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

Singapore Criticizes Human Rights Watch Report

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

SINGAPORE, Singapore – Singapore’s government has responded to the 2017 Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, which alleged “creative repression” inside the city-state. The report suggested that the government is actively silencing political oppositions. Moreover, many groups have criticized the government for using laws to limit free speech.

Many people gathered to protest the new anti-fake news legislation in Singapore. Photo courtesy of Edgar Su.

In response, the Ministry of Law stated that “HRW’s stance is disappointing, but not surprising. HRW has a pattern of issuing biased and untruthful statements about Singapore.” In addition, the government discredited the report by stating that the report “cannot be taken seriously as a commentator or interlocutor on issues relating to Singapore.”

Vikram Nair, a member of the parliament, also wrote to the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehood that the report “seems to advocate the use of false and fabricated allegations in political discourse… Singapore looks and feels different from many other countries. We stand out for our efficiency, the educational and social development of our population, the real freedoms that our people enjoy: the freedom from want, the freedom from deprivation, the freedom to walk around without fear of crime.”

Many believe that Singapore’s proposed anti-fake news legislation was taken into consideration. Although the details have not been finalized, the critics believe that the new law could allow the government to exert more influence over the country’s media. Reporters Without Border (RSF) also commented on the country’s already “draconian laws.”

At the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods hearing, representatives from Google, Twitter, and Facebook warned against the proposed legislation.

In comparison to 180 countries, the World Press Freedom Index for 2017 ranked Singapore at 151.

For more information, please see:

Channel News Asia – PAP Policy Forum slams Human Rights Watch report on Singapore, calls it a ‘deliberate falsehood’ – 23 March, 2018

Rappler – Human Rights Watch ‘biased’ and ‘untruthful’ – Singapore – 23 March, 2018

Asian Correspondent – Singapore calls Human Rights Watch ‘biased and untruthful’ – 26 March, 2018

Argentine human rights lawyer escapes political prison in Venezuela

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela – The Argentine-Venezuelan human rights lawyer and activist Marcelo Crovato has escaped political prison under Nicolas Maduro’s regime. He made his way into Colombia over the weekend and flew to Argentina with his family on Monday.

Political prisoner who escaped from Venezuela. Image Courtesy of Enrique Garcia Medina.

Crovato was arrested during an anti-government protest in 2014 while working for a rights group that defended young protestors. He offered legal assistance to those who were arrested during the protest. At the time, there had been a wave of demonstrations against Maduro’s socialist government. The unrest left forty-three dead and thousands injured. Crovato was arrested while trying to offer legal aid to people whose homes were being raided. One Argentine newspaper lists his crimes as “public incitement, obstruction of the public highway, instigation to the disobedience of the laws, and association to commit a crime.”

As a result, Cravato spent ten months in jail.  During his time at the prison where he had once served as director, Cravato attempted to commit suicide twice. He also suffered from “a carcinoma in the skin” and “chikungunya.” Because of his frail health, he was granted house arrest in February 2015. The entire three years of imprisonment were suffered without trial, sentence, or any preliminary hearings. Many of his rights were violated and he was given no due process.

Now, Crovato has escaped. He remarks, “I am so happy to be free, but so sad for what’s left behind.” He declined to give full details of his escape for fear of retaliation against friends or relatives by Venezuelan intelligence agents. However, he reveals that he thought of a silent plan to cross into Colombia and only his wife and some relatives were aware. He left without saying good bye to his parents because he didn’t want to compromise the plan. As difficult as this was, he was afraid of dying in prison and felt that the country was dominated by Maduro. He said, “fear never disappears when you are under a police state where there is no rule.”

Crovato declines to give details about where he crossed or what vehicle he took. He is avoiding being tracked and adds, “if there is no information, they will not know what or where to look and I will go to be able to protect people who helped.”

In Colombia, he was reunited with his wife and children. He will seek medical assistance in Argentina to cope with his skin cancer. Still, he promises to continue the fight to set Venezuela free.

Crovato’s departure is the latest in a string of escapes by detained activists. However, several hundred still remain imprisoned under Maduro’s regime.

