Canadian Supreme Court Denies Constitutional Rights to Afghan Detainees Abroad

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

OTTAWA, Canada – The Canadian Supreme Court declined to decide if non-Canadians transferred by Canadian troops to Afghan custody should be extended constitutional rights. The rejection of the appeal application brought by Amnesty International and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Union effectively upheld a lower court ruling that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not protect non-Canadians abroad.

A lawyer for the two rights groups expressed disapproval of the ruling by pointing out that “just about every other democratic country has affirmed that military detainees held on foreign soil have human rights protections in their domestic courts-including the United States.” Human rights groups insist that torture of detainees in Afghanistan is “endemic,” and that Canadian soldiers should not take part in prisoner transfers if there are grounds to believe the detainees will be tortured.

Rights groups say that the potential for Canada to extend Constitutional protections abroad came when Canadian courts held that the rights of Omar Khadr, a Guantanamo detainee were violated.  However, the Federal Court of Appeals explicitly stated that the Khadr decision had no impact on the Afghan detainee case. The Court of Appeals opinion in this case cited Afghan sovereignty with respect to military affairs as a reason for their holding. The Supreme Court, by custom, did not give a reason why they refused to hear the case.

Despite the ruling, a public inquiry by the Military Police Commission into these allegations is scheduled to begin Monday in Ottawa. Rights groups remain adamant that when military police transfer captive insurgents to Afghan authorities known to torture their detainees, they fail to live up to international obligations.

U.S. Woman Gang-Raped in Iraq Seeks Justice by Overcoming a Mandatory Arbitration Clause

By Nima Nayebi

Impunity Watch Reporter, North America



NEW ORLEANS, United States – The fifth circuit heard arguments recently in the case of Jamie Leigh Jones, a Texas resident and former KBR employee who alleged she was gang-raped by Halliburton employees in 2005 while working in Baghdad’s “Green Zone.”


Jones sued Halliburton and several of its subsidiaries in 2005, but Halliburton insisted that she was bound by contract to submit all claims arising from the alleged rape to private arbitration. Jones argued that the arbitration clause of her contract did not apply to a claim involving rape, “because it is not a work-related matter.”


Fifth circuit Judge Keith Ellison wrote: “This court does not believe that plaintiff’s bedroom should be considered the workplace, even though her housing was provided by her employer.”


While in the Green Zone, Halliburton and its then-subsidiary KBR housed Jones in predominantly male living quarters. Jones reported being harassed just two days after arriving there, but her request for different living barracks was dismissed. She was told “to go to the spa” instead.


Just two days later, firefighters working for Halliburton allegedly drugged and brutally raped Jones, causing severe injuries which required reconstructive surgery. No criminal charges were filed against her assailants because the Coalition Authority limits the power of the Iraqi government in prosecuting foreign contractors.


Jones’ experience in Iraq led her to inaugurate the Jamie Leigh Foundation, a “nonprofit organization dedicated to helping United States citizens and legal residents who are victims of crime while working abroad for government contractors and subcontractors.” Jones had also been an outspoken critic of the Fair Arbitration Act of 1925 (FAA), which is currently under Congressional scrutiny.



Georgia Representative Hank Johnson has introduced H.R. 1020, the “Arbitration Fairness Act of 2009.” On 28 April, Jones and others adversely affected by mandatory arbitration clauses lobbied for the act during “Arbitration Fairness Day.” Representative Johnson stated: “One of our indelible rights is the right of a jury trial. Guaranteed by the Constitution, this right has been gradually ceded by citizens every day as they purchase a new cell phone, buy a home, place a loved one in a nursing home, or accept a new job. Once used as a tool for businesses to solve their disputes, arbitration agreements have found their way into employment, consumer, franchise and medical contracts.”


The fifth circuit’s decision will allow others who have been similarly victimized to challenge employment contracts which have kept them from suing in court.

