Report Reveals Police Abuse in Kenyan Elections

By: Adam King
Impunity Rights News Reporter, Africa

Kenyan protestor witnesses police violence. Photo courtesy of Thomas Mukoya.

NAIROBI, Kenya  – A new report released on October 15, 2017 details numerous instances of  violence by the Kenyan police directed towards election protesters.  The report is comprised of the joint efforts of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Some of the notable highlights from the report are how many people have died or have been injured by the police,

“At least 33 people were killed in Nairobi alone, most of them as a result of action by the police …Twenty-three, including children, appear to have been shot or beaten to death by police. Others were killed by tear gas and pepper spray fired at close range or trampled by fleeing crowds, and two died of trauma from shock. Two others were stoned by mobs…the national death toll could be as high as 67.”

The type of violence varied greatly, “Hundreds of residents have suffered severe injuries including gunshot wounds, debilitating injuries such as broken bones and extensive bruising as a result of the police violence.”

Violence has continued to grip the country since the results of the election were invalidated by the Kenya Supreme Court. The election was supposed to take place on October 26, 2017, but the likelihood of that action is now in question given the withdrawal of the challenger, Raila Odinga.

The report interviewed 100 plus people in its investigation. Protestors were not the only group who faced pressure from police forces. Journalists and reporters who were following the demonstrations faced instances of pressure from police,

“Police in these neighborhoods also tried to prevent journalists and human rights activists from reporting the violations, the two organizations found. In one case, in Kibera, a police officer smashed a foreign journalist’s camera when he tried to photograph police beating a youth leader. Police also beat up a local activist and smashed his camera when he tried to film them in Mathare.”

The report has been refuted by officials from the Kenyan police, citing instances of inaccuracy and embellishment with some of the claims according to spokesperson George Kinoti,

“The National Police Service attention has been drawn to a sensational report by Amnesty International alleging that 33 people were killed in the immediate post August poll period… We wish to refute the claims as totally misleading and based on falsehoods. We are studying the report and will issue a comprehensive report later.”

These allegations of violence at the hands of Kenyan police comes on the heels of other accusations of violence by the International Criminal Court over the past decade,

“The service had been indicted in the 2007-08 post-election violence, with its then commander Mohammed Ali facing crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court (ICC). In 2013, under the command of David Kimaiyo and his deputy Grace Kaindi, the police service operated independently, knowing its every move was being watched.”

These accusations over the years could be representative of a larger cultural problem of violence towards citizens as a means of policing.

For more information, please see:

The Standard — Police brutality rears ugly head again’ — 22 October 2017

AllAfrica — ‘Kenya: Police Deny Killing 33 in Nairobi During Anti-IEBC Demos’ — 16 October 2017

Human Rights Watch —‘Kill Those Criminals: Security Forces Violations in Kenya’s August 2017 Elections’ — 15 October 2017

Human Rights Watch — ‘Kenya: Police Killed, Beat Post-Election Protesters’ — 15 October 2017

Election of Congo to UNHRC met with Mixed Responses

By: Adam King
Impunity Rights News Reporter, Africa

United Nations Human Rights Council Meeting. Photo courtesy of Denis Balibouse.

GENEVA, Switzerland – The Democratic Republic of Congo was recently elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council on October 16, 2017 along with 15 other countries.  While Congo was elected by receiving the majority number of votes necessary for election, it received the least amount of votes (150) among the African countries that were in the running. The total amount of votes necessary to be elected to the council is 97. Only 4 African states were running for seats, which is the total allotment for the region. Louis Charbonneau, the Human Rights Watch UN Director, felt the outcome would have been different if the seats up for election had been contested, “[Congo] is fast becoming a pariah state. If there had been competition, it probably would have lost.”

Some of the sharpest criticisms came from Nikki Haley, the United States Ambassador to the UN. Her rebukes questioned the message that was being sent to the rest of the world by electing Congo, who has a controversial history with human rights violations,

“The DR Congo, a country infamous for political suppression, violence against women and children, arbitrary arrest and detention, and unlawful killings and disappearances, has been elected to serve on what is supposed to be the world’s preeminent human rights body… Countries that aggressively violate human rights at home should not be in a position to guard the human rights of others.”

Additionally, Haley saw this move as a tactic that took away from the unified message the council wants to embody to effectively progress its charge as a body,

“We need a unified voice of moral clarity with backbone and integrity to call out abusive governments. This election has once again proven that the Human Rights Council, as presently constituted, is not that voice.”

Haley has even gone as far to suggest that the United States may consider exiting the council if decisions such as these continue to happen.

Congo has been riddled with accusations of human rights violations ranging from the use of child soldiers to allegations of mass killings. According to Deutsche Welle,

“Violence in eastern and central Congo has displaced 1.5 million in the last year and reopened fears of civil war. Conflict in 1996-2003 resulted in millions of deaths and created conditions in which dozens of armed groups emerged.”

