Ethiopia State of Emergency Grants Broad Power to Government

By: Adam King
Impunity Rights News Reporter, Africa

Ethiopian troops monitor protesting crowd. Photo courtesy of CNBC.

ADDIA ADABA, Ethiopia – Ethiopia is currently in a state of emergency following the resignation of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. According to Human Rights Watch, Defense Minister Siraj Fegessa announced the restriction, which brings concerns of potential government abuse,

“On February 17, 2018, following Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn’s resignation, Defense Minister Siraj Fegessa announced a countrywide six-month state of emergency. The Directive of the State of Emergency contains overly broad restrictions and vague language that will facilitate government abuses.”

This is the latest state of emergency following a subsequent period that lasted for a year beginning in 2017.

“During Ethiopia’s previous countrywide state of emergency, from October 2016 until August 2017, security forces arrested more than 20,000 people and committed widespread rights violations.”

Al Jazeera elaborates further on the nature of the previous state of emergency and continued unrest;

“In August 2017, Ethiopia lifted a 10-month state of emergency imposed after hundreds of people were killed in anti-government protests demanding wider political freedoms. The country’s Oromo and Amhara people – who make up about 61 percent of the population – have staged mass demonstrations since 2015 demanding greater political inclusion and an end to human rights abuses. The protests have continued this month, with many people expressing frustration over a perceived slow government release of political prisoners.”

The fear is that the state of emergency gives the government broad authority to quell the rights of its citizens. The United Nations has cautioned against the potential for human rights violations under the state of emergency.

“The United Nations also takes note of the recent declaration of a state of emergency and stresses the importance of avoiding actions that would infringe on the human rights and fundamental freedoms of citizens, the peace, security and stability of the country, or impact on the delivery of humanitarian assistance.”

CNBC explains the nature and aim of the state of emergency;

“A six-month long state of emergency was imposed by the government the next day, with the intention of quelling civil unrest. The state of emergency prohibits, among other things, the distribution of potentially sensitive material and unauthorized demonstrations or meetings.”

The state of emergency is aimed to bring the civil unrest to an end by controlling the methods by which it came about. The underlying factors that contributed to the unrest are political and economic,

“The factors that have driven the protests — namely the ethnic federal system, the influence of the military and intelligence services, and the interplay between the political elites and the business sector.”

Ethiopia is essentially run by one party that is made up of many coalitions. Desalegn’s party, the Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement, is one of the weaker parties who has faced challenges from other coalitions,

“Tension has been bristling between the powerful Tigray People’s Liberation front, which represents just 6 percent of Ethiopians, and its counterparts representing the Amhara and Oromo ethnic groups.”

The interest in the outcome of Ethiopia’s political future is tied to an economic interest by China.

“Ethiopia is a key partner of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a massive infrastructure spending push to resurrect ancient trading routes centred on China. This is partly because of its strategic location neighboring the tiny port state Djibouti, at which China has a naval base. A maritime presence in the region enables access to European markets via the Suez Canal. Ethiopia is also attractive because of its low cost labor, transport links and a vast consumer market — with its population of over 100 million making it Africa’s second largest.”

The selection of the next Prime Minster will be closely watched given Ethiopia’s rapid economic growth. Whoever is chosen, however, will be a complicated matter that involves many ethnic considerations and balance,

“As leading Ethiopian commentators speculate as to who might fill the leadership position, much hangs in the balance.  The challenge is multifold.  The Government must appoint a leader whom a dissatisfied population will accept.  It is an appointment which must offer other ethnicities than the dominant Tigrayan leadership .  This is also important given the current Tigrayan-heavy cabinet and security apparatus… Notwithstanding the significant role Tigrayans played in overthrowing the former military dictator and spear-heading the development of the EPRDF, Tigray represents only 6 percent of the population.   It must demonstrate to the public that its declared state of emergency will not result in a heavy-handed approach to security which undermines the constitutional right to express freely and peacefully.  It must press on with reforms and initiate the neutrally-chaired national political dialogue process which it has mooted.   Most importantly, it must abandon the tired, hidebound ideological construct of the 1990s which has little place in a more democratic and inclusive playing field.”

