The Middle East

Syrian Rebel Forces Reject Peace Talks In Russia

Matthew Sneed
Impunity Watch Reporter, The Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria – On December 25, Syrian rebel forces publicly announced that they would not attend the peace talks in scheduled in Sochi in January. The approximately 40 rebel groups, including military factions who had previously participated in talks in Geneva, said Russia failed to put pressure on the Syrian government to end the conflict.

A rebel fighter pours tea away from the front lines of battle. Photo courtesy of Alaa Al-Faqir.

According to the rebels, Russia asked the group to cease calling for the resignation of Assad. The rebels released a statement in which they said “Russia is an aggressor country that has committed war crimes against Syrians. It stood with the regime militarily and defended it politically and over seven years preventing UN condemnation of [Syrian President Bashar] Assad’s regime.”

While Russia claims that its attacks are directed towards militants, both the rebels and residents claim that airstrikes have killed hundreds of civilians. In addition, they bombed civilian areas away from the front-lines of battle.

The rebels further stated that, “Russia has not contributed one step to easing the suffering of Syrians and has not pressured the regime that it claims is a guarantor by moving in any real path towards a solution.”

The Syrian national dialogue congress, which is scheduled for January 29 and 30, is also backed by Iran and Turkey. While Russia and Iran support the government of Syria, Turkey supports the opposition. Syrian officials said they would attend the talks and that they are open to the agenda of new elections and possibly amending the constitution. The main point of contention between the two sides centers around the fate of Assad. The opposition continues to call for his removal from power, a position that the government says it will not consider.

The rebels continue to express faith in the UN-led Geneva process, and have called on the global community to end the violence in the region. The Geneva talks began in 2014 but have made little progress since.

Another hurdle for the talks in Sochi is determining who else should be invited to the conversation. Turkey insisted that the Kurdish group know as the PYD should not be invited to participate. The PYD controls about 25% of Syrian territory and wants independent control from the other factions. While Kurdish officials will attend, Russia stated that it did not invite members of the PYD.

While multiple cease-fire agreements in regions across Syria brokered by Russia, Iran, and Turkey have reduced the violence, the government continues to fight in regions close to the capital. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights have determined that at least 20 people have been killed in airstrikes in southern Idlib since December 25.

For more information please see:

Boston Globe – Syria rebels, opposition reject Russia-proposed talks – 26, Dec. 2017

Reuters – Syrian rebel groups reject Russian-sponsored Sochi Conference – 25, Dec. 2017

The Guardian – Rebel group rejects talks on Syrian conflict hosted by Russia – 25, Dec. 2017

Ahed Tumimi awaits trial following arrest for slapping Israeli Officers

Matthew Sneed
Impunity Watch Reporter, The Middle East

ISRAEL– Ahed Tamimi, 16, is waiting to hear whether the Israeli Military Court will release her on bail, or if she will be required to remain in jail until her trail begins. Tamimi made headlines after she was arrested for slapping two Israeli solders who entered her yard.

Bassem Tamimi discusses his daughter’s actions as part of the “popular resistance” which takes place on nearly a weekly basis to protest Israeli occupation. Photo courtesy of Majdi Mohammad.

On December 15, a protest began in the West Bank Village of Nabi Saleh in response to President Trump’s declaration that the United States would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. This decision triggered multiple Palestinian protests. During the protest, Ahed’s fifteen-year-old cousin was severely injured by rubber bullets fired into the crowds by the military. When Tamimi saw two Israeli soldiers outside of her home, she confronted them and slapped the solders in the face. She was arrested on December 19 in the middle of the night.

The military is planning to “throw the book” at the teenage girl, “whose indictment includes a dozen counts of assault, incitement, interference with soldiers, and stone-throwing in incidents since April 1, 2016.” She now faces up to fourteen years in prison.

It is unlikely that Ahed will be released considering the military courts in the West Bank deny bail to children approximately 70% of the time. A 2013 UNICEF report found that most children plead guilty in order to be released. Children in military court proceedings are often not allowed the presence of their lawyers or parents during interrogations. It is possible that this trial could take months, as the prosecutor has listed eighteen witnesses he plans to summon.

