Monday, May 30, 2011

Syria / Torture / Forced Disappearance

Photo: Wikipedia
Tortured Youngster Becomes Rallying Point for Syrians
By Liz Sly
The Sydney Morning Herald, May 31, 2011
"His head was swollen, purple and disfigured. His body was a mess of welts, cigarette burns and wounds from bullets fired to injure, not kill. His kneecaps had been smashed, his neck broken, his jaw shattered and his penis cut off. What finally killed him was not clear, but it appeared painfully, shockingly clear that he had suffered terribly during the month he spent in Syrian custody. Hamza Ali al-Khateeb was only 13 years old. And since a video portraying the torture inflicted upon him was broadcast on the al-Jazeera television network on Friday, he has rapidly emerged as the new symbol of the protest movement in Syria. His childish features have put a face to the largely faceless and leaderless opposition to the regime of the President, Bashar al-Assad, a regime that has angered the country for nine weeks, reinvigorating a movement that had seemed in danger of drifting. It is too early to tell whether the boy's death will trigger the kind of critical mass that brought down the regimes in Egypt and Tunisia and that the Syrian protests have lacked. But it would not be the first time that the suffering of an individual had motivated ordinary people who might not otherwise have taken to the streets to rise against their governments.

Srebrenica Massacre / Genocide Memorials

Female relatives of victims of the Srebrenica massacre gather during the annual service at the Srebrenica memorial, Potocari, Bosnia and Herzegovina, July 2007. (Adam Jones)
In Srebrenica, a Memorial Brings Peace
By Matthew Brunwasser
The New York Times, May 30, 2011
"Across from the abandoned Potocari battery factory, where Muslim residents of this infamously brutalized town were imprisoned in 1995 before women were separated and the men and boys taken away to be killed, a memorial center has risen. A sweeping graveyard and tall white stones mark the final resting place of the remains -- many of them only partial -- where family members can visit, mourn and remember. Looking across the lush hillside, Sadik Selimovic, an investigator from the Bosnia Missing Persons Institute, said more mass graves needed to be opened. 'It brings absolute peace to the families,' he said. 'I know because I know where my father was killed, who killed him, how he was killed and I know where my brother's body was found.' Two brothers and a nephew are still unaccounted for. Even more than lending peace of mind, this memorial represents a new chapter in Balkan history. As Ratko Mladic, accused as the architect of the massacre of about 8,000 Srebrenica Muslim men and boys, is expected to be sent to the UN tribunal in The Hague, the terrible process of piecing together the remains of Srebrenica’s dead provides facts, not the myths of which Balkan lore has so long been spun. For centuries, history here has been written in cycles of violence, reconciliation, new wars, exhaustion, then more bloodshed. Each turn creates too much suffering to consume, and is grist for fresh lore to reinforce tribal instincts. The unearthing of the remains of Srebrenica's victims -- scattered over mass graves methodically dug by the Bosnian Serbs -- for once offers proof of what happened. Advances in DNA testing have allowed investigators to reassemble body parts scattered over several mass graves into a corpse that can be buried, and mourned.

El Salvador

From Spain, Charges Against 20 in the Killing of 6 Priests in El Salvador in 1989
By Elisabeth Malkin
The New York Times, May 30, 2011
"A Spanish judge issued arrest warrants on Monday for some of the top military leaders of El Salvador's civil war, accusing them of meticulously planning and carrying out the killings of six Jesuit priests in 1989. In a 77-page document, the judge, Eloy Velasco Nuñez of Spain’s National Court, said the 20 men named in the warrants never had doubts about 'carrying out the most execrable crimes against people merely to impose their strategies and ideas.' The attack on the priests -- who were killed along with their housekeeper and her teenage daughter -- was considered brutal even in a civil war known for its violence against civilians. It led to a crisis in El Salvador’s relations with the United States, which had helped the country’s armed forces against leftist rebels, and intensified international pressure on the government to enter peace negotiations. Five of the six Jesuits were born in Spain, where judges have used the doctrine of universal jurisdiction to prosecute crimes committed outside of the country, as they did against the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. 'When justice can't be obtained in the country where the crimes were committed, it's important that the process go forward,' said the Rev. Andreu Oliva, the rector of the Jesuit-run University of Central America, where the priests worked and where they were killed early in the morning on Nov. 16, 1989. Among the men named in the indictment: Rafael Humberto Larios, who was the Salvadoran defense minister at the time; Juan Orlando Zepeda, the vice defense minister; René Emilio Ponce, leader of the Army’s Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Inocente Orlando Montano, the vice minister of public safety.

