Saturday, June 25, 2005

Israel's Failure to Probe Civilian Casualties Fuels Impunity

Human Rights Watch has issued a report charging that the Israeli military has fostered a climate of impunity in its ranks by failing to thoroughly investigate whether soldiers have killed and injured Palestinian civilians unlawfully or failed to protect them from harm.

The report examines in detail more than a dozen cases of civilian deaths and serious injury caused to Palestinians and foreigners by Israel Defense Forces in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, most of which clearly occurred in law enforcement rather than armed conflict situations.

“Most of Israel’s investigations of civilian casualties have been a sham,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The government’s failure to investigate the deaths of innocent civilians has created an atmosphere that encourages soldiers to think they can literally get away with murder.”

As of May 22, the Israeli military had initiated 108 investigations resulting in 19 indictments and six convictions, according to Israeli human rights organizations. Two soldiers were convicted for manslaughter, two for causing grave harm, and 2 for illegal use of a weapon. The longest prison sentence in these cases, handed down on May 18 for causing grave harm, was for 20 months. However, most of the convictions have drawn penalties less severe than those handed down for petty theft or to conscientious objectors.

Human Rights Watch said that the heart of the problem was a military justice system that relies on the debriefing of soldiers—often misleadingly called “operational investigations”—to determine whether a Military Police investigation is warranted. These “investigations” do not seek or consider testimony from victims or non-military witnesses, and do not attempt to reconcile discrepancies between soldiers’ accounts and video, medical or eyewitness evidence.

Low level, continual violence against Palestinians goes unnoticed by the world press, only the spectacular suicide attacks by Palestinians.

More balance is required if a solution is ever to be reached in Palestine.

Friday, June 24, 2005

The World's Longest-Held POWs

Injustices that fit neatly into U.S. political ideologies will receive much press attention. Many others fall through the cracks, such as the world's longest-held POWs.

408 Moroccans are still being held by the Polisario Front as a result of a territorial dispute in the Sahara. The remaining POWs have been held in direct violation of the Geneva Conventions since the declaration of a cease- fire in 1991, and are today the longest-held prisoners of war anywhere in the world.

In May, John McCain, along with six other former Morrocan POWS called for the immediate release of the remaining POWs.

"I know all too well that appeals to decency and justice can make a difference in the lives of prisoners," said McCain. "I have sent a letter to the leadership of the Polisario Front, calling for the immediate release of all prisoners of war, and I hope that my colleagues in the Senate and others will join this call as well."

The six former prisoners spoke about seeing their fellow prisoners murdered, tortured, forced to perform slave labor and forced to give their own blood to their enemies. The group explained that they had come to America to plea for the active support of the United States in helping to free the 408 Moroccan soldiers who are still facing torture, isolated confinement and regular humiliation.

But the story did not have the political sex appeal of an Abu Graib or Guantanamo Bay and quickly sank below the waves.

Do what you can for these people--take a moment to sign the petition for their immediate release.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Arrest Warrents Sought in Uganda

The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court,Luis Moreno Ocampo, s seeking his first arrest warrants, for the head of Uganda's rebel Lord's Resistance Army and one of his deputies.

The LRA has been fighting President Yoweri Museveni's secular government since 1988, ostensibly to replace it with one based on the biblical Ten Commandments.

The rebellion has killed tens of thousands of people, mainly civilians, and displaced more than 1.6 million others.

The LRA is notorious for its brutality towards the civilian population in the region, many of whom have been killed, maimed or abducted. Kidnapped children are pressed into service as soldiers or sex slaves.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Third Attempt on Life of Key Torture Witness

Several shots were fired at Luis Alberto Ramírez Hinostroza, a key witness in an upcoming torture trial against military officers, from a moving car on Wednesday evening, June 1, as he was crossing the Mariscal Castillo park in Lima accompanied by a police bodyguard. The park is close to the office of a Peruvian human rights group, the Legal Defense Institute (Instituto de Defensa Legal, IDL), where Ramírez had just held a meeting with his lawyer. The police guard covered Ramírez with his body to protect him and both luckily escaped injury.

This was the third attempt on Ramírez' life and human rights workers claim that it highlights the government's failure to take adequate action to protect those preparing to testify against the military officers.

“The Peruvian government must fully investigate the attack on Luis Alberto Ramírez and bring to justice whoever is responsible,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “This attack might have been prevented had earlier ones been properly investigated.”

Ramírez is due to testify in the trial of retired General Luis Pérez Documet, who was military chief of Junín province in the early 1990s, during Peru’s armed conflict. At least nine university students were forcibly disappeared during this period after being held at the “December 9” military base in Huancayo, under the command of Pérez Documet. In March 2004 the Fourth Criminal Court of Huancayo charged the former general with kidnapping.

Ramírez testified before Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission about the brutal torture he suffered at the base. He also witnessed the torture of others who subsequently “disappeared.” He is expected to provide crucial evidence of their detention in the trial, which is expected to begin in six weeks’ time in Huancayo.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Uzbekistan - Under the Radar

How did Uzbekistan get away with shooting hundreds of civilians? Uzbekistan’s status as a U.S. ally in the “war on terror” appeared to be in jeopardy when reports that Uzbek sodliers massacred hundreds of unarmed protesters emerged just over three weeks ago. But since then, major news outlets from the Guardian to the Washington Post have repeated government claims that an Islamist uprising provoked the government’s use of extreme violence. Not everyone is buying that theory.

According to Acacia Shields of Human Rights Watch, Uzbek security forces regularly use torture to elicit false confessions tying dissidents to a supposed Islamic revolutionary movement to take over Uzbekistan. She thinks it “unlikely” that the protestors killed in Andijan were mobilizing for a religious cause at all. Shields told GNN that “economics was one of the main motivators” for the tragic march.

Ignoring evidence compiled by Human Rights Watch, officials in Washington, Moscow and Beijing have been eager to dish out shaky theories about Taliban, Chechen or Uighur involvement in the so-called ‘uprising’ at Andijan, to support the empty justifications that dictator Islam Karimov offers for the slaughter of Uzbek civilians.

Between 2,000 and 10,000 people rallied in the city of Andijan on May 13 to protest a scandalous trial of 23 prominent businessmen, who stood spuriously accused of opposition to Uzbekistan’s totalitarian government. Elite police and troops, including units trained in the U.S., responded to the crisis – opening fire on the crowd. Officially, 173 civilians were gunned down that day. Independent sources (confirmed by at least one army source) claim 500 or more died in the indiscriminate shooting. “Once the crowd had dispersed, eyewitnesses say the security forces went around finishing off the injured as they lay on the ground.” The city was then sealed off by tanks, and security forces are “making night raids on the houses of anyone who might have been among the crowd, or other witnesses,” the BBC reports.

Uzbekistan’s is playing both sides in a modern version of the Great Game. Just after the Andijan killings, the Uzbek leader Karimov visited China, where he was welcomed with unconditional support for his crackdown on dissidents. Security ties were reaffirmed with talk about the cultural affinities between China’s separatist Uighur rebels in the Xinjiang province bordering Uzbekistan and the Muslim Uzbeks that are supposed to be trying to forge a Central Asian Islamic Republic. A large package of trade agreements was signed during the visit, including a $600 million oil deal.

At the June 30 summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (S.C.O.) in Tashkent, Moscow firmed up a strategic partnership agreement with the Karimov regime that includes joint military exercises, and Beijing granted Tashkent a $1.5 billion aid package—the largest that it has ever disbursed to a country. The S.C.O., which also includes Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, is an effort by Moscow and Beijing to counter Washington’s influence in Central Asia, and to build an alliance that creates a “transcontinental bridge” between the European Union and Southeast Asia, excluding U.S. influence.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Guatemalan rights abuses rise sharply

A report from Amnesty International charges that the number of women murdered and sexually abused in Guatemala has risen sharply.

Between 2001 and September 2004, nearly 1,200 women and girls were brutally killed in Guatemala, with 527 recorded killings in 2004 alone.

Guatemalan authorities blame youth gangs called maras, that have been spreading throughout Central America and Mexico, but the Amnesty report suggests other reasons: acute levels of sexual violence in the home, the activities of clandestine groups linked to organised crime and the legacy of Guatemala's long civil conflict.

Above all, Amnesty International blames a general climate of impunity. Lack of investigations and convictions for such killings sends the message that violence against women in Guatemala is acceptable.

Friday, June 03, 2005


With boosting country-level human rights work a major part of the United Nations strategic vision, Secretary-General Kofi Annan and UN human rights chief Louise Arbour today welcomed the Guatemala's endorsement of an agreement to open a new UN rights field office in the Central American country.

Guatemala's Congress yesterday unanimously approved the accord, signed in January by the Government and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to establish the office to monitor and report on the national human rights situation.

Ms. Arbour said, "We are encouraged to see the endorsement the accord received in Congress and look forward to making a positive contribution to the full mplementation of human rights in Guatemala."

Mr. Annan joined the High Commissioner in welcoming the Guatemalan
legislature's action.

"The office, which is expected to start operation in July, will advise
the Guatemalan Government, state institutions and civil society on all
matters related to the promotion and protection of human rights," Mr. Annan
said in a statement.

UNHCR's presence would continue the work begun by the United Nations
Verification Mission in Guatemala which completed its mandate at the end of 2004, he said.

For about a decade, the UN Verification Mission in Guatemala (MINUGUA) verified and expanded human rights observance, and helped the country implement far-reaching 1996 peace accords. The peace pacts ended 36 years of conflict that killed an estimated 200,000 people, most of whom died in massacres of the majority Mayan indigenous villagers.

The new field office would advise the executive branch on defining, streamlining and implementing human rights policies, particularly the Presidential Commission Coordinating the Executive's Policy on Human Rights Matters (COPREDEH), UNHCR said.

It would also advise representatives of civil society and individuals on promoting and protecting human rights, including the use of national and international mechanisms, and would assist current and future national institutions, particularly the Guatemalan Human Rights Procurator, Attorney General and State Procurator.