Kuwaiti Woman Arrested After Filming Maid’s Suicide Attempt Instead of Providing Assistance

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

KUWAIT CITY, Kuwait — Law enforcement officials in Kuwait are investigating a video in which a woman films her Ethiopian maid falling from a window without making any attempt to help her.

The maid was allegedly attempting to commit suicide after reports of being tortured for resigning (Photo courtesy of Middle East Eye)

It is believed that the maid was attempting to commit suicide at the time she climbed out the window. The twelve-second video, which surfaced online, showed the Ethiopian maid hanging from the window of a seven-story building in the Sabah al-Salem district of Kuwait City. The recording depicts the maid gripping the window with only one hand. The employer simply states “Oh crazy, come back” and subsequently moves away from the window. In response, the maid repeatedly screams “hold me, hold me[!]” Despite the maid’s pleadings for help, the employer continues filming while the maid’s hand slips and she falls onto a metal roof on an adjacent one-story building. The maid, who survived the fall, was rescued by paramedics and transported to a hospital for a broken arm and other injuries such as bleeding from her nose and ears.

A news crew at the site of the incident interviewed the employer, who reportedly stated that she filmed the fall to prevent being accused of her maid’s murder if she had died. Although the reasons for the maid’s apparent suicide attempt were not revealed, media outlets alleged that she had recently resigned, and as a result, had been tortured, locked in a room and deprived of food for two days before her attempted suicide. The employer was subsequently arrested by Kuwaiti police for filming the apparent suicide instead of trying to rescue her employee.

The Kuwait Society for Human Rights issued a statement that publicly decried the employer. The statement declared that the employer acted with “no care for [the maid’s] life,” and called for an official investigation. The rights organization indicated that the employer had a duty to rescue her maid, and noted that the country’s penal code dictates a sentence of up to three months’ imprisonment for “anyone who deliberately refrain[s] from coming to the aid of a person in peril[.]”

A Kuwaiti attorney, Ms. Fawzia al-Sabah, declared that she will be filing a complaint with the public prosecutor’s office against the employer. Viewers of the video expressed outrage on social media, using the hashtag “the fall of the Ethiopian[,]” and condemning the “inhumanity” of the employer.

Human rights organizations have long been advocating for better employment conditions for domestic helpers in countries such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Oman, citing abuses, exploitations and slave-like circumstances. In a 2014 report issued by Amnesty International, migrant domestic workers were said to be “victims of a discriminatory system that denies them basic protections and leaves them open to exploitation and abuse, including forced labor and human trafficking[.]” Despite a 2015 Kuwaiti law providing domestic helpers with more rights, such as paid annual leave, a weekly day off and a twelve-hour per day work limit, protections are still weaker than those given to other professions. Employers of maids and other domestic staff are not subject to inspections of working conditions or other enforcement mechanisms. A report released by Migrant Rights indicates that 90% of the households in the country employ foreign domestic workers. The Gulf state, which has over 600,000 domestic helpers, has been plagued with complaints of abuse, mistreatment and non-payment of wages for several years.

For more information, please see:

BBC News—Kuwaiti woman ‘investigated over Ethiopian maid’s window fall’—31 March 2017

Middle East Eye—Kuwaiti woman arrested for filming Ethiopian employee hanging out of window—31 March 2017

Middle East Monitor—Kuwaiti woman arrested for failing to help suicidal maid—31 March 2017

International Business Times—Kuwait employer filmed Ethiopian maid falling from 7th-floor window instead of helping—31 March 2017

RT—Kuwaiti woman filmed Ethiopian maid’s suicide attempt, refusing to help—31 March 2017

 

Attack on Refugee Boat in Yemen Characterized as a War Crime

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

SANA’A, Yemen — Human Rights Watch released a statement on Sunday, March 26th, in which it indicated that an attack on a boat carrying Somali civilians allegedly carried out by the Saudi-led coalition amounts to a war crime.

Human Rights Watch called the attack on the refugee boat a “war crime” (Photo courtesy of CNN)

Witnesses reported that on March 16th, an Apache helicopter, and potentially a military naval vessel, opened fire on the boat at approximately 9 p.m. A female Somali refugee who was wounded in the incident reported seeing a helicopter above the boat, followed by an attack that happened “abruptly”. She stated that the helicopter “kept firing at [them]” and anyone on the boat who spoke Arabic started screaming “we are Somalis!” The head of the fishing port at which the boat docked after the attack stated that they had to put the bodies in the area reserved for “stor[ing] the fish” because they could not “find a place to put the bodies[.]” Photographs of the attack showed “damage consistent with gunfire from an aerial attack” and depicted “a boat strewn with bodies[.]”

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (“UNHCR”) stated that the attack killed a minimum of forty-two individuals, including women and children, at least thirty-two of which were Somali refugees. Eighty individuals who survived the attack were subsequently rescued and transported to a hospital for treatment. The International Organization for Migration indicated that the victims had been carrying UNHCR identification documents, however it was not clear where in Somalia they had originated from and where the boat was traveling to and from. UNHCR officials reported that the boat could have been traveling towards Sudan or other northern countries.

International organizations responded with outrage to the attack on the refugee boat. The Foreign Ministry of Somalia stated that “target[ing] a boat carrying Somali migrants” was “very sad[.]” The UNHCR indicated that it was “appalled by the deaths of refugees[,]” and further added that “Yemenis, refugees, asylum seekers and migrants continue to suffer and disproportionately bear the brunt of the conflict in Yemen[.]” Human Rights Watch (“HRW”) called for an urgent “need for accountability” on the Yemen war’s second anniversary.

