‘Horrific’ Elder Abuse in Georgia

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter

GEORGIA, United States – Dougherty county residents initiated the investigation of this case following a tip that was given to police officers. The tip came in after several Dougherty county residents were approached by some of the elderly outside of the Albany apartments, “begging for food.” Following the investigation, three people were arrested. Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr described the case as a “horrific elder abuse scheme.’’ He went on to say that the elders were not given proper “health care, shelter and necessary sustenance.” Additionally, there appeared to be a scheme which included siphoning off the resident’s social security benefits.

This is one of many unlicensed care cases in Georgia. It has remained a problem in the state for years. Georgia personal care homes are supposed to provide food, lodging and if needed, personal care. The residents of these personal care homes are usually senior citizens and people with mental impairments.

Since 2010, Georgia has had over 3,000 people charged with elder abuse crimes in situations like that of the seniors in Albany.  This issue became more apparent after 49 individuals were rescued from supposed “dungeons” according to GBI Director Vernon Keenan. Despite what appears to be high numbers of such cases, Georgia is seen as having one of the nation’s strongest laws in place to protect the elderly and mentally impaired, says Keenan.

Michelle Oliver, Harold Hunt and Cynthia Riley were all arrested and were indicted on 17 different accounts. Photo Courtesy of Georgia Bureau of Investigations.

The Albany units in question have been condemned because living conditions in them are so poor. Those units were rented by Michelle Oliver, Harold Hunt and Cynthia Riley. The three were charged on a 17 count indictment including violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, neglect, exploitation and intimidation of the elderly and disabled. Oliver, 39, was arrested on September 20 for operating an unlicensed personal care home called Miracle One Care Center. After seven elderly and disabled individuals were triaged at the residence, Oliver was taken into custody at her home. Four elderly and disabled individuals were found in the home. Three more victims were found at an apartment in Macon.

“While this case is horrifying, it’s also gratifying to see the results of new laws and new funding passed in the last five years by the governor and the state Legislature,’’ Kathy Floyd, executive director of the Georgia Council on Aging said. “Law enforcement and state agencies have more tools and training to fight elder abuse.” Peter Skandalakis, executive director of the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia, said Tuesday that “the tentacles [of these crimes] go not only across county lines, but also state lines.”

“This has been an ongoing problem in our state,” said Melanie McNeil, the state’s long-term care ombudsman. “Georgia is a leader in the nation for recognizing this problem, developing training and collaborations among law enforcement, prosecutors, and state agencies to rescue residents and prosecute the perpetrators.”

For more information, please see:

CBS – Police: Elderly were Starved, Injected with Medicine and Victims of Fraud – 16 January 2018

Telegraph – Authorities Charge Neglect, Exploitation and Drugs Amount to ‘Web of Abuse’ in Macon Albany – 16 January 2018

WABE – ‘Horiffic’ Elder Abuse Case Highlights Crackdown on Unlicensed Georgia Facilities – 16 January 2018

Parents Arrested After Authorities Found Their 13 Children Chained and Malnourished

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

PERRIS, California, USA – David and Louise Turpin were arrested on suspicion of torture and child endangerment. They are both being eld in lieu of a $9 million bail. Police were called by the couple’s 17 year old daughter who dialed 911 on a deactivated cell phone. She said she had escaped out a window of her parents house where she and her siblings had been kept. She also had photographs to back up her claims. The authorities were shocked by her size and emaciated appearance. Although she is 17, authorities thought she was only 10 based on her appearance.

David and Louise Turpin have both been arrested after their 13 children were found chained and malnourished in their home. Photo Courtesy of Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.

Upon there arrival, authorities noted the home appeared dirty and had a foul stench. Three of the children were found in chains. The 13 children in total ranged from ages 2-29. Because of their malnourished appearance and small stature, authorities originally thought all of the children were minors. Authorities said the parents were not currently showing any signs of mental illness that would explain what they did to their children.