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera — “Ethiopia’s state of emergency to last six months” — 18 February 2018

CNBC — “Chinese investment hotspot and a state of emergency: What’s going on in Ethiopia” — 23 February 2018

Human Rights Watch — “Ethiopia: New State of Emergency Risks Renewed Abuses” — 23 February 2018

The London Economic — “Ethiopia in peril: Africa’s development jewel faces crisis” — 23 February 2018

UN News — “Ethiopia: UN welcomes steps towards governance reforms and increased political participation” — 23 February 2018

Pakistan’s Leading Human Rights Advocate Dies

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – On February 11th, 2018, Asma Jahangir, Pakistani’s leading human rights advocate died. According to her sister, Hina Jilani, a prominent rights activist, announced that Jahangir died of cardiac arrest.

Asma Jahangir, leading human rights activist dies at the age of 66. Photo courtesy of Arif Ali/ AFP.

In 2014, Jahangir received France’s highest civilian award and Sweden’s alternative to the Nobel Prize for her rights work. She spoke out for women and minority rights throughout her life and criticized Pakistan’s rights violations. Specifically, she was critical of Pakistan’s military, intelligence and right-wing parties. The former United Nations special rapporteur was 66.

In 1983, she was arrested for pro-democracy activities. She was again put under house arrest in 2007 for opposing military leader’s removal of Supreme Court chief justice. She also co-founded the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and the Women’s Action Forum.  She was the first female leader of Pakistan’s Supreme Court bar association. Jahangir served as the United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of religion and on human rights in Iran.

Some leaked documents suggested that some officers had planned to assassinate her. When the documents were leaked, she asked for an inquiry to find out “the forces who wanted to silence” her.

In the city of Lahore, thousands of people attended Jahangir’s funeral. Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi in a statement expressed his condolences and said that her death was a great loss. Moreover, Malala Yousafzai, Nobel Peace Prize winner called Jahangir a “savior of democracy and human rights.” The United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres has paid tribute to Jahangir following her death.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Asma Jahangir: Pakistan human rights champion dies – 11 February, 2018

The Straits Times – Asia Briefs: Pakistan human rights advocate dies – 12 February, 2018

Al Jazeera – Thousands pay respects to Pakistan’s ‘human rights giant’ – 14 February, 2018

Financial Times – Asma Jahangir, 1952-2018, human rights activist and lawyer – 16 February, 2018

UN concerned of Saudi blockade into Yemen

Matthew Sneed
Impunity Watch Reporter, The Middle East

SANAA, Yemen – On November 6, the Saudi military coalition announced that it would close all land, air, and sea ports to the Arabian Peninsula. The decision comes as the Saudis continue to fight the Houthi movement in Yemen. The coalition stated that the purpose was to slow the flow of arms to the Houthis from Iran.

The Saudi coalition has blocked air, land, and sea ports, making it difficult for Yemen to receive foreign aid. Photo courtesy of AFP/Getty.

Saudi Arabia accused Iran of directly arming the rebels, calling it, a “direct military aggression.” Tensions are also escalated after a ballistic missile was intercepted near the Saudi capital. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman said providing rockets to the rebels “may be considered an act of war.”

Nikki Haley, permanent representative of the US to the United Nations, believes that the missile could have been supplied by Iran. If true, then Iran would be in violation of two UN resolutions. First, Tehran is prohibited from buying, selling, or transferring weapons outside of the country without prior approval from the UN Security Council. Second, they are prohibited from selling weapons to Houthi leaders or their allies.

Despite the closure of ports following the missile strike, the Saudi coalition has said that humanitarian aid would be able to pass into Yemen under strict rules. However, some agencies have already experienced difficulties trying to enter the region. According to U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq, the UN was expected to have two flights into Yemen on November 6, but both flights were cancelled. “We are in touch with our counterparts and we’re trying to see whether we can get our normal access restored, and we’re hopeful that we will be able to continue our normal operations,” he said.

