97-year-old Shipping Regulation Limiting Post-Hurricane Relief to Puerto Rico

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico On Wednesday, September 20, Category 4 Hurricane ‘Maria’ made landfall in Puerto Rico with winds reaching 155 miles per hour and covering parts of the island in over 10 feet of water.  It was the strongest hurricane to affect Puerto Rico since San Felipe Segundo in 1928.

The sun sets on a devastated neighborhood in Yabucoa in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Photo Courtesy of The Guardian.

As of September 27, 97% of the population did not have access to electricity and over 50% do not have access to drinking water with the daily temperature reaching over 90°.  Puerto Rico’s hospitals are dependent on diesel fuel to power their emergency generators, and despite their stringent fuel rationing, the majority of the hospitals are on the verge of running out.  Diesel is a necessary good imported to Puerto Rico from the mainland United States.

The existing poor infrastructure and the current difficulty in getting aid to Puerto Rico post-Maria have been blamed in a large part on the Jones Act.

The Jones Act—also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920—requires that the transportation of goods between points in the US be done in a ship (1) bearing the US flag, (2) built in the United States, (3) owned by US citizens, and (4) operated by US citizens or legal permanent residents.  This means that basic shipments of necessary goods must be imported to Puerto Rico from the US on Jones Act-compliant ships that tend to run four times more expensive than non-compliant ships.  This results in the cost of living in Puerto Rico is about 13% higher on average than in the contiguous United States.

Precedents for Jones Act waivers in the last 15 years have included exceptional situations of humanitarian need—Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Sandy in 2012, and Harvey and Irma in 2017—and have spanned three administrations: Bush, Obama, and Trump.

President Donald Trump has been hesitant to waive the Jones Act for Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, and told reporters on Wednesday: “We’re thinking about that, but we have a lot of shippers and a lot of people, a lot of people who work in the shipping industry, that don’t want the Jones Act lifted.”

Puerto Rico has a population of 3.4 million—roughly equivalent to the combined population of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

For more information, please see:

CNN – Puerto Ricans still waiting for aid a week after Maria’s devastation – 27 September 2017

NBC News – What is the Jones Act? Opponents to 1920 Law Argue It’s Worsening Puerto Rico’s Crisis – 27 September 2017

The Guardian – Hurricane Maria pushes Puerto Rico’s struggling hospitals to crisis point – 27 September 2017

Vox – The Jones Act, the obscure 1920 shipping regulation strangling Puerto Rico, explained – 27 September 2017

The Washington Post – Feds rush aid to Puerto Rico amid growing pleas for help – 25 September 2017

Al Jazeera – Hurricane Maria strikes US territory of Puerto Rico – 21 September 2017

Department of Homeland Security – DHS Statement on Extending the Jones Act Waiver – 13 September 2017

Flint Water Crisis Causes Precipitous Fertility Drop

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

FLINT, Michigan – The lead-poisoned water of Flint, Michigan has had a major effect on the fertility rate in the city according to a working paper by Daniel Grossman of West Virginia University and David Slusky of Kansas University. The city of Flint switched to the lead-poisoned Flint River in 2014 in order to cut costs. However, the result was a “culling of the least healthy fetuses” leading to a “horrifyingly large” increase in both miscarriages and fetal deaths according to the paper’s authors.

During the Flint water crisis, free water was distributed at the Lincoln Park Methodist Church on February 3, 2015. Photo Courtesy of Business Insider.

In the paper, the authors estimate that among babies conceived from November 2013 to March 2015, “between 198 and 276 more children would have been born had Flint not enacted the switch in water.” Grossman and Slusky found that pregnancies that lasted at least 20 weeks but did not result in birth increased by 58%. The authors also found that fertility rates dropped by 12% compared to other economically similar cities in Michigan that did not have a switch in their water source.

The authors argue that the change in water supply has effects beyond just infants. They believe the drop in fertility is evidence of the effect of lead on the health of potential newborns in utero.  It is important to note that the authors list a number of limitations their study had. Lead builds up in the body over time so focusing on neonatal health could underestimate the overall effects of lead on human health and development. There are also several other contaminates that could have been in the water and affected the results.

This table from the working paper shows the moving fertility rate of Flint compared to other cities in Michigan. Photo Courtesy of Washington Post.

But lead is definitively one of the contaminates of the water. According to Reuters, the water from the river is so corrosive that it stripped the city pipes of lead and contaminated the city’s drinking water. Following the switch to the Flint River, residents began complaining about the appearance and odor of the water. Yet, the city assured residents that the water was safe to drink into 2015.

Water utilities typically point out that although a person has higher lead levels in their blood, the person can’t say definitively what caused the increase. They argue it could have been dust or old paint or lead contaminated dirt. However, most of the effects of water contaminated with lead can only be observed through analysis of the population.

Grossman and Slusky conclude that “failure to provide safe drinking water has large health implications.” It has been come common knowledge that children who have been exposed to lead can face harmful consequences. Some of these consequences are increased antisocial behavior, lower educational attainment, cognitive deficiencies, and many other problems that affect the liver, kidneys and brain.

