US Supreme Court Again Decides in Favor of Qualified Immunity for Law Enforcement in Shootings

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON D.C.  — On Monday, April 2, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a 7-2 decision to grant qualified immunity from prosecution to a police officer, Andrew Kisela, who shot a woman, Amy Hughes, for holding a kitchen knife outside her home.

Officers are entitled to qualified immunity as long as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known. Photo Courtesy of J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press.

In May 2010, Kisela and his partner responded to a 911 call reporting a woman acting erratically and hacking a tree with a kitchen knife.  They were joined by another police officer and saw Hughes—carrying a large kitchen knife—and her roommate, Sharon Chadwick, exiting their house.  The three officers drew their weapons and ordered Hughes to drop the knife.  When Hughes did not acknowledge the officers’ presence, Kisela shot Hughes four times.  The entire encounter occurred in less than a minute.

While the three officers later testified that they believed Hughes to be a threat to her roommate, Chadwick said that Hughes was speaking to her calmly from six feet away and that Chadwick at no time felt threatened by Hughes.  Kisela was the only officer to shoot at Hughes, and he did so without warning.

Hughes sued Kisela in a §1983 claim for $150,000 in damages, alleging that his use of deadly force was a violation of her Fourth Amendment rights.  Initially, a federal judge had granted summary judgment in favor of Kisela, but that ruling was reversed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Supreme Court’s per curiam decision overturned the Ninth Circuit’s ruling in favor of Hughes without full briefings or oral arguments.  Justice Sotomayor wrote a dissenting opinion and was joined by Justice Ginsberg.

Qualified immunity protects ‘all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.’ To challenge qualified immunity, courts must determine through precedent (1) if the official’s conduct counts as a violation of the plaintiff’s rights; and (2) if the plaintiff’s rights were clearly established.  The Supreme Court determined that Kisela’s conduct, by shooting Hughes four times as she stood still in front of her house, did not violate any of Hughes’ established rights.

In her dissent, Justice Sotomayor wrote that the Supreme Court’s “one-sided approach to qualified immunity transforms the doctrine into an absolute shield for law enforcement officers, gutting the deterrent effect of the Fourth Amendment,” and that “it tells officers that they can shoot first and think later, and it tells the public that palpably unreasonable conduct will go unpunished.”

The Washington Post noted that the Supreme Court has developed a trend of siding in favor of law enforcement officers by reversing lower courts that deny qualified immunity to police.  Police officials applaud the Supreme Court’s broad approach, which they say give officers the benefit of the doubt and protect them from “frivolous lawsuits.”  Critics such as the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute believe this approach virtually absolves law enforcement from accountability for their misconduct.

The majority’s decision comes 15 days after police officers killed Stephon Clark while he was standing in his grandmother’s backyard in Sacramento, California.  It comes 3 days after the Louisiana Attorney General declined to file charges against the two Baton Rouge police officers that shot Alton Sterling at point-blank range outside of a convenience store while they had him pinned to the ground.  As of April 1, there have been 325 reports of people killed by police in the United States since January 1, 2018.

For more information, please see:

NPR – Police Shootings Stir Outrage Among Some, But Not The Supreme Court – 3 April 2018

The Washington Post – Ariz. woman survives police shooting, but Supreme Court says the officer is immune from her lawsuit – 3 April 2018

The Hill – Supreme Court rules police officer cannot be sued for shooting Arizona woman in her front yard – 2 April 2018

The New York Times – Supreme Court Rules for Police Officer in Excessive Force Case – 2 April 2018

SCOTUS Blog – Kisela v. Hughes – 2 April 2018

Slate – The Conservatives vs. Sonia Sotomayor – 2 April 2018

The Washington Post – What is “qualified immunity,” and how does it work? – 14 July 2015

Woman’s Rape Kit Has Finally Been Tested – 10 Years Later

By: Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

NEW YORK, USA – Natasha Alexenko was 20 years old on August 6, 1993 when a man held a gun to her back. She had been trying to get her keys out when she felt the gun against her back. She heard that man say “If you don’t do everything I say I’ll blow your brains out.” The man brought Alexenko into the stairwell of her building where he sexually assaulted her at gun point. Alexenko went to the hospital that night for a rape kit. But it was not until 10 years later that she finally got the call from the New York County’s District Attorney’s office informing her that the rap kit had finally been tested.

“I was like, ‘This is great, it’s moving forward — I can’t believe it after all these years,’” says Alexenko. “It wasn’t until later that I thought, ‘Holy mackerel! Why on Earth did this take so long?’” Alexenko was unsure why it took so long to be tested. “It just doesn’t make sense,” Alexenko said.  “Why would you put someone through this very invasive, whole-body exam, which is traumatizing in itself, take their rape kit and just let it sit there?”

Natasha Alexenko founded Natasha’s Justice Program to help fight againSt the backlog of rape kits across the United States. Photo Courtesy of Len Marks.

After her rape, Alexenko moved back home to Ontario. In Canada she had the support of her mother and close friends. But she ended up drinking heavily to try to get through the pain. “I just felt so much grief,” says Alexenko. She felt this way because she was not able to explain her assailants face to the police. “I blamed myself for not being able to help catch this man who was still out there, probably hurting other people.”

Four years after she received the call from the DA’s office, Alexenko’s assailant was caught. Victor Rondon was arrested in Las Vegas for jaywalking and then extradited to New York after he was finger printed by police. A year later, he was found guilty of eight counts of violent assault. He was also found guilty of burglary, robbery, two counts of rape, sodomy and sexual abuse. He was sentenced to 44 to 107 years in prison.

“I was just grateful that he was put behind bars,” said Alexenko, who fainted when she saw him at his trial. “My body just shut down. It wasn’t just that I was remembering stuff; it was like I was there.” In 2011, Alexenko founded Natasha’s Justice Program. The goal of the nonprofit is to get rid of the backlog of rape kits in the United States.

Alexenko’s story is not unique. In fact, her rape kit had been one of 17,000 unprocessed rape kits held in a storage facility in New York. Fortunately, New York City has since eliminated that backlog. Around the United States, there were 70,000 unprocessed rape kits in 2015. There are estimates that put that number in the hundreds of thousands.

According to Alexenko, people have started taking sexual assault and the backlog of rape kits much more seriously. The US Department of Justice announced it would be dedicating $41 million in federal grant money to test the 70,000 known unprocessed rape kits nationwide in 2015. So far, many communities have taken advantage of it.

“There’s been such a shift — and I think it’s because there have been so many survivors who have come forward,” says Alexenko. “There are so many amazing people who are fighting so hard.”

For more information, please see:

New York Post – I was Raped in 1993 – And No One Tested My Rape Kit for 10 Years – 4 April 2018

USA Today – Tens of Thousands of Rape Kits Go Untested Across USA – 16 July 2015

New York Post – DA Hailed After Pledging $35M to Eliminate Rape Kit Backlogs – 12 November 2014

Detained Journalists’ Lawyers Argue for Case Dismissal

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

YANGON, Myanmar – Court hearings have been taking place since January for two Reuters journalists that were arrested on December  12, 2017.  Myanmar officials arrested Wa Lone and Kyaw She Oo for obtaining state secrets from two police officers working in the Rakhine state.  The journalists had been working on a story in relation to the mass killings of Rohingya in the Rakhine state.

Wa Lone pictured after April 4, 2018’s case hearing. Photo Courtesy of Reuter/ Ann Wang.

So far, 17 witnesses gave testimony in court in 13 hearings that have taken place.  Lone’s and Oo’s lawyers say that the witnesses called forth by the prosecution are weak.  There are inconsistencies in the testimonies. Additionally, several procedural mistakes were revealed during the court sessions. Testimonies included a witness who burned notes from the time of the arrest, another who wrote the information down on his hand, and one who signed the search form before the section detailing the items seized had been filled in. The defense attorney has called for the dismissal of the case based on this.  The judge will decide at the next hearing on 11 April.

The prosecution team responded to the request to dismiss the case by stating that the information that the two journalist had was secret and that the journalist intended to hurt the country with that information. The defense team presented that that the prosecution could not establish that the information that the journalist obtained was secret as it had been published by both state and private media outlets.

Wa Lone told journalist after the court hearing, “We only did our work as reporters. I want the people to understand that and want to tell them that I never betrayed the country.”  She Oo said, “We followed the news and uncovered the Inn Din story. The reason why we did it is to give the vitally important information to the country.”

For more information please visit:

Reuters – lawyers for Reuters reporters argue for Myanmar court to dismiss case –  4 April 2018

Democratic Voice of Burma – Court hears arguments on motion to dismiss charges against Reuters duo – 4 April 2018

Washington Post -Lawyers ask Myanmar to dismiss case vs. Reuters journalists – 4 April 2018

Following Public Outcry, France Sets Legal Age of Consent

By: Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

PARIS, France – Lawmakers in France are in the process of formalizing the age of sexual consent after public outcry over two cases involving preteens.

Demonstrators Gather to Protect Sexual Abuse and Harassment in France. Photo Courtesy of Claude Paris.

France’s government has proposed new laws, one of which makes the age of sexual consent fifteen years. The legislation will be one of several measures taken by the government to combat sexual harassment and violence in the country.

The current law in France criminalizes sex with children under fifteen. However, prosecutors in those cases must prove that the sex was by force.

New measures also include increased prison sentences for perpetrators. There will  be on-the-spot street fines issued for sexual harassment. Repeat offenders will face increasing fines.

The bill will also present sanctions for online harassment.

Additionally, underage rape victims will be able to report sexual violence until they are 48 years old, ten years longer than the current limit.

Prison sentences for rape involving penetration will  increase from the current sentence of five years to ten years.

The push for new laws has gained momentum recently in France due to two high-profile cases involving eleven-year-old girls. The perpetrators in those cases, who were 28 and 30, were acquitted, causing an uproar in France and prompted the government to discuss tightening laws aimed toward combating sexual violence.

Marlene Schiappa, French Equality Minister, said that “we want to fix an age in the law below which it’s always forbidden to have sex with children, with young girls. Below which it’s always considered as a rape.”

President Macron supports the bills and hopes that the new laws ensure that “women are not afraid to be outside.”

In polls conducted in the country, ninety-two percent surveyed support extension of the statute of limitations, ninety percent support on-the-spot street fines and sixty-nine percent support setting the age of consent at fifteen years of age.

It is crucial that the laws of the republic make it clear that it is not allowed to harass or intimidate women…whether in the public space, on public transport or online” Schiappa said. “There can be no lawless zones.”

Age of consent laws vary internationally. Neighboring European countries such as the United Kingdom, Spain and Russia set the age of consent at 16, whereas in Germany, Italy and Hungary it is 14.

Fore more information, please see:

BBC News – France to set Legal age of Sexual Consent at 15 – 6 March 2018

CNN – France to set age of Sexual Consent at 15 After Rape Outcry – 6 March 2018

Newsweek – France to set age of Sexual Consent at 15, Paving way for Rape Charges – 6 March 2018

NPR – France Moves to Make 15 Legal age of Consent for sex – 6 March 2018

USA Today – French Bull Puts 15 as age of Consent for sex, Includes on-the-spot Fines for Harassment – 21 March 2018

Vietnam Jails Six Human Rights Activists

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

HANOI, Vietnam – In Vietnam, six human rights activists were sentenced to between 7 and 15 years in jail. The activists were charged for “attempting to overthrow the state” on Thursday, April 5th, 2018. The sentenced imposed on the activists is the harshest sentence in years in Vietnam. All of them will face up to five years under house arrest when they are released from prison.

Human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai was sentenced to 15 years in prison on Thursday, April 5, 2018. Photo courtesy of Lam Khanh via REUTERS.

The six activists were connected to the Brotherhood for Democracy group. They were accused of pushing multi-party democracy and receiving money from overseas. Blogger Pham Van Troi, priest Nguyen Trung Ton, journalist Truong Minh Duc, entrepreneur Nguyen Bac Truyen, and human rights worker Le Thu Ha were all sentenced on Thursday.

The Hanoi People’s Court gave Nguyen Van Dai, a human rights lawyer, the longest sentence for “trying to overthrow the people’s administration.” He was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Ms Vu Minh Khanh, Dai’s wife, expressed her disappointment with the trial. She claims that “he is innocent and he pleaded innocent at the trial.”

Since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, the Communist Party of Vietnam has ruled the country. Although the country has been reforming its economy and its social policies, the government retains a tight grip on media censorship.

Amnesty International believes that there are around 97 prisoners being held in jail for their human rights work in the country.

On the recent actions taken by the Vietnamese government, the United States State Department stated that “the United States is deeply concerned by the Vietnamese government’s efforts to restrict these rights, through a disturbing trend of increased arrests, convictions, and harsh sentences of peaceful activists.” Moreover, the spokesperson went further by stating that “individuals have the right to the fundamental freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, both online and offline.”

CNN – Six activists jailed in Vietnam amid crackdown on dissent – 5 April, 2018

The Guardian – Vietnam jails six activists for up to 15 years for trying to ‘overthrow state’ – 5 April, 2018

The Straits Times – Vietnam jails human rights lawyer, five other activists – 6 April, 2018

Measles outbreak in Venezuela’s indigenous community

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela – An outbreak of measles struck an indigenous tribe in a remote jungle region of eastern Venezuela. Sources report that somewhere between 50 and 70 children have died as a result.

A Warao boy from Venezuela at a shelter in Pacaraima. Image Courtesy of Eraldo Peres.

Armand Obdola, head of the Kape Kape NGO, has been recording the deaths of the Warao indigenous community in the state of Delta Amacuro. He says children of this community have been dying since the beginning of the year. He reports, “the propagation started in early January and we are calling for a health alert. The most recent deaths were of six children, but since January the toll is 54.”

Measles is a highly contagious viral disease that usually affects children and is preventable with vaccination. Latin America was declared free of measles in 2016 after a massive, decades-long campaign. However, it has come back with a vengeance. Venezuela has the highest number of confirmed cases among the nine Latin American countries. The country reported 159 deaths in the first three months of 2018. Also, the Pan American Health Organization reports that Venezuela has seen 886 cases of measles since June.

Venezuela’s economic crisis has been a source of blame for this outbreak. A critical shortage of medicine leaves doctors and nurses unprepared to fight the illness. Jose Felix Oletta, who used to be minster of health and runs a nonprofit, said the country is incapable of providing even basic medical attention. He calls the outbreaks “clear examples” of how basic health programs have broken down. Correspondingly, the National Survey of Hospitals found that 88% of the 134 medical centers in Venezuela were missing basic medicines, while 100% of centers said their pathology labs were inoperative.

Also, it is becoming increasingly difficult to access the affected areas. The Warao settlements are located on the Orinoco River which is an eight-hour trip from the regional capital Tucupita. Obdola explained that it is often impossible to reach a sick person because the boats do not have fuel. His colleague at the NGO, Naveda, says “the indigenous people are populations that are adrift. They are almost waiting for death.”

Obdola says that authorities have done nothing in response despite the seriousness of the situation. However, Venezuela’s Health Minister Luis Loez said that Maduro’s government is fine-tuning details for the launch of a national vaccination plan for diphtheria, measles and yellow fever.

The second biggest outbreak is in Brazil with 14 confirmed cases, all of them imported from Venezuela. The Pan American Health Organization reported that “all confirmed cases were reported in unvaccinated Venezuelan citizens between the ages of nine months and 18 years.” Colombia has also attributed its three cases of measles to Venezuelan refugees.

For more information, please see:

The Economic Times – At least 54 children dead in Venezuela measles outbreak: NGO – 6 April 2018

News24 – At least 70 children dead in Venezuela measles outbreak – 6 April 2018

The Times – Return of measles is blamed on Venezuela – 29 March 2018

Washington Post – Brazil struggles to care for Venezuela’s indigenous Warao – 27 March 2018

Miami Herald – A measles outbreak in ailing Venezuela is threatening Colombia  and Brazil – 26 March 201

L.A. County Sheriff’s Deputy Charged with Sexually Assaulting Six Inmates

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

LOS ANGELES, California — On Wednesday, September 13, 2017, a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy was initially arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting two inmates at the Century Regional Detention Facility.  As of February 21, 2018, Giancarlo Scotti has been charged with sexually assaulting a total of six inmates and faces six felony counts and two misdemeanor counts of sexual activity with a detainee in a detention facility.

The Century Regional Detention Facility in Lynwood, California is part of the United States’ largest jail system and has an average population of 2,500 inmates. Photo Courtesy Gabriel Bouys, Getty Images.

As a matter of state and federal law, inmates cannot legally consent to sexual intercourse with jail staff while detained.

Two of the former inmates—who have since been released from jail—have also filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the LA County Sheriff’s Department.  Their attorney, Justin Sterling, issued a statement to ABC 7 News about the charges against Scotti: “This tragedy is about more than one rogue cop. [. . .] As just one example of systematic failure, a federal law designed to prevent the sexual abuse of inmates requires local jails to undergo an audit. The LA County Sheriff’s Department has admitted that none of the jails it operates have undergone this federally mandated audit.”  A month after Scotti’s arrest, he was accused of assaulting a third inmate.

When the initial charges were filed in September 2017, no LA County jail had been audited under the 2003 Federal Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA).  In October, an independent review was conducted at the request of the LA County Sheriff’s Department and found that the Century Regional Detention Facility, as well as six other detention centers, failed to meet any of the federal standards under PREA.  An interim report released to the Los Angeles Times showed that jail staff is untrained in how to respond to victims of sexual assault or preserve evidence in instances of sexual assault. According to the report, “At least two Century Regional Detention Facility inmates revealed that allegations of sexual abuse and sexual harassment had been made to staff and summarily ignored.”  Jail officials also failed to provide documentation to auditors supporting their claim to not hire anyone with a history of prior sexual misconduct.

The Sheriff’s Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau launched an investigation into Scotti in November 2017 and identified three additional inmates assaulted by Scotti. Detectives for the investigation interviewed 150 witnesses and submitted the case to the district attorney’s office in December.

Giancarlo Scotti has worked in his department for over ten years.  He remains on paid administrative leave pending an October 2018 court appearance, and if convicted of all charges, may be sentenced up to seven years and four months in a state prison.

Similarly, in New York, lawmakers have proposed State Bill S7708 which explicitly states that anyone under arrest or otherwise detained by law enforcement is incapable of giving consent.  This bill follows the September 28, 2017 incident where two plainclothes NYPD officers claimed that they had consensual sex with an 18-year old they had arrested.

For more information, please see:

Los Angeles Times – L.A. County women’s jail lags behind national standards on preventing sexual abuse, report finds – 1 April 2018

New York Daily News – State lawmakers pass bill barring cops from having sex with detainees – 31 March 2018

Los Angeles Times – Read the preliminary report about Century Regional Detention Facility and prison rape – 29 March 2018

Newsweek – Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy Charged With Sexually Assaulting 6 Inmates At Women’s Facility – 22 February 2018

ABC 7 News – LA County sheriff’s deputy charged w/ sexually assaulting 6 female inmates at Lynwood facility – 21 February 2018

Los Angeles Times – L.A. County sheriff’s deputy charged with sexually assaulting 6 female inmates – 21 February 2018

Los Angeles Times – Deputy accused of sexually assaulting a third inmate inside Lynwood jail – 1 November 2017

Los Angeles Times – Sheriff’s deputy arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting 2 inmates – 14 September 2017

Adult Children Question Elderly Father’s Marriage to Care Giver

By: Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

CALIFORNIA, USA – A local news station was contacted by the Hess family over their concern for their father’s recent marriage. James Donald Hess, Don lost his second wife in February of 2016. The family says Don became depressed and lonely. At that time, his health was also steadily declining.  The family filed  petition in probate court alleging Don’s new wife was  “physically and verbally abusing him, and asserting undue influence over him.”

