Who Murdered Sakine Cansız?

A woman of Kurdish origin holds a sign reading "Sakine Cansiz, Fidan Dogan, Leyla Soylemez - 3 women militants of the Kurdish cause" during a demonstration and commemoration in honor of the three Kurdish women activists killed yesterday in Paris, on January 10, 2013.

A woman of Kurdish origin holds a sign reading “Sakine Cansiz, Fidan Dogan, Leyla Soylemez – 3 women militants of the Kurdish cause” during a demonstration and commemoration in honor of the three Kurdish women activists killed in Paris on January 10, 2013. (FREDERICK FLORIN/AFP/Getty Images)

On the night of January 9, three women were murdered in the offices of the Kurdistan Information Office in Paris.   According to press accounts, the three were killed execution style, each shot with a bullet to the head.

All of the three women, Sakine Cansız, Fidan Doğan and Leyla Söylemez, were activists, with ties to the Kurdish Workers’ Party, or PKK, and Cansız, the eldest of the group, is one of the founders and leading figures within that organization.

While there is considerable debate as to who killed these women, there is little question that these murders were political in nature.   Most analysts believe that the killings are aimed at scuttling nascent talks between the Turkish government and the PKK aimed at ending a conflict which has cost as many as 40,000 lives and led to countless human rights abuses since it began in 1984.

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Sri Lanka's Killing Fields

Sri Lanka

Civilians, in between Kilinochchi and Mulathiv, Sri Lanka, May 2009, during the last few months of the war. (c) Private

Last night, I watched a harrowing new documentary, “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields,” by Channel 4, a British media company, about the final months of the civil war in Sri Lanka in 2009.

The 49-minute film depicts the massive human rights abuses and violations of the laws of war committed by both the Sri Lankan government forces and the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels.  The film is available online at Channel 4′s website until June 21.

Please note:  some of the scenes in the film are very disturbing.  It is NOT for younger viewers.

The film includes an extended version of the “execution video” released in 2009, in which naked prisoners are shown being shot in the head.  There are scenes of dead female Tamil Tigers who appear to have been raped and murdered.

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Massacre at Rio de Janeiro's Public High School

Earlier today Brazil suffered one of its saddest days in recent history.  It started when Wellington Menezes de Oliveira, a 23-year-old man, invaded a public school in the city of Rio de Janeiro.  He then took the life of a dozen 12- to 14-year old students.  When he was done shooting at others, he killed himself.

The reason of the massacre is unknown, but it is clear that the assassin suffered from some form of physiological disorder.  Rio’s police found in the shooter’s home a letter expressing his final wishes and the ways he wanted to be buried.  The furniture and electrical appliances of his home were also destroyed.

This tragic event reminds us of similar massacres that have taken stage in the USA, such as VA Tech’s episode from 2005.  Just like with past events, the reasons for such bizarre acts are hard to find.  Unfortunately, they are becoming more common.  We ask ourselves many questions.  How could’ve this been avoided? What signs were there to stop this from happening? What could possibly take a young man to resort to such actions? Etc., etc. We all want to know the answers, but at this moment, we must pause and share our thoughts and heartfelt feelings with the victims and their families.

Mexico: Merida Funds Must be Withheld Until Human Rights Conditions Are Met

Amnesty International today urged the US Congress to honor its commitment to withhold 15% of funding of the Merida Initiative until the Mexican government fulfils its human rights obligations. The Mexican government has failed to make sufficient progress in the investigation and prosecution of human rights abuses by security forces. According to the Washington Post, Senator Leahy, Chairman of the Senate Appropriations foreign operations subcommittee, is well aware of the grave human rights situation in Mexico, and does not intend to allow the transfer to go forward if things do not improve.

The Merida Initiative is security co-operation and assistance program through which the USA provides Mexico and Central America with equipment, training and technical assistance to support law enforcement operations. In June 2008, the US Congress stipulated that 15% of the funds to be provided by the US to Mexico in the context of the Merida Initiative must be subject to key human rights conditions, including:

  • Human rights violations perpetrated by military and police personnel to be investigated, prosecuted and tried by civilian prosecutors and judges;
  • Confessions obtained under torture or ill treatment not to be used in the justice system;
  • Civil society to be regularly consulted to make recommendations regarding the fulfilment of the Merida Initiative;
  • Improvement of transparency and accountability of the police force, and establishment of an independent mechanism to denounce abuses.

In addition to a State Department report on the broader human rights situation in Mexico, the US Congress also requested information on the investigation of the killing of US videojournalist Brad Will, whose case Amnesty has worked on for some time. The investigation of Mexico’s Federal Attorney General’s Office (PGR) led to the arrest of man in October 2008. However, the evidence on which the prosecution is based has been disproved by extensive forensic studies carried out by Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) and Physicians for Human Rights. As the time for the approval of Merida Initiative funding approached, the PGR commissioned a team of Canadian experts to carry out a new forensic report. The report, which has no legal standing in the criminal case, was leaked in July 2009 to the press and confirmed, in an almost word-by-word fashion the conclusions of the PGR. Both the CNDH and Physicians for Human Rights have stated that the report has no scientific validity, and Brad Will’s family has issued a statement denouncing the biased PGR investigation.

Given the situation of Brad Will’s case, the continued impunity of those responsible for other serious human rights violations, and the alarming escalation of reports of new abuses, additional US aid would only make things worse. Let’s hope Mexico takes notice and makes some big changes.

Another Life Lost in the Struggle for Human Rights in Russia

Natalia Estemirova © AI

Natalia Estemirova © AI

Human rights activist Natalia Estemirova was murdered Wednesday in the North Caucasus region in Russia. According to BBC News, she was allegedly bundled into a van and abducted as she was leaving her home in Chechnya on Wednesday morning. Her body was found shortly after in Ingushetia. She had been investigating human rights abuses in Russia for some time, working for a human rights organization called Memorial. She focused her efforts particularly on the Chechnya region, where she worked to battle impunity and to gather evidence on an alleged campaign of house-burnings by government-backed militias.

Her murder has occurred just two years after the murder of Russian journalist and human rights activist Anna Politkovskaya in 2007. (See a video of Estemirova remembering Politkovskaya here). Human rights activists in Russia continue to be in danger.

Amnesty grieves the loss of this courageous woman and prominent human rights defender. Many are left shocked and saddened by the incident. It brings to light Amnesty’s growing concern about human rights abuses in Russia. Learn more about Amnesty’s concerns regarding human rights in Russia, and take action.

Terror vs. Terror

“‘In order for the violence to stop, Hamas must stop firing rockets into Israel and agree to respect a sustainable and durable cease-fire,’ a White House spokesman, Gordon D. Johndroe, told reporters in Texas. ‘Hamas has once again shown its true colors as a terrorist organization.’” From “Gaza Toll Passes 350 in 3rd Day of Israel Strikes” in the New York Times.

Again and again we see states try to justify murder with murder, torture with torture, barbarism with barbarism, genocide with genocide.

The words “terror,” “terrorism” and “terrorist” obscure this hypocrisy. What is it that states want to counter by “countering terrorism?” The killing, injuring and frightening of civilians. How are states going to do it? By killing, injuring and frightening civilians? Come on.

The human rights community should drop the “terror” framework. There are individuals, armed groups, unarmed groups, companies, states and groups of states. Some of these terrorize civilians. Some don’t. Let’s stop confusing “who” with “what.”

Or at least let’s insist on using the word “terrorist” to describe all who qualify.