Trial Delayed for Murder of Honduran Activist, Berta Cáceres

By: Zoe Whitehouse
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – The Honduran Supreme Court has delayed the criminal trial regarding the murder of Berta Cáceres. Cáceres, an internationally known environmental and indigenous activist, was shot to death inside her home in La Esperanza in Western Honduras on March 2, 2016.

Amid claims of impartiality, international lawyers representing the family of Berta Cáceres have filed to suspend the trial. Attorneys allege the presiding judges have abused their authority. During pre-trial, judicial decisions and omissions had violated the due process rights of the victim’s family. In one instance, the Court had failed to sanction the public prosecutor for ignoring a court order to provide evidence to the family’s legal team. The attorneys have argued this demonstrated a “disregard for the rule of law,” and have requested the recusal and replacement of three presiding judges.

Lawyers for the Cáceres family have also filed five injunctions with the appellate court. One injunction challenges the court’s decision to reject witnesses, experts, and documentary evidence. The legal team believes this evidence would demonstrate a greater criminal conspiracy.

Cáceres was a vocal critic regarding hydroelectric-dam construction in Western Honduras. In 2015, a year before her death, she was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize for her efforts to stop the Agua Zarca project along the Gualcarque River. Cáceres had filed complaints, organized local assemblies, and led protests regarding the negative impact of the proposed dam for indigenous communities. Her campaign reached greater international recognition when she brought the case to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission.

Farmers carry photo of Cáceres. Image courtesy of Jorge Cabrera. 

While Cáceres garnered international acclaim for her efforts, military officials and high-profile business associates continued to issue death threats against her. Cáceres had reported receiving 33 death threats for her campaign against the Agua Zarca dam. In early 2017, Roberto David Castillo Mejia, the former CEO of Desarrollos Energéticos S.A., the Honduran company responsible for the Agua Zarca dam project, was arrested and charged. Prosecutors alleged Castillo Mejia acted as the “intellectual author” of Cáceres’s murder. He is not currently part of the suspended trial.

For further information, please see: 

Al Jazeera – Trial for murder of Honduran activist Berta Caceres delayed – 17 September 2018

The Guardian – Berta Cáceres murder trial delayed after judges accused of abusing authority – 17 September 2018

The New York Times – Trial for Murder of Honduran Environmental Activist Delayed – 17 September 2018

After Landmark Ruling, Gay Sex Legalized in India

By: Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Asia

NEW DELHI, India – A landmark ruling legalizing gay sex was passed down from India’s highest court on September 6th, putting an end to more than a century’s worth of anti-LGBT legislation.

Celebrations erupted after the landmark decision. Photo courtesy of Piyal Adhikary.

Introduced in the 1860s, the colonial-era law in question, Section 377 of the Indian penal code, criminalized gay sex. Violators could face a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Prior to Section 377’s repeal, Indian courts had been reluctant to rule on the issue. In 2009, the Delhi High Court found the law unconstitutional, but the Supreme Court overturned its decision four years later.

Lawyers questioned the constitutional basis of the 2013 ruling. In that ruling, the court stated that because it believed only “a miniscule fraction of the country’s population constitute lesbians, gays, bisexuals or transgenders” that the law was “legally unsustainable” to repeal.

Lawyers in the latest hearings questioned that stance and its constitutional basis.

Colin Gonsalves, one of the attorneys representing the dozen-plus litigants in the case, called the decision “a wrong judgment. It was not legal and it was based wrongly on the tenets of the constitution.”

Celebrations spread throughout the country with news of the repeal. Crowds outside the supreme court erupted in cheers and tears of relief as the decision was announced. Marches and parades took place across the country.

“I was turning into a cynical human being with very little belief in the system, but honestly that has really shown once again that we are a functional democracy where freedom of choice, speech and rights still exist” said Ritu Dalmia, one of the campaigners.

Another campaigner, Bismaya Kumar Raula, said, “I can’t even explain how I am feeling right now. The long battle has been won. Finally we have been recognized by this country.”

Although some religious and conservative groups oppose the ruling, public opinion throughout India is largely supportive of the repeal.

