Mosquitos still a risk to Brazil public health

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — Although the number of Zika cases have dropped significantly, Brazil’s public health is still threatened as summer approaches. Outbreaks of Zika, Dengue fever, and Chikungunya fever are all possible in the coming warmer climate.

The larvae of the mosquito Aedes aegypti. Image Courtesy of Eduardo Knapp.

All three of these diseases are carried by the same bug, the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is endemic to Brazil. The Zika outbreak received the most attention in 2015. The world watched as mosquitos plagued the country and created tragic stories of malformations in babies of infected women. Although Dengue and Chikungunya fevers were not in the spotlight, they were spread by the same mosquito and caused a record 800 deaths in Brazil that same year. Most of these deaths occurred in the impoverished northeast region where urbanization grows rapidly. In total, these mosquitos infected approximately 4 million people in the country.

However, statistics show that Brazil has seen some improvement since then. Only 16,800 new cases of Zika were reported from January to November in 2017. This is compared to the 214,100 cases during those months in 2016. Similarly, the number of cases of Dengue fever and Chikungunya fever also fell by 83.7% this year.

Despite these positive trends, at least 357 Brazilian cities are still at risk of a renewed outbreak. These cities are considered at risk because larvae from infectious mosquitos were found in more than 4% of properties visited. In comparison, 2,450 cities were found to be a satisfactory situation where mosquito larvae were found in less than 1% of property. The Northeastern area has the highest number of cities at risk. Scientists expect outbreaks in the upcoming summer because conditions are conducive for mosquitos to thrive. They warn that the most common type of breeding site for these mosquitos are storage areas of water in drums, barrels, and vats.

Of the diseases, Dengue fever is the most dangerous and can be lethal in its hemorrhagic form. Chikungunya can lead to chronic joint problems as well. As the mildest of the three diseases, Zika still poses severe risks because of its effect on pregnant women. When women are infected during gestation, their fetuses can develop malformations such as microcephaly. Microcephalic newborns’ brains do not develop properly and are left with smaller than normal heads. This can lead to intellectual disabilities, poor motor functions, and several other issues.

One example of mosquitos’ ability to spread disease comes from the Acre State in Brazil. For decades, residents lived in the perfect climate for mosquitos, yet there were none to be found. In 2000, it got its first case of Dengue, and only ten years later there were 35,000 cases. Studies link this sudden infection to commercial development. Researchers wrote, “the landscape changes that occurred in the last decade have created favorable conditions for the establishment of dengue virus transmission.” New roads and airstrips provided jobs and economic advancement, but also more mosquitos and hosts for the virus. The increase in human movement caused their capital Rio Branco to go from classification as “dengue-free” to “highest risk” by the Brazilian Ministry of Health.

For more information, please see:

Folha De S.Paulo – Brazil Has at Least 357 Cities at Risk of a Renewed Aedes Linked Outbreak – 29 November 2017

Xinhua Net – Outbreak risks remain in summer though Zika cases down 92 pct in Brazil – 29 November 2017

NPR – Why a Brazilian State Went From 0 Cases of Dengue To 35,000 A Year – 28 November 2017

ICFI – Brazil cuts science budget amid mounting yellow fever threat – 8 November 2017

Egypt sentences 16 men to three years for ‘debauchery’

Matthew Sneed
Impunity Watch Reporter, The Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt – A court in Cairo sentenced sixteen men to jail because of their identification as gay. Each received a three-year sentence for being found guilty of “inciting debauchery” and “abnormal sexual relations.” Fourteen of the convictions were handed down on November 26, with two more following on the next day.

Egypt began a cracking down on LGBT activities following the waving of the rainbow flag at a concert in September. Photo courtesy of Rainbow Egypt

Al-Ahram, a newspaper owned by the Egyptian government, reported that police raided an apartment in Cairo in September. At the apartment, they found the men in “indecent positions” and alleged that the men were engaging in prostitution with other men. “The defendants denied being homosexuals,” reported the paper. The prosecution ordered that the suspects be subjected to medical examinations to determine if they had committed homosexual acts.

The arrests have been part of an increased crackdown on the LGBT community in Egypt following an incident where a rainbow flag was waived during a concert in Cairo. The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) stated that at least seventy-five people have been arrested since the rainbow flag was raised on September 22. Of those arrests, ten are believed to be in connection to raising the flag while the rest stem from entrapment through dating apps. In addition, it was reported that at least 5 men received anal examinations.

While homosexuality is not a crime under Egyptian law, officials have used the 1961 prostitution law to charge people they believe engaged in homosexual activities. However, the Egyptian Parliament had proposed a bill that would make same-sex activity illegal. For the first time in the history of the nation, it would define “homosexuality.” Promoting or engaging in same-sex activities could lead to five years in prison and a combination of charges could result in a sentence of up to fifteen years. In addition, the publication of LBGT-friendly material would warrant a three-year sentence.

The U.S. State Department has expressed concerns regarding the actions of the Egyptian Government. One official stated, “We urge countries to uphold and respect their international human rights obligations and commitments,” said the official. “The United States will continue to engage on issues of universal human rights and democracy.”

On November 1, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) “urged Egyptian House of Representatives Speaker Ali Abdel Aal Sayyed Ahmed to publicly condemn the criminalization bill and the broader anti-LGBT crackdown.”

For more information please see:

BBC – Egypt jails 16 for ‘debauchery’ as LGBT crackdown continues – 28, Nov. 2017

Washington Blade – State Department reiterates concern over Egypt ant-LGBT crackdown – 28, Nov. 2017

Independent – Egypt LGBT crackdown: 16 men jailed for three years on ‘debauchery’ charges

Violent crime remains a major problem in Venezuela

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela – Violence in Venezuela has reached startling levels. While the country struggles with economic turmoil and political instability, violent crime continues to increase.

Soldiers stand on an armored vehicle in Venezuela. Image Courtesy of Ricardo Mazalan.

In the five-month period between May and September 2017, there were 520 cases of children and adolescents orphaned by violence in the nation’s capital. It is reported that every day, four children lose one of their parents due to acts of violence in Caracas.  The Victim’s Monitor project registry is consistently collecting information on homicides there. Its goal is to characterize crimes, identify patterns of violence and their consequences, and then use them to create public policies to reduce homicides. The “Instinto de Vida” (“Instinct for Life”) is Venezuela’s homicide reduction campaign.

Also during those five months, 755 people died violently in Caracas. Of those, 280 were parents. As a result, women and children are suffering in these violent municipalities. In many cases, it is the breadwinner of the family that is killed and leaves his family in even worse economic conditions. Many children are forced to leave school to find the resources to survive, often during to petty drug trafficking or prostitution.

Additionally, the prolonged grief is hurting society. One psychologist, Manuel Llorens, asserted that murder is more difficult to deal with than natural or accidental deaths, and that it “produces a mixture of pain, anger, impotence and resentment.” He also says that due to the psychosocial consequences, “the social fabric is broken, and spaces for coexistence and consensual solutions for common problems are reduced.”

For the families that do survive, Venezuela’s culture fosters a significant problem with violence against women. The issue is so common that Venezuela has implemented projects to raise awareness about the reality of violence against women. They encourage people to recognize it as a violation of human rights. Statistics show that the abuse of women extends to psychological violence as well as physical.

However, violence is not limited to civilians. Even soldiers have been ordered to avoid traveling at night and refrain from revealing their military IDs. A “radiogram” sent by Venezuela’s military was discovered that reflects concern over soldiers’ safety. In one of the most violent countries in the world, military personnel attract thieves rather than scaring them away.

One retired general, Antonio Rivero, confirmed, “This is a totally contradictory situation. The document admits that not even security officials, who should be armed … are safe in Venezuela.” It is estimated that 282 police, soldiers, guards, and other security personnel have been killed this year. In an effort to keep them safe, soldiers are ordered to avoid places of “dubious reputation,” avoid nighttime risks, and refrain from using cellphones while stopped at traffic lights.

For more information, please see:

Miami Herald – Crime is so bad in Venezuela that even soldiers were ordered to avoid driving at night – 28 November 2017

Stratfor – Venezuela: Why 2018 Will Be a Painful Year – 28 November 2017

InSightCrime – In Caracas, 4 Children Orphaned Every Day by Violence – 27 November 2017

Telesur – Venezuela Launches Campaign to Counter Violence Against Women – 1 November 2017

FIFA Advisers Warn Fans of Homophobia and Racism Ahead of World Cup Games

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia – FIFA’s anti-discrimination advisers are warning LGBTQ soccer fans that displays of affection at next year’s World Cup games could be met with violence.

In Sochi, Protests Against Russia’s “Gay Propaganda” Law Took Place at the Winter Olympic Games in 2014. Photo Courtesy of Tatyana Makeyeva.

Fare, an anti-discrimination organization that campaigns for equality in soccer, is partnering with FIFA to control fan behavior at the World Cup games next year.

Hate crimes against LBGTQ people in Russia have doubled since the country instituted a law banning “gay propaganda” in 2013. The law has thwarted gay pride marches and allowed gay rights activists to be detained. It is also believed to have incentivized and condoned violence against LGBTQ people.

Similar concerns were raised at the 2014 Winter Olympics Games in Sochi following the enactment of the “gay propaganda” law.

The legislation was deemed illegal by Europe’s top human rights court in June, but Russia says it will not honor the ruling.

“(Offenders) have become more aggressive and less fearful,” said Svetlana Zakharova, a Russian LGBT Network Board Member. “It seems to them that, to some extent, the government supports their actions. Many perpetrators openly talk about their crimes as noble deeds.”

Researchers say that the number of hate crimes that has occurred in the country in recent years is likely to be much higher than documented, as many crimes go unreported or are not investigated or prosecuted.

Homosexuality was decriminalized in Russia in 1993 but remained classified as a mental illness until 1999. Russia was ranked the second least-LGBT friendly nation in Europe, behind Azerbaijan, in 2016.

For the first time in FIFA’s 113 year history, the organization has added a human rights element to its statute.

“If there are any cases of abuse, or even possibility of human rights defenders or journalists being forced into a difficult corner, then according to our statutes and human rights policy FIFA will intervene,” said Federico Addiechi, Head of Sustainability and Diversity at FIFA.