Susan Von Zabern said the 911 call received Sunday, which was cross-reported to social workers, was “the first opportunity we had to intervene.” Currently, it is unclear how long the abuse has been occurring but, she said, “their condition indicates it has been a prolonged period of time.” Social workers are trying to place them with family, but will put them through background checks to make sure that they are able and stable.

Local authorities had no prior contact with the Turpin’s. Additionally, the Police Department in Murrietta, where the family lived previously, also had no interactions with them during the four years they lived there.

The Turpin’s had registered their home as a private school as allowed by California law. Many who choose to homeschool their children in California do register their homes as private school. It first appeared in the state registry in 2010 as a private, nonreligious, co-ed institution when the family first moved there. But only six of the thirteen children were enrolled. The information contained in the registration likely gave authorities little insight into the children’s lives or even how many children there were.

“We really knew nothing about them,” said Grant Bennett, superintendent of the Perris Union High School District. “If they were in home school from the beginning, they wouldn’t have even been on our radar.”

The children are recuperating in the hospital, continuing to improve their health and hope for a better future from this point on.

For more information, please see:

L.A. Times – In Perris, a House of Horrors Hidden in Plain Sight – 17 January 2018

CNN – Found Shackled and and Emaciated, Children of Torture Suspects are Freed – 16 January 2018

ABC News – 13 Siblings Age 2-29 Held Captive by Parents, Some Shackled, Officials Say – 15 January 2018

Rights Groups Release Report on ‘Inhuman’ Dutch Terror Jails

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

Rights groups are calling out the Dutch government for “inhuman conditions” in Dutch terror jails.

De Schie Prison. Photo Courtesy of The Irish Times.

Amnesty International (Amnesty) and The Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) produced a sixty-page report that details inhumane treatment of those both convicted of and suspected of terror offenses in the country.

The allegations are focused on two maximum security jails, where detainees are held in special terrorism units, the De Schie prison and the New Vosseveld prison.

The report finds that inmates are typically held in individual cells for periods of 19 – 22 hours a day. When they are allowed out of their cells, contact is severely limited.

Both those convicted and not are subjected to routine and frequent “full-nudity body searches that are invasive and humiliating.”

Many inmates are hesitant to discuss private and personal matters with visiting family members due to strict audio and video surveillance and physical monitoring by prison authorities.

Prison officers often accompany inmates to medical examinations and are present in the rooms while confidential medical examinations are being conducted.

In compiling their report, Amnesty and OSJI conducted interviews with approximately 50 people, including 19 former detainees.

One of the problems with the system is that anyone who is awaiting trial for a terrorism-related crime is automatically placed in a terrorism unit, which allegedly “undermines their right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.”

Crime in the Netherlands has been on a steady decline since 2004 as a result of a focus on rehabilitation instead of punishment. As a result, prison conditions for those incarcerated for non-terror offenses have improved. However, as the report finds, the conditions in jails and prisons for convicted terrorists and terrorist suspects have deteriorated.

“Many of the measures routinely used in the terrorist units can unnecessarily isolate and humiliate people and as such violate The Netherlands’ human rights obligations,” Amnesty International Netherlands representative Doutje Lettinga said, “Even a person who poses no proven security threat can be held in one of the country’s harshest detention regimes.”

In response to the report, Dutch authorities have expressed willingness to make reforms. However, both Amnesty and OJSI do not think that the government’s plans adequately address the human rights concerns in the terrorism units.

Jonathan Horowitz, speaking for the Open Society Justice Initiative, said that “any reforms must be carefully designed and implemented to ensure maximum transparency and compliance with The Netherlands’ human rights commitments. Security measures must not be excessive or arbitrary.”