Libya / Gendercide

"Huda, pictured left, says Gaddafi soldiers took every man from her home; right, lawyer Tarek Abdul Hadi at a 'Missing Persons' office."
Gaddafi Snatch Squads Took Hundreds of Men and Boys from Misrata
By Ruth Sherlock
The Independent, May 30, 2011
"The lifting of the siege of the embattled Libyan city of Misrata has revealed the disappearance of hundreds of people with many of them suspected victims of snatch squads loyal to the Gaddafi regime, relatives and rights workers said yesterday. A desperate search has begun for 'the disappeared,' many of whom were reported to have been taken away to regime prisons or killed during some of the fiercest fighting of a three-month rebel uprising that has reduced parts of the city to rubble. Witness accounts gathered by The Independent and rights groups indicate that there was a systematic attempt to kidnap men from parts of the city. Sixteen members of one family were captured by troops loyal to Muammar Gaddafi when they left their home to inspect a factory that had been destroyed in the fighting, according to their relative Salem, who declined to give his full name for fear of recrimination. 'There had been shooting on the road in the morning, it is near the front line but later the rebels told them it was safe,' he said. 'Suddenly Gaddafi's men appeared waving guns, they rounded them up into pick-up trucks, and took them all away.' After nearly two months of no news, he received word from a man who claimed to have escaped from Tripoli prison. 'He told me my family members are there. But up to this day I cannot be sure they will come back. If somebody is dead, we consider them martyrs; at least you can bury them and know that they are going to heaven. But to have them taken alive: you don't know if he is being tortured.' The full extent of the missing has only been revealed as the city slowly comes back to life following the ferocious bombardment by forces loyal to Col. Gaddafi. ... A newly opened missing persons office has registered 1,020 people with the number rising every day, said lawyer Tarek Abdul Hadi, organising the piles of forms detailing those missing. Families yesterday were pushing photos of their loved ones into the building. 'These just arrived in the last hour,' said Mr. Hadi, indicating a pile of passport photos of Misrata's lost men, women and children on his desk. Most of the missing are men between the ages of 20 and 40. More than 40 children, some as young as six, and elderly people between 60 and 85 years are also missing, he said.

Genocide Tribunals / Bosnia and Herzegovina

"Supporters of the Serbian Radical Party protest yesterday in Belgrade against the arrest of Ratko Mladic."(Stoyan Nenov/Reuters)
Judge for Mladic Case in Row over "Genocide"
By Peter Cluskey
The Irish Times, May 30, 2011
"One of the three judges named to hear the war-crimes case against Gen Ratko Mladic was at the centre of a row two years ago for arguing that 'genocide' was an inappropriate term to describe the Srebrenica massacre -- Europe's worst atrocity since the second World War. Judge Christoph Flügge was hearing the case of former Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic in The Hague in 2009, when he told Der Spiegel magazine that 'mass murder' was a more suitable term for the killing of 8,000 men and boys in the UN safe haven in July 1995. The judge, a former public prosecutor in Berlin, maintained in the interview that there was no reason to differentiate between 'a group that is murdered for their nationality, religion, ethnicity or race, as is regulated by the Hague Statute' and a group that 'happens to be gathered at a specific location.' The judge's comments led at the time to demands by relatives of the Srebrenica victims for his removal from the trial, with the Congress of North American Bosniaks (CNAB) describing his comments as 'genocide denial' which rendered his impartiality impossible. CNAB demanded an apology and asked the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to remove the judge, not only from the Karadzic trial but from 'any case dealing specifically with charges of genocide.' Judge Flügge was named at the weekend as a member of the trial chamber for the trial of Gen Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb commander, who is charged with genocide, extermination and murder during the Bosnian War between 1992 and 1995.

Palestine / Israel / "Memoricide"

"Ultra-orthodox Jewish teenagers swimming in the village spring in the ruins of Lifta." (Quique Kierszenbaum)
The Ruined Village Palestinians Will Never Forget
By Harriet Sherwood
The Guardian, May 29, 2011
"In the soft golden light of a late spring evening, as yellow flowers are beginning to bloom on giant cacti, Yacoub Odeh climbs up through knee-high grass to the ruin that was his childhood home. For a man in his eighth decade, he is surprisingly nimble as he navigates ancient stones that litter the ground. But behind his light step is the weight of painful memories of a lost youth and a fading history. 'Here is my house,' he says, sitting on the remains of a stone wall in whose crevices wild flowers and saplings cling. 'Now only the corners remain. Here is the taboun [outdoor oven] where my mother used to bake bread. The smell!' With distant eyes, he describes an idyllic childhood in a place he calls paradise, where families helped one another and children played freely amid almond and fig trees and on the rocks around the village's natural spring. The place is Lifta, an Arab village on the north-western fringes of Jerusalem, for centuries a prosperous, bustling community built around agriculture, traditional embroidery, trade and mutual support. But since 1948, shortly before the state of Israel was declared, it has been deserted. The population, according to the Palestinian narrative of that momentous year, was expelled by advancing Jewish soldiers; the people abandoned their homes, say the Israeli history books. Lifta was one of hundreds of Arab villages taken over by the embryonic Jewish state. But it is the only one not to have been subsequently covered in the concrete and tarmac of Israeli towns and roads, or planted over with trees and shrubs to create forests, parks and picnic areas, or transformed into Israeli artists' colonies. Some argue that Israel set out to erase any vestige of Palestinian roots in the new country. Now, 63 years on, the ruins of Lifta are finally facing the threat of bulldozers and concrete mixers.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Serbia / Bosnia and Herzegovina / Genocide Tribunals

"Ratko Mladic has been given a TV and strawberries in jail and has received family visits." (Ho/AP)
Ratko Mladic Says All Serbs Must Share the Guilt
By Peter Beaumont
The Observer, May 28, 2011
"Ratko Mladic delivered a tirade of abuse against officials involved in his capture when he was first brought to court, the Observer has learned. He accused them of 'working for the CIA' and later remarked chillingly to one prominent official that he could have had him killed on two occasions. Mladic, who has refused to recognise the authority of the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague, where he is expected to be extradited to this week on charges of genocide, also denied being a killer, adding that all Serbs bore a shared guilt for voting for President Slobodan Milosevic, architect of the Balkan wars. How Mladic has behaved since being brought to a Belgrade court was disclosed in the most detailed account yet of the state of mind of the man charged with orchestrating the Srebrenica massacre and the siege of Sarajevo during the Bosnian war. It came as a source close to Serbia's intelligence service, the BIA -- or Security Information Agency -- said Mladic had been living openly, although 'not continuously,' in the village of Lazarevo, where he was found, for several years. A BIA team observing the house of Branko Mladic, where Ratko Mladic was found, in one of two addresses he had been using in the area, had watched him going about 'everyday activities' including helping his cousin Branko on the farm and attending village celebrations. 'Personally speaking,' said the source, 'I think some officials knew where he was living. It was peculiar, too, that when the house was raided that there were no personal possessions there.' Mladic's behaviour since capture was described by Bruno Vekaric, a deputy prosecutor at the War Crimes Prosecutor's Office, who has met Mladic twice since his arrest in Lazarevo on Thursday.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Bosnia and Herzegovina / Srebrenica Massacre / Genocide Tribunals

"A Muslim woman and her husband, who later died, were treated in July 1995 after Serbian military forces attacked them." (Odd Andersen/Agence France-Presse)
Executions Were Mladic's Signature, and Downfall
By David Rohde and John F. Burns
The New York Times, May 26, 2011
"With video cameras capturing the moment, Gen. Ratko Mladic's bodyguards handed out chocolates to Bosnian Muslim children, promising terrified women that the violence was over. 'No one will be harmed,' the Bosnian Serb commander said on July 12, 1995, gently patting a young boy on the head. 'You have nothing to fear. You will all be evacuated.' As he spoke, thousands of his soldiers formed a vast cordon around the town of Srebrenica, a United Nations-protected 'safe area' that had just fallen to his forces. Over the next 10 days, his soldiers hunted down, captured and summarily executed 8,000 men and boys from the town. Women were raped. And pleas for restraint from the international community were mocked. 'Over 500 victims of the Srebrenica genocide were boys under the age of 18,' said Hasan Nuhanovic, a survivor from Srebrenica whose father, mother and brother were executed by Mr. Mladic's forces. 'They were 16, 17 years old when they were executed.' The mass executions around Srebrenica became Mr. Mladic’s ghastly trademark -- and his undoing. ... The massacre was the culmination of years of worsening cruelty that began with the siege of Sarajevo in 1992, the longest in modern warfare. The four-year bombardment killed 10,000 people, including an estimated 1,500 children. In Sarajevo, Mr. Mladic embraced a frightening form of warfare where a heavily armed military unleashed artillery and sniper fire on civilians. His forces were also accused of using systematic rape as a weapon of war. [...]"