What is not as well-known is the effects of lead on fetal health. Grossman and Slusky’s literature review shows that pregnant women exposed to lead are linked to “fetal death, prenatal growth abnormalities, reduced gestational period, and reduced birth weight.” At the time the lead exposure began, many Flint residents were unaware that there was lead in the water at all. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention states pregnant women who are exposed to lead also expose their unborn child because lead can cross the placental barrier. According to the World Health Organization, there is no known level of lead exposure that is considered to be safe.

For more information, please see:

Business Insider – Fetal Deaths Rose 58% After Flint Switched to Lead-Poisoned Water – 22 September 2017

Huffington Post – Flint Water Crisis Likely Increased Fetal Deaths, Study Shows – 21 September 2017

Washington Post – Flint’s Lead-Poisoned Water had a ‘Horrifyingly Large’ Effect on Fetal Deaths, Study Finds – 21 September 2017

Working Paper – The Effect of an Increase in Lead in the Water System on Fertility and Birth Outcomes: The Case of Flint, Michigan – 7 August 2017

Center for Disease Control and Prevention – Health Problems Caused by Lead – 17 April 2017

Business Insider – Michigan is Urging Infants Take Lead Screening After Flint Water Crisis – 17 November 2016

World Health Organization – Lead Poisoning and Health – September 2016

 

Washington Sees Bipartisanship on Bill Against Sex Trafficking

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. – On September 19, 2017 the Senate Commerce Committee heard testimony from victims’ families urging law makers to approve the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA). The bill has bipartisan support as it was promoted by both Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut).

Human trafficking survivors and their advocates have been pushing Congress to reform Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) for years. Courts around the country have been interpreting the act to afford immunity to individuals and companies who knowingly work with sex traffickers to create advertisements for the sale of women and children into sex trafficking.

The CDA was passed by Congress in 1996 to help families shield children form sexually explicit material. At the time, Congress also wanted the Internet to be successful. Taking both of these goals into account, Congress designed the CDA “to protect companies when they merely hosted content from third parties and when they chose in good faith to regulate explicit material on their sites — not when they knowingly engaged in clearly illegal activity.”

Yvonne Ambrose, who’s daughter Desiree Robinson was killed as a result of sex trafficking, speaks to the media after giving her testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee, in favor of amending the CDA.

Today, individuals and companies utilized the immunity law of the CDA. California Superior Court Judge Lawrence Brown stated, “until Congress sees fit to amend the immunity law, the broad reach of section 230 of the Communications Decency Act even applies to those alleged to support the exploitation of others by human trafficking.” One webpage it applies to is Backpage.com which is the website where most American victims of sex trafficking are sold.

Backpage is involved in 73% of cases of suspected child trafficking in America. Although this is a large percentage, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit recently dismissed three sex trafficking cases. The court ruled that the CDA’s immunity provision precluded the litigation even if they knowingly collaborated with sex traffickers to sell children. The court suggested that the victims seek legislative change to stop this issue.

Despite not taking ads from Backpage, Google “has emerged as its behind-the-scenes champion.” Google is concerned that closing the loophole created by the CDA would allow for frivolous lawsuits and investigations that will damage its’ interests and the freedom of the Internet. Senator Portman says they have nothing to fear.

Senator Portman said, “They have to be proven to have knowingly facilitated, supported or assisted in online sex trafficking to be liable in the first place.”  The Senator further declared, “Because the standard is so high, our bill protects good tech actors and targets rogue online actors like Backpage.”

While none of the members of the Commerce Committee have come out against the bill, some have indicated that they are open to revising it in order to address the concerns of the tech industry. It remains to be seen how the bill may be revised to address these concerns and effectively close the CDA loophole.

For more information, please see:

The Hill – Senators Hear Emotional Testimony on Controversial Sex-Trafficking Bill – 19 September 2017

Huff Post – Who Will Win in Congress – Trafficking Victims or Special Interests? – 19 September 2017

Washington Post – Mother of Slain Teen Makes Tearful Plea for Congress to Amend Internet Law – 19 September 2017

New York Times – Google and Sex Traffickers Like Backpage.com – 7 September 2017

Congress Considers Major Change to the Americans with Disabilities Act

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. – Currently, Congress is contemplating the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017 (H.R. 620). H.R. 620’s protestors believe it would place major increases on the burden of people with disabilities. As the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) stands now, owners of businesses open to the public – such as hotels, restaurants and movie theaters – must make sure their businesses are accessible for people with disabilities. When a business fails to comply with these rules, a person with disabilities can either take them to court or file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice.

H.R. 620 would change this process and allow businesses to delay fixing the problem for months at a time. The process under the new bill includes many more steps. These steps start with a written notice to the business owner of the inability of the disabled person to access their business. After that, the business has two months to respond and then another four months to actually begin addressing the violation. During that six-month period, the person with disabilities sees no relief.

In the 1990’s when the American’s with Disabilities Act was passed, it contained a provision that required businesses to “remove architectural barriers and other obstacles that impede access to the establishment,” according to the American Civil Liberties Union. This provision is known as Title III. The provision makes it possible for people with disabilities to have access to businesses such as groceries stores or shopping malls as well as facilities such as public restrooms and libraries.

Crowd comes together to support disability rights. Photo Courtesy of Getty Images.