For more information, please see:

International Business Times – Terrorists Searched Naked and Kept in Cells 22 Hours a day on ‘Inhuman’ Dutch Prisons, Amnesty Warns – 31 October 2017

The Irish Times – Netherlands Strongly Criticized for Treatment of Terror Suspects – 31 October 2017

NL Times – Dutch Terror Suspects Treated Inhumanely in Prison: Human Rights Organizations – 31 October 2017

The Washington Post – Rights Groups Criticize ‘Inhuman’ Dutch Terror Jails – 31 October 2017

Italy Lays to Rest 26 Young Women Lost at Sea

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

SALERNO, Italy – The bodies of twenty-six Nigerian girls were laid to rest in Italy on November 17th after they were discovered drowned in the Mediterranean Sea on November 5th.

Women pass by coffins of 26 Nigerian girls that drowned at sea. Photo Courtesy of Alessandra Tarantino.

The women, ranging in age from 14 to 18, are believed to have drowned after the dinghies in which they were traveling sank. One victim had suffered internal bleeding from blunt trauma before falling into the water.

Another 100 victims are missing and believed to have drowned. Search and rescue missions have brought nearly 400 migrants to safety.

An investigation into the deaths of the girls was initiated due to fears that they were abused and then killed.

After the discovery of the bodies, two men who are believed to have skippered the boats were arrested on human trafficking charges.

Approximately 168,000 migrants arrived in Italy this year. This represents a 32 percent decline from 2016 and is the result of a controversial agreement between Libya and Italy to keep boats from leaving Libya.

UN Human Rights Chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein called the agreement between Libya and Italy “inhuman,” as it results in migrants seeking refuge to be sent back to Libya’s lawless detention centers.

This year, more than 2,700 people have died or are missing at sea.

Since the 1980s, tens of thousands of Nigerian girls have been taken to Italy and forced into prostitution. In the last three years, there has been a 600 percent increase in sex-trafficking victims arriving by sea. Of the 11,000 Nigerian girls who made the trip last year, 80% of them are believed to be victims of trafficking.

In 2014, 1,454 girls arrived. That number rose to 11,009 in 2016.

According to the UN Refugee Agency, 90% of the women arriving in the country display bruises and other signs of violence.

Only two of the victims buried have been identified. “Most of the Nigerian girls travel alone, part of a huge trafficking network, and no one knows exactly who they are,” said Marco Rotunno, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Italy.

The unidentified victims were buried with white cards simply stating the number of their coffins.

A group of Nigerian girls watched the funeral from a distance. “It is not easy for them because they have all made that crossing, that journey,” said Alessandra Galatro, who works with young Nigerian women to help them escape prostitution. “The cruelty that women faced in Libya, they all experienced.”

For more information, please see:

The New York Times – Two Dozen African Girls Dead at Sea – 13 November 2017

The Guardian – Teenage Nigerian Girls Drowned at Sea, Italian Autopsies Confirm – 16 November 2017

CNN – 26 Young Nigerian Migrant Women Laid to Rest in Italy – 17 November 2017

The Washington Post – Italy Buries 26 Nigerian Women – Most Without a Name – 17 November 2017

NY Amends Elder Law to Prevent Elder Abuse

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

ALBANY, New York – Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill into law on September 13th that would help increase the protections against elder abuse. Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo (D-Binghamton) sponsored the bill which is now law. 11 of her fellow Assemblymen co-sponsored the bill. The new law requires state agencies to develop guidelines to help healthcare providers detect cases of elder abuse, self-neglect and maltreatment.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a new bill into law strengthening the protections against elder abuse. Photo courtesy of Biography.

The Office for the Aging, the Department of Health, and the Office of Children and Family Services will develop the guidelines and will have the guidelines available on their websites. Lupardo said, “We want the Department of Health to be a resource for this information for healthcare professionals, where they can find information on signs and symptoms, screening tools, protocols and referrals for appropriate treatment.” Her hope is that by placing all the information in one place on each website will make the information more accessible.

10% of Americans over age 60 have experienced some form of elder abuse according to the National Council on Aging. Elder abuse has many forms including physical, financial and psychological. According to a 2011 study on elder abuse, for each reported incident of abuse, there are 24 unreported incidences.

