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

Guatemalan President blocked by Courts from expelling UN-backed Anti-Corruption Prosecutor

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala On Sunday, August 27, Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales ordered the expulsion from Guatemala of Ivan Velasquez, the Colombian prosecutor heading the UN supported anti-corruption panel CICIG.  Mr. Velasquez had requested that Guatemala’s Congress remove President Morales’ presidential immunity to investigation two days prior.

Guatemala’s Congress will make the decision on whether or not to revoke President Morales’ immunity to CICIG’s investigation. Photo Courtesy of The New York Times.

President Morales’ expulsion order was temporarily stopped by Guatemala’s Constitutional Court, in response to which the President protested that the court was infringing on his authority over foreign affairs. On Monday, September 4, the Supreme Court ruled that Mr. Velasquez’s request to remove President Morales’ immunity should be considered by Guatemala’s Congress.

Within the next few days, Guatemala’s Congress will form a small committee to examine the case and present their findings to the rest of Congress.  Two-thirds of the deputies in Congress would then have to vote in favor to remove presidential immunity. As reported by Al Jazeera, many of these deputies are also under investigation by CICIG.

The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) is a UN-backed organization that has been operating in Guatemala since 2007.  CICIG was begun to combat the widespread governmental and criminal collusion that flourished in Guatemala after 36 years of civil war.  Ivan Velasquez led the CICIG in an investigation that resulted in the resignation and arrest of Guatemala’s previous president, Otto Pérez Molina, in 2015 on corruption charges.

President Morales has been under investigation for allegations of corruption stemming from over $800,000 of undisclosed funds received by his political party, the National Convergence Front, during his 2015 presidential campaign.  According to Reuters, President Morales’ son and brother are currently under CICIG investigation for fraudulent behavior.

In a statement to the Guardian, Anabella Sibrain, director of NGO International Platform against Impunity stated: “What we’ve seen today is an arbitrary act against internationally backed anti-corruption figureheads, but it is also a strong message to the country’s increasingly robust social movements that they could be next.”

Supporters of President Morales claim that CICIG is an example of United Nations interference in a sovereign nation’s judicial processes and a gross overreach.

 For more information, please see:

Brookings – What Guatemala’s political crisis means for anti-corruption efforts everywhere – 7 September 2017

AlJazeera – Guatemala congress to weigh lifting Morales’ immunity – 4 September 2017

Reuters – Guatemalan president may be investigated in campaign finance case – 4 September 2017

AlJazeera – Guatemala top court sides with UN anti-corruption unit – 29 August 2017

The New York Times – Showdown in Guatemala Over Investigation of President – 28 August 2017

The Guardian – Crisis flares in Guatemala over corruption and organized crime – 27 August 2017

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant Claims Responsibility for the Egypt Bus Attack that Killed Christians

By: Yamillet Brizuela
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

MINYA, Egypt –  The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (“ISIL”) on Saturday, May 27 claimed responsibility for the attack on buses transporting Coptic Christians in Egypt that occurred earlier. These Coptic Christian bus passengers were on their way to volunteer at the monastery of Saint Samuel the Confessor. This attack killed 29 men and children and wounded at least another 25.

Relatives of victims mourned on Friday, May 26, during a funeral service for those killed by the attack on a Coptic Christian caravan near Minya, Egypt. Photo courtesy of AP.

The eyewitnesses described that the attack began with gunmen shooting the windows of the buses. After firing at the windows, the gunmen then boarded the buses, shooting and killing all the men on on board. The gunmen then shot at the feet of the women and children. Some children were killed, and the gunmen took all the gold the women were wearing.

The eyewitnesses also made a note that one of the gunmen had a camera, which means the gunmen may release footage of the attack in the future.

On Friday, May 26, Egyptian fighter jets carried out six air strikes directed at camps in Libya which Cairo says have been training militants behind the Egypt attack.

Following the Minya shooting and Egypt’s counterattack, President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, said that Egypt would not hesitate to carry out further strikes against camps that trained people to carry out operations against Egypt.