The goal of H.R. 620 is to allow for businesses to opt out of Title III. By allowing businesses to opt out of Title III, the responsibility falls on the person with disabilities to make sure businesses have the proper accommodations. Essentially, the person with disabilities has to invest a considerable amount of time and effort to get the necessary accommodations from a business. Whereas, the way the bill stands now, businesses are much more likely to fix a problem sooner in order to settle cases or appease the U.S. Department of Justice.

Supporters of H.R. 620 believe that amending Title III would reduce the number of frivolous and unwarranted lawsuits. After Title III was instituted, there were many lawsuits against businesses for failure to comply with Title III. Those against H.R. 620 believe that there are many reasons for why the amendment is unwarranted.

Currently, the ADA offers free educational resources to businesses that explain how they can comply with Title III. According to Rewire, “an analysis of ADA lawsuits in 2016 identified just 12 individuals and one organization that have filed more than 100 lawsuits each.” Those who oppose H.R. 620 believe that shows most law suits are not abusing Title III. They also say that the ADA already has methods to deal with those frivolous lawsuits.

The passage of H.R. 620 will have a major impact on the lives of people with disabilities. Many believe their civil rights are on the chopping block. With 18 co-sponsors, the bill was voted to advance by the House Judiciary Committee on September 7th, 2017. Now, many wait to see if this bill will become a reality and if it does, how it affects their lives.

For more information, please see:

Romper – What is HR 620? It Could Threaten the Civil Rights of People with Disabilities – 14 September 2017

Human Rights Watch – Will the US Weaken its Disability Laws? – 13 September 2017

Action Together Massachusetts – Action: Protect the American Disabilities Act – Oppose H.R.620 – 12 September 2017

Rewire – Congress Makes Progress in Destroying the Americans with Disabilities Act – 11 September 2017

Rewire – The Americans with Disabilities Act is Under Attack in Congress – 30 May 2017

“Not one less:” Thousands Protest in Mexico Following the Murder of Mara Castilla

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

PUEBLA, Mexico On Sunday, September 17, thousands marched in the streets of Mexico City and Puebla after the body of Mara Fernanda Castilla—a 19-year-old university student gone missing the week before—was found.

Protestors marching against femicides in Mexico. Photo Courtesy of CNN Español.

Mara had gone missing on September 8, after hailing a driver from a popular ride-sharing app called Cabify; she got in the vehicle and the driver drove to her home. Security footage showed that the driver idled in front of her house, ended the ride, and drove away, but Mara never got out of the car.

Her body was found a week later in a ditch near a motel.  She had been raped and strangled.

The Cabify driver has been arrested for deprivation of liberty and murder.

Sunday’s marches took place throughout the states of Mexico and Puebla, with people protesting a perceived disregard from the Mexican authorities toward femicides—killings of women and girls specifically due to their gender, usually accompanied with sexual violence.  As per the Observatorio Ciudadano Nacional del Feminicidio, only 25% of reported murders are investigated as femicides.

According to Luis Ernesto Derbez, director of Universidad de la Américas Puebla (UDLAP), in an interview with Forbes Mexico, a lack of judicial infrastructure is one of the greatest problems in combating impunity in Mexico today.  This means that less than 1% of reported crimes are seen through to their conclusion. The population ratio of judges to people is approximately 4.2 judges per every 100,000 people, while the international average is closer to 16.23 judges per 100,000 people.  UDLAP has conducted a multi-year study called the Global Impunity Index (Índice Global de Impunidad), in which Mexico scored 4th highest impunity in the world.

Mara was a political science major at Universidad Popular Autónoma del Estado de Puebla. She is the 82nd victim of femicide in the state of Puebla this year.

For more information, please see:
Al-Jazeera – “Mexicans march against femicide after teen’s murder” – 18 September 2017

BBC Mundo – “Femicidio en México: Mara Castilla, el asesinato de una joven de 19 años en un taxi que indigna a un país violento” – 18 September 2017

El País – “Mara no se fue, a Mara la mataron” – 18 September 2017

The Guardian – “Outrage as Mexican student killed after using ride-hailing service” – 18 September 2017

Observatorio Ciudadano de Derechos Sexuales y Reproductivos – “Feminicidios en Puebla al 17 de septiembre de 2017” – 17 September 2017

CNN Español – “El trágico fin de Mara Castilla, la joven mexicana que desapareció tras tomar un coche de Cabify” – 16 September 2017

Forbes México – “México es el cuarto país con mayor impunidad en el mundo” – 28 August 2017

A Weekend of Protests Follow Ex-Cop’s Acquittal for 2011 Shooting

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

ST. LOUIS, MissouriOn Friday, September 15, St. Louis Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson acquitted white former police officer Jason Stockley charged with first-degree murder of Anthony Lamar Smith, a black man.

Hundreds of people protesting in St. Louis on Friday following Jason Stockley’s acquittal of the 2011 murder of Anthony Lamar Smith. Photo Courtesy of The Washington Post.

In December 2011, Officer Stockley and his partner (who was not charged) engaged Mr. Smith in a high-speed car chase when he fled the scene of a suspected drug deal.  The officers rammed Mr. Smith’s vehicle.  Officer Stockley got out of the police SUV armed with his service revolver as well as an unauthorized AK-47, approached Mr. Smith’s car, and fired five shots into the car.  Mr. Smith was killed as a result.  Officer Stockley reported finding a handgun lodged between the center console and the passenger seat.

