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

 

El Salvador Judge to Reopen 1981 El Mozote Massacre Case

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

SAN SALVADOR, EL SALVADOR – Judge Jorge Guzman Urquilla in El Salvador has accepted a request filed by Dr. Maria Julia Hernandez Legal Defense agency, the Center for Justice and International Law, and the Association to Promote Human Rights of El Mozote to reopen one of the worst massacres to occur during the country’s civil war in the village of El Mozote.

A memorial for the victims of the 1981 massacre. (Photo courtesy of Deutsche Welle)
A memorial for the victims of the 1981 massacre. (Photo courtesy of Deutsche Welle)

At least 500 people were killed by the army within three days in December 1981, according to a postwar UN truth commission. Victims’ rights advocates say the number of those killed is much more, closer to 1,000. El Mozote villagers were mostly evangelical Christians that were trying to remain neutral in the war but soldiers suspected them of sympathizing with the rebels and attacked. The army dumped many of the bodies in a small church and burned them. The UN truth commission report found Col. Domingo Monterrosa, commander of the Atlacatl battalion, operations chief Col. Armando Azmitia, and six other officers responsible. In 1984 Monterrosa and Azmitia died when a bomb went off in their helicopter. The US government had trained the Atlacatl battalion that was involved in the killings. The army and the US initially denied that any massacre had taken place, but human rights advocate Ovidio Mauricio has said, “the forensic evidence…is overwhelming” and that in just one grave forensic experts found “136 skeletons of girls and boys, with an average age of six years.”

The Supreme Court ruling in July declaring El Salvador’s amnesty law unconstitutional has former military men and the current government, which grew out of the rebel Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, concerned that those involved on both sides of the conflict could face prosecution and the decision could create social conflicts. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that El Salvador should pay reparations to the victims and in 2012 the government accepted the ruling and apologized for the massacre.

For further information, please see:

BBC – El Salvador Judge Reopens El Mozote Massacre Investigation – 2 October 2016

Deutsche Welle – El Salvador to Reopen Prove Into 1981 Massacre – 2 October 2016

The Guardian – El Salvador Judge Reopens Case of 1981 Massacre at El Mozote – 1 October 2016

The News Tribune – Judge Orders Reopening of El Salvador Military Massacre Case – 1 October 2016

Telesur – Salvadoran Judge Reopens Investigation of El Mozote Massacre – 2 October 2016

 

UN to Discuss Report on US Police Killings of Black Americans

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

UNITED STATES — The United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent has released their final report based on a visit to the United States in January. A five-member group chaired by Filipino law professor Ricardo A. Sunga III made the trip to evaluate the human rights situation of African Americans. The report concludes that “Contemporary police killings and the trauma that they create are reminiscent of the past racial terror of lynching” during the 19th and 20th centuries and calls on the government to do more to protect its citizens. The Equal Justice Initiative, a non-profit organization, reported in 2015 that 3,959 black people were killed in lynchings between 1877 and 1950.

The report has been released while two days of protests and a riot over the shooting of Keith Scott are taking place in Charlotte, North Carolina. Last Friday another incident occurred in Tulsa, Oklahoma where an officer fatally shot an unarmed black man.

A UN Report on the state of the human rights of African Americans in the US has been released while demonstrations against police brutality take place in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo courtesy of AFP)

The report states, “the legacy of colonial history, enslavement, racial subordination and segregation, racial terrorism and racial inequality in the United States remains a serious challenge, as there has been no real commitment to reparations and to truth and reconciliation for people of African descent. Impunity for state violence has resulted in the current human rights crisis and must be addressed as a matter of urgency.” The UN group says these killings go unpunished due to a number of factors. The initial investigations are often conducted by the police departments where the alleged perpetrators are employed, prosecutors have wide discretion over the charges, and the use of force is only subject to domestic standards, not to international standards.

The UN group recommends that the US create a national system to track excessive use of force and killings by law enforcement officials, end racial profiling, and have federal and state laws that recognize the negative impact of enslavement and racial injustice. The report finds education accompanied by acts of reconciliation key to improving race relations and the trust between African Americans and law enforcement officials. The report is being debated at the UN Human Rights Council on Monday.

For further information, please see:

Mint Press News – UN: Police Killings of Black Men Are Modern-Day Lynchings – 24 September 2016

PressTV – US Police Killings Redolent of Lynching: Report – 23 September 2016

Reuters – U.S. Police Killings Reminiscent of Lynching, U.N. Group Says – 23 September 2016

RT – Police Killings of Black People Reminiscent of Lynchings – UN Working Group – 23 September 2016

 

Mexico’s Chief Criminal Investigator Resigns After Mishandling 43 Missing Students Case

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

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO — Chief of the Criminal Investigation Agency Tomás Zerón de Lucio resigned his position on Wednesday, without citing a reason for stepping down.

Zerón was in charge of investigating the disappearance of 43 students from Ayotzinapa, a radical teaching college, who have not been seen since September 2014. Zerón has been heavily criticized for his handling of the case and parents of the students have been vocal in their complaints. The government has said the students were arrested by municipal police in Guerrero state in the town of Iguala on September 26, 2014 and handed over to a drug trafficking gang. The government asserts that the gang killed the students and incinerated their bodies at a garbage dumpsite. Lab results proving this type of incineration impossible were released a day before Zerón’s resignation.

A contentious investigation into the disappearance of 43 students that occurred nearly two years ago has failed to uncover answers. (Photo courtesy of BBC News)

Two independent international investigations have dismissed the government’s claims. Zerón’s handling of the crime scene has been under investigation since April after a report made by a panel of foreign investigators and legal experts. Information had been revealed with video and image evidence that Zerón had visited the site of the alleged incineration with one of the accused gang members a day before crime scene evidence was found. Zerón failed to note this visit in any of the official records.

Families of the students held a press conference Thursday in response to Zerón’s resignation. They are critical of his appointment to another high-level government job on President Peña Nieto’s National Security Council. “Instead of punishing him they have given him a prize. It doesn’t change anything. We are going to continue taking to the streets to demand the return of our children alive, and to demand the truth,” said Hilda Hernández, a mother of one of the missing students. The families have been preparing a protest for September 26, the second anniversary of the students’ abduction.

For further information, please see:

BBC News – Mexico Missing Students Inquiry Boss Quits – 15 September 2016

New York Times – Top Investigator in Case of Missing Students in Mexico Resigns – 14 September 2016

PanAm Post – Lead Investigator in Mexican Student Massacre Steps Down – 15 September 2016

Vice News – Mexico’s Botched Investigation of 43 Missing Students Leads Chief Investigator to Resign – 15 September 2016

 

US Prisoners Launch a Nation-wide Strike in Protest of “Prison Slavery”

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

UNITED STATES — On Friday prisoners in 40 prisons in at least 24 states went on a coordinated strike, refusing to do their assigned jobs, and are demanding an “end to prison slavery.” This is one of the largest prison strikes attempted in decades. The date of the start of the strike coincides with the 45th anniversary of the 1971 Attica prison uprising. The Industrial Workers of the World’s Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) and the Free Alabama Movement organized and announced the strike in a statement, “Slavery is alive and well in the prison system, but by the end of this year, it won’t be anymore. This call goes directly to the slaves themselves.”

Prisoners in states across the US went on strike Friday to protest the exploitation of their cheap, and sometimes even free, labor. (Photo courtesy of the Independent)

As state budgets have been cut the over 2 million prisoners in the United States have been a source of cheap, and in some states free, labor. New work programs have prisoners repairing public plumbing, doing underwater welding, cleaning up roadkill, and maintaining public spaces. Prisoners’ jobs also go beyond public works and services. Corporations, such as Starbucks, Wal-Mart, Victoria’s Secret, McDonald’s, IBM, and AT&T, have tapped into prison labor by making deals with both private and public prisons. Prisoner laborers make 12 to 40 cents per hour yet the annual dollar value of their work output is estimated to run in the billions. “We want people to understand the economics of the prison system. It’s not about crime and punishment. It’s about money,” says Melvin Brooks-Ray, founder of the Free Alabama Movement and an inmate for 17 years.

Since labor law does not consider prisoners employees, they are not allowed to unionize. IWOC is trying to change that and encourages prisoners to join without charging union dues. IWOC’s site says, “You cannot change this situation through a grievance process that doesn’t work…or through courts that are clearly against you…or through petitions to lawmakers who don’t care about you because you don’t vote…or through hunger strikes against prison officials who want you to starve…or through letters to newspapers who have ignored this situation for decades.”

Prisoners in different states have other demands beyond fair wages for their work, such as an end to long-term solitary confinement policies, poor healthcare, poor quality of food, violent attacks, overcrowding, fairer parole policies, and reinstating educational courses for high school diplomas. “Different prisoners have different goals and aims, it’s looking like it’s going to be a state-by-state thing,” said Brianna Peril, co-chair of IWOC and a former prisoner. In response to these non-violent strikes, many prisons are engaging in lockdowns and barring prisoners’ access to communication.

For further information, please see:

Democracy Now! – Nationwide Prison Strike Launches in 24 States and 40 Facilities Over Conditions & Forced Labor – 9 September 2016

The Guardian – Inmates Strike in Prisons Nationwide Over ‘Slave Labor’ Working Conditions – 9 September 2016

The Independent – Inmates Launch Massive Nationwide Strike to Protest ‘Modern Slavery’ in US Prison System – 9 September 2016

Vice News – Prisoners all Over the US are on strike for ‘an end to prison slavery’ – 9 September 2016

Wired – How to Organize the Largest US Prison Strike Ever…From Inside Prison – 9 September 2016

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Requests an Injunction to Stop Dakota Access Pipeline Construction

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

CANNONBALL, N.D. — The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has sought a preliminary injunction to stop the construction of a $3.7billion pipeline until their lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is heard. The judge, James A. Boasberg of United States District Court, wanted more time to determine whether the Corps failed to follow federal laws, including the National Historic Preservation Act, in its environmental review of the pipeline project. A ruling on the injunction is expected September 9.

The pipeline spans over 1,100 miles over four states and is the first to bring Bakken shale in North Dakota directly to refineries in the Gulf Coast. Dakota Access is the group of firms behind the pipeline, which is led by Energy Transfer Partners. Supporters of the pipeline say this will be a more cost-effective way to transport the shale to the Gulf and assert it is safer than using roads and railways.

Members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe have been protesting the construction since April in order to protect their burial sites, sacred land, and the Tribe’s main water supply. There are now three distinct camps, the original Sacred Stone Spirit camp, the main Seven Council camp on the north side of the Cannonball River, and the Rosebud camp across the river. The main camp was established last spring to fight the construction of the pipeline that is expected to travel under the Missouri River on treaty lands a half of a mile from the Standing Rock reservation. Other Tribes and Nations have joined the camp in solidarity to protect the water and advocate for treaty rights. Accounts of the number of people at the camps vary from 1,000 to 3,000 over the last few weeks. A part of the camp traveled to Washington, D.C. to fill the court room and demonstrate outside the courthouse.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have confirmed that Energy Transfer Partners does not have a written easement to build the pipeline on Corps property. In July the Corps issued Section 408 permission, which allows the easement to be written, but the easement itself is still under review. The Department of the Interior, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and the Environmental Protection Agency objected to the Corps permission. Corps spokesman Larry Janis discussed current construction saying, “They can’t build the project by accessing corps property from west to east across Lake Oahe.” The lack of an easement became clear in the federal district court case. “Everybody thought they had it, this is really important information,” said attorney Carolyn Raffensperger, one of four attorneys volunteering their legal services to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and individuals that may get arrested in the protests.

A group of those protesting the Dakota Access pipeline left the camp to take their message to Washington, D.C.. (Photo courtesy of the New York Times)

Amnesty International and United Nations observers have been making visits to the camp. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the International Treaty Council have appealed to the United Nations by submitting an urgent action communication to four U.N. human rights special rapporteurs on the grounds that the tribe’s water supply is directly threatened by construction of the pipeline. The appeal states, “We specifically request that the United States Government impose an immediate moratorium on all pipeline construction until the treaty rights and human rights of the Standing Rock Tribe can be ensured and their free, prior and informed consent is obtained.” The Dakota Access pipeline allegedly violates the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples including the “right to health, right to water and subsistence, threats against sacred sites including burial grounds, Treaty Rights, cultural and ceremonial practices, free prior and informed consent, traditional lands and resources including water, productive capacity of the environment, and self-determination.”

The appeal also asserts environmental racism in the Corps’ decision to relocate the pipeline from north of Bismarck due to concerns of the impact on the city’s water supply without concern for the impact on the Tribe’s main water supply. The Corp has also issued permits to dig through burial grounds that are protected by protocols established by the National Historic Preservation Act that the Tribe alleges are not being followed.

North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple declared a state of emergency which allows for resources to be mobilized through the State Emergency Operations Plan and helps state and local agencies with more funding for public safety. Some residents are questioning the use of resources to protect Energy Transfer Partners. North Dakota Highway Patrol troopers and other agencies are manning a police barricade that stops and reroutes those going to the reservation but gives access to those north of the reservation. Private security has also been employed, including the recent use of dogs and pepper spray.

In addition to easement issues and potential human rights violations, residents in other states impacted by the pipeline have also filed suit. In Iowa, farmers are suing the government asserting that Dakota Access LLC is illegally using eminent domain to gain rights of way onto their land.

For further information, please see:

The Bismarck Tribune – Corps Says Pipeline Still Needs Water-Crossing Easement – 25 August 2016

Indian Country Today Media Network – Dakota Access Pipeline: Standing Rock Sioux Issue Urgent Appeal to United Nations Human Rights Officials – 20 August 2016

Inside Climate News – Native American Pipeline Protest Halts Construction in N. Dakota – 19 August 2016

Los Angeles Times – With Echoes of Wounded Knee, Tribes Mount Prairie Occupation to Block North Dakota Pipeline – 27 August 2016

New York Times – North Dakota Oil Pipeline Battle: Who’s Fighting and Why – 26 August 2016

Reuters – Celebrities Join Native American Pipeline Protest in Washington, DC – 24 August 2016