For more information, please see:

El Nacional – Marcelo Crovato in Argentina: “It seems unreal to be here” – 20 March 2018

Reuters – Argentine human rights lawyer is latest Venezuelan detainee to flee – 19 March 2018

La Voz – An Argentine detained in Venezuela during the 2014 protests, escaped to Colombia – 18 March 2018

El Nuevo Herald – Maduro escapes another political prisoner: Argentine-Venezuelan Marcelo Crovato – 18 March 2018

La Nación – The only Argentine political prisoner in Venezuela escaped to Colombia – 17 March 2018

Indigenous women demand end to extraction in the Ecuadorian Amazon

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

QUITO, Ecuador – Nearly 100 indigenous women of the Ecuadorian Amazon traveled to the capital to protest outside of the Presidential Palace. The women spent five days protesting and demanding a meeting with President Lenin Moreno to personally deliver their political mandate.

Women from the Ecuadorian Amazon gather outside the Presidential Palace. Image Courtesy of Jose Jacome.

Many of the women travelled on long journeys by foot and by bus to gather for this protest. The purpose was to address the oil and mining activities in the Amazon and its harsh impact on indigenous women. The protesters sought a personal meeting with President Moreno to deliver the “Mandate of Amazonian Women Defenders of the Jungle of the Bases against Extractivism.” The mandate includes 22 points that mostly involve putting an end to exploiting the Amazon. It points out that the industry has had a dire consequence on women in particular.

One point of the document refers to land-use issues. It demands the annulment of contracts granted by the government to the oil and mining companies. Also, it demands “that the indigenous territories and peoples be declared free of activities of extractive products such as oil, mining, hydroelectrics and logging.”

The protestors explain that women who live around extractive areas are often the most vulnerable populations. After contamination or community displacement destroys their traditional lifestyles in the jungle, women tend to face more economic barriers than men. One study by Oxfam reports that women struggle to find work in local towns, which often results in increased cases of position, drug abuse, and alcoholism.

Women arrived at the presidential palace carrying anti-extractive banners, wearing traditional clothing, chanting, and vowing not to leave without speaking to the president. They continued to return throughout the week and made speeches through a loudspeaker in the central plaza. However, officials reported that President Moreno could not attend to the group since he was traveling home from Chile on a work visit. The protestors stayed for five days and authorities eventually agreed to a meeting between them and the President.

President Moreno’s government has made several advancements with the indigenous community compared to the last administration. There have been improvements in areas such as bilingual education and reinforcing free, prior, and informed consent regulations for mining projects. President Moreno was praised by environmentalists last year after promising the United Nations he would take steps to protect the Amazon. However, Ecuador’s economy has heavily depended on oil and gas for economic stability and growth. In February, the government held an oil auction and handed out several new mining concessions.

Indigenous women are demanding more of their government. Patricia Gualinga, an indigenous woman, told the president, Your government cannot permit that our rights continue to be violated. Ecuador has to change its energy policy. It could be an example for the world.”

For more information, please see:

Taipei Times – Indigenous women call on Ecuador not to drill for oil – 25 March 2018

Reuters – From Ecuador’s Amazon to president’s palace, indigenous women demand end to drilling – 23 March 2018

The Guardian – Keep off our land, indigenous women tell Ecuador’s president – 23 March 2018

Mongabay – Indigenous Amazonian women demand end to extraction – 22 March 2018

Telesur – Ecuador: Indigenous Women Protest Lack of ‘Consultation,’ Environmental Damage Caused by Mineral, Oil Extraction in Amazon – 14 March 2018

Maryland School Shooting Victim Dies in Hospital

By: Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

MARYLAND, U.S. – On Wednesday, March 21, a 17 year old male student opened fire in a Maryland high school. At 7:55AM, Austin Wyatt Rollins used a handgun to shoot two classmates, a male and a female. Less than a minute later, school resource officer Blaine Gaskill responded and fired a shot at Rollins, who fired a round of his own. Gaskill was unharmed and Rollins was later pronounced dead. The female victim, a 16 year old, is in critical condition fighting life threatening injuries atUniversity of Maryland Prince George’s Hospital Center. The 14 year old male student who was shot is in stable condition.

The female victim has been identified by family as Jaelynn Willey. According to the St. Mary County Sheriff’s office, it is believed Rollins had a prior relationship with the female student. Her family wrote a statement that was distributed on Facebook by family friend, Lucinda Avis. According to the statement, they were “devastated to learn that our beautiful Jaelynn was one of the victims in a school shooting.” They further said, “It is hard for us not to see her shining, smiling face right now, and to see her light up the room with her presence. We know that many of you are anxious to hear about her condition, and we will update you when we can.”