Nicky Shepard, now Hess, had been married five times before she married Don. According to Don’s Daughter-in-law Dede, Nicky had been recently married when she met and began caring for Don. The family’s petition in probate court stated that Nicky had convinced Don to marry her after just a few months. Nicky and Don were married October 14, 2017, two weeks after Nicky’s previous divorce had been finalized.

“I think of her as a shark that smelled the blood in the water,” Dede Hess said. The family alleges in the petition that after the marriage, Nicky had convinced Don to “withdraw large sums of money from his investment accounts” and that she “forged [ his] name on documents.” The family also believes that Nicky put Don in “extreme” danger by withholding medication from him or giving him too much medication.

The news station the family brought their concerns to learned that Don is now in the hospital. The family informed them that Don’s heart had stopped for several minutes, he had renal failure and he had pneumonia. “I would love to see some justice on behalf of my father-in-law, especially if he’s ill,” Dede Hess said.

The family went to court in mid-March where the judge recognized that both sides had a difference in opinion when it came to this case.  Judge Julia Kelety said “I know that you have very different views about whether this is on one hand, a recent marriage of an elderly person to his caregiver and the vulnerability that that can present and the possibility of financial abuse versus, on the other hand, a person who is engaging in his right in his older years to find love and get married.”

The family seeks to have Don removed from a trust that was created last year. Don’s children do not believe he was competent at that time. Nicky told the news station, “All I need is love. I don’t even think about his money. His kids did not approve our marriage.”

Don’s lawyer denied the abuse and instead said, the “children were more concerned about their inheritance than his happiness.” Don is 86 and Nicky is 64.

The Judge decided to suspend Nicky as successor trustee until another court appearance scheduled for April 5th. “I don’t want this to happen to anybody else,” Dede Hess said.

This is not an isolated case. Elder abuse is often unreported according to the National Council on Aging. According to a 2015 study, this kind of fraud and abuse can collectively cost America’s elderly $36.5 billion a year.

For more information, please see:

ABC 10 News – Family Questions Elderly Father’s Marriage to Caregiver – 30 March 2018

Forbes – 5 Ways to Spot and Stop Elder Financial Abuse – 30 March 2018

WTVA – Family Questions Elderly Father’s Marriage to Caregiver – 30 March 2018

Three Ecuadorian journalists kidnapped near Colombia border

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

QUITO, Ecuador – Two Ecuadorean newspaper journalists and their driver were kidnapped near the border with Colombia on Monday. Since then, their families and colleagues have gathered to demand their safe return.

Galo Ortega holds up picture of his son, one of the kidnapped journalists, at a demonstration in Quito. Image Courtesy of Cristina Vega.

At the time of the kidnapping, Javier Ortega, Paul Rivas, and Efrain Segarra were reporting for the El Comercio newspaper. They were covering the living conditions of inhabitants affect by recent bombings near the Ecuador-Colombia border. Their story highlighted increasing insecurity and a rise of violence in the region.

These attacks are the latest in a growing wave of violence in the border region. The three journalists were seized in Esmeraldas province where dissident members of Colombia’s FARC rebel group remain active. Since the guerrilla group agreed to peace talks with the Colombian government in 2016, hundreds of former rebels have broken away. Many have become involved in drug trafficking gangs in the border area.

One professor of political and constitutional studies, Napoleon Saltos, explained the source of the issues in the border region. He said, “it was a border that didn’t have presence of the state. It was the FARC that territoriality controlled and administered it. The moment that the FARC left to negotiate [the peace deal], it was like a state that stopped acting.”

Colleagues and friends of the journalists gather to protest outside of the presidential palace in Ecuador’s capital, Quito. They shout, “we’re missing three! We want them back alive!” Relatives of the kidnapped men decided to release their names in hopes that their captors will show compassion and release them. The families said in a press statement, “we considered it sensible to finish with this silence and give a name and a face to our beloved ones.” They say they will not rest until the victims are home.

The Ecuadoran province of Esmeraldas has seen more than its fair share of violence from Colombia. The situation has only gotten worse since January when a bomb exploded at police headquarters in San Lorenzo and injured two officers. Since then, there have been five other attacks in the province that mainly targeted police and military. Authorities blame these kidnappings and  violent attacks on FARC dissident groups led by a former guerrilla known as “El Gaucho.”

However, FARC dissidents are not the only violent actors in the area. Local media reports up to twelve armed groups in Columbia’s southern state that borders Esmeraldas. This includes violent paramilitary groups and Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel. Due to its direct access to the Pacific Ocean and light government presence, Esmeraldas has been used as a trafficking hub for drugs, gold, weapons, and even people. With the highest unemployment rates in the country, traffickers have found the area ripe for recruits.

The government is taking steps to address the violence and increase border security. As one of Ecuador’s poorest regions, the government aims to provide Esmeralda with more infrastructure and basic services to local communities.