The Red Cross has experienced difficulties as well. They stated that their shipment of chlorine tablets had been blocked. The tablets are crucial to fighting cholera, a disease which affects about 90,000 people in the area.

Jens Laerke, Office for the Co-ordination for Humanitarian Affairs spokesman, said, “If these channels, these lifelines are not kept open, it is catastrophic for people who are already in what we have said is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis at the moment.”

The situation has grown increasingly worse for a country that primarily relies on imports for items necessary for survival such as food, fuel, and medicine. The UN reports that approximately seven million people in the country are “on the brink of famine.”

For more information please see:

Reuters – Saudi-led forces close air, sea and land access to Yemen – 06, Nov. 2017

The Washington Post – UN expresses concern of aid to Yemen – 06, Nov. 2017

BBC – Yemen conflict: Saudi ban “catastrophic” for aid – 07, Nov. 2017

UN Peacekeeping Mission Led by Brazil Leaves Haiti in October 2017

By: Fernando Oliveira
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

NEW YORK, United States – On October 15, 2017, relying on the United Nation Resolution 2,350/2017, the MINUSTAH (French acronym for United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti) left the Caribbean island, being replaced by the Mission for Justice Support (MINUJUSTH), now integrated by 295 police officers, meant to assist and strengthen local police forces.

Brazilian troops leaving Haiti. Photo courtesy of Tereza Sobreira.

The mission, led by the Brazilian army with the assistance of other 16 nations, commenced  in April 2004, two months after the then Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted for the second time by local revolutionaries.  Indeed, soon after Aristides’ deposition, various armed gangs took the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince, mainly the neighborhood named Cité Soleil, and started to firefight among themselves in a dispute to take the country’s power. The situation, thus, became completely out of control.

As such, the most relevant goal of the U.N. peacekeepers was to quell those armed gangs, in order to stabilize the country again. After many years combating them, the MINUSTAH accomplished the mission and restored the peace in Haiti.

However, during that long period, the MINUSTAH faced some serious troubles such as militaries being charged of sexual abuse against Haitian teenagers, and unnecessary force used against civilians. Furthermore, diseases and natural catastrophes turned things more complicated. In fact, in 2010, a deadly earthquake destroyed almost the entire country; later on, in that same year, U.N. militaries from Nepal were blamed on a cholera outbreak, which killed over 9,000 Haitians. Beyond that, in 2016, Haiti was taken by the hurricane Matthew. All those disasters contributed to postpone the end of the operation.

Nonetheless, the mission is considered a success by the U.N. According to Sandra Honoré, U.N. special representative and head of MINUSTAH:

“These are all indications that the people of Haiti are ready to move forward.”

Now, MINUSTAH troops have been replaced by MINUJUSTH, which will operate in Haiti for about two years. As the local police gets ready to operate by itself, the U.N. police force will gradually withdraw, eventually putting an end to its intervention.

For more information, please see:

New York Times – U.N. Votes Unanimously to End Peacekeeping Mission in Haiti – 13 April 2017

Telesur – UN Military Force Led by Brazil Will Leave Haiti in October – 22 April 2017

Newsweek – After 13 Years and Several Scandals, U.N. Votes To End Mission In Haiti – 13 April 2017

BBC News – Brazil plans Haiti peacekeeping withdrawal, says Amorim– 6 September 2011

EBC Agencia Brasil – Brazil prepares for final withdrawal of Haiti mission – 22 July 2017

Los Angeles Times – U.N. peacekeepers are leaving after more than two decades, but where does that leave Haiti? – 17 April 2017

Election of Congo to UNHRC met with Mixed Responses

By: Adam King
Impunity Rights News Reporter, Africa

United Nations Human Rights Council Meeting. Photo courtesy of Denis Balibouse.

GENEVA, Switzerland – The Democratic Republic of Congo was recently elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council on October 16, 2017 along with 15 other countries.  While Congo was elected by receiving the majority number of votes necessary for election, it received the least amount of votes (150) among the African countries that were in the running. The total amount of votes necessary to be elected to the council is 97. Only 4 African states were running for seats, which is the total allotment for the region. Louis Charbonneau, the Human Rights Watch UN Director, felt the outcome would have been different if the seats up for election had been contested, “[Congo] is fast becoming a pariah state. If there had been competition, it probably would have lost.”

Some of the sharpest criticisms came from Nikki Haley, the United States Ambassador to the UN. Her rebukes questioned the message that was being sent to the rest of the world by electing Congo, who has a controversial history with human rights violations,

“The DR Congo, a country infamous for political suppression, violence against women and children, arbitrary arrest and detention, and unlawful killings and disappearances, has been elected to serve on what is supposed to be the world’s preeminent human rights body… Countries that aggressively violate human rights at home should not be in a position to guard the human rights of others.”

Additionally, Haley saw this move as a tactic that took away from the unified message the council wants to embody to effectively progress its charge as a body,

“We need a unified voice of moral clarity with backbone and integrity to call out abusive governments. This election has once again proven that the Human Rights Council, as presently constituted, is not that voice.”

Haley has even gone as far to suggest that the United States may consider exiting the council if decisions such as these continue to happen.

Congo has been riddled with accusations of human rights violations ranging from the use of child soldiers to allegations of mass killings. According to Deutsche Welle,

“Violence in eastern and central Congo has displaced 1.5 million in the last year and reopened fears of civil war. Conflict in 1996-2003 resulted in millions of deaths and created conditions in which dozens of armed groups emerged.”

Congo was elected to the UNHRC despite a campaign by several countries to keep it from gaining a seat,

“The United States, the United Kingdom and advocacy groups like the Washington-based Human Rights Watch called upon member nations to reject Congo’s candidacy, citing widespread reports that its president Joseph Kabila has used repression and violence to hold onto power after his two-term limit expired on Dec. 19, 2016.”

For more information, please see:

Dhaka Tribune — ‘DR Congo wins seat on UN rights council despite US opposition’ — 17 October 2017

MPN News — ‘Mass Graves Don’t Keep Congolese Off UN Human Rights Council’ — 17 October 2017

The Indian Express — ‘Congo elected to UN Human Rights Council; US criticises move’ — 17 October 2017

Deutsche Welle — ‘DR Congo controversially elected to UN Human Rights Council’ — 16 October 2017

Miami Herald — ‘UN elects Congo to Human Rights Council despite abuses’ — 16 October 2017

Minamata Convention Seeks to Curb Mercury use in Africa

By: Adam King
Impunity Rights News Reporter, Africa

Two boys seperarte gold from ore. Courtesy of Human Rights Watch.

DADOMA, Tanzania — A new UN convention on the trade and use of mercury held its inaugural meeting on September 24, 2017 in Geneva, Switzerland. The treaty, known as the Minamata Convention on Mercury, seeks to cover a wide range of areas related to mercury,

“The treaty holds critical obligations for all 74 State Parties to ban new primary mercury mines while phasing out existing ones and also includes a ban on many common products and processes using mercury, measures to control releases, and a requirement for national plans to reduce mercury in artisanal and small-scale gold mining. In addition, it seeks to reduce trade, promote sound storage of mercury and its disposal, address contaminated sites and reduce exposure from this dangerous neurotoxin.”

The name of the convention is derived from a fishing town in Japan that involved many cases of mercury poisoning. The connection between mercury and African countries is its use in a process used to mine for gold.

Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Mali are but a few African countries that use mercury to separate gold from ore.  The mining process that utilizes this method is known as artisanal and small-scale gold mining or ASGM.  This process is utilized in rural areas where gold mines are located, but are not central mining hubs. While the process is not as intensive as opposed to larger mining operations, the practice does pose some health risks.

The danger of using mercury in ASGM have short and long term effects on those who come into direct contact with the mercury, “Mercury is a shiny liquid metal that attacks the nervous system. Exposure can result in life-long disability, and is particularly harmful to children. In higher doses, mercury can kill.” Children are often utilized in ASGM, given the relative ease of the process.  For some, it is a way for them to earn money to support their families. The reliance on ASGM in rural communities has grown steadily over the years.

A report released by UN Environment details the amount of reliance on ASGM in Africa and worldwide,“ASGM is now responsible for around 20 per cent (600-650 tonnes per annum) of the world’s primary (mined) gold production. It directly involves an estimated 10-15 million miners, including some 4.5 million women and 1 million children.” While 20% seems to be a small percentage of the overall gold production, the numbers may not tell the entire story.  In the same report, statistics detailed the level of inaccuracy regarding the reported figures of ASGM.

Data showing ASGM use by country. Photo courtesy of UN Environment.

The numbers show the wide disparity in the quality of the data reported, which is further explained by some countries who are known to export mercury, but do not necessarily disclose all instances of its export, “Trade between the countries mostly appears to be undocumented. For example, Kenya did not register any exports during 2010-15 period.”

While the convention brings more than 100 countries together to address the issue of mercury use, the convention may face challenges regionally in Africa.  ASGM is a source of income for many rural families.  Taking a hard stance against ASGM, where mercury is the primary agent for ore separation, could hurt a source of income for rural gold miners.  

Beyond the individual considerations, country-level considerations are also relevant.  Some of the more wealthier African countries play a role in the mercury trade, “Kenya and South Africa were the main supply hubs for mercury used in ASGM, especially in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa itself.” Many of the countries rely on gold production as an important source of revenue.  Limiting the use and trade of mercury could have an impact on the gold industries in those countries.

The requirements of the convention also call for swift and decisive action for compliance purposes,

“The convention comes with a long checklist of deadlines. Nations must immediately give up building new mercury mines and, within three years, they need to submit a plan of action to come to grips with small-time gold miners. By 2018, they need to have phased out using mercury in the production of acetaldehyde – the process that poisoned Minamata is still in use. By 2020, they need to have begun phasing out products that contain mercury.”

Three years to comply could pose some challenges to countries who have to not only begin phasing out the use of mercury, but also replace the lost revenue streams from ASGM with new ones.

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch — ‘Mercury Rising: Gold Mining’s Toxic Side Effect’ — 27 September 2017

Daily Nation — ‘UN pledges to curb sale and use of mercury’ — 25 September 2017

Phys.org — ‘Something in the water—life after mercury poisoning’ — 26 September 2017

UN Environment —  ‘Global mercury supply, trade and demand’ — 14 September 2017

AllAfrica — ‘Minamata Convention, Curbing Mercury Use, Is Now Legally Binding’ — 16 August, 2017

Upcoming Liberia Elections Signal New Chapter for Democracy

By: Adam King
Impunity Rights News Reporter, Africa

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf addressing UN General Body. Photo courtesy of UN News Centre.

MONROVIA, Liberia – Democracy hasn’t come easy for Liberia: a country ravaged with civil warfare aplenty.  October 10, 2017 will mark a historic achievement for Liberia. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly, proclaimed the achievement:

“The [legislative and presidential polls] will mark the first time in 73 years that political power will be handed over peacefully, and democratically, from one elected leader to another….Democracy is on the march in Liberia and, I believe, on an irreversible path forward on the African continent.”

Liberia has gone almost a century without a peaceful transition of power from one government to the other.  President Sirleaf’s achievement in being the first woman to be elected in a democratic election on the African continent is right on par with the anticipated peaceful transition of power.  Former United States President Barack Obama underscores the importance of a peaceful transition of power in his farewell address:

“In 10 days, the world will witness a hallmark of our democracy:  the peaceful transfer of power from one freely elected president to the next…it’s up to all of us to make sure our government can help us meet the many challenges we still face…But that potential will be realized only if our democracy works.  Only if our politics reflects the decency of the our people.  Only if all of us, regardless of our party affiliation or particular interest, help restore the sense of common purpose that we so badly need right now.”