Based on the laws of war, deliberate or reckless attacks on civilians are war crimes. HRW stated that although all parties to the conflict refused to claim responsibility for the attack, the only party that has military aircraft is the Saudi-led coalition. Ms. Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East Director for HRW cited the Saudi-led coalition’s “reckless disregard” for civilian life when characterizing the attack on the refugee boat as a war crime.

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch—Yemen: Attack on Refugee Boat Likely War Crime—26 March 2017

RT—Likely war crime: Alleged Saudi coalition strike on refugee boat condemned by HRW—26 March 2017

CNN—In Yemen, urgent support for survivors of deadly boat attack—18 March 2017

Time—31 Killed When Airstrike Hits Refugee Boat Near Yemen’s Coast–17 March 2017

BBC News—Yemen migrant boat attack kills at least 42—17 March 2017

Hundreds of Iraqi Civilians Killed in Airstrikes

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq — After a one-day break, Iraqi forces resumed their operations against the Islamic State (“ISIS”) on Sunday, March 26th. The Iraqi army’s efforts were briefly put on hold following suspicions of a U.S.-led coalition airstrike killing dozens of civilians in Mosul on March 17th.

Hundreds of civilians lost their lives as a result of the airstrikes, and hundreds more are feared trapped or dead (Photo courtesy of the Guardian)

Local residents and witnesses stated that the bodies of over 200 civilians had been recovered from the rubble of a collapsed building in the area hit by the airstrike. Photographers at the attack site reported seeing twelve bodies, including those of women and children, being placed in blue plastic body bags. Hundreds more civilians are still believed to be trapped. An AlJazeera reporter, Ms. Hoda Abdel-Hamid, stated that she interviewed a man who had been trapped under rubble for several days before being rescued, and had lost twenty-two relatives in an airstrike.

According to Ms. Abdel-Hamid, local residents indicate that the “main problem” is the agility with which ISIS fighters move around. She stated that the fighters “go[] in and out of houses, on top of rooftops . . . and then disappear.” By the time an airstrike is called in, “the ISI[S] fighters have disappeared.”

U.S. defense officials confirmed that a coalition airstrike struck a target in Mosul on March 17th. U.S. Central Command (“CENTCOM”) officials indicated that the aircraft had acted at the request of Iraq. This is a stark contrast to the statement issued by Iraqi Vice President Osama al-Nujaifi, who characterized the conditions as a “humanitarian catastrophe” by blaming U.S.-led coalition airstrikes and “excessive force” used by federal police forces. Mr. al-Nujaifi subsequently called for an emergency parliament session to initiate an investigation into the attack. The spokesman for the Joint Operations Command further indicated that the Iraqi Defense Ministry opened an investigation into the attack.

While CENTCOM officials stated that coalition airstrikes are carried out in compliance with the Laws of Armed Conflict, March could produce the highest number of civilian deaths attributed to U.S. airstrikes since the beginning of the war. Estimates for the amount of civilians killed by the end of the month is currently set at 1,000. The U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq indicated that the organization is “stunned by this terrible loss of life[.]”

A senior public information officer in Iraq with the U.N.’s refugee agency, Ms. Caroline Gluck, indicated that country conditions are “deteriorating daily.” Ms. Gluck noted that the fighting takes place closer to civilian homes in a “densely-packed area,” which results in families being “terrified by the mortars, the shelling and the airstrikes[.]” She stated that most families rely on one meal per day, which typically consists solely of water and flour. She further added that people are “desperate” due to the lack of fuel and heating. The U.N. estimates that over 600,000 people are still trapped in the city of Mosul.

For more information, please see:

Yahoo News—Iraqis remove bodies from rubble in west Mosul—26 March 2017

The Guardian—Shell-shocked Mosul survivors tell of intense airstrikes—26 March 2017

AlJazeera—In west Mosul, ‘nowhere is safe for civilians’—26 March 2017

New York Post—Iraqi military pulls 61 bodies from Mosul as airstrikes probed—26 March 2017

NBC News—Coalition Airstrikes Hit Mosul Location Where Scores of Civilians Were Killed: CENTCOM—26 March 2017

The Guardian—Iraq probes reports of civilian deaths in Mosul—26 March 2017

Prominent Human Rights Activist Arrested in the United Arab Emirates

 

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates—On Monday, March 20th, a political activist described as a “courageous and prominent human rights defender” was arrested in the United Arab Emirates on charges of spreading hatred and sectarianism on social media. In the days prior to his arrest, Mr. Mansoor had made several posts on social media, including a tweet calling for the release of Mr. Osama Al-Najjar, an Emirati human rights defender, as well as an article that criticized the Egyptian government.

Mr. Mansoor is cited as one of the few remaining human rights activists in the country (Photo courtesy of Reuters)

The political activist, Mr. Ahmed Mansoor, was arrested at the home he shares with his wife and four young children, subsequent to a “surprise overnight raid[.]” Amnesty International indicated that ten male and two female uniformed law enforcement officials “stormed” Mr. Mansoor’s apartment, and engaged in a lengthy search of each room, including the bedrooms of his young children. During the search, they seized electronic devices including laptops and the family’s cellular phones, however, it was not clear whether the security officials had a search warrant prior to engaging in this search. Mr. Mansoor was arrested around 3:15 a.m., yet, his wife was not informed of where he was being taken, and his location is still currently unknown. Furthermore, he has not been granted access to an attorney and has not been permitted to see his family.

The public prosecutor stated that Mr. Mansoor had used social media “to publish false information and rumors[,]” while also “promoting a sectarian and hate-incited agenda[.]” The prosecutor further added that Mr. Mansoor’s posts are a threat to “national unity and social harmony[,] and damage the country’s reputation[.]”