Her story, told in both pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian papers, demonstrates the divide between the two groups. A Jerusalem Post op-ed stated that Ahed was being used for the “two components of the Palestinian war to annihilate Israel: terrorism and propaganda.” In contrast to this, an op-ed published on Monday by the Qatari-based Al-Jazeera described the Palestinian belief that “Ahed Tamimi is the Palestinian Rosa Parks.”

Ahed is not the only member of her family to protest against Israeli control. Her father, Bassem Tamimi, was an activist in the first Palestinian protests in the 1990s. These protests helped create the interim Israeli-Palestinian deals of the decade. Her family regular participates in what Palestinians call “popular resistance.” Palestinians gather on almost a weekly basis to protest Israeli occupation along the West Bank. Bassem said that he is proud of his daughter and her actions have resonated with the people because she is not “seen as the victim.” He further stated that “When you look at her, you feel proud, not sad.”

For more information please see:


Human Rights Watch – Israeli Prosecutors Throw Book at Palestinian Child Protestor – 14, Jan. 2018

Independent – Ahed Tamimi: 16-year-old Palestinian girl who kicked and slapped Israeli soldiers could face 14 years in prison – 9, Jan. 2018

AP News – Case against Palestinian teen spotlights her activist family – 9, Jan. 2018

Egypt sentences 16 men to three years for ‘debauchery’

Matthew Sneed
Impunity Watch Reporter, The Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt – A court in Cairo sentenced sixteen men to jail because of their identification as gay. Each received a three-year sentence for being found guilty of “inciting debauchery” and “abnormal sexual relations.” Fourteen of the convictions were handed down on November 26, with two more following on the next day.

Egypt began a cracking down on LGBT activities following the waving of the rainbow flag at a concert in September. Photo courtesy of Rainbow Egypt

Al-Ahram, a newspaper owned by the Egyptian government, reported that police raided an apartment in Cairo in September. At the apartment, they found the men in “indecent positions” and alleged that the men were engaging in prostitution with other men. “The defendants denied being homosexuals,” reported the paper. The prosecution ordered that the suspects be subjected to medical examinations to determine if they had committed homosexual acts.

The arrests have been part of an increased crackdown on the LGBT community in Egypt following an incident where a rainbow flag was waived during a concert in Cairo. The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) stated that at least seventy-five people have been arrested since the rainbow flag was raised on September 22. Of those arrests, ten are believed to be in connection to raising the flag while the rest stem from entrapment through dating apps. In addition, it was reported that at least 5 men received anal examinations.

While homosexuality is not a crime under Egyptian law, officials have used the 1961 prostitution law to charge people they believe engaged in homosexual activities. However, the Egyptian Parliament had proposed a bill that would make same-sex activity illegal. For the first time in the history of the nation, it would define “homosexuality.” Promoting or engaging in same-sex activities could lead to five years in prison and a combination of charges could result in a sentence of up to fifteen years. In addition, the publication of LBGT-friendly material would warrant a three-year sentence.

The U.S. State Department has expressed concerns regarding the actions of the Egyptian Government. One official stated, “We urge countries to uphold and respect their international human rights obligations and commitments,” said the official. “The United States will continue to engage on issues of universal human rights and democracy.”

On November 1, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) “urged Egyptian House of Representatives Speaker Ali Abdel Aal Sayyed Ahmed to publicly condemn the criminalization bill and the broader anti-LGBT crackdown.”

For more information please see:

BBC – Egypt jails 16 for ‘debauchery’ as LGBT crackdown continues – 28, Nov. 2017

Washington Blade – State Department reiterates concern over Egypt ant-LGBT crackdown – 28, Nov. 2017

Independent – Egypt LGBT crackdown: 16 men jailed for three years on ‘debauchery’ charges

UN concerned of Saudi blockade into Yemen

Matthew Sneed
Impunity Watch Reporter, The Middle East

SANAA, Yemen – On November 6, the Saudi military coalition announced that it would close all land, air, and sea ports to the Arabian Peninsula. The decision comes as the Saudis continue to fight the Houthi movement in Yemen. The coalition stated that the purpose was to slow the flow of arms to the Houthis from Iran.

The Saudi coalition has blocked air, land, and sea ports, making it difficult for Yemen to receive foreign aid. Photo courtesy of AFP/Getty.

Saudi Arabia accused Iran of directly arming the rebels, calling it, a “direct military aggression.” Tensions are also escalated after a ballistic missile was intercepted near the Saudi capital. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman said providing rockets to the rebels “may be considered an act of war.”

