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

New Report Details Torture by Police in Egypt

By: Adam King
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Africa 

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Photo Courtesy of CNN.

CAIRO, Egypt – A new report by Human Rights Watch released  September 6, 2017 claims to shed light on a culture of torture by Egyptian police and national security forces. The report is based on interviews from multiple detainees who were interned by Egyptian police and security forces between 2014 and 2016. According to the report:

“Of the 20 cases documented by Human Rights Watch, 13 detainees were tortured in National Security offices, five in police stations, and two in both places. Six men were tortured at the National Security Agency headquarters inside the Interior Ministry near Cairo’s Lazoghly Square, a place where detainees have alleged torture for decades. In five cases, security officers used torture to force suspects to read prewritten confessions on video, which the Interior Ministry then sometimes published on social media channels.”

The report claims that detainees were subjected to harsh torture tactics such as electric shock, awkward hanging positions and threats of physical violence.  The torture could last hours on some occasions with numerous techniques being utilized interchangeably. One detainee even claims to have been raped on multiple occasions by police officers with foreign objects.

President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi obtained the presidency of Egypt in 2013 following a military coup of then President Mohammed Morsi. President el-Sisi continues to face accusations of rampant torture at the hands of police and security forces since taking the presidency. The report also claims that some of the deplorable techniques that characterize the reign of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak have be reinstituted and even expanded in some instances.

Human Rights Watch is not the only organization to focus on allegations of torture in Egypt at the hands of police and security forces. The United Nations reached similar conclusions in its own report in May of 2017, “Torture appears to occur particularly frequently following arbitrary arrests and is often carried out to obtain a confession or to punish and threaten political dissenters.” 

The UN also opined that attempts at detainees to make their cases known and to seek redress against the harms have not been met with adequate procedural recourse:

“[P]rosecutors, judges and prison officials also facilitate torture by failing to curb practices of torture, arbitrary detention and ill-treatment or to act on complaints…In the view of the Committee, all the above lead to the inescapable conclusion that torture is a systematic practice in Egypt.”

Egyptian officials rebuke the claims of Human Rights Watch and, according to Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid, are indicative of “a new episode in a series of deliberate defamation by such organization, whose politicized agenda and biases are well known and reflect the interests of the entities and countries sponsoring it.”

The Egyptian Government has since blocked the Human Rights Watch website as of September 7, 2017, bringing the grand total of blogs and news websites blocked to 424.  

For more information, please see:

Aljazeera – Egypt blocks Human Rights Watch website – 8 September 2017

CNN – Report: Egypt police security forces ‘routinely torture political detainees – 7 September 2017

Human Rights Watch – “We Do Unreasonable Things Here” Torture and National Security al-Sisi’s Egypt – 5 September 2017

United Nations – Summary from Committee Against Torture – 12 May 2017 

The New York Times – Army Ousts Egypt’s President; Morsi Is Taken Into Military Custody – 3 July 2013 

Two Transgender Pakistanis Killed by Saudi Arabian Police

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — On Tuesday, February 28th, two transgender Pakistanis were killed in Saudi Arabia after allegedly being beaten and tortured by Saudi Arabian police.

Amna and Meeno were arrested for violating the country’s laws against cross-dressing and engaging in homosexual activity (Photo courtesy of Daily Mail)

The two transgender individuals, Amna and Meeno, were allegedly killed by Saudi Arabian police while in custody following a house raid which took place during “Guru Chela Chalan” festivities. The celebration is one in which the Pakistani transgender community elects a “guru” to lead their group. Amna and Meeno were reportedly arrested for cross-dressing and engaging in same-sex relationships, which are prohibited under Saudi Arabian law. It is claimed that the two were “packed in sacks,” kicked, “thrashed with sticks and tortured to death[.]” The police force spokesperson indicated that the house was under surveillance for possible violations of the country’s clothing ban.

The raid resulted in the arrests of thirty-five transgender people. Eleven of those arrested paid a fine of over $40,000 for their release, whereas twenty-two were still in custody. While sex-change operations are illegal in the country, homosexual activity is punishable by death.

Human rights activists strongly condemned the actions taken by the Saudi police. Qamar Naseem, a transgender rights activist, cried out against the abuses inflicted upon Amna and Meena by stating the inhumane nature of “[t]orturing humans after throwing them into bags and beating them with sticks[.]” He indicated that the twenty-two transgender individuals remained in police custody and that no one would save them because transgender lives are “not of any value to anyone, not even our own government[.]”