Mr. Mansoor is noted as being one of the last human rights defenders living in the United Arab Emirates and his arrest has been harshly criticized by human rights groups worldwide. Amnesty International stated that it is “appalled” by Mr. Mansoor’s arrest, and indicated that his detention violates his freedom of expression. The rights group called upon the United Arab Emirates for his “immediate and unconditional” release from detention based on fears that he could be tortured in prison. Human Rights Watch added that Mr. Mansoor must immediately be granted access to an attorney and his family, and his whereabouts must be revealed immediately.

The United Arab Emirates, which is a monarch known for little tolerance for public criticism of its government, has prosecuted several people in the past for “insulting the country’s leaders.” In 2011, Mr. Mansoor, along with four other pro-democracy activists, had been convicted of these charges after calling for reform in Arab countries.

For more information, please see:

ABC Online—Human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor arrested in United Arab Emirates—20 March 2017

Human Rights Watch—UAE: Free Prominent Rights Activist—21 March 2017

Amnesty International­—UAE: Surprise overnight raid leads to arrest of prominent human rights defender—20 March 2017

Reuters—UAE arrests prominent activist for incitement: state news—21 March 2017

OMCT World Organization Against Torture—United Arab Emirates: Arrest and detention in a secret location of Mr. Ahmed Mansoor—20 March 2017

Airstrike in Syria Hits Local Mosque, Killing Dozens

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria — On Thursday, March 16th, the Pentagon announced that the United States launched an airstrike into northern Syria. The target was reported as a building housing senior Al Qaeda militants, while local officials have stated that the missiles struck a mosque.

The deceased were reportedly attending the evening worship (Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Times)

The attack, which reportedly took place at 7 p.m., killed dozens, although it is unclear at this time how many of the deceased were terrorists and how many were civilians. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (“SOHR”) stated that the demolished building was used as a center for Islam lectures, and had been affiliated with the mosque. Local officials stated that the mosque was “filled” with up to 300 people attending the evening worship. The director of the SOHR indicated that although “fighters” may have been among those that died, they had been attending a prayer service, “not fighting or preparing to fight[.]”

Photos from the site showed “bloodied people” escaping and “mangled bodies” being rescued from a “smoldering” building. The SOHR reported that some people are still missing, while others are in critical condition. The group further added that search and rescue efforts under the rubble of the destroyed building are still in process.

A local resident stated that he was having dinner at a friend’s house when he heard a loud explosion approximately five minutes before the evening prayer, after hearing planes flying fly by. He indicated that he ran out of his house and saw that the building in which Islamic lectures were held had been hit. He witnessed “four bodies lying in the street,” adding that “[t]he bodies were maimed . . . burns on the faces and the limbs.” A resident from a neighboring village noted that the damage was “overwhelming[,]” and stated that there was a “hole in the ground and bodies [] filling the streets[.]”

Human Rights Watch condemned the attack, stating that the laws of armed conflict prohibit targeting civilians. The rights group added that “[a]ll feasible precautions must be taken to avoid loss of civilian life and property[,]” and that “[a]ttacks that cannot be directed at a specific military target are prohibited.” Human Rights Watch further called upon all parties to ensure adherence to the laws of war to prevent the loss of civilian life.

The attack was a stark contrast to the report released at the beginning of 2017 by the SOHR, which stated that the lowest monthly death toll in four years had been recorded in January because of the ceasefire that had significantly reduced the rate of civilian deaths. However, although violence in Syria had been showing a downward trajectory, it is now increasing at an alarming rate following last week’s attacks in the country.

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch—Week of Carnage in Syria—17 March 2017

Los Angeles Times–U.S. military denies airstrike hit mosque in Syria, following reports of dozens killed—17 March 2017

ABC News—Death toll rises after US airstrike in Syrian village, observer groups say—17 March 2017

Chicago Tribune—At least 46 civilians claimed dead in alleged ‘massacre’ at Syrian mosque hit by U.S. drone—18 March 2017

Al-Arabiya—US claims deadly north Syria strike, denies targeting mosque—17 March 2017

Iraqi Forces Kill ISIS Commander During Fight for Iron Bridge in Mosul

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq — On Tuesday, March 14th, the Iraqi government announced that its forces killed the commander of the Islamic State (“ISIS”).

ISIS commander Abu Abdul Rahman al-Ansary was killed during a fight to take over the Iron Bridge near Mosul (Photo courtesy of Daily News)

ISIS’s commander, Abu Abdul Rahman al-Ansary, was killed in the Old City of Mosul during a fight for the Iron Bridge crossing the Tigris River, which is the terrorist group’s last stronghold in the country. Mr. al-Ansary was reportedly killed by federal police in an attempt to clear the Bab al-Tob district.

Iraqi officers reported that ISIS snipers were attempting to slow down the Interior Ministry’s Rapid Response Units on the Iron Bridge, which links eastern and western Mosul. The officers stated, however, that despite these attempts, the “elite forces” were still moving forward. The Brigadier General of the Rapid Response Unit, Mr. Mahdi Abbas Abdullah, stated that Iraqi forces are progressing towards the Iron Bridge by “taking out snipers hiding in the surrounding buildings[.]” Moreover, the Iraqi military is reportedly using armored vehicles and tanks to remove snipers who are “pinning down troops clearing areas around the bridge.”

Regaining control of the Iron Bridge would transfer the strategic advantage to Iraqi forces. At the moment, Iraq controls two of the pivotal bridges in the area. If captured, Iraqi forces would hold three of the five bridges in Mosul that span the Tigris River. All three bridges have already been damaged by either ISIS militants or air strikes led by the United States.