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Rwanda / Genocide Tribunals

"[Hutu] Refugees from Rwanda in Goma, DRC, after the genocide in 1994." (Jon Jones/Sygma/Corbis)
Rwandan Genocide Mastermind Captured in DRC
By David Smith
The Guardian, May 26, 2011
"A mastermind of the Rwandan genocide has been captured 17 years later in neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo, a United Nations court has announced. Bernard Munyagishari, a former Hutu militia leader, is wanted on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity, including rape, the Tanzania-based international criminal tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) said. The fugitive, who had previously been a school teacher and football referee, was arrested by the Congolese army and an ICTR tracking unit 'in difficult terrain.' Munyagishari, 52, featured in the US state department's Rewards for Justice programme, with a reward of up to $5m (£3m) offered for his capture. The ICTR said Munyagishari was arrested in Kachanga, North Kivu in an operation involving the Congolese army and the ICTR's tracking unit. He was being held in Goma awaiting transfer to the court in Arusha, Tanzania. 'The prosecutor [Justice Hassan Bubacar Jallow] hailed the DRC authorities for their co-operation in executing the warrant of arrest despite the hurdles encountered in tracking down the fugitive in difficult terrain,' the court said. Ethnic Hutu militia and soldiers butchered 800,000 minority Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus over 100 days between April and June 1994. The victims were frequently described as 'cockroaches.' The ICTR indictment says Munyagishari helped prepare and plan the genocide (pdf). From 1992-94 he was secretary general of the National Republican Movement for Democracy and Development for Gisenyi city and president of the Interahamwe militia for the Gisenyi prefecture. Munyagishari is accused of co-founding and training the Interahamwe group in the Gisenyi region, distributing weapons to them, and exercising authority over them as they operated roadblocks in the city of Gisenyi and slaughtered Tutsis. He also allegedly created an arm of the Interahamwe with a mission of raping and killing women as a weapon of war. [...]"

Tunisia / Libya

"Refugees gather near burnt tents at a camp in Choucha, Tunisia." (Anis Mili/Reuters)
Refugees from Libya Attacked in Tunisian Desert
By Tom Kington
The Guardian, May 25, 2011
"More than 1,000 migrants who fled fighting in Libya have been left without shelter in the Tunisian desert after locals burned and looted a refugee camp near the border, witnesses have claimed. At least five people were wounded when Tunisian soldiers opened fire on migrants fleeing Tuesday's attack on the UN-managed Choucha camp near the main crossing with Libya at Ras Ajdir, said Alganesc Fessaha, an Eritrean doctor who treated the victims. The attack left around 1,500 residents without shelter. It reflected growing resentment among Tunisians against the migrants, mainly workers from Eritrea, Somalia and Ivory Coast. Tensions between the two groups came to a head after refugees blockaded the road to the border to protest against being held in the camp, four miles from the border. Locals then attacked the protesters with clubs and iron bars before Tunisian troops fired teargas and warning shots in an attempt to break up the fighting. But a mob of about 300 Tunisians then attacked the camp, burning down about half the tents, Fessaha told the Guardian. 'Eritreans fleeing from the camp as it burned were beaten by locals lined up and waiting with iron bars,' said Fessaha, who was also attacked as she entered the camp. Fessaha was treating the the gunshot wounds of five Sudanese men who said they had been shot by Tunisian soldiers. 'The soldiers shot at us as we fled the camp,' said Abu Bakr Osman Mohammed, 39, who spent three years working in Libya and two in jail for illegal immigration before escaping as the conflict started. 'It is a miracle no one was killed,' said Father Sandro De Pretis, an Italian priest based in Tripoli who is involved in the aid operation. 'They came in daylight, well organised, and the army did nothing to protect the camp dwellers and may have even provided an escort as the locals burned what they could not steal. Something has to be done now for these migrants stranded in the sand.'

Sudan / South Sudan / "Ethnic Cleansing"

