Impunity Watch Reporter, The Middle East
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – On September 20, Saudi Arabian officials announced that the kingdom was lifting its ban on video calling apps such as Skype and WhatsApp. Apps such as these were previously banned under the country’s Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP), when the government argued that it was trying to “protect society from any negative aspects that could harm the public interest.”
The decision is motivated by Saudi Arabia’s economic interests as the look to expand their revenue sources. While the countries financial strength lies in oil, it hopes the removal of the ban will spark technology entrepreneurship in the region. The nation’s Information Ministry supported the decision and stated, “Digital transformation is one of the key kick starters for the Saudi economy, as it will incentivize the growth of internet-based businesses, especially in the media and entertainment industries.”
The goal to promote long term development may damage local companies in the telecommunications industry. Saudi Telecom, Etihad Etisalat, and Zain Saudi, the three main telecom operators in Saudi Arabia, will likely see a decrease in their revenue from phone calls and texts made by the millions of expatriates in the country. Ghanem Nuseibeh, the founder of the Cornerstone Global Associates management consultancy stated, “Any phone company would rather have people using their telephone lines but this is an important message from the Saudi government that they have to move into the 21st century and not be left behind.”
Prior to its removal, Saudi citizens used virtual private networks (VPNs) to get around the ban. The VPNs tricked the computer into thinking it was someplace else so that it could access the apps banned by the nation’s internet laws. Many are happy this method is no longer needed. One anonymous international student was happy she could now easily talk to those outside the country, “It feels like we can communicate with the outside world,” because “Sometimes it felt like we had no connection here.” The ban was supposed to be officially lifted at midnight on September 21, but some citizens claim they could already access the apps on the mobile devices prior to that date.
The government still imposes tight regulations over other aspects of the internet. Websites that feature gambling, pornography, or that are critical of government actions remain banned. The country often still appears on “internet enemies”, the list compiled by Reporters Without Borders names countries who restrict internet access.
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By: Max Cohen
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – On May 3, the Argentinian Supreme Court rendered a decision allowing Luis Muina, convicted of human rights abuses, to have his sentence reduced. The decision was based on an Argentinian law, known as the “2×1″ law, which mandates that, after an initial two years, every day that a person spends in pretrial detention counts as two as part of the overall sentence. The court found that, under the “most favorable law” legal principle, which dictates that defendants should benefit from laws which would lessen their sentences, that it should apply to him retroactively.
In the week that followed there were protests in Argentina, as many reportedly feared that the decision would free other human rights criminals. However, the country’s Congress quickly responded to the decision by passing a law rescinding the 2×1 law’s protections for those who had committed human rights abuses during the country’s military dictatorship from 1976-1983. Currently there are 350 former military officers who could have potentially benefitted if the decision is allowed to stand.
Critics point to the Court’s decision as an example of how Argentine President Mauricio Macri’s government has toned down its efforts to seek justice for the atrocities committed during the dictatorship. It should be noted that two of the justices who ruled in favor of the decision were appointed by President Macri.
Whether the Argentine government’s solution will work is set to be tested within the next month as their Supreme Court is set to issue decisions on other cases involving human rights criminals.
For more information, please see:
FREDERICK K. COX
INTERNATIONAL LAW CENTER
|War Crimes Prosecution Watch
Volume 12 – Issue 3
War Crimes Prosecution Watch is a bi-weekly e-newsletter that compiles official documents and articles from major news sources detailing and analyzing salient issues pertaining to the investigation and prosecution of war crimes throughout the world. To subscribe, please email email@example.com and type “subscribe” in the subject line.
Opinions expressed in the articles herein represent the views of their authors and are not necessarily those of the War Crimes Prosecution Watch staff, the Case Western Reserve University School of Law or Public International Law & Policy Group.