FIFA and Fare will have crowd-monitors at the games. They will be on the lookout for displays of racism, political extremism and homophobia. Matches will be stopped or abandoned if such displays occur and persist.

Fare plans to administer cautionary guides to fans traveling to the tournament. The guides will include information about the current LGBTQ situation in Russia and will advise people to use caution when traveling in areas not considered to be welcoming to the LGBTQ community.

For more information, please see:

Reuters – LGBT Hate Crimes Double in Russia After Ban on ‘Gay Propaganda’ – 21 November 2017

Newsweek – Anti-LGBT Hate Crimes Double Since ‘Gay Propaganda’ Law in Russia – 23 November 2017

The Guardian – Gay Fans Warned Holding Hands at Russian World Cup Will be Dangerous

The New York Times – Ahead of World Cup, Fans Are Warned About Homophobia and Racism in Russia – 28 November 2017

NBC News – ‘Danger’ for Gay Fans at World Cup in Russia, FIFA Advisers Warn – 29 November 2017

Cambodia to Shut Down Cambodian Center for Human Rights

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

Phnom Penh – The Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) is a leading human rights organization in Cambodia. It was created in 2002 by Kem Sokha to promote International Human Rights Law and to provide free legal aid to victims. Kem Sokha is also the leader of the opposition party and was recently jailed by the Prime Minister.

On 26 November 2017, Prime Minister Hun Sen called for the Center for Human Rights to be closed down. He accused foreigners of creating the center to push their agendas. He went further to accuse the CCHR of taking orders from foreigners. Sen said that if the CCHR had been created by a person of the Khmer nationality there would be no issue with the organization.

Prime Minister Hun Sen. Photo Courtesy of Samrang Pring. 

The Center for Human Rights believes that this is just a stunt pulled by Prime Minister Hun Sen to hold onto power; however, acts like this just draw criticism from the Cambodian people. The director also feels that citizens do not believe the accusations as many people are in favor of the Western political alignment.

The Director put out an official statement that read: “CCHR calls upon the Royal Government of Cambodia to enter into a meaningful dialogue with CCHR representatives in relation to these allegations, in the firm belief that any misperceptions about the nature of CCHR’s work and neutrality could be clarified, and the matter resolved.”

The CCHR indicated that any neutral and impartial investigation would find no evidence of wrong actions.

For more information, please see:

 Human Rights Watch – Cambodia: Hun Sen Seeks to Shut Major Rights Group – 27 November 2017

Voice of America – Cambodian Rights Group Next in Long Line – 27 November 2017

Reuters – Cambodia’s Hun Sen calls for closure of rights group founded by rival – 26 November 2017

Former Trump Aide Accused of Conspiracy to Kidnap a US-Resident

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON D.C. — On Friday, November 10, the Wall Street Journal published an article stating that Retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn was allegedly involved in a plan to kidnap a US-resident Turkish dissident on behalf of the Turkish government in exchange for approximately $15 million dollars.

Retired Lt. General Michael Flynn served as national security advisor to the Trump administration for only 24 days before he was asked to resign. Photo Courtesy of Carolyn Kaster, Associated Press.

Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric who has resided in Pennsylvania since 1999, has been blamed by Turkish government officials for the failed coup against Turkish President Erdogan’s administration in summer of 2016.  Turkey has requested Gulen’s extradition under the US-Turkey extradition treaty for Mr. Gulen’s alleged role in the coup, but the Department of Justice has so far denied the requests.

Flynn’s company, Flynn Intel Group, was hired in August 2016 by a firm with ties to Turkish government officials to investigate Mr. Gulen and to present the results of the investigation in a short film.  While the film project was never completed, Flynn’s company received $530,000 in November, and Flynn himself wrote an opinion piece about Fethullah Gulen published on November 8, 2016, in The Hill.

In a mid-December meeting at the “21” Club in New York, Turkish officials allegedly offered Michael Flynn and his son, Michael Flynn Jr. approximately $15 million dollars to assist in the forcible removal and “extra-legal” extradition of Gulen to Turkey.  The alleged plan included discussions of transporting Gulen by private jet to Imrali, a Turkish prison island.  This meeting occurred after the Trump administration had named Flynn the next national security advisor.

President Trump asked for Flynn’s resignation as his national security advisor in mid-February 2017, twenty-four days after Flynn’s appointment.  Flynn also served for two months in 2014 as the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency before being dismissed by President Obama for insubordination after “failing to follow guidance from superiors.”

Flynn registered as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) on March 7, 2017, several weeks after his resignation as national security advisor.  Lawfare posits that at the time of his dealings with Turkish officials, Michael Flynn was no longer simply a private citizen lobbying in favor of a foreign government, and whose disclosure of dealings to the Department of Justice would comply with FARA.  Since Flynn had already been tapped to serve as national security advisor in the Trump administration, he was a public official “in transition,” and public officials are prohibited from acting as foreign agents under 18 U.S.C. § 219.

Not only was General Flynn an unregistered foreign agent during his dealings with Turkish officials, he received well over the $5,000 maximum for lobbyists, and if the allegations in the Wall Street Journal article are true, Flynn may be charged with conspiracy to kidnap.  Even if Flynn intended to instead use his position as national security advisor to return Mr. Gulen to Turkey by legal means, the fact that he was possibly offered $15 million dollars to do so may still constitute egregious felonious conduct.  Lawfare states the matter plainly: “It’s no more legal to take $15 million to use your influence as national security adviser to bring about an outcome than it is to kidnap someone.”

The New York Times notes that President Trump’s firing in March 2017 of Former FBI Director James Comey after Comey’s refusal to halt the investigations into Flynn led to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller. Robert Mueller has, in turn, led the investigation as to whether associates of President Trump colluded with Russian agents in their efforts to manipulate the 2016 US presidential election.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Flynn’s lawyers earlier had entered into a joint defense agreement with President Trump’s legal team that allowed them to share information surrounding Mr. Mueller’s investigation that would otherwise be subject to attorney-client privilege.  As of November 24, Michael Flynn’s lawyers stopped cooperating with White House attorneys defending the President in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Flynn’s decision to end cooperation with the White House attorneys may signify that Flynn has entered into plea deal discussions with Mr. Muller’s team, which recently indicted Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, and George Papadopoulos—all three former campaign aides of President Trump.

JustSecurity has compiled a timeline of the Trump administration’s knowledge of the federal investigations into the relationship of Michael Flynn and Turkey.

For more information, please see:

The New York Times – A Split From Trump Indicates that Flynn is Moving to Cooperate With Mueller – 23 November 2017

Just Security – Turkey on Valentine’s Day: Did Trump Obstruct Investigation of Flynn as a Foreign Agent? – 17 November 2017

CNN Politics – WSJ: Muller probes Flynn role in plot to deliver cleric to Turkey – 11 November 2017

The Guardian – Ex-Trump aide Flynn investigated over plot to kidnap Turkish dissident – report – 10 November 2017

Lawfare Blog – What to Make of the Latest Story About Flynn and Gulen? – 10 November 2017

The Wall Street Journal – Mueller Probes Flynn’s Role in Alleged Plan to Deliver Cleric to Turkey – 10 November 2017

The Wall Street Journal – Accused Turkish Cleric Assails President on Anniversary of Coup Attempt – 14 July 2017

NY Daily News – Michael Flynn, Turkish officials secretly discussed removing exiled Muslim cleric from U.S. – 24 March 2017

The New York Times – Michael Flynn Was Paid to Represent Turkey’s Interests During Trump Campaign – 10 March 2017

Associated Press – Flynn, fired once by a president, now removed by another – 14 February 2017

You Might Be Able To Get Away With Murder In Part Of Yellowstone National Park

By: Sarah Louise Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

YELLOWSTONE PARK, U.S. – There is a little known fact about Yellowstone National Park that has captured the interest of many people around the country. Michigan State University law Professor, Brian Kalt, published a paper called “The Perfect Crime” which details how you can potentially get away with murder in a 50 square mile section of Yellowstone National Park in Idaho. Kalt writes that he has always wondered how there was a “forgotten constitutional provision, combined with an obscure statute, that together make it possible for people in the known to commit crimes with impunity.”

Kalt calls it the “zone of death.” It is created by a legal loophole. Before Montana, Wyoming and Idaho became states, Yellowstone National Park was founded in 1872. Although the majority of the park sits in Montana, there are portions that lie in both Idaho and Wyoming. As a national park, Yellowstone falls under federal jurisdiction. Kalt points out that the District Court which hears the issues in Yellowstone National Park sits in Wyoming. This is true despite the fact that Yellowstone also has land in those two other states. Thus, unlike any other District Court in the United States, the District of Wyoming includes land of other states. The zone of death is the 50 square miles of Yellowstone National Park that sits in Idaho.

Yellowstone National Park’s Idaho territory has been given the title “Zone of Death.” Photo Courtesy of the National Park Foundation.

If someone commits a murder in that section, they are automatically tried in Wyoming. However, the Constitution states that trials should be held in the state where the crime was committed. So, someone may demand the trial be held Idaho. Once there, a local jury would be called to serve on the case. But there is no one who lives in that 50 square mile section of Yellowstone in Idaho. Because that section is federal land, no one is allowed to live there. Unless the murder approves of the trial being held in Wyoming, the trial cannot be held at all.

“The courts may or may not agree that my loophole exists, and in any case this Essay is not intended to inspire anyone to go out and commit crimes,” Kalt concludes. “Crime is bad, after all – but so is violating the Constitution. If the loophole described in this Essay does exist it should be closed, not ignored. In sum, when Congress set up this park and admitted these three states, it made a mistake,” Kalt writes.

“Congress can be forgiven on the park side because Yellowstone was the world’s first national park, and there was no precedent.” He then adds that “But Congress should have known how to set up states, having done it forty times before.”

Kalt argues that there is a solid chance they could get away with murder using your Constitutional rights, but there are still other ways you could be punished.

“If the government could not prosecute you, your victims and their families could sue you. Of course, if they get wind of your Constitutional argument before you leave the scene of the crime, they could just give you a dose of your own medicine, administering vigilante justice with similar impunity.”

Currently, no changes have been made regarding this “loophole” for murder in Yellowstone National Park.

For more information, please see:

Forbes – ICYMI: You Can Get Away With Murder In Part Of Yellowstone National Park – 26 November 2017

Fox News – The Best Place to Commit a Crime in America? Yellowstone National Park – 22 November 2016

Vox – Yellowstone has a 50 Square Mile “Zone of Death” Where You Can Get Away With Murder – 29 October 2016

Vice – There’s a Section of Yellowstone Where You Can Get Away With Murder – 4 August 2016

Brazilians protest proposal for total abortion ban

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil– On Monday November 13, thousands of women flooded the streets of Brazil in protest of a congressional vote to ban abortion. If enacted, the constitutional amendment would prohibit abortion under any circumstances.

Women march against proposal for total abortion ban in Rio. Image Courtesy of Silvia Izquierdo.

Protestors carried their children along with them as they shouted, “our bodies are ours!” The march reached the Rio state legislature and scuffles with authorities developed. The Police were forced to fire tear gas to settle the crowd.

Right now, Brazil’ criminal code allows abortion for pregnancies that result from rape, as well as pregnancies that endanger the mother’s life. Also, many women have been allowed to abort anencephalic fetuses. Courts found it was traumatic to make women give birth to infants that would certainly die from birth defects after delivery.

Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies, made up of all men, voted 18-1 in favor of this constitutional amendment to further restrict abortions. The only female congresswoman to vote, Erika Kokay, gave the only ‘nay’. If enacted, this amendment would ban all abortions in Brazil and remove any exceptions, including those for victims of rape. Congressman Tadeu Mudalen, in favor of the ban, asserts that “life starts at the moment of conception and therefore should be protected by law.”

However, the victory in this special committee is not binding. Since it is a constitutional amendment, it needs a super-majority in both Congress’ lower house and the Senate to become law. Rodrigo Maia, speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, assures that any ban on abortion without exception for rape won’t pass his chamber.

In Brazil, hundreds of women have died from unsafe abortion in the last few years. Women and girls who do not wish to continue their pregnancies will be forced to continue them against their will or will resort to terminating them clandestinely. Even if the pregnancy threatens their health or results from rape, the law allows no exception. These illegal abortions are dangerous and could lead to prison sentences of up to three years.

Maira Kubik Mano, a Ph.D from the University of Bahia says that “if this bill passes, it will most affect poor, black Brazilian women, as they can’t afford to be treated in clandestine abortion clinics.” The typical profile of women who seek abortions are those who haven’t studied further than high school and have limited access to birth control and sex education. Even with the current restrictive law, wealthy women are the only ones who have access to safe procedures in private clinics.

This demonstration in Rio is just one of several going on in other Brazilian cities. Women carry signs reading “Secular uterus” and “I don’t deserve to bear the child of my rapist.”

For more information, please see:

ABC News – Thousands protest proposal for total abortion ban in Brazil – 13 November 2017

Brazilian Report – Brazil’s Congress wants to ban all abortions, even for rape victims – 10 November 2017

Human Rights Watch – Will Brazil’s Congress Turn Its Back on Women and Girls? – 10 November 2017

Telesur – Brazilian Women Prepare to Protest Full Abortion Ban – 10 November 2017

Independent – Brazilian male MPs chant ‘abortion no’ after voting to ban terminations for pregnant rape victims – 9 November 2017

Vietnamese Student Sentenced to Jail for Anti-government Post

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

HANOI, Vietnam – On 25 October 2017, Vietnamese student, Phan Kim Khanh went to trial for spreading propaganda against the Vietnamese government under article 88 of their penal code. He was arrested in March 2017. While his trial only lasted half day, he will be serving 6 years in jail followed by 4 years probation.

Picture of Phan Kim Khanh. Photo Courtesy of Human Rights Watch/ private. 

Khanh owns two blogs titled “Vietnam Weekly” and “Newspaper of Anti-Corruption.” He also manages several social media accounts and a YouTube channel. The main purpose of these was to expose corruption not to spread propaganda. He pleaded that he didn’t realize that was a crime. Human Rights Watch reported that the Vietnamese Government vaguely interprets many of the countries security provisions to target critics.

The evidence provided in court against Khanh was vague and groundless. The Court accused him specifically of promoting multiparty democracy and press freedom.

Kahn is a well-distinguished university student with multiple honors from both his university’s student association and the Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth League of the Thai Hanoi section. He is also a member of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative.

This is not the first ‘crackdown’ of dissent in Vietnam. More than 100 people are in jail for freedom of expressions violations. The only crimes that Phan Kim Khanh and the other committed were expressing a political opinion that differed from the government of Vietnam. Human Rights Watch Asia Director says that these claims of propaganda are just “ designed to silence peaceful critics of the Vietnamese authorities.”

For more information, please see:

Reuters – Vietnam jails student activist six years for propaganda against the state – 25 October 2017

The Washington Post – Vietnam jails student activist for anti-state propaganda – 25 October 2017

Human Rights Watch – Vietnam: Drop Charge Against Student Activist – 24 October 2017

U.S. Stops Funding for Demining in Cambodia

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Years after the Vietnam War, Cambodia remains littered with mines. Cambodia is ranked as one of the highest countries with unexploded ordnances. Approximately 2 Cambodians die or are injured every week from encountering hidden mines.  A large portion is of U.S. origin.

Sight of a mine in Cambodia. Photo Courtesy of Tang Chhin Sothy/ AFP.

However, on 7 November 2017 the United States announced that it will be cutting $2 million in grant money to Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC). This will go into affect next year.  For the moment this years efforts will not be affected.  No reason was given for why the funding was recalled.

The Director General of CMAC was not aware of any dispute between them or the U.S. Government in how matters were being handled.   Even during meetings held in July and early fall with the State Department over the 2018 budget, there were no mentions of cuts. The Director general finds this decision rather disappointing as the U.S. has “a moral obligation and goodwill obligation because they dropped a lot of bombs on the Cambodian people.”

Finding new donors in time to fund next year’s work shall be tricky as this was a last minute decision. The Cambodian Government does not appear to be concerned about the cut in funding for de-mining processes. Hun Sen, the current Prime Minister pledges to support CMAC’s efforts.

This lack of funding will have a huge impact on the work that CMAC does. Up to 300 mine clearing employees could have their jobs impacted. Additionally, this will affect the number of mines that CMAC can reach next year. Which means that less people can be taken out of the way of danger in their day-to-day life. A second issue is that farmland will continue to be rendered useless because of the presence of mines. This means that farmers are limited in the crop size they produce for market. More than 80% of Cambodians rely in this land for their survival.

For more information, please see:

Voice of America – US Demining Cut Provokes Cambodia – 7 November 2017

Reuters – U.S. cuts $2-mln funding to Cambodia’s mine removal effort amid crackdown – 7 November 2017

The Phnom Penh Post – US cuts funding to CMAC amid government’s war of words with superpower – 7 November 2017

Ratko Mladic Found Guilty of Genocide, Sentenced to Life in Prison

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

THE HAGUE, Netherlands – Cheers erupted as Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb army commander responsible for mass murder and other crimes against humanity during the Bosnian War, was sentenced to life in prison by an international tribunal on Wednesday, November 22nd.

Mother of Srebrenica Massacre Victim Reacts to Sentencing of Ratko Mladic. Photo Courtesy of Phil Nijhuis.

The verdict was read by presiding judge Alphons Orie, who called Mladic’s crimes “among the most heinous to humankind.”

Between 1992 and 1995, Mladic oversaw some of the most brutal and horrific crimes against humanity carried out in Europe since World War II. During these years, he lead the Bosnian Serb forces on a relentless ethnic cleansing campaign to rid the country of non-Serbs and became known as the “Butcher of Bosnia.”

The war began after Bosnian Muslims and Croats voted for independence in a referendum strongly opposed by Bosnian Serbs. The country soon descended into war between Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Serbs.

Mladic was in charge of the army until the conflict came to an end in 1995, at which time he was indicted on war crimes and went on the run. He was captured in 2011.

In the worst atrocity committed in Europe since World War II, Mladic directed the massacre of more than 7,000 Bosnian Muslims at a town called Srebrenica in July 1995. Men and boys between the ages of 12 and 77 were rounded up and machine-gunned by troops in a field outside of town and then buried in mass graves.

Other crimes committed under Mladic’s unrelenting reign included mass rapes of Bosnian Muslim women and girls, the indiscriminate murder of civilians, deportations and destructions of homes and mosques. Many were imprisoned in camps where they died of malnourishment and disease. Upwards of 100,000 lives were lost between 1992 and 1995.  Another 2.2 million people were displaced.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia found him guilty on one count of genocide and nine crimes against humanity. The trial lasted for 530 days and included over 500 witnesses and 10,000 exhibits. Mladic has denied all the charges against him and plans to appeal.

U.N. Human Rights Chief Zeid Ra’as al-Hussein called Mladic “the epitome of evil,” and said that his prosecution was “the epitome of what international justice is all about…Mladic presided over some of the darkest crimes to occur in Europe since World War II, bringing terror, death and destruction to thousands of victims, and sorrow, tragedy and trauma to countless more.”

For more information, please see:

BBC  News – Ratko Mladic, the ‘Butcher of Bosnia’ – 22 November 2017

CNN – Ratko Mladic Guilty of Genocide, Sentenced to life in Prison – 22 November 2017

NPR – Remembering the ‘Monstrous’ Legacy of Ratko Mladic – 22 November 2017

The New York Times – Mladic Conviction Closes Dark Chapter in Europe, but New Era of Uncertainty Looms – 22 November 2017

The Washington Post –  Ratko Mladic, the ‘Butcher of Bosnia,’ Guilty of Genocide in Last Balkan war Crimes Trial – 22 November 2017

BBC News – Ratko Mladic Jailed for Life Over Bosnian War Genocide – 23 November 2017

Huffington Post – Ratko Mladic Sentence – 26 November 2017

North Korean Soldier Shot Defecting Across DMZ

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

SEOUL, South Korea – On 13 November 2017, an unarmed, low-ranking member of the North Korean military attempted to escape to South Korea.  He did so through the Joint Security Area in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).  He drove to the border through what is known as a ‘peace village’ until a wheel fell off his vehicle.  From there he proceeded on foot.  The North Korean military opened fire on him, totaling 40 rounds.  He was hit in the shoulder and the elbow.  He managed to take cover behind a South Korean structure inside the DMZ.  Later, U.S. and South Korean soldiers crawled out to rescue him.