"A Ngok Dinka herder in Abyei, a contested town where the Misseriya, Arab nomads, are pouring in, the United Nations says." (Tyler Hicks/The New York Times)
UN Warns of Ethnic Cleansing in Sudan Town
By Tyler Hicks
The New York Times, May 25, 2011
"After seizing a disputed town on the border of the breakaway region of southern Sudan on Saturday, the army of northern Sudan is now facilitating a relatively large influx of nomadic people into the area, according to new United Nations field reports. United Nations officials said the move could mean that the Sudanese government was trying to 'ethnically cleanse' the area in a bid to change its demographics permanently and annex the town, Abyei, just weeks before southern Sudan was supposed to split from the north and form its own country. As the July target for the south's independence draws near, the battles over Abyei have grown more intense, and the moves by the north have threatened to plunge the two sides into a conflict that diplomats fear could scuttle the carefully choreographed treaty arranging for the south to become the world's newest state. One United Nations official said a northern Sudanese general revealed this week that there was a plan to send 15,000 Misseriya, an Arab and nomadic people, into Abyei in the coming days, which could have a serious impact on Abyei's delicate demographics. Other United Nations officials estimated that 5,000 to 10,000 Misseriya had already entered Abyei town. The Misseriya have a long history of being used by the Sudanese government as proxy forces, and they live in the vast stretches of desert around Abyei, occasionally going into Abyei to graze their animals. Abyei's permanent residents, however, are the Ngok Dinka. Abyei straddles the north-south border and has oil (though a relatively scant amount), and both sides have laid emotional claims to it.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Georgia / Russia / Circassian Genocide

Georgia Says Russia Committed Genocide in 19th Century
By Ellen Barry
The New York Times, May 20, 2011
"The Georgian Parliament voted Friday to recognize the 19th-century killings and deportations of ethnic Circassians by czarist Russia as genocide, a move that is likely to inflame tensions between the two countries. Moscow is extraordinarily sensitive to any anti-Russian movements in the North Caucasus, a region on Russia's southern border where it has been battling insurgents since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The declaration may also strengthen calls for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, which the Circassians consider part of their homeland. Relations between Georgia and Russia have remained hostile since a brief war in 2008, and Georgia recently made an effort to build ties with restive Caucasian ethnic groups in Russia. Last year, Georgia dropped visa requirements for residents of the North Caucasus, and it started First Caucasus News, a Russian-language satellite channel. Friday's vote was Georgia's most assertive move yet, and lawmakers hailed the decision as historic. No other country has recognized the killing of Circassians as genocide. 'This is Caucasian solidarity, a centuries-old tradition -- much greater than Russia and the Russian empire,' said Guram Chakhvadze, a member of Parliament from the National Democratic Party. 'I want to tell my Circassian friends that this is a first step, and I hope they will not lose hope.' When they were driven from Russia, hundreds of thousands of Circassians scattered to Turkey, Syria, Jordan and the United States, where they assimilated and have lived for four or five generations. Some of their descendants have made attempts to return to their ancestral lands, an extraordinary challenge for those without Russian citizenship. The Georgian resolution says that the Russian empire planned and carried out the ethnic cleansing of Circassians, ultimately displacing 90 percent of them. It also says that czarist Russia artificially spread hunger and disease with the goal of annihilating the Circassians, and that it then resettled other ethnic groups in their land.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Rwandan Genocide / Genocide Tribunals

"Augustin Bizimungu in 1994, the year of the Rwandan genocide. He prepared lists of Tutsis to be killed." (Vincent Amalvy/AFP/Getty Images)
Rwanda Genocide: Former Army Head Augustin Bizimungu Jailed
By David Smith
The Guardian, May 17, 2011
"Augustin Bizimungu, a former head of the army, and Augustin Ndindiliyimana, an ex-military police leader, were found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity by the international criminal tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) on Tuesday. Hutu militias carried out the mass slaughter of ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus between April and June 1994, triggered by the shooting down of a plane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana. Bizimungu and Ndindiliyimana are two of the most senior figures to be sentenced by the ICTR, set up in Arusha in neighbouring Tanzania to prosecute the ringleaders. Bizimungu, 59, appeared unmoved when the judge ruled that, as army chief, he had complete control over the soldiers and militia who perpetrated the massacres. The 56-page indictment said he prepared lists of Tutsis to be 'exterminated,' referring to them as 'cockroaches' -- a term notoriously used by those behind the genocide. He failed to stop the rape and sexual abuse of women and girls. Bizimungu was a regular at the cocktail bar of the Mille Collines hotel when it gave refuge to hundreds of desperate people, a story told in the film Hotel Rwanda. Its manager, Paul Rusesabagina, plied him with drinks to keep him in check. 'I was with General Bizimungu and got him a drink,' Rusesabagina recalled in an interview with the Sunday Times in 2005. 'He then told one of his bodyguards, "Go up there and tell those boys that anyone who kills a person in this hotel, I will kill him -- anyone who fires even one shot, I will shoot him." I am not ashamed to say that I have shared a drink with General Bizimungu. If I had not, I could not have saved people. I had to.' The court on Tuesday dismissed Bizimungu's not guilty plea and sentenced him to 30 years in prison. Martin Ngoga, Rwanda's chief prosecutor, told Reuters: 'It is a welcome decision by the ICTR. In its own circumstances that is a big sentence, even if many people would think he deserved the highest.' The court ordered the release of Ndindiliyimana, given his command over the police was limited and because he had consistently supported reconciliation before 1994 and opposed the massacres. He had already spent 11 years in jail following his arrest in Belgium in 2000. [...]"


