Federal Judge Releases Five Guantanamo Prisoners

By Maria E. Molina
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, U.S. – A federal judge on Thursday ordered the release of five Algerian detainees held at Guantanamo Bay.  The cases largely hinged on the definition of an enemy combatant, which was argued to include al-Qaida or Taliban supporters who directly assisted in hostile acts against the U.S. or its allies.

The government’s evidence linking the five detainees to al-Qaida was found to be not credible as it came from a single, unidentified source. Therefore, the five detainees could not be held indefinitely as enemy combatants, and should be released immediately.

There was a sixth detainee that was not released because there was sufficient reason to believe he was close to an al-Qaida operative and had sought to help others travel to Afghanistan to join the terrorists’ fight against the United States and its allies.  Much of the evidence against the detainees is classified and was not discussed in open trial or the detainees themselves.

The Justice Department claimed the six men were caught and detained before they could join a global jihad.

One of the men to be released is Lakhdar Boumediene, whose landmark Supreme Court case last summer gave Guantanamo detainees the right to challenge their imprisonment. The government initially detained the five men on suspicion of plotting to bomb the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo in October 2001. They were transferred to Guantanamo in January 2002.

The Bosnian government already has agreed to take back the detainees, all of whom immigrated to Bosnia from Algeria before they were captured in 2001.

The cases of more than 200 additional Guantanamo detainees are still pending.

For more information, please see:

Washington Post – Another Falsehood Exposed -21 November 2008

Yahoo News – Judge orders release of 5 terror suspects at Gitmo – 21 November 2008

NY Times – Judge Declares Five Detainees Held Illegally – 20 November 2008

Protests Against Ortega Elections Continue in Nicaragua

By Karla E General

Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

MANAGUA, Nicaragua – The protests sparked by the 146 mayoral elections on November 9 continue to rage across Nicaragua. The opposition is taking to the streets and demanding a full recount to be overseen by impartial international and local observers. Supporters of the Sandinista government have responded by patrolling the capital of Managua with clubs and rocks to deter the opposition from mobilizing.

“This election has everything to do with whether Nicaragua remains a democratic nation or not,” said Francisco Aguirre, a former Nicaraguan ambassador to the United States and an opposition leader. “Until now, since 1990, Nicaragua has held open elections. Now something is rotten in the state of Nicaragua. They say we don’t want the gringos to sort it out for us. Okay. The Europeans then. Or Latin American observers. But they didn’t want anyone looking into this mess, because it stinks.”

The Sandinistas say the opposition is making a stink because its candidates were spanked at the polls. Bayardo Arce, a former top Sandinista commander said the elections were clean and the opposition “is just making a lot of noise…If the Sandinistas become successful entrepreneurs, it is because we are thieves. If we win an election, it is because of fraud. But we reject that.”

Preliminary results show the Sandinistas winning 106 of 146 municipalities.

For more information, please see:

The Guardian – Violence After Nicaragua Poll – 20 November 2008

Los Angeles Times – Voter Fraud Allegations Directed at Nicaragua’s Sandinistas – 20 November 2008

Washington Post – Democracy in Nicaragua in Peril, Ortega Critics Say – 20 November 2008

Mexico’s Interpol Liaison Arrested for Leaking Information

By Maria E. Molina
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

MEXICO CITY, Mexico – A senior Mexican police official who worked as Mexico’s Interpol liaison was arrested Tuesday in relation to an investigation involving information leaks from top law enforcement authorities to the nation’s drug cartels. Ricardo Gutiérrez Vargas was director for International Police Affairs and Interpol at the Federal Investigative Agency.  Vargas was one of the highest-ranking law enforcement officials in Mexico. However, Vargas was placed under house arrest pending the outcome of the investigation.

The authorities say that Vargas allegedly leaked information to the Beltran Leyva brothers, leaders of a powerful drug cartel, in exchange for large sums of money.

Interpol combats terrorism, money laundering and drug trafficking. Vargas could have had access to reams of sensitive intelligence gathered by Mexican and international law enforcement.  Interpol is dispatching a team of General Secretariats to Mexico. The purpose of their mission is to meet with relevant Mexican authorities in order to establish allegations of improper use of Interpol’s systems by any Mexican law enforcement official.

In the last year, about 4,000 people have died in the drug wars. Mexican President Felipe Calderón has made confronting the cartels a centerpiece of his administration.

The cartel’s penetration Interpol is an indication of the level of corruption within the Mexican law enforcement. The United States recently committed $400 million to aid in that battle, but many U.S. law enforcement officials remain wary of their Mexican counterparts, fearing that shared information flows quickly to cartel leaders.