He was air lifted to a hospital, where doctors began work immediately.  While his injuries are critical, doctors believe his life will be saved.  There are also reports of severe intestinal damage.  Doctors identified enormous numbers of parasites in his body that complicate the man’s recovery.  The doctor reported that he had never seen anything like this during his career spanning 20 years.

Hospital where North Korean Soldier is being treated. Photo Courtesy of Hong Ki-won.

This is the first defection to occur across the DMZ this year and the third to ever occur since the end of the Cold War.  Most defectors cross the border with China, as the security is less intense.  The North Korean military has been increasing border control recently, and South Korea has seen a reduction of defectors coming in.  So far this year, 780 North Koreans fled to South Korea.

North Korea has yet to release a statement or say anything about the event.  South Korea broadcasted, over the loudspeaker in the DMZ, that doctors were treating the soldier.

This is also the first time that North Korean soldiers fired shots in the direction of the South.

For more information, please see:

The Times – Lousiana Man Arrested After Trying TO Cross into North Korea for ‘Political Purposes’-  13 November 2017

BBC – North Korean soldier shot while defecting at DMZ to South – 13 November 2017

BBC – North Korean defector found to have ‘enormous parasites’ – 17 November 2017

Reuters – Defecting North Korean soldier critical after escape in hail of bullets – 14 November 2017

60,000 Far-Right Demonstrators March In Poland

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

WARSAW, Poland – An estimated 60,000 far-right demonstrators marched through Warsaw on Poland’s 99th Independence Day.

Aerial Photo of Far-Right March. Photo Courtesy of Radek Pietruszka.

On Saturday, November 11th, tens of thousands of people gathered in what is being described as one of the biggest gatherings of far-right supporters in recent years.

The march, organized by far-right groups, is held annually on Poland’s Independence Day. The march has become an international magnet for far-right supporters and white supremacists.

The crowd welcomed far-right leaders from Britain and Italy. Richard Spencer, the American white nationalist who organized the Charlottesville, Virginia protest that killed a young counter-protester, was scheduled to attend but cancelled his plans after the Polish government advised him that he was not welcome in the country.

The National Radical Camp (NRC) was one of the lead organizers of the march. The NRC has previously marched against Muslim immigration into the country, gay rights and the European Union. Anything that is considered to undermine Polish Catholic values is a target of the nationalists.

Tomasz Dorosz, a member of the NRC, took the stage on Saturday. “Europe and the world is in decay: culturally, politically, economically. We Poles have to be the alternative,” said Dorosz. “There will be a national Poland or none.”

Demonstrators wearing masks carried signs containing such phrases as “Clean Blood”, “Pray for an Islamic Holocaust” and “Europe Will Be White.”  They threw red-smoke bombs as they marched.

One far-right demonstrator interviewed by a Polish television station said he was on the march to “remove Jewry from power.”

“It’s 50,000 to 100,000 mostly football hooligans hijacking patriotism,” said one counter-protester. “For me, it’s important to support the anti-fascist coalition, and to support fellow democrats, who are under pressure in Poland today.”

The march has grown in numbers steadily since it began in 2009. Nick Loweles, member of the anti-extremism group Hope Not Hate, said that “the numbers attending this year seem to be bigger and, while not everyone on the march is a far-right activist or fascist, it is undoubtedly becoming more significant and is acting as a magnet for far-right groups around the world.”

A smaller group of about 5,000 counter-protesters showed up at the march. Several counter-protesters carrying a banner that read “Stop Fascism” were injured when nationalists pushed and kicked them. A heavy police presence and separation of the groups kept further violence at bay.

Many criticize the Polish government and believe that its behavior has fostered intolerance and xenophobia and emboldened the nationalists.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Warsaw Nationalist March Draws Tens of Thousands – 11 November 2017

The New York Times – Nationalist March Dominates Poland’s Independence Day – 11 November 2017

Aljazeera – Why 60,000 People Joined a Nationalist March in Poland – 12 November 2017

CNN – Thousands of Nationalist Protesters Disrupt Poland Independence Day – 12 November 2017

The Guardian – ‘White Europe’: 60,000 Nationalists March on Poland’s Independence Day – 12 November 2017

The Washington Post – ‘Pray for an Islamic Holocaust’: Tens of Thousands From Europe’s Far-Right March in Poland – 12 November 2017

Rights Activists Threatened in Turkmenistan

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

ASHGABAT, TurkmenistanIn one of the world’s most repressive nations, two female journalists were verbally and physically attacked on the 14th and 15th of November 2017.   These were not isolated attacks but rather just one attempt in a long string of attacks to silence these two journalists, among others.

Soltan Achilova is an independent journalist who works for Radio ‘Azatlyk’, a service of Radio Free Europe|Radio Liberty.   On 14 of November two men followed her in a car as she made her way to the US Embassy Information Center. On the same day, while photographing people in line at a grocery store, a man came up to her and grabbed her, yelling, “I will take a rock and hit you on the head. If you ever use a camera again, I will smash it together with you! Go home and never go out again. Otherwise you will die.” She was also followed back to her house by men in a car.

Achilova working. Photo Courtesy of

Earlier in the year, men also broke into Achilova’s son’s car in an attempt to get to her. This is the fourth attack against her this year.

Galina Kucherenko is a human rights activist.  On 15 November police called her demanding that she sign a police summons and report to the police station. The reasoning was that another activist had filed a complaint against her.  After the phone call, men knocked on her door, demanding that she sign the police summons. She did not let them in.  However, they hung around her building for another 25 minutes before leaving. Kucherenko is continuously watched by surveillance agents, and has had her internet and phone services cut off.

Men have been stationed outside these activists’ homes in plain clothes.  They follow them in broad daylight whenever the activists leave. The surveillance men try to avoid having their imaged captured, though, turning their backs to cameras or stepping back.

Human Rights activists are concerned that the back-to-back attacks indicate an increase of journalist repression. International Partnership for Human Rights director says that these attacks underline the extreme extent that the government goes to create an atmosphere of nonexistent free speech.

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – Turkmenistan: Activists Threatened – 21 November 2017

Chronicles of Turkmenistan – Journalists and activists in Turkmenistan again subjected to surveillance and assaults – 19 November 2017

Chronicles of Turkmenistan – Correspondent Soltan Achilova again assaulted in Turkmenistan – 17 November 2017

International Partnership for Human Rights – Turkmenistan: Activists threatened- Space for freedom of expression shrinks – 22 November 2017

Mexico’s Attorney General Resigns to make way for Judicial Reforms

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

CIUDAD DE MEXICO, Mexico — On Monday, October 16, Mexico’s Attorney General Raúl Cervantes announced his resignation before members of the Senate, stating that he wanted to facilitate the transition to a new institutional framework to combat crime and abandon impunity.

Mexican Attorney General Raúl Cervantes giving his resignation before members of the Senate. Photo Courtesy Gob.Mx.

Mr. Cervantes is the third Attorney General appointed within the last five years and was appointed Attorney General on October 25, 2016.

In 2014, Congress approved a constitutional reform—to be enacted at the latest in 2018—that would replace the office of the Attorney General with an independent chief prosecutor who would be appointed to a nine-year term.  This extended tenure is designed to distance the prosecutor from the president, who serves a single six-year term.  According to El País, Mr. Cervantes would have assumed the position of chief prosecutor automatically.

Mr. Cervantes’ appointment as Attorney General caused widespread consternation since he has close ties to the current president, Enrique Peña Nieto, and is a member of the ruling PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party).  Many opposition politicians and non-governmental groups have expressed a lack of faith in Cervantes’ willingness to investigate the Peña Nieto and his administration after the 2018 elections, which is why the new office of the chief prosecutor has not yet been established.

During his tenure, the Observatorio Nacional Ciudadano (ONC) reported a significant increase in violent homicides in Mexico since the beginning of 2017 to August, with a steady monthly average of 2,300 homicides reported per month.  According to Huffpost, this means that “every 18 minutes and 47 seconds, a victim of violent homicide was reported in the first eight months of 2017 on a national level.”

One of the major controversies Mr. Cervantes and his predecessors faced was the 2014 Iguala mass kidnapping, where 43 students from Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College disappeared and were allegedly delivered to a local criminal syndicate for execution.  The official account given by Mexican authorities has been marred by inconsistent testimony, accusations of obstruction of justice by various state officials, and has resulted in the arrest of over 100 individuals.  Mr. Cervantes and his predecessors’ failure to advance the investigation of the Iguala mass kidnapping has arguably been the proverbial “final nail in the coffin” in their tenures as Attorney General.

President Peña Nieto announced that the next Attorney General would be appointed after the 2018 presidential elections since the position cannot be taken short term and appointing anyone else would further complicate the process of naming the new chief prosecutor.

For more information, please see:

InSight Crime – Mexico AG Resigns Amid Growing Pressure to Tackle Widespread Graft – 18 October 2017

El País – Raúl Cervantes renuncia al cargo de procurador general de México – 17 October 2017

Animal Político – Peña Nieto anuncia que el fiscal general será nombrado después de las elecciones de 2018 – 17 October 2017

AP News – Mexico’s attorney general resigns a year into job – 16 October 2017

BBC Mundo – Renuncia de Raúl Cervantes, procurador general de México, tras la controversia por su potencial nominación para la primera fiscalía autónoma del país – 16 October 2017

CNN Español – Renuncia el procurador general de México, Raúl Cervantes – 16 October 2017 – “Servir a la República en esta capacidad ha sido el honor más grande que se me ha conferido” – 16 October 2017

The New York Times – Mexico’s Attorney General Resigns Under Pressure – 16 October 2017

Reuters – Mexico attrney general resigns amid debate on new top prosecutor – 16 October 2017

Huffpost – México, en el camino directo a tener el año más violento en la historia – 10 October 2017