Nikki Haley, permanent representative of the US to the United Nations, believes that the missile could have been supplied by Iran. If true, then Iran would be in violation of two UN resolutions. First, Tehran is prohibited from buying, selling, or transferring weapons outside of the country without prior approval from the UN Security Council. Second, they are prohibited from selling weapons to Houthi leaders or their allies.

Despite the closure of ports following the missile strike, the Saudi coalition has said that humanitarian aid would be able to pass into Yemen under strict rules. However, some agencies have already experienced difficulties trying to enter the region. According to U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq, the UN was expected to have two flights into Yemen on November 6, but both flights were cancelled. “We are in touch with our counterparts and we’re trying to see whether we can get our normal access restored, and we’re hopeful that we will be able to continue our normal operations,” he said.

The Red Cross has experienced difficulties as well. They stated that their shipment of chlorine tablets had been blocked. The tablets are crucial to fighting cholera, a disease which affects about 90,000 people in the area.

Jens Laerke, Office for the Co-ordination for Humanitarian Affairs spokesman, said, “If these channels, these lifelines are not kept open, it is catastrophic for people who are already in what we have said is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis at the moment.”

The situation has grown increasingly worse for a country that primarily relies on imports for items necessary for survival such as food, fuel, and medicine. The UN reports that approximately seven million people in the country are “on the brink of famine.”

For more information please see:

Reuters – Saudi-led forces close air, sea and land access to Yemen – 06, Nov. 2017

The Washington Post – UN expresses concern of aid to Yemen – 06, Nov. 2017

BBC – Yemen conflict: Saudi ban “catastrophic” for aid – 07, Nov. 2017

Saudi Arabia Grants Citizenship to Robot Named Sophia

Matthew Sneed
Impunity Watch Writer, The Middle East

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – On October 25, Saudi Arabia became the first nation to grant full citizenship to a robot. The robot, referred to as Sophia, was created by Hanson Robotics in Hong Kong. During the nation’s Future Investment Initiative, a three-day tech conference, she addressed the media, most notably in English and without wearing a hijab.

Sophia speaks to the press after she is granted citizenship in Saudi Arabia. Photo courtesy of YouTube/Arab News.

“Thank you to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I am very honored and proud for this unique distinction,” she said, “it is historic to be the first robot in the world to be recognized with citizenship.” Furthermore, when asked about the concern about the potential dangers of artificial intelligence, Sophia responded by stating, “you’ve been reading too much Elon Musk and watching too many Hollywood movies.”

This decision has generated lots of controversy for several reasons. Many conservative Saudis believe that the human representation in any form including art is sacrilege. However, the primary concerns focus on her rights as compared to women and other citizens living in Saudi Arabia and how quickly she obtained those rights. Sophia does not have a male guardian, does not wear a hijab, and can travel in and out of the country. In addition, she has not demonstrated the ability to read or write in Arabic, a requirement for citizenship.

The country also prohibits foreign workers, which make-up about one-third of the population, from obtaining citizenship. Journalist Murtaza Hussain stated that Sophia received citizenship, “before Kafala workers who have been living in the country their entire lives.”

The decision has also come with more severe consequences. Ali Al-Ahmed, director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs, said, “women (in Saudi Arabia) have since committed suicide because they couldn’t leave the house, and Sophia is running around.”

Apart from Sophia, the country faces other criticism as it continues to push technological advancements in the country. Sophia was on display next to a virtual rollercoaster and a holographic lion. Saudi Arabia stated on the conference that they intended to build a new $500 billion city from scratch, called Neom. The city would be populated with robots.

The government plans to push these new advancements while other areas a lacking support. Currently, only 20% of the city capital has sewage coverage. Al-Ahmed was discouraged by this news and stated, “There is a failure of this government to satisfy basic needs, and they want to spend $500 billion on a new city with robots.”

For more information please see:

Independent – Saudi Arabia Grants Citizenship to a Robot for the First Time Ever – 26, Oct.

Bloomberg – Saudi Arabia gives citizenship to a robot – 26, Oct. 2017

Newsweek – Saudi Arabia gives rights to a Non-Muslim, English speaking robot – 26, Oct. 2017

BBC – Does Saudi robot citizen have more rights than women? – 26, Oct. 2017