- All Africa: Central African Republic: Security Council Pledges Support for President’s Efforts to Stabilize Country
- Relief Web: The Primacy of Protection: Delivering on the MINUSCA Mandate in the Central African Republic
- VOA News : Armed Groups in CAR Occupy Schools, Block Education
- International Business Times : Thousands of refugees ‘flee northern CAR for second time in less than a year’
- Africa News: South Africa to Face ICC on Refusal to Arrest Sudan’s Bashir in 2015
- Al Jazeera: Sudanese Force Accused of Torturing Journalists
- Associated Press: South Sudan Releases 6 Aid Workers Accused of Smuggling Arms
- The New York Times: International Court Says Violence in Congo May Amount to War Crimes
- International Justice Monitor: Witness Says Ntaganda’s Soldiers Tortured Him, Killed Six Members of His Family
- International Justice Monitor: Witness: Ntaganda’s Fighters Raped Me, Killed my Husband
- Human Rights Watch : Côte d’Ivoire: Letter – Simone Gbagbo Trial Didn’t Advance Justice: ICC Remains Critical Avenue for Victims on Both Sides
- Fox News: 6 Convicted in Ivory Coast Hotel Kidnappings, Deaths
- The Washington Post: Nigeria Must Negotiate Release of 195 Chibok Girls
- Reuters: Niger Forces kill 57 Members of Boko Haram: Defense Ministry
- Aljazeera: ‘Alarming’ Rise in Boko Haram Child Suicide Bombers
- UN News Centre: At Security Council, new UN Peacekeeping Chief Urges Faster Implementation of Mali Peace Deal
- Reuters: Mali, France Rule Out Talks with Jihadists After Attacks
- Middle East North Africa Financial Network: Gabriel Travels to Mali: Working to Bring Stabilization
- The Independent: ONGWEN: ICC launches a free SMS public information platform in Uganda
- AllAfrica: The Observer (Kampala): Africa: Uganda Not Withdrawing From ICC – Attorney General
- AllAfrica: The Monitor: Uganda: Pader DPC Summoned Over Aruu By-Election Violence
- AllAfrica: Somalia: Kenya Arrests 7 Somalis in Dadaab Refugee Camp
- Bloomberg: Kenya Risks Election Violence with Mood Polarized, Group Says
- The Conversation: Why it’s important that the world still reflects on Rwanda’s genocide
- News 24: Rwanda and SA: Truth not enough to set you free
- Shore News Today: Mainland students meet the lone American who stayed during Rwandan genocide
- Al Jazeera : Somalia: Seven killed in Mogadishu car bombing
- Al Jazeera : Somalia leader declares country a ‘war zone’
- The New York Times: 10 Die in Somalia Suicide Attack on New Army Chief
- Balkan Insight: Bosnian Serb Soldier Jailed for Killing Bosniaks in Bihac
- Balkan Insight: Bosnian Serb Officer Convicted of Srebrenica Genocide
- Balkan Insight: Bosnia Awaits Extradition of Nine War Crimes Suspects
- Balkan Insight: Bosnia Reduces Two Serbs’ Srebrenica Genocide Sentences
- Balkan Insight: Bosnia Tries Nine Serbs for Capturing, Killing Bosniaks
- Balkan Insight: Bosnia Indicts Serb Soldier for Murder, Rape
- B92: Interpol issues red notices for three SRS party officials
- Balkan Insight: Hague Prosecutors Object to Freeing Mladic for Treatment
- Balkan Insight: Kosovo ‘Holding Fewer War Crime Trials Than Ever’
- Balkan Insight: Croatian Ex-Police Given Minor Sentences for War Crimes
- Balkan Insight: France Delays Decision Again on Kosovo Ex-PM’s Extradition
- Balkan Insight: Kosovo’s Genocide Lawsuit Plan Criticised as Impractical
- Balkan Insight: Council of Europe: Kosovo War Victims ‘Denied Justice’
- Omaha World-Herald: Iowa native one of 19 judges who will decide Kosovo war crimes cases
- Balkan Insight: Serbian Journalist Commemorated as Murder Trial Continues
- Balkan Insight: UN Urges Kosovo to Probe ‘Ethnic Cleansing Threat’
- The New York Times: Suicide Truck Bomber Kills at Least 15 in Baghdad
- The New York Times: U.S.-Led Coalition Counts 229 Civilian Deaths Before Mosul Strike
- The New York Times: With Strike Aimed at Halting More Gas Attacks, U.S. Tries to Send Syrians Message
- Fox News: Life in war-torn Syria: Bomb blasts and no utilities, but coffins are free
- CNN: Suspected gas attack in Syria reportedly kills dozens
- Yemen News Agency: Parliament calls UN to stop Saudi war crimes against Yemen people
- The Guardian: Met police look at allegations of Saudi war crimes in Yemen
- Relief Web: Peacewatch: Yemen, April 2017
- The Times: There must be a war crimes investigation in Yemen
- The Phnom Penh Post: Khmer Rouge Tribunal reparations sought for large set of projects
- The New York Times: 11 Years, $300 Million and 3 convictions. Was the Khmer Rouge Tribunal Worth It?
- The Daily Star: Defense counsel: Many possible reasons for cellphone activity
- The Daily Star: STL defense questions Platt’s impartiality as expert witness
- The Daily Star: STL defense examines false claim of responsibility
- The Daily Star: Can STL defense poke enough holes in prosecution’s case?
- bdnews24: Journalists submit to ICT investigators documents on Moosa’s alleged war crimes
- Dhaka Tribune: Arrest warrants issued against 6 alleged razakars
- BBC: Aung San Suu Kyi: No ethnic cleansing of Myanmar Muslim minority
- The Irrawaddy: RCSS/SSA-S Clashes with Burma Army
- Reuters: Israeli police kill Palestinian who stabbed three in Jerusalem
- Human Rights Watch: Israel/Palestine: Rights Workers Denied Gaza Access
- Press TV: Israeli forces detained over 300 Palestine children in 3 months
- The Times of Israel: Amid growing US criticism, families of Palestinian terrorists seek larger payments
- teleSUR: Guatemalan Dictator Rios Montt Faces Another Genocide Trial
- The Globe and Mail: Canada in talks with South Africa over International Criminal Court dispute
- Huffington Post: Omar Khadr’s Case A Black Stamp On Canada’s Human Rights Record
- Colombia Reports: Colombia transitional justice system ‘orders immediate release of military war criminals’
- McClatchy Washington DC Bureau: Why was this Colombian general posted to his country’s Washington embassy?
