WARSAW, Poland – An estimated 60,000 far-right demonstrators marched through Warsaw on Poland’s 99th Independence Day.
On Saturday, November 11th, tens of thousands of people gathered in what is being described as one of the biggest gatherings of far-right supporters in recent years.
The march, organized by far-right groups, is held annually on Poland’s Independence Day. The march has become an international magnet for far-right supporters and white supremacists.
The crowd welcomed far-right leaders from Britain and Italy. Richard Spencer, the American white nationalist who organized the Charlottesville, Virginia protest that killed a young counter-protester, was scheduled to attend but cancelled his plans after the Polish government advised him that he was not welcome in the country.
The National Radical Camp (NRC) was one of the lead organizers of the march. The NRC has previously marched against Muslim immigration into the country, gay rights and the European Union. Anything that is considered to undermine Polish Catholic values is a target of the nationalists.
Tomasz Dorosz, a member of the NRC, took the stage on Saturday. “Europe and the world is in decay: culturally, politically, economically. We Poles have to be the alternative,” said Dorosz. “There will be a national Poland or none.”
Demonstrators wearing masks carried signs containing such phrases as “Clean Blood”, “Pray for an Islamic Holocaust” and “Europe Will Be White.” They threw red-smoke bombs as they marched.
One far-right demonstrator interviewed by a Polish television station said he was on the march to “remove Jewry from power.”
“It’s 50,000 to 100,000 mostly football hooligans hijacking patriotism,” said one counter-protester. “For me, it’s important to support the anti-fascist coalition, and to support fellow democrats, who are under pressure in Poland today.”
The march has grown in numbers steadily since it began in 2009. Nick Loweles, member of the anti-extremism group Hope Not Hate, said that “the numbers attending this year seem to be bigger and, while not everyone on the march is a far-right activist or fascist, it is undoubtedly becoming more significant and is acting as a magnet for far-right groups around the world.”
A smaller group of about 5,000 counter-protesters showed up at the march. Several counter-protesters carrying a banner that read “Stop Fascism” were injured when nationalists pushed and kicked them. A heavy police presence and separation of the groups kept further violence at bay.
Many criticize the Polish government and believe that its behavior has fostered intolerance and xenophobia and emboldened the nationalists.
By: Katherine Hewitt Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia
ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan – In one of the world’s most repressive nations, two female journalists were verbally and physically attacked on the 14th and 15th of November 2017. These were not isolated attacks but rather just one attempt in a long string of attacks to silence these two journalists, among others.
Soltan Achilova is an independent journalist who works for Radio ‘Azatlyk’, a service of Radio Free Europe|Radio Liberty. On 14 of November two men followed her in a car as she made her way to the US Embassy Information Center. On the same day, while photographing people in line at a grocery store, a man came up to her and grabbed her, yelling, “I will take a rock and hit you on the head. If you ever use a camera again, I will smash it together with you! Go home and never go out again. Otherwise you will die.” She was also followed back to her house by men in a car.
Earlier in the year, men also broke into Achilova’s son’s car in an attempt to get to her. This is the fourth attack against her this year.
Galina Kucherenko is a human rights activist. On 15 November police called her demanding that she sign a police summons and report to the police station. The reasoning was that another activist had filed a complaint against her. After the phone call, men knocked on her door, demanding that she sign the police summons. She did not let them in. However, they hung around her building for another 25 minutes before leaving. Kucherenko is continuously watched by surveillance agents, and has had her internet and phone services cut off.
Men have been stationed outside these activists’ homes in plain clothes. They follow them in broad daylight whenever the activists leave. The surveillance men try to avoid having their imaged captured, though, turning their backs to cameras or stepping back.
Human Rights activists are concerned that the back-to-back attacks indicate an increase of journalist repression. International Partnership for Human Rights director says that these attacks underline the extreme extent that the government goes to create an atmosphere of nonexistent free speech.