Classmate Isiah Tichenor, 18, was in the hallway when the shooting happened. He stepped out into the hallway and saw Rollins with a gun to his head when Gaskill rounded the corner. Gaskill and Rollins both fired shots. It is unclear at this time if Gaskill’s shot hit Rollins or if Rollins shot himself. Tichenor then ran away from the closed classroom door to a backroom area. There, he and about 20 other students waited for around 10 minutes until an officer knocked on the door and told them they could come out.

Great Mills High students leave Leonardtown High School after being picked up by their parents. Photo Courtesy of Michael Robinson Chavez.

The shooting was notable because it followed a national debate over arming teachers and putting more officers in schools.  Authorities credit Gaskill with possibly saving lives because of his quick response. While authorities are reviewing the tapes from the school to understand how the incident unfolded, St. Mary’s County Sheriff Timothy K. Cameron said there was “no question” that the situation would have been worse if Gaskill had not confronted the shooter as quickly as he did.

The shooting happened just days before a national protest scheduled for Saturday March 24 in Washington D.C. called the March for Our Lives. The march is a stand against gun violence and school shootings. This is the 17th school shooting in the United States in 2018.

On March 23, the family of Jaelynn Willey announced that Jaelynn was taken off life support and died on Thursday, March 22 after doctors pronounced the 16-year old brain dead. 

For more information, please see:

NBC News – Maryland school shooting victim Jaelynn Willey dies after being taken off life support – 22 March 2018

Baltimore Sun – Maryland High School Shooting: 16-year-old Victim Remains in Critical Condition – 21 March 2018

CNN – Maryland School Officer Stops Student Who Shot Two Others – 20 March 2018

Washington Post – Student Gunman Dies After Maryland School Shooting; Two Other Students Injured – 20 March 2018

‘Punish a Muslim Day’ Letters Spark Fear in England

By: Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

LONDON, England – A national counterterrorism investigation is underway after several people received letters targeting Muslims in England.

Muslims Pray Outside A Mosque in England. Photo Courtesy of Andrew Testa.

According to authorities, residents of at least six communities in England have received anonymous letters in the mail urging them to commit acts of violence against Muslims on April 3rd. The sender seems to be targeting communities with large Muslim populations.

The letters arrived in plain white envelopes and designate April 3rd as “Punish A Muslim Day.” The letters express anger at what the author considers to be lax immigration policies in Europe and Muslim immigrants in particular.

The letters go on to provide a chart indicating “points” to be awarded, for crimes committed against Muslims, with the number of points increasing as the violent acts escalate in nature. 25 points would be awarded for pulling a head scarf off of a woman. 500 points would be awarded for murdering a Muslim.

It is not known where the letters originated from or who is responsible for sending them. The country’s counterterrorism forces are investigating the letters. The North East Counter Terrorism Unit is coordinating the investigation and has indicated that the letters are presumed to be linked.

Iman Matta, the director of Tell Mama UK, an organization in the United Kingdom that tracks anti-Muslim activity, told reporters that the letters have “caused quite a lot of fear within the Muslim community. They are asking if they are safe, if their children are safe to play outdoors. We have told them to keep calm.”

There are approximately 4.1 million Muslims in England, comprising over 4 percent of the country’s population.

Attitudes towards Muslims in the country have worsened in recent years. In one survey, more than half of the respondents stated that they believe Islam poses a threat. A quarter of those surveyed call the religion “dangerous.”

Hate crimes against Muslims in England rose signficantly between the years 2015-2016, where 62,518 crimes were reported, and 2016-2017, where 80,393 crimes were reported, according to statistics. This represents a 29% increase.

Naz Shah, a member of parliament in Bradford West, one of the communities that received letters, said that the individuals sending the letters are “inciting violence against the Muslim community.” She went on to say that “we stand shoulder by shoulder, and stand side by side, because nothing will divide us.”

A police spokesperson for the North East Counter Terrorism Unit indicated that “anyone with concerns about a communication they may have received should contact their local police force.”

For more information, please see:

BBC News – ‘Punish a Muslim day’ Letters Probed by Terror Police – 11 March 2018

Newsweek – ‘Punish a Muslim Day’ Game Spreads Across U.K. in Letters Urging People to Burn Mosques and rip off Hijabs – 12 March 2018

The New York Times – ‘Punish a Muslim Day’ Letters Rattle U.K. Communities – 11 March 2018

The Washington Post – Anonymous Letters in Britain Urge People to ‘Punish’ Muslims by Bombing Mosques, Nuking Mecca – 13 March 2018

Aung San Suu Kyi’s Human Rights Award Rescinded

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar – The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum on Wednesday, March 7th announced that it was rescinding the Elie Wiesel Award given to Aung San Suu Kyi in 2012. The Nobel laureate, who is serving as Myanmar’s civilian leader is accused of failing to intervene in the country’s Muslim Rohingya minority crisis. Aung San Suu Kyi has been criticized for failing to use her “moral authority” to halt the brutality against the minority.