Further outcries came in the form of transgender individuals’ inability to practice their religion. Farzana, a transgender woman in Saudi Arabia, indicated that the government prohibited transgender individuals from carrying out their annual pilgrimage to Mecca or their Umrah pilgrimage. She stated that this prohibition is considered “inhumane” due to the religious mandate that all Muslims must complete the pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime. The Saudi Arabian embassy, however, indicated that the government had not issued a ban prohibiting transgender individuals from traveling to the holy land for pilgrimage.

LGBTQ activists around the world called upon Saudi Arabian authorities to provide answers into the deaths of Amna and Meeno as well as the arrests of the thirty-five transgender individuals. Naseem further urged the government to release information due to the fact that the transgender community is feeling “delicate and scared” as a result of the “very confusing situation[.]”

For more information, please see:

Independent—Two transgender Pakistanis ‘tortured to death’ in Saudi Arabia—3 March 2017

Daily Mail—Two transgender Pakistanis ‘are packed into sacks and thrashed to death with STICKS’ by police in Saudi Arabia—1 March 2017

International Business Times—Saudi Arabia: 2 transgender Pakistanis allegedly tortured to death by police in Riyadh—2 March 2017

Sputnik News—Two Pakistani Transgender People Beaten to Death by Saudi Police, 33 Arrested—2 March 2017

The Daily Dot—Saudi police torture and kill 2 transgender Pakistanis—3 March 2017

ISIS Torturing Sunni Arab Women and Girls

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq — Human Rights Watch issued a statement on Monday, February 20th, reporting that Islamic State (ISIS) militants are “arbitrarily detaining, ill-treating, torturing, and forcibly marrying Sunni Arab women and girls[.]” The allegation states that ISIS fighters are carrying out such abuses in Iraq, within regions that are still in their control.

Human Rights Watch stated that Sunni Arab women’s sexual abuse is widely unreported (Photo courtesy of Middle East Monitor)

The report released by Human Rights Watch (“HRW”) was prepared based on interviews with six women in Kirkuk. Four of these women stated that in 2016, they had been detained by ISIS for a period of three days up to one month. Another indicated that her cousin, who is an ISIS fighter, had raped her after forcing her to marry him. One woman stated that ISIS fighters had attempted to forcibly marry her after burning down her house in response to her husband’s escape from ISIS. Of the six interviewed women, five indicated that ISIS militants had beat them.

One woman indicated that ISIS captured her and her three children, along with fifty other women, when they attempted to escape Hawija. She was branded a traitor by ISIS after her husband had escaped the town, and was told that she should marry the local ISIS leader. Upon her refusal, ISIS fighters “blindfolded [her], beat[] [her] with plastic cables, suspended [her] by her arms, and raped [her].” She, and the other women, were held by ISIS in an abandoned house for over one month, while being blindfolded and raped her in front of her children on a daily basis. She noted that the other women were most likely raped in the same manner, and forced to marry their rapists.

HRW’s Deputy Middle East Director, Ms. Lama Faikh, stated that the sexual abuse endured by Sunni Arab women living under ISIS’s control is widely undocumented and unknown. She urged the international community and local Iraqi authorities to take action to ensure that victims receive much needed support.

A foreign aid worker indicated seeing many cases of forced marriage and rape. She noted, however, that most victims do not report the abuse because women tend to cover it up due to fear of societal stigma or retribution. She highlighted the concern that “babies born of rape or forced marriage may also face stigma[,]” while stating that “long-term psychological support and medical treatment” are particularly noteworthy.

HRW indicated that efforts to overcome the stigma associated with sexual violence are present, yet insufficient. The rights group highlighted the “lack of awareness” with regards to services, psychosocial or mental health support, and medical professionals in Kirkuk. A psychiatrist at an international organization in Iraq’s Kurdistan region stated that men are not being adequately informed on how to support women who are victims of gender-based violence. She indicated that male relatives will typically “forbid women” from obtaining counseling.

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch—Iraq: Sunni Women Tell of ISIS Detention, Torture—20 February 2017

Middle East Online—HRW says IS jihadists raping, torturing Sunni Arab women too—20 February 2017

Daily Mail—’I was raped every day for a month in front of my children’: Women reveal the horrors they endured as ISIS sex slaves… despite being SUNNI Muslims just like their captors—20 February 2017

Middle East Monitor—HRW: Daesh rapes and tortures Sunni Arab women—21 February 2017

International Business Times—Sunni Arab women raped, tortured and forced to marry Isis fighters, Human Rights Watch says—21 February 2017

Ten-Year-Old Iraqi Girl Killed by ISIS Torture Device

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq — A new group of female-only “ISIS police” have been administering a new torture technique in which women are “ripped to death with ‘metal jaws’” if they violate the strict rules set by the group. Upon breaking one of the rules set forth by the brigade, a ten-year-old Iraqi girl bled to death after being “bitten” by a poison-lined medieval torture device.