By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America
CIUDAD DE MEXICO, Mexico — On Monday, October 16, Mexico’s Attorney General Raúl Cervantes announced his resignation before members of the Senate, stating that he wanted to facilitate the transition to a new institutional framework to combat crime and abandon impunity.
Mr. Cervantes is the third Attorney General appointed within the last five years and was appointed Attorney General on October 25, 2016.
In 2014, Congress approved a constitutional reform—to be enacted at the latest in 2018—that would replace the office of the Attorney General with an independent chief prosecutor who would be appointed to a nine-year term. This extended tenure is designed to distance the prosecutor from the president, who serves a single six-year term. According to El País, Mr. Cervantes would have assumed the position of chief prosecutor automatically.
Mr. Cervantes’ appointment as Attorney General caused widespread consternation since he has close ties to the current president, Enrique Peña Nieto, and is a member of the ruling PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party). Many opposition politicians and non-governmental groups have expressed a lack of faith in Cervantes’ willingness to investigate the Peña Nieto and his administration after the 2018 elections, which is why the new office of the chief prosecutor has not yet been established.
During his tenure, the Observatorio Nacional Ciudadano (ONC) reported a significant increase in violent homicides in Mexico since the beginning of 2017 to August, with a steady monthly average of 2,300 homicides reported per month. According to Huffpost, this means that “every 18 minutes and 47 seconds, a victim of violent homicide was reported in the first eight months of 2017 on a national level.”
One of the major controversies Mr. Cervantes and his predecessors faced was the 2014 Iguala mass kidnapping, where 43 students from Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College disappeared and were allegedly delivered to a local criminal syndicate for execution. The official account given by Mexican authorities has been marred by inconsistent testimony, accusations of obstruction of justice by various state officials, and has resulted in the arrest of over 100 individuals. Mr. Cervantes and his predecessors’ failure to advance the investigation of the Iguala mass kidnapping has arguably been the proverbial “final nail in the coffin” in their tenures as Attorney General.
President Peña Nieto announced that the next Attorney General would be appointed after the 2018 presidential elections since the position cannot be taken short term and appointing anyone else would further complicate the process of naming the new chief prosecutor.
By: Adam King Impunity Rights News Reporter, Africa
HARARE, Zimbabwe — The World Health Organization has reversed its position on Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe. Amid harsh criticism, WHO has decided to rescind Mugabe’s role as a “goodwill ambassador” to the organization, according to General Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus,
“I have listened carefully to all who have expressed their concerns, and heard the different issues that they have raised…I have also consulted with the government of Zimbabwe and we have concluded that this decision is in the best interests of the World Health Organization. I thank everyone who has voiced their concerns and shared their thoughts.”
The announcement from General Director Ghebreyesus comes amid mounting pressure and public outcry from leaders all throughout the world such as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who referred to the appointment as “absolutely unacceptable, absolutely inconceivable” and equated the appointment to a bad April fool’s joke. Hillel Neur, Director of UN Watch, saw the appointment as an offensive display to the very core of international human rights.
“The government of Robert Mugabe has brutalized human rights activists, crushed democracy dissidents, and turned the breadbasket of Africa — and its health system — into a basket-case. The notion that the U.N. should now spin this country as a great supporter of health is, frankly, sickening,” UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer said in the statement. “Amid reports of ongoing human rights abuses, the tyrant of Zimbabwe is the last person who should be legitimized by a U.N. position of any kind.”
“The heads of U.N. agencies and the U.N. secretary-general typically choose celebrities and other prominent people as ambassadors to draw attention to global issues of concern, such as refugees (Angelina Jolie) and education (Malala Yousafzai). The choices are not subject to approval. The ambassadors hold little actual power. They also can be fired.”
Despite the customary nature of the appointment, critics still took issue from the implications of the position.