The bill before the Assembly had included increased protections against financial abuse as well, but Lupardo said it has been difficult to get all the parties to come to an agreement. The suggestion that had been in the bill was to simplify the forms for power of attorney and to have banks offer the option of opening a convenience account when a customer wants a joint account. Governor Cuomo also recognized the financial abuse of our elders, calling it a “national issue.”

Some of the counties in New York have begun to address the issue on their own. The employees of Otsego County Office for the Aging have undergone regular training on elder abuse and will be attending more in the future. Many employees went to a training on September 26th in conjunction with the New York State Office for the Aging and the Broome County Family Violence Prevention Council. The training focused on financial abuse of seniors. Organizer Denise Shukoff said, “Elder abuse is a public health issue, and health professionals are seeing and recognizing this more and more.”

Advocates of the law say that the goal is to assist healthcare workers build relationships with their patients, detect signs of abuse, and report them to the authorities.

For more information, please see:

Daily Star – State Beefs up Laws to Fight Elder Abuse – 26 September 2017

Democrat and Chronicle – NY Installs Stronger Protections Against Elder Abuse – 15 September 2017

New York State Assembly – An act to amend the elder law, in relation to developing guidelines for identifying and reporting elder abuse in healthcare settings – 2 June 2017

Under the Radar – New York Elder Abuse Prevalence Study – May 2011

United Nations Reports ‘Grave’ Human Rights Abuses in Crimea

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

GENEVA, Switzerland – In a report published on September 25th, the United Nations cited grave instances of human rights abuses in Crimea.

People Wave Flags in Observation of the Third Anniversary of Russia’s Annexation of Crimea. Photo Courtesy of the New York Times.

“There is an urgent need for accountability,” UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said of the situation.

The United Nations ordered the human rights investigation in December 2016. The report is based on interviews conducted from Ukraine, as investigators were not allowed access into the region.

Among the abuses found are incidences of illegal arrests, allegedly taking place to instill fear and stifle opposition. There is also evidence of torture, and a finding of at least one extra-judicial execution. Additionally, between 2014 and 2015, dozens of people were abducted, and ten still remain missing.

The abuses are alleged to have been perpetrated by the Federal Security Service, Russian police officers and a paramilitary group.

Crimea was illegally annexed by Russia in 2014 in a referendum that was and is not recognized by the international community. It has been condemned by the European Union as well as the United States and has resulted in sanctions against Russia.

The human rights abuses are primarily directed at the Tatars, a Turkic speaking minority in Crimea that makes up about 12% of its population.

The report states that “while those human rights violations and abuses have affected Crimean residents of diverse ethnic backgrounds, Crimean Tatars were particularly targeted especially those with links to the Mejlis.”

The Tatar parliament, the Mejelis, boycotted the referendum on joining Russia and were deemed an extremist organization and banned by Moscow in 2016. The Tatar community has since been limited in its ability to celebrate important dates and display cultural symbols.

Tatyana Moskalkova, Russia’s human rights ombudsman, states that the report is “an unjust and biased assessment of the human rights situation in Crimea.” A Crimean official has also stated that the report is not objective or indicative of reality.

Thousands of Crimean residents have fled rather than be subject to forced Russian citizenship.

The report notes that hundreds of Crimean prisoners were illegally transferred to Russian jails, an act that violates international law. Three detainees who were transferred died after they did not receive medical treatment for serious medical conditions.

“The frequency and severity of these human rights violations, together with the lack of accountability, has created an atmosphere of impunity which encourages the further perpetuation of such violations,” said Fiona Frazer, lead of the investigating mission.

For more information, please see:

Anadolu Agency – UN Says Russia Violating Crimea Tatars’ Rights – 25 September 2017

BBC News – UN Accuses Russia of Violating Human Rights in Crimea – 25 September 2017

New York Times – Russia Committed ‘Grave’ Rights Abuses in Crimea, UN Says – 25 September 2017

Reuters – Russian Occupation of Crimea Marked by Grave Human Rights Violations – 25 September 2017

Washington Post – UN Human Rights Office: Russia Violating International Law in Crimea – 25 September 2017

According to UN Report, Migrant Children Endure Severe Human Rights Abuses

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

GENEVA, Switzerland – According to a September 5th report released by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), more than 75 percent of migrant children attempting to reach Europe are victims of severe human rights abuses.