Congo was elected to the UNHRC despite a campaign by several countries to keep it from gaining a seat,

“The United States, the United Kingdom and advocacy groups like the Washington-based Human Rights Watch called upon member nations to reject Congo’s candidacy, citing widespread reports that its president Joseph Kabila has used repression and violence to hold onto power after his two-term limit expired on Dec. 19, 2016.”

For more information, please see:

Dhaka Tribune — ‘DR Congo wins seat on UN rights council despite US opposition’ — 17 October 2017

MPN News — ‘Mass Graves Don’t Keep Congolese Off UN Human Rights Council’ — 17 October 2017

The Indian Express — ‘Congo elected to UN Human Rights Council; US criticises move’ — 17 October 2017

Deutsche Welle — ‘DR Congo controversially elected to UN Human Rights Council’ — 16 October 2017

Miami Herald — ‘UN elects Congo to Human Rights Council despite abuses’ — 16 October 2017

‘Braid Chopping’ Attacks on Women in Kashmir

Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch 
Reporter, Asia 

SRINAGAR, Kashmir – Women in Kashmir are facing an attack of a new type- ‘braid chopping.’   Masked perpetuators attack women and then proceeded to cut their hair.  These types of attacks have happened both public spheres as well as private homes.  Within the past 2 month over 200 women reported such abuses.

A women with her chopped hair. Photo Courtesy of Farooq Khan.

The attackers spray some type of chemical in the women’s faces before chopping their victim’s hair off.  Many women are knocked unconscious in the process.  The chopped hair is not stolen by the attackers.

Attacks such as these have also been reported in other Indian states such as Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, and Haryana.  Even New Delhi, the capital, has seen similar cases.

Women reported the events to the police.  The region’s police say that these incidents are being treated as a crime.  There is a $9,000 reward for information on the culprits.

However, they believe that the police are not following up in an appropriate manner.  The police response impedes women’s empowerment.  Despite there being a high reward for information, many local police do not take the complaints seriously.  They accuse of the women of hallucinating or having a history of mental illness.  This response breaks down a woman’s credibility as well as not reassuring her of her safety.

Women have begun to gather in the streets to protest.  One such demonstration ended in stones thrown at the Indian Police.  Vigilante groups have also formed in some villages as a response mechanism.  There is a real fear of being accused of being a ‘braid-chopper.’

These attacks cause fear to grow among the female population in Kashmir.  Women are afraid to go out in public or be left alone. The fear caused by the attacks takes away the women’s peace  of mind and independence.

Additionally, the attacks degrade the women.  Kashmir is a typically conservative Muslim territory.  Women tend to not cut their hair and keep it covered as doing otherwise is dishonorable.

For more information please see:

Al Jazeera – ‘Braid-chopping sparks fear and unrest in Kashmir – 12 October 2017 

The Guardian – ‘Braid Chopping in Kashmir sparks mass panic and mob violence – 11 October 2017

USA Today – Mysterious ‘braid-choppers’ are drugging women and cutting off their hair in India – 17 October 2017

Maduro’s shocking victory in Venezuela’s latest election

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuela’s opposition leaders suffered a devastating loss on Sunday, October 15. With reluctant participation by the opposing party, socialist leader Nicolas Maduro staged this election and won by a 17-point margin.

President Maduro. Image Courtesy of Ariana Cubillos.

Several national and global actors have denounced the election as fraudulent because it is unbelievable that Venezuelans would legitimately elect this party. The polls showed Maduro ahead by nine points while the official count reported him losing by six. Additionally, reports show only about a fifth of Venezuelans claim to support his government. He is known for abolishing Venezuela’s National Assembly, violently putting down protests, illegally jailing nearly 500 opposition activists, and wiping out any remnants of independent media. Somehow, he still ended up winning two-thirds of the races with 17 of 23 governorships.

A political risk research and consulting firm, Eurasia Group, reported “if the vote were to be completely free and fair, the (opposition) would likely win between 18 and 21 states.”

Venezuela is shocked by these results but does not have any evidence of a sham election. In the past, Maduro’s party was accused of manipulating the election that put him in power. These allegations involved the software company that set up the voting system and found that it miscalculated by one million votes.

In this case, the pre-rigging of the election was not hidden. Authorities under Maduro abruptly moved polling places of more than a half a million voters from anti-government neighborhoods to regime-friendly areas. They also printed ballots with names of opposition candidates who had been defeated in primary voting.

While some opposition leaders denounce this election and demand an independent audit, others have accepted defeat. Many assume that their supporters had fled as refugees or were too disappointed in the government to participate in the election. Because of Maduro’s tainted history, some opposition candidates say they never truly expected to win in a fair election, they just hoped they would gain more power.

This vote allows Maduro to establish the Constituent Assembly, a new institution that is stacked with his supporters and will replace the National Assembly, which was previously filled with his opposition. From this new institution, Maduro has the power to rewrite Venezuela’s constitution.

This election comes less than three months after the last major vote which ended violently. Protestors clashed with police resulting in the death of six people. Since then, more than 120 people have been killed in protest of their socialist government. Thousands of others have fled the country because of food scarcity, rampant violence, and high inflation.

Since Maduro’s government came into power in July, Venezuela’s democratic credentials have been under scrutiny. Many see this election as a way to affirm Maduro’s power and appear democratic. However, the head of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, says “you can’t recognize elections in a country where there’s no guarantee for the efficient exercise of democracy.”

For more information, please see:

Pittsburgh Post – Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro defends election results, claims American opposition is aiding him – 17 October 2017

Washington Post – the hope for change in Venezuela suffers a crushing blow – 17 October 2017

Fox News – Venezuela’s democracy is dead – 16 October 2017

CNN – Venezuelan opposition denounces results of first major vote since violent election – 16 October 2017

NY Times – Venezuelan Opposition Denounces Latest Vote as Ruling Party Makes Gains – 16 October 2017

Hate Crimes on the Rise in England and Wales

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

LONDON, England – Hate crimes are on the rise in the United Kingdom, according to authorities.

Candlelight Vigil Following Manchester Attack. Photo Courtesy of Andrew Testa.

The rise comes following Britain’s vote to leave the European Union in 2016 along with a wave of extremist attacks since then.

Between 2016 and 2017, there were 80,393 reported offenses, compared to 62,518 between 2015 and 2016. This 29 percent rise is the largest since official hate crime figures were published five years ago.

The crimes spiked surrounding significant events such as the European Union referendum, known as “Brexit,” and extremist attacks on the Westminster Bridge, Manchester Arena and the London Bridge.

Last year’s Brexit campaign was supported by many right-wing and nationalist groups. The vote spurred concerns that minorities and immigrants would be susceptible to hate crimes as a result.

Of the crimes reported, approximately 80 percent were based on race, 10 percent on sexual orientation and 7 percent on religion. A number of these crimes were recorded as disability hate crimes and others as motivated by transgender hate.

The rise in figures may partially be attributed to the broadened definition of what constitutes a hate crime. Hate crimes are now categorized if victims of verbal or physical assaults consider them as such. Public awareness and increased reporting may also be a factor, as authorities are also considered better able to record and document such incidents.

Amber Rudd, Home Secretary, said that “no one in Britain should have to suffer violent prejudice, and indications that there was a genuine rise in the number of offenses immediately following each of this year’s terror attacks is undoubtedly concerning.”

Governmental funds are being designated to protect places of worship and support community projects.

Tougher sentences are being handed down by courts dealing with hate crimes. The Crown Prosecution Service published data showing that sentences increased if the crimes were motivated on the grounds of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability.

However, the number of cases being prosecuted has dropped from 15,542 between 2015 and 2016 to 14,480 between 2016 and 2017.

“We must continue to encourage all those affected by hate crimes to speak out, and in doing so send a clear message that hate and prejudice can have absolutely no place in modern Britain,” said Mustafa Field, director of the Faiths Forum for London.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Rise in Hate Crime in England and Wales – 17 October 2017

The Guardian – Hate Crime Surged in England and Wales After Terrorist Attacks – 17 October 2017

The New York Times – U.K. Reports Big Rise in Hate Crime, Citing Brexit and Terrorist Attacks – 17 October 2017

The Washington Post – Britain Reports Hate Crimes Spike After Brexit Votes, Attack – 17 October 2017

Violence at Independence Vote in Catalonia Injures Hundreds

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

BARCELONA, Spain – Nearly 900 civilians and over 400 police officers were injured in clashes sparked by the Catalan independence referendum on October 1st.

A Police Officer Struggles With a Demonstrator in Spain. Photo Courtesy of Luca Piergiovanni / EPA-EFE / REX/ Shutterstock.

Videos at the scene show police dragging people out of voting stations, throwing them down stairs and kicking them. Rubber bullets were also fired at civilians.

Human Rights Watch, a human rights organization based out of New York, sent a representative to Barcelona to investigate the allegations of police brutality, declaring that the Spanish state “has a duty to protect the rights to peaceful assembly and free expression.”

Government officials in Spain defended the police action and called it proportional to the threat. Force was used under orders from Madrid to shut down voting stations and seize ballot boxes.

Citizens of Catalonia have long harbored a desire for independence from Spain. Catalonia is a region in Spain with its own language and culture. However, Spain’s constitution of 1978 gives the government exclusive power to hold referendums, and it considered the referendum to be unconstitutional.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy had promised to do anything in his power to stop the referendum from taking place. He thanked the police for their “firmness and serenity” in the situation.

Over two million people were able to vote despite the violence. Of those, 90 percent voted for the secession of Catalonia. Many were prevented from casting their votes.

Eyewitnesses report that police were indiscriminate in who they targeted. There were reports of children and elderly people being injured.

“The police didn’t beat just people who were going to vote ‘Yes,” they forced and kicked at everybody, old people included,” said Pau Subira Zirita, a witness.

Violence also ensued between the Catalan regional police and the Civil Guards, a paramilitary force sent in from around Spain.

The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muiznieks, urged Spain to conduct “swift, independent and effective” investigations into the conduct of the police and their use of force in the situation.

“I urge you to ensure, in co-operation with other authorities in charge of law enforcement, that swift, independent and effective investigations are carried out into all allegations of police misconduct and disproportionate use of force during the events of 1 October 2017 in Catalonia,” he said.

Anais Franquesa Griso, a human rights lawyer, is working with several organizations, including Human Rights Watch, to collect information from those injured or whose rights were deprived. This information will be reported to international human rights organizations.

For more information, please see:

Aljazeera – Catalan Vote: Claims of Police Brutality Probed – 3 October 2017

Los Angeles Times – Amid Scenes of Chaos and Violence, Catalonia Independence Vote is Projected to Pass Overwhelmingly – 1 October 2017

The Local – Council of Europe Human Rights Chief Urges Spain to Launch Probe Into Police Action in Catalonia – 9 October 2017

The New York Times – Catalonia Leaders Seek to Make Independence Referendum Binding – 2 October 2017

Reuters – Madrid Representative in Catalonia Apologizes for Police Violence During Independence Vote – 6 October 2017

Possible body of missing activist found before Argentina’s midterm election

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Candidates in Argentina suspended their campaigns after a body was discovered in a river on Wednesday, October 18. Many believe it to be the missing activist, Santiago Maldonado, who was last seen close to that location.

A demonstration for Maldonado in Buenos Aires on Thursday. Image Courtesy of Marcos Brindicci/Reuters.

Maldonado disappeared in August during a protest for indigenous rights when the federal police force was called in to put down the rally. According to a witness, Maldonado was knocked unconscious by security forces and put into a car.

The remains were found about 1,500 meters from the community guard of the Indigenous Mapuche community in Pu Lof. The body was on the riverbed of the Chubut River.

An expert hired by Maldonado’s family reported that the clothing on the body matches the description found of Maldonado’s clothes from the day of his disappearance. Also, he claims to have found a document in one of the pockets with his name on it. Regardless, his family is not convinced and distrusts the government. They are staying by his body in anticipation of DNA identification. The autopsy will be carried out on Friday in Argentina’s capital.

However, many question this discovery. That area of the river had previously been checked by authorities three separate times, and they have no explanation as to why they found it on the fourth dredging of the river. Maldonado’s lawyer, Veronica Heredia, remarked “we do not understand … we have no physical or legal explanation of why that body was found yesterday.”

Additionally, several other circumstances have raised suspicions that the body was planted. The remains were found only 300 meters from where the protest occurred, and his family questions how Maldonado could have been found upstream from where he went missing.

On top of that, it was recovered only days before Argentina’s legislative election on Sunday. Major parties running in the mid-term congressional election suspended their campaigns as a result. There is tension and disagreement over who actually harmed Maldonado and which party’s campaign will suffer more. As a result of the discovery, an emergency survey revealed that 12% of voters have decided to change their vote.

As a known activist for the Mapuche people, Maldonado spoke out against the Italian fashion giant, Benetton. The company owns 2.2 million acres of land which the indigenous people claims as part of their ancestral land. There have been numerous protests over the forcible eviction of community members from their homes.

Maldonado’s disappearance is a grim reminder of the 1976-1983 dictatorship that ruled Argentina. During that time, around 30,000 young activists vanished after being taken into custody by security forces.

For more information, please see:

Sputnik – ‘Too Shady’: Body Thought to Be Missing Activist Found Ahead of Argentina Vote – 10 October 2017

Guardian – Body found in icy river could sway Argentina’s midterm elections – 19 October 2017

Herald Tribune – Argentines Wait To Learn If Body is That of Missing Activist – 19 October 2017

BBC News – BBC Minute: On Argentina’s missing activist – 19 October 2017

Telesur – Family of Missing Activist Santiago Maldonado: We Await Autopsy Results – 18 October 2017

Chile becomes latest Latin American nation to resettle Syrian refugees

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

SANTIAGO, Chile – Chilean President Michelle Bachelet welcomed 66 Syrian refugees to the country on Thursday. Chile is the latest Latin American nation to offer safe harbor to families displaced by Syria’s civil war.

Fourteen Syrian families welcomed by President Bachelet. Image Courtesy of UNHCR.