“Mugabe, 93, one of the longest serving leaders in the world, seems a particularly unusual appointment for goodwill ambassador, given his high profile as the leader of a government with a poor record of democratic freedoms.” Critics also lamented the appointment for Mugabe’s prowess in health-related matters, stating in part that “the idea that Mugabe was appointed because of his contributions to public health given the collapse of Zimbabwe’s healthcare system under his watch, along with the country’s economy in recent years.”
The health care system in Zimbabwe stands on shaky ground, with many calling for reforms to address widespread problems in the system.
“In Zimbabwe, medicines are often in short supply, while the elite ‑ Mugabe included ‑ have to fly to other countries to access better health facilities. Over the years, health workers have always petitioned the government to improve their working conditions and salaries. Doctors in the country have also been at loggerheads with their employers, going on strike several times after accusing government of failing to meet their concerns. The doctors accused the health and child care ministry of a “lipstick approach” to their issues, saying the health sector was “pregnant with a multitude of problems emanating from gross negligence and lack of will to implement logical decisions”
Aside from health care, some claim that Mugabe’s actions have created problems that are directly attributable to his leadership.
“Zimbabwe was once was known as the region’s prosperous breadbasket. But in 2008, the charity Physicians for Human Rights released a report documenting failures in the southern African nation’s health system, saying Mr Mugabe’s policies had led to a man-made crisis.”
By: Adam King Impunity Rights News Reporter, Africa
DADOMA, Tanzania — Sibongile Ndashe, a South African attorney, among others were deported from Tanzania on accusations of promoting homosexuality. According to BBC News, “They were among 13 people arrested on 17 October for taking part in a meeting to discuss challenging a law stopping private health clinics from providing HIV and Aids services.”
Prior to the deportation, Ndashe and her colleagues were held for a period of 10 days for the charges against them. The basis for the arrest is in question as Ndashe claims that she and her colleagues were held hostage and she plans to file suit as the meeting did not involve homosexuality. According to News24.
“She said the South African police tried to get information on their arrest but the Tanzanians refused to divulge anything. Ndashe was in the east African country along with other lawyers to facilitate a workshop on challenging the Tanzanian government’s closure of HIV centers. They were arrested at the Peacock Hotel in the country’s capital Dar es Salaam more than a week ago.”
Homosexuality is currently a crime in Tanzania and is “punishable by up to 30 years in jail.” In a September 2017 speech, Deputy Health Minister Hamisi Kingwangalla vowed to “fight with all our strength against groups supporting homosexuality in our country.”
Homosexuality continues to be a subject of heated confrontation in Tanzania. The issue is not only related to those who identify homosexuals, but also has crossover with combating Aids in the country. In fact, Kingwangalla has been outspoken against aids clinics, who are trying to reduce the spread of the infection.
“Dr Kingwangalla’s outspoken comments on Twitter follow the health ministry’s move last week to suspend the activities of 40 drop-in HIV/Aids clinics, accusing non-governmental organizations of using them to promote gay sex.”
Despite the recent public condemnation of homosexuality in Tanzania, the level of tolerance is somewhat higher as opposed to other African countries.
Despite the ban on homosexuality, Tanzania was until recently somewhat more tolerant towards gay people than many other African countries, but a rise in anti-gay rhetoric by the government has led to a spike in discrimination, correspondents say.
NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar – The Trump administration on November 22 announced that Myanmar’s Rohingya minority crisis constituted “ethnic cleansing.” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited Myanmar last week and stated that he witnessed “horrendous atrocities” by the military. He went to say that “after careful and thorough analysis of the facts, it is clear that the situation in northern Rakhine State constitutes ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya.” Although Secretary Tillerson did not call for an international investigation, he asked for a “credible, independent investigation.”
This announcement allows for long-anticipated sanctions against Myanmar and further pressures its civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. The United States government is planning to issue “targeted sanctions,” but is ruling out additional sanctions against Myanmar’s government as it goes through a delicate transition to democracy.