US Holocaust Memorial Museum strips Aung San Suu Kyi of her Elie Wiesel Award. Photo courtesy of Hein Htet.

The prestigious Elie Wiesel Award is named after the late Holocaust survivor who is also a Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

Sara Bloomfield, the director of the Holocaust Memorial Museum stated that the organization “did not take this decision lightly.” Furthermore, the museum felt that they were compelled to act due to the mass displacements and killings of the Rohingya minority. Bloomfield continued to say that Suu Kyi’s political party “refused to cooperate with United Nations investigators, promulgated hateful rhetoric against the Rohyingya community, and denied access to and crack down on journalists trying to uncover the scope of the crimes in Rakhine State.”

Myanmar’s embassy in Washington, D.C. released the following statement in regards to the Holocaust Memorial Museum’s decision: “We immensely regret that the … Holocaust Museum has been misled and exploited by people who failed to see the true situation in making fair judgment on the situation in Rakhine State.”

Since August, more than 688,000 Rohingya refugees have left Rakhine State. Myanmar’s military continues to claim that it is combating a terrorist insurgency in the province.

In November, Aung San Suu Kyi was also stripped of the Freedom of the City of Oxford award. This was awarded to her in 1997 for “her opposition to oppression and military rule in Burma.” She studied at Oxford University, but her portrait in the university has since been removed.

For more information, please see:

The New York Times – U.S. Holocaust Museum Revokes Award to Aung San Suu Kyi – 7 March, 2018

The Guardian – US Holocaust Museum withdraws Aung San Suu Kyi’s human rights award – 7 March, 2018

CNN – Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi stripped of human rights award – 8 March, 2018

UNHCR asks other nations to treat Venezuelans as refugees

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Colombia – In light of the continuing crisis in Venezuela, the United Nations has asked the region to treat the population as “refugees” who are unable to go home, as opposed to mere economic migrants. Meanwhile, Colombia is calling out for urgent help along its border because of the humanitarian “catastrophe.”

Venezuelan citizens cross the border into Colombia. Image Courtesy of Fernando Vergara.

The United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, released a three-page report with new guidance for governments to address the situation of persons in need of international protection and humanitarian assistance. It is titled “Guidance Note on the Outflow of Venezuelans.” The report recommends that countries do not deport, expel or forcibly return Venezuelans in view of the current situation. Also, it asks countries to guarantee refugees residency and the right to work, even if they are residing in the country illegally or without proper identification papers.

The increase of migrants has exploded in the past few years. Since 2014, there has been a 2,000% increase in the number of Venezuelan nationals seeking asylum. While 94,000 have been able to access refugee procedures in 2017, many more have not. Most seek legal arrangements that will help them get the right to work and access to health and education as quickly as possible. Still, hundreds of thousands reside illegally in asylum countries. This has resulted in high levels of exploitation, trafficking, violence, sexual abuse, discrimination, and xenophobia.

In response to these startling numbers, UNHCR encourages states to provide Venezuelans with access to refugee procedures. It calls on governments to adopt pragmatic protection-oriented responses, including alternative stay arrangements and temporary visas. Additionally, it calls for other programs that will supply basic needs of health, education, family unity, freedom of movement, and shelter. UNHCR stresses the importance of people not being deported or forcibly returned to Venezuela.

These guidelines seem to reproach Colombia’s current methods. As an overwhelmed neighbor, Colombia has been deporting and barring Venezuelans. Last month, Colombian immigration began requiring new Venezuelan arrivals to present passports even though they have become extremely difficult for people to obtain. These methods have decreased the number of Venezuelans entering the country on a daily basis by 30%.

However, more than 600,000 Venezuelans have already entered Colombia in the past couple of years. Border towns, like Cucuta, are struggling to maintain their homes. Officials have encouraged foreign aid to be sent to Colombia since it is hosting the bulk of the migrants. Organizations such as the World Food Program are present in Colombia helping to deal with the crisis.