Mr. al-Ansary’s death was characterized as a “blow” to the ISIS militants after many leaders of the terrorist organization have already retreated from Mosul. The group is now reportedly defending “their shrinking area of control[.]” As of March 14th, Iraqi forces were within 330 feet of the Iron Bridge, and were expected to take over the bridge, and its surrounding area, by the end of the day. A Rapid Response Unit spokesperson stated that recapturing the bridge would “help further tighten the noose around [ISIS] fighters entrenched inside the old city[.]”

Over 600,000 civilians have been trapped in the area held by ISIS. Local residents poured out of western neighborhoods retaken by the government, thankful to be rescued from ISIS’s “grip.” They escaped the violent fighting taking place around their homes, carrying only suitcases, water bottles and “other possessions.” Some were reportedly pushing their children and ill elderly relatives in handcarts and wheelbarrows. They were ushered into trucks by soldiers to be taken to processing areas, and reported that food has been “scarce,” while adding that they have mostly been consuming “water mixed with tomatoes.”

For more information, please see:

International Business Times—End Of ISIS: Islamic State Commander Killed In Iraq As US, Russia And Turkey Compete In Syria—14 March 2017

AlJazeera—Iraqi forces kill ISIL commander in Mosul—14 March 2017

Reuters—IS Mosul commander killed, government forces battle for bridge—14 March 2017

United Nations Report Alleges Human Rights Violations in Southeastern Turkey

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

ANKARA, Turkey — On Friday, March 10th, the United Nations Human Rights Office released a report alleging detailed depictions of mass destruction, killings and other human rights offenses committed in Southeast Turkey from July 2015 through December 2016.

Between 355,000 and 500,000 people were displaced, and more than thirty towns and “entire neighborhoods” were destroyed because of the clashes (Photo courtesy of UN News Centre)

The United Nations (“UN”) report accused Turkish security forces of violating Kurdish fighters’ human rights in the southeastern part of the country. The violations allegedly took place after a 2013 ceasefire declared between Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (“PKK”) broke down. Since the end of the truce in the summer of 2015, Turkey and the PKK have been “engaged in escalating clashes.”

The UN revealed that the findings in its report were based on “remote monitoring,” namely interviews, official records, public documents, satellite images, and analysis of information provided by the Turkish government and NGOs.

The report stated that approximately 2,000 people were killed in Southeast Turkey during the specified period. The number of local residents killed was nearly 1,200. The report went on to state that of that 1,200, an unknown number may have “been involved in violent or non-violent actions against” Turkey. The UN further indicated that an additional 800 individuals belonging to security forces were killed during fighting. The report also stated that between 355,000 and 500,000 people were displaced, and more than thirty towns and “entire neighborhoods” were destroyed because of the clashes.

The UN indicated that a majority of the human rights violations took place during “unannounced, open-ended, 24-hour curfews” instigated by Turkish authorities. Satellite images referenced in the report further revealed that houses in residential areas were destroyed by “heavy weaponry[.]” The report revealed that up to 189 individuals had been trapped in basements for several weeks without food, water, medication or electricity. They were later “killed by fire induced by shelling.”

The Human Rights Chief of the UN, Mr. Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, noted that Turkey denied access to investigators and “contested the veracity” of the allegations. The Turkish Foreign Ministry condemned the report after stating it was “biased, based on false information and far from professional.” The Foreign Ministry indicated that the country remains committed to sharing information regarding anti-terrorism activities with its partners. A parliament member of Turkey’s ruling AK Party, Mr. Taha Ozhan, stated that the PKK was responsible for the negative findings referenced in the report due to its decision to move the combat zone from rural to urban areas.

For more information, please see:

Reuters—U.N. documents human rights violations in southeast Turkey—10 March 2017

UN News Centre—Turkey: UN report details allegations of serious rights violations in country’s southeast—10 March 2017

AlJazeera—UN accuses Turkey of abuses in country’s southeast—11 March 2017

Daily Sabah—Turkey slams UN human rights body for ‘biased’ report on counter-terror operations—10 March 2017

The New York Times—U.N. Accuses Turkey of Killing Hundreds of Kurds—10 March 2017

 

Jordan Executes Fifteen in Largest Mass Killing in Country’s Recent History

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

AMMAN, Jordan — On Saturday, March 4th, Jordanian officials carried out a mass execution of fifteen people within the Suwaqa prison near the country’s capital of Amman. The killings were attended by senior ranking government officials, including Amman’s prosecutor general and the prosecutor general of the high criminal court.

Amnesty International condemned the executions, which were allegedly carried out in “secrecy and without transparency.” (Photo courtesy of Whatson)

Ten of the executed individuals had been convicted of terrorist attacks dating from 2003 through 2016, whereas the remaining five had been convicted in murder charges. One had carried out an attack on an intelligence compound near a Palestinian camp. The attack, which took place last year, had resulted in the deaths of five security personnel. Five of those executed had been implicated in an assault by suspected ISIS fighters on a militant hideout. The attack, which had also been carried out last year, had led to the deaths of seven terrorists and one police officer.

The executions have drawn international attention from human rights organizations. Amnesty International condemned the mass killings due to the manner in which they were carried out. The rights group indicated that the fifteen individuals had been hanged in secret and “without transparency.” Amnesty International’s Deputy Director of the Beirut Regional Office, Mr. Samah Hadid, called the scale of the executions “shocking[,]” while adding that it is a “big step backwards on human rights protection in Jordan[.]” Mr. Hadid further noted that capital punishment in the country was “problematic” as confessions in some cases had been obtained through torture or other coercive measures. Meanwhile, the government of Jordan denied any mistreatment of its prisoners, and asserted that the judicial system abides by human rights laws.

The Middle East Director of Human Rights Watch, Ms. Sarah Leah Whitson, indicated that the death penalty would not act as a deterrence to violence. She stated that militant attacks have increased in recent years despite the imposition of death penalties to at least one hundred prisoners who had been convicted on charges relating to radical Islamist groups. Ms. Whitson further noted that capital punishment “will never . . . make the citizens of Jordan safer,” despite the country’s efforts to project an “image of strength[.]”

A senior Jordanian judicial authority stated that Saturday’s executions were the largest carried out in the country’s recent history. Jordan’s government spokesperson, Mr. Mohammad Momani, indicated that the killings were carried out in an “attempt to bring justice to the victims of those terrorists who threatened our national security.” Mr. Momani further added that any individual engaging in similar behavior “will face the same destiny.”

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch—Jordan: Executions Won’t End Terror Attacks, Murder—5 March 2017

Reuters—Jordan says executes 15, with 10 for terrorism convictions—4 March 2017

Middle East Eye—Jordan hangs 15 for rape and terrorism in mass dawn execution—4 March 2017

The Jordan Times—15 convicted criminals, terrorists executed on Saturday—4 March 2017

Jurist—Human rights groups condemn execution of 15 in Jordan—5 March 2017

 

Two Transgender Pakistanis Killed by Saudi Arabian Police

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — On Tuesday, February 28th, two transgender Pakistanis were killed in Saudi Arabia after allegedly being beaten and tortured by Saudi Arabian police.

Amna and Meeno were arrested for violating the country’s laws against cross-dressing and engaging in homosexual activity (Photo courtesy of Daily Mail)

The two transgender individuals, Amna and Meeno, were allegedly killed by Saudi Arabian police while in custody following a house raid which took place during “Guru Chela Chalan” festivities. The celebration is one in which the Pakistani transgender community elects a “guru” to lead their group. Amna and Meeno were reportedly arrested for cross-dressing and engaging in same-sex relationships, which are prohibited under Saudi Arabian law. It is claimed that the two were “packed in sacks,” kicked, “thrashed with sticks and tortured to death[.]” The police force spokesperson indicated that the house was under surveillance for possible violations of the country’s clothing ban.

The raid resulted in the arrests of thirty-five transgender people. Eleven of those arrested paid a fine of over $40,000 for their release, whereas twenty-two were still in custody. While sex-change operations are illegal in the country, homosexual activity is punishable by death.

Human rights activists strongly condemned the actions taken by the Saudi police. Qamar Naseem, a transgender rights activist, cried out against the abuses inflicted upon Amna and Meena by stating the inhumane nature of “[t]orturing humans after throwing them into bags and beating them with sticks[.]” He indicated that the twenty-two transgender individuals remained in police custody and that no one would save them because transgender lives are “not of any value to anyone, not even our own government[.]”

Further outcries came in the form of transgender individuals’ inability to practice their religion. Farzana, a transgender woman in Saudi Arabia, indicated that the government prohibited transgender individuals from carrying out their annual pilgrimage to Mecca or their Umrah pilgrimage. She stated that this prohibition is considered “inhumane” due to the religious mandate that all Muslims must complete the pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime. The Saudi Arabian embassy, however, indicated that the government had not issued a ban prohibiting transgender individuals from traveling to the holy land for pilgrimage.

LGBTQ activists around the world called upon Saudi Arabian authorities to provide answers into the deaths of Amna and Meeno as well as the arrests of the thirty-five transgender individuals. Naseem further urged the government to release information due to the fact that the transgender community is feeling “delicate and scared” as a result of the “very confusing situation[.]”

For more information, please see:

Independent—Two transgender Pakistanis ‘tortured to death’ in Saudi Arabia—3 March 2017

Daily Mail—Two transgender Pakistanis ‘are packed into sacks and thrashed to death with STICKS’ by police in Saudi Arabia—1 March 2017

International Business Times—Saudi Arabia: 2 transgender Pakistanis allegedly tortured to death by police in Riyadh—2 March 2017

Sputnik News—Two Pakistani Transgender People Beaten to Death by Saudi Police, 33 Arrested—2 March 2017

The Daily Dot—Saudi police torture and kill 2 transgender Pakistanis—3 March 2017

Houthi Rebels Recruiting Young Boys for Battle in Yemen

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

SANA’A, Yemen— According to a statement released by Amnesty International on Tuesday, February 28th, the Houthi militia in Yemen are recruiting child soldiers as young as age fifteen to fight in the frontlines of the war in Yemen. The United Nations (“UN”) High Commissioner for Human Rights noted that approximately 1,500 child soldiers had been enlisted by the militia thus far, but that the actual number of boys who had been drawn into the war was most likely higher.

The boys are reportedly “excited to shoot Kalashnikovs . . . and wear military uniforms[.]” (Photo courtesy of Middle East Eye)

Amnesty International stated that Houthi rebels have been recruiting boys between the ages of fifteen and seventeen in the city of Sana’a, after taking it in September 2014. The rights group indicated that activities and lectures held at religious centers are being used to encourage young boys to join the battle to protect the country against Saudi Arabia.

A Yemeni reporter, Ms. Afrah Nasser, further stated that the Houthis also go door-to-door, knocking and demanding that boys in their teenage years “join the jihad.” She indicated that two of her cousins were moved out of Sana’a by their families and therefore avoided being recruited. She noted, however, that the families are now displaced, with one being in Saudi Arabia and the other in Ethiopia.