- Public Radio International: South Africa’s imperfect progress, 20 years after the Truth & Reconciliation Commission
- Kashmir Watch: The Case for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Kashmir
- The Queens Journal: Queen’s Truth & Reconciliation Commission Task Force reveals final report
- NBC News: MIT Grad Nicolai Mork Arrested on Terrorism, Weapons of Mass Destruction Charges
- Reuters: Palm Sunday bombings of Egyptian Coptic churches kill 44
- NBC News: Stockholm Truck Attack Suspect Rakhmat Akilov Admits Terrorism: Lawyer
- The Guardian: Three years after Chibok, Boko Haram deploys children as suicide bombers
- Maritime Executive: Anti-Piracy Mission Deploys Surveillance Drones
- Maritime Executive: Pirates Capture Fourth Vessel Off Somalia
- Chicago Tribune: Somalia’s pirates are back in business
- Maritime Executive: Somali Forces Recover Hijacked Dhow
- Maritime Executive: Chinese Forces May Have Captured Somali Pirate Leader
- Aljazeera: Murdered for being women: Spain tackles femicide rates
- The Guardian: Domestic abuse policies aren’t working – we need a national strategy
- United Nations Population Fund: UNFPA responds to gender violence in conflict-scarred Kachin
- UN News Centre: Strengthening the UN Response to Sexual Exploitation and Abuse
- International Justice Monitor: To Punish or to Pardon? Perspectives on Accountability and Forgiveness in the Case of Dominic Ongwen
- International Justice Monitor: ICC Chamber Excludes Victims from Bashir Cooperation Proceedings
- RT News: Turning reality on its head – US & UK accuse Russia of ‘war crimes’ in Syria
- Irish Times: Security Council veto should not apply for war crimes
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By Cintia Garcia
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
Quito, Ecuador—In a closely watched election, the Electoral Commission of Ecuador announced that a presidential runoff will be held on April 2nd. Left-wing party candidate Lenin Moreno did not meet the 40% of votes needed to win the election.
Unlike in the past when results have been announced the same night, this election took four days for the results to be released. The delay according to the National Electoral Council President, Juan Pablo Pozo, “blamed the numerical inconsistencies in 5.5% of the ballots.” They also stated that the delay in arrival of the ballots from remote regions of Ecuador led to the delay, including ballots from consulates abroad. The final results are still not accounted for but Lenin Moreno has won 39.3% of the votes—just short of what was needed to win the election.
Lenin Moreno has been running on a platform of increasing employment opportunities and higher education for all. He is a close ally of current president, Rafael Correa. Guillermo Lasso is a former banker running for the right wing party. Mr. Lasso is hoping to create jobs with foreign investment. It is believed that the other conservative candidates will endorse his candidacy.
Concern has been expressed by many, including the presidential candidates, regarding the length of time it took for the results to be released. Mr. Lasso and his supports are claiming fraud in the elections. But there has been no evidence to support irregularities. Hundreds of his supporters were demanding a runoff outside of the National Electoral Council office in Quito. Current president, Correa, released a statement in response to the fraud claims stating that the conservative party was using the fraud allegations to prompt violence.
In other elections through out Latin America, such as Argentina, Brazil, and Peru, conservative leaders have won the presidential office replacing leftist parties.
For more information, please see:
By Cintia Garcia
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
BOGOTA, Colombia — Late on Sunday, February 12, human rights defender and well known activist, Yudy Andrea was attacked in her home in Medellin and was critically injured. Yudy’s daughter was also injured in the attack.
It is believed that local gang members were the culprits behind the attack, but no suspects have been detained. The suspects went to Ms. Andrea’s home and moments after she opened the front door she was shot in the face and head. Her injuries are severe and currently remains in the hospital. In addition, her eleven-year-old daughter was shot in the leg but was able to escape. Ms. Andrea has been an active defender of rights in the Belen neighborhood of Medellin. A note was left by the suspects that stated, “death to snitches.” This attack comes after a rise in the number of urban paramilitary inspired violent acts, which had only taken place in rural areas. Many of the targets have been human rights activist, leftist party members, and journalists. Local community members have issued an early warning for all human rights leaders to take precautions in the area although no imminent threats are known.
This is not the first human rights activist attacked in recent days. Last month, well known Afro-Colombian human rights leader, Emilsen Manyoma, was killed along with her partner Joe Javier Rodallega. Both were tied up and decapitated in a rural jungle area near a highway. They had been outspoken critics of right-wing paramilitary groups, international mining, and agribusiness interests. Additionally, she created a truth commission documenting attacks on human rights.
Colombia is known for attacks against human rights defenders. In 2016, there were at least 85 murders according to the human rights organization, Front Line Defenders.
For more information, please see:
By Cintia Garcia
Impunity Watch Report, South America
LA PAZ, BOLIVIA—Environmental and Land rights organizations have released reports claiming that the boom in the mining industry has exacerbated the severe drought hitting Bolivia. Bolivia is currently facing a water shortage. President Evo Morales declared a state of emergency in late November due to the shortage.