For more information, please see:

Washington Post – Three journalists are kidnapped in Ecuador, signaling the violence spilling over from Colombia – 2 April 2018

Global Voices – Kidnapping of Ecuadorian Journalists Shows Colombia’s Peace Process is Far from Over – 2 April 2018

Ecuador: Identities of Kidnapped Journalists Revealed, Families Call for Their Release – 1 April 2018

BBC Latin America – Ecuador searches for reporters kidnapped in border area – 28 March 2018

Bogota Post – Colombian insurgents said to be behind kidnapping of Ecuadorian journalists – 28 March 2018

North and South Korean Leaders Agree to Meet on April 27th

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

SEOUL, South Korea – On April 27th, 2018, North and South Korea have agreed to their first summit in more than a decade. The two leaders will meet at the border village of Panmunjom. Since the Korean War, Kim Jong-un will be the first North Korean leader to set foot in the South.

Head of the presidential National Security Office meets with Kim Jong-un on March 5, 2018 in Pyongyang. Photo courtesy of South Korean Presidential Blue House.

Since the North’s involvement in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics last month, both countries have been negotiating for the two leaders to meet. On March 29th, 2018, senior negotiators from both countries met to decide on a date and other aspects of the meeting.

The meeting in April will be the third summit between leaders of North and South. Kim Jong-un’s father, Kim Jong-il, met with President Kim Dae-jung in 2000 and Roh Moo-hyun in 2007 in Pyongyang.

The South Korean Unification Minister, Cho Myoung-gyon, mentioned a potential discussion of denuclearization of North Korea at the meeting. The minister stated that “the South and North agreed on efforts to make the summit successful, sharing its historic significance in denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, settling peace there and improving inter-Korean relations.”

The recent agreement was welcomed by the United Nations secretary general, Antonio Guterres. He stated that the meeting is “an opportunity for a peaceful solution to something that, a few months ago, was haunting us as the biggest danger we were facing.”

Although the date has not been set, the North Korean leader offered to meet with President Trump, who accepted the offer. The potential meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong-un will most likely occur after the North and South meet later this month. If the meeting is set, President Trump will be the first sitting United States president to meet with a North Korean leader.

According to a recent survey conducted by RealMeter, 73.1 percent of respondents welcomed the meeting. However, around 64 percent expressed that they did not trust the North’s intentions.

Al Jazeera – South Korea to host talks before inter-Korean summit – 28 March, 2018

CNBC – North, South Korea to hold first summit in years on April 27 – 29 March, 2018

The New York Times – North and South Korea Set a Date for Summit Meeting at Border – 29 March, 2018

Families demand answers after fire in Venezuelan jail

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuela’s head prosecutor, Tarek William Saab, reports that 68 people were killed in a jail fire on Wednesday morning. Devastated families gathered outside the jail to demand answers from lawmakers.

Relatives of inmates waiting outside of police station after the fire. Image Courtesy of Juan Barreto.

The fire started in the detention center of a police headquarters in Valencia, 100 miles west of Caracas. It quickly ripped through the building and engulfed the jail. At the time, relatives were lined up outside waiting to enter so frantic visitors witnessed the blaze. Saab announced that all of the fatalities were inmates except for two women. He promised an investigation and appointed four prosecutors to give more detail on the tragic event.

Local opposition lawmaker, Juan Miguel Matheus, said that the events were compounded by the delay of information. After the fire had been extinguished, no one was allowed to see the bodies. He explained, “part of the drama is that there was no list of dead because many of the bodies were incinerated and it was impossible to recognize them.” He believes the fatalities actually reached 78.

One mother of an inmate, Carmen Caldera, said the authorities were withholding information from them. She said, “I don’t have any information on him, I don’t know anything. We want information about our family members. We need information. Look at how desperate we are.” Jesus Santander, secretary-general of the Carabobo state government, responded that family members will be informed of the total number of victims at an “opportune moment.”

Once journalists and photographers started arriving, family members began pushing the police to enter. They clashed with police and threw rocks at them. The officers resorted to tear gas to drive the families back.

This fire struck during the country’s historic economic and political crisis. The shortage of basic goods and significant social unrest has had adverse effects on an already overcrowded prison system. Inmates lacked food, water, and medical care, even though guns and drugs were plentiful. The lawmaker, Matheus, reported that at least 180 inmates were crammed into the detention center which was supposed to house 60. Recently, there have been inmate strikes all over Venezuela to protest situations like these.

One nonprofit prison watchdog group, A Window to Freedom, said the blaze began after inmates set fire to their mattresses in an attempt to escape. The source reports that the fire caused so much smoke that people started to die in the enclosed space. All of the deaths were due to smoke inhalation and the two female fatalities came from conjugal visits.

The UN human rights body released a statement from Geneva calling for an investigation to establish the causes of the deaths, identify those responsible, and pay reparations to families. Additionally, Governor Rafael Lacava has promised to form a group that will work to “decongest police detention centers and create new spaces for prisoners.”