The al-Khansaa have been administering torture to women who violate the strict morality laws set forth by ISIS (Photo courtesy of Daily Mail)

 

The Iraqi girl, Faten, allegedly stepped over the threshold of her home while cleaning. Per the strict rules imposed by ISIS fundamentalists in Mosul, women are not permitted to leave their homes by themselves. In response, the al-Khansaa brigade, ISIS’ female “morality police,” approached Faten’s mother to ask whether punishment should be administered to her or her daughter. Thinking the punishment would be in the form of a bite delivered by a person, Faten’s mother elected to have her daughter take the penalty instead of herself. Her mother, however, was not aware that the punishment would be administered by a medieval torture device, lined with poison.

The device is described as a “clamp with four ends as sharp as knives, like teeth, which can pierce the skin from both sides when pressed down.” While administering the punishment, the device tore the girl’s flesh in various places. After receiving the “bite,” Faten bled to death from the wounds before the poison could take effect.

The al-Khansaa brigade acts as a religious law enforcer, in which they punish females who violate the strict moral rules set forth by ISIS, including breastfeeding outside, not wearing black socks, wearing high heels, or lifting a full-face veil.

The women of Al-Khansaa have been administering brutal punishment all over Mosul. A woman reportedly died from injuries she sustained after being punished for “slightly” lifting her veil to examine merchandise at a market. She was immediately ordered to sit on the ground by the al-Khansaa and received thirty lashings. A woman who witnessed the death cried out against having to wear a hijab and face veil by stating “[i]t’s like I’m getting into a bag and it’s closed on me so I can’t even breathe . . . .”

For more information, please see:

Daily Mail—Iraqi girl, 10, is ‘bitten to death’ with medieval torture device by female ISIS fanatics after her mother was asked to choose if she or the child would be punished for stepping outside their house—7 February 2017

The Sun—Sick ISIS female jihadis ‘bite Iraqi girl, 10, to death’ with medieval torture device as punishment for stepping outside her house—7 February 2017

Express—Iraqi girl, 10, ‘bitten to death’ for stepping outside house in horror ISIS torture—7 February 2017

Mirror—Mother’s horror after ISIS female fighters tear daughter to death with metal jaws—7 February 2017

Daily Star—ISIS unleash lady jihadi BITING BRIGADE armed with ‘metal jaws’ to tear women to death—7 February 2017

Children in Prison Allege Being Tortured by Kurdish Security Forces

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq — Seventeen children imprisoned by the Kurdistan Regional Government (“KRG”) stated that they were tortured or abused by government security forces while in detention. Human Rights Watch (“HRW”) reported that the children were detained due to suspicion of involvement with the Islamic State (“ISIS”).

Children allege being burned with cigarettes and electrocuted during interrogations (Photo courtesy of Human Rights Watch)

 

HRW stated that it had privately interviewed nineteen boys, ranging in age from eleven to seventeen, who were being held on suspicions of terrorism. The interview took place at the Women and Children’s Reformatory without the presence of a security or intelligence official. The rights group reported that the children were “held in stress positions, burned with cigarettes, punched and kicked, beaten with plastic pipes and cables, and shocked with electricity” by the KRG. A young boy stated that he “felt that my eyes were popping out” while being interrogated with an “electricity machine” after being drenched in water. Another child indicated that he could not breathe after his face was covered up with a towel and tied with tape. He was subsequently beat for over eight hours while being told to confess. The officer then pulled down the young boy’s pants and “threatened to rape him if he did not confess an ISIS affiliation.” Furthermore, five children also reportedly had marks from cigarette burns or electric shocks administered during interrogation.

Most children stated that they denied any involvement with ISIS. Others, however, admitted that they were associated with the group because of “family connections, desire to earn money or pressure from recruiters.” A deputy director at HRW, Ms. Lama Faikh, indicated that security forces are not granted permission to “beat, manhandle or use electric shocks on children” on the basis of “legitimate security concerns.” While characterizing children escaping from ISIS as “victims,” she stated that many are faced with further abuse from Kurdish security forces. Ms. Faikh strongly urged the KRG to “thoroughly investigate” the allegations of child abuse in prisons, and prosecute those who may be responsible.

The seventeen children are among at least 183 other boys under the age of eighteen who have been imprisoned by KRG based on alleged ISIS involvement. Most, if not all, are being held without charge, and were not permitted access to an attorney during interrogation. The report further indicates that government officials have not informed the children’s families of their whereabouts, and most children have not been permitted to contact their families since being detained.

In response to the HRW report, the KRG denied the allegations of torture by Kurdish security forces. The Head of the KRG High Committee to Evaluate and Respond to International Reports, Dr. Dindar Zebari, stated that KRG authorities are “strongly prohibit[ed]” from using physical and psychological torture on prisoners. He stated that detainees’ rights are protected through established policies, legislations and practices against torture.

For more information, please see:

The Guardian—Children held in Iraq over suspected Isis links ‘say they were tortured’—29 January 2017

Human Rights Watch—Children Allege Torture by Security Forces—29 January 2017

RT—Kurdish militia tortured children to extract ISIS confessions – HRW—29 January 2017

International Business Times—Beaten, electrocuted and abused: Kurds accused of torturing Isis child soldier suspects—29 January 2017

ARA News—Iraqi Kurds deny torturing ISIS child soldiers—30 January 2017

 

Iraqi Prime Minister Orders Investigation into Alleged Human Rights Violations

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq — On January 23rd, the Prime Minister of Iraq, Mr. Haider al-Abadi, ordered an investigation into human rights violations allegedly committed by government troops and a Shia paramilitary group.

Iraqi forces are being accused of torturing and killing civilians following a video that surfaced on social media (Photo courtesy of Washington Post)

The allegations include claims of kidnapping and civilian abuse as the troops attempt to retake Mosul from the Islamic State (ISIS). The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq demanded a governmental inquiry from Iraq when a video surfaced on social media allegedly showing “brutal treatment” and the murdering of at least three ISIS members. The video, which is almost three minutes in length, showed several members of the Iraqi security forces wearing army and police uniforms. The video then contains graphic recordings of the individuals “dragging and beating [] suspects in a residential area before showering them with bullets.”

Two days later, Mr. al-Abadi’s office issued a statement saying that he had “ordered to form a committee to investigate cases of kidnappings, mistreatment and violations . . . against civilians by groups exploiting the name of the security forces and Shia paramilitary units.” Mr. al-Abadi subsequently indicated that he had instructed field commanders to ensure that the laws of armed conflict were followed to prevent human rights violations from being committed under the guise of war operations. He further stated that cases of abuse had been recorded and later uploaded to social media to “spoil the joy of victory[,] defame the real image of the brave security forces and their sacrifices to liberate the land[,] and [] maintain security.”

On January 5th, Amnesty International had issued a statement indicating that Iraq’s “Popular Mobilization Units” (PMU) had been “engaged in a systematic pattern of violations, including enforced disappearances, torture and unlawful killings targeting the Sunni community.” Formed in 2014 to join in on the war against ISIS, PMU is a coalition made up of mostly Iranian-trained Shia groups. The coalition was officially merged with the Iraqi armed forces in 2016.

In January 2016, Human Rights Watch had issued a statement in which it “accused Shia militias of abducting and killing [scores] of Sunni civilians in central Iraq.” The rights group had later called upon the Iraqi government to prevent Shia militias from joining the Mosul operation due to concerns of severe human rights violations.

For more information, please see:

Middle East Eye—Iraq PM orders investigation into abuses reported in Mosul battle—23 January 2017

Washington Post—Iraq premier orders probe into violations by troops in Mosul–23 January 2017

Business Standard—Iraqi PM orders probe into abuses by troops in Mosul—23 January 2017

Kurdistan24—Iraqi PM orders investigation of alleged abuses by Iraqi troops in Mosul—24 January 2017

Assets of Torture and Violence Victims’ Rehabilitation Center Frozen by Egyptian Authorities

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt — The head of a prominent Egyptian human rights organization that works with torture victims reported that its assets have been frozen by Egyptian authorities.

The El Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture and Violence was allegedly shut down for not registering as an NGO (Photo courtesy of Al Arabiya)

The El Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture and Violence (“Center”) provides psychological support for victims of torture and violence, and documents complaints of torture in prison.

The Center’s lawyer, Taher Abu al-Nasr, stated that the legal department had received a ruling from the Central Bank freezing its account. He indicated that an employee who was attempting to cash a check was told by the bank’s manager that its account had been suspended until it registered as an NGO with the Social Solidarity Ministry. The head of the Center, Ms. Adly, indicated that the Central Bank linked the asset freeze decision to the Center’s “legal status,” and that the decision coincides with an NGO law dating back to the rule of President Mubarak.