Although the drought has severely impacted the water supply, the mining companies have further reduced the water supply, according to Environmentalist. Mining companies use an estimated 100,000 cubic meters of water on a daily basis which is the same amount of water used by the capital. As the mineral market continues to increase, the mining companies, regardless of the shortage of water, will increase the water intake. Hector Cordova, a mine engineer stated that “mining companies would continue to put an increase in profits ahead of drought-relayed consequences.” The mining companies have diverted water supplies and contaminated the water supply—an accusation the president of Bolivia denies. Reports have shown that the groundwater reserves are now below fifty percent.
Bolivia is currently facing the worst drought in over 25 years leading to water cuts in the country. The capital city is receiving water for three hours every three days. In the Corque municipality seventy percent of the population does not have drinking water. The drought has affected 177,000 families and has threatened both the agriculture and cattle industry. The President has allocated funds to local governments to drill wells in order to transport water.
The water shortage has caused frustration among residents. The leaders of the Federation of Town Councils held water and city official’s hostage demanding a resolution to the water shortage.
For more information, please see:
UPDATE: According to Reuters, the UN General Assembly passed the resolution “to establish a special team to ‘collect, consolidate, preserve and analyze evidence’ as well as to prepare cases on war crimes and human rights abuses committed during the conflict in Syria” on Dec. 21, 2016. The vote was “105 in favor, 15 against and 52 abstentions. The team will work in coordination with the U.N. Syria Commission of Inquiry.” Read more.
Evidence that war crimes have been committed during the five-year-old Syrian Civil War is hard to ignore. TV images, photographs, news reports, and social media posts from the front lines and throughout Syria have documented the torture of political enemies, the use of chemical weapons, sexual violence as a weapon of war, indiscriminate aerial attacks on civilian centers, the siege of cities, attacks on humanitarian efforts, and more.
Not all of this documentary, eyewitness, or anecdotal evidence can be used to bring justice to those who have perpetrated crimes against humanity or war crimes, but in cases where it will be useful to future prosecutors, it must be carefully collected, filed, and analyzed. There are a number of ongoing documentation efforts, one of the most thorough being that of David M. Crane, Professor of Practice at Syracuse Law, INSCT Faculty Member, and Founding Prosecutor of the Special Court of Sierra Leone. Over the past five years Crane has kept track of the evidence of atrocities with help from his students in the Syrian Accountability Project (SAP).
Now Crane is pushing the international community to make further use of his, and others’, documentation by helping to draft a resolution, which is being brought before the United Nations General Assembly, to establish an “International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Those Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes Under International Law Committed in the Syrian Arab Republic Since March 2011.”
The UN General Assembly is expected to vote on the resolution on Dec. 21, 2016. The vote’s outcome is hard to predict. Although many in the international community recognize and condemn Syrian atrocities, that does not mean there is political will to create a postconflict justice mechanism for the people of Syria. As The New York Times explains, “The International Criminal Court, whose reason for being is to try the worst perpetrators of the world’s worst war crimes, has no jurisdiction over Syria, which is not a member of the court [and efforts] by the United Nations Security Council to refer the conflict in Syria to the court have been blocked by Russia.”
Nor is there currently any appetite, the article continues, to set up a special tribunal like the one in which Crane prosecuted former Liberian President Charles Taylor, helping to bring justice to the people of Sierra Leone. But, as Crane says, “We have to be seen to be doing something for the people of Syria!”
Specifically, the proposal suggests the UN assist Syrian justice by developing what Crane calls an “accountability center” to collect, consolidate, preserve, and analyze evidence of alleged war crimes, such as that being collected by the SAP. Work done by the accountability center would be “in accordance with international standards, in national, regional or international courts or tribunals that have or may in the future have jurisdiction over these crimes.”
“I proposed this effort to the ambassadors of Qatar and Lichtenstein in September and briefed a dozen ambassadors in November,” explains Crane. “The resolution, which I helped draft, is the result of these conversations. The accountability center concept is a way to standardize the collection of evidence and to build a solid, legally supportable case against those who are committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria.”
Although its backing would carry a great deal of weight, The New York Times reports that “the United States has not said whether it supports the measure [but it] is separately funding a group of lawyers who are collecting evidence that can be used in future legal proceedings.” Nevertheless, the resolution has received support from one of the most influential, US-based rights organizations. On Dec. 19, 2016, Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, wrote a letter urging governments “to support the UN General Assembly resolution … The creation of such a mechanism could deter those contemplating further atrocities against civilians in Syria. Potential perpetrators need to know that the world is watching and they may one day find themselves behind bars. This is fully within the General Assembly’s authority.”