Chief Justice Dipak Misra announced the decision of the court, saying “social exclusion, identity seclusion and isolation from the social mainstream are still the stark realities faced by individuals today, and it is only when each and every individual is liberated from the shackles of such bondage…that we can call ourselves a truly free society.”

For more information, please see:

BBC News – India court legalises gay sex in landmark ruling – 6 September 2018

CNN – India’s top court decriminalizes gay sex in landmark ruling – 6 September 2018

The Guardian – Campaigners celebrate as India decriminalises homosexuality – 6 September 2018

Los Angeles Times – India’s gay sex ban was a relic of the British Empire — but it’s still in place in dozens of ex-colonies – 7 September 2018

 

 

Azeri Woman First Target for UK Unexplained Wealth Order

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

LONDON, United Kingdom – A woman charged under the UK Unexplained Wealth Order lost a court case to remain anonymous.  She and her husband are the first two being charged under the new Order.  The Order allows authorities to seize £50,00 from people suspected of corruption.

Over the past 10 years, the woman in question, Zamira Hajiyeva, spent more than £16m in Harrods, a luxury department store in London.   Examples of her spending provided in court were £15,000 at a luxury jewelry, perfume, and watch store in one day.  The next day she spent £1800 on wine.  Other purchases included £100,000 on Cartier jewelry and £20,000 on luxury men’s goods.

To pay for such items she used 3 store loyalty cards and more than 30 credit cards issued by her husband’s bank.

On top of this spending, in 2013 a company registered to her name spent more than £10m to buy a golf course and estate near Ascot. In 2009, a company purchased a large home near Harrods for £11.5m.  The home owners are Mrs. Hajiyeva and her husband.

A company owned by Mrs Hijiyeva purchased a £11.5m home in London. Photo Courtesy of Simon Dawson.

A court hearing in July of 2018 determined that Zamira Hajiyeva possessed an extensive disposable income. Under the Unexplained Wealth Order, she is required to explain the source of her wealth.  If she doesn’t, she is at risk of losing her £11.5m home.

Mrs. Hajiyeva lives in the UK under a visa policy for wealthy investors.

Her husband was the Chairman of the International Bank of Azerbaijan.  Currently, he is serving 15 years in jail for a 2016 conviction for fraud and embezzlement.  He denies the allegations, stating that he fell out of favor with the Azerbaijan’s corrupt rulers.

Mrs. Hajiyeva declares she is innocent and that her husband was a legitimate banker.  She claims her husband amassed the wealth through independent businesses he owned prior to becoming chairman.

Her lawyers released a statement in relation to her case: “The decisions of the High Court upholding the grant of an Unexplained Wealth Order against Zamira Hajiyeva does not and should not be taken to imply any wrongdoing, whether on her part or that of her husbands.”  They claim the case was a show trial and does not meet the requirements of the Order.  The National Crime Agency notes that as an official Mr. Hajiyeva would not have had the ability to amass such wealth.

Director of the National Crime Agency’s economic crime department noted, “Where we cannot determine a legitimate source for the funds used to purchase assets and prime property it is absolutely right that we ask probing questions to uncover their origin.  Unexplained Wealth Orders have the potential to significantly reduce the appeal of the UK as a destination for illicit income.” Advocates for fighting corruption are glad to see the Order being used to pursue cases of corruption.

For more information please visit:

 The Independent – Woman who spent £16m at Harrods revealed in court case – 10 October 2018

 BBC- Woman who spent £16m in Harrods revealed – 10 October 2018

 AlJazeera – Woman fights UK wealth order after spending $21m at Harrods – 10 October 2018

Reuters – Azeri banker’s high-spending wife targeted by new British anti-graft powers – 10 October 2018 

Two-day Romanian Referendum Could Constitutionally Ban Gay Marriage

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

BUCHAREST, Romania – Over a 2 day referendum on 6 and 7 October 2018, Romanians have the chance to vote on a Constitutional change that would define marriage as between a man and woman.  The senate approved the referendum on 11 September.  The lower chamber approved the referendum back in June of 2017.  The referendum comes after a coalition of social conservatives, Coalition for the Family, collected 3.2 million signatures in order to submit a bill to the Parliament banning gay marriage in the Constitution.