The director of the World Food Program, David Beasley, said “Colombia has made so much progress in the past many years with peace and the last thing it needs now is for all that success to be undone. So I will be expressing to other nations the severity of this crisis and why they must come to help the Colombian people immediately.”

Currently, UNHCR is working with governments to address the basic needs of the crisis. It developed a regional response plan that covers eight countries and the Caribbean sub-region. Specifically, the goal is to strengthen national asylum and other international protection processes to foster an effective response to this crisis.

For more information, please see:

IRIN – As Colombia tightens its border, more Venezuelan migrants brave clandestine routes – 13 March 2018

TRT World – UN says refugee claims by Venezuelans surging – 13 March 2018

UNHCR – As Venezuelans flee throughout Latin America, UNHCR issues new protection guidance – 13 March 2018

Miami Herald – As Venezuelans flee collapsing country, UN asks other nations to treat them as refugees – 12 March 2018

ABC News – UN official warns of humanitarian “catastrophe” in Venezuela – 12 March 2018

Five killed in Pakistan and India Border Conflict

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

NEW DELHI, India – Tensions between India and Pakistan have been increasing recently in relation to control over Kashmir. A new round of conflict began late on March 17, 2018 and continued into the next day. Both India and Pakistan were involved in heavy shelling around the Line of Control, which is the de facto border between the two nations in the Kashmir region.

As a result, several civilians on both sides were injured or killed. In the village of Devta Dhar five people were killed and two were injured on the Indian side of the border by Pakistani troops. All are members of the same family. A shell hit a civilian’s house killing the mother, father, and three sons. The two daughters were hospitalized with critical injuries.

One of the injured daughters being transported to the hospital, after her family home was shelled by Pakistani forces. Photo courtesy of Channi Anand.

At least 6 others were injured on the Indian controlled side of Kashmir. On the Pakistani controlled side Indian shells wounded 9 people, including 5 women.  Both sides claim that the other side started the firing, and they were just returning fire.

Indian officials see this as a violation of the 2003 cease-fire agreement between the two nations. An Indian military spokesperson said of the situation, “They are specifically targeting civilian areas. Army troops retaliated strongly and effectively to silence Pakistani guns.”

For more information, please see:  

Reuters – Five Indians killed in cross-border shelling by Pakistani troops – 18 March 2018

Gandhara – Five Killed In Pakistani Shelling In Disputed Kashmir – 18 March 2018

The Washington Post – India: Pakistan shelling kills 5 family members in Kashmir – 18 March 2018

Facebook Blocks Far-Right Group Britain First

ByJenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

LONDON, England – In response to mounting pressure, Facebook has banned the group Britain First, a far-right Anti-Muslim group that was promoted by President Trump on Twitter last year.

Leaders and Supporters of Britain First March in London. Photo Courtesy of Daniel Leal-Olivas.

Facebook announced on Wednesday, March 7th that it had taken down several pages associated with the group due to their repeated violations of the social media network’s community standards.

In a statement, Facebook said: “We are an open platform for all ideas, and political speech goes to the heart of free expression. But political views can and should be expressed without hate. People can express robust and controversial opinions without needing to denigrate others on the basis of who they are.”

Britain First is estimated to have about 1,000 members. To spread its belief that Islam is destroying Britain, members have used tactics such as confronting Muslims on the street and in mosques.

In November 2017, President Trump amplified the group’s hate-mongering rhetoric by retweeting several of the group’s anti-Muslim videos, a first for a modern American president.

The President’s behavior was condemned by British Prime Minister Theresa May as well as human rights groups. He cancelled a trip to Britain in January 2018.

The anti-fascist organization called HOPE Not Hate reported that the Britain First Facebook page has over 2 million likes, making it one of the most-liked political Facebook pages, second only to the royal family.

Two leaders of the group, Paul Golding and Fayda Fransen, were recently convicted of religiously aggravated harassment hate crimes and given jail sentences. The two posted videos online of them harassing Muslims at their homes in 2017.

Facebook says that this decision has not been made lightly. The platform is intended to be an open forum for ideas and beliefs. However, “there are times when legitimate political speech crosses the line and becomes hate speech,” the company said.

The group was given several warnings that its content was violating Facebook’s standards regarding hate speech. When it did not comply with the requests, the page was removed. The group may not establish a replacement page.

Matthew Collins, head of research at HOPE Not Hate, called Facebook’s decision to remove the group’s page “long overdue…We are delighted that Facebook has finally faced up to its responsibility as a publishing platform and removed this hate-preaching organization.”

“I call on social media companies to show a stronger duty of care so that they can live up to their promise to be places that connect and unify, not divide or polarize,” said Sadiq Khan, London’s mayor.

For more information, please see:

CBS News – Facebook Bans Anti-Muslim Group Retweeted by Trump – 14 March 2018

USA Today – Why Facebook Banned anti-Muslim group Britain First – 14 March 2018

The New York Times – Facebook Blocks Britain First, a Far-Right Anti-Muslim Group Promoted by Trump – 14 March 2018

The New York Times – Anti-Muslim Extremists Retweeted by Trump Are Convicted of Hate Crimes – 8 March 2018

NBC News – Facebook Bans Britain First for Inciting ‘Animosity and Hatred’ Against Minorities – 14 March 2018

The Washington Post – Facebook Removes Home Page of Far-Right Group Britain First – 14 March 2018

The Philippines plan to withdraw from the International Criminal Court

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

MANILA, Philippines – In a statement on Wednesday, March 14, President Duterte announced that he plans to remove the Philippines from the International Criminal Court (ICC). In accordance with the ICC treaty, the withdrawal will take place a year after official notification of intent to withdraw is received.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte speaks to the ICC. Photo courtesy of Noel Celis.

The Court opened a preliminary examination into the Philippines as of February 8, 2018 in the context of its “war on drugs.” Findings would be used to determine if investigations for a criminal case should take place. The Court is following the extra-judicial killings that began in July 2016.

Duterte originally allowed the preliminary examination to proceed hoping that the investigation would end accusations of crimes against humanity. However, in his speech, Duterte said his withdrawal was because of “baseless, unprecedented and outrageous attacks” and the ICC prosecutor seeking jurisdiction “in violation of due process and presumption of innocence.”

Authorities believe that there is no need for the ICC to get involved in the situation. In the ICC founding statute, the Court has jurisdiction over a situation only when the country is unable or unwilling to investigate genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of aggression. Harry Roque, spokesman for Duterte, said that local authorities and the national criminal justice system are capable of carrying out investigations and plan to look into those who violate the laws. Duterte also states that these killings are not crimes against humanity but rather accidental killings of self defense during legitimate police operations.

Yet, international human rights organizations don’t agree. No public evidence of in regards to the extra-judicial killings is available. Human Rights Watch reported, “No one has been meaningfully investigated, let alone prosecuted, for any of the ‘drug war’ killings.”

  For more information, please see:

CNN- Philippines to withdraw from International Criminal Court – 14 March 2018

The Washington Post – The International Criminal Court moved to investigate Duterte. Now he wants out. – 14 March 2018

International Criminal Court – Statement of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Mrs Fatou Bensouda, on opening Preliminary Examinations into the situations in the Philippines and in Venezuela – 8 February 2018

NPR – Duterte Pulls Philippines Out Of International Criminal Court – 14 March 2018

Argentina lawmakers propose bill to legalize elective abortion

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Argentina’s government said it would consider holding a referendum on legalizing abortions. After seven proposals for bills that would decriminalize abortion, this is the first time the center-right government has ever agreed to consider it.

A pro-abortion activist listens to a speech outside of Congress. Image Courtesy of Victor R. Caivano.

On Tuesday, more than 70 Argentine lawmakers of various political parties presented a bill to legalize elective abortions for women in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. Most lawmakers wore green handkerchiefs symbolizing the abortion rights movement and cheered as the bill was introduced. Cabinet Chief Marcos Peña said the issue is “on the table.”

Historically, abortion has been a controversial issue in the predominately Catholic nation. Right now, it is only allowed in Argentina in cases of rape, cases where a woman’s health is at risk, or cases where there is a severe malformation of the fetus. In 2012 the Supreme Court passed a ruling to remove barriers and take judges out of the decision. However, women must still apply to a judge for permission to get an abortion. Critics consider it an unnecessary requirement intended to delay the procedure. Regardless of the legislation, doctors and judges continue to block abortions.

While legislative efforts have failed in the past, new initiatives have gained momentum. This bill was introduced at a ceremony attended by dozens of activists. Following 13 years of struggle, the National Campaign for the Right of Legal Safe and Free Abortion has gained the support of over 500 organizations and prominent figures. The group said, “over the past weeks, Argentine society has proved that it was not only prepared to debate about abortion but also to make a decision in favor of its decriminalization and legalization.”

