Ivory Coast On The Brink

A week after the Ivory Coast’s presidential election, both candidates have declared victory, sworn themselves in and appointed cabinets. Unfortunately, this means a return to violence and instability for the country’s civilians, many of whom hoped this election would mark an end to the conflict, which split the country in 2002. Instead, clashes between supporters of both parties and the security forces have led to 20 people being shot dead. Among the dead are Bayo Alassane, a man who was shot while on his way to buy cigarettes, and Kaboré Moumouni, a butcher who was shot en route to work. Additionally, the insecurity has led many warehouses to close, leading to shortages of meat, fish, gas and cooking oil and prices of sugar, beef and potatoes skyrocketing. Russia today blocked a statement by the UN Security Council that would have recognized challenger Alassane Ouattara as the winner.

Security forces have fired live rounds at protesters © APGraphicsBank

Moreover, with no indication that a compromise is near between the incumbent Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara, this violence isn’t likely to stop any time soon. In fact, with the rebel army that has controlled northern Ivory Coast since 2002 aligned with Ouattara, the Ivorian army aligned with Gbagbo and armed militias on both sides, a continued impasse could lead to massive violence.

The Ivory Coast’s security forces, rebel army and armed militias must oblige by international standards and protect the country’s civilians.

A Week in Politics

"Congress"As the dust settles on the midterm election we thought it might be useful to take a moment to assess what implications the results have for the Counter Terror with Justice (CTWJ) campaign.

Economic woes dominated election stump speeches and national security issues were surprisingly little addressed by either main party. However, the changed political landscape is going to have a real impact on our issues.

The likely accession of Lamar Smith (R-Texas) to the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee is going to present further obstacles to the administration’s attempts to close the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay. Smith took the opportunity in his first press statement after the election to pledge that keeping the prison open for business would be one of his top priorities for the coming session.

Republican staffers on the Senate Select Intelligence Committee have already begun to investigate the security regimes under which former GTMO detainees cleared for release are currently living in the European countries that stepped forward to offer them sanctuary. We can expect to see security concerns raised in an effort to block the further release of cleared detainees.

Another troubling outcome of the vote was the election to the House of Representatives of Allen West (R-Florida) whose war record in Iraq one would have thought would have disqualified him from office. In August 2003 Lt. Col. West stood by and watched his men beat up an Iraqi suspect, Yehiya Kadoori Hamoodi. He then threatened to kill Hamoodi, drawing his own handgun and discharging it next to the prisoner’s head.

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A Birthday in Evin Prison – an opportunity to remember Iran's prisoners

By Ann Harrison, East Gulf researcher for Amnesty International
(As posted to livewire)

Shiva Nazar Ahari

To coincide with the 12 June anniversary of the disputed election last year in Iran, Amnesty International has prepared a campaign to highlight the situation of political prisoners, many of whom are prisoners of conscience, who are still held in Iran.

The year-long campaign was launched on Wednesday by a report which detailed the journey from protest to prison of ever-increasing numbers of Iranians.

For the campaign, we are highlighting the cases of several individuals whose experience epitomizes the injustices – arbitrary arrest, torture and other ill-treatment, unfair trial and even the death penalty – suffered by hundreds of others.

One of these is Shiva Nazar Ahari, a human rights defender, detained since December 2009, her second arrest since the election.

She is celebrating her 26th birthday in Evin Prison today – a name synonymous with the system of injustice that prevails in Iran. Colleagues and I will be remembering Shiva on her special day with a cake and birthday wishes.

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Southern Africa Year in Review 2009

Waiting in line to vote. Amnesty International.

Waiting in line to vote. ©Amnesty International

As 2009 winds down, here’s a wrap up of the year’s highlights from the southern Africa region. From elections, to assassinations, to elections, to awards ,to elections, to boycotts, to elections, to what was all in all a fairly smooth year compared to what might have been, here are a few notes about human rights conditions in the 12 countries we monitor for Amnesty International USA.