For more information, please see:

NY Times – Venezuela, Accustomed to Tragedy, Is Shaken Again by Horrific Jail Fire – 29 March 2018

BBC News – Venezuela fire: Relatives want answers after 68 die – 29 March 2018

Washington Post – Families demand answers after blaze kills at least 68 in overcrowded Venezuelan jail – 29 March 2918

CNN – Families demand answers after deadly Venezuela jail fire – 29 March 2018

Reuters – Outrage, criticism of government follow deadly Venezuelan jail fire – 29 March 2018

Teenage rape victim dies during childbirth in Paraguay

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

ASUNCION, Paraguay – A 14-year old rape victim died during childbirth in Paraguay last week. She died while doctors tried to perform an emergency cesarean section. The baby survived.

Woman holds a sign that says “stop now” at protest against child sexual abuse in Asuncion. Image Courtesy of Cesar Olmedo.

In Paraguay, abortion is illegal for pregnancies that result from rape or incest. It is also illegal where the pregnancy poses a serious, but not life-threatening, health risk to a woman. It is illegal even where there is no hope that the fetus will survive outside the womb. Therefore, abortion is illegal in almost all circumstances except where a pregnancy has life-threatening complications.

The name of this 14-year-old girl has not been released, but she is known as J.S.P. She was raped by a 37-year-old man which caused her pregnancy. Local media reports that the man was arrested for rape this week.

J.S.P. spent 22 days in the hospital with pregnancy complications and a urinary tract infection before going into labor. Doctors at the National Hospital of Itaugua tried desperately to save her life during the operation, but she suffered three cardiac arrests and died. The doctor and director of the hospital said, ‘it was so sudden, in minutes the cardiac arrest happened. Her body was not ready for a pregnancy.” Fortunately, the doctors managed to save the baby.

As it is a deeply personal issue, there is no report of whether or not this teenager wanted an abortion. Even if she had, Paraguay’s strict abortion laws took the choice away from her. She did not have the option of a legal abortion. This means she did not have the opportunity to discuss the situation with her doctor or evaluate the risks of carrying the child to term.

International experts have said that blocking a rape survivor’s access to abortion can amount to torture. The Committee against Torture commented on Paraguay’s situation saying, “the abortion ban means survivors are constantly reminded of the violation committed against them, which causes serious traumatic stress and carries a risk of long-lasting psychological problems.”

The Ministry of health reports that four girls suffer sexual violence every day in Paraguay. Also, two girls under the age of 15 give birth every day. Many of these pregnancies are the result of sexual abuse by relatives and stepfathers. Correspondingly, a United Nations study found that pregnancy and childbirth are a leading cause of death for teenage girls in the area. The World Health Organization points out that globally, the risk of maternal death is four times higher among teenagers less than 16-years-old than among women in their twenties.

Amnesty International reiterated its call for Paraguay to ease abortion laws and improve protection of girls from sexual violence. The Americas director at Amnesty International, Erika Guevara-Rosas, stated, ‘it’s not just the access to abortion rights, it has to be about comprehensive health care, it has to be about sex education, it has to be about prevention of violence, sexual violence in particular.”

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – 14, Pregnant from Rape, Dead in Childbirth – 26 March 2018

The Guardian – Abortion laws are not ‘pro life’ when they ignore women – 25 March 2018

Gympie Times – 14-year-old girl dies in childbirth after being raped – 24 March 2018

Metro – Rape victim, 14, died in childbirth because her young body wasn’t ready for pregnancy – 24 March 2018

Reuters – Death of Paraguay Teen rape victim in childbirth fuels abortion debate – 23 March 2018

Thai Court Finds Labor Activist Guilty of Defamation

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BANGKOK, Thailand – A court decision in a Bangkok on March 26th found a human rights activist guilty of defamation.

Andy Hall, a labor rights activist, was doing research on working conditions in Natural Fruit Co., Ltd., a pineapple tinning company in Thailand. His 2013 report described cases of extortion of migrant worker labor, labor trafficking, child labor, and violence. His research was in collaboration with the Finish NGO, Finnwatch. Following the publication of his research, Hall sat down with Al Jazeera for an interview. As a result, National Fruit filed a complaint under article 420 of the Civil and Commercial Code for defamation.

Andy hall talking to press outside Thai courthouse in 2016. Photo courtesy of Sakchai Lalit.

This is just one of four cases Natural Fruit Co., Ltd. has brought forward against Hall. In 2013, the court dismissed the case as a result of lack of jurisdiction as Al Jazeera had interviewed Hall while he was in Myanmar, not Thailand. Natural Fruit Co., Ltd. appealed, and the case was accepted in August 2017. On March 26th, the court found Hall guilty and subjected him to pay $312,500 USD (10 million Thai baht) as well as lawyer and court fees to Natural Fruit Co., Ltd. Hall plans to appeal this court decision.

In 2016, Hall was also found guilty of criminal defamation and computer crimes against Natural Fruit Co., Ltd. He was sentenced to 4 years in jail and a $6,250 USD (200,00 baht) fee. He appealed this case. His appeals trial is set for next month on April 24, 2018.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) believes that these cases against Hall will discourage further research into labor rights in Thailand.  A HRW researcher said of the situation, “The Thai government should not look the other way while companies use the courts to undermine corporate accountability for labor rights abuses. If the Thai government is really against labor exploitation, it should promote changes in the law that would prevent abusive libel cases.”