Prosecutors alleged the handgun was planted by Stockley after the shooting since it did not have Mr. Smith’s DNA on it, only Stockley’s.  Dashcam footage also recorded Officer Stockley telling his partner that he was “going to kill this [redacted], don’t you know it” immediately prior to their ramming of Mr. Smith’s vehicle.

Stockley was charged in May 2016.  He waived his right to a jury trial, opting instead for a bench trial where questions of both fact and law would be decided by the presiding judge.

Judge Wilson determined that the two points of contention alleged by the prosecution in the case were as follows:

  1. Whether Officer Stockley planted the gun found in Mr. Smith’s car.
  2. Whether Officer Stockley’s statement made prior to the end of the vehicle pursuit indicated premeditation.

Judge Wilson ruled that Officer Stockley’s comment lacked context and that there was no evidence that the handgun found in Mr. Smith’s car had been planted. “This Court, in conscience, cannot say that the State has proven every element of murder beyond a reasonable doubt, or that the State has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in self-defense.” Officer Stockley was found not guilty of Anthony Lamar Smith’s murder.

Protests around St. Louis began on Friday shortly after news of the acquittal, and continued throughout Saturday and well into Sunday afternoon.

Officer Stockley’s defense attorney, Neil Bruntrager, also represented Darren Wilson, the officer who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and whose lack of indictment by grand jury sparked protests around the United States in 2014.

In 2015, The Guardian began an investigative project called “The Counted” to document the number of people killed by police in the United States.  The database includes 1093 reports of people being killed by police in the US in 2016.

For more information, please see:
The Guardian – More protests expected over acquittal of white officer in police killing – 17 September 2017

Al-Jazeera – Ex-officer cleared in killing of Anthony Lamar Smith – 16 September 2017

New York Daily News – Here’s why a judge acquitted a St. Louis cop of first-degree murder – 16 September 2017

The Washington Post – Police and protesters clash in St. Louis after former officer who shot black driver acquitted on murder charges – 16 September 2017

National Public Radio – Protests in St. Louis After Ex-Cop Acquitted In Anthony Lamar Smith Murder Case – 15 September 2017

Vox News – St. Louis police shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith: ex-cop Jason Stockley found not guilty of murder – 15 September 2017

The Guardian – “The Counted: People killed by police in the US” – Series

Elders Forgotten During and After Hurricanes Pay the Price

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

FLORIDA, U.S.A. – In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills is under investigation for the death of 8 residents. The nursing home lost a transformer during the storm that powered their air conditioning. The rest of the power remained unaffected.

The temperature and humidity levels in Florida rose after the hurricane. The nursing home attributes the residents’ deaths to “a prolonged outage of our air conditioning system due to Hurricane Irma.” The second floor of the facility was called “excessively hot” by Police Chief Tomas Sanchez.

Nursing home administrator Jorge Carballo said, “Staff set up mobile cooling units and fans to cool the facility and continually checked on our residents’ well-being to ensure they were hydrated.” He added that the nursing home was cooperating with the authorities following this tragedy.

After a resident died in the facility late on September 12th, three more residents were found dead on the second floor of the building. An evacuation of the nursing home was done on the morning of September 13th. But it was too late for four more residents, who died in hospitals after the evacuation.

Across the street from the Hollywood Hills nursing home is Memorial Regional Hospital. This close-proximity was the reason some chose the nursing home for their family. Jeffrey Nova chose Hollywood Hills for his mother because the hospital was so close. His mother, Gail Nova was one of the residents who passed away.

Florida Governor Rick Scott is demanding answers. He said officials had been in contact with the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills. “If they find that this facility was not meeting the state’s high standards of care, they will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law” the Governor said in a statement.

In previous years, the nursing home has had safety violations and citations. Two of these citations were for not following generator regulations in 2014 and 2016. In both these instances, the nursing home did correct the problems.

Residents at Texas nursing home, La Vita Bella, sit in water up to their chests as they await assistance. Photo Courtesy of Time

Other nursing homes in both Florida and Texas have been evacuated due to Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Harvey. La Vita Bella nursing home residents in Texas sat in water up to their chests before they were evacuated. The residents were airlifted out after pleas were tweeted out for assistance.

But seniors in nursing homes are not the only ones who do not get the assistance they need quickly. Seniors that do not live in nursing homes are often alone with no one to help them. These seniors are reluctant to ask for help for fear of being institutionalized.

Many of them require wheelchairs, walkers or other means of assistance for medical necessity. Seniors also may be dependent on electronic devices out of medical necessity.  According to a 2005 study, about 50% of Americans needing dialysis were 65 or older. In these cases, when there is a power outage, it could create life threatening situations.

Howard Gleckman of Forbes suggests some solutions for how we can help the elderly in these disasters. Some of these suggestions are mapping at risk seniors living at home, creating easy to use technology so seniors can request assistance and making shelters accessible to the elderly the way that we have for pets.

Although many seniors are reluctant to ask for help, it can’t hurt to offer assistance, even when they don’t need it.

For more information, please see:

CNN – At least 8 dead after Irma leaves Florida nursing home with no A/C – 13 September 2017

Florida Government – Gov. Rick Scott: I am Demanding Answers on Fatalities in Broward – 13 September 2017

Forbes – Why Big Storms Like Irma And Harvey Are Killing Frail Elders – 13 September 2017

ABC News – Why hurricane preparation and recovery is especially difficult for many senior citizens – 12 September 2017

Time – ‘Need Help ASAP.’ The Story Behind the Photo of Nursing Home Residents Trapped in Hurricane Flood Water – 28 August 2017

Goodbye Columbus Day for L.A. and Others

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

LOS ANGELES, U.S.A. – Around the United States, the second Monday of every October has nationally and traditionally been known as Columbus Day since 1937. Now, the holiday is being replaced in L.A. and other cities around the country. L.A. saw a near unanimous vote to replace Columbus Day. The day will now be a celebration of indigenous people. L.A. joins cities such as Seattle, Phoenix and Denver along with the states of South Dakota and Vermont in changing the holiday.

Native Americans in LA City Hall dance while Council members vote to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day. Photo Courtesy of Los Angeles Times.

Another city joining the change is Ithaca, NY. Ithaca has a local connection to the change as it sits on what used to be the lands of the Cayuga Nation and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. Ithaca wants to be more conscientious of the contributions made to their local community by Native Americans.

Many have strong opinions on changing Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day. Native American activists believe that the celebration of Columbus Day is the “celebration of genocide of indigenous people.” For Native Americans, Christopher Columbus’ arrival in North America signified the beginning of the atrocities and destruction that they experienced.

There is one group that has been actively fighting against the change from Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day. Some Italian-Americans are strongly against changing the holiday. They claim the potential change is “an affront to their heritage.”

Historian Dominic Candeloro said, “I have no problem with it. I also happen to be an Italian-American. The one problem we have with the proclamation is it ignores the 900-pound gorilla in the room and that’s Columbus Day. You’re replacing the traditions of one ethnic group with the traditions of another ethnic group.”

Candeloro believes Indigenous Peoples Day should be celebrated in conjunction with Columbus Day. In some cities, this is still possible. L.A. has declared October 12th to be Italian Heritage Day. It was in 1492, on October 12th that Columbus arrived in the Bahamas.

Robin Abcarian of the LA Times writes, “History is written by victors, and promulgated by their descendants.” But now there is a call to correct the narrative of the victors to more accurately represent history. This has been seen around the country with the call to change Columbus Day and with the removal of Confederate soldier statutes.

The story told to children in schools about Columbus day is traditionally told as a happy one. By giving the story this narrative, author Howard Zin believes it serves as a justification of the genocide of an entire group of people. By changing the narrative of the story to include the side of Native American’s it may be possible to erase the “whitewashed American history curriculum.”

For more information, please see:

Chicago Tribune – Oak Park approves celebration of Indigenous People Day – 7 September 2017

Cornell Sun – City Passes Resolution to Recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day – 7 September 2017

Los Angeles Times – Replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day is a long overdue victory for civil rights – 1 September 2017

Huffpost – Los Angeles Replaces Columbus Day With Holiday Celebrating Indigenous People – 31 August 2017

Canada Does Good for Refugees, but also Doesn’t?

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

TORONTO, Canada – Canada is known around the world as accepting of immigrants and refugees. Personal stories about the positive experiences immigrants and refugees have in Canada come out every day. Seidu Mohammad, a Ghanaian refugee in Canada is chasing his dream of being a professional soccer player. His team is currently on a winning streak and the pressure is on to keep it going.

Ahmed Hussen prepares for a citizenship ceremony in Toronto. Photo Courtesy of The New York Times

Ahmed Hussen is another refugee who came to Canada from Somalia 25 years ago. He was named immigration czar in January 2017 and is the first refugee to be appointed to the spot.  After coming to Canada, he worked to get himself through college and then law school. He proclaimed “everyday generosity of Canadians … helped me each and every step of the way.”

Hussen continues to promote Canada’s open door policy despite pressure to close the border. This pressure stems from the Canadian refugee processing system being overwhelmed by Haitians who have lined up at a ditch in Champlain N.Y. out of fear of deportation from the United States.

But Hussen is not the only one addressing the refugee problem. While Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau personally welcomed a planeload of Syrian refugees arriving in Canada in December of 2015, by September of 2017, it appears that welcome does not apply to Haitian refugees from the United States.

Trudeau claims “for someone to successfully seek asylum it’s not about economic migration. It’s about vulnerability, exposure to torture or death or being stateless people.”  The turn away of Haitian refugees disagrees with Trudeau’s statement.

Haitian human rights lawyer Patrice Florvilus believes Canada’s claims that “things have returned to normal” in Haiti is not true. Florvilus believes Canada should grant Haitians refugee status, “if Canada wants to become a real beacon for refugees.”

Haitian refugees are not the only ones having trouble getting into Canada. Syrian refugees who can make it to Canada are usually the “richest and most well-educated members of their society” because they are the ones who are able to pay off human smugglers. The political ramifications here do not bode well for Syria.

Typically, refugees who seek asylum in the geographical vicinity of the country they are escaping from return when the conflict ends. But those who travel across oceans do not come back. This means that when the Syrian conflict ends, the country will see a shortage of doctors, dentists and nurses. Essentially, this system of migration is a lottery for the rich and powerful.

While Canada has done plenty of good for many refugees, it may not have truly earned its reputation as an open and inviting place for refugees and asylum seekers.

For further information, please see:

National Post – Why Canada’s refugee policy may actually be doing more harm than good – 8 September 2017

New York Times – In Canada, an Immigration Minister Who Himself Is a Refugee – 6 September 2017

CBC News – Refugee who lost fingers to frostbite chasing soccer dreams – 5 September 2017

The Guardian – Welcoming Haitian refugees to Canada isn’t about generosity but justice – 29 August 2017

Guatemalan President blocked by Courts from expelling UN-backed Anti-Corruption Prosecutor

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala On Sunday, August 27, Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales ordered the expulsion from Guatemala of Ivan Velasquez, the Colombian prosecutor heading the UN supported anti-corruption panel CICIG.  Mr. Velasquez had requested that Guatemala’s Congress remove President Morales’ presidential immunity to investigation two days prior.

Guatemala’s Congress will make the decision on whether or not to revoke President Morales’ immunity to CICIG’s investigation. Photo Courtesy of The New York Times.

President Morales’ expulsion order was temporarily stopped by Guatemala’s Constitutional Court, in response to which the President protested that the court was infringing on his authority over foreign affairs. On Monday, September 4, the Supreme Court ruled that Mr. Velasquez’s request to remove President Morales’ immunity should be considered by Guatemala’s Congress.

Within the next few days, Guatemala’s Congress will form a small committee to examine the case and present their findings to the rest of Congress.  Two-thirds of the deputies in Congress would then have to vote in favor to remove presidential immunity. As reported by Al Jazeera, many of these deputies are also under investigation by CICIG.

The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) is a UN-backed organization that has been operating in Guatemala since 2007.  CICIG was begun to combat the widespread governmental and criminal collusion that flourished in Guatemala after 36 years of civil war.  Ivan Velasquez led the CICIG in an investigation that resulted in the resignation and arrest of Guatemala’s previous president, Otto Pérez Molina, in 2015 on corruption charges.

President Morales has been under investigation for allegations of corruption stemming from over $800,000 of undisclosed funds received by his political party, the National Convergence Front, during his 2015 presidential campaign.  According to Reuters, President Morales’ son and brother are currently under CICIG investigation for fraudulent behavior.

In a statement to the Guardian, Anabella Sibrain, director of NGO International Platform against Impunity stated: “What we’ve seen today is an arbitrary act against internationally backed anti-corruption figureheads, but it is also a strong message to the country’s increasingly robust social movements that they could be next.”

Supporters of President Morales claim that CICIG is an example of United Nations interference in a sovereign nation’s judicial processes and a gross overreach.

 For more information, please see:

Brookings – What Guatemala’s political crisis means for anti-corruption efforts everywhere – 7 September 2017

AlJazeera – Guatemala congress to weigh lifting Morales’ immunity – 4 September 2017

Reuters – Guatemalan president may be investigated in campaign finance case – 4 September 2017

AlJazeera – Guatemala top court sides with UN anti-corruption unit – 29 August 2017

The New York Times – Showdown in Guatemala Over Investigation of President – 28 August 2017

The Guardian – Crisis flares in Guatemala over corruption and organized crime – 27 August 2017

Protesters Rally Against KKK March in Virginia

By Sarah Lafen
Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, North America

 

WASHINGTON D.C., United States — Over one thousand protesters met the Ku Klux Klan in downtown Charlottesville, Virginia as the white supremacist group prepared for a march through the town protesting the city’s decision to take down a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a public park.  The anti-KKK protesters outnumbered the KKK members, and held signs that denounced racism and promoted racial tolerance.

Counter-protesters shout at members of the KKK at their rally in Charlottesville, Virginia (Photo Courtesy of CBS News)

Members of the Loyal White Knights chapter of the KKK, which is based in Pelham, North Carolina, wore robes, hoods, and carried the Confederate flags.  One member carried a poster that read “Stop the cultural genocide of white people!” while others shouted “white power.”  The organization claimed that the removal of the Lee statue is part of a wider effort to eliminate white history.  One member, James Moore, believes that “[t]hey’re trying to erase the white culture right out of the history books.”

In response to the rally, city officials organized events in other parts of the city and encouraged city residents to stay clear of the KKK members.  However, many residents still showed up at the rally to make sure their voices were heard.  A professor at the University of Virginia who is among those calling for the removal of the Lee statue, Jalane Schmidt, commented that it was important for her to be at the rally “because the Klan was ignored in the 1920s and they metastasized.” Schmidt emphasized that the KKK needs to know “that their ideology is not acceptable.”

Over one hundred police officers were at the rally to help maintain order.  After the rally concluded, officers led several people away in handcuffs and asked large groups to disperse.  Officers also declared the counter-protesters to be an “unlawful assembly” and used gas canisters to coerce them out of the area.