Resolution: International, Impartial, and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Those Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes Under International Law Committed in the Syrian Arab Republic Since March 2011 (Proposed by Lichtenstein)
The General Assembly,
¶1 Guided by the Charter of the United Nations,
¶2 Reaffirming its commitment to the sovereignty of the Syrian Arab Republic,
¶3 Recalling the relevant resolutions of the General Assembly, the Security Council and the Human Rights Council, in particular Human Rights Council resolution S-17/1 that established the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic,
¶4 Welcoming the ongoing work carried out by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic and recalling its reports1 and the recommendations contained therein,
¶5 Expressing its appreciation for the work carried out by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism and recalling its reports2 and the conclusions contained therein,
¶6 Recognizing the work of Syrian and international civil society actors in documenting violations of international humanitarian law and violations and abuses of human rights law in the Syrian Arab Republic during the conflict,
¶7 Noting with concern the impunity for serious violations of international humanitarian law and violations and abuses of human rights law committed during the conflict, in the Syrian Arab Republic which has provided a fertile ground for further violations and abuses,
¶8 Recalling the statements made by the Secretary-General, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the special procedures of the Human Rights Council that crimes against humanity and war crimes are likely to have been committed in the Syrian Arab Republic,
¶9 Noting the repeated encouragement by the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights for the Security Council to refer the situation in the Syrian Arab Republic to the International Criminal Court,
- Emphasizes the need to ensure accountability for crimes involving violations of international law, in particular of international humanitarian law and international human rights law, some of which may constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity, committed in the Syrian Arab Republic since March 2011, through appropriate, fair and independent investigations and prosecutions at the domestic or international level, and stresses the need to pursue practical steps towards this goal to ensure justice for all victims and contribute to the prevention of future violations;
- Stresses the need for any political process aimed at resolving the crisis in the Syrian Arab Republic to ensure credible and comprehensive accountability for the most serious crimes committed in the country to bring about reconciliation and sustainable peace;
- Welcomes the efforts by States to investigate and prosecute crimes within their jurisdiction committed in the Syrian Arab Republic, in accordance with their national legislation and international law, and encourages other States to consider doing the same and to share relevant information to this end with other States;
- Decides to establish an “International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of those Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes under International Law committed in the Syrian Arab Republic since March 2011” under the auspices of the United Nations to collect, consolidate, preserve and analyse evidence of such crimes and prepare files in order to facilitate and expedite fair and independent criminal proceedings in accordance with international standards, in national, regional or international courts or tribunals that have or may in the future have jurisdiction over these crimes;
- Requests the Secretary-General, in this regard, within 20 working days of the adoption of this resolution, to develop Terms of Reference of the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism with the support of OHCHR, and requests further that the Secretary-General undertakes without delay the steps, measures and arrangements necessary for the speedy establishment and full functioning of the Impartial and Independent Mechanism, initially funded by voluntary contributions, in coordination with the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic and building on existing capacities, including recruiting or allocating impartial and experienced staff with relevant skills and expertise in accordance with the Terms of Reference;
- Calls upon all States, all parties to the conflict as well as civil society to cooperate fully with the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to effectively fulfill its mandate, and in particular to provide it with any information and documentation they may possess pertaining to the above-mentioned crimes as well as any other forms of assistance;
- Requests the United Nations system as a whole to fully cooperate with the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism and to promptly respond to any request, including access to all information and documentation, and decides that the Mechanism closely cooperate with the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic in all aspects of its work;
- Requests the Secretary-General to report on the implementation of the present resolution within 45 days of its adoption and decides to revisit the question of funding of the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism as soon as possible.
( This article was originally published by Syracuse University’s Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism and can be found here.)
By Christine Khamis
Impunity Watch Special Features Editor
For years, unrest in China’s Xinjiang region has led to the injury and deaths of hundreds of people. Muslim people in the region, predominantly the Uighurs, have experienced persecution under the Chinese government, which claims that such actions are part of its growing campaign against terrorism.
Previously, Xinjiang was a short-lived independent state named East Turkestan, before China asserted control over the region in 1949. Xinjiang was historically not considered part of China before that point.
The ethnic majority in Xinjiang is made up by the Han Chinese. About 10 million Uighurs also live in Xinjiang, and make up nearly half of the population in the region. Many Uighurs live in southern Xinjiang, which is the poorest area in the region.
Xinjiang is rich in natural resources like oil, coal, and natural gas, and because of those resources, the Chinese government has provided incentives to Chinese citizens in order to facilitate their moving and settling there. Due to these incentives, many Han Chinese have migrated to the Xinjiang region. The presence of the Han Chinese in the region has grown exponentially in recent years, with an increase from the Han making up 6.7% of the population in the region to over 40% of the population in 2008. That migration is yet another factor impacting the presence of conflict in Xinjiang.
China’s government states that the violence in the area is due to the mobilization of Islamic separatist and militant groups and that the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a Uighur Muslim separatist group, is the primary instigator of tension in the region.
ETIM is an al-Qaeda affiliated militant group and is concentrated in nearby states Afghanistan and Pakistan. The group has fought for some time to establish an independent state for the Uighurs. China blames ETIM for over two hundred terrorism-related attacks thatoccurred from 1990-2001, according to the Council of Foreign Relations, a United States based independent think tank.
While ETIM was officially considered an active terrorist group affiliated with al-Qaeda by both the United States and China in 2002, some experts on the region have questioned how active the group has remained in Xinjiang. Prior to recent years, the violence in the region appeared be directed toward local governments in response to their treatment of the Uighurs.
Rather than ETIM, human rights groups believe it is truly Beijing’s treatment of the Uighurs fueling the ongoing conflict in Xinjiang. According to their view, it is the Chinese government’s crackdown on the Uighurs, including its blaming of the Uighurs for fueling terrorist uprisings in the region and its curtailment of the Uighurs’ religious and cultural practices, that has contributed to that unrest.