For more information, please see:

Interpol – Interpol headquarters to deploy team to ensure compliance with INTERPOL rules and regulations by Mexican law enforcement officials – 19 November 2008

Latin American Herald Tribune – Interpol Mexico Chief Arrested in “Operation Clean-Up” – 19 November 2008

Washington Post – Mexico’s Police Liaison for Interpol Is Arrested in Drug Probe – 19 November 2008

Cuban Children Not Allowed to Leave Island

By Karla E General
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

HAVANA, Cuba – Cuban children of medical professionals domiciled in the United States are being prevented by the Cuban government from being reunited with their parents. The Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), a U.S. group that represents Cubans in exile, has criticized the Cuban government of holding the children hostage in Cuba even though many of them have U.S. visas.

A 2006 Homeland Security policy allows Cuban doctors and medical professionals living abroad legally to bring spouses and children to the U.S., but this has been made nearly impossible because the Cuban government refuses to grant exit visas according to a 2005 report by the Human Rights Watch. The children are being denied visas because many of the doctors living abroad have been classified as traitors by the Cuban government for their failure to return to Cuba after being sent to work in government-sponsored events or missions overseas.

CANF representatives plan to file formal complaints against the Cuban government with international organizations such as the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations.

For more information, please see:

Associated Press – Cuban Doctors Say Children Held Hostage – 18 November 2008

Miami Herald – Cuba Won’t Let Our Kids Leave, Medical Workers Say – 18 November 2008

Miami Herald – Cuban Doctors: Children Kept From Leaving Island – 18 November 2008

Immigrant Children Mistreated at United States Border

By Maria E. Molina

Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

DALLAS, United States – The Center for Public Policy Priorities has released A Child Alone and Without Papers which reveals that children are mistreated when they are removed from the United States and repatriated to their home countries.  The report found that children’s rights, safety, and well-being, are compromised contrary to international law and U.S. child welfare standards.  The paper reported that children are transported home unsafely and denied access to representation.

Children interviewed for the study reported going without water at U.S. Border Patrol stations, being handcuffed and having their requests for medical attention ignored. At least one child reported being struck and knocked down by an agent.

According to the study, many children faced complicated immigration proceedings without legal representation. Last year, 50 to 70 percent of detained unaccompanied minors went before an immigration judge without a lawyer.  The study found that , at  times, consulates were not notified that children from their country were being removed, a violation of an international treaty.

Children flown to non-bordering countries were shackled during the flight and those taken by vehicle across the border to Mexico were transported in kennel-like compartments.  Mexican officials reported that children were returned in the middle of the night and brought to ports of entry that were not specified in agreements.

According to the study, an estimated 43,000 unaccompanied illegal immigrant children were removed from the U.S. in 2007.

For more information, please see:

Center for Public Policy Priorities – De Falta de Representacion a Maltratamiento: Reporte Demuestra Lo Que Pasa A Ninos Indocumentados – 13 November 2008

Houston Chronicle – Study Says Immigrant Children Mistreated – 14 November 2008

Market Watch – From Lack of Legal Representation to Maltreatment: Report Reveals What Happens to Undocumented, Unaccompanied Children Removed From U.S – 13 November 2004

U.S. Confirms it Held 12 Juveniles at Guantanamo

By Gabrielle Meury
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba – The U.S. has released a report admitting that it has held as many as 12 juveniles at Guantanamo Bay. In May, the U.S. told the United Nations that it held only eight juveniles. Navy Commander Jeffrey Gordon said that the U.S. did not intentionally misrepresent the number of detainees. “As we noted to the committee, it remains uncertain the exact age of many of the juveniles held at Guantanamo, as most of them did not know their own date of birth or even the year in which they were born.”

The Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas, based at the University of California, Davis, released a study last week that concluded that the U.S. has held at least a dozen juveniles at Guantanamo, including a Saudi who committed suicide in 2006. Almerindo Ojeda, director of the Center, stated, “The information I got was from their own sources, so they didn’t have to look beyond their own sources to figure this out,” said Almerindo Ojeda, director of the center at the University of California, Davis. According to the study, eight of the 12 juvenile detainees have been released.

Rights groups say it is important for the U.S. military to know the real age of those it detains because juveniles are entitled to special protection under international laws recognized by the United States.
Two of the remaining detainees are scheduled to face war-crimes trials in January. Canadian Omar Khadr, now 21, was captured in July 2002 and is charged with murder for allegedly throwing a grenade that killed a U.S. special forces soldier. Mohammed Jawad, an Afghan who is about 24, faces attempted murder charges for a 2002 grenade attack that wounded two U.S. soldiers. The study identified the only other remaining juvenile as Muhammed Hamid al Qarani of Chad.The Saudi who hanged himself with two other detainees in 2006, Yasser Talal al-Zahrani, was 17 when he arrived at Guantanamo.