The legislation in Congress requires the United States to eliminate all ties to the Myanmar’s military. Numerous lawmakers on capitol hill commended Secretary Tillerson’s announcement. In addition, the announcement was also praised at the United Nations.
Although the situation is not completely under her authority, Aung San Suu Kyi is facing harsh criticism over its response to the Rohingya crisis.
Since the crisis began, over 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Rakhine state to Bangladesh. According to the United States delegation to Myanmar and Bangladesh, there were numerous reports of rape and murder of family members of the Rohingya Muslims. Furthermore, many news sources have heard of massacres, killings, and rape.
The announcement from the United States government comes shortly before the Pope’s arrival to Bangladesh and Myanmar. Pope Francis is scheduled to arrive in Myanmar on November 26th and visit with General Min Aung Hlaing, Myanmar’s military chief, and Aung San Suu Kyi.
By: Emily Green Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
CARACAS, Venezuela – The Venezuelan Supreme Court justices have accused President Nicolas Maduro’s government officials of committing crimes against humanity. They filed the complaint with the International Criminal Court while exiled from the country.
The complaint was sent to The Hague by Supreme Court justices who were appointed by the opposition. It accuses Maduro and nearly 60 other officials of a systematic persecution of dissent. Any citizen who speaks out against the regime is immediately labeled an enemy of the state. This strict system of social controls and subjugation, the complaint argues, creates a society where “people who are ideologically opposed to it are dominated, moved or destroyed, all with the goal of making it … irreversible.”
The complaint was initially filed by Hebert Garcia Plaza, the former Maduro cabinet minister in charge of food supplies, along with the Supreme Court of Justice. The justices were appointed by the opposition-controlled legislature earlier this year. Now that the National Assembly has been pushed out and replaced with the pro-government constituent assembly, the justices have been exiled under threat of arrest.
The Appeals Branch of the Venezuelan Supreme Court of Justice made the decision to file the complaint. A representative referenced crime involving murder, imprisonment in violation of fundamental international laws, and the persecution of a group because of political motives. Only those who were loyal to the government had access to food and medicines, so citizens were put in difficult situations. The court added that around 20 million citizens might have to abandon their country because of threats to their health. The risk of dying is high due to poor nutrition, a lack of medicine, and government forces’ deadly actions toward dissidents. They included evidence that Venezuela’s suffering is a direct result of government policies.
This announcement comes just one week after former Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega, also in exile, asked the International Criminal Court to capture and bring President Maduro to trial. Ortega claims that government officials are responsible for 8,290 deaths carried out by security forces from 2015 to 2017. She sent more than 1,000 pieces of “evidence” to the ICC and proof of repression during anti-government protests. She explained that the killings occurred “under the orders of the executive branch, as part of a social cleansing plan carried out by the government.”
The ICC has authority to investigate and try individuals accused of crimes against humanity when a nation state is deemed unable to carry out the process itself, but the ICC has yet to officially respond to Ortega’s accusations.
The complaint accuses prominent officials such as Interior Minister Nestor Reverol, Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López, former national guard chief Antonio Benavides Torres, Vice President Tareck El Aissami and former National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello.
By Sarah Purtill Impunity Watch Reporter, North America
WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. – On Wednesday, November 8th, the Senate progressed legislation that makes online sex trafficking more difficult. The legislation makes it easier to penalize operators of websites that allow for and facilitate sex trafficking. This piece of legislation is the most detailed form of action this year that will toughen regulation of internet companies. Major U.S. internet companies stopped opposing the legislation and so now it is moving forward. The legislation will amend a law that has been on the books for decades and has been considered a shield for internet companies.
The Senate Commerce Committee voted unanimously to pass the measure which gives states and sex-trafficking victims the ability to sue social media networks, advertisers and other companies online that do not keep such explicit content off their platforms. The measure amends Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. As it stands now, the act typically protects companies from liability for the activity of its users. Currently, the bill has bipartisanship support. Although, it needs to be passed by both Houses of Congress and signed by President Trump before it officially becomes a law.
