Nicaraguans Go To Polls Today in Election Marred by Violent Protests

By Karla E General
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

MANAGUA, Nicaragua – The polls open today in Nicaragua as voters elect municipal leaders in 146 townships throughout Nicaragua, Central America’s poorest country with a population of 5.8 million, annual per capita income of $2,800 and an underemployment rate of 46.7 percent. Political analysts have described the municipal elections as a key indicator of current President Daniel Ortega’s Sandinista government’s approval ratings. According to Managua polling firm M&R, Ortega’s approval rating is less than 20 percent with nearly two-thirds viewing him as authoritarian.

All eyes this year are on the mayoral elections in the capital of Managua, a battle between Hall of Fame boxer Alexis Arguello and ex-finance minister Eduardo Montealegre. Arguello, viewed as the “best chance to bolster the leftist Sandinista party of ex-revolutionary and current President Daniel Ortega,” was the city’s deputy mayor between 2005 and 2007. Arguello stated last month that “[t]he Sandinistas are the only party that understands the needs of the country…We welcome anyone who puts away the bitterness, hate and personal interests to work for the community.” Montealegre, running for Managua mayor on behalf of the opposition Liberal Constitutional Party, lost the 2006 presidential race to Ortega.

The campaign trail has been marred by violent protests between Sandinista supporters and opposition parties. The conflicts have been exacerbated by Ortega barring opposition parties – the Sandinista Renovation Movement and the Conservative Party – from supporting candidates, and allegations that the Sandinista party has rigged the vote and refused to allow international observers. Opposition leaders have criticized the Ortega government for failing to invite observers from the Organization of American States and the local group Ethics and Transparency, a group that has monitored past elections. Ortega has accused the U.S. of stirring up dissent to undermine his party.

Sandinistas currently run 87 of the 153 cities and are favored to win re-election today in most of them. “Sandinista supporters will show up at the polls because they are proud of their party…But Ortega’s unpopularity is a big issue, and this could have an impact,” said Managua political analyst, Carlos Tunnermann. Vice President of the Inter-American Dialogue, Michael Shifter, stated: “Ortega is not the same revolutionary he was…Even his core supporters may find it hard to vote Sandinista if the money runs out.”

Results of the final vote are expected to be released on Monday.

For more information, please see:

The Associated Press – Nicaraguan Municipal Vote Seen as Test for Ortega – 9 November 2008

Bloomberg – Nicaragua’s Ortega Befriends Boxers, Contras as Support Wanes – 9 November 2008

San Francisco Chronicle – Ex-Boxer Runs for Mayor in Nicaragua Capital – 9 November 2008

U.S. Aid Worker and Two German Film Makers Arrested in Niger for “Espionage and Terrorism”

By Meryl White

Impunity Watch Reporter, Central and Western Africa

NIGER DELTA, Nigeria- A U.S. aid worker, Judith Asuni, and two German film makers, Florian Alexander Opitz and Andy Lehmann, have been arrested in Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta on charges of “espionage and terrorism.” The German nationals without a government clearance have been filming masked youths from the Ijaw region in the Niger Delta. The Germans were preparing a possible TV documentary about the string of violence in the oil rich region. The Germans were detained last week by the State Security Service.

Judith Asuni has lived in the Niger Delta for 36 years. The United States embassy has released the following statement, “All we know is that Judith Asuni is a peace worker who got funding from academics and international donor agencies to work for peace in Nigeria.” Asuni is in charge of an organization called Academic Associate Peace Work as organization that conducts mediations between the government and militant groups and encourages disarmament In the past, she has organized workshops with the Nigerian police on conflict management.

Asuni was arrested for giving assistance to the German filmmakers. Now all three suspects face accusations of carrying out an act of terrorism against the Nigerian government. Addo Mwazu stated, “The lady is suspected of espionage by exploiting the situation in the Niger Delta.” Other people believe that the arrests were a result of the Nigeria’s fear of the embarrassment following the worldwide release of the documentary.

While members of the government may be uncomfortable with the German filmmaker’s work, Port Harcourt journalist Ibiba Don Pedro believes that these filmmakers “are playing a crucial role in getting information out about the region’s problems.”