President Sirleaf echoed Mr. Obama’s sentiments in the view that she has for Liberia going forward:

“Liberia’s transformation was powered by a world community that made a shared commitment to deliver peace to a country, and a subregion, beset by civil conflict and cross border destabilization. The UN and its partner nations were of one mind, and from that global unity, a new Liberian democratic state was born. Liberia is a post conflict success story. It is your post conflict success story.”

President Sirleaf assumed the presidency at a time when Liberia was facing stagnant development and civil war. Despite those challenges, Liberia has erected a new foundation through government restructuring and citizen engagement. President Sirleaf commented on some of the initiatives that have helped to revitalize the country:

“Further, previously dysfunctional public institutions now have the capacity to respond to the needs of our citizens through decentralized county service centers with ownership by strong local governments. And from the tragedy of the health crisis, we are strengthening our healthcare systems, prioritizing prevention and delivering capacity at the community level.”

Much remains to be seen as to how Liberia will fair upon the departure of President Sirleaf.  The local election commissions in Liberia are taking sizable precautions to safeguard the electoral process.  In addition to training for its volunteers, the government will be providing upwards of 6,000 security servicemen to assist with order on election day.  The field of candidates for the presidency is quite extensive (upwards of 20), leaving doubt as to what direction Liberia will take once the new president is elected and assumes power. While President Sirleaf has ushered in some notable achievements in here tenure, it has not all been free of scrutiny.   

The tenure of President Sirleaf herself has also been questioned by some.  Most recently, President Sirleaf proposed a law entitled the “Presidential Transition Act”.  According to the Liberian Observer, the act contained provisions related to peaceful transitioning of the government and protection provisions for the president and vice president including vehicles, security and dependent benefits. There were other parts of the law that were more controversial.  Some have argued that this bill could be used to shield President Sirleaf from charges of corruption for example.  President Sirleaf has since withdrawn the bill as of September 17, 2017.

For more information, please see:

Front Page Africa — 6,000 Security Officers to Guard Polling Stations on During Elections — 20 September 2017

Liberian Observer — Ellen Dispels Notion of Living in Fear after Tenure — 20 September 2017

UN News Centre — “Upcoming elections will signal Liberia’s ‘irreversible course’ towards democracy, President Sirleaf tells UN” — 19 September 2017

United Nations — “Focusing on People: Striving for Peace and Decent Life for All on a Sustainable Planet” — 19 September 2017

Bloomberg — Liberia Elections Body Says 20 Candidates Will Vie for President — 31 July 2017

Los Angeles Times — Read the full transcript of President Obama’s farewell speech — 10 January 2017

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

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information, please see:

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

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

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

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

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

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

North Korea Threatens Additional Nuclear Tests

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

PYONGYANG, North Korea – On Tuesday, September 19th, President Donald Trump made his first appearance before the United Nations General Assembly. During the speech, President Trump stated that the North Korean leader, Kim Jung Un is “on a suicide mission.”  He further stated that the United States would “have no choice but to totally destroy” the country.

An activist protests outside the North Korean embassy in Germany. Photo courtesy of CNBC.

Following the speech, Kim Jung Un stated that President Trump has “made unprecedented rude nonsense one has never heard” and said that “a frightened dog barks louder.” Kim has said that he is considering the highest level of retaliation against the United States for President Trump’s comments made during the United Nations Assembly meeting.

Ri Yong Ho, North Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs, announced that North Korea is considering a hydrogen bomb test in the Pacific Ocean. The Minister of Foreign Affairs described the possible test as “the most powerful detonation of an H-bomb in the Pacific.”

Since the exchange, United States Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers flew over waters east of North Korea. The military exercise, according to the Pentagon, is to display the range of military options available. It is reported that the flight was the farthest north of the demilitarized zone that any United States fighter bomber had flown in the 21st century.