The Thai government said last year that they remain committed to the UN values of human rights and that they have implemented statutes to protect laborers.

 For more information, please see:  

Human Rights Watch – Thailand: Verdict Threatens Labor Abuse Reporting – 28 March 2018

Al Jazeera – HRW condemns libel verdict against rights worker Andy Hall – 28 March 2018

Andy Hall’s Blog – Washington Post/AP 26th March 2018: Thai court finds British labor activist defamed fruit firm – 27 March 2018

Suicide Bombing in Afghanistan Kills 14, Wounds More

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

KABUL, Afghanistan – On the evening of March 23, 2018, a suicide bomber drove into a crowd. A traditional wrestling match had been held that night in Lashkar Gah. After the match ended, the spectators joined in evening prayers in the stadium before leaving. The bomber drove his car though the gates, where it exploded.

As a result fourteen were killed. Forty-two were left injured. Some of the dead and injured are security guards who were stationed at the gates. However, the majority of the victims are civilians. Children are among the dead and critically wounded. The local hospital believes the death will rise, as many people are in critical condition.

A man carries an injured child from the bombing in Lashkar Gah. Photo courtesy of Abdul Khaliq.

The bomber had attempted to enter the stadium. However, the security guards recognized him and refused to let him enter. It was at this moment that he detonated the bombs.

At this moment, no group has claimed the attack as part of their operation. The Helmand province, where Lashkar Gah is located, has heavy Taliban influences. The Taliban carried out a similar attack in Lashkar Gah in the past.

The President of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, released a statement that condemned the bombing saying: “the enemies of Afghanistan cannot prevent the celebration of traditional, religious and cultural events in the country.”

For more information, please see:

New York Times – Suicide Attack in Afghanistan Kills at Least 14 at Wrestling Match – 23 March 2018

Aljazeera – Afghanistan: Deadly car bombing near Helmand stadium – 23 March 2018

BBC – Car bomb targets spectators at Afghanistan wrestling match – 23 March 2018

Russian Media Boycotts Parliament Following Sexual Harassment Decision

By: Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia – Several Russian media outlets have boycotted Parliament in Russia after sexual misconduct charges were dropped against Leonid Slutsky, head of its international affairs committee.

Darya Zhuk, left, and Farida Rustamova, both reporters in Russia, accused Leonid Slutsky of sexual misconduct. Photo courtesy of Vasily Maximov.

On Thursday, March 22nd, Slutsky was cleared of sexual misconduct charges by the ethics commission in Russia. Since then, nearly all of Russia’s independent news agencies have decided to boycott coverage of the Duma, the lower chamber of Russian Parliament.

Accusations against Slutsky began in February 2018, when several female journalists accused Slutsky of making unwelcome sexual advances towards them.

Farida Rustamova of BBC Russia, said that Slutsky told her to leave her fiancé and “ran his hand, the flat of his palm, up against my nether region.”

Another accuser, Yekaterina Kotrikadze, deputy editor-in-chief at a Russian television station, said that in 2011 Slutsky pushed her against a wall and attempted to kiss her.

“He asked me to come without a camera,” said Kotrikadze. “He brought me into his office, locked the door and tried to pin me against the wall and somehow kiss and touch me. I got away and ran.”

Slutsky denied the allegations and mocked his accusers. In a Facebook post dated February 23rd, Slutsky stated that “attempts to make Slutsky into a Russian Harvey Weinstein look like a cheap and crude provocation … and are bound to fail.”

The ethics commission investigating the accusations released a verdict on March 22nd sating that it had “not found any violations of behavioral norms.”

The commission also took aim at the timing of the women’s allegations, suggesting that they were an attempt to undermine the presidential election in Russia that week.

One member of Parliament, Oksana Pushkina, did side with the journalists and pledged to seek adoption of a legal framework for the prosecution of sexual harassment.

Despite the committee’s decision, the accusations against Slutsky have ushered in the #MeToo movement in Russia. The boycott that has ensued in response to the allegations against Slutsky is the first of its kind in Russia.

Kotrikadze is not surprised by the ethics commission’s decision, but is optimistic about the media’s response to the accusations.

“I really think that the reaction of my colleagues, and lots of Russian media outlets, is the best thing I could imagine. This is the first time in Russian history that the journalists have not obeyed the decision of the state.”

For more information, please see:

ABC News – Russian Media Boycott Country’s Parliament Over Sexual Harassment Claims – 22 March 2018

CNN – Media Outlets Boycott Russian Parliament Over Sexual Harassment Scandal – 23 March 2018

The New Yorker – Russia Finally Gets its #MeToo Movement – 23 March 2018

The New York Times – Russian News Outlets Boycott Parliament After Harassment Decision – 22 March 2018

U.S. News and World Report – Russian Lawmaker Cleared of Sexual Harassment Accusations – 21 March 2018