The refugees were welcomed during a ceremony at the airport in the country’s capital, Santiago. President Bachelet and a UN Refugee Agency representative, Michele Manca di Nissa, greeted 14 families who were forced to flee their homes because of the Syrian civil war.

“We know you have struggled and what we hope is that, in our country, you will find a place to rebuild your lives,” Bachelet said.

The 34 adults and 32 children arrived from Lebanon last week. Chile plans to resettle them in two communities, Villa Almana and Macul. The families will be given furnished homes and social benefits such as monthly stipends, schooling, and healthcare. Each refugee will attend intensive Spanish-language classes to help them adjust to life in Chile. They will also have access to psycho-social professionals from Vicaría de Pastoral Social Caritas, the organization that will follow up and help them integrate.

These Syrian refugees went through a pre-departure orientation session with experienced trainers from the International Organization for Migration. These sessions prepared them for the initial period of resettlement by teaching them about life in Chile. They were provided accurate information to help them make realistic plans for the future.

Additionally, they will receive continued help to make sure they are settled in the community. The children will attend local schools and kindergartens starting in March next year. Also, the adults will receive help finding employment. Chile aims to make these families autonomous and self-sufficient as fast as possible. The host communities aims to facilitate their access to basic healthcare services and help them feel at home. Chile’s Syrian community is actively participating in supporting these refugees.

Chile extends this welcome as part of its refugee resettlement program in which it aims to resettle 120 highly vulnerable Syrian refugees from Lebanon. This program is supported by the UN and is being used in several other Latin American countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Colombia. These nations have begun accepting refugees in small numbers in an effort to help the humanitarian crisis.

The United Nations reports that more than 2 million people fleeing wars and persecution have become refugees in 2017. The United States and several European countries have started to tighten their borders and implement more restrictive asylum policies.

Currently, Chile is home to 1,736 recognized refugees. Most of these refugees are from Colombia. Since 1999, Chile has resettled 480 refugees of various nationalities. Some of these resettled refugees have been able to obtain Chilean nationality.

For further information, please see:

UNHCR – Chile becomes latest country to resettle Syrian refugees – 13 October 2017 

IOM – Syrian Refugees Resettled in Chile under Migration and Refugee Agencies’ Programme – 13 October 2017

UN News Centre – Chile becomes latest nation to resettle Syrian refugees through UN-backed programme – 13 October 2017

U.S. News – Chile Welcomes More Than 60 Syrian Refugees – 12 October 2017

British Human Rights Activist Denied Entry to Hong Kong

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

HONG KONG – The city of Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997 from its Colonial overseer, the UK. As part of this deal, Beijing would honor a system called the “one country, two systems” that would allow Hong Kong to remain more open and more democratic than the rest of China. It also allows Hong Kong to control its own immigration policies.

Benedict Rogers was barred from entering Hong Kong. Photo curtsey of The Guardian.

However, this ‘one country, two systems” idea was challenged when a British Human Rights activist, Benedict Rogers, was denied entry into Hong Kong by Chinese Immigration officers. Carrie Lam, the chief executive of Hong Kong implied that Beijing officials were behind the decision.

Even with repeatedly asking why he was turned away, Rogers was never given any explanation as to the reasoning. He further went on to say, “I feel it is yet another example of, if not the death, then the death throes of ‘one country, two systems’.” The purpose of his trip was to visit friends and learn about the current political situation.

In the past Rogers was vocal about the imprisonment of three pro-democratic activists and Beijing’s political crackdowns in Hong Kong. The Chinese Embassy in the UK warned Rogers that he might be banned from traveling to Hong Kong.

Human Rights activists see this action form Beijing as a threat to the “high degree of autonomy” that Hong Kong was granted in 1997 with the “one country, two systems” policy.  There is a chance that any dissidents will be banned from entering Hong Kong in the future. Denying entry to the UK activist is seen as part of Beijing’s efforts to crack down on dissent and silence opposition.

China says they hold the right to deny entry to Hong Kong.  They justify this by saying that the central government is in control of the foreign matters related to the city.  This is allowed within China’s sovereignty.

For more information, please see:

The Guardian – China rebuffs criticism of decision to bar British activist from Hong Kong – 12 October 2017

The Guardian – British Conservative party activist barred from entering Hong Kong – 11 October 2017

The Telegraph – Boris Johnson demands ‘urgent explanation’ from China after activist barred from entering Hong Kong – 11 October 2017

Reuters – China says it has the right to bar people from HOng KOng after British activist expelled – 12 October 2017  

Merkel Agrees to Limit Refugees Entering Germany

 By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

BERLIN, Germany – German Chancellor Angela Merkel has agreed to limit the number of refugees allowed to enter Germany each year to 200,000, a decision that has elicited both support and criticism in the nation.