Republican Senator Rob Portman, who co-authored the bill, known as the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act said, “This is a momentous day in our fight to hold online sex traffickers accountable and help give trafficking survivors the justice they deserve.” Many feel these changes are needed after concerns from how these platforms were used by Russia in the 2016 election.
Right now, more than 40 Senators co-sponsored the bill and Ivanka Trump has endorsed it. However, internet companies have long argued that the way the law stands now has allowed for innovation in Silicone Valley to thrive.
Surprisingly, the Internet Association announced their support for the bill last week following changes that were made to it. The Internet Association includes companies such as Amazon, Facebook and Google. The changes that were made stated that criminal charges would be based on violations of federal human trafficking laws and that the standard for liability would require a website to have “knowingly” assisted in facilitating human trafficking.
The opposition to the bill comes from Democratic Senator Ron Wyden who placed a hold on the bill. The Senator claims that if the bill is set before the Senate for a vote, as it stands, it favors large companies at the expense of smaller startups and “stifles innovation.”“After 25 years of fighting these battles, I’ve learned that just because a big technology company says something is good, doesn’t mean it’s good for the internet or innovation,” Wyden said in a statement. “Most innovation in the digital economy comes from the startups and small firms, the same innovators who will be harmed or locked out of the market by this bill.”
Additionally, dozens of civil liberties organizations said the bill places a threat on free speech online and harms small companies who do not have as many resources available to them to police their platforms for such use.
BEIJING, China – On Tuesday, November 7th, the Chinese government banned tourism to the North Korean capital Pyongyang. This order was issued right before President Donald Trump’s first official visit to China.
Based on numerous sources, Chinese tour groups based out of the border city of Dandong have been ordered to stop all trips to Pyongyang. The companies were also ordered to run only one-day trips to the North Korean city opposite of Dandong called Sinuiju. Previously, the Chinese tour companies were allowed to run three-day or longer trips to North Korea.
The government did not provide a reason for this recent ban. Although some believe that it is because there aren’t many people traveling to Pyongyang, many believe that it is connected to increasing sanctions against North Korea.
With 80 percent of all foreign visitors to North Korea coming from China, the experts believe that it will have an impact with the North Korean economy. Currently, tourism is one of few ways North Korea is able to earn hard currency. Moreover, a think-tank in South Korea has reported that tourism generates around $44 million in annual revenue for the North. In 2012, around 237,000 Chinese visited North Korea.
During his two-day trip to China, President Trump discussed with Xi Jinping on a number of issues. Most importantly, the two leaders discussed North Korea’s nuclear missile tests.
Earlier this year, the United States banned all travel to North Korea after the death of a 22 year-old student, Otto Warmbier. The University of Virginia student was held in North Korea for more than a year and died soon after arriving back to the United States.
By: Katherine Hewitt Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia
KABUL, Afghanistan – On 3 November 2017 Fatou Bensouda, a prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC), put forth a request to start an investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Afghanistan. Her investigation will focus on crimes committed since 1 May 2003 in Afghanistan as well as others linked to the armed conflict since 1 July 2002.
She completed a preliminary examination of the events in Afghanistan and believes that all requirements, stated in the Rome Statute, to develop a case are present. The analysis began more than ten years ago.
In order for a case to develop in the ICC, a prosecutor must bring forth a case with evidence to a Pre-Trail Chamber. After listening to the case and reviewing the evidence provided from the preliminary investigation, the ICC can approve or deny the request for a formal judicial investigation.
Bensouda identified three categories of actors that would be involved in ICC investigations. She believes abuses were committed by the Taliban, U.S. Soldiers/Central Intelligence Agency officials, and Afghanistan government officials. The Rome Statue, which governs the actions of the ICC, states that anyone can be prosecuted for crimes that happened within a country that signed the Rome Statue. Therefore, despite the U.S. not being a signatory of the ICC, U.S. officials could still be tried in court.
