CONTINENT WATCH – For May 2012

Every issue, Motions features updates from the Internation Human Rights Law Society detailing world events in the law.

Europe, Former USSR

Arrest and unlawful detainment of three members of a female Russian punk group called Pussy Riot has raised concerns about freedom of speech and the growing influence of the Orthodox Church over the Russian political scene. The group formed in October 2011 to promote women’s rights and political freedoms in Russia. Its 30 members all maintain strict anonymity due to fear of prosecution. On February 21, 2012, Pussy Riot performed a punk-prayer asking Virgin Mary to chase Putin—soon to be elected for his third presidential term—away while standing on the altar of one of Moscow’s largest cathedrals. The Russian Orthodox Church pressed the court to charge the women with “hooliganism,” a crime under the Russian Criminal Code with a penalty of up to seven years in prison. On April 19, 2012, the court refused to release Pussy Riot members from jail until preliminary investigations finish in mid-June.   By Nika Antonikova

 

Africa, Angola

In Angola, on March 10, 2012 police officers armed with pistols and water cannons were deployed with dog squads around Benguela to quell a mere 60 protesters. In the recent days leading up to the elections, there was another series of violent crackdowns on protestors. Since early December 2011, the anti-incumbent protesters have faced increasing levels of violence and arrests followed by prison sentences for participating in peaceful rallies and civil demonstrations. From dispersing crowds while armed with assault rifles to threatening reporters and activists, police tactics continue to jeopardize free speech and civic involvement in Angola.   By Laurel Holmes

 

North America, United States

The Latino Policy Coalition has filed an official complaint with the United Nations alleging human rights violations by the U.S. government. The complaint highlights the fact that in 2011, 46,000 parents of U.S. citizen children were deported, leaving the children to be put into foster care custody or up for adoption. The complaint states that the actions of the U.S. have shattered families and separated children from their parents. The complaint asks the United Nations to issue a writ of Habeas Corpus requiring President Obama to compile a list of children separated from their parents and to issue an executive order to end the practice.

By Andrew Hamilton

 

Oceania, Fiji

The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), a body made up of nine countries that deals with violations of the Harare Declaration, met to discuss Fiji’s interim government led by Frank Bainimarama. Fiji remains suspended from CMAG because the group concluded that the country does not have adequate elections and has not addressed pressing human rights issues. Although the Fijian government announced a plan to implement an inclusive, transparent, and honest election by September 2014, the group expressed concern that Fijians do not have adequate access to justice and are refused basic freedoms.   By Katherine Pruitt

Middle East, Syria

In the past year, the President of Syria and the King of Bahrain dealt with major political uprisings in their respective States using brutal force. Both regimes systematically tortured, killed, and detained members of the opposition and banned journalists from entering the country to report. Due to the geo-political nature of the uprisings, one has garnished western support including Security Council Resolutions to address the matter, while the other has been silently suppressed, with almost no support by U.S. politicians or foreign media. In Syria, the ruling party is of the Shiite sect of Islam, which makes up only 13% of the population, while the rest of the population is of the Sunni sect. Conversely, in Bahrain, 75% of the population is Shiite and 25% is Sunni, including the ruling Monarchy. The U.S. is currently in dire straits with Iran over its nuclear program. As the dominant majority Shiite nation in the region, Iran is seen as an ally of Syria’s ruling party and a supporter of Bahrain’s Shiite uprising. With Bahrain being of strategic military importance to the U.S., one is left to wonder whether U.S. government support of human rights in the region is secondary to its geo-political interests.   By Kian Meshkat

Asia, North Korea

April 15th marked the “Day of the Sun,” the 100th birthday of Kim Il-sung—late founder of North Korea and grandfather of current Supreme Leader Kim Jung-Un—and the day North Korea was to become a “strong and prosperous nation.” Human rights organizations took advantage of the press associated with the militaristic holiday to illuminