Throngs of Counter-protesters — 8 July 2017

 

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