Human Rights supporters applaud this movement. Many crimes have gone unnoticed and unpunished in Afghanistan over the past 10 plus years. They hope that this investigation will shed light on what has been happening as well as bring justice to the victims.
BERLIN, Germany – Young refugees are being pushed into prostitution in Germany by the people hired to protect them, a new report finds.
A program by public broadcaster ZDF called “Frontal 21” ran in Germany on Tuesday, November 7th. The broadcast alleges that employees of security companies in Berlin are pushing refugees at accommodation centers into prostitution.
The security guards reportedly meet with refugees – including minors – in shelters and encourage them to take up prostitution. The guards earn commissions for each referral.
ZDF interviewed several security guards who admitted to the practice and indicated that young men are particularly vulnerable. One guard indicated that “they need to be of a certain age, attractive. From 16 years and up; the younger they are, the more expensive they are.”
Another guard responsible for the oversight of several shelters admitted to a network of pimps within the refugee homes.
Several refugees corroborated the guards’ statements. A 20 year-old Afghan migrant told ZDF that after his refugee application was rejected, he was approached by a security guard with an offer. He was told that “for sex with a woman you get €30, maybe even €40”. He stated that he had to earn money to survive but that “I’m ashamed of what I do.”
A social worker in Berlin interviewed by ZDF stated she has been monitoring the situation. She witnessed guards giving money to residents at a shelter and confirmed with the residents that prostitution is occurring.
Berlin’s Department for Integration, Labor and Social Affairs have advised that the allegations are being taken seriously and are under investigation.
“We have to take this very seriously, because it is totally unacceptable to exploit the material hardships that many refugees and migrants are in,” said Steffen Seibert, spokesman for the German government. “It would be morally reprehensible if they were forced into prostitution.”
The allegations against the guards come after the United Nations reported in September that 75% of youth migrants coming into Europe are victims of forced labor, sexual abuse, child marriage and other exploitation.
“If the allegations of security staff profiting from and driving refugees into prostitution are true, these would be very serious charges,” said Steffen.
The allegations come amidst concerns over how to accommodate migrants in Germany. Between 2015 and 2016, over one million refugees arrived.
Impunity Watch Reporter, The Middle East
SANAA, Yemen – On November 6, the Saudi military coalition announced that it would close all land, air, and sea ports to the Arabian Peninsula. The decision comes as the Saudis continue to fight the Houthi movement in Yemen. The coalition stated that the purpose was to slow the flow of arms to the Houthis from Iran.
Saudi Arabia accused Iran of directly arming the rebels, calling it, a “direct military aggression.” Tensions are also escalated after a ballistic missile was intercepted near the Saudi capital. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman said providing rockets to the rebels “may be considered an act of war.”
Nikki Haley, permanent representative of the US to the United Nations, believes that the missile could have been supplied by Iran. If true, then Iran would be in violation of two UN resolutions. First, Tehran is prohibited from buying, selling, or transferring weapons outside of the country without prior approval from the UN Security Council. Second, they are prohibited from selling weapons to Houthi leaders or their allies.
Despite the closure of ports following the missile strike, the Saudi coalition has said that humanitarian aid would be able to pass into Yemen under strict rules. However, some agencies have already experienced difficulties trying to enter the region. According to U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq, the UN was expected to have two flights into Yemen on November 6, but both flights were cancelled. “We are in touch with our counterparts and we’re trying to see whether we can get our normal access restored, and we’re hopeful that we will be able to continue our normal operations,” he said.
The Red Cross has experienced difficulties as well. They stated that their shipment of chlorine tablets had been blocked. The tablets are crucial to fighting cholera, a disease which affects about 90,000 people in the area.
Jens Laerke, Office for the Co-ordination for Humanitarian Affairs spokesman, said, “If these channels, these lifelines are not kept open, it is catastrophic for people who are already in what we have said is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis at the moment.”
The situation has grown increasingly worse for a country that primarily relies on imports for items necessary for survival such as food, fuel, and medicine. The UN reports that approximately seven million people in the country are “on the brink of famine.”
By: Emily Green Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
CARACAS, Venezuela – Chile’s Foreign Ministry granted political asylum to one of Venezuela’s most prominent opposition leaders, Freddy Guevara. He has taken refuge in the Chilean ambassador’s residence.
The Ministry said in a statement that “it had welcomed congressman Freddy Guevara as a guest, in line with Chile’s humanitarian tradition.” Mr. Guevara, 31, is the vice-president of Venezuela’s National Assembly. He has been accused of instigating violence during opposition protests, and asks for political protection because he feels there are imminent threats to his security.
Mr. Guevara arrived in Caracas On November 4 with his girlfriend to take refuge with the Chilean embassy. This concluded a suspenseful 24-hour period in which vehicles belonging to the Sebin intelligence police surrounded Mr. Guevera’s home and forced him into hiding. Mr. Guevara is currently in the ambassador’s residence which is located in an exclusive country club neighborhood with walled-in estates and a golf course. There was no sign of activity at the refuge the following morning.
The Supreme Court of Venezuela is calling for Mr. Guevara’s arrest on allegations of inciting unrest and violence during months of anti-government protests. The National Assembly’s president, Julio Borges, claims President Maduro’s government is behind the court’s ruling. Several other key opposition members have been prosecuted, jailed, or stripped of their political rights since Maduro was elected in 2013. Mr. Borges stated, “Venezuela is hungry for food, but also freedom, justice and dignity.”
The government-stacked Supreme Court barred Mr. Guevara from leaving the country and has called on the Constitutional Assembly to strip his immunity from prosecution. The Constitutional Assembly was recently created to replace the National Assembly and is filled with pro-government members. President Maduro has given the Constitutional Assembly virtually unlimited power. However, law says that the opposition-controlled National Assembly should be the one to determine whether a legislator should lose constitutional immunity. This attempt to shift power away from the National Assembly and prosecute one of its leaders demonstrates Maduro’s effort to tighten his grip on power.
Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza spoke on behalf of the government and labelled Guevara a coward. He tweeted, “some people are brave when it comes to inciting violence, destruction and death, but when justice is done, they run away in shameful cowardice.” Other government authorities also publicly mocked him for taking refuge in the embassy.
The United States has denounced the pro-government Constitutional Assembly for taking his immunity. Mr. Guevara was often on the front lines of protests demanding early elections, humanitarian aid to alleviate hunger, freedom for imprisoned dissidents, and respect for the National Assembly.
By Sarah Purtill Impunity Watch Reporter, North America
WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. – The Davis family wanted to add to their family by adopting a child. After being in contact with Debra Parris of The European Adoption Consultants (EAC), Jessica and Adam Davis were told about a little girl named Mata. EAC said that Mata’s father was deceased and that her mother was severely neglecting her. The EAC informed the Davis family they had to decide quickly if they wanted to adopted Mata and so they quickly adopted her.
As Mata’s English improved, the Davis’s learned more about Mata’s mother. The way Mata spoke of her mother did not reflect what the Davis’s were told. Jessica Davis then became suspicious. After a skype call between Mata and her mother, Jessica’s suspicions were confirmed. During the skype conversation, Mata’s mother revealed it was not her intention to give up Mata for good.
Instead, Mata’s mother explained how she was tricked into giving Mata up. Mata’s mother had been told that Mata would be given a great educational opportunity if she was sent away. Her mother was also told that Mata would one day return and that her mother would always be a part of her life. Mata’s mother unknowingly signed away her parental rights when she thought her daughter was being given a once in a life time experience.
When Jessica and Adam realized the information they had been told by the EAC was not true, they realized they had to reunite Mata with her mother. Jessica Davis contacted the U.S. State Department for guidance on how to proceed with the situation. The State Department told Jessica, “you can just keep her if you want.” She responded with, “I didn’t purchase her at Walmart.” Jessica was fearful that if the government notified EAC, something would happen to Mata’s mother. After a three-year journey, and $65,000, Mata was returned to her mother.