Canada Convicts First International War Criminal in Landmark Decision

By Karla E General
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

MONTREAL, Canada – A Quebec court today found Desire Munyaneza guilty of all seven counts of war crimes committed in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, under a Canadian law enacted in 2000 that allows residents to be tried for crimes committed abroad.

Munyaneza, 42, the first person to be convicted under Canada’s Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act, was found guilty on all counts related to genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, in connection with the three-month genocide perpetrated by Rwanda’s Hutu group. The actions of the Hutus resulted in the murder of an estimated one million members of Rwanda’s Tutsi group as well as moderate Hutus.

Munyaneza, an ethnic Hutu and son of a wealthy businessman, first came to Canada with his family in 1997, but was refused refugee status. He was arrested in Toronto in 2005 following an RCMP investigation that linked him to the murder and rape of civilians, and of leading attacks against ethnic Tutsis at the National University of Rwanda during the genocide. The organization known as African Rights also linked Munyaneza to Rwandans indicted by the United Nations International Criminal Court, and accused him of being a leader in a militia group that raped and murdered dozens of people. He was 27 at the time of the genocide.

Each of the seven counts that Munyaneza was convicted of carries a lifetime prison sentence.

Haitian Migrants Continue to be Targets of Mob Violence in the Dominican Republic

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

PETIONVILLE, Haiti – The Dominican Republic’s treatment of Haitian migrants was protested by over 150 people in front of the Dominican Embassy after the lynching of a Haitian migrant in the Dominican Republic. Carlos Nerílus was tortured and beheaded on May 2nd, as an angry mob watched and took pictures. There is no evidence that local authorities took any action to stop the lynching.

Haitian immigrants have increasingly been victims of mob violence in recent years. A report by Amnesty International found there to be “deep rooted racial discrimination” against Haitians in the Dominican Republic. The report can be found here.

Human Rights groups have expressed concern about discrimination and mass expulsion of Haitians in the Dominican Republic. Between 20,000 to 30,000 Haitians are deported from the Dominican Republic each year. Haitian immigrants have no way to normalize their immigration status without documents, thus widely limiting access to health care and fair labor conditions. Dominican-born children of Haitian migrants are denied Dominican citizenship.

Roughly 1 million Haitian nationals currently live in the Dominican Republic, most of which are undocumented and work in exploitative occupations such as agriculture and domestic service. Last year authorities uncovered a child trafficking ring that forcibly employed Haitian children as beggars.

In response to the beheading, the Dominican Republic has promised to prosecute those responsible.

Senate Blocks Closing of Guantanamo

By Karla E General
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, United States – The United States Senate voted 90-6 against the $80 million spending bill that would have financed the closure of Guantanamo Bay by January 2010, as well as the transfer of the 240 detainees that remain there. The vote came just one day before President Barack Obama was scheduled to outline his plan for the transfer of the 240 terrorism suspects detained at the facility located in Cuba.

Obama had requested the $80 million last month, an amount necessary for the Pentagon and Justice Department to close the detention facility, which is known by international human rights groups for its use of harsh interrogation techniques and detention of suspects without trial. The funds were requested without an immediate and detailed plan of action for the transfer of the detainees and without a definitive answer on whether the detainees would be transferred to U.S. soil. Republicans have criticized Obama’s quest to shut down Guantanamo, saying that human rights abuses that have occurred at the facility are a thing of the past.

The 90-6 vote followed testimony to Congress by FBI Director Robert Mueller who stated: “The concerns we have about individuals who may support terrorism being in the United States run from concerns about providing financing to terrorists, [and] radicalizing others … [as well as] the potential for individuals undertaking attacks in the United States.”

Similarly, Republican Senator John Thune of South Dakota said: “The American people don’t want these men walking the streets of America’s neighborhoods.  The American people don’t want these detainees held at a military base or federal prison in their backyard either.”

In spite of the vote, Democrats remain hopeful that President Obama will devise a detailed plan that meets the objectives of both Democrats and Republicans. “The president’s very capable of putting together a plan that I think will win the approval of a majority of members of Congress,” said Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson. “I can’t imagine that he won’t.”