Deteriorating conditions in Yemen are allegedly contributing to the ease with which the children are recruited. The UN stated that the young boys are tempted by the rebels through promises of “financial rewards or social status.” They are then quickly sent to the frontlines or assigned to guard checkpoints. Witnesses claim that the boys are “excited to shoot Kalashnikovs . . . and wear military uniforms[.]” Amnesty International noted that the Houthis promise to pay the families a fee of $80 to $120 per child if he becomes “martyred” by dying on the frontlines in an effort to silence them. The families of the children, however, are reportedly afraid to speak up or search for their children for fear of being detained. The rights organization further stated that parents are typically unaware of their children’s recruitment. The families of four boys were alerted to the situation only after local residents informed them that they had seen their children boarding a bus at a Houthi center.

Mr. Samah Hadid, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s regional office in Beirut, called the Houthi forces’ act of taking young boys from their homes and placing them on the frontlines of battle “appalling[.]” Citing violations of international law, Mr. Hadid stated that the Houthis
“must immediately end all forms of recruitment of children under [eighteen] . . . [.]” The UN, moreover, demanded an immediate release of all child soldiers in Yemen.

The Houthis have a history of recruiting young children into their forces. In 2015, the UN had discovered that approximately 72 percent of children that were engaged in fighting were doing so on behalf of the Houthi militia.

For more information, please see:

Daily Sabah—At least 1,500 boys exploited as child soldiers in Yemen war, UN says—1 March 2017

Amnesty International—Yemen: Huthi forces recruiting child soldiers for front-line combat—28 February 2017

UN News Centre—Yemen: UN verifies nearly 1,500 boys recruited for use in armed conflict—28 February 2017

Middle East Eye—Houthi rebels recruit children to fight in Yemen’s war: Amnesty—28 February 2017

Huffington Post—Boys As Young As 15 Are Being Recruited For Front-Line Combat In Yemen—28 February 2017

Dozens of Christian Egyptian Families Fleeing After Targeted ISIS Attacks

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt — On Friday, February 24th, hundreds of Christian Egyptian families fled the country’s northern Sinai Peninsula after the Islamic State (“ISIS”) killed another member of their community following several weeks of targeted killings in the area.

Families brought only their children and a suitcase of clothing (Photo courtesy of Reuters)

 

At least seven people have been killed as a result of ISIS’s attacks in the past three weeks. The fleeing Egyptians escaped their homes after ISIS released a video on Sunday, “vow[ing]” to increase their attacks on Sinai’s Christian minority. Following the video, numerous attacks were carried out by gunmen in Sinai over the course of several days. ISIS claimed responsibility for beheading one man, while setting another on fire. On Wednesday, a man was killed in front of his pregnant spouse by gunmen who “then calmly drank a bottle of Pepsi” before departing. On Thursday, a plumber was shot dead at his home in front of his wife and children.

After the series of killings, most families fled their homes with nothing more than their children and some clothes. They then sought refuge at a church compound in the city of Ismailia. A volunteer with the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms stated that ISIS “want[s] to send a message that nobody is safe[.]”

The deacon of the church in Ismailia, Mr. Nabil Shukrullah, stated that the situation is extremely difficult, and that approximately fifty to sixty more families are expected to arrive. The fleeing Egyptians indicated that they are “scared of [their] shadows,” and cried out against being “targeted in an ugly way.” A refugee from the town of Arish stated that waiting for death was not an option, while characterizing ISIS militants as “ruthless.” Residents of the town reported that Christians were warned to “leave or die” after the terrorists “circulated death lists online and on the streets[.]” A vegetable seller who fled the town on Friday, Mr. Munir Adel, indicated that anyone who is Christian was put on the list. Although his father is the second name on the list, he was unable to leave his home due to his old age. Mr. Adel stated that his father “could be killed at any moment.”

The Christian Egyptians, who belong to the Coptic faith, comprise the Middle East’s largest Christian community, and make up approximately 10% of the country’s population, currently estimated to be around 90 million. Christians of the nation declared that the security measures taken towards protecting them are insufficient, while claiming that “nothing” is being done to ensure their safety. The Coptic church, which stated that the attacks were directed towards “dividing Egyptians[,]” subsequently condemned the attacks.

For more information, please see:

The New York Times—Targeted by ISIS, Egyptian Christians Flee Violence—24 February 2017

BBC News—Egypt’s Coptic Christians flee Sinai after deadly attacks—25 February 2017

Reuters—Egypt’s Christians flee Sinai amid Islamic State killing spree—24 February 2017

Fox News—Christians flee Egypt’s Sinai after militant killings—24 February 2017

Daily Mail—More Egypt Copts flee jihadists in Sinai—25 February 2017

Washington Post—Christians flee Sinai Peninsula in fear of Egypt’s Islamic State affiliate—24 February 2017

 

 

 

ISIS Torturing Sunni Arab Women and Girls

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq — Human Rights Watch issued a statement on Monday, February 20th, reporting that Islamic State (ISIS) militants are “arbitrarily detaining, ill-treating, torturing, and forcibly marrying Sunni Arab women and girls[.]” The allegation states that ISIS fighters are carrying out such abuses in Iraq, within regions that are still in their control.

Human Rights Watch stated that Sunni Arab women’s sexual abuse is widely unreported (Photo courtesy of Middle East Monitor)

The report released by Human Rights Watch (“HRW”) was prepared based on interviews with six women in Kirkuk. Four of these women stated that in 2016, they had been detained by ISIS for a period of three days up to one month. Another indicated that her cousin, who is an ISIS fighter, had raped her after forcing her to marry him. One woman stated that ISIS fighters had attempted to forcibly marry her after burning down her house in response to her husband’s escape from ISIS. Of the six interviewed women, five indicated that ISIS militants had beat them.

