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

Tunisian Authorities Pledges to Stop Forced Anal Examinations for Homosexuality

By: Adam King
Impunity Rights News Reporter, Africa

Tunisian authorities recently announced a change to compulsory anal examinations for accusations of homosexuality. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

TUNIS, Tunisia – Tunisian authorities recently announced that it would be ending its current practice of forcing those who face accusations of homosexuality to undergo mandatory anal testing.  In Tunisia, a judge has the power to compel a defendant accused of homosexuality to undergo an anal examination to collect evidence against the defendant. Under the new policy, defendants would be able to refuse the examination.  According to Mehdi Ben Gharbia ( a Tunisian politician), “judges can still request that a suspect undergo the test but that person has every right to refuse, without his refusal being held up as proof of homosexuality”.

The United Nations and other human rights organizations have equated the practice of mandatory anal exams to torture. In March 2016, Human Rights Watch released a report detailing instances of forceful abuse of the anal examination protocol against Tunisian citizens.  One victim recalled his experience with the examination process,

“[T]he policeman took me outside to a small garden. He hit me. He slapped me on the face and punched me on the shoulder and said “You will do the test.” The doctor was not watching, but he knew I was being beaten. The policeman pushed me back into the room and said to the doctor, “He will do the test…..He entered one finger inside my anus, with cream on it. He put his finger in and was looking. While putting his finger in, he asked “Are you ok now?” I said, “No, I’m not okay.” It was painful…Then he put in a tube. It was to see if there was sperm. He pushed the tube far inside. It was about the length of a finger. It felt painful. I felt like I was an animal, because I felt like I didn’t have any respect. I felt like they were violating me. I feel that up to now. It’s very hard for me.”

Amnesty International covered the issue of abuse against homosexual and transgender persons in Tunisia originally in 2015. In their report, they detailed the challenges that homosexual and transgender persons faced when trying to seek redress for the harms against them,

“In some cases, instead of duly investigating these homophobic and transphobic crimes – as is their obligation under international law – the police warned or openly threatened survivors, including lesbian women, to drop their complaints if they did not wish to be prosecuted themselves. In other cases police officers have exploited LGBTI people’s fears of prosecution to subject them to blackmail, extortion and, at times, sexual abuse. Gay men and transgender individuals who do not want to be arrested are often forced to bribe police officers and give up their phones or other valuables.”

While this measure will provide more protection to those accused of homosexuality, there are still some uncertainties around the proposal.  First, there is no set date when the measure will go into effect.  The policy is the proposition stage, with no indication as to how soon the measure will be enacted. The Tunisian medical council actually banned the practice in April of 2017, but that ban served more as a declaratory opinion rather than a legally binding mandate. Second, while the refusal of taking the exam is claimed to not be used as evidence against a defendant, the subjective outcomes may be different. As the victim detailed in the Human Rights Watch report, the coercion and violence can be used to compel a defendant to take the examination long before he comes in front of a judge.  This leaves an open question as to whether the change will adequately protect those accused of homosexuality. 

While much progress has been made since the coup of former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the progress is still met with staunch opposition.  Tunisia is still a Muslim country that adheres to the pillars of Islam.  The measure also does not have broader implications for the acceptance of homosexuality in Tunisia. The measure for example does not make homosexuality legal in Tunisia, “Homosexuality is still punishable by three years in jail under Article 230 of Tunisia’s criminal code, which President Beji Caid Essebsi has said would not be repealed.”

For more information, please see:

Daily Mail UK — ‘Tunisia vows to ban anal examinations on ‘suspected homosexuals’ to determine if they are gay’ — 22 September 2017

Independent — ‘Tunisia medical council bans forced anal tests for homosexuality after nearly decade of abuse’ — 12 April 2017

Independent — ‘Tunisia is jailing men for having gay sex and forcing them to undergo anal exams, human rights group claims’ — 30 March 2016

Human Rights Watch — ‘Tunisia: Men Prosecuted for Homosexuality, Abuses in Detention, Prison’ — 29 March, 2016

Amnesty International — ‘Challenging Tunisia’s homophobic taboos’ — 30 September 2015

ICC Asked to Investigate Crimes Against Humanity in Burundi

By: Ethan Snyder
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

2015 demonstration amid failed coup d’état in Burundi. Photo Courtesy of BBC News.

BUJUMBRA, Burundi – On Monday, September 4, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Burundi called upon the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate alleged crimes against humanity. Established in 2016, the commission was charged with examining reports of human rights violations from April 2015 to present.

President Nkurunziza announced in April 2015 that he intended to seek incumbency for a third term in conflict with Burundi’s Constitution. After an unsuccessful coup and increasing political unrest, security forces cracked down violently on suspected opposition throughout the country. It is estimated that more than 350,000 people have fled to neighboring countries that include the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda.