For more information, please see:

USATODAY – U.S. confirms it held 12 juveniles at Guantanamo– 16 November 2008

Fox News – U.S. acknowledges it held 12 juveniles at Guantanamo– 16 November 2008

The Press Association – Dozen juveniles at Guantanamo Bay- 16 November 2008

Human Rights Violations Against Members of Tlapaneco Activist Organizations

By Maria E. Molina
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

GUERRO, Mexico – On Tuesday, Amnesty International demanded the immediate release of five Indian activists jailed in southern Mexico on suspicion of homicide.

Amnesty International contends that all five are innocent of the murder charges and their detention and prosecution is politically motivated. The activists were detained in connection with the Jaunary killing of a government supporter in the mountain community of El Camalote. Leftist rebel groups and drug traffickers have been active in this area over the past decade.

The five activists, belonging to the Organization of the Tlapaneco Indian People, were arrested in April.  The organization is an activist group that has protested army patrols and forced sterilization of some men in their remote mountain communities in the 1990s.

A court ruled in late October that there was not enough evidence to continue holding the five men, but federal prosecutors appealed that ruling, guaranteeing the men would remain in jail.  It is believed that the men’s continued prosecution is aimed at quashing the protest movement. The Mexican government has sought to decimate and disband the Tlapaneco organization.

This story illustrates a wider pattern of abuse against human rights activists in Guerrero in Mexico. Authorities have often misused the judicial system to punish those who promote respect for the rights of marginalized communities and dare to speak up about abuses. In June, Guerrero state authorities agreed to pay 35,000 pesos ($3,400 at the time) in compensation to 14 indigenous Mexican men coerced into having vasectomies, and give them water storage tanks and cement to build homes.  Other parts of the compensation agreement, the punishment for the authorities who coerced the men into the procedure, and the construction of rural health clinics have been unfulfilled.

For more information, please see:

Amnesty International – Mexico: Amnesty International adopts five indigenous rights defenders as prisoners of conscience – 11 November 2008

Taiwan News – Amnesty demands Mexico release Indian activists – 12 November 2008

UK MSN – Amnesty International says Mexico Indian activists are prisoners of conscience, demands release – 12 November 2008

Two Dead Amid Protests in Nicaragua After Allegations of Voting Irregularities

By Karla E General

Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

MANAGUA, Nicaragua – At least two people have been killed and six others injured in Nicaragua in the days following the Sunday election of new representatives in 146 municipalities.  Official election results have placed 94 mayorships in Sandinista hands, with 46 going to the opposition party, the Constitutional Liberal Party (PLC). With the majority of votes now being counted in favor of the Sandinista party, protests erupted on Monday between Sandinistas and supporters of the opposition party, the PLC.

Nicaragua’s police chief Aminta Granera dispatched anti-riot forces to the streets of Managua on Monday to contain the violent clashes between supporters and opponents of President Daniel Ortega. Opponents of Ortega’s Sandinista government are claiming the municipal elections were rigged by Ortega’s government.

Xin_23211051121405001899656_2Nicaraguan people prepare to throw stones in a demonstration to support opposition candidate Eduardo Montealegre who rejected municipal poll results by the Electoral Supreme Council. (Xinhua Photo)

Ortega has been accused of manipulating the elections and has prevented at least two groups from being observers at polling places, including the Nicaraguan civic group Ethics and Transparency, which reported a 32 percent rate of irregularities at the polling places it was able to monitor. The Organization of American States (OAS) and U.S. State Department have also denounced Ortega’s ban of OAS observers from Nicaraguan polling stations: “Unfortunately the Supreme Electoral Council’s decision to not accredit credible domestic and international election observers has made it difficult to properly assess the conduct of the election…We urge the government of Nicaragua to ensure that the official election results accurately reflect the will of the Nicaraguan people” – Robert Wood, U.S. State Department spokesman.

Ortega, dismissing the allegations of fraud against his government, stated that election observers were rightly rejected from the political process “because they are financed by outside powers.”

The PLC will likely contest the results in court.

For more information, please see:

The Associated Press – Nicaraguan Opposition Demands Election Review – 11 November 2008

BBC News – Nicaragua Election Clash ‘Deaths’ – 11 November 2008

Bloomberg – Nicaragua Election Results Provoke Clashes in Managua – 11 November 2008

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