Angela Merkel and Horst Seehofer, leader of the Christian Social Union Party. Image courtesy of The Guardian.

The German Christian Social Union and the Christian Democratic Union  were in talks for hours before an agreement could be reached.

Many German voters had been angered with Merkel’s previous open-door policy, which effectively allowed in anyone who could reach the country. In 2015, this policy allowed over one million people in.

In July, Merkel stated “on the issue of an upper limit, my position is clear. I won’t accept one.”

Many see the policy as a concession to the demands of the far-right Alternative for Germany party, or AfD, which was propelled in September’s elections where Merkel lost millions of voters. The AfD campaigned on an anti-Islam, anti-migrant platform, becoming the third largest party in Parliament. The new measure is seen in many as a way of winning back voters.

Many believe that Merkel must negotiate with smaller parties in order to form a cohesive coalition government. Ms. Merkel believes the policy is necessary, saying that “Germany needs a stable government and the prerequisite for this was a common negotiating position.”

In 2016, the number of refugees capped at 280,000. That number has since fallen drastically, with fewer than 124,000 people applying for asylum in the first eight months of 2017. Experts are saying that the proposed limit is in line with current immigration trends.

The new policy is not being described as a limit, as no one who is seeking asylum will be turned away at the borders once the 200,000 limit has been reached. The figure can be altered should a new refugee crisis emerge.

The policy is being criticized, with Karl Kopp, director for European Affairs at Pro Asyl, a German refugee charity, saying that the policy is “not compatible with international law” and “totally unacceptable.”

Simone Peters, head of the Green Party, claimed that “The figure is completely arbitrary, fixed purely ideologically. As far as we’re concerned the fundamental right to asylum applies. When you throw together asylum seekers, refugee contingents, resettlement programs and family members joining refugees all in one pot, and then set a limit of 200,000, one group will be thrown under the bus.”

For more information, please see:

CNN – Merkel Changes Tune on German Refugee Cap – 9 October 2017

The Guardian – Germany: Merkel Agrees to 200,000 Refugees Cap in Bid to Build Coalition – 9 October 2017

The New York Times – Germany’s Angela Merkel Agrees to Limits on Accepting Refugees – 9 October 2017

74 Foster Children Missing in Kansas

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

KANSAS, United States – More than 70 children are missing from Kansas’ privatized foster care system. In total, there are 74 children missing from the Kansas foster care system. KVC Kansas, the contractor for the cases in eastern Kansas has 38 of the missing children under its supervision and 36 more are under the supervision of Saint Francis Community Service’s in the western part of the state.

Three sisters, under the care of their great aunt, have not been seen since late August. Phyllis Gilmore, the head of the Kansas Department for Children and Families was not aware of the sisters’ disappearance before the Kansas City Star first reported it. Gilmore claims that tracking children in foster care is just one of the department’s responsibilities. She says the department has policies in place to attempt to find missing children and return them to their foster homes. “These children who run away are not under lock and key; they are generally in family foster homes, older youth, who attend school and activities, and they often miss their biological families,” she said.

Phyllis Gilmore, head of the Kansas Department of Children and Families was not aware three sisters in foster care have been missing since August. Photo Courtesy of HPPR.

Kansas has approximately 7,100 children in foster care as of August 2017. The missing 74 are 1% of the total children in the foster care system. That number is on par with the national average. The United States Department of Health and Human Services reported that during the 2015 federal government’s fiscal year, approximately 4,600 foster care children were listed as runaways which is about 1.1% of the almost 428,000 total.

Rep. Linda Gallagher said even if the number of missing children is on par with the national average, it is still too many. Chad Anderson, chief clinic officer at KVC Kansas, acknowledged to the child welfare task force that contractors can do a better job. “I don’t know that we as contractors have shared as much in terms of missing youth and the day to day as we probably should,” Anderson said. He added that contractors update the Department of Children and Families every 30 days on missing children.

During a meeting of an oversight panel at the Statehouse in Topeka, foster care contractors provided the information in response to questions about the disappearance of the three sisters. Rep. Steve Alford, chair of the task force, said he really was not surprised by the number of kids missing after the meeting. “There’s a break between DCF and the contracting,” he said. “Once the children … [go from the court] into the possession of the secretary, she hands them off to the contractors and it’s their responsibility, you know, it’s kind of like out of sight, out of mind in a lot of aspects.”

For more information, please see:

Fox News – More Than 20 Kids Missing From Kansas Foster Care System – 12 October 2017

HPPR – More Than 70 Kids Missing From Kansas’ Foster Care System – 11 October 2017

Time – ‘Flabbergasted.’ More Than 70 Children are Missing From Foster Care – 11 October 2017

US News – 70 Plus Children Missing From Kansas Foster Care System – 11 October 2017

Forced Labor in Uzbekistan Cotton Fields

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan – Cotton drives the Uzbek economy. The country is the sixth largest producer of cotton. It is commonly known as “white gold.” Historically, it has a long tradition as part of the economy, being cultivated as far back as the 5th or 6th century. As part of the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan’s cotton industry boomed. The state controlled the production, output, input, and quotas of collective farms.