"A protester holds a sign while attending a rally near the courthouse in Benghazi, Libya, on Saturday, May 14. The protesters were calling on the International Criminal Court to issue arrest warrants for Libya's leader Muammar Qaddafi." (Mohammed Salem/Reuters)
Wanted by ICC Prosecutor for "Crimes against Humanity": Qaddafi
By Scott Peterson
The Christian Science Monitor, May 16, 2011
"The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) today called upon judges to issue arrest warrants for Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam, and intelligence chief Abdullah al-Sanoussi for 'widespread and systematic attacks' that have left thousands of Libyans dead. 'The evidence shows that Muammar Qaddafi personally ordered attacks on unarmed Libyan civilians,' said Luis Moreno-Ocampo in The Hague, whose office today presented a 74-page dossier detailing the regime's conduct in the uprising that began three months ago. 'His orders are binding ... it's a crime to challenge Qaddafi's authority, and he uses his authority to commit the crimes.' The prosecutor's office had 'documented how the three held meetings to plan and direct operations' that included shooting unarmed demonstrators and hunting, imprisoning, and torturing suspected dissidents, he said. Based on those and other findings, judges will decide in coming weeks whether to issue international arrest warrants for those three Libyans who bear 'most responsibility' for civilian deaths. The prosecutor said he is continuing investigations into charges of rape and other war crimes, adding that there would be 'no impunity' for the Qaddafi regime in Libya.

Monday, May 16, 2011


"Shia Muslims protest during a funeral in Sitra, Bahrain. The island nation is convulsed by hatred." (AFP/Getty Images)
Bahrain Is Trying to Drown the Protests in Shia Blood
By Patrick Cockburn
The Independent, May 15, 2011
"'Let us drown the revolution in Jewish blood' was the slogan of the tsars when they orchestrated pogroms against Jews across Russia in the years before the First World War. The battle-cry of the al-Khalifa monarchy in Bahrain ever since they started to crush the pro-democracy protests in the island kingdom two months ago might well be 'to drown the revolution in Shia blood.' Just as the tsars once used Cossacks to kill and torture Jews and burn their synagogues, so Bahrain's minority Sunni regime sends out its black-masked security forces night after night to terrorise the majority Shia population for demanding equal political and civil rights. Usually troops and police make their raids on Shia districts between 1am and 4am, dragging people from their beds and beating them in front of their families. Those detained face mistreatment and torture in prison. One pro-democracy activist, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, brought before a military court last week with severe facial injuries, said he had suffered four fractures to the left side of his face, including a broken jaw that needed four hours' surgery. The suppression of the protests came after Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Co-operation Council -- also known as the 'kings' club' of six Gulf monarchs -- sent 1,500 troops to Bahrain to aid the crackdown, which began on 15 March. It soon became clear that the government is engaged in a savage onslaught on the entire Shia community -- some 70 per cent of the population -- in Bahrain. First came a wave of arrests with about 1,000 people detained, of whom the government claims some 300 have been released, though it will not give figures for those still under arrest. Many say they were tortured and, where photographs of those who died under interrogation are available, they show clear marks of beating and whipping.


"A video grab taken from footage uploaded to YouTube." (Agence France-Presse)
Syria: Mass Grave Found in Dera'a
The Telegraph, May 16, 2011
"Syria's brutal crackdown against pro-democracy protests took a chilling turn on Monday with the discovery of a mass grave in Dera'a, the town at the heart of two-month-long protests, an activist said. 'The army today allowed residents to venture outside their homes for two hours daily,' said Ammar Qurabi of the National Organisation for Human Rights in Syria.'They discovered a mass grave in the old part of town but authorities immediately cordoned off the area to prevent residents from recovering the bodies, some of which they promised would be handed over later,' he said on the phone from Cairo. Qurabi said the Syrian regime must bear full responsibility for the crimes committed against 'unarmed' citizens and urged the international community and civil society to pressure it to stop the 'brutal repression' of its people. He was unable say how many people were buried in the alleged mass grave. His account could not be independently verified as Syrian authorities have all but sealed off the country to foreign journalists amid a brutal crackdown against unprecedented protests threatening the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Qurabi said that 34 people had also been killed in the past five days in the towns of Jassem and Inkhil, near Dera'a. 'I fear that dozens more casualties may be lying in nearby wheat fields and orchards because families have not been able to access the region which is encircled by security troops and snipers,' he said. The unrest in Syria first erupted in Damascus on March 15 but was promptly put down and soon spread to Dera'a and across the country with protesters emboldened by the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. More than 850 people, including women and children, have been killed and at least 8,000 arrested as security forces crack down on the protest movements, according to rights groups.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