Nicholas Bequelin, East Asia director for Amnesty International has referred to the unrest as “homegrown self-radicalization that is made worse by repressive policies and an attempt to hollow out Uighur culture and religious practices.”
The Chinese Communist Party has an agenda against what it perceives as “three evils” of extremism, separatism, and terrorism. According to the 2015 annual report from the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, the Communist Party’s campaign against the said evils has “manifested in a heavy-handed security apparatus and led to the adoption of a repressive approach to Islam in Xinjiang”.
Human rights groups state that China overstates the threat of Uighur separatists to justify its restrictions on the Uighurs. Some experts also state that the Chinese government may also be overstating the extent of ETIM’s growth in the region.
China’s repression of the Uighurs has heightened since 2009, as anti-terrorism efforts have become increasingly important to the Chinese government. As that repression heightens, conflict in the region also appears to have increased significantly.
In 2009, there were ethnic riots in Urumqi, Xinjiang’s capital, which caused thousands of injuries and hundreds of deaths. Since 2013, there have also been attacks on a coal mine, a mosque, a market, train station, and in Tiananmen Square, all of which the Chinese government linked to Uighur militants.
Following a set of attacks in Urumqi that killed 43 people in 2014, Chinese officials began a “strike hard special operation” against terrorist forces in the country. The Chinese government has noted that that the operation facilitated the elimination of 200 terrorist groups and the execution of least 49 people.
Also in 2015, Chinese authorities hunted down alleged perpetrators of the coal mine attack in Xinjiang. Security forces killed 28 suspects in the process, women and children among them.
Following the Urumqi riots in 2009, Chinese authorities began to take measures to curb the perceived threat of terrorism in Xinjiang, such as building fences throughout the regions and closing off entire neighborhoods for security inspections. Uighurs are often required to display identification before entering their neighborhoods, while Han Chinese living in the same neighborhoods do not have to adhere to the same requirement.
Authorities in Xinjiang maintain security checkpoints to check the ID cards and cellphones of citizens, primarily those of Uighurs. Cellphones are of particular interest to officials because they may contain apps or other software contributing to jihadist causes or allowing owners to communicate with individuals outside of China.
Uighurs are also disallowed from certain religious practices, including the covering of the head and face and accessing religious centers. Fasting during Ramadan is also strictly governed.
Many Uighurs are also discouraged from traveling, especially abroad, and some are even denied travel documents. Even those who are ultimately able to obtain travel documents go through an arduous process in order to be approved for those documents. In June 2016, the Chinese government determined that people in Yili, in Xinjiang’s north-western region, would need to present DNA or other biological evidence when applying for travel documents.
Human rights advocates that have worked to eradicate conflict in Xinjiang face repression by the Chinese government as well. One such advocate, economist and Uighur supporter Ilham Tohti, was sentenced to life imprisonment for alleged separatism after he called for reconciliation between the Chinese and Uighurs. This year, two years after his imprisonment commenced, Mr. Tohti was announced as the winner of the Martin Ennals award for human rights defenders. The Martin Ennals Foundation described Mr. Tohti’s work as that which fostered dialogue and understanding between the Han and Uighur populations in Xinjiang, but China’s foreign ministry stated that the activist’s case has nothing to do with human rights and is based purely on his separatist activities.
Additionally, members of the media, both foreign and national, have experienced persecution for their portrayal of the Uighur plight. It is difficult for foreign press to infiltrate Xinjiang to deliver news coverage of ongoing events, so coverage is limited. Officials in the region often do not respond to requests for interviews, and the aforementioned security checkpoints keep journalists from reaching specific parts of the region.
In December 2015, a French journalist was expelled from the country for an article that criticized Beijing’s policies in the Xinjiang region and its treatment of the Uighurs. The journalist, Ursula Gauthier, published a story indicating that China could be using the Paris attacks to justify its crackdowns in Xinjiang. Ms. Gauthier’s expulsion was the first foreign journalist to be expelled from China since 2012.
Even those who work for state-run media are not safe from punishment for what the government perceives as criticism of its policies regarding the Uighurs. In November 2015, the editor of newspaper Xinjiang Daily, was expelled from the state’s official Communist Party and subjected to legal review for his improper discussion of clashes in the Xinjiang region.
China’s crackdown on the Uighurs may in turn have driven some Uighurs to join terrorist organizations. When news sources began to report that Uighurs were fighting alongside affiliates of al-Qaeda in 2015, it became clear that some Uighurs were vulnerable to al-Qaeda and Islamic State recruitment techniques.
Both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State have pointedly highlighted the Uighurs’ treatment by the Chinese in Xinjiang. In December 2015, Islamic State’s foreign media division, Al Hayat Media Center, released a recording of a chant in Chinese which called for Muslims to rise up and fight for the Islamic State. It was unclear whether the chant designated China as a target, but China was previously identified by Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as a state in which the rights of Muslims are seized.
Additionally, Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi denounced China’s treatment of the Uighurs and other Muslims earlier this year and spoke of an Islamic state reaching from Morocco to Xinjiang.