Canada May Be Last to Recognize Indigenous Rights

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

NEW YORK CITY, United States – The government of Canada continues to oppose the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (DRIP), as over 2,000 participants from around the world gather at the UN Headquarters to discuss Indigenous rights.

Canada, the United States, New Zealand, and Australia have opposed the Declaration since its creation in 2007. Australia recently reversed its position and John Key, New Zealand’s Prime Minister, has said he will consider reversing New Zealand’s opposition. UN leaders are in contact with President Barak Obama about possibly reversing the Bush Administration’s opposition to the Declaration.  Canada’s intransigence was the primary topic of concern at a press briefing this week.

The Canadian government claims that the Declaration conflicts with the Canadian Constitution because it favors Indigenous rights over non-Indigenous rights. Victoria Tuali-Corpuz, the chairperson of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Rights, called Canada’s reasoning “invalid”.  Officials expressed surprise at Canada’s position considering its “advanced” policy regarding Indigenous people.  Furthermore, Canada has been active on other international human declarations, like the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Discussions at the conference included complaints from Indigenous people that Canadian mining companies do not respect their rights.  Participants addressed a letter to Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, calling on Canada to “establish clear legal norms . . . to ensure that Canadian companies and residents are held accountable when there is evidence of environmental and/or human rights violations.”

The Declaration includes provisions recognizing Indigenous human rights to self-determination, land, natural resources, and compensation for rights violated. DRIP is not legally binding, but the outlines of the declaration are to be referenced when a country enacts new laws and policies.  According to Tauli-Corpuz, “More attention needs to be focused on the trans-boundary human rights obligations of countries which are hosting extractive corporations and creating problems for indigenous people.” The text of the Declaration is available here.

Mexican Army Continues Human Rights Abuses in its Domestic Policing Role

By Nima Nayebi
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

MEXICO CITY, Mexico – In an effort to curtail drug-related violence, the Mexican army has been engaged in domestic policing, but a lack of training and accountability has led to allegations of rampant human rights violations according to a recent Human Rights Watch (HRW) report.

President Felipe Calderón initially recruited the army in the effort as part of a 2006 emergency plan. Since then more than 1,230 reported cases of human rights violations have prompted Mexican human rights organizations to ask the U.S. to halt American military aid to Mexico. While abuses include disappearances, killings, torture, rapes, and arbitrary detentions, none of the military investigations and trials has led to the conviction of accused soldiers. According to Raúl Benítez, defense specialist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, part of the problem is that “[h]aving military officers commit abuses is seen as the lesser evil. People just want the army to protect them from the narcos.”

The HRW report details seventeen graphic cases of abuse in 2007 and 2008 involving more than seventy individuals. HRW recommends that civilian courts, rather than military tribunals, hear military abuse cases to ensure proper prosecution and deterrence. The Mexican Interior Department has promised to study the report, but has stressed that military court rulings may be appealed in civilian courts.

Mexico_drug_war

Dr. Henry T. King, Jr. – Nuremberg Prosecutor – Leaves Legal Legacy and Vision for Future

By Sarah Benczik
Impunity Watch Editor-in-Chief

New York, USA – Friends and colleagues today mourn the death of Dr. Henry T. King, Jr., who passed away on Saturday at the age of 89.

Dr. King perhaps is most famous for prosecuting Nazis alongside John H. Jackson during the Nuremberg Trials.  He was a recent graduate of Yale Law and only 25 years old when he was hired as the youngest Nuremberg Prosecutor.  He led the prosecution of Luftwaffe Field Marshall Erhard Milch, deputy head of the Luftwaffe under Hermann Goering, and interrogated many other significant Nuremberg defendants, including Albert Speer.