Amnesty International condemned the move and urged Egyptian authorities to revoke the decision against the Center. The regional advocacy director declared that the decision to “arbitrarily” freeze the Center’s bank account is a “cruel blow to human rights in the country” because it prevents the Center from providing crucial care to survivors of violence. He added that the Center is a “lifeline” for hundreds of torture victims, as well as for the families of those who have been a victim of “enforced disappearance.” He further stated that the decision is additional evidence of Egypt’s “chilling contempt of perceived critics.” The organization indicated that it is “inexcusable” to obstruct care for victims of torture. Additionally, it also stated that Egyptian authorities should be focused on implementing safeguards to prevent custodial torture and ending forced disappearances, instead of “lashing out” at the Center.

Egyptian authorities had previously attempted to shut down the Center on two occasions. In February and April 2016, officials had issued orders to close the Center, while the Health Ministry had stated that it was “carrying out activities other than those allowed.” Mr. Al-Nasr, however, stated that the Center is registered as a clinic with the Health Ministry, and does not need to be registered as an NGO.

All NGOs operating in the country are subject to a strict law permitting the government to supervise their activities and finances. International human rights groups have repeatedly accused the Egyptian government of rights violations, including “forced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, and illegal detentions.” Egyptian authorities deny allegations that security forces gather and torture individuals in “secret detention centers.”

The Center is still operating despite its frozen assets and has challenged the order in court.

For more information, please see:

Daily Mail—Egypt blocks bank account of torture victims’ center—10 November 2016

Middle East Eye—Egypt freezes assets of anti-torture NGO—10 November 2016

New York Times—Egyptian Rights Group Is Told Its Bank Account Is Blocked, Lawyer Says—10 November 2016

Amnesty International—Egypt: Freeze of torture rehabilitation centre’s financial assets a cruel blow to human rights—10 November 2016

Turkish Police Accused of Torturing Detainees

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

ANKARA, Turkey — Human Rights Watch published a 43-page report on Tuesday, in which it accuses Turkish police of beating, sexually abusing, and threatening to rape detainees.

Turkish police are being accused of torturing detainees (Photo courtesy of Voice of America)

The human rights group said that a “climate of fear” has prevailed since thousands of people were arrested after President Erdogan declared a state of emergency in response to July’s failed coup attempt. The state of emergency has allowed the government to limit or suspend rights and freedoms as it deems necessary. In September 2016, prison monitoring boards were dissolved under an emergency rule decree. The report noted that several new regulations, which infringe on detainees’ rights, have been enacted. These include the extension of the maximum length of police detention without judicial review from four to thirty days, denying detainees access to lawyers for up to five days, restricting detainees’ choice of lawyer, and restricting detainees’ right to confidential conversations with their lawyers.

Human Rights Watch indicated that thirteen alleged cases of abuse had been uncovered, in which the detainees claim abuse of power, sleep deprivation, severe beatings, sexual abuse and threat of rape. These cases were not limited only to alleged coup supporters, but also include detainees suspected of ties to Kurdish militant and leftist groups.

In one case, Human Rights Watch found that several detainees had been forced to undress and were left outside under a “baking sun” for several hours. The case further noted that these detainees were then severely beat by police officers and threatened with sodomy by a baton. In another case, a detainee noted he was blindfolded and then beaten by police. He stated that the police chief “began to slap me in the face and eyes. They beat me on the soles of my feet, on my stomach, then squeezed my testicles, saying things like they’d castrate me.” A further case quotes a detainee as stating that a police officer told him “because of the state of emergency, nobody will care if I kill you.” The report further states that many lawyers are reluctant to represent detainees held in connection with the coup attempt. Attorneys who do represent these individuals are noted as expressing fear that they would become the target of the ongoing crackdown. One lawyer stated that she tried to represent a detained soldier, only to see him repeatedly beaten in front of her. Although she attempted to stop the beating, she was unable to do so and had to turn away out of fear.

The Europe and Central Asia Director of Human Rights Watch stated that “by removing safeguards against torture, the Turkish government effectively wrote a blank check to law enforcement agencies to torture and mistreat detainees as they like.” The organization called on authorities to “immediately rescind” the provisions of the state of emergency decrees which “enable abuse.” Human Rights Watch also urged the Turkish government to permit the U.N. Special Investigator on Torture to visit Turkey.