A report released in July 2016 by the New America Foundation, a non-partisan think tank, indicated that 114 Uighurs from Xinjiang had been recruited by the Islamic State. The report, which was based on leaked registration documents of Islamic State recruits, stated that policies enacted in the region could be a “push factor driving people to leave the country and look elsewhere for a sense of ‘belonging’.”
Earlier this year, a suicide bombing at the Chinese embassy in Kyrgyzstan was carried out by Zoir Khalilov, an ethnic Uighur who reportedly was an ETIM member. The GKNB, the State Committees of National Security for Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, reported that Uighur terrorist groups committed the attack and that Nusra Front, a splinter group of al-Qaeda in Syria, financed the attack.
The bombing was the first time a Chinese embassy has ever been attacked by a terrorist organization. Several other individuals were detained or arrested in connection with the attack.
China has increased its anti-terrorism efforts targeted at the Uighurs by joining efforts with other states. For example, in 2015, Thailand deported a group of 100 Uighurs who were attempting to reach Turkey and other nations that could offer refuge. The Chinese government claimed that the deportees were militants who intended to join the jihadist movement in Syria. Thailand’s deportation sparked protests in front of a Chinese embassy and an honorary consulate in the country.
In August 2016, China instituted an anti-terrorism alliance with Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan, all whom border with the Xinjiang region. China and Tajikistan held anti-terrorism drills in October, with over 400 troops participating.
China’s President, Xi Jinping, visited Saudi Arabia in 2016 to discuss expanding security cooperation in the fight against terrorism. In October 2016, China and Saudi Arabia held joint anti-terrorism drills in southwest China, with about 50 individuals participating.
At the 2016 G20 Summit in September, President Jinping and Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey pledged to strengthen ties in order to fight terrorism. Turkey and China previously had discord between them regarding China’s treatment of the Uighurs, who ethnically identify as Turkish. Some Muslim political groups in Turkey have denounced China’s treatment of the Uighurs, and at one point, Turkish protesters marched on the Chinese embassy and consulate in Turkey to fight that treatment. Jinping and Erdogan’s pledge to increase ties between their states seems to have overshadowed that discord at least for the time being.
China’s relations with Western nations regarding its anti-terrorism campaign and treatment of the Uighurs have not been as fruitful. Many critics of China’s treatment of the Uighurs and its anti-terrorism campaign point to China’s lack of transparency.
In June of this year in its annual anti-terrorism report, the U.S. State Department questioned China on its anti-terror campaign in Xinjiang, citing its lack of transparency and its effect on anti-terrorism cooperative efforts. China responded with a statement citing the need for the United States to respect China’s fight against militants in the region.
In November 2015, China’s state-run media also came out with a series of articles criticizing western nations for their failure to support China in its fight against Uighur militants in Xinjiang, stating that those nations refused to treat the Uighurs’ actions as acts of terrorism.
For more information, please see:
Al Jazeera – China, Saudi Arabia Hold Joint “Anti-Terror” Drills – 27 October 2016
Associated Press – Rising Uighur Militancy Changes Security Landscape for China – 9 September 2016
Associated Press via San Diego Union-Tribune – AP EXPLAINS: How Uighur Militants are Affecting China – 9 September 2016
The Atlantic – The Limits of Chinese Isolationism – 17 October 2016
BBC –Chinese Police Require DNA for Passports in Xinjiang – 7 June 2016
BBC – China Xinjiang Daily Editor Sacked After “Anti-Terror Criticism” – 2 November 2015
CNBC – As China Fights Uighurs in Xinjiang, Complaints Rise Over West’s View – 25 November 2015
The Diplomat – China’s Nightmare: Xinjiang Jihadists Go Global – 17 August 2016
The Economist – Xinjiang: The Race Card – 3 September 2016
The Epoch Times – CHINA SECURITY: China Uses Paris Attacks to Promote Persecution of Uyghurs – 24 November 2015
The Financial Times – Syria-based Uighur Militants Linked to Chinese Embassy Bombing – 7 September 2016
The Guardian – Ilham Tohti, Uighur Imprisoned for Life by China, Wins Major Human Rights Prize – 11 October 2016
The Guardian – China Expels French Journalist Who Questioned Treatment of Uighurs – 26 December 2015
International Business Times – China’s Jinping Meets Turkey’s Erdogan; Both Countries Pledge to Step up Counter Terrorism Cooperation – 3 September 2016
The New York Times – Xinjiang Seethes Under Chinese Crackdown – 2 January 2016
The New York Times – ISIS Extends Recruitment Efforts to China With New Chant – 8 December 2015
Reuters – China, Turkey Pledge to Deepen Counter-Terrorism Cooperation – 3 September 2016
TIME – Five Ways China Has Become More Repressive Under President Xi Jinping – 6 October 2016
TIME – China Will Have to Get Used to Being a Terrorist Target – 31 August 2016
UNPO – EU Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy Recognizes Persistent Threats to Minorities – 26 September 2016
UNPO – East Turkestan: Daily Harassment and Physical Segregation of Uyghurs in China’s Xinjiang Region – 24 August 2016
UNPO – East Turkestan: U.S. Criticizes Chinese Anti-Terror Campaign – 6 June 2016
War on the Rocks – Counterterrorism or Repression? China Takes on Uighur Militants – 18 April 2016
By Cintia Garcia
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
CARACAS, Venezuela—Venezuelan opposition protestors clashed with security forces on Wednesday. One police officer was shot and killed. At least 20 people have been injured, including 3 that were shot, and an estimated 208 arrests occurred nationwide.