Young Child Awaiting Rescue. Photo Courtesy of Yahoo! News UK.

The findings are based on testimonies obtained from over 22,000 migrants and refugees, including 11,000 children, given to the International Organization for Migration, the UN’s Migration Agency.

Afshan Khan, UNICEF Europe Regional Director, said of the findings, “the stark reality is that it is now standard practice that children moving through the Mediterranean are abused, trafficked, beaten and discriminated against.”

The victims reported being subjected to a myriad of abuses, including sexual exploitation, forced labor, child marriage and beatings.

A 17-year-old girl from Nigeria reported being raped, held captive and threatened with violence. An Afghan boy recalled being forced into labor and beaten if he stopped working. Another child said, “if you try to run, they shoot you. If you stop working, they beat you. We were just like slaves. At the end of the day, they just lock you inside.”

UNICEF reports that children originating from sub-Saharan Africa are particularly at risk. Those travelling from Libya along the Mediterranean route are vulnerable due to the route being laden with crime and a lack of policing. The risk also increases for children who are travelling alone and over long periods of time.

The UNICEF report comes amid a substantial increase in the number of children migrating to Europe in recent years. Between 2010 and 2011, 66,000 children travelers were reported. That number has now surged to over 300,000.

The children making these harrowing journeys are often unaccompanied. Of those under 18 years of age arriving to Italy via the Mediterranean Sea passages from North Africa in 2016, 92% were alone.

“For people who leave their countries to escape violence, instability or poverty, the factors pushing them to migrate are severe, and they make perilous journeys knowing that they may be forced to pay with their dignity, their wellbeing or even their lives,” said IOM Regional Director for the European Union, Norway and Switzerland, Eugenio Ambrosi.

UNICEF’s report has prompted calls for the European Union and other parties to “put in place lasting solutions that include safe and legal migration pathways, establishing protection corridors and finding alternatives to the detention of migrant children,” said Khan.

For more information, please see:

ABC News – CORRECTION: United Nations – Children Migrants Story – 12 September 2017

Abdolu Agency – UNICEF says Many Young Migrants Face Exploitation – 12 September 2017

UNICEF – Up to Three Quarters of Children and Youth Face Abuse, Exploitation and Trafficking on Mediterranean Migration Routes – 12 September 2017

UN News Centre – Abuse, Exploitation and Trafficking ‘Stark Reality’ for Migrant Children Trying to Reach Europe – 12 September 2017

Reuters – ‘Just Like Slaves’; African Migrant Children Face Highest Risk of Abuse: Report – 11 September 2017

Yahoo! News UK – Young Migrants Face Abuse on Way to Europe – UN – 11 September 2017

Italian Officers Suspended Amid Rape Allegations

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

ROME, Italy – Two Italian Carabinieri officers have been suspended amid allegations they raped two US students in Florence.

Outside Florence Nightclub Where Officers Picked up Students. Photo Courtesy of Time.

On Friday, September 8, Italy’s defense minister Roberta Pinotti attended a forum on women’s issues in Milan where she stated that “investigation is still underway, but there is some basis in respect to the allegations.”

The rapes reportedly occurred in the early morning hours of September 7th.

Earlier, the women, ages 19 and 21, spent time at a nightclub in Florence. Patrol cars were called to the scene to investigate a fight that had broken out at the club. Two of the three patrol cars departed after the fight had been handled.

After the women were unsuccessful in their efforts to find a taxi, the remaining officers, who were in uniform at the time, offered to drive them home. Witnesses confirmed seeing the women enter the patrol car.

Upon arriving to the residence, the officers allegedly raped the women before they could reach their rooms. The women told investigators they were too frightened to scream during the assault.