"A child amid the ghastly debris of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The bodies of four hundred Tutsis were found at this church in Ntarama." (Getty Images)

Making Plans to Stop Mass Murder
By Nathan Hodge
The Wall Street Journal, May 10, 2011
"Harvard professor Sarah Sewall has pushed the Pentagon to have a plan on the shelf for responding to mass atrocities, ethnic cleansing and genocide. Now, with Libya as a backdrop, her efforts are beginning to bear fruit. The U.S. has launched a high-level initiative to make the military more ready and able to respond to potential mass killings. A senior Department of Defense official said the project, which is at an early stage, would help develop 'a complete set of options that the leadership can consider in the preventive area before it comes to sending in the military, or not sending in the military.' Since 2007, Prof. Sewall has led a tight-knit group of academics, policy makers and military officers lobbying the Pentagon to embrace a handbook that details, step by step, the options for sending in the cavalry to protect civilians. She and her allies are pitching the plan at conferences, in war games and at military headquarters, urging the U.S. to incorporate the lexicon and principles of genocide prevention into military planning. The emerging doctrine is a blueprint for an interventionist foreign policy that places such ideas as 'responsibility to protect' on a par with the principles of realpolitik. It falls within a broader debate in international politics, and at the United Nations, about balancing state sovereignty with the desire to protect civilians. But on the definition of an atrocity, the atrocity handbook is agnostic, leaving it up to government leaders to decide how much killing is too much. According to the foreword, the document 'is concerned with answering the "how," not the "whether."' As with the classic definition of pornography, users of the handbook are expected to know genocide when they see it. In theory, the handbook can be pulled off the shelf, offering what are presented as formulas for thinking about the use of military force: when to step up peacekeeping and monitoring of a volatile situation; when to position forces as a deterrent or begin enforcing a no-fly zone; when to go in heavy with ground forces, pursuing and arresting war criminals. It even provides the organizational charts for an anti-genocide task force, which could be scaled from a modest intervention of 2,000 troops to a contingent of 25,000. [...]"
[n.b. Thanks to Jill Mitchell for bringing this source to my attention.]

Monday, May 09, 2011

United States / Rwandan Genocide

"Lazare Kobagaya, 84, is on trial in Federal District Court, accused of lying about his activities in Rwanda 17 years ago." (Jeff Tuttle/Associated Press)

In Kansas Courtroom, Echoes of Rwanda Genocide
By James C. McKinley Jr.
The New York Times, May 8, 2011
"The faces in the jury box are a cross-section of southern Kansas. The judge has a white beard, wears a bow tie and speaks in the straightforward language of the Great Plains. One defense lawyer favors cowboy boots and sometimes dons bolo ties. Lazare Kobagaya, 84, is on trial in Federal District Court, accused of lying about his activities in Rwanda 17 years ago. But they are listening to testimony about a place and time in a village half a world away. On the stand, a diminutive Rwandan man with gold-rimmed glasses talks in his native language about how he participated in the murder of his neighbors during the ethnic massacres in Rwanda 17 years ago. The witness, Valens Murindangabo, is asked about a moment on April 17, 1994, when two Tutsi teenagers were captured by Hutu men in some woods. He glances at the defendant, Lazare Kobagaya, an octogenarian with a cane, whose gray head can barely be seen above the back of his chair. 'Kobagaya said, "Wipe them out, kill them,"' Mr. Murindangabo testifies. Then he says one of the men hacked the boys to death with a machete near a watering hole while Mr. Kobagaya watched from a few yards away. The defendant puts his palm to his forehead and shakes his head sadly. He dabs tears from his eyes with a handkerchief. With this testimony, and more to come over the next two months, a federal court jury will hear a detailed account of how the 1994 genocide in Rwanda was carried out in a single village near the mountainous African country’s southern border with Burundi. The jurors have been asked to decide whether Mr. Kobagaya, a former teacher and mill owner born in Burundi, incited local Hutu farmers to turn on their Tutsi neighbors in the turbulent days of April 1994. The Hutu president had died in a plane wreck, and Hutu hard-liners in the government began a genocide against Tutsi civilians, killing as many as 800,000, while a Tutsi rebel army renewed its offensive. The defense has argued that Mr. Kobagaya never participated in the mass killings but has been falsely accused by various villagers who did take part and received reduced sentences in Rwandan prisons for pointing the finger at him and others. 'What they found in the course of their investigation was a group of killers willing to make accusations,' Melanie Morgan, a defense lawyer, said in opening statements. Mr. Kobagaya, who is 84, is not being charged with genocide but with lying to immigration officials about his involvement to obtain American citizenship in 2006. Prosecutors say that he claimed on immigration forms that he lived in Burundi in 1994 and that he denied ever committing a crime. [...]"