The U.S. embassy is presently in touch with Nigerian officials. Meanwhile, Germany’s ambassador to Nigeria has rejected the charges that the Germans are spies and terrorists. German officials insist that the two filmmakers are only journalists.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Nigeria arrests foreign ‘spies’ – 28 September 2007

VOA – American Peace Worker, 2 Germans Detained as ‘Spies’ in Nigeria’s Niger Delta – 29 September 2007

Afriquenligne – Germans arrested in Nigeria are not spies’ – 29 September 2007

ICC Prosecutor Demands Arrests in Sudan

KHARTOUM, Sudan – The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo is calling for the arrests of two men charged with war crimes in Darfur.  Warrants for Humanitarian Affairs Minister Ahmed Haroun and Janjaweed leader Ali Muhammad Ali Abad al-Rahman were issued by the ICC in April.   Sudan’s government has continued to assert that it is not bound by the ICC decisions.

Both men are wanted by the ICC on 51 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes.  Ahmed Haroun was a minister responsible for the Darfur portfolio in 2003 and 2004 and allegedly was responsible for organizing and funding the Janjaweed militia.  As the minister for humanitarian affairs, he currently has authority of the displaced persons camps and control over the flow of humanitarian aid.  Mr. Ocampo has said that “there can be no solution     to the crisis in Darfur while Mr. Haroun remained free.”  Ali Muhammad Ali Abad al-Rahman, also known as Ali Kushayb, is accused of ordering the torture and mass rape of civilians during attacks on villages in west Darfur.

Ministers from 26 countries have been invited to attend a meeting on Friday chaired by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and African Union Chairman Alpha Oumar Konare.  The meeting is intended to discuss mobilizing support for new political negotiations, deployment of a 26,000 UN-AU force, and expansion of humanitarian assistance.  Mr. Ocampo urged the international community to remind Sudan’s government of its duty to arrest those charged.  “I am concerned that silence by most states and international organizations on the subject of the arrest warrant has been understood in Khartoum as a weakening of international resolve in support of the law, and in support of the arrest…It is time to break the silence.”

Political talks are set to begin in Libya next month between the Sudanese government and Darfur rebels to discuss peace and to speed up deployment of peacekeepers to the region.   The arrest warrants are not on the agenda for those talks.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Prosecutor demands Sudan arrests – 21 September 2007

AFP – ICC prosecutor presses for arrest of Darfur war crimes suspects – 21 September 2007

Sudan Tribune – ICC Prosecutor urges world to be on side of Darfur victims – 21 September 2007

The Canadian Press – Prosecutors want arrest of alleged war criminals atop Darfur agenda – 21 September 2007

Obama Detainee Policy in Afghanistan Same as Bush Administration

By Maria E. Molina
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, D.C., United States – The Obama administration has told a federal court that detainees currently being held in Afghanistan are unlawful combatants not subject to the Geneva Conventions and can be held without charge for as long as the conflict in Afghanistan continues.  In a two-sentence filing late Friday, the Justice Department said that the new administration had reviewed its position in a case brought by prisoners at the United States Air Force base at Bagram, just north of the Afghan capital. The Obama team determined that the Bush policy was correct: such prisoners cannot sue for their release.  The closely watched case is a habeas corpus lawsuit on behalf of several prisoners who have been indefinitely detained for years without trial.

The Bush administration had argued that federal courts have no jurisdiction to hear such a case because the prisoners are noncitizens being held in the course of military operations outside the United States. The power of civilian federal judges to review individual decisions by the executive branch to hold a terrorism suspect as an enemy combatant was one of the most contentious legal issues surrounding the Bush administration. For years, President Bush’s legal team argued that federal judges had no authority under the Constitution to hear challenges by detainees being held at the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and elsewhere.

Rights lawyers have been hoping that courts would extend those rulings to allow long-term detainees being held at United States military bases elsewhere in the world to sue for release, too. There are about 600 detainees at Bagram and several thousand in Iraq.

Some observers believed that the Obama team would end up making a major change in policy but simply needed more time to come up with it, while others believed that the administration had decided.

For more information, please see:

IPS News – RIGHTS-US: What About Bagram? – 25 February 2009

Periodico – U.S. President Backs Bush Policy on Bagram Detainees – 23 February 2009

AFP – Obama draws fire for ‘terror’ detainee moves – 21 February 2009

NY Times – Obama Upholds Detainee Policy in Afghanistan – 21 February 2009

Voice of America – Obama Backs Bush on Afghanistan Detainees – 21 February 2009