UN: Release Sri Lanka Panel Report

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Yesterday, the United Nations advisory panel on accountability in Sri Lanka turned over its report to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.  The panel had been established by Ban last June to advise him on how to pursue accountability for reported war crimes and other human rights abuses committed by both the government forces and the opposition Tamil Tigers during Sri Lanka’s brutal civil war (which ended with a government victory in May 2009).

While the Secretary-General’s spokesperson said yesterday that the U.N. intends to make the report public, he didn’t give a timeframe for doing so.  It’s critical that the report be made public as a first step towards achieving accountability.

Amnesty International has been asking the U.N. to establish an international war crimes investigation in Sri Lanka.  This past February, I accompanied Yolanda Foster, the Amnesty researcher on Sri Lanka, and Dr. Kasipillai Manoharan, the father of one of the “Trinco 5” students killed by the security forces in 2006, as we delivered to the U.N. offices in New York over 52,000 signatures on a petition to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calling for such an international investigation.  Above is the trailer of a short film of our trip, which Amnesty has just released.

Please write to Ban Ki-moon and ask him to make the U.N. advisory panel’s report public.  It’s important that the U.N. hears from everyone concerned about truth and justice for the victims and their families in Sri Lanka.

March 21st KEY Date in Human Rights Council for Gaza Conflict Victims

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UPDATE Friday, 3/18/11, 7:35pm: The UN appointed Committee of Independent Experts released their updated assessment of the Israeli and Palestinian domestic investigations into violations of international law committed by Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups during the 2008-2009 Gaza conflict.  It is this assessment which is going to be reviewed and debated by members of the Human Rights Council Monday, March 21st.  (See below).

UPDATE Friday, 3/18/11, 7:25pm: Amnesty Int’l just released their updated assessment of the Israeli and Palestinian domestic investigations.

Original Post: Next Monday, March 21st, the Human Rights Council (HRC) will consider a critical report.  The report assesses the Israeli and Palestinian investigations into serious violations of international law committed by Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups during the 2008-2009 Gaza conflict.

This report is expected to match a similar assessment submitted to the HRC last September that concluded that both the Israeli government and the Palestinian side have failed to carry out investigations that are credible, independent and in conformity with international law.They have also failed to demonstrate a commitment to prosecuting perpetrators.  AI’s assessment concurs with these findings.

Despite clear documentation last September that both Israel and Hamas, the de facto administration in Gaza, were falling short of their obligations, Amnesty was shocked and dismayed to see the Human Rights Council fail to outline a clear plan for accountability and instead opt for delay.

AI wants HRC members to know that AI members worldwide are expecting real results this time.

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Sri Lanka: Release security detainees

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Apart from the issue of war crimes that I’ve written about lately, there’s another urgent human rights crisis in Sri Lanka:  thousands of people are being detained without charge or trial under the country’s repressive anti-terrorism laws.  Some have been held for 10 years or more.

Please write to the Sri Lankan government and ask that all those detained under these laws are either promptly released or else charged with recognizable crimes.  Sri Lanka’s emergency regulations and Prevention of Terrorism Act should be promptly repealed.

 

War Crimes in Sri Lanka: Time for UN to Act

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Delivering the petition to the UN

Last May, Amnesty International launched a global action calling on the UN to establish an international investigation into war crimes and other abuses committed during the war in Sri Lanka.

Both the Sri Lankan government and the opposition Tamil Tigers were responsible for massive human rights abuses and violations of the laws of war during the 26-year conflict.

In response to Amnesty’s call for action, over 52,000 people signed our petition to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon demanding an international investigation as a first step toward accountability for these crimes.

This past Tuesday, Feb. 22, I had the privilege of accompanying Yolanda Foster, the Amnesty researcher on Sri Lanka, and Dr. Kasipillai Manoharan, the father of one of the “Trinco 5” students killed by the security forces in 2006, to the UN offices in New York as we delivered the signed petitions to the UN.  We pressed the UN to act on our petition without delay and let them know we would be following up to make sure an international investigation is promptly established.

The U.S. government has not yet joined Amnesty in our call for an international investigation.  We could use their support.  Please write to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and ask that the U.S.  government encourage the establishment by the UN of an international investigation into war crimes and other abuses in Sri Lanka.  For Dr. Manoharan’s sake and that of all the other families of the victims, we cannot stop campaigning until they receive justice.

The Long Arm of the Law

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Yesterday a spokesman for former US President George W. Bush announced that he was abandoning a planned visit to Switzerland because of “security concerns”.

Although President Bush’s team officially played down the possibility, it seems likely that the decision was taken in part because of fears that he might be arrested by the Swiss authorities. In 2005 former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld cancelled a visit to Munich, Germany, for the same reason.

Last Friday Amnesty International wrote to Genevoise and Swiss federal prosecutors outlining a lengthy and detailed case calling for the local authorities to investigate President Bush for authorizing the use of torture during the ‘war on terror’.

Since President Bush admitted in his memoir Decision Points that he personally ordered the water-boarding of terrorism suspects and water-boarding comfortably falls within the spectrum of acts prohibited by the Convention against Torture (and for that matter domestic US law) this frankly wasn’t a hard case to make.

Switzerland has an obligation under international law arising from the Convention against Torture to investigate these allegations. Switzerland ratified the Torture Convention in 1986 but even if it had not the prohibition of torture, and the duty to investigate suspects, is considered customary international law.

Furthermore, the Bush administration seized on the law of war as the framework within which it pursued Osama bin Laden and there is no statute of limitations on war crimes. Water-boarding, walling and learned compliance all amount to war crimes.

To borrow a turn of phrase used by General Petraeus, President’s Bush’s criminal liability for these abuses is non bio-degradable.

The reports that have emerged from Cairo this past week about the torture and abuse of pro-democracy activists by Egyptian security forces remind us of the company we keep if we allow the use of torture to go unpunished.

Ending impunity for human rights abuses is not a cause we can only pursue overseas. If our values are to have any meaning we must first put our house in order at home.  We can’t just ‘turn the page’.

It can be easy to get discouraged fighting against impunity when progress is most often measured not in years but in decades. However, this weekend we have been reminded that the law has a long arm and that even Presidents can’t ignore its reach.

Amnesty Calls on Iraqi Government to Protect Christians

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As Christmas draws closer, Amnesty International calls on the Iraqi government to protect the country’s Christians who have been threatened, bombed, and displaced since the US invasion in 2003.

In February this year Christian families were killed in their homes in Mosul by unidentified armed groups. Later this year, on October 31, gunmen held worshippers hostage at Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad. After the Iraqi army stormed in, the gunmen detonated their explosive belts, killing more than 40 worshippers, including a priest.

Other places of worship have been bombed as part of the rampant sectarian violence since 2003, such as the attack on the Al-Askari Mosque in Samarra in 2006 and the targeting of various shi’ite shrines across Iraq. Not a month goes by in Iraq without suicide bombings taking the lives of tens of Iraqis of all religions, and injuring hundreds more. In August 60 army recruits of different religions were killed in a suicide bombing at the Baghdad Ministry of Defense Building. In February of this year 40 shi’ite pilgrims were killed, and in July another 28 pilgrims were killed in a suicide attack. More than 400 people were killed in bombings at Al-Qahtaniyya and other Yazidi villages in 2007.

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Call your Senators TODAY on War Crimes in Sri Lanka

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Update:  the letter was sent to Secretary Clinton on Dec. 10, with 17 signatories!  Here’s who signed:  Sherrod Brown, Burr, Murray, Hutchison, Casey, Gillibrand, Hagan, Cornyn, Mikulski, Cardin, Lieberman, Lautenberg, Boxer, Feingold, Coons, Manchin and Menendez.  Thanks to everyone who lobbied your Senator!

A Congressional sign-on letter is circulating in the Senate now, sponsored by Senators Sherrod Brown and Richard Burr.  The letter asks Secretary Clinton to publicly call for an independent international investigation into war crimes and other abuses committed during the war in Sri LankaAmnesty International has been campaigning for such an international investigation for the past several months.  Amnesty has received credible, consistent reports that both the Sri Lankan government forces and the Tamil Tiger rebels committed violations of international humanitarian law, including war crimes, and human rights abuses during the war in Sri Lanka.

This past summer, Amnesty activists supported a similar letter in the House of Representatives, and we obtained 58 co-signers!  It’d be great if we could get a similar success in the Senate.

Here’s how to take action:

1. Call the Congressional switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask to speak to your Senators.  Tell your Senators about the letter and encourage them to support it.

2. If your Senators have Facebook pages or Twitter accounts, encourage them through those platforms to sign on to the letter.

Hey Bush: If Waterboarding's So Great, Put this Video in Your Museum!

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Warning: This video is not suitable for children. Do not try this at home.

Last night in a TV interview former President Bush reiterated that he personally approved waterboarding Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and would do it again.

According to Bush, “the lawyer said it was legal.” Try that defense the next time you’re accused of a crime. It should become one of the great catchphrases of our time, the “Where’s the beef?” of the aughts.