Dr. Henry King’s legal career reached far beyond his time spent prosecuting Nazis.  He went on to
work as corporate counsel for TRW Inc., eventually becoming chief corporate international counsel, and later served as counsel to the law firm Squire, Sanders and Dempsey.  He served as director of the Agency for International Development (USAID) during the Eisenhower Administration and as General Counsel of the U.S. Foreign Economic Aid Program.  During the 1980s, as Chairman of the Canada-United States Law Institute, Dr. King played an integral role in facilitating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).  He was also actively engaged in the American Bar Association (ABA): he was chairman of the ABA Section on International Law and Practice, U.S. chairman of a joint working group, organized by the American, Canadian, and Mexican bar associations, on the settlement of international disputes, and joined the ABA’s special task force on war crimes in the former Yugoslavia.

Dr. King became a professor at Case Western Reserve University, where he taught International Business and International Arbitration.  As a scholar, he published more than 70 articles on international business transactions, international arbitration, and Nuremberg related topics.  He also authored a book – The Two Worlds of Albert Speer – based on his Nuremberg experiences.

In 1998, Dr. King, along with Whitney Harris and Ben Ferencz (also former Nuremberg Prosecutors), participated in the Rome diplomatic conference to create a permanent international criminal court (now known as the ICC).  The three prosecutors are credited with convincing fellow delegates to include the crime of aggression – along with crimes against humanity, genocide, and war crimes – within the jurisdiction of the ICC under the Rome Statute.  He was honored by the government of The Netherlands as an official guest of the government for the inauguration of the ICC in March 2003 at The Hague.

Dr. King’s work was fueled by a passion for international cooperation and law, and a vision of a better future.  In his own words through his Case Western University faculty web page, Professor King shared this vision:

“I’m involved in “action” programs in international law and in the teaching of international law because I believe that we live in an increasingly connected international world, which we can make much better and more secure.”

A colleague of Dr. King’s shared a similar anecdote: “At a luncheon session that I attended a few months ago in which Henry reflected on insights gained over the years, he told the standing-room crowd of students that ‘the most important thing is to find some way to leave your mark for the betterment of society and the world.’  Henry left his mark in a big way.”

Dr. King was named a Fellow honoris causa of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law Center for International Legal Education in 2002.  The University of Western Ontario awarded him an honorary degree of Doctor of Civil Laws.  In 2004, he was appointed Canada’s Honorary Consul General for Cleveland and Northeast Ohio.  He was also a Senior Advisor to the Robert Jackson Center at Jamestown, New York.

Dr. King’s legacy will no doubt continue on through future generations of international legal scholarship.  Impunity Watch shares Professor King’s vision of an interconnected world without legal impunity from the greatest crimes committed in history.   Dr. King served as the master of ceremonies for Impunity Watch’s official web-launch ceremony in October 2007, and we are grateful for and honored by his support for our organization over the years.  The Impunity Watch Executive Board and Staff offer our condolences to his family, and we will continue to honor his legacy by daily working to keep his vision for a better world alive.

Spanish Judge Opens Investigation of U.S. Involvement in Torture at Guantanamo

By Karla E General
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, United States – Judge Baltasar Garzon, an investigating magistrate at the National Court in Madrid, said he would investigate allegations made by four detainees – Hamed Abderrahman Ahmed, Lahcen Ikassrien, Jamiel Abdul Latif al Banna and Omar Deghayes – who were held at Guantanamo Bay Detention Center during the Bush administration’s reign without charges. The investigation was sparked by torture complaints from the former detainees, who alleged that they had been sexually abused and beaten “under the authority of personnel from the U.S. Army.”

Garzon

In his ruling, Garzon said he will probe the “perpetrators, the instigators, the necessary collaborators and accomplices” to crimes of torture at the prison, at the U.S. naval base in Southern Cuba. Garzon also noted that recently-declassified CIA documents by the Obama Administration “have revealed what was previously a suspicion: the existence of an authorized and systematic program of torture and mistreatment of persons deprived of their freedom,” that defies international conventions.

Since 2005, Spain has assumed the principle of universal jurisdiction in cases of crimes against humanity, genocide, and terrorism. However, it is only authorized to proceed when the cases are not already subject to prosecution by the country involved.