President Trump met with South Korean President, Moon Jae-in, and the Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, to continue its discussion on imposing new sanctions against North Korea.

Soon after President Trump issued a new executive order which expanded United States sanctions on North Korea, China’s central bank also ordered financial institutions to implement United Nations sanctions rigorously. President Trump thanked China’s president Xi Jinping on his bold move against North Korea.

For more information, please see:

Business Insider – North Korea suggests testing a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific after Kim Jong Un calls Trump ‘mentally deranged’ – 21 September, 2017

CNBC – North Korea may detonate nuclear bomb in Pacific, foreign minister tells reporters – 21 September, 2017

The Guardian – Japan braces as North Korea threatens hydrogen bomb test in Pacific – 22 September, 2017

Reuters – Trump cranks up North Korea threats as Pyongyang holds anti-U.S. rally – 23 September, 2017

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

UN Report Denounces “Extensive” Human Rights Abuses By Venezuelan Government As Opposition Leader’s Wife Is Barred From Leaving Country

By: Max Cohen
Impunity Watch News Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela – The United Nations has released a report chastising the Venezuelan government over extensive human rights violations committed in the wake of anti-government protests. Additionally, Venezuelan authorities have opened an investigation into Lilian Tintori, the wife of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, after allegedly discovering a large amount of cash in her car. She has since been barred from traveling outside the country to attend meetings with European leaders scheduled for the week of September 3rd-9th.

Lilian Tintori demonstrates a picture of jailed anti-government protestors in a meeting with foreign journalists. Photo courtesy of AP.

The UN report documents the systematic use of excessive force during demonstrations and the arbitrary detention of protesters, noting that all evidence indicates that these were not the actions of a few isolated officials. It calls on the UN Human Rights Council, of which Venezuela is a member, to take measures to prevent the human rights situation from worsening. Venezuela’s government has slammed the report as shoddy and biased, though the report says that victims’ accounts were consistent and corroborated by medical reports and NGO reports.

The report also indicates that of the 124 deaths linked to the protests, security forces are allegedly responsible for 46, while pro-government armed groups are responsible for 27. More than 5,000 people have been detained since the protests began in April, with 1,000 still being held.

On Thursday, August 31st, Venezuelan authorities discovered around 200 million bolivars, equal to about $60,000, on the nation’s weakest official exchange rate or $10,000 on the more commonly used black market rate, in the car of Lilian Tintori. It’s unclear what crimes she has being investigated for, since possession of cash in Venezuela is not a crime. However, Tintori is convinced that the actions are government sanctioned persecution targeted towards her.

She also claims that the money was to pay for emergencies, including the hospitalization of her grandmother. Tintori claims that cash was necessary since inflation has decimated the value of Venezuela’s currency, and because no bank would give a credit card or open an account for the wife of an opposition leader. She has also since been banned from leaving the country, a move that came a day after she was ordered to appear before a judge on September 5th.  Tintori was expected to travel to Europe to convince leaders there to institute sanctions against Venezuela.

For more information, please see:

Bloomberg – Venezuelan Opposition Activist Says She Was Barred From Traveling to Europe – 2 Sept, 2017

Fox News – UN rips Venezuelan human rights abuses, as government orders opposition leader’s wife to court – 2 Sept, 2017

ABC – Venezuela probes wife of opposition’s Lopez for cash in car – 1 Sept, 2017

United Nations News Centre – Human rights violations indicate repressive policy of Venezuelan authorities – 30 Aug, 2017

North Korea Welcomes UN Human Rights Expert

By: Nicole Hoerold
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

North Korea is once again hitting headlines in the international media, this time on a positive note. The autarkic country has invited a United Nations representative to visit and assess the rights of the disabled. U.N. special rapporteur Catalina Devandas-Aguilar will be visiting North Korea for six days to collect information on the conditions of disabled persons in the country.

The UN will send human rights expert Catalina Devandas-Aguilar to North Korea to assess the conditions of persons with disabilities living in the state. Photo courtesy of the United Nations.