Prosecutors in Florence are investigating the incident and have conducted DNA tests to verify the accusations. The results of those tests are pending.

The United State Embassy in Rome declined to comment on the situation “due to the sensitive nature of this case and to protect the privacy of those involved.”

The accused officers have been suspended on a precautionary basis while the investigation continues. The Carabinieri provincial officer command stated that the suspension is separate from the Florence prosecutors’ investigation into the criminal allegations.

In addition to the rape charges, the officers face disciplinary charges from driving the women home without notifying superiors.

“Rape is always a serious matter. But it’s of unprecedented seriousness if it is committed by Carabinieri in uniform, because citizens turn to them and to their uniform to have assurances and security” Pinotti said at the women’s forum.

The paramilitary Carabinieri are one of two of Italy’s main police forces, the other being the state police. The Carabinieri report to the Defense Ministry.

“If this is true, and I hope that light is shed on the matter as soon as possible, then it would be an act of unheard of gravity” said Tullio Del Sette, head of the army.

For more information, please see:

Time – 2 U.S. Students say They Were Raped by Policemen in Italy – 8 September 2017

New York Times – Two American Students Accuse Italian Police of Rape – 9 September 2017

Reuters – U.S. Students’ Rape Allegation has ‘Some Basis’, Minister Says – 9 September 2017

Washington Post – 2 Italian Police Suspended After Alleged Rape of US Students – 9 September 2017

Colombia’s Top Human Rights Official Resigns

By Kaitlyn Degnan
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombian Ombudsman Jorge Armando Otálora is facing allegations of sexual harassment from his former private secretary. Astrid Helena Cristancho, an attorney, resigned from her position last November “in protest.” She made her story and allegations of abuse public in Daniel Coronell’s column published in Semana. Cristancho provided Coronell with explicit photos sent to her by Otálora, documents and screenshots of conversations detailing the harassment.

Colombian Ombudsman Jorge Armando Otálora (photo courtesy of Latin Correspondent)

Cristancho filed an official complaint with the Attorney General in January. She said she did not immediately report the abuse out of fear, calling Otálora a “powerful person who has lots of money.” She told journalists while filing the complaint: “I call on all women and men who have been victims of any type of harassment to speak up.” She was wearing a T-shirt bearing the slogan “No Means No.”

Otálora, in response defended himself by saying he was in love with Cristancho, calling the photographs “the result of trust in a relationship between couples who spent very nice moments.”

Human Rights groups had called for Otálora’s resignation, and several politicians and political parties have withdrawn their support. Although Otálora had initially said that he would not resign, he finally did so on January 28. Otálora attributed the “media-hyped scandal” to “political enemies wanting to damage the institution he represents.”

Additionally, Otálora allegedly called for the resignation of his Assistant Ombudsman, Esiquio Manuel Sanchez Herrera, due to “institutional adjustments” in the office. Sanchez, however, claims that he made the decision to resign voluntarily because of the scandal.  He told reporters that he “made this decision voluntarily,” and that it is “best for the country and for the institution.”

Otálora was also accused of being an “abusive boss” by his former deputy, Juan Manual Osoria, who resigned in August 2015. He claimed to endure insults and screaming from Otálora. Cristancho also reported similar abuse in her complaint, in additional to the sexual harassment.

 

For more information, please see:

Semana – El acoso no era solo laboral, tambien sexuel – 23 January 2016

Latin Correspondent – Colombia’s Ombudsman embroiled in ugly labor and sexual abuse allegations – 26 January 2016 

EFE – Colombian ombudsman accused of harassment asks for resignation of his No. 2 – 27 January 2016

Prensa Latina – Colombia Ombusman Could Resign after Sexual Harassment – 27 January 2016

Associated Press – Colombia’s human rights boss resigns amid harassment scandal – 28 January 2016

Latin Post – Human Rights Groups Call for Colombia’s Ombudsman Jorge Armando Otálora’s Resignation Amid Sexual Harassment Scandal – 28 January 2016