For more information, please see:

AlJazeera- Egypt Launches Strikes Libya After Minya Attack – 27 May 2017

Los Angeles Times- Islamic State Claims Responsibility for Attack on Coptic Christians in Egypt that Left Dead- 27 May 2017

New York Times – Gunmen in Egypt Force Christian Pilgrims from Buses and Kill 28 – 26 May 2017

Reuters- Egypt air raids on Libya after Christians Killed- 27 May 2017

Reuters- Egypt Says Air Strikes Destroy Militant Camps after Attack on Christians- 27 May 2017

Reuters- Grief, Rage in Egyptian Church after Copts attacked by Gunmen- 27 May 2017

U.S. News & World Report- Islamic State Claims Responsibility for Egypt Attack – 27 May 2017

UN Peacekeepers Accused of More Sexual Abuse

By Samantha Netzband 

Impunity Watch, Africa Desk Reporter

KINSHASA, DR Congo– Another United Nations Peacekeeper is accused of sexual abuse in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The year has been filled with allegations of sexual misconduct against United Nations Peacekeepers in the DR Congo.  In this instance, a United Nations Peacekeeper was placed on leave after accusations that he had sex with a minor.

UN peacekeepers in Congo drive in armoured vehicle.

UN Peacekeepers in the DR Congo. (Photo Courtesy of BBC Africa)

This United Nations Peacekeeper is Romanian.  Out of the five cases that have come to light this year this recent case is the first involving a minor.  Two of the other cases against peacekeepers involve South African soldiers and paternal recognition.  In those cases one baby has been more and the other is expected soon.

The accusations that the United Nations Peacekeepers are facing in the DR Congo are not new to the United Nations Peacekeeping program.  Past allegations against peacekeepers have been made around the globe.  Nearby in the Central African Republic both United Nations Peacekeepers and French troops allegedly raped children.  The legal responsibility of the United Nations and the Peacekeepers in cases of sexual abuse is still hotly contested and unclear.  The victim of this most recent allegation has been put into the care of UNICEF.

For more information, please see:

BBC Africa – DR Congo: UN peacekeepers face fresh sexual abuse claims – 28 April 2017

Inner City Press – On New UN Sex Abuse in DRC, While MONUSCO Lists 5 Accused, UNHQ Won’t Answer – 28 April 2017

International Business Times – DRC: Five UN peacekeepers suspended over fresh sexual abuse claims – 28 April 2017

PBS Newshour – UN peacekeepers accused of thousands of cases of abuse, AP finds – 12 April 2017

 

Kenyan Court Upholds Anal Test to Determine Sexual Orientation

By: Samantha Netzband
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

NAIROBI, Kenya –A Kenyan court recently ruled that anal testing to determine sexual orientation is constitutional.  The anal testing is typically done alongside HIV and Hepatitis B testing without the consent of the party that is being tested.

homosexuality-kenya

Two men kiss an act that would be forbidden in Kenya where homosexuality is a crime. (Photo Courtesy of International Business Times)

The ruling comes from the case brought forth by two men who were tested against their will at Madarkaka Hospital.  The two men were arrested in February 2015 on suspicion of having sex.  In Kenya, gay sex is illegal and punishable by a prison sentence of up to 14 years.

Mombasa high court judge Mathew Emukule said in his ruling “I find no violation of human dignity, right to privacy and right to freedom of the petitioners.”  Emukule also said that if the men didn’t want to undergo the tests their attorneys should have sought injunctions before the tests were administered. Emukule’s opinion is in direct opposition to the arguments of the petitioner that argued anal examinations are “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment that can often amount to torture.”

With the ruling happening less than a week after the attack at an LGBTQ club in Orlando, Florida the LGBTQ rights community has vowed to appeal.  Eric Gitari, the executive director of the Kenyan National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (KNGLHRC), explained that rulings like the one delivered by Emukule make it more difficult to encourage the LGBTQ community to come forward to have their rights affirmed.  Encouragement is difficult when courts instead affirm violations of LGBTQ people’s rights.

KNGLHRC questions whether the testing is a good use of the countries scarce resources.  According to Human Rights Watch the forced anal exams are rare in Kenya, but are used in other countries such as Cameroon, Egypt, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uganda and Zambia.  Human rights groups from KNGLHRC to Amnesty International believe that the ruling will set a precedent arresting people on suspicion of being gay and being subject to the invasive tests.  Until the appeals are heard anal exams will still be allowed.