Devandas-Aguilar spoke on her upcoming visit, saying that the visit represents an important opportunity to learn firsthand about the country’s realities, policies, programs, and laws regarding the rights of people with disabilities. Devandas-Aguilar is also concerned with the shortcomings and challenges disabled persons face in the country. The trip will take place between May 3 and May 8.

The visit also marks the first U.N. sponsored trip to North Korea since 2004, when the U.N. Commission on Human Rights sent an investigator to report on North Korea’s human rights situation. Devandas-Aguilar is scheduled to visit the state’s capital, Pyongyang, as well as South Hwanghae Province.

North Korea ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities in December 2016.

Devandas-Aguilar plans to hold a press conference in Pyongyang at the end of her visit. Her official findings will be submitted to the United Nations next year.

For more information, please see:

Deutsche Welle – UN disabilities representative announces observer visit to North Korea – 27 April, 2017

Independent News – North Korea agrees to visit from UN human rights expert for first time – 27 April, 2017

Reuters – North Korea opens door a crack to welcome U.N. disability expert – 27 April, 2017

UPI News – U.N. disabilities rapporteur to make observation visit to North Korea – 27 April, 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

 

United Nations Report Alleges Human Rights Violations in Southeastern Turkey

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

ANKARA, Turkey — On Friday, March 10th, the United Nations Human Rights Office released a report alleging detailed depictions of mass destruction, killings and other human rights offenses committed in Southeast Turkey from July 2015 through December 2016.

Between 355,000 and 500,000 people were displaced, and more than thirty towns and “entire neighborhoods” were destroyed because of the clashes (Photo courtesy of UN News Centre)

The United Nations (“UN”) report accused Turkish security forces of violating Kurdish fighters’ human rights in the southeastern part of the country. The violations allegedly took place after a 2013 ceasefire declared between Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (“PKK”) broke down. Since the end of the truce in the summer of 2015, Turkey and the PKK have been “engaged in escalating clashes.”

The UN revealed that the findings in its report were based on “remote monitoring,” namely interviews, official records, public documents, satellite images, and analysis of information provided by the Turkish government and NGOs.

The report stated that approximately 2,000 people were killed in Southeast Turkey during the specified period. The number of local residents killed was nearly 1,200. The report went on to state that of that 1,200, an unknown number may have “been involved in violent or non-violent actions against” Turkey. The UN further indicated that an additional 800 individuals belonging to security forces were killed during fighting. The report also stated that between 355,000 and 500,000 people were displaced, and more than thirty towns and “entire neighborhoods” were destroyed because of the clashes.

The UN indicated that a majority of the human rights violations took place during “unannounced, open-ended, 24-hour curfews” instigated by Turkish authorities. Satellite images referenced in the report further revealed that houses in residential areas were destroyed by “heavy weaponry[.]” The report revealed that up to 189 individuals had been trapped in basements for several weeks without food, water, medication or electricity. They were later “killed by fire induced by shelling.”

The Human Rights Chief of the UN, Mr. Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, noted that Turkey denied access to investigators and “contested the veracity” of the allegations. The Turkish Foreign Ministry condemned the report after stating it was “biased, based on false information and far from professional.” The Foreign Ministry indicated that the country remains committed to sharing information regarding anti-terrorism activities with its partners. A parliament member of Turkey’s ruling AK Party, Mr. Taha Ozhan, stated that the PKK was responsible for the negative findings referenced in the report due to its decision to move the combat zone from rural to urban areas.

For more information, please see:

Reuters—U.N. documents human rights violations in southeast Turkey—10 March 2017

UN News Centre—Turkey: UN report details allegations of serious rights violations in country’s southeast—10 March 2017

AlJazeera—UN accuses Turkey of abuses in country’s southeast—11 March 2017

Daily Sabah—Turkey slams UN human rights body for ‘biased’ report on counter-terror operations—10 March 2017

The New York Times—U.N. Accuses Turkey of Killing Hundreds of Kurds—10 March 2017