The commission interviewed approximately 500 witnesses who corroborated allegations of sexual violence, detention of opposition and journalists, extrajudicial executions, torture, and inhuman or degrading treatment. The Burundian government denies all allegations relating to state agents being responsible for crimes against humanity.

Chair of the Commission of Inquiry, Fatsah Ouguergouz, announced that the commission is “struck by the scale and the brutality of the violations” and that they are concerned by the “lack of will on the part of the Burundian authorities to fight against impunity and guarantee the independence of the judiciary.”

Despite multiple requests over the year-long period of investigation, the U.N. Commission was not allowed to go to Burundi and was forced to conduct the majority of their inquiry from neighboring countries.

Burundi’s lower house of parliament passed a law in 2016 to withdraw from the Rome Statute – the treaty that established the ICC. Burundi would be the first country to withdraw from the ICC. Many countries on the continent have threatened similar action citing a disproportionate number of cases and charges being brought against African nations for human rights violations. Burundi is projected to exit the ICC by October of 2017.

The ICC continues to have jurisdiction to investigate allegations of human rights violations in Burundi until their formal exit. If Burundi successfully withdraws from the Rome Statute, the ICC investigation would require a resolution from the U.N. Security Council referring the case to the ICC to continue its inquiry.

Presently, only African states have been charged in the six cases that are either ongoing or about to begin since the court was established. There are preliminary investigations that have been opened into events elsewhere in the world.

The Burundi commission noted that “[t]here is a climate of pervasive fear in Burundi. Victims have been threatened, even in exile.” Many witnesses have reported that they have been threatened or confronted by supporters of the Nkurunziza regime after fleeing to nearby countries.

Although Burundi has a history of high ethnic tensions, the commission does not find that the human rights violations are ethnically motivated.

For more information, please see: 

Human Rights Council: Interactive Dialogue on Burundi – Oral Briefing by Fatsah Ouguergouz – 19 September 2017

Africa News – UN asks ICC to investigate Burundi ‘crimes against humanity’ – 5 September 2017

New York Times – U.N. Group Accuses Burundi Leaders of Crimes Against Humanity – 4 September 2017

United Nations Human Rights: Office of the High Commissioner – Burundi: Commission of inquiry calls on the International Criminal Court to investigate possible crimes against humanity – 4 September 2017

Human Rights Watch – Burundi’s refusal to cooperate with inquiry in contempt of membership on UN rights body – 4 September 2017

United Nations Human Rights: Office of the High Commissioner – Burundi: UN investigation urges strong action in light of gross, widespread and systemic human rights violations –  20 September 2016

Lake Chad Basin Faces Continuing Threats

By: Adam King
Impunity Watch News Report, Africa

Site for Internally Displaced People in Mellia, Chad. Photo Courtesy of United Nations.

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria – The Lake Chad Basin, which is considered one of the worst conflict zones in Africa, faces multiple challenges to regional security. The basin is surrounded by four countries: Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria. The lake itself struggles with ecological challenges in the form of drought and dwindling water supplies. According to the United Nations, the ecological effects are playing a role in the proliferation of protracted conflict:

“The impact of the drying lake is causing tensions among communities around Lake Chad. There are repeated conflicts among nationals of different countries over control of the remaining water. Cameroonians and Nigerians in Darak village, for example, constantly fight over the water. Nigerians claim to be the first settlers in the village, while Cameroonians invoke nationalistic sentiments, since the village is within Cameroonian territory. Fishermen also want farmers and herdsmen to cease diverting lake water to their farmlands and livestock.”

The conflict over resources gives rise to more instability through the interstate crime. Boko Haram, for example, continues to be a challenge to continued stability, “[w]hile the efforts of the Governments in Africa’s Lake Chad Basin have diminished Boko Haram’s combat capacity in the region, the terrorist group has changed its tactics, increasing the use of suicide attacks.”

Boko Haram has been accused of perpetrating egregious acts against citizens of multiple states in the region,

“[T]he group had shifted its tactics in the wake of these efforts, and some 130 attacks attributed to Boko Haram in the four affected countries – Nigeria, followed by Cameroon, Niger and Chad – in June and July resulted in 284 civilian fatalities, a significant increase compared to 146 attacks and 107 civilian fatalities in April and May.”

The presence of Boko Haram in the region is but one of many factors that continue to drive the violence. According to Jeffrey Feltman, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, “[p]overty, weak state authority, insecurity and climate change explain this situation, with women and girls being the first victims.”