 

For more information, please see:

CBS News — At Virginia KKK Rally, Counter-protesters show up in Droves — 8 July 2017

USA Today — KKK Rally in Charlottesville met with Throng of Protestors — 8 July 2017

The Washington Post — Ku Klux Klan Rally Begins Amid Tension in Charlottesville — 8 July 2017

Yahoo News — KKK Marchers in Virginia Town met by Throngs of Counter-protesters — 8 July 2017

 

Trump Invites Philippines President, Nicknamed “The Punisher,” to White House

By Sarah Lafen
Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, North America

 

WASHINGTON D.C., United States — On Saturday, April 29, President Trump invited Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte to the White House during a “very friendly conversation” over the telephone.  Duterte is nicknamed “the Punisher” and is accused of effectuating a drug war that has killed over 7,000.  Duterte has also been accused of ordering extrajudicial killings of drug suspects.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte speaks with reporters in Manila on Friday (Photo Courtesy of NPR)

The White House released a statement that explained that Trump invited Duterte to the U.S. so the two leaders can discuss the “important of the United States-Philippines alliance.”  The White House also commented that on the phone on Saturday, the two discussed the difficulty the Philippine government is facing in fighting “very hard” to rid the country of drugs.

White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus supported the invitation in a statement to reporters, commenting on the importance of U.S. outreach to other Asian nations in the ongoing nuclear threat issue posed by North Korea.  Priebus acknowledged the issue of human rights, however argued that the North Korean problem takes precedence.  Priebus noted that “[t]he issues facing us developing out of North Korea are so serious that we need cooperation at some level with as many partners in the area as we can get to make sure we have our ducks in a row.”

Trump administration officials are preparing for criticism from human rights groups.  Two senior officials said they expect the State Department and National Security Council to raise internal objections, as the two departments were allegedly surprised by the invitation.

Duterte has been accused of encouraging civilians to kill anyone attempting to sell or buy drugs.  In his final campaign speech before being elected, Duterte announced to the crowd “[f]orget the laws on human rights.”  In December, Duterte released a statement alleging that Trump told him that he was going about the war on drugs in the Philippines “the right way.”  A few weeks after that statement, the top human rights official within the United Nations called for Duterte to be investigated for murder.

In a statement, the White House declined to comment on details of Duterte’s possible trip, however stated that Trump is looking forward to his trip to the Philippines in November.

 

For more information, please see:

CNN — Trump Invites Philippines’ Duterte to the White House — 30 April 2017

The Huffington Post — Trump will Meet President Duterte, Despite Philippines’ Ongoing Extrajudicial Killings — 30 April 2017

NPR — Trump Invites Controversial Philippines Leader to White House — 30 April 2017

The New York Times — Trump’s ‘Very Friendly’ Talk with Duterte Stuns Aids and Critics Alike — 30 April 2017

U.N. Peacekeepers Ran Sex-Ring in Haiti

By Sarah Lafen
Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, North America

 

Port-au-Prince, HAITI — Over 100 U.N. Peacekeepers stationed in Haiti are implicated in a child sex ring.  According to an investigation which focused on the presence of the Peacekeepers across the world over the past 12 years, over 2,000 allegations of sexual abuse by Peacekeepers were reported.  From 2004 to 2007 in Haiti, over 134 Sri Lankan Peacekeepers exploited an average of nine children per day.  While 144 Peacekeepers were sent home after an internal U.N. report on the abuse, none have been sent to jail.

A woman who was raped and impregnated by a Peacekeeper wipes her tears during an interview (Photo Courtesy of AP).

One teenage Haitian boy said he was gang-raped in 2011 by Uruguayan Peacekeepers who filmed the assault on a cell phone.  The report also revealed that dozens of Haitian women were also raped, while dozens of others engaged in “survival sex” with the Peacekeepers.  One victim girl told U.N. investigators that from ages 12-15 she had sex with about 50 Peacekeepers, including a “Commandant” who paid her 75 cents.

Haitian lawyer Mario Joseph is working towards getting compensation for victims of a cholera outbreak, which has been linked to Nepalese Peacekeepers, that killed an estimated 10,000 people.  Joseph is also trying to get child support for a dozen Haitian women who were impregnated by   Peacekeepers.  Joseph asked people to “Imagine if the U.N. was going to the United States and raping children and bringing cholera,” noting that “[h]uman rights aren’t just for rich white people.”

U.S. Senator Bob Corker agreed with Joseph, and recalled his own disgust at the hearing of the U.N. sexual abuse cases uncovered last year in Africa.  Corker commented that “If [he] heard that a U.N. peacekeeping mission was coming near [his] home in Chattanooga, [he would] be on the first plane out of here to go back and protect [his] family.”

This past March, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced several new measures to help combat sexual abuse by Peacekeepers.  However, the report had little impact and never materialized.

This sex-ring scandal comes on the heels of the April 13th vote by the U.N. Security Council to end the Peacekeeping mission in Haiti.  On the same day, Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., mentioned the scandal in her remarks to the U.N.  Haley asked “[w]hat do we say to these kids? Did these peacekeepers keep them safe?”

The U.N. has no jurisdiction over Peacekeepers, which means the countries who provide the troops are left responsible for their punishment.