The group also stated, “the State does not fulfill with the international treaties regarding women’s rights and people with the ability to be pregnant: in this country, between 370,000 and 520,000 abortions are carried out every year in secrecy, with about 49,000 women ending at the hospital because of complications related to unsafe surgeries.”

Argentina’s health ministry reaffirms those numbers and estimates that up to 522,000 Argentine women undergo illegal abortions every year. Several Latin American countries outlaw abortion in any circumstance. However, some have legalized therapeutic abortions.  The U.N. Population Fund reported that eight percent of women’s deaths worldwide are due to unsafe abortions. In Latin America and Africa, about 25% of all abortions are classified as unsafe and performed under substandard conditions.

Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri said he was personally opposed to relaxing the country’s abortion laws, but assured that he would give Congress a free vote.

For more information, please see:

Americas Quarterly – The Surprising Politics Behind Argentina’s Abortion Debate – 7 March 2018

BBC News – Argentina abortion: Referendum ‘on the table’, government says – 6 March 2018 

Washington Post – Argentina lawmakers propose legalizing elective abortion – 6 March 2018

Telesur – Argentine Women’s Groups Hopeful About Legalizing Abortion – 4 March 2018

Thousands mourn the assassination of Rio councilwoman

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – Thousands of Brazilians are taking part in a vigil to honor a politician who was brutally murdered, Marielle Franco. In the days leading up to her death, Franco campaigned heavily against police brutality.

Marielle Franco in Rio. Image Courtesy of Midia Ninja.

The 38-year-old Rio city councilor for the left-wing Socialism and Liberty Party was shot dead in her car on Wednesday evening. After leaving a meeting about empowering black women, a car pulled up alongside hers. Attackers sprayed her car with bullets which fatally injured her and her driver, Anderson Pedro Gomes. Additionally, a press officer working for Franco was injured while sitting in the back seat.

The Brazilian director of Human Rights Watch, Maria Laura Canineu, described Franco as “an outspoken and courageous advocate for victims of police abuse and a tireless defender of the rights of women and Afro-Brazilians.” She added, “Brazilian authorities need to respond decisively by identifying those responsible for the killing of Marielle and Anderson, and bringing them to justice.”

Franco grew up in an impoverished community in Rio. She became an activist and was elected to city council in 2016 as the only black female representative and one of seven women in the council. She became president of the women’s commission and was recently appointed to rapporteur of a municipal commission to monitor the federal intervention in policing Rio.

This federal intervention began in February when President Michel Temer handed over control of the state police and prisons to the armed forces. Franco had been a vocal critic of the measure, pointing out that it threatened to raise bloodshed without addressing the root cause of violence. In the days leading up to her death, she posted several tweets about police killings and assumed responsibility for conducting oversight of the military intervention.

As of Thursday afternoon, no suspects have been taken into custody. Rio’s civil police is responsible for investigating the killing. If needed, it is supposed to collaborate with federal police. Human Rights Watch asks that the army general in charge of the military intervention makes sure that investigators have the necessary independence and resources to find the killers. Also, Amnesty International urged that the investigation be rigorous and focus on the context, motive, and responsibility for the killing.

Canineu says, “The climate of near total impunity in Rio de Janeiro needs to end once and for all. Marielle and Anderson are the latest victims of a security system that has long failed to stop violence, or to ensure justice for the victims.”

On Thursday, thousands of Brazilians marched to the Rio state assembly to protest Franco’s murder. Many wore black and chanted against the police. One woman, Ilona Szabo, said that Franco “represented hope for so many women who never felt like they had a voice.”

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Brazil: Vigil held for Rio politician killed in drive-by shooting – 15 March 2018

Human Rights Watch – Brazil: Assassination of Rights Defender, Driver – 15 March 2018

New York Times – Killing of Rio de Janeiro Councilwoman Critical of Police Rattles Brazil – 15 March 2018

The Guardian – Protests held across Brazil after Rio councillor shot dead – 15 March 2015

The Citizen – Thousand of Brazilians mourn slain Rio councillor, rights activist – 15 March 2018

Brazilian Supreme Court rules pregnant women will no longer await trial in jail

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – The Brazilian Supreme court issued a groundbreaking human rights ruling that people accused of non-violent crimes are allowed to await trial under house arrest instead of in detention centers. This rule applies to women who are pregnant, who have children up to twelve years of age, and people with disabilities.

Painted fingernails at a women’s prison in Brazil. Image Courtesy of Ueslei Marcelino.