Uzbek child doing mandatory labor in cotton fields. Photo courtesy of Human Rights Watch.

Twenty-six years after the fall of the Soviet Union, the Uzbekistan government still controls the cotton industry. The government controls extensive acres of cotton fields throughout the country.  They continue to control the production and harvest of the cotton.

Cotton grown in Uzbekistan is not harvested by machines, but rather hand picked by 2 million forced laborers. The government calls on citizens to go into the field during the harvest for “work-for-the-nation days”. Laborers include teachers, nurses, university students, children, government employees, the unemployed, and those benefiting from government aid. It is considered their patriotic duty to do so.

This causes issues of child labor, children missing school, significant lack of teachers in classrooms, and too few medical staff present in hospitals.

The forced laborers are coerced to do so. Refusal to work leads to threats of penalties, dismissal and expulsions from jobs, and loss of benefits. For those who can afford it, one can pay for a “replacement” in the field or even pay to avoid work completely. The cost can be up to half the monthly salary of a citizen.

Each day of work, individuals are required to meet a quota of 50 kilograms. Most workers serve on average 12 days. They are paid roughly 5 cents per kilo collected.

There is immense pressure for farmers and overseers to produce large yields to support the economy. One such official, Asilbek Yusupov , received a brutal verbal attack for not meeting quotas early in October. The insulting language, derogatory words and language left Yusupov so shaken that he suffered a stroke moments after returning to his office.  He later died in hospital.

For more information, please see:

 Human Rights Watch – Uzbekistan: Some Wokers Excused from Cotton Fields – 5 October 2017

RadioFreeEurope |RadioLiberty – Rights Group Says Political Will Needed To End Forced Labor In Uzbekistan – 5 October 2017

Azernews – Uzbekistan to switch to mechanized harvesting of cotton – 6 October 2017

RadioFreeEurope |RadioLiberty – 5 Cents Per Kilo: Why Uzbek Government Still Forces People To Pick Cotton – 11 October 2017

RadioFreeEurope |RadioLiberty – Uzbek Official Collapses, Dies After Being Disgraced For Bad Cotton Harvest –9 October 2017

Indian Supreme Court Rules Sex with Minor Bride as Rape

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 
NEW DELHI, India – On Wednesday, October 11th, the Indian Supreme court ruled that any sexual relationship between a man and his wife between the age of 15 and 18 is a crime. The country’s highest court changed the rape law and declared that sex with an underage wife is an illegal act. According to the Indian Supreme court, the committed offense must be reported by the wife within a year.
There are over 26 million child brides in India. Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera.

Under the current law, the legal age of consent and marriage is 18. In the rural parts of the country, child marriages are not uncommon. Currently, there are more than 26 million child brides in India according to the United Nation’s children agency. Based on the agency’s report, between 2008 and 2014, more than 47% of the girls were married before their 18th birthday. Furthermore, an estimated 18 percent of the girls were married by the age of 15.  It is reported that most of the girls were from poor families with little education.

Previous Indian governments have defended the law as they believed the country’s poor social and economic conditions have made child marriage an unfortunate reality. Moreover, early marriage has been a part of the Indian culture though the “guana” ceremony.

Many activists around the country praised the recent decision as a “positive step in the right direction.” A member of the All India Democratic Women’s Association recently stated that “we strongly feel that this decision of the Supreme Court will work in impacting child marriages.”

Although activists still believe that the Indian Supreme Court’s decision is difficult to enforce, many agree that it will have long-lasting consequences.

For more information, please see:

The Guardian – Sex with underage wife is rape, Indian supreme court rules – 11 October, 2017

BBC – India Supreme Court rules sex with child bride is rape – 11 October, 2017

Al Jazeera – Indian court rules sex with minor wife is rape – 12 October, 2017

Fate of Catalonia rests on Catalan president’s shoulders

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe

Supporters of Catalonia’s independence wave Catalan flags in Barcelona, outside of the Catalan parliament building. Image courtesy of Nakam/Zuma Wire/Rex/Shutterstock.

BARCELONA, Spain – Catalonia has yet to determine whether they have declared independence.

On October 10th, Catalonia’s president, Carles Puigdemont decided the southern region of Spain would not immediately declare independence from its mother country.

The statement came after Mr. Puigdemont signed an official declaration of independence. Soon after, Mr. Puigdemont announced the suspension.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has accused the Catalan president of deliberately confusing the Spanish government.

On October 11th, the government officially stated that the “ball was now firmly back in Puigdemont’s court.”