Angola
Angola was supposed to hold presidential elections this year but didn’t. Current (and for the last 30 years) president, dos Santos, said constitutional reform must come first and this will take another two years.  Constitutional reform=good. Using it as an excuse to delay democratic elections=bad.

Forced evictions continued in 2009 in Angola. Amnesty International continues to call for an end to illegal evictions and for just compensation for forcibly displaced persons in Angola.

On a positive note, Prisoner of Conscience Fernando Lelo was released this year. Lelo is a journalist imprisoned for criticizing above noted president. However, those who were tried and convicted with him remain incarcerated. Lelo directly credited Amnesty activists for their efforts on his behalf. Pat yourselves on the back for a job well done!

Botswana
Botswana held elections this year. Khama was elected to a new term, after finishing out the term of his predecessor. Major concerns in Botswana continue to be media restrictions, repression of labor unions, displacement of indigenous persons and high HIV infection rates. But Khama does his fair share of criticizing regional leaders and tweaking the nose of Zimbabwe’s President Mugabe. He mailed a congratulatory letter to the ladies of Women of Zimbabwe Arise following their win of the RFK Human Rights Award this year.

Guinea Bissau
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Mozambique Rocks the Vote

Mozambique goes to the polls tomorrow in its fourth general election since independence from Portugal in 1975. Parliamentary control and the Presidency are up for grabs. Election observors from the African Union, the Commonwealth and the Southern African Development Community have arrived to monitor the elections. Which is good, because so far things have been a bit bumpy.

President Armando Guebuza of the governing Frelimo party is being challenged by Afonso Dhlakama, leader of Renamo, and Daviz Simango, mayor of Beira city and founder of the Mozambican Democratic Movement. Seventeen parties and two coalitions are meanwhile in the running for seats in the Mozambican parliament and, for the first time, provincial assemblies.

So far, there have been several incidents of violence between supporters of Frelimo and Renamo, resulting in harm to persons and property. Several people have been hospitalized or forced to seek medical attention while offices have been vandalized and property stolen. Violence is often a serious issue in Mozambique; Amnesty International has documented many incidents of extra-judicial killings by the police with few prosecutions of the perpetrators and no justice for the victims or their families.

Mozambique has recently been praised by the International Monetary Fund for its economic policies and last month President Guebuza chaired the World Climate Conference, taking a strong stand on the need for new environmental policies to address climate change. Emerging in 1992 from a devastating civil war, Mozambique is now poised to take strong strides in the region and become a leader on climate change, tourism and economic development (despite the nation’s current continuing desperate poverty). Let’s hope a free and fair election unmarred by further violence or human rights violations speeds Mozambique further along this path.

Mugabe Says Things in Zimbabwe are Just Fabulous

President Robert Mugabe granted an interview to CNN reporter Christiane Amanpour today – his first interview with a Western news agency in years. Mugabe spoke to Amanpour while he was in New York attending the UN General Assembly meeting. The interview yielded many choice soundbites. Here are a few of my favorites:

He denied that Zimbabwe is in economic shambles, saying it grew enough food last year to feed all its people. Which is interesting because the World Food Program is busily feeding 1.8 million people in Zimbabwe and Malawi is busily selling maize to Zimbabwe because it needs to import food to feed its citizens.

In refuting criticisms leveled against his government’s policies by Bishop Desmond Tutu, Mugabe said  “He doesn’t know what he’s talking about, the little man.” Hmmm. The Nobel Peace Prize committee might refute that assertion.

Elections don’t go all that smoothly all the time in many countries,” he said. “Look what happens elsewhere. They didn’t go smoothly here, look at what happened during the first term of Bush.” Ok. Valid that elections don’t always go smoothly. However, if you are going to point specifically at the Bush/Gore contest as your comparative example, you might want to think again; because even though many of us were pretty darn unhappy with how things went down, there are some very stark differences between Zimbabwe in 2008 and the US in 2000.