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Egypt / Violence against Christians

"Firemen fight a fire at a church surrounded by angry Muslims in the Imbaba neighborhood in Cairo late Saturday, May 7, 2011. Christians and Muslims fought in the streets of western Cairo in violence triggered by word of a mixed romance, Egypt's official news agency reported." (AP Photo)
Mobs Set Egypt Churches on Fire, 12 Killed
By Sarah El Deeb
Associated Press dispatch on Yahoo! News, May 8, 2011
"Muslim mobs set two churches on fire overnight in Cairo during sectarian clashes that left 12 dead and more than 200 injured. The deepening religious violence in military-ruled Egypt added news tensions to an already chaotic and lawless transition to democracy. Military authorities arrested 190 people, immediately sending them to military prosecutions and threatening the maximum penalty against anyone attacking houses of worship. It was the military's toughest response yet to a series of violent clashes between the two religious groups and signifies swift justice. Mobs of ultraconservative Muslims attacked the St. Menas church in the Cairo slum of Imbaba late Saturday following rumors that a Christian woman married to a Muslim man had been abducted. Local residents said a separate mob of youths armed with knives and machetes attacked the Virgin Mary church several blocks away with firebombs. 'People were scared to come near them,' said local resident Adel Mohammed, 29, who lives near the Virgin Mary Church. 'They looked scary. They threw their firebombs at the church and set parts of it ablaze.' During Egypt's 18-day uprising that ousted former President Hosni Mubarak several months ago, there was a rare spirit of brotherhood between Muslims and Christians. Each group protected the other during prayer sessions in Cairo's Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the revolution. But in the months that followed the toppling of Mubarak on Feb. 11, there has been a sharp rise in sectarian tensions, fueled in part by newly active ultraconservative Muslim movement, known as the Salafis. The once quiescent Salafis have become more assertive post-revolution in trying to spread their ultraconservative version of an Islamic way of life. In particular, they have focused their wrath on Egypt's Christians, who make up 10 percent of the country's 80 million people. On Friday, a few hundred Salafis marched through Cairo celebrating al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and condemning the US operation that killed him. Egypt's state news agency said of those killed, at least six Muslims and at least three Christians were among those killed. The body of one Christian was found inside the St. Menas church, the agency said. The Health Ministry said 12 had died and more than 230 were injured, at least 11 of them critically.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

North Korea

North Korean Prison Camps Massive and Growing
By Mark McDonald
The New York Times, May 4, 2011
"New satellite images and firsthand accounts from former political prisoners and former jailers in North Korea have confirmed the enormous scale and bleak conditions of the penal system in the secretive North, according to a report released Wednesday by the human rights group Amnesty International. A satellite image shows the Yodok prison camp in North Korea, mentioned in an Amnesty International report released Wednesday. The report estimates that the North's network of political prisons holds 200,000 prisoners. Former inmates at the political labor camp at Yodok, North Korea, said they were frequently tortured and had been forced to watch the executions of fellow prisoners, the report said, noting that the North's network of political prisons is estimated to hold 200,000 inmates. 'North Korea can no longer deny the undeniable,' said Sam Zarifi, the Asia Pacific director of Amnesty International. 'For decades, the authorities have refused to admit to the existence of mass political prison camps. These are places out of sight of the rest of the world.' The report says that almost all of the human rights protections that international law has tried to set up for the past 60 years 'are ignored.' After comparing recent satellite photos of prison camps with images from 10 years ago, Mr. Zarifi said, Amnesty International became concerned that the 'prison camps appear to be growing.' North Korea's work farms and prison factories are the world's most notorious, according to human rights experts. Political prisoners sentenced to hard labor initially included landlords, purged party officials and the religiously active, according to Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland, the authors of 'Witness to Transformation,' an authoritative study of North Korean refugees. Political prisons, they said, also now hold 'anyone guilty of political or ideological crimes or even suspected of disloyalty,' adding that the system shows 'little pretense of due process.'