Garzon is well-known for his use of international human rights laws to prosecute torturers from the Argentinian military dictatorships and his attempt to extradite Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet from Britain on charges of torture and genocide.

Human Rights Groups Call for Torture Prosecutions of U.S. Officials

23 April 2009

Human Rights Groups Call for Torture Prosecutions of U.S. Officials

By Karla E General
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, United States – A complete unclassified version of a report released by the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday found that Condoleezza Rice and Dick Cheney gave explicit permission to use interrogation techniques such as waterboarding, a technique that Obama has recently classified as ‘torture.’ The report, titled “Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody” can be found here.

The report reveals that Rice, as national security adviser at the time, gave permission to the CIA to use waterboarding techniques as early as July 2002, despite her testimony that says otherwise. Rice went on to become secretary of state. The extensive 232-page report is said to undercut the claim of then deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz, that the abuse of prisoners in Iraq was the work of “a few bad apples.” The report notes: “The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of “a few bad apples” acting on their own. The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees.” With the release of this once-classified information under the Obama administration, the door is open for possible prosecution of members of the Bush administration.

The revelations against Rice, Cheney, and others in the Bush administration come just one day after Attorney General Eric Holder publicly stated “We are going to follow the evidence, follow the law and take that where it leads. No one is above the law.” Human rights groups have demanded that Holder appoint a special prosecutor to investigate since Obama has noted it is ultimately up to Holder to decide whether to proceed with prosecutions of those in the Bush administration who provided legal justification for torture.

U.S. Sponsors Torture Training in Uganda

19 April 2009

U.S. Sponsors Torture Training in Uganda

By Karla E General
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, United States – A recently-released Human Rights Watch (HRW) report titled “Open Secret: Illegal Detention and Torture by the Joint Anti-Terrorism Task Force in Uganda” details U.S.-sponsorship and involvement in providing torture training to Ugandan security agents. The most recent incident of U.S. involvement happened in December 2008, under the Bush Administration.

The HRW report notes the lack of initative from foreign partners to address the serious human rights violations occurring in Uganda. It also argues that “[t]he Ugandan government’s use of unlawful detention and torture against terrorism and treason suspects violates domestic and international human rights law. And its unwillingness to take action against those responsible, particularly JATT (the Joint Anti-Terrorism Task Force), is a dereliction of the government’s international legal obligations.”

In contravention to domestic law, the Leahy Amendment (a provision of U.S. appropriations legislation prohibiting U.S. military assistance to foreign military units that violate human rights with impunity), the U.S. provided $5 million in training to Uganda agents. Ugandan officials subsequently punched, whipped, caned, and used electric shock on hundreds of suspects. A HRW interview with Uganda’s chief of military intelligence, Brigadier James Mugira, confirmed that Ugandan agents received training from the U.S.

The HRW report concludes: “Given the oft-cited allegations of torture and illegal detention by JATT and CMI (the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence in Uganda) by local and international human rights organizations, and by the Uganda Human Rights Commission, it is unclear how these individuals could have been eligible for U.S. funded training.”

Human Rights Watch is a major New York-based organization that documents human rights abuses around the world.
For more information, please see:

Black Star NewsU.S. Provided Torture Training to Uganda – Report – 19 April 2009

Human Rights Watch – Open Secret: Illegal Detention and Torture by the Joint Anti-Terrorism Task Force in Uganda – 8 April 2009

Human Rights Watch – Open Secret: Role of Uganda’s Foreign Partners in the Military and Security Sector – 8 April 2009

Obama Administration will not Prosecute C.I.A. Operatives that Conducted Controversial Interrogations of Terrorist Suspects

17 April 2009

Obama Administration will not Prosecute C.I.A. Operatives that Conducted Controversial Interrogations of Terrorist Suspects

By Maria E. Molina
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

After the September 11th attacks, C.I.A. operatives were allowed to utilize heightened interrogation methods. Just yesterday President Obama officially announced that his administration would not prosecute C.I.A. operatives for carrying out these controversial interrogation techniques on terrorist suspects.