For further information, please see: 

Human Rights Watch — Kenya: Court Upholds Forced Anal Exams — 16 June 2016

Inquisitr — Kenya Court: Forced Anal Exams to Determine Sexual Orientation are Legal — 17 June 2016

National Post — I find no violation of human dignity’: Kenya upholds use of anal probes to test for gay sex, a jailable offence — 16 June 2016

USA Today — Kenyan court: Anal exams to test sexual orientation are legal — 16 June 2016

Colombia Investigating Disappearances at Notorious Prison

By Kaitlyn Degnan
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Colombia — The Colombian government has launched an investigation into disappearances in Colombian prisons between 1999 and 2001. The investigation is focusing on La Modelo prison in Bogota. The dismembered remains of at least 100 persons were found in the sewer system of the prison.

La Modelo prison in Bogota, Colombia (photo courtesy of BBC). 

La Modela is one of Colombia’s biggest prisons, and significantly overcrowded. During the period in question, the prison was divided and controlled by left-wing and right-wing paramilitary groups. Allegedly, faction leaders bribed prison officials to look the other way while they maintained control over their part of the prison. The paramilitaries allegedly patrolled their so-called “territory” armed with grenades and automatic weapons.

Rumors of disappearances in the prison have spread since the dismembered remains of an inmate was found stuffed in a drain in 2000. He had disappeared eight days earlier. The next day, 17 inmates disappeared during a fight between different factions. Their remains were never found.

Investigators believe that there may be more remains hidden in the sewer systems of other prisons throughout Colombia.

The investigation was prompted by the prosecution of paramilitary leaders Mario Jaimes Mejía, called “El Panadero” (“the Baker”) and Alejandro Cárdenas Orozco. The two face charges of kidnapping, torture, and rape in the attack of Jineth Bedoya. Bedoya, a journalist, was one of the first to bring attention to the disappearances at the prison, after she noticed the numbers of inmates and visitors to La Modelo that went missing.

In 2000, Bedoya was abducted while visiting La Modelo (for the purpose of interviewing El Panadero). She was taken to the countryside where she was tortured and raped. The perpetrators left her tied up in a rubbish pile ten hours later.

Bedoya says she is “grateful for the actions being taken today, but it should’ve happened years ago. El Panadero’s testimony taken more than 15 years ago, his version of the story, which is completely false, was endorsed by a prosecutor (with the Colombian attorney general’s office) and that allowed for the process to stall and the case to remain in impunity.” Bedoya sued the Colombian government in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for “unwillingness to do justice in her case.”

Finding the truth of the disappearances at La Modelo, according to Bedoya, is “a debt that ht estate owes not only to Jineth Bedoya but the hundreds of victims of La Modelo Prison and the paramilitary forces.”

The current prosecutor, Caterina Heyck announced in a press conference on February 17th that El Panadero had confessed to ordering the attack on Bedoya, and that Cárdenas had admitted to being one of her abductors. She has also requested that the two men not qualify for lighter sentences under the Justice and Peace Law. The law allows former paramilitary members to receive lighter sentences for laying down arms and confessing to their crimes.

For more information, please see:

Reuters – Scores of dismembered bodies found in Colombian jails – 17 February 2016 

BBC – Colombia probes disappearances from Bogota prison – 18 February 2016

CNN – Remains of at least 100 may have been tossed into sewers under prison – 18 February 2016

Latin Post – Colombian Jails Have Secrets That Can Give Your Nightmares – 18 February 2016

Mirror – Gruesome mystery as body parts of 100 prisoners and visitors found in sewer – 18 February 2016

Time – 100 Dismembered Bodies Found Beneath Colombian Prison – 19 February 2016 

Vice News – Colombia is Investigating Whether 100 Bodies Were Stuffed in a Prison Sewer – 19 February 2016

 

The Deadliest Region for Human Rights Activist: Latin America

By Kaitlyn Degnan
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

DUBLIN, Ireland — Latin America is the deadliest region for human rights and environmental activists, according to Ireland based group Front Line Defenders. The group released a report in early January citing “extreme violence” as the most worrying issue.