From ecological disaster to insurgent violence, those who inhabit the region are facing a humanitarian crisis of large proportions. According to the USAID, some 8.5 million people are in need of humanitarian aid. Disease also plays a factor as cholera and hepatitis further complicates the plight of the local inhabitants.

The severity of the situation prompted a meeting of the UN Security Council to develop an adequate assessment of the situation,

“As Council members took the floor, delegates expressed serious concern over those challenges, while many also welcomed the strong and coordinated response of the Multinational Joint Task Force. Several speakers outlined their Governments’ responses to the multiple crises in the Lake Chad Basin, urging donors to bolster their financial, logistical and technical support to the affected States.”

While the crisis continues to worsen, Samantha Newport, from the UN Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, offers a positive perspective on the aid and support of the international community working to mitigate the severity of the problems faced,

“The international system has rapidly scaled up and saved millions of lives. We reached two million people with food assistance every month and have provided hundreds of thousands of children with life-saving nutritional support.”

For more information, please see:

United Nations Meetings Coverage — ‘Terrorism, Other Security Threats Diverting Scarce Funds from ‘Staggering’ Lake Chad Basin Humanitarian Crisis, Political Affairs Chief Tells Security a Council’ — 13 September 2017

The Premium Times — ‘UN Humanitarian Aid Interventions Save Millions of Lives in North East’– Official’ — 13 September 2017

UN News Centre — ‘Stronger peacebuilding efforts needed to tackle Boko Haram, end Lake Chad Basin crisis, Security Council told’ — 13 September 2017

USAID — ‘Lake Chad Basin – Complex Emergency Fact Sheet #23, Fiscal Year (FY) 2017’ — 31 August 2017

United Nations —  ‘Africa’s Vanishing Lake Chad’ — April 2012

UNITED NATIONS: Two South American Countries Highlighted at the Human Rights Council

By: Fernando Oliveira
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

GENEVA, Switzerland – On September 11th, 2017, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zei Ra’ad Hussein, stated that “the world has grown darker and more dangerous.” At his inaugural speech at 36th Session of Human Rights Council, Hussein cited Venezuela and Brazil, among 40 other countries, as countries wherein human rights have been significantly violated.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza Montserrat during the opening of the 36th session of the Human Rights Council, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva on 11 September. Picture courtesy of The Guardian.

Hussein’s statements were based on a wide number of incidents, holding that those two South American countries have been suppressing human rights.

In fact, since former president Hugo Chavez arose 15 years ago, all human rights organizations have expressed concerns about the policies enacted by Venezuela’s government. Massive reports indicate that citizens’ basic rights, such as freedom of speech and peaceful assembly have been abridged. Political imprisonment, ill-treatment of prisoners, and excessive use of force against civilians have been highlighted as well. Furthermore, the executive branch is accused of having frequently attacked public institutions, including the parliament and the supreme court, in order to suppress any kind of reaction from the opposition parties. This long period of misconduct has led the country to an unprecedented financial collapse and launched its people into misery and starvation. Although president Nicolás Maduro has denied all the foregoing charges, the evidences seem to show the reports are right.

Regarding Brazil, despite the undeniable human rights violations, the situation is somehow different. Unlike Venezuela, there are no clear signs of deliberate government attacks against democratic institutions in Brazil. However, the human rights violations are related to a wide swept corruption scheme, which was unveiled by an ongoing investigation, started in 2014, and led by the Brazilian attorney general’s office. The widespread corruption scandal undermined the country’s resources, and carried it to a serious political instability that resulted in former president Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment. According to Brazilian federal prosecutors, billions of dollars have been illegally diverted, and many high authorities and successful entrepreneurs have been arrested due to bribery crimes.

Even the president, Michel Temer, has been criminally indicted before the Supreme Court. It is easy to see how far the systematic corruption has gone in that country, as former president of Brazil, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, and the former president of its House of Representatives, Eduardo Cunha, have been criminally convicted of bribery, the first to nine and a half years in prison, and the second to fifteen and a half years, and 4 months in prison. The ongoing government corruption has deprived Brazilians of basic human rights, such as education, health, safe and so forth.

Based on the foregoing facts, Hussein addressed his speech to UN Human Rights Council as follows:

“Last month my Office issued a report on Venezuela, highlighting excessive use of force by security officers, and multiple other human rights violations, in the context of anti-Government protests. There is a very real danger that tensions will further escalate, with the Government crushing democratic institutions and critical voices – including through criminal proceedings against opposition leaders, recourse to arbitrary detentions, excessive use of force, and ill-treatment of detainees, which in some cases amounts to torture. Venezuela is a Member State of this Council, and as such has a particular duty to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights”, in the words of Resolution 60/251. My investigation suggests the possibility that crimes against humanity may have been committed, which can only be confirmed by a subsequent criminal investigation. While I support the concept of a national Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the current mechanism is inadequate. I therefore urge that it be reconfigured with the support and involvement of the international community. I also urge this Council to establish an international investigation into the human rights violations in Venezuela.