First, not going “smoothly” is probably a pretty good description of events in the US whereas it masterfully understates events in Zimbabwe. In the time between the actual vote and the final determination of who won, people were not killed, tortured and sexually assaulted in the US in an attempt to create an atmosphere of political intimidation.

Second, our political stand off was resolved by the US Supreme Court and ended with a peaceful transfer of power (whether we wanted it or not). In Zimbabwe, Mugabe had his arm twisted into a power sharing agreement and then signed that agreement with his fingers crossed behind his back.

Now I’m not ever going to say that things are all sweetness and light and wonderful in the US, but I do think Mugabe could have come up with a slightly better comparison if he wanted to make a point that elections don’t always go “smoothly.”

You can watch the interview here and respond in our comments section with your favorite moments.

Angola, Meet Secretary Clinton

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Angola today on the latest stop of her seven nation tour. Our Country Specialist Jen Ziemke contributed these comments regarding issues Secretary Clinton will hopefully address in her meetings with President dos Santos.

Since 2001, Amnesty International has documented thousands of families forcibly evicted from various neighborhoods in the Angolan capital of Luanda in order to make room for public and private housing projects. These forced evictions were typically carried out without due process of law, including prior notification or consultation and the ability to dispute the evictions in a court of law. Nearly all of the evictions were accompanied by excessive use of force. Officials specifically targeted poor families who had little access to the means of securing their tenure. Angola is a party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and should honor its obligations to ensure its citizen’s rights to an adequate standard of living are protected.

President Jose Eduardo dos Santos previously scheduled presidential elections for late 2009, but recent reports indicate these elections will be delayed again until at least 2010. Secretary Clinton must ensure that the US will be carefully monitoring the upcoming election process and demand that the elections to be held as soon as possible. Furthermore, President dos Santos must give all candidates and eligible parties equal access to media and campaigning and organizational resources, without fear of intimidation.

Whenever they take place, the elections will be the first presidential elections since 1992′s failed attempt that led to escalating violence and a resumption of civil war. The likelihood of violence is not as high as during that time, and it should be noted that in September 2008, legislative elections remained free from violence and were considered “generally credible.” Those elections, however, were marred by state-run media affording undue advantage to the incumbent party. Indeed the incumbent MPLA won over 80% of the vote.

Furthermore, reports that the freedom and security of human rights defenders, associations, and journalists is not being protected under the current leadership in Angola is of great concern. This is a good example of where Secretary Clinton can relay the message that, in order for the upcoming presidential elections to be considered valid in the eyes of the world, the treatment of journalists, advocates, student groups, human rights defenders and other members of civil society must improve.

The release of journalists like José Fernando Lelo from prison could also help bolster Angola’s human rights reputation. Lelo’s work is an example of a critical voice from civil society being silenced by the authorities. On September 19, 2008, Lelo was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment by a military court in Cabinda, Angola, after being convicted of crimes against the security of the state. Amnesty International believes his arrest and conviction were politically motivated, his trial unfair, and thereby we consider him a prisoner of conscience and call for is unconditional release from prison.

Humanitarian organizations operating in Angola also face uphill battles because their ability to operate is being infringed. In April 2008, the Director General of the Technical Unit for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance, a government department, announced that the government would soon stop the activities of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) “without a social impact”. In July he accused several NGOs of inciting violence and threatened to ban them: the Association for Justice, Peace and Democracy (Associação de Justiça, Paz e Democracia, AJPD); Mãos Livres; the Open Society Foundation (Fundação Open Society); and SOS-Habitat. These organizations have been doing critical work in the area of civil society, forced evictions, and human rights and should not be subject to government intimidation.