The Davis’s were crushed by this experience. They wanted to adopt a child as it was in line with their religious beliefs. Adam said, “We unwittingly placed an order for a child. The only trauma this poor kid ever experienced was because we essentially placed an order for a child.” The Davis’s had filed paperwork to vacate Mata’s adoption and the Ugandan government gave Mata’s mother her parental rights back. Jessica and Adam both believe that other Ugandan children like Mata are being trafficked without the American families who were “adopting” them being aware.
CNN investigated these claims and found that children were being taken from their homes in Uganda. Their mothers were being promised the same thing Mata’s mother was being promised, an educational opportunity for their children. The children were then placed in orphanages and sold for as much as $15,000. CNN also discovered that multiple families had been tricked by EAC. EAC was an adoption agency started by Margaret Cole. Cole started the adoption agency after she lost her child to SIDS.
EAC has been responsible for placing more than 2,000 children from overseas in homes across America since 1991. The agency continued to grow and handled adoptions from countries around the globe. CNN states, “tax records from 2000 to 2015 show that EAC reported more than $76.1 million in revenue and more than $76.3 million in expenses over that period.” In 2004, several families raised questions about their adoptions through EAC in story for Cleveland Magazine. Cole claimed back then that she had a “radar” for the shady businesses involved in adoptions but now stories like the Davis’s shows that this clearly is not the case. CNN has also been unable to locate Cole to receive commentary on CNN’s investigation.
EAC has been shut down by the State Department for 3 years. Since the shut down, the FBI has raided the building and taken away materials. The Ohio attorney general’s office filed suit in June to have the adoption agency ended for good. The EAC “failed to adequately supervise its providers in foreign countries to ensure” that they didn’t engage inthe “sale, abduction, exploitation or trafficking of children,” according to the State Department. The Ugandan government shut down the orphanage that Mata had been placed in. In a letter to CNN, they said the orphanage had been closed for “trafficking of children,” “operating the children’s home illegally” and “processing guardianship orders fraudulently.”
A study done by the Ugandan government and sponsored by UNICEF in 2015 revealed that Ugandan parents were being deceived and bribed with financial incentives and orphanages were often complicit. The orphanages did not always verify information about children’s histories before putting them in the orphanage.
Mata’s story is similar to that of Violah. At 7-years-old, she was adopted by Stacey and Shawn Wells. Like the Davis’s, the Wells were coerced into making a decision quickly on whether or not they would adopt Violah. They paid EAC about $15,000 for the adoption. Violah lived with the Wells family for a year and during that time, they too saw inconsistencies with the adoption agencies story. They were told that Violah had been abandoned. But the longer Violah was with them, the more they learned how her mother took her to church and cooked dinner with her.
Violah also spoke about the day that she and her sister were taken away from their mother. After hearing Violah’s story, Shawn went on a Facebook page for the group Reunite. The page shared a post about a mother whose children were taken away from her against her will. Stacey knew that the woman in the post was Violah’s mother. The Wells thought they were adopting an orphan, but instead, Stacey says, “she was made an orphan.”
The Wells wanted to reunite Violah with her mother like the Davis’s reunited Mata with her mother. Stacey and Shawn reached out to Reunite’s Riley who told the Wells that Violah’s mother was lied to. She had been told Violah would get an education in America. It’s the same lie the traffickers told Mata’s mother. Violah’s mother had four children taken from her and she has only been reunited with two of them.
Violah and Mata are from the same village in Uganda. They have become friends since their return home. Mata’s mother said she was “very, very, very happy” that Mata has been returned to her. Violah’s mother also said she was “very happy and very grateful.” Now that the girls have been reunited with their mothers, they have kept in touch with the Davis and Wells families. The girls have blossomed since returning home.