Mr. Bekir Bozdag, Turkey’s Justice Minister, argued that the country is being unfairly accused of torture, while strongly denying ill-treatment of prisoners. He further stated that the Ministry has assembled a task force to investigate all claims.

For more information, please see:

Voice of America—Human Rights Watch Report Accuses Turkish Police of Torture—25 October 2016

Chicago Tribune—Human Rights Watch: Torture reports after failed coup in Turkey—25 October 2016

Independent—Detainees ‘beaten, sexually abused and threatened with rape’ after Turkey coup, Human Rights Watch claims—25 October 2016

Hurriyet Daily News—Human Rights Watch says state of emergency gives Turkey ‘blank check’ to mistreat suspects—25 October 2016

Myanmar Soldiers Sentenced to Hard Labor for Village Killings

by Zachary Lucas
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar — A group of seven soldiers were sentenced to hard labor after a court found them guilty of killing civilians in a village. Four of the seven soldiers were officers.

Conflict Between the Burmese Military and Armed Ethnic Groups Have Persisted for Decades (Photo Courtesy of BBC)

A military court handed down the sentences to the seven soldiers following the family’s pursuit of justice for their loved ones. Sai Kaung Kham, an activist, helped the families pursue their claim after discovering nothing had been done.

The men were charged and convicted of killing villagers following a skirmish with an ethnic rebel group in eastern Shan state in Mong Yaw. The army entered the village and rounded up members of the Shan and Palaung ethnic groups. The villagers were suspected of aiding the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, a Palaungi militia that has been fighting the government for years. Days later five badly beaten bodies with knife wounds were found in a shallow grave and identified as the villagers.

Following the killings, the army released a statement saying the soldiers were responsible for the killings. The military court sentenced them to five years imprisonment under hard labor. Kham stated that “the fact they were sentenced is better than nothing.”

The army of Myanmar rarely admits to abuses or wrongdoings done by its soldiers. It is even more rare when they prosecute their own soldiers for those abuses. There were also two other incidents were soldiers were prosecuted for human rights violations earlier in the year that suggests a possible change in policy concerning human rights issues. While they exposed and prosecuted those incidents, they refused to investigate or prosecute the death of two other civilians that were killed fleeing the same village on a motorcycle.

The army ruled Burma, the name of the country before 2011, as a military junta for decades. The army fought violent conflicts with armed ethnic groups around the country. During this time, all sides are accused of numerous human rights violations that includes extrajudicial killings, rape, and torture. In 2011, democratic reforms occurred in the country allowing for a quasi-civilian leadership of the country under activist Aung San Suu Kyi. President Obama vowed to life decades old sanctions instated during the military junta’s leadership.

For more information, please see:

Bangkok Post — Myanmar soldiers jailed for killing villagers — 16 September 2016

BBC — Myanmar soldiers jailed for village murders in rare case — 16 September 2016

Gulf Times — Seven Myanmar soldiers jailed for killing villagers — 16 September 2016

Reuters — Myanmar soldiers jailed with hard labor for village killings — 16 September 2016

Bangladesh Executes Financial Backer of Islamist Party for War Crimes

by Zachary Lucas
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

DHAKA, Bangladesh — Mir Quasem Ali, a former media tycoon, was executed after being convicted of war crimes during the Bangladesh’s war for independence in 1971. Ali was a financier to the largest Islamist Party in the country, the Jamaat-e-Islami party.

Mir Quasem Ali was Tried and Convicted of War Crimes in 2014 (Photo Courtesy of BBC)

Ali was formally arrested in 2012 and charged in mid 2013. The charges involved murder and torture, including the abduction and murder of a young man in a torture chamber. Throughout the trial Ali proclaimed his innocence and stated that the charges were unjustifiable. Ali was found guilty on 8 charges, two of which carried the death sentence, in 2014 before the International Crimes Tribunal that was set up to try war criminals from the 1971 conflict.

A five-member appellate court upheld the decision of the trial court and the sentences. The Supreme Court rejected a final appeal earlier in the week. Ali did not seek presidential pardon which requires an admission of guilt. Ali was hanged at 10:30 PM on Saturday. His body was driven from the prison in an ambulance early Sunday morning to his home village in Manikganj for burial. Family members had requested his body be buried in Dhaka but government officials refused.

Following the execution, a security operation was staged to prevent violence. Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said that security operations were underway to keep the peace including deployment of paramilitary border guards and more police in Dhaka. The opposition party proclaimed the trial to be “political vengeance” and stated they would stage protests on Monday.