Also, the Justice Department began releasing a number of detailed memos detailing the harsh techniques used against Al Qaeda suspects in secret overseas prisons. The interrogation methods were closely guarded secrets by the Bush administration. Yesterday’s release will be the most comprehensive public accounting to date of the interrogation program that some Obama officials have said used illegal torture.

The documents are expected to include Justice Department memos from 2002 and 2005 authorizing the C.I.A. to employ a number of aggressive techniques. The Bush administration memos authorized keeping detainees naked, in painful standing positions, and in cold cells for long periods of time. Other techniques included depriving them of solid food and slapping them. Sleep deprivation, prolonged shackling and threats to a detainee’s family were also utilized.

Among the anticipated documents are detailed 2005 memos by Stephen G. Bradbury, who acted as head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel and authorized the C.I.A. techniques. The documents gave legal support for using a combination of coercive techniques and concluded that the C.I.A.’s methods were not “cruel, inhuman or degrading” under international law.

Another document expected to be released this afternoon is a Justice Department memo written August 1, 2002. The memo, written by John C. Yoo and signed by Jay S. Bybee, two Justice Department officials at the time, is a legal authorization for a laundry list of proposed C.I.A. interrogation techniques.

For more information, please see:

MSNBC – CIA employees won’t be tried for waterboarding – 17 April 2009

The New York Times – Obama Releases Interrogation Memos, Says C.I.A. Operatives Won’t Be Prosecuted – 16 April 2009

The Washington Post – On Interrogation Policies, Another Delicate Compromise From Obama – 16 April 2009

Native Hawaiians Denied Recognition of Aboriginal Lands by U.S. Supreme Court

09 April 2009

Native Hawaiians Denied Recognition of Aboriginal Lands by U.S. Supreme Court

By Karla E General
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

HONOLULU, Hawaii – The U.S. Supreme Court overruled the Hawaiian Supreme Court last week when it decided that the 1993 Official Apology Resolution issued by the Congress to the Native Hawaiians did not constitute recognition of Native Hawaiian rights to their ancestral lands. With this decision, 1.2 million acres of disputed Native Hawaiian lands will be opened for public sale.

In 2002, a Hawaiian state court initially ruled that Hawaii could sell the disputed lands. The case eventually went up to the state’s highest court in 2008, with the Hawaii Supreme Court finding that Native Hawaiians had a claim to the disputed lands. The Court then issued an injunction to prevent the sale of “ceded lands” held in trust until the outstanding aboriginal land claims had been resolved. The Hawaii Supreme Court relied on the 1993 Apology Resolution – an official acknowledgment of the illegality of the U.S. overthrowing of Hawaii’s sovereign government, creation of a provisional government, and annexation of Hawaii as a U.S. territory with the Newlands Resolution – in it’s landmark decision.

The recent Supreme Court’s ruling is extremely dangerous – it accepts the Newlands Resolution as the legal resolution of land disputes, vesting absolute title to the United States over the disputed lands – while ignoring the Congressional Apology which recognized that “the Indigenous Hawaiian people never directly relinquished their claims to their inherent sovereignty as a people or over their national lands to the United States, either through their monarchy or through a plebiscite or referendum.” J. Kehaulani Kauanui, Associate Professor of American Studies and Anthropology at Wesleyan University, expressed frustration over the Court’s mishandling of the case: “If the Apology Resolution has no teeth in the court of the conqueror, then how is it that the Newlands Resolution that unilaterally annexed Hawaii does? This (ruling) is a legal fiction to cover up the fact that the U.S. government accepted the stolen lands from the Republic of Hawaii government that confiscated these lands after the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom.”

The U.S. Supreme Court remanded the case back to the Hawaii Supreme Court for “further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.”