Hundreds of thousands of opposition protestors took to the streets throughout Venezuela after a referendum was blocked. A referendum is being pushed by the opposition to remove president Maduro from office by hosting elections. The opposition was able to gather 1.8 million signatures demanding a referendum; 400,000 signatures were validated by the electoral authorities that would have authorized the election. If an election is held, the opposition would need to get over 7,587,579 votes to oust president Maduro. The referendum was halted after officials ruled that there was identity fraud. In the National Assembly, which is dominated by the opposition, voted to launch a political trial against President Nicolas Maduro. But the Supreme Court has overruled every decision made by the National Assembly since it became the majority. In addition, opposition leaders have called for a 12-hour national strike and a march on November 3 to the presidential palace if the referendum does not go forward. A protestor stated, “If they don’t want to let us choose in an electoral voting process, they are going to have to listen to us as we march in the streets peacefully, overwhelmingly, and tirelessly until they meet the demands of the Venezuelan people.”
The Vatican has announced it will serve as a neutral party to mediate talks between the opposition and the government—but many do not believe this will work. President Maduro on a televised address, stated that the opposition leaders are seeking a coup with the support of the US. He stated, “They are desperate, they have received the order form the north to destroy the Venezuelan revolution.” He also called for a dialogue and peace.
Venezuela has suffered an economic crisis due to falling crude oil prices. This has lead to a food shortage and inflation. The opposition has blamed President Maduro for the crisis and President Maduro has blamed the opposition.
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By Cintia Garcia
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
Bogota, Colombia—The president of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, acknowledged in a public statement on Thursday, the governments role in the assassination of leftist activists in the 1980s. The statement precedes the peace accord signing between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the government.
After the peace agreements of the 1980s between the government and the FARC, the FARC formed the Patriotic Union (UP) political party. The political party was very successful in the 1986 election. Right-wing paramilitary groups, with government backing, assassinated thousands of its members and leaders, including the president of the UP, Jaime Pardo. An estimated 5,000 people were killed. A moment in history the FARC continues pin point during the new peace accord.
President Santos stated, “the tragedy should never have happened, and we must recognize that the government didn’t take sufficient measures to impede and prevent the assassinations, attacks, and other violations even though there was evidence the persecution was taking place.” He spoke in front of 200 survivors and family members of the UP—some wore shirts saying “They can cut the flowers, but they can’t stop the birth of spring.”
Santos continued by stating, “I make the solemn commitment before you today to take all the necessary measures and to give all the guarantees to make sure that never again in Colombia will a political organization have to face what the UP suffered.” President Santos has promised the safety and the protection of the FARC through the process.
Similarly, the FARC on Monday released a statement apologizing for the various kidnappings they committed in order to sustain themselves as a group. The FARC kidnapped thousands for ransom, including members of the elite.
The conflict in Colombia will soon come to end after the peace accords are signed on the 26th of September. The people of Colombia will vote on October 2, deciding whether to accept the peace accords.
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By Sarah Lafen
Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe
WARSAW, Poland — Polish legislators have proposed a law which would criminalize abortions. If passed, the law would apply to both women seeking abortions as well as doctors and other medical staff who are involved in the performance of the procedures. These parties would be subject to jail time between three months and five years for causing “the death of a conceived child.” The proposed legislature was drawn up by a rightwing think-tank, with the support of the Catholic Church and the Law and Justice governing party.
Current abortion laws in Poland permit abortion only in the cases of rape, when the fetus is diagnosed with a severe or irreversible disability or an incurable illness which is threatening its life, or if the woman’s life is in danger. The new proposed law would permit abortions only when the mother’s life is in danger.
Protesters have staged demonstrations in opposition to this proposed legislation in cities across Europe. Thousands of human rights activists gathered in Warsaw, Poland outside of the Polish parliament on Sunday, while another demonstration occurred outside of the Polish embassy in London, England. Pro-abortion campaign called “Save Women” compiled approximately 215,000 signatures in opposition of the proposed legislature. These protestors argue that if passed, this bill would encourage women to have “dangerous, back alley abortions.”
On the other side, the pro-life bill has collected approximately 450,000 signatures. Mariusz Dzierżawski, head of Poland’s “Stop Abortion” committee, claims that 58% of Poles currently back the proposed legislature. Dzierżawski says that the legislature is necessary because “about 1,000 unborn children are legally killed in Poland each year.” In April, the Catholic Church voiced its support for the passing of the proposed legislature. Polish bishops want the bill passed in order to “protect every person’s life from conception to natural death.”
Official studies estimate that less than 1,000 legal abortions are performed each year in Poland as it is – as doctors are scared of suffering the repercussions of performing the procedure. However, other independent research groups have estimated that 80,000-190,000 women undergo the procedure annually in Poland, whether through the “back alley” methods, or by traveling abroad.
Polish legislators are set to consider the bill on Wednesday.
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