This decision came in the wake of public outcry about pretrial detention conditions. In December, Human Rights Watch reported that conditions were worsening and pre-trial detention was growing dramatically. Brazilian prisons lack adequate care for pregnant women and newborns. Prenatal and postpartum medical care are minimal or non-existent. Also, two thirds of female detention centers lack designated facilities for pregnant women and babies.

Before this decision, the Brazilian Criminal Code stated that judges “may” determine house arrest instead of preventative detention when a woman is pregnant or has a child of up to twelve-years-old. Now, justices have decided that this exception needs to become a rule. After the decision is published, courts will have to comply with the order within sixty days. Human Rights Watch estimates that up to 15,000 women could be released. However, it will not affect inmates who have been found guilty.

While Human Rights Watch celebrates the ruling, the organization says Brazil still has work to do on prison reform. Brazil must address “excessive pretrial detention for all, and ensure all pregnant women and mothers in detention are held in humane conditions, with adequate health care, in compliance with Brazilian law and international standards.”

The public outcry stemmed from stories like Jessica Monteiro’s. She was arrested for allegedly possessing ninety grams of marijuana. At twenty-four years old, she had no criminal record, was pregnant, and was throw into a filthy police precinct cell. She went into labor the next day and was taken to a hospital to give birth. The court held a hearing in her absence where a judge ruled that she should remain in jail pending her trial. A few days later, police returned her to the cell where she slept on a mattress on the floor with her newborn.

Several have raised criticism over the ruling. The President of the Federation of Penitentiary Servants, Allan Vieira, stated that “women could be used by criminal enterprises to commit crimes while on house arrest including carrying weapons and drugs into the jails.”

While this will not affect the male incarceration rate, officials hope this will relieve overcrowding in women’s prisons.

For more information, please see:

IR Insider – Brazil Supreme Court Issues Landmark Human Rights Ruling – 4 March 2018

The Nation – Deceit at a Brazilian ‘Crisis Pregnancy Center’ – 28 February 2018

The Jurist – Brazil top court rules pregnant woman will no longer serve pre-trial detention in jail – 23 February 2018

Human Rights Watch – Pregnant Women Will No Longer Await Trial in Brazilian Jails – 23 February 2018

Folha de S. Paulo – Pregnant Women and Mothers of Children of Up to 12 Years of Age to Be Placed on House Arrest – 21 February 2018

Sri Lanka Declares a State of Emergency

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

 COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – After recent acts of community violence between religious groups in Kandy, Sri Lanka, the government declared a state of emergency. Soldiers are now patrolling civilian areas in the city of Kandy. The declaration will last 10 days, after which the parliament will need to vote on furthering military action.

Sri Lankan soldiers remove debris after an attack in Digana, a suburb of Kandy. Photo courtesy of Pradeep Pathiran/ AP.

The violence in Kandy began in March 2018 when a group of Muslim men were accused of killing a Sinhala Buddhist man. Buddhists represent 75% of the population of Sri Lanka. In response, they targeted Muslim-owned businesses, homes, and a mosque, burning them down. Upon their arrest a group of Buddhist monks, known for violence, traveled to Kandy to attempt to release the men. However when they were not successful in their mission, they turned to creating violence in the city. The police stepped in arresting several and setting a curfew.

This is not the first attack against Muslims by Buddhists in Sri Lanka.  Since the end of the Civil War in 2011, tensions between the two religious groups have grown more tense.  A Sri Lankan expert at International Crisis Group notes that Buddhist attacks on Muslim populations occur quite regularly.

The government is concerned about the potential spread of religious violence throughout Kandy and the nation after this last wave. The Prime Minister posted on Twitter “As a nation that endured a brutal war we are all aware of the values of peace, respect, unity & freedom. The Gov[ernment] condemns the racist & violent acts that have taken place over the last few days. A state of emergency has been declared & we will not hesitate to take further action.”

The state of emergency also widens the power of the police to detain suspects. Amnesty International’s South Asia Director, Biraj Patnaik, is afraid that these powers could threaten the rights of minority groups and cautions the Sri Lanka government to follow obligations under International Human Rights Law.

For more information, please see:

Amnesty International – Sri Lanka: State of emergency must respect human rights – 6 March 2018

The Guardian – Sri Lanka declares state of emergency after communal violence – 6 March 2018

Human Rights Watch – State of Emergency Declared in Sri Lanka – 7 March 2018