Romanian Women marching in favor of the Constitutional change to define marriage as between a man and woman. Photo Courtesy of Robert Ghement.

In 2001, Romania decriminalized homosexuality, but gay marriage remained banned by law.  Critics say this referendum would be a further step to ensure that gay couples do not gain the right to marriage in the future. Currently, the Constitution states that marriage is between spouses.

EU officials and human rights organizations wrote to the Prime Minister of Romania, Viorica Dăncilă condemning the referendum.  The concern is that this proposed change further legitimizes discrimination and violence against those of the LGBTI community. Additionally, it leads the way towards discrimination of other minority groups in Romania.

An excerpt from the European Parliament’s letter reads: “This redefinition of family has the potential to harm children in all families by promoting the message that single parent families, non-married partners with children, grandparents raising their grandchildren, rainbow families, and all other families that do not fall under the narrow definition proposed by the referendum do not deserve to be recognized and protected.”

Additionally, there is concern over why the referendum was held over two days, rather than the typical one day.  This move could be seen as an attempt to manipulate the outcome of the referendum and to ensure the collection of the minimum number of votes needed to pass.

In order to be valid, the referendum needs a 30% turnout or roughly 5 million votes.   A poll, conducted by CURS, states that there would be a 34% turnout rate with 90% voting ‘yes’ in favor of the change.

As of the end of 6 October (the first day of voting) there was only a 6% turnout rate.  A voting observation group noted irregularities.

For more information please visit:

Balkan Insight – Romanians Vote in a Two-Day ‘Family’ Referendum – 6 October 2018

CNN – Romania votes on defining marriage as only between a man and a woman – 7 October 2018

Reuters – Romanians vote on constitutional ban on same sex marriage – 6 October 2018

Business Review- LIVE UPDATES – 7 October 2018

Business Review- LIVE UPDATES – 6 October 2018

Tensions Rise Between Serbia and Kosovo with Possible Land Swap

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

PRISTINA, KOSOVO* –  While Serbia and Kosovo signed an agreement in 2013 to normalize relations, tensions still remain between the two countries, especially in relation to borders.   In an attempt to normalize, Presidents of the two nations have discussed a land swap, which falls along ethnic lines.  Solving border disputes would also help speed up integration into the EU.

A potential swap would be handing northern Kosovo over to Serbia, which is predominately Serbian, for the Preševo Valley, which is predominately Albanian.

Protesters in Pristina. Photo Courtesy of BIRN.

Members and supporters of the opposition party took to the streets of the capital on 29 September chanting “No bargaining with national land!” to protest the potential land swap.  Opposition parties say that this land swap directly violates the territorial integrity of Kosovo.  In previous statements the head of the opposition party, Avdullah Hoti, said that nobody should have the ability to mess with the borders of Kosovo. (Kosovo’s territorial jurisdiction was laid out in a UN Resolution in 1999). It is seen that the leaders are putting territorial integrity at stake just to normalize relations and please the EU.

At the same time, President Thaci of Kosovo visited the Northern part of Kosovo under consideration for the swap.  Special police were deployed to the region as a result.  This sparked alarm in Serbia, with the Serbian officials putting Serbian police and Military on high alert.  Serbian Interior Minister called the Kosovar move, “an Albanian attack against the North of Kosovo.” Serbian news sources claimed that several Serbians had been detained.

For more information please visit:

Radio Free Europe – Thousands Protest in Kosovo Over Possible Land Swap with Serbia – 29 September 2018

Washington Post – Tension flares in Kosovo over possible land swap with Serbia – 29 September 2018

Balkan Insight – Thousands in Kosovo Protest Against ‘Border Correction’ Proposals – 29 September 2018

Background on the land swap:

The Guardian –Could land swap between Serbia and Kosovo lead to conflict? – 22 August 2018

Balkan Insight – Opposition Demands Vote to ‘Protect Kosovo’s Territory’ – 29 August 2018

*All references to Kosovo are in relation to UNSCR 1244 (99).