Secretary Clinton has the opportunity to help change Angola’s future by correcting its human rights past. We’ll be watching…

The course of justice in Sri Lanka

The Sri Lankan Supreme Court yesterday acquitted five soldiers for the murder of 10 Muslim youths in Udathalawinna on December 5, 2001, during a general election.  The five had been security guards of Anuruddha Ratwatte, the then deputy minister of defence.  Ratwatte and his two sons had earlier been charged for the murders as well but were acquitted in 2006.  Ten young men are dead and no one, to my knowledge, has been convicted for their murder.  Is this how Sri Lanka punishes the guilty?

I couldn’t help thinking of this case when I heard that a verdict is expected on August 31 in the trial of J.S. Tissainayagam, a Sri Lankan journalist.  Tissainayagam is being tried for allegedly violating the country’s emergency regulations and Prevention of Terrorism Act.  The only evidence against him are two articles he wrote in 2006 in a monthly magazine criticizing the government’s conduct of the war against the Tamil Tigers and a confession that his lawyer says was obtained under duress.  Amnesty International has adopted him as a prisoner of conscience and calls for his immediate, unconditional release and for all charges against him to be dropped.  Will we see an acquittal for him on August 31?  Or do acquittals only apply for the powerful and those connected to them?

Ahmedinejad Blames West for Election Unrest

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad gave a speech on state television on Tuesday insisting it due to the meddling of Western nations that violence broke out following the June 12th presidential election. “Our arrogant enemies tried to interfere in our domestic affairs in order to undermine these great elections. The result of their childish acts of interference in Iran’s internal affairs is that the Iranian nation and government will enter the global stage several times more powerful. What they did was very wrong, and some of our people were, unfortunately, hurt.”

20 people were killed in the aftermath of the disputed election results with over 100 people injured and thousands detained. Opposition leaders, including Mir Hussein Mousavi and former President Mohammed Khatami, have released a statement saying such a crackdown would not help his reputation amongst the people. Mousavi also has called on the EU to not recognize Ahmedinejad as a legitimate leader.

In his first public appearance in over a week, Mousavi’s comments suggested that the opposition will now be taking its fight off the streets and into the courtroom– and understandably so. Due to the large-scale crackdown and fear of the government’s seemingly indiscriminate arrests, protests numbered have begun dwindling.

Ahmedinejad continued to dismiss charges of election fraud, stating that, “the people who claimed there was fraud didn’t even have one document” to prove it, that “we have no expectations from

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad gave a speech on state television on Tuesday insisting it due to the meddling of Western nations that violence broke out following the June 12th presidential election. “Our arrogant enemies tried to interfere in our domestic affairs in order to undermine these great elections. The result of their childish acts of interference in Iran’s internal affairs is that the Iranian nation and government will enter the global stage several times more powerful. What they did was very wrong, and some of our people were, unfortunately, hurt.”

20 people were killed in the aftermath of the disputed election results with over 100 people injured and thousands detained. Opposition leaders, including Mir Hussein Mousavi and former President Mohammed Khatami, have released a statement saying such a crackdown would not help his reputation amongst the people. Mousavi also has called on the EU to not recognize Ahmedinejad as a legitimate leader.

Ahmedinejad continued to dismiss charges of election fraud, stating that, “the people who claimed there was fraud didn’t even have one document” to prove it, that “we have no expectations from normal people, but we didn’t expect politicians to question this great epic.”

Samah Choudhury contributed to this post

Everything Happens Twice in Guinea-Bissau

So far this year there have been two rounds of assassinations in Guinea-Bissau. Now there will be two rounds of elections.

The assassination in March of President Vieira forced elections to be held June 28th to determine the new leader. The vote occurred without violence and a 60% voter turn out, but the field of eleven candidates split the vote, leaving no candidate with a majority vote. Both of the remaining candidates are also going for their second round of Presidency. Ruling party candidate Malam Bacai Sanha was interim President from 1999-2000 following one of the many coups riddling Guinea-Bissau’s political history. Kumba Yala was President from 2000-2003 until he was deposed by a coup.

The run-off is projected to be on July 28th. Both candidates have promised to curb the drug trafficking in the country. It remains to be seen whether the army will involve itself in the election outcome.