One woman indicated that ISIS captured her and her three children, along with fifty other women, when they attempted to escape Hawija. She was branded a traitor by ISIS after her husband had escaped the town, and was told that she should marry the local ISIS leader. Upon her refusal, ISIS fighters “blindfolded [her], beat[] [her] with plastic cables, suspended [her] by her arms, and raped [her].” She, and the other women, were held by ISIS in an abandoned house for over one month, while being blindfolded and raped her in front of her children on a daily basis. She noted that the other women were most likely raped in the same manner, and forced to marry their rapists.

HRW’s Deputy Middle East Director, Ms. Lama Faikh, stated that the sexual abuse endured by Sunni Arab women living under ISIS’s control is widely undocumented and unknown. She urged the international community and local Iraqi authorities to take action to ensure that victims receive much needed support.

A foreign aid worker indicated seeing many cases of forced marriage and rape. She noted, however, that most victims do not report the abuse because women tend to cover it up due to fear of societal stigma or retribution. She highlighted the concern that “babies born of rape or forced marriage may also face stigma[,]” while stating that “long-term psychological support and medical treatment” are particularly noteworthy.

HRW indicated that efforts to overcome the stigma associated with sexual violence are present, yet insufficient. The rights group highlighted the “lack of awareness” with regards to services, psychosocial or mental health support, and medical professionals in Kirkuk. A psychiatrist at an international organization in Iraq’s Kurdistan region stated that men are not being adequately informed on how to support women who are victims of gender-based violence. She indicated that male relatives will typically “forbid women” from obtaining counseling.

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch—Iraq: Sunni Women Tell of ISIS Detention, Torture—20 February 2017

Middle East Online—HRW says IS jihadists raping, torturing Sunni Arab women too—20 February 2017

Daily Mail—’I was raped every day for a month in front of my children’: Women reveal the horrors they endured as ISIS sex slaves… despite being SUNNI Muslims just like their captors—20 February 2017

Middle East Monitor—HRW: Daesh rapes and tortures Sunni Arab women—21 February 2017

International Business Times—Sunni Arab women raped, tortured and forced to marry Isis fighters, Human Rights Watch says—21 February 2017

Yemeni Women and Children Killed in Air Strike on Funeral

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

SANAA, Yemen — On Thursday, February 16th, witnesses and medics reported that at least eight women and a child lost their lives after an overnight air strike directed by the Saudi-led coalition struck a funeral reception near the Yemeni capital of Sanaa. 10 other women and children were also reportedly wounded in the attack, which struck near the funeral’s women’s reception area.

Villagers stated that their homes were bombed immediately after they heard planes overhead (Photo courtesy of Daily Mail)

 

The attack took place in a village where mourners had gathered to pay their condolences after the death of a “well-known local woman.” Village residents stated that they ran from their houses after hearing the sound of planes. They stated, however, that bombs hit the houses directly afterwards, which led to the roofs collapsing. Villagers indicated that “[b]lood was everywhere[.]” Pictures released from the scene portrayed villagers searching through the rubble of a destroyed house, and a “man kneeling in the dust with the corpse of an elderly women in his arms.” At the time of the attack, a villager, who lost his wife in the raid, had been receiving condolences after the death of his brother. Defining the attack as “barbaric,” he stated that he saw four women die immediately.

Injured children were taken to a nearby hospital in Sanaa for treatment. One of the children is suffering from a “horribly burned” face, and a “body pitted with shrapnel” from flying debris. Doctors were required to tie her hands to her hospital bed to prevent her from scratching her wounds.

Houthi supporters alleged that the attack was a “double tap strike,” which entails an initial bomb followed by the detonation of a second bomb. Such strikes are targeted towards killing and injuring individuals who rush to the aid of those wounded in the first attack.

The parliament of Yemen “strongly condemned” the attack by characterizing it as a “horrific, brutal Saudi war crime[.]” It indicated that the coalition “lacks all religious and humanitarian principles[,]” and called upon the United Nations to urgently prosecute Saudi Arabians in the International Criminal Court to protect the citizens of Yemen against war crimes.

The United Nations’ Special Envoy to Yemen, Mr. Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, stated that attacks directed towards civilians are “unjustifiable.” The United Nations’ Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen, Mr. Jamie McGoldrick, stated that he was “saddened and appalled” by the attack.

The Saudi-led coalition has long been accused of targeting funerals, hospitals, weddings and schools in Yemen. Although the coalition has repeatedly denied deliberately attacking civilians, in October, it accepted responsibility for an air strike on a funeral which led to the deaths of 140 people. At the time, it had blamed the deaths on “incorrect information.”

For more information, please see:

Daily Mail—Air raid kills eight women, child at Yemen funeral—16 February 2017

Daily Mail—Bloodied, bandaged and bodies pitted with shrapnel: Baby girls lie in hospital beds opposite each other after air strike on mourners at a WAKE in Yemen kills seven women and a child—18 February 2017

Middle East Eye–Nine women, child killed in raid on Yemen funeral—16 February 2017

Yemen News Agency—Yemen’s parliament condemns Saudi massacre on Arhab women funeral house—18 February 2017

The Washington Post—Saudi-led coalition to probe Yemen funeral airstrike—16 February 2017

 

Human Rights Watch Determines Syria Using Chemical Weapons

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria — Human Rights Watch released a report on Monday, February 13th, in which it stated that the government of Syria used chemical weapons in attacks late last year on opposition-controlled parts of Aleppo while fighting to retake the city.