 

For more information, please see:

Telesur — UN Peacekeepers Gave Haitian Kids Snacks to be Part of Sex Ring — 15 April 2017

Foreign Policy — U.N. Peacekeepers Ran a Child Sex Ring in Haiti — 14 April 2017

Independent — UN Peacekeepers in Haiti Implicated in Child Sex Ring — 14 April 2017

Associated Press — AP Exclusive: UN Child Sex Ring Left Victims but no Arrests –12 April 2017

 

Airbnb Host Denies Asian-American Guest Service Based on Race

By Sarah Lafen
Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON D.C., United States — An Airbnb host in California was banned from the company after cancelling a guest’s reservation at the last minute based on the guest’s race.  Dyne Suh, a 25-year old law student at the University of California, Los Angeles, recently posted pictures to her Facebook account earlier this week that showed a message conversation with an Airbnb host who refused to rent to her because of she was Asian.

A portion of the conversation between Suh and the Airbnb host (Photo Courtesy of The Huffington Post)

Suh and her fiancé booked an Airbnb residence in Big Bear Lake, California for February 2017.  After conversing with the host about adding two additional guests, Suh messaged the host to inform her that the group was close to the residence when the host started “spewing racism.”

One message from the host read “I wouldn’t rent to u if u were the last person on earth,” and another “One word says it all: Asian.”  Suh told the host that she would report the comments to Airbnb, and the host responded “It’s why we have Trump.”  The host also said that she would “not allow this country to be told what to do by foreigners.”

Suh has participated in anti-Trump events in the past, however asserts that this incident was unprovoked.  She said that for her to “now have someone say something racist to [her] and say it’s because of Trump, it was [her] fears coming true.”  Suh believes that people who previously held these beliefs now feel “emboldened” to speak them.  She commented that “[n]o matter how well [she] treat[s] others, if you’re Asian you’re less than human, and people can treat you like trash.”

A spokesperson for Airbnb told reporters that the host has been permanently removed from the company.  Airbnb also wrote in an email that “[that] behavior is abhorrent and unacceptable.”  Last year, Airbnb conducted a comprehensive review of the company and found that “minorities struggle more than others to book a listing.”  This finding caused the company to implement a new policy which requires all hosts to treat all guests “with respect.”  The new policy explains that “no matter who you are, where you are from, or where you travel, you should be able to belong in the Airbnb community.”

 

For more information, please see:

Fortune — Airbnb Banned a Host who Reportedly Cancelled a Guest’s Reservation over her Race — 8 April 2017

NY Daily News — California Airbnb Host Banned for Naming President Trump as Reason to Refuse Asian-American Guest — 8 April 2017

The Telegraph News — Airbnb Host Cancels Asian Woman’s Reservation at the Last Minute, Telling her: ‘It’s Why we Have Trump’ — 8 April 2017

KTLA — Riverside Woman Denied Lodging on Airbnb During Big Bear Snow Storm Because of her Race — 7 April 2017

U.S. Women’s Soccer Team Reaches New Labor Agreement with Better Pay

By Sarah Lafen
Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON D.C., United States — On Tuesday, the United States’ women’s national soccer team and U.S. Soccer, the team’s governing body, agreed to a new five-year agreement.  The new agreement follows a year-long dispute over demands for equal pay.  The team’s previous agreement expired in 2012, but was extended while negotiations took place.  Some players brought the situation to court to explore the possibility of going on strike to protest a lack of progress in negotiations, however U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman ruled against the players last year.

U.S. women’s national soccer team members Tobin Heath, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Samantha Mewis at a game in March (Photo Courtesy of the New York Times)

While the new agreement will not match the women’s national team pay with the men’s national soccer team pay, it does outline better working conditions, travel arrangements, increase per diem stipends, and match bonuses.  Because the agreement will last through 2021, the team will not have to renegotiate terms for upcoming major events, such as the 2019 World Cup and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati called the agreement an “important step” for women’s soccer.  Gulati praised the agreement and said that “[it] helps to ensure the strength of the women’s national team, provide stability and growth potential for the National Women’s Soccer League, and over time strengthen the elite player development process at the grassroots level.”

U.S. women’s team veteran Megan Rapinoe said she was “very proud” of the team throughout the negotiation process.  Rapione thinks there is still progress to be made for the women’s team and women in general, the Women’s National Team Players Association should be proud of their accomplishment with the new agreement.  National team player Alex Morgan said the agreement “felt very empowering.”  Morgan commented that she “felt really happy with the agreement that [they] reached and the fact that [they] can now do what [they] came for and play soccer.”

The agreement was reached on National Equal Pay Day, which is the date that marks how far into the year women have to work in order to earn the same amount of pay that men made the previous year.  The women’s soccer agreement mirrors that of the women’s national hockey team.  Last week, USA Hockey and the U.S. women’s national hockey team reached an agreement to improve compensation.  Some of the women’s national hockey team players threatened to boycott the women’s world championship tournament unless they saw improvements in pay and financial support.

 

For more information, please see:

NPR — In ‘Important Step,’ U.S. Women’s Soccer Team Reaches New Labor Deal — 6 April 2017

The Huffington Post — On Equal Pay Day, U.S. Women’s Soccer Players Finally Strike a Deal — 5 April 2017

The New York Times — Long Days, Google Docs and Anonymous Surveys: How the U.S. Soccer Team Forged a Deal — 5 April 2017

PBS News Hour — U.S. Women’s Soccer Scores Higher Pay, Better Conditions in New Labor Agreement — 5 April 2017