Both the Jamaat-e-Islami party and human rights experts around the world have questions the integrity of the International Crimes Tribunal set up shortly after the current Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, came to power. Ali, who was the former head of the Diganta Media Corporation, is the latest in members of the opposition party to be executed at the tribunal. Since 2010, six opposition leaders have been executed, five of whom were from the Jamaat-e-Islami party. As a total, 24 people have been sentence to death at the tribunal.

The war in 1971 began when self-determination groups in East Pakistan revolted against Pakistani leadership which led to armed conflict. The war became a hot spot during the Cold War as the United States, former Soviet Union, and People’s Republic of China were involved in the conflict. The end of the conflict led to Bangladesh gaining independence from Pakistan.

Prime Minister Hasina says the conflict left 3 million dead and over 400,000 women were raped. Pakistani forces and Jamaat-e-Islami supported militias were accused of systematic executions and rape during the war. Pro-Pakistani militias were accused of setting up detention centers were liberation supporters were tortured, including one at Chittagong, that Ali was accused of running.

For more information, please see:

BBC — Bangladesh hangs Islamist Mir Quasem Ali for 1971 war crimes — 4 September 2016

The Daily Star –Review binned, death stays for Quasem — 30 August 2016

The Hindu —  Bangladesh executes Jamaat leader Mir Quasem Ali — 4 September 2016

Time — Bangladesh Court Upholds Death Sentence of Islamist Leader Convicted of War Crimes — 30 August 2016

Yahoo — Bangladesh executes 5th Islamist party leader for 1971 war — 3 September 2016

Iranian Nuclear Scientist Executed for Espionage

by Zachary Lucas
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

TEHRAN, Iran — An Iranian nuclear scientist was executed after being tried and convicted of espionage and treason. Iranian officials say the scientist gave “vital information” to the United States.

Amiri Returned to Iran in 2010 (Photo Courtesy of CNN)

Iranian nuclear scientist, Shahram Amiri, was executed after being in custody for six years by Iranian officials. Iranian judiciary officials stated that Amiri was hung after he gave state secrets away to the United States. Deputy Chief Justice of Iran, Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Eje’i, said Amiri provided top secret information to the “number one sworn enemy, America.” Amiri’s execution came years after his conviction as it was being reviewed by the highest court in Iran. The court stated they reviewed the case with “extreme care.”

In 2009, Amiri vanished while on a religious pilgrimage to Saudia Arabia. A year later, Amiri turned up in the United States. Iranian officials accused the United States of abducting Amiri while the United States claimed Amiri had defected to undermine Iran’s nuclear program. Amiri, while in the United States, claimed he was kidnapped by the Central Intelligence Agency and later sought asylum at the Pakistani Embassy where he asked to be brought home.

Initially when Amiri returned, he was given a hero’s welcome which was extensively covered in the Iranian media. Amiri claimed he faced “psychological warfare” while in the United States. United States officials state he gave up information voluntarily. Shortly after his return, he was arrested by Iranian officials accused of espionage and treason. There were reports that, while in custody, Amiri was subjected to torture.

Amiri’s mother has stated that her son was unfairly tried and was innocent. Amiri’s mother along with watch groups question the closed-door trial of Amiri. Amiri’s mother claims that he was not given proper representation and was never allowed to talk with his lawyer. Iranian judicary officials have provided no comments concerning the way the trial was handled.

For more information, please see:

BBC — Iranian nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri executed for treason — 7 August 2016

CNN — Iran: Nuclear scientist executed for spying for ‘Great Satan’ U.S. — 8 August 2016

Guardian — Iran executes nuclear scientist who returned to country from US — 7 August 2016

Reuters — Executed Iranian nuclear scientist unfairly tried, said he was innocent: mother — 9 August 2016

Washington Post — Iran says it executed a nuclear scientist for spying — 7 August 2016

Hundreds of Activists Have Disappeared and Tortured in Egypt Since 2015

By Zachary Lucas
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt — A new report from Amnesty International has documented hundreds of people disappearing since early 2015. The enforced disappearances are being carried out by the Egypt’s National Security Agency (NSA) and torturing some of those that are taken.

Egyptian Security Forces Have Detained Hundreds of Activists for Months (Photo Courtesy of BBC)

Amnesty International has documented over 630 instances of people disappearing since early 2015 by NSA. This amounts to three to four people everyday being taken by Egyptian security forces. The main targets of the disappearances are political activists, protesters, students, and other opponents to the regime. Those targeted include both Islamists that support the ousted political party, the Muslim Brotherhood, and secular activists. People as young as 14 have been victims to these enforced disappearances. Amnesty International says enforced disappearances are a “key instrument of state policy.”