Corruption violates the rights of millions of people across the world, by robbing them of what should be common goods and depriving them of fundamental rights such as health and education or equal access to justice. Recent scandals, including very serious allegations levelled at high-ranking officials in Brazil and Honduras, have revealed how deeply corruption is embedded in all level of governance in many countries in the Americas, often linked to organized crime and drug trafficking. This undermines democratic institutions and erodes public trust. Progress towards uncovering, and prosecuting, corruption at high levels of government is an essential step forward in ensuring respect for the people’s rights, including justice.”

To read the whole speech, please click here:

For more information, please see:

The Guardian – Venezuela crisis: UN calls for investigation into possible crimes against humanity

Impunity Watch – Venezuelan President will not address UN after shocking human rights report – 11 September 2017

Noricias OUL – Cunha é condenado por Moro a 15 anos e 4 meses de prisão – 30 March 2017

ONUBR – Citando Brasil, comissário da ONU alerta para vínculo entre corrupção e perda de direitos – 11 September 2017

Globo G1 – Lula é condenado na Lava Jato a 9 anos e 6 meses de prisão no caso do triplex – 12 July 2017

German Foreign Ministry advises against travel to Turkey

By: Sara Adams 
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe 

Germany’s Foreign Minister speaks at a press conference on July 20. Image courtesy of AP.

BERLIN, Germany – German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel advised citizens against traveling to Turkey, in a time of rising tension between the two countries.

The tension comes from Turkey’s actions since the failed coup against the government in 2016. In the past year, the Turkish government has arrested at least 50,000 people, including journalists and opposition members. Of those, 22 have been German citizens.

German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel was among those arrested in the past year. He was detained on terror charges in February. Six of the human rights activists arrested in June were jailed in Turkey on July 18 while they await trial.

The jailing of the activists is what some are saying triggered Berlin to issue a warning against travel to Turkey.

Relations between Turkey and Germany have become a key topic as Germany approaches a general election in September. Foreign Minister Gabriel is part of the Social Democrats, a rival to Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democrats.

Despite the rivalry, Chancellor Merkel has backed the Foreign Minister’s warning against traveling to Turkey.

Foreign Minister Gabriel is reviewing the relations between the two countries. While he says that Germany “wants Turkey to become part of the west,” he also urged that “it takes two to tango.”

Germany is considering review of an export credits system that benefits Turkey. They are also considering how to handle Turkey’s bid to join the European Union.

Meanwhile, Turkey has stated that it will “reciprocate” what it calls “blackmail and threats” by Berlin. The Turkish Foreign Ministry blames the tensions on Germany’s “double-standard attitude” toward Turkey.

Counsel of Europe’s Secretary General Throbjorn Jagland joins the calls for freeing the prisoners in Turkey.

“Human rights defenders should be able to fulfill their activities freely without being subject to arbitrary interferences by the authorities,” he said in a statement on June 20.

Continuing, the Secretary General stated that the lack of evidence against those jailed can lead to “fear, self-censorship and a chilling effect on Turkish civil society.”

Even so, the government in Ankara continues to hold steadfast to their own judicial processes.

A statement released by the Turkish Foreign Ministry insisted that “the independent Turkish judiciary must be trusted.”

The Ministry strongly condemned any suggestion that German citizens were not safe when traveling to Turkey.

“There is no such thing,” the Turkish Foreign Minister said. “as far as the judiciary could establish [those arrested were] not ordinary visitors, [but] people who engaged in illegal or suspicious activities.”

For more information, please see: 

BBC News – Germany warns citizens of Turkey risks amid arrests – 20 July 2017 

The Washington Post – The Latest: Turkey says it would reciprocate German threats – 20 July 2017 

Reuters – Germany warns citizens to be more careful in traveling to Turkey – 20 July 2017 

AP News – Germany raises pressure on Turkey after activists jailed – 20 July 2017 

LA Times – Turkish court jails an Amnesty director and 5 other human rights activists pending trial – 18 July 2017 

The Guardian – ‘Assault on freedom of expression’: Die Welt journalist’s arrest in Turkey – 28 February 2017  

Theresa May suggests altering human rights laws to fight terrorism

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

Prime Minister Theresa May speaks on election day in Norwich, England. Image courtesy of Associated Press.