Mary Lawlor, Executive Director of Human Rights Defenders (courtesy of the Irish Independent).

According to the report, 156 human rights activists’ died globally due to violence or detention in the first 11 months of 2015 – 15 percent higher than the previous year. 88 of the killings took place in Latin America, with 54 deaths occurring in Colombia alone. 15 percent of the deaths in Latin America were defenders of LGBT rights.

The report called defending human rights in Latin America “extremely dangerous”, and noted ongoing criminalization of human rights and peaceful protest movements.

Some of the most targeted activists are those fighting for environmental rights, indigenous populations and LGBT rights.

“Extreme violence is being used more frequently and in more countries, while fabricated prosecutions and unfair trials have become the norm in many parts of the world,” said Mary Lawlor, the head of Front Line Defenders, speaking at the report’s launch in Dublin.

Ms. Lawlor also accused international reactions to human rights violations as weak in an editorial in the Irish Times. She called for Ireland and the EU to be strong in speaking up for human rights defenders, even in those countries where they have political and strategic interests.

 

For more information, please see:

Herald Sun – Killings of human rights defenders rise – 6 January 2016

Independent – Human rights activists ‘face new heights of violence’ – 6 January 2016

Irish Times – Latin America most dangerous place for human rights activists – 6 January 2016

Reuters – Killings of human rights defenders rise, LatAm fares worst: report – 6 January 2016 

Inside Costa Rica – Latin America is the deadliest region for human rights, environmental activists, group says – 7 January 2016

Latin One – Latin America Dubbed the ‘Deadliest Region for Human Rights Advocates’ – 7 January 2016

Irish Times – We must stop the killing of those who stand up for human rights – 8 January 2016

 

Pinochet-Era Soldier Confesses to Murder on Radio

By Kaitlyn Degnan
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America 

SANTIAGO, Chile — A former soldier from the days of the Pinochet dictatorship confessed to participating in at least 18 murders on a live radio show. Guillermo Reyes, going by the pseudonym “Alberto” called in to “Chacotero Sentimental” (Loving Betrayal), a radio show hosted by Roberto Artiagoitia, to talk about a failing romance. Instead, for twenty minutes, Reyes discussed his participation in the killings of Socialist Party prisoners.

Former Chilean dictator Augustine Pinochet (right) in 1976. (Photo courtesy of the Guardian).

According to Reyes, soldiers executed the prisoners by shooting them in the head, and then destroyed the victims’ remains with dynamite. In his call, Reyes expressed no remorse for his participation in the executions: “The first time (I killed someone), I cried but the lieutenant was saying, ‘Good soldier, good soldier, brave soldier.’ I liked the second time. I enjoyed it.”

Although he did not identify himself during the call, police were able to track the call back to Reyes. He was arrested and has so far been charged with killing Freddy Taberna Gallegos and German Palomino Lamas, both Socialist Party prisoners. Reyes is also being investigated by a human rights judge.

Reyes was drafted into Pinochet’s army as a young man and was then indoctrinated during military training in Santiago. He said he was “forced to kill” because commanders would execute conscripts for disobeying orders.

When challenged by radio host Artiagoitia about his moral conscience and “responsibilities as a human,” Reyes reiterated that he was following orders. “If we found them with a gun, we liquidated them.”

At the time of his call, Reyes was a 62-year old bus driver.

The Pinochet regime of 1973-1990 is considered one of the most violent periods of Chile’s history. Officially, 903 people were disappeared and 1,759 were executed. Chile has taken a number of steps in current months to recognize the victims and provide education regarding the human rights violations. Recently, President Michelle Bachelet created a Human Rights Department to implement policies to support Pinochet’s victims.

 

For more information, please see:

Guardian – Former Chilean soldier charged with murder after stunning radio confession – 11 December 2015 

Latin Correspondent – Chilean veteran confesses on radio to murder during Pinochet era – 16 December 2015 

TeleSur – Chile Creates Human Rights Department for Pinochet Era Murders – 17 December 2015

USA Today – Radio caller confesses to 18 murders – 17 December 2015

 

Ecuador Ends Presidential Term Limits

By Kaitlyn Degnan
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

QUITO, Ecuador — Ecuador’s National Assembly has passed a constitutional reform to do away with presidential term limits. The move faced widespread criticism throughout the country, especially from members of the opposition. The move is the latest in a pattern of Latin American leaders abolishing term limits – which started with Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. More recently, Nicaragua has constitutionally abolished term limits, while Bolivia is currently considering it.

Protesters wave the Ecuadorian flag in front of police stationed in front of the National Assembly. (Photo courtesy of the Daily Mail)

The Opposition views the move as a threat to democracy because incumbent presidential candidates typically have an easy time getting re-elected. In Quito, protesters gathered outside the National Assembly building. Armed with sticks and rocks, they blocked major intersections with burning tires.

Correra announced that he would not be running for re-election when his term expires in 2017 on November 18, just hours before his party announced that it would back constitutional reforms to eliminate term limits. Correra’s current term will expire in 2017.

At the last minute, lawmakers added language holding off the implementation of the reform until May 24, 2017 – after the next president of Ecuador will be selected. The effect of the modification is that Correra will not be able to run for reelection as the term limits will still be in place at that time.

However, it is thought that after taking a “break,” Correra will most likely run for election again in 2021, at such time he will be able to continuously seek re-election following the expiration of that term.

Analysts have called his decision to step back for a term a “shrewd political move” – as Ecuador currently faces a number of economic issues. Ecuador has had to cut back on spending and increase taxes in recent months due to a fall in oil prices.

Other constitutional measures passed during the vote included the declaration of communications as a public service, the removal of collective bargaining for public employees, and putting the military in charge of domestic security.

 

For more information, please see:

Fusion – Ecuador’s president will take a short break, but don’t worry – he could return as president for life – 19 November 2015

Daily Mail – Ecuador lawmakers vote to end presidential term limit – 3 December 2015

Herald-Whig – Protesters clash with Ecuador cops ahead of term limit vote – 3 December 2015 

New York Times – Ecuador Lawmakers Vote to End Presidential Term Limit – 3 December 2015

TeleSur – Constitutional Amendments Approved in Ecuador – 3 December 2015

TeleSur – Ecuador’s Opposition Responds with Violence – 3 December 2015

TeleSur – UPDATE: Ecuador Lawmakers Debate Constitutional Reforms – 3 December 2015

Ecuador Set To Try Human Rights Violations, Postpones Start Date

By Kaitlyn Degnan
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

QUITO, Ecuador — Ecuador will try five former military officers and an ex-police officer on charges of crimes against humanity. This is the first trial of its kind in Ecuador.

The trial, which was to begin on November 9 in front of the National Court of Justice, was postponed after one of the accused fell ill. Javier Arregui, legal counsel for accused Mario Apolo presented the court with a medical certificate stating that Apolo suffered health issues that prevented him from attending the preocedings.  The trial start was rescheduled, but the start date was not released.

Cordero-era victim Susana Cajas. (Photo courtesy of Latin American News Dispatch).

Ecuador’s Attorney General Galo Chiriboga said of the delay, “the logical thing would have been to begun the trial, and wait on a reaction by the hospital to know when the officer could be available.”

The charges surround alleged human rights violations committed against Luis Vaca, Susana Cajas and Javier Jarrin. All three were members of Alfaro Vive Carajo, a leftist guerilla group, active during the 1980s. The violations were reported to have occurred between 1985 and 1988, during the presidency of Leon Febres Cordero.

The defendants are accused of subjecting Vaca, Cajas and Jarrin to physical and psychological torture, as well as sexual abuse. The three were forcibly disappeared in 1985. Cajas and Jarrin were released after 15 days in detention, while Vaca remained detained for three years.

The detentions were confirmed in a statement by Ecuador’s fiscal general of state.

The trial will hear from 69 witnesses, 11 expert testimonials, and review more than 70 documents related to the incident.

The trial is the result of the Truth Commission launched by current President Rafael Correra in 2007 to look into allegations of rights abuses under the Cordero administration.

The victims and their families are hopeful for justice after almost 30 years of impunity.

 

For more information, please see:

TeleSur – Truth, Justice and Repatriation in Ecuador for Human Rights Day – 14 December 2014

La Republica – Ecuador celebrará juicio por crímenes de lesa humanidad denunciados por Alfaro Vive – 6 November 2015

La Hora – Militares retirados respaldan a procesados – 7 November 2015

Fiscalía General del Estado – El caso ‘Vaca, Cajas, Jarrín’, por lesa humanidad, cumple 30 años de impunidad – 9 November 2015

International Business Times – First Ecuador Human Rights Trial Begins for Crimes Against Humanity in Alleged 1980s Abuses – 9 November 2015

Latin America News Dispatch – Ecuador Proceeds with Historic Rights Abuse Case Against Former Officers – 9 November 2015

TeleSur – UPDATE: Trial in Ecuador for Crimes Against Humanity Postponed – 9 November 2015

 

Burma’s Armed Forces Accused of Abuses Against Kachin Civilians

By: Jessica Ties
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

NAYPYIDAW, Burma – Burma’s military has been accused of killing, attacking and exploiting Kachin civilians since hostilities between the Burmese military and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) began five months ago.

Displaced Kachin civilians at an internally displaced persons camp (Photo Courtesy of Human Rights Watch).

Abuses by Burmese soldiers have caused an estimated 30,000 Kachin civilians to become displaced after being forced to flee their homes in fear of the army.

One farmer described his ordeal by explaining that they “…were afraid to live in the village so we went to hide in the jungle…we lived there for one month…” Another villager reported that Burmese soldiers are now living in the homes of those who were forced to flee after their village was invaded by the army.

Among the abuses causing citizens to flee their homes is the unnecessary killing of civilians.  In one case, Burmese soldiers entered Hang Htak village in search of KIA members and killed a fifty-two year old woman and her four year old grandson in their home as they tried to leave. There have also been reports of military forces entering villages and aimlessly firing their weapons at civilians.

Other civilians stated that they were held and aggressively interrogated by Burmese soldiers who threatened to kill them. One villager stated, “I was very afraid when they [soldiers] came and asked questions. I was afraid they would kill us.”

Some civilians have also reported being raped or witnessing a rape by soldiers. According to the September 2011 report to the United Nations by the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Burma, at least eighteen women and young girls have been “gang- raped” by the Burmese military and at least four of those victims were killed.

Those who survive encounters with the army have often reported being forced to work for the military without compensation. One woman reported that the army forced her to carry provisions up a steep two mile road despite the fact that she was six months pregnant. She stated that they were forced to make the strenuous three hour trek twice a day and were forced to eat their own food because they were not fed by the army.

Violence by the Burmese army has caused many Kachin civilians to attempt to flee into China. In response, the Chinese government has deployed 2,000 troops to the border to prevent refugees from entering the country and has also prevented the transfer of food and medical supplies to areas where over  20, 000 displaced Kachin are taking shelter.

Fighting between the Burmese army and the KIA erupted on June 9th after a seventeen year ceasefire between the ethnic Kachin and the Burmese government forces. The KIA has stated that they will not stop fighting until Burma agrees to allow the ethnic group full political power and other rights.

For more information, please see:

Chinland Guardian – Churces Attacked, Women Raped and Civilians Killed in Kachin State – 22 October 2011

Radio Free Asia – Renewed Clashes Near Chinese Border – 20 October 2011

Asian Correspondent – Burma’s Civil War: Who is Really Pulling the Strings? – 19 October 2011

Human Rights Watch – Burma: Army Committing Abuses in Kachin State – 18 October 2011

Argentina Enacts New Measures to Protect Domestic Industries: Customs Holding Books, Cars, Toys, Cell Phones

by Emilee Gaebler
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Over 1 million books are currently being held by the Argentinian government at customs.  The books are the newest good to be affected by the stringent economic protectionist plan that President Cristina Fernández has enacted and which she is determined to see succeed.

Cartoon depicting Argentinas new policy to protect domestic industry.  (Photo Courtesy of The Economist)
Cartoon depicting Argentina's new policy to protect domestic industry. (Photo Courtesy of The Economist)

Earlier restrictions have affected many things including; textiles, tires, cars, chemicals, pharmaceutical goods and cell phones.  President Fernández’s goal is to see the Argentinian economy grow more self-sufficient by promoting local goods over imports.  Also included in the policy is the goal of increasing exports; $1 export for every $1 import.