What the Catalonian government does next will determine whether the Spanish government will strip Catalonia of its autonomy using Article 155 of the federal constitution. If this happens, administrative control over Catalonia will be given to the Spanish government.

The struggles over the past several days have caused some divide within Spain itself.

The Constitution itself was established in the late 1970s after years of an authoritarian regime, where Catalans were severely oppressed by a dictator.

Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez, of Spain’s main opposition leadership, has expressed support for using the Constitution to deprive Catalonia of its autonomy.

The support was in exchange for an agreement to form a commission to change the Constitution.

Both sides of the spectrum argue that the other side is a threat to democracy.

Prime Minister Rajoy accused separatists of “foisting their will on all the people of Catalonia,” indicating that they ignore the Catalans who do not want to secede.

Yet Mr. Puigdemont, Catalonia’s president, sees Catalonia as an autonomous region that has “won the right to be independence” as a result of the vote held on October 1st.

“The people’s will” is to break free from the central government in Madrid, Mr. Puigdemont stated in front of the Catalan parliament in Barcelona.

On the day of the election, the Spanish government sent police troops in to various towns and cities around Catalonia. This led to several clashes between Catalans and police, with hundreds reportedly injured.

The chaos that day has led to the launch of an investigation into the allegations of police brutality. The main question is whether law enforcement used excessive force against people who were peacefully assembling to vote or protest.

If the Spanish government does choose to invoke Article 155, it may cause more civil unrest similar to the kind seen on October 1st.

Meanwhile, Mr. Puigdemont told CNN that he is sending a message of “calmness”, stating, “[w]e are facing a political problem that we need to solve with politics and not with police.”

For more information, please see:

The Guardian – Spanish PM asks Catalonia: have you declared independence or not? – 11 October 2017

The New York Times – Spain Asks Catalonia: Did You Declare Independence or Not? – 11 October 2017

BBC News – Catalonia: Spain takes step towards direct rule – 11 October 2017

The Guardian – Catalonia’s suspended declaration of independence: what happens next? – 11 October 2017

BBC News – Catalonia independence declaration signed and suspended – 10 October 2017

Al-Jazeera – Catalan vote: Claims of Spanish police brutality probed – 3 October 2017

 

Columbian police open fire on protestors

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Colombia — Hundreds of farmers and community members gathered to protest forced eradication of their coca crops when the peaceful demonstration turned into a massacre. As many as fifteen civilians were killed and 50 more were injured at the hands of Colombia’s own security forces.

Police enter Nariño to carry out forced eradication. Image Courtesy of Telesur.

Local reports say anti-narcotics police opened fire into the crowd of protestors on October 5. Between 300 and 1,000 unarmed farmers had gathered in a field of coca requesting to speak with the security forces and stop police from destroying their crop. President Santos has ordered further investigation into the event that occurred in Nariño, the rural area known as a key zone for growing coca.

As the largest producer of coca, a base element of cocaine, Colombia has thousands of farmers who rely on the crop.  The country’s new peace plan provides an opportunity for crop substitution. Over a thousand farmers signed an agreement with the government to participate in this program that will substitute their coca crop for legal ones. In exchange for ripping up their coca, the farmers will receive government investment in their community.

However, most coca farmers around Nariño are not yet included in this program and need their crop to feed their families. Although they intend to participate, anti-narcotics authorities will not wait and are forcing eradication of their crop. This premature eradication destroys their means of livelihood.

Several conflicting reports have been brought blaming different groups for the violence, but human rights organizations and locals of the area assure that it was the police who opened fire on the protesting farmers. They resorted to violence after a peaceful two-week protest in which the farmers refused to participate in coca eradication efforts. Local media reported on several protests in this highly coca dependent area, where about 1,000 locals demanded to be included in the national crop substitution program.

On the other hand, the Colombian government has indirectly blamed guerrilla rebels for inciting the incident. Hundreds of FARC rebels have refused to follow the group’s peace agreement and have formed their own organized crime factions dedicated to drug trafficking. Colombia’s Defense Ministry claims that the rebels threw five-cylinder bombs at members of security forces and the crowd of protestors.

There has been no evidence of this version of events and most witnesses deny it. They report escalating tension between the police and the protestors that resulted in “excessive and irrational action” by the police that was “a clear violation of human rights.”

For more information, please see:

Colombia Reports – Southwest Colombia furious at security forces after ’15 killed’ in massacre – 6 October 2017

Reuters – At Least Six Die During Colombia Protest Over Coca Crop Removal – 6 October 2017

Colombia Reports – Military massacre in southwest Colombia?  At least 8 killed, 18 injured in coca protest – 6 October 2017

Fox News – 4 killed in clashes with Colombia coca growers, eradicators – 6 October 2017

Telesur – Colombians Mobilize Against Police Killing of 8 Campesinos – 5 October 2017