LONDON, United Kingdom – On June 5, a van ran onto the sidewalk of London Bridge and swerved back to hit a crowd of pedestrians. Amid the chaos, the attackers exited their van and proceeded to continue their attack on bystanders with knives and fake bomb belts. At least seven people were killed.

The United Kingdom is still reeling from the Manchester bombing on May 22. The bridge attack was quickly found to be terrorism related to the Islamic State.

In response, Prime Minister Theresa May suggested that the UK will change their human rights laws in order to prevent more terror attacks in the country.

These changes, she said, may include longer prison terms for convicted terrorists and simplified deportation methods for “foreign terror suspects.” It has also been speculated that the United Kingdom may seek to opt-out of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The ECHR began in 1953 after the European Convention in Rome in 1950. Article 15 of the treaty would allow the UK to disregard certain aspects of the Convention under certain circumstances. One of the strict circumstances that would permit the UK to forgo their obligations would be a public emergency that “threatens the life of the nation.”

Prime Minister May argues that the United Kingdom should do what it takes to fight the terrorism problem in Britain. She told the British magazine The Sun on Wednesday, “if human rights laws get in the way of doing these things, we will change those laws to make sure we can do them.”

Critics, among them the Labor Party and the Liberal Democratic party, say that P.M. May’s statements are “cynical”. Former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg told the BBC that P.M. May’s “[attack] of the principles of human rights legislation is not the right way to keep us safe”.

Given the results of the general election on June 7, it is uncertain whether Prime Minister May will remain in power much longer. Her Conservative party lost the majority in Parliament by a handful of votes. With this, it is unclear whether the Prime Minister’s plans to rollback human rights laws will come to fruition.

For more information, please see: 

NBC News – London Bridge Attack: 18 Minutes of Chaos in Borough Market, on Streets – 5 June 2017

ABC News – Who’s who, what’s at stake in Britain’s unexpected election – 7 June 2017

BBC News – Theresa May: Human rights laws could change for terror fight – 7 June 2017

CNN – Theresa May: UK will change human rights laws if needed for terror fight – 7 June 2017

NBC News – U.K. Election: British PM Theresa Under Pressure After Shock Vote – 11 June 2017

Trump Invites Philippines President, Nicknamed “The Punisher,” to White House

By Sarah Lafen
Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, North America

 

WASHINGTON D.C., United States — On Saturday, April 29, President Trump invited Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte to the White House during a “very friendly conversation” over the telephone.  Duterte is nicknamed “the Punisher” and is accused of effectuating a drug war that has killed over 7,000.  Duterte has also been accused of ordering extrajudicial killings of drug suspects.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte speaks with reporters in Manila on Friday (Photo Courtesy of NPR)

The White House released a statement that explained that Trump invited Duterte to the U.S. so the two leaders can discuss the “important of the United States-Philippines alliance.”  The White House also commented that on the phone on Saturday, the two discussed the difficulty the Philippine government is facing in fighting “very hard” to rid the country of drugs.

White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus supported the invitation in a statement to reporters, commenting on the importance of U.S. outreach to other Asian nations in the ongoing nuclear threat issue posed by North Korea.  Priebus acknowledged the issue of human rights, however argued that the North Korean problem takes precedence.  Priebus noted that “[t]he issues facing us developing out of North Korea are so serious that we need cooperation at some level with as many partners in the area as we can get to make sure we have our ducks in a row.”

Trump administration officials are preparing for criticism from human rights groups.  Two senior officials said they expect the State Department and National Security Council to raise internal objections, as the two departments were allegedly surprised by the invitation.

Duterte has been accused of encouraging civilians to kill anyone attempting to sell or buy drugs.  In his final campaign speech before being elected, Duterte announced to the crowd “[f]orget the laws on human rights.”  In December, Duterte released a statement alleging that Trump told him that he was going about the war on drugs in the Philippines “the right way.”  A few weeks after that statement, the top human rights official within the United Nations called for Duterte to be investigated for murder.

In a statement, the White House declined to comment on details of Duterte’s possible trip, however stated that Trump is looking forward to his trip to the Philippines in November.

 

For more information, please see:

CNN — Trump Invites Philippines’ Duterte to the White House — 30 April 2017

The Huffington Post — Trump will Meet President Duterte, Despite Philippines’ Ongoing Extrajudicial Killings — 30 April 2017

NPR — Trump Invites Controversial Philippines Leader to White House — 30 April 2017

The New York Times — Trump’s ‘Very Friendly’ Talk with Duterte Stuns Aids and Critics Alike — 30 April 2017

U.N. Peacekeepers Ran Sex-Ring in Haiti

By Sarah Lafen
Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, North America

 

Port-au-Prince, HAITI — Over 100 U.N. Peacekeepers stationed in Haiti are implicated in a child sex ring.  According to an investigation which focused on the presence of the Peacekeepers across the world over the past 12 years, over 2,000 allegations of sexual abuse by Peacekeepers were reported.  From 2004 to 2007 in Haiti, over 134 Sri Lankan Peacekeepers exploited an average of nine children per day.  While 144 Peacekeepers were sent home after an internal U.N. report on the abuse, none have been sent to jail.

