Israel: Say No to Detention Without Charge or Trial

Khader AdnanAs Palestinian hunger striker Khader Adnan verged dangerously on the border between life and death, much of the world turned its collective gaze toward Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

Adnan, who was arrested at his home in the occupied West Bank in the middle of the night, had been sustaining a 66 day hunger strike in protest of his treatment by the Israel Security Agency (ISA) and his detention without charge or trial.

Onlookers breathed a collective sigh of relief when Adnan’s lawyer reached an agreement with Israeli authorities on February 21st, prompting the dying man to halt his strike. The state has reportedly agreed not to extend Khader Adnan’s four-month “administrative detention” unless “significant” new evidence emerges, and has said that it will count the days he served in detention before the order was issued on January 10.


Myanmar: Repression at Home, Starvation Abroad

A 50-year-old refugee mother sitting beside a pot of rice that she got from begging – all the food her family of four will have for the entire day. Her husband was arrested by Bangladeshi police for stepping outside the makeshift camp at Kutupalong. She had not seen him in 15 days. (c) Physicians for Human Rights

A 50-year-old refugee mother sitting beside a pot of rice that she got from begging – all the food her family of four will have for the entire day. Her husband was arrested by Bangladeshi police for stepping outside the makeshift camp at Kutupalong. She had not seen him in 15 days. (c) PHR

For the first time in twenty years, Myanmar (Burma) is preparing for elections.  To prevent another loss to the National League for Democracy like in 1990, the military junta has begun its crackdown on opposition forces and passed new election laws in order to solidify a win this fall.  The new laws have not only annulled the results of the 1990 election, but have also banned political prisoners, civil servants and monks from being affiliated with political parties and thereby standing in the polls.  Much of the recent news coverage and the State Department’s release of the Human Rights country Report on Myanmar today, has focused on the domestic situation leading up to the elections and prospects for future engagement with the West.  All the while, the often catastrophic situation for Burmese refugees in neighboring countries has largely gone unnoticed.  Concerned about a large increase in refugees leading up to the election, the Bangladeshi government has decided to adopt questionable practices that violate human rights to dissuade an influx of Burmese coming across its border. 

Refugees Face Humanitarian Crisis
Physicians for Human Rights’ (PHR) new Stateless and Starving report, calls attention to the campaign of discrimination being waged by the Bangladeshi government against Rohingya refugees and the humanitarian crisis faced by refugees.  Although the number of Burmese refugees in Bangladesh is said to number between 200,000 and 400,000, there are only 28,000 officially registered refugees in jointly administered UNHCR and Government of Bangladesh camps.  Since Rohingya refugees were not granted protective status after 1993, the “illegal” refugees have been subject to arbitrary arrest, illegal expulsion, and forced internment.  In addition to these human rights violations, PHR has documented that the Bangladeshi government has been actively blocking humanitarian aid which has contributed to the squalid living conditions and malnutrition of Burmese refugees.

Physicians for Human Rights is asking everyone to participate in its online action  to end the expulsion of Burmese refugees and ensure the delivery of critically needed food aid. We need to make sure that if Burmese escape the repressive confines of their own country they are not facing the same discrimination and human rights abuses outside or are being forcibly returned to Myanmar where their human rights are jeopardized.

Who Really Killed Brad Will?

Brad Will ©AI

Brad Will ©AI

This week is the anniversary of the death of Brad Will, a US video journalist who was shot and killed in Mexico on October 27, 2006. When he was killed, Bradley Roland Will was in Oaxaca City, in southern Mexico, filming a clash between members of a local protest movement (Asamblea Popular del Pueblo de Oaxaca, APPO) and supporters and officials of the local governing party. Three years later, Amnesty International believes that the truth about Brad Will’s death has still not come out. Juan Manuel Martínez, an APPO sympathizer, has been detained pending trial since October 2008 for Will’s murder. However, experts from Physicians for Human Rights and the National Human Rights Commission have concluded that Will was not shot at close range, and Martinez is said to have been standing right next to him when the shooting happened. Amnesty International believes the evidence against Martinez is flawed and he is a being used as a scapegoat.

The tragedy and injustice of Brad Will’s death and Juan Manuel Martínez’s unfounded prosecution are part of the failure to investigate and hold to account those responsible for widespread human rights violations committed in Oaxaca in 2006 and 2007.


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.

War Crimes in Afghanistan. Or: What You Don't Learn in Science Class

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) demonstrated in a more than impressive way this week how science and technology can advance the cause of human rights. Using forensic analysis and satellite imagery, they did an excellent job in documenting a war crime—and the subsequent US supported cover-up—in Afghanistan, where in the wake of the US led invasion in 2001 hundreds of prisoners of war were killed by a US backed warlord and dumped in a mass grave in Dasht-e-Leili. Check out this must see video:

The New York Times has covered the story in an extensive piece last weekend. PHR has set up its own website, where you can also urge Attorney General Eric Holder to halt the cover-up.  The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)—who supported the project and with whom AIUSA’s own Science for Human Rights project has a longstanding partnership—also provided a detailed analysis of the gravesite and its cover-up. Here’s a quick summary of the story:

In 2002, PHR investigators discovered the presence of a mass grave site in Dasht-e-Leili, outside of the city of Sheberghan in northern Afghanistan.  The grave site is reported to contain anywhere from hundreds to thousands of Taliban prisoners of war. Forensic analysis suggests that most of the prisoners died from suffocation. They reportedly died while inside closed metal shipping containers.

Upon returning to the site in 2008, Stefan Schmitt, Director of PHR’s International Forensic Program, noticed that the mass grave might have been tampered with.  To gather additional evidence, PHR requested satellite imagery from the area, which showed two sizeable pits, compromising the original area. The satellite imagery obtained by the AAAS indicated that there was earth-moving equipment present on August 5, 2006 along with one of two new pits.  Later imagery on October 24, 2007, revealed the second pit in the same location as the earth-moving equipment from August 5.  

The left image shows the Dasht-e-Leili site on August 5, 2006, and indicates one open pit visible at the mass grave site, with two likely vehicles atop the area which would become the second pit. The right image shows the Dasht-e-Leili site on October 24, 2007, with both open pits visible. © 2009 Digital Globe. Images taken from


The Bush Administration discouraged any attempts to investigate the episode, as the warlord suspected of committing the crimes, Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, was on the C.I.A.’s payroll, while his militia worked alongside the United States Special Forces in 2001.  The Department of State has urged the Obama administration to oppose Gen. Dostum’s reappointment in the Afghani government; however the president has yet to take action on this issue.
As we still wait for the President to ensure accountability for past human rights violations of the Bush administration, this is another test of Obama’s commitment to human rights.  It will be interesting to see if the administration fully investigates the 2001 killings in Afghanistan, at a time when Obama is sending an additional 21,000 more troops to battle the increasing Taliban insurgency. A first response by Obama to PHR’s work seems at least promising.

Jacki Mowery contributed to this post

As Zimbabwe turns 29, statements are not enough

As originally posted on the Daily Kos

In advance of talks with Zimbabwe’s finance minister Tendai Biti next weekend in Washington DC, the World Banks Robert Zoellick shared his assessment of the situation:

Zimbabwe is at a very sensitive point and we want it succeed. But that is going to require steps by all of the members of the Zimbabwe’s institutions to restore democracy, restore human rights.

Reading these statements I remembered a recent chat with Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) Executive Director Frank Donaghue who was in Zimbabwe a few months ago. His explanations and PHR’s report leave no doubt over the gravity of the situation and who is responsible for ruining the country’s economy – and with it its health system:

The health and healthcare crisis in Zimbabwe is a direct outcome of the malfeasance of the Mugabe regime and the systematic violation of a wide range of human rights, including the right to participate in government and free elections and egregious failure to respect, protect and fulfill the right to health. The findings contained in this report show, at a minimum, violations of the rights to life, health, food, water, and work. When examined in the context of 28 years of massive and egregious human rights violations against the people of Zimbabwe under the rule of Robert Mugabe, they constitute added proof of the commission by the Mugabe regime of crimes against humanity.

At the same conference where I met with PHR, the leaders of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) spoke about their human rights activism. WOZA represents some of the country’s most courageous human rights defenders. Compared to them, I feel like a wannabe activist. Harassed several times for their activism, they remain at risk of arbitrary arrest and intimidation. Their commitment and leadership is probably the biggest sign of hope for Zimbabwe, and the least we can do is to show them our support and sympathy, and share their story.

The country’s destroyed health system and the ongoing persecution of human rights defenders are painful reminders how far the country still has to go. The International Crisis Group (ICG) released a new report just moments ago, stating that:

If the international community stands back with a wait-and-see attitude, the unity government is likely to fail, and Mugabe and the military establishment will entrench themselves again. There should be no alternative to engagement to address pressing socio-economic needs, reinforce new hope and prevent a return to violence and repression.

Obviously, the ICG focuses on the major players in international politics and ignores that the international community includes all of us. So if you don’t want to wait for national governments or international institutions to make a move, here’s your opportunity.

By Christoph Koettl, Crisis Prevention and Response Campaigner at Amnesty International USA

DISCLAIMER: the opinions written above are the author’s alone and should not be considered official Amnesty International policy.