For more information, please see:

Indian Country Today – U.S. Supremes Rule Against Native Hawaiians’ Land Claims – 6 April 2009

Chicago Tribune – Hawaii: Land Sale Upheld – 1 April 2009

Honolulu Star – Ceded Land Ruling Creates Quick Need for Sovereignty – 1 April 2009

New York Times – Supreme Court Backs Hawaii in Land Dispute – 31 March 2009

Mexican President Gets Away with Genocide

01 April 2009

Mexican President Gets Away with Genocide

By Maria E. Molina
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

MEXICO CITY, Mexico – A federal tribunal has exonerated former President Luis Echeverría Álvarez of genocide charges stemming from a notorious massacre of student activists in 1968. Echeverria was the country’s interior secretary on Oct. 2, 1968, when soldiers opened fire on a student demonstration in Mexico City’s Tlatelolco Plaza before the capital hosted the Olympics.

A lower court previously ruled the massacre constituted genocide but dismissed charges of involvement against Echeverria.  The court, which issued its ruling late Thursday, rejected federal prosecutors’ argument that an army crackdown on unarmed student protesters fit the legal definition of genocide. It also upheld previous rulings that the 30-year statute of limitations for genocide had expired.

The collapse of this latest case is demonstrative of successive Mexican governments failure to address Mexico’s international human rights commitments. The government of President Calderon, in particular, has failed to acknowledge or address the legacy of human rights violations.

The massacre unfolded on the night of October 2, 1968, when Mexican security forces opened fire in a public area, La Plaza de las Tres Culturas at Tlatelolco. The public square was crowded with thousands of activists. When the shooting stopped, hundreds of people lay dead or wounded, as Army and police forces seized surviving protesters and dragged them away. No one knows for sure how many people were killed and to this day, no one has been punished for the crime.

Thursday’s ruling exhausted prosecutors’ legal possibilities in Mexico. It was not immediately clear whether they planned to appeal the decision to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, in Costa Rica.

For more information, please see:

Amnesty International – Violent Crime and Insecurity in Mexico Are Rooted in Legacy of Impunity and Injustice from Past, Says Amnesty International, Commenting on Court Ruling on 1968 Student Massacre – 27 March 2009

Associated Press – Mexican court upholds ruling on 1968 massacre – 27 March 2009

The Chronicle of Higher Education – Mexican Court Exonerates Former President Accused of Genocide in Student Killings – 27 March 2009

Inadequate Healthcare Responsible for High Maternal Mortality Rate in Haiti

29 March 2009

Inadequate Healthcare Responsible for High Maternal Mortality Rate in Haiti

By Karla E General
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Haiti has long been noted as the leader in maternal mortality rates in the Western Hemisphere, with 670 women dying from pregnancy-related factors for every 100,000 live births in Haiti in 2006. One of the major players in this phenomenon? Complete lack of, or (if the mother is fortunate enough to be admitted to a hospital), inadequate health care.

With a maternal death rate that comes nowhere near the United States’ (11 deaths for every 100,000 live births), Haiti is under attack from the international medical community to provide better services in their maternity wards. Wendy Lai of Doctors Without Borders (Holland) calls the situation “embarrassing to the Western world…[T]hese are preventable deaths.” According to Jacqueline Ramon, a maternity ward nurse at Port-Au-Prince’s General Hospital, women still must pay for all other childbirth-related costs – such as medical supplies, food and transportation – leading many to turn to untrained midwives who use traditional medicine.

Dr. Paul Farmer, a Harvard physician, expressed frustration at Haiti’s blatant denial of adequate health care to low-income pregnant women: “It’s never, ever going to work unless we say some things are not meant to be sold, and safe motherhood is one of them.” Farmer added that in rural towns where his nonprofit organization Partners in Health provides free health care, the maternal mortality rate is less than one-tenth the national average.

Comprehensive health care for all pregnant women in Haiti would cost about $40 million annually, a drop in the bucket for a basic human right.
For more information, please see:

San Francisco Chronicle – Childbirth Dangerous Business for Haiti’s Poor – 22 March 2009

Medical News Today – AP/Washington Times Examines Factors Behind High Maternal Mortality in Haiti – 19 March 2009

Washington Times – Childbirth Danger Rampant in Haiti – 17 March 2009