Children are most susceptible to the effects of chlorine bombs (Photo courtesy of CNN)

In reaching its conclusion, Human Rights Watch (“HRW”) indicated that it conducted in-person and phone interviews with witnesses, and analyzed video footage, photographs and social media posts. Through the evidence-gathering process, the rights group determined that government helicopters had dropped chemical bombs in Aleppo’s residential areas on at least eight occasions from November 17th through December 13, 2016. HRW further indicated that the attacks led to the deaths of at least nine civilians, including children, and injured hundreds more.

Although the use of chlorine could not conclusively be determined, HRW stated that chlorine bombs are identifiable initially through “yellow or yellow-green smoke” at the impact site of a bomb. It further stated that victims’ and witnesses’ physical ailments are indicative of the use of chlorine. Affected individuals experience symptoms such as difficulty breathing and swallowing, burning throat and eyes, severe coughing, nausea, fainting, and foaming at the mouth. As it is heavier than air, it sinks into basements and bomb shelters, thus suffocating anyone harbored inside. Chemical weapons are known to affect children most severely as they “inhale the[] smells and [] end up suffocating.”

The chlorine attacks were focused on areas the government forces were attempting to retake. HRW’s Deputy Emergencies Director, Mr. Ole Solvang, indicated that use of chemical weapons at the same time as the “frontline” was a strong indicator that the chemicals were an “integral part of the offensive.” He stated that this is suggestive of chlorine attacks being “coordinated with the overall military strategy[,]” while noting that senior military officers “knew that chlorine was being used.”

The Chemical Weapons Convention bans parties from using “properties of any chemical as a weapon.” As a signatory since October 2013, HRW stated that Syria has violated the terms of this treaty by dropping chlorine bombs since April 2014 and using sarin in attacks in August 2013.

HRW called upon the 192 states who are parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention to address Syria’s “continued violation” of the treaty, while taking steps to ensure compliance and strengthen the customary international law norm against use of chemical weapons. The organization further called upon the United Nations Security Council to impose sanctions on senior leaders in the chain of command, by stating that it should enact consequences against anyone or any authority utilizing chemical warfare. It also urged the government of Syria to immediately cease the use of chemical weapons.

For more information, please see:

Reuters—Syrian government forces used chemical weapons in Aleppo: rights group—13 February 2017

Human Rights Watch—Syria: Coordinated Chemical Attacks on Aleppo—13 February 2017

Middle East Eye—Syrian army ‘used chemical bombs in co-ordinated Aleppo assault’—13 February 2017

The Washington Post—Syrian forces used gas attacks as key part of campaign to retake Aleppo, Human Rights Watch says—13 February 2017

The New York Times— Syria Used Chlorine Bombs Systematically in Aleppo, Report Says—13 February 2017

AlJazeera—HRW: Syria carried out chemical attacks in Aleppo—13 February 2017

CNN—Report suggests Russia, Syria deliberately targeted civilian areas of Aleppo—13 February 2017

Syrian Prison Home to Over 13,000 Executions

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria — Amnesty International released a report in which it stated that Syrian military police hanged over 13,000 detainees in a prison north of Damascus starting with the 2011 uprising through 2015.

Saydnaya prison is known as the “slaughterhouse” (Photo courtesy of Mirror)

The Amnesty International report indicated that mass hangings took place at the Saydnaya Prison, known to prisoners as the “slaughterhouse.” The rights group stated that as many as fifty people were hung once or twice per week, typically on Mondays and Wednesdays. The report, titled “Human Slaughterhouse,” revealed that prisoners were told they were being transferred to a civilian prison in Syria in the middle of the night. Instead, they were blindfolded and moved to a cell in the prison basement where they were severely beaten. After being brought to the Saydnaya prison grounds, they were then hanged, while still blindfolded. All hangings were reportedly authorized by senior officials, including President Assad’s deputies, the defense minister and top religious authorities.

A deputy research director at Amnesty International, Ms. Lynn Maalouf, stated that prisoners were informed of their hanging only a few minutes before execution. She noted that the sentences were issued after a “sham trial” held by a “so-called Military Field Court[,]” which lasts from one to two minutes. During the trial, prisoners would be asked their name and whether they committed the crime. The report, however, alleged that the prisoners would be convicted and sentenced to death regardless of their answer.

The Amnesty International report was prepared based on interviews with over eighty-four people, including prison guards, judges, attorney, and prisoners. Ms. Maalouf stated that the hangings “reveal a hidden, monstrous campaign,” targeted towards eliminating President Assad’s dissent, as the executed prisoners were “believed to be opposed to the government.” Amnesty International urged the United Nations to take immediate action towards conducting an independent investigation into the findings.

The government of Syria has rejected the accusations, stating that the report was aimed towards “harm[ing] the government’s international reputation[.]” The country’s official news agency, Sana, released a statement in which the justice ministry denied the claims as “baseless[,]” while urging that all executions “followed due process.”

For more information, please see:

Fox News—At least 13,000 people hanged at Syrian prison, human rights group says—6 February 2017

CNN—13,000 people hanged in secret at Syrian prison, Amnesty says—7 February 2017

Amnesty International—Syria: Secret campaign of mass hangings and extermination at Saydnaya Prison—7 February 2017

The New York Times—Amnesty: Up to 13,000 Hanged in Syria’s ‘Slaughterhouse’—7 February 2017

BBC News—Syria rejects Amnesty report on hangings at Saydnaya prison—8 February 2017