Bush also said waterboarding saved lives. First of all, even if it did it’s still wrong and a crime. Second, where’s the proof?  Actual military interrogators say torture cost American lives.

Bush is just trying to cover his butt from being prosecuted for torture.

Let’s call him out:

Email the waterboarding video above to Bush’s Presidential Library and Museum at  museum.gwbush@nara.gov.

I’m going to include the message “Torture is part of President George W. Bush’s legacy. Please add this video of waterboarding to his museum.”

What will you say? Let us know in the comments.

Still Waiting for Justice for the ACF 17

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Today, Aug. 19, is World Humanitarian Day, designated by the U.N. to honor aid workers around the world.  Today, Amnesty International remembers 17 aid workers killed in Sri Lanka.  Their killers have yet to be brought to justice.

The 17 were local staff of the French aid agency Action contre la Faim (ACF) (Action Against Hunger).  In August 2006, they were executed in the town of Mutur in eastern Sri Lanka, after an intense phase of fighting between the government and the Tamil Tiger rebels.

The Sri Lankan police bungled the criminal investigation into the murders.  A subsequent commission of inquiry failed to identify the killers despite compelling evidence of their identity.  The government blamed the Tigers for the killings although a respected Sri Lankan human rights group provided evidence of the government forces’ involvement.

Last year, I wrote on this site that I hoped that a year later, the ACF 17 would no longer be an example of the ongoing impunity enjoyed by the security forces for human rights abuses.  Well, it’s a year later and that hope hasn’t been fulfilled.

Sri Lanka has time and again failed to effectively investigate and prosecute those responsible for human rights abuses, including war crimes.  Please sign our online petition to the U.N.  calling for an international investigation into war crimes and other human rights abuses in Sri Lanka.  The families of the ACF 17 and the other victims need justice now!

Digging Deeper Into Naomi Campbell’s "Dirty Little Stones"

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By Tom Turner, Country Specialist for Amnesty International USA

Did Naomi Campbell know who Charles Taylor was, before the then president of Liberia gave her a bag of rough diamonds? Did she immediately know that the “dirty little stones” in the bag were in fact diamonds? What did she do next? All of this seems rather far from the concerns of Amnesty International, and perhaps more suited to Entertainment Tonight or TMZ than to a serious news outlet.

As I conceded during an interview on WCCO News Radio 830 (Minneapolis), perhaps we should be grateful for the brief attention to the blood diamonds issue in 2010, which had almost disappeared from view since receiving vast attention in 2006, when the Hollywood film starring Leonardo Di Caprio was earning millions of dollars. In my view, that is not really the case. The film stressed the link between the precious stones and the violence they fueled, albeit in a formulaic manner.

This time, however, the brief news stories and video footage provided too little information to enable the listener or viewer to contextualize the Campbell-Taylor episode. Often, one had to read several paragraphs of celebrity “she said, she said” regarding Campbell, her former assistant, and Mia Farrow, before even learning that all this was taking place in an international courtroom in The Hague (Netherlands).

A diamond merchant shows his wares in Kenema, Sierra Leone. Despite its pledge to support the Kimberley Process and Clean Diamond Trade Act, the Diamond Industry has fallen short of implementing the necessary policies for self-regulation. © Chris Hondros/Getty Images.

Charles Taylor is alleged to have traded weapons for rough diamonds from Sierra Leone and in so doing, to have fueled the civil war in that country. During Sierra Leone’s civil war, approximately 75,000 civilians were killed. Over one-third of the population—two million people—was displaced. More than 5,000 children were recruited to fight in both government and opposition forces. Many civilians suffered amputated limbs.

Former President Taylor stands accused of unlawful killings, mutilations, rape, sexual slavery, the recruitment and use of child soldiers, abduction, and the use of forced labor by Sierra Leonean armed opposition groups, which he is alleged to have actively supported.

Amnesty International supported the Kimberley Process, by which diamonds would be certified conflict-free. It has called on the Kimberley Process to strengthen its commitment to protecting human rights and to improve the peer review mechanism. Amnesty continues to press the governments of Sierra Leone and Liberia to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in their countries. Justice must be done and must be seen to be done.

The diamond industry must be reminded that corporate impunity for past crimes relating to blood diamonds will not be tolerated. This is important, as a sign to the victims and the families that the crimes committed against them are not being forgotten. It is equally important as a warning to the people in the industry that we in the human rights community have our eyes on them and will not be as slow to react next time as we were in the case of Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Tom Turner is Democratic Republic of Congo Country Specialist for Amnesty International USA. He is the author of The Congo Wars: Conflict, Myth and Reality (Zed Books, 2007).