Amnesty International’s report describes that some people, including children, are taken from their home in the night and sometimes blindfolded and handcuffed as they are transported to detention facilities. They are detained for months without access to a lawyer or their family with no formal charges brought against them and they do not stand trial.

The report also lists numerous instances of torture to those that were captured. Some of the examples of torture have ranged from long instances of interrogation to use of electric shocks to force confessions.

One example of torture was the enforced disappearance of Aser Mohamed, a 14 year old. Aser was arrested and held for 34 days in NSA offices in Cairo. While there, Aser suffered electric shocks and beatings to force a confession. Aser was later brought before a prosecutor that warned him more electric shocks would occur if he retracted his confession. When he returned to his family, he had wounds from electric shocks on his lips, head, arms, chest, and genitalia. Aser is currently awaiting his trial before an Egyptian court.

The disappearances and torture may have also extended to foreign activists. An Italian PHD candidate at Cambridge University, Giulio Regeni, was found dead on the outskirts of Cairo with visible signs of torture. The Egyptian government denied any responsibility for his death, but Amnesty International says his case matches the other documented instances.

Enforced disappearances are illegal under Egyptian law. Authorities are required to refer arrested persons to the Public Prosecution within 24 hours of detention. Enforced disappearances are not a new tactic in Egypt but are on the rise recently according to Mohamed Lotfy, Executive Director of the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedom. Most of those that forcibly disappear are later charged with terrorism related charges.

The Egyptian government has denied the information that was released in the report and accused Amnesty International of being a “non-neutral organisation motivated by political stances aimed at tarnishing the image of Egypt.” Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid told CNN that torture is illegal in Egypt and all suspected cases are prosecuted. Zeid also said that a committee was being formed to investigate the allegations in the report. The United States State Department issued a statement calling the report “deeply troubling.”

For more information, please see:

Amnesty International — Egypt: Hundreds disappeared and tortured amid wave of brutal repression — 13 July 2016

BBC — Hundreds forcibly disappeared in Egypt crackdown, says Amnesty — 13 July 2016

CNN — Amnesty: Hundreds ‘disappeared’ by Egyptian forces — 13 July 2016

NPR — Amnesty International Report Documents Activist Disappearances In Egypt — 13 July 2016

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

 

Volkswagen and Brazil to Negotiate Torture Settlement

By Kaitlyn Degnan
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

SAO PAULO, Brazil — Volkswagen and Brazilian justice officials will negotiate a settlement for the torture of Volkswagen employees during Brazil’s military dictatorship. The company is accused for allowing the torture and detention of employees who opposed the dictatorship.

Volkswagen of Brazil. (Photo courtesy of DW.com)

The Brazilian National Truth Commission, implemented by President Dilma Rousseff in 2012 to investigate allegations of crimes and other wrongdoing during the military dictatorship of 1964 to 1985, released a final report in December 2014 saying that Volkswagen collaborated with the regime in 1972. Volkswagen handed over facilities near Sao Paolo to the regime, which were then used as detention and torture centers.

Activists representing former Volkswagen employees filed a complaint in September alleging that 12 Volkswagen employees were arrested and tortured at the factory in Sao Bernardo do Campo, which is near Sao Paolo. Other employees were allegedly laid off and placed on regime blacklists.

Lucio Bellentani, a former Volkswagen employee and communist activist reported that he was taken “in handcuffs to the personnel department” where he was tortured.

Brazilian justice officials are considering using the reparation funds to build a memorial or museum dedicated to the victims of the military dictatorship – though talks are still ongoing. Manfred Greiger, a Volkswagen official has said that discussions will go on at least into 2016: “we want to look at the pros and cons of the next steps to be taken.”

At least 400 people were disappeared during Brazil’s military dictatorship. Volkswagen is the only company named in the Truth Commission’s report to conduct its own investigation into allegations.

 

For more information, please see:

DW – Brazil: Torture lawsuit against VW – 23 September 2015

Agence France-Presse – Volkswagen to negotiate settlement in Brazil rights case – 1 November 2015

Estado – Volkswagen negocia reparação judicial por apoio à repressão durante ditadura – 1 November 2015

TeleSur – Brazil Dictatorship-Backer Volkswagen Negotiations – 1 November 2015

DW – Report: VW negotiating torture reparations in Brazil – 2 November 2015