A woman who was raped and impregnated by a Peacekeeper wipes her tears during an interview (Photo Courtesy of AP).

One teenage Haitian boy said he was gang-raped in 2011 by Uruguayan Peacekeepers who filmed the assault on a cell phone.  The report also revealed that dozens of Haitian women were also raped, while dozens of others engaged in “survival sex” with the Peacekeepers.  One victim girl told U.N. investigators that from ages 12-15 she had sex with about 50 Peacekeepers, including a “Commandant” who paid her 75 cents.

Haitian lawyer Mario Joseph is working towards getting compensation for victims of a cholera outbreak, which has been linked to Nepalese Peacekeepers, that killed an estimated 10,000 people.  Joseph is also trying to get child support for a dozen Haitian women who were impregnated by   Peacekeepers.  Joseph asked people to “Imagine if the U.N. was going to the United States and raping children and bringing cholera,” noting that “[h]uman rights aren’t just for rich white people.”

U.S. Senator Bob Corker agreed with Joseph, and recalled his own disgust at the hearing of the U.N. sexual abuse cases uncovered last year in Africa.  Corker commented that “If [he] heard that a U.N. peacekeeping mission was coming near [his] home in Chattanooga, [he would] be on the first plane out of here to go back and protect [his] family.”

This past March, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced several new measures to help combat sexual abuse by Peacekeepers.  However, the report had little impact and never materialized.

This sex-ring scandal comes on the heels of the April 13th vote by the U.N. Security Council to end the Peacekeeping mission in Haiti.  On the same day, Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., mentioned the scandal in her remarks to the U.N.  Haley asked “[w]hat do we say to these kids? Did these peacekeepers keep them safe?”

The U.N. has no jurisdiction over Peacekeepers, which means the countries who provide the troops are left responsible for their punishment.

 

For more information, please see:

Telesur — UN Peacekeepers Gave Haitian Kids Snacks to be Part of Sex Ring — 15 April 2017

Foreign Policy — U.N. Peacekeepers Ran a Child Sex Ring in Haiti — 14 April 2017

Independent — UN Peacekeepers in Haiti Implicated in Child Sex Ring — 14 April 2017

Associated Press — AP Exclusive: UN Child Sex Ring Left Victims but no Arrests –12 April 2017

 

Amnesty International Recognizes Six Women for Human Rights Advocacy

By: Nicole Hoerold
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

MANILA, Philippines – Amnesty International has warned of the human rights violations being committed in South Asia. The organization is reporting that the rights of journalists and activists have been increasingly disregarded over the past few years. According to the organization, LGBT activists, Hindus, Christians, Sufi Muslims, and scholars have all become targets after the 2015 murders in Bangladesh, where five bloggers were killed in separate attacks.

Leila de Lima faces three separate criminal charges after speaking out against Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Photo courtesy of: Reuters.

The region has become hostile towards mass media and journalism, as new laws have been invoked against online critics and colonial-era laws are being unleashed against government critics. However, in light of International Women’s Day, Amnesty International recognized six women for their extraordinary efforts in human rights advocacy.

The group of women, comprised of lawyers, activists, and a former justice secretary, were each commended for their dedication to taking stands against injustices, despite the grave danger they faced by doing so. In Thailand, Sirikan Charoensiri, a lawyer who regularly defends clients investigated and prosecuted for peacefully defending human rights, faces 15 years’ imprisonment under charges of treason and a local ban on political assembly of five or more persons.

Similarly, in the Philippines, Senator Leila de Lima, former justice secretary and chair of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights, has been arrested under politically-motivated charges in response to her criticism of Philippine President, Rodrigo Duterte.

Human rights organizations are working to raise awareness of the injustices faced by advocates, critics, and journalists in the region. These organizations are now trying to protect the human rights which local governments are choosing to ignore.

For more information, please see: 

Amnesty International – Southeast Asia: As governments fail on human rights, women stand up – 7 March, 2017

Amnesty International – Human rights violations endemic in South Asia – 28 February, 2017

Jakarta Post – Six Southeast Asian women recognized for advocating for human rights – 8 March, 2017

Asian Correspondent – Amnesty names 6 women leading human rights activism in Southeast Asia – 8 March, 2017

Human Rights Activist Attacked in Medellin

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.

Colombia has seen a rise in attacks against human rights activists. (Photo Courtesy of Colombia Reports)
Colombia has seen a rise in attacks against human rights activists. (Photo Courtesy of Colombia Reports)

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:

Colombia Reports—Colombia Human Rights Leader Attacked in Medellin—14 February 2017.

El Colombiano—Herida a Bala Una Líder de Altavista—14 February 2017.

El Espectador—Atentan Contra Una Líder de Derechos Humanos en Altavista, Medellín—13 February 2017.

TeleSUR—Colombian Human Rights Leader Assassinated—18 January 2017.

 

More Than 7,000 Are Dead From Philippine Drug War

By: Nicole Hoerold
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

MANILA, Philippines- In July 2016, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte launched a “war” on the drug trade, authorizing police to crackdown and even open fire when threatened by suspects. More than 7,000 people have died since the launch of the anti-drug campaign.

More than 7,000 individuals have been killed in the Philippines since July 2016. Photo courtesy of: AFP
More than 7,000 individuals have been killed in the Philippines since July 2016. Photo courtesy of: AFP

In early 2017, Amnesty International accused the Philippine police of “systematically planning” extrajudicial killings and of being unnecessarily brutal in achieving its goals. The organization released a report this year in which it outlines the actions of President Duterte and his police force. The report even suggests that the killings could constitute crimes against humanity.

Eyewitnesses and families of the deceased have confirmed some unregulated and haphazard actions by the police. Amnesty International has documented several cases where witnesses described alleged drug offenders shouting their surrender at police, often on their knees or other compliant positions. It is reported that police still gunned them down.

Other organizations, including Human Rights Watch, are also concerned about the humanitarian offenses. Human Rights Watch recently called for the United Nations to lead an independent international investigation into the alleged unlawful killings by the Philippine police.

Not a single officer is known to have been prosecuted for extrajudicial killings or related crimes. President Duterte has not addressed any of these concerns. On January 29, Durterte stated in a news conference that he intends to continue his war on drugs until the last day of his term. Experts are concerned that this is an indication that the abuses will continue indefinitely.

On January 30, 2016, National Police Director-General Ronald dela Rosa declared a pause on the operation. The break is meant for “internal cleansing” following the alleged brutal killing of a South Korean businessman by the Philippine’s anti-drug police. Interestingly, nearly 100 Philippine police officers have been released by the department since the start of the year because they were found to be using drugs themselves.

It is unclear what is to come, but officials have made no indication to roll back on its attempts at cleansing the nation of its drugs and drug users.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Amnesty: Philippine police ‘planned’ drug war killings – 1 February, 2017

Amnesty International Report – “If you are poor, you are killed” – 2017

Human Rights Watch – Philippines: Police ‘Drug War’ Killings Need Independent Probe – 30 January, 2017

The Wire – Philippines Dismisses Nearly 100 Policemen For Drug Abuse – 12 February, 2017

UN Calls on Cambodian Government to Release Detainees

By: Nicole Hoerold
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

Phnom Penh, CAMBODIA — In May 2016, the government of Cambodia detained five human rights defenders. The government alleges that these individuals criminally assisted a woman in making false claims while under investigation by the Cambodian Anti-Corruption Unit. On January 25, 2017, two human rights experts called on the Cambodian government to release the detainees, as the charges against them were ruled “arbitrary” by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

The United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. Photo Courtesy of: UN Photo
The United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. Photo Courtesy of: UN Photo

Cambodia is a signatory to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, which explicitly prohibits the “use of criminal provisions as a pretext to suppress and prevent the legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of expression and to silence human rights defenders.” In May 2016, UN human rights experts sent a joint urgent appeal to the Cambodian government on the status of the five detainees. The request has yet to be addressed.

Experts are concerned about a lack of transparency in the Cambodian legislature as well as conflicts between Cambodia’s political parties. In September 2016, a spokesperson for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern on this topic, noting that there is a high degree of intimidation and opposition between the country’s political groups.

Despite an international call for action, the Cambodian government has yet to respond and continues to detain the five human rights activists.

For more information, please see:

UN News Centre – Cambodia: UN experts call for immediate release of five human rights defenders – 25 January, 2017

JURIST – UN rights experts call for immediate release of 5 human rights defenders in Cambodia – 25 January, 2017

Human Rights Watch – Cambodia: Drop Farcical Investigation of Human Rights Defenders – 7 February, 2017

UN – International Convention on Civil and Political Rights – 19 December, 1966

Human Rights Watch Warns of Chinese Government Actions

By Nicole Hoerold
Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China – Human Rights Watch (HRW) released their annual rights report on January 12, 2017. The report outlines HRW’s concerns for human rights violations in Southeast Asia, voicing particular concern over Thailand, the Philippines, and Cambodia. The report discusses a continuation of limits on free speech, with increasing signs of state suppression and censorship in various countries. The report’s summary on China speaks of similar concerns.

The wife of a human rights lawyer stood outside the Tianjin court in protest of her husband's trial (2016). Photo courtesy of: AP Photo
The wife of a human rights lawyer stands outside the Tianjin court in protest of her husband’s trial (2016). Photo courtesy of: AP Photo

Human rights organizations have paid particular attention to China in light of the state’s nationwide sweep of rights lawyers and advocates in the summer of 2015. Xie Yang, a Chinese lawyer who was interrogated by the Chinese government, recently spoke out about his abuse while detained. Mr. Yang is one of about 250 individuals detained by the government on charges of subverting the one-party state. Though most individuals were released, the government’s use of torture against them shows that international and domestic mechanisms for preventing torture have not worked.

In early 2017, the Chinese government also began to regulate the operation of Non-Governmental Organizations within its borders.  In order to continue their work within China, foreign NGO’s must find government sponsors, register with the local police, and meet other requirements like submitting annual finance reports.  Chinese president Xi Jinping claims such foreign entities are undermining China’s domestic interests.

Critics of the new legislation are concerned that the “Law on Management of Domestic Activities of Overseas Non-governmental Organizations” will hinder the efforts of nonprofits in fields such as human rights. Whether those concerns actually materialize remains to be seen.

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – Deteriorating Outlook for Human Rights in SE Asia – 13 January, 2017

Human Rights Watch – World Report 2017 – 12 January, 2017

New York Times – Punches, Kicks, and the ‘Dangling Chair’: Detainee Tells of Torture in China – 20 January 2017

Quartz – NGOs are under threat in China’s latest crackdown against “foreign forces” – 4 January, 2017

Hong Kong Free Press – Torture accusations as EU ambassador raises case of Chinese lawyer Xie Yang – 25 January, 2017 

 

Amnesty International Warns of Oppressive Anti-Terrorism Laws

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

 

The human rights activist group Amnesty International issued a warning that Europe’s counter-terrorism measures are eroding basic human rights, and have been for the past two years.  The report released by Amnesty, titled ‘Dangerously Disproportionate: The Ever-Expanding National Security State in Europe,’ gives a detailed look into the anti-terrorism measures employed by 14 European countries, and explains how those measures impact basic human rights.  The report also warns that a security state is becoming the “new normal” in the 14 countries which were examined.

London's Metropolitan anti-terrorism officers (Photo Courtesy of The Guardian)
London’s Metropolitan anti-terrorism officers (Photo Courtesy of The Guardian)

Amnesty attributes the restrictive measures to the recent string of terrorist attacks in Europe.  John Dalhuisen, Amnesty’s Europe director, explained that “Europe’s human rights framework, which was so carefully constructed after the Second World War, is being rapidly dismantled.”  Dominique Curis, Amnesty’s director in France, urged the need to “dismantle the paradigm that says there is the state of emergency or nothing in the fight against terrorism, that security equals restriction of rights equals state of emergency.”

Kate Allen, director of Amnesty’s UK branch, compared the restrictive measures to those of Big Brother from author George Orwell’s book 1984, calling the surveillance state from the book “alive and dangerously well in Europe today.”  Allen explained the understandable need for protection from such attacks, however such measures should not be implemented at the cost of fundamental human rights.

Activist groups such as Amnesty criticize the state of emergency that was enacted after the attacks in Paris, and has since been renewed five times, as “extreme.”  Government officials, however, view this as a necessary security measure in protecting against future attacks.  Manuel Valls, French Prime Minister and presidential hopeful, told reporters that “[t]his terrorist threat will last a generation.  Today we have to live with a kind of permanent state of emergency.”

Amnesty’s report is also at odds with independent reviewer of terrorism legislation David Anderson QC’s report.  Anderson believes that the anti-terrorism legislation is an appropriate and proportionate reaction to the current threat Europe faces.  European Union representatives have voiced their disagreement with the conclusions in Amnesty’s report as well, urging that human rights remain paramount in their eyes.

 

For more information, please see:

EurActiv — Amnesty: Fight Against Terror is Dismantling Human Rights in Europe — 18 January 2017

DW — European Counter-Terrorism Legislation ‘Dangerously Disproportionate,’ Amnesty Reports — 17 January 2017

The Guardian — UK Counter-Terror Laws Most Orwellian in Europe, Says Amnesty — 17 January 2017

Independent — European Anti-Terror Powers ‘Eroding Human Rights’ — 17 January 2017