“The editorial sector is surprised by the prolonged intervention that affects the basic right of the citizens to have access to the book as a vehicle of education and culture,” the Publishing Chamber said in objecting to the customs slowdowns.

Last year the people of Argentina purchased roughly 76 million books, government officials claims 60 million of those were printed outside of the country.  Publishers disagreed with that and instead maintain that two-thirds of all books sold are printed domestically.

The ability of the publishing industry to keep up with the volume is being called into question.  Publishing executives further note that local printers are either not of as high a quality or drastically more expensive than printers overseas.

At the opening and inauguration of the new Museum of Book and Language President Fernández championed the plan once again.

“The world is going in one direction and at times it seems like we’re going to the opposite, but this is the necessary path to recover a country that already knew how to do things,” she said.

The other sectors affected by this plan report that they have been forced into talks with government representatives from the Commerce and Industry department.in order to try and recover their stopped goods.  These talks result in the company agreeing to a plan which will increase their export capacity or increase their use of domestic products and labor.

Nordenwagen, an Argentinian car importer, had its business stopped back in January when customs would no longer allow them to bring in imported Porsches.  It took three months for the cars to be released and it was only once Nordenwagen agreed to a deal.  The owners of the business also own a vineyard and have agreed to launch a mass-market line of wines for export around the world.

Cell phones, in particular Blackberry’s, are in high demand across Argentina with all cell phone carriers having sold out of them months ago and the government refusing to allow imports of the good in.  Brightstar, a multinational manufacturer of phones, has just agreed to begin manufacturing the phones in factories located in Tierra del Fuego, south of the Magellan strait.

The phones will be made with imported parts but put together by local workers and packaged in locally sourced wrapping.  The cost of this is roughly 15 times more than the phones being made in Asia.

Global Trade Alert, a database that monitors international commerce restrictions, reported that Argentina is now second in the world in trade limitations.  The only country ahead of them is Russia.

President Fernández is unable to raise import tariffs on its own because of membership in the Mercosur customs union.  This has led her to utilize the World Trade Organization’s recognized “non-automatic licensing” method which allows a country to hold imported goods for 90 days.

Argentina has certainly not maintained this 90 day period and the list they use of goods restricted to requiring special licensing before release by customs has grown from 400 to 600.  Tax incentives are also being offered to local companies.  For example, domestically produced finished books have been made tax-free and Brightstar was offered tax incentives for starting the Blackberry manufacturing plant in Tierra del Fuego.

Concerns in the Falkland Islands have also been expressed due to the new severe protectionist policy.  Just recently President Fernández announced a plan to support local island producers of fruit, vegetables, salad and eggs.  Grants will also be made to local new businesses that help provide locally sourced foodstuffs to the islands.

“The aim is for the Falklands to become self-sufficient and less susceptible to external pressure” said David Waugh, general manager of the Falkland Islands Development Corporation (FIDC).  Easily 60% of produce consumed in the Falklands could be supported by a strong local market according to the FIDC.

The new plan for the Falklands self-sufficiency follows a period of disruption of British shipping interests by Argentinian claims that all ships between the Argentina coast and the Falklands must hold a special permit.

All of this likely stems from the 2001 crash and resulting inflation experienced in the country.  Fears of a too strong import industry have sparked this new policy as Argentina brought in roughly $5 billion in imports per year since 2009.

For more information, please see;

MercoPress – Publishing Houses Told to Print in Argentina While Imported Books are Blocked in Customs – 1 October 2011

Seattle PI – Argentina Holds Up Book Imports to Help Industry – 29 September 2011

The Economist – South America’s Two Biggest Economies are Imposing Heavy Handed Trade Restrictions – 24 September 2011

The Telegraph – Falkland Islands’ Bid to Grow its own Food Amid Fears of Argentina Blockade – 6 September 2011

The Heritage Network – Argentina: Cristina Ramps Up Protectionism – 18 July 2011

Market News International – LatamWatch: Brazil Trade Barriers Hint at Rising Protectionism? – 16 May 2011

MercoPress – ‘Argentina’s Protectionism’ the Great Obstacle for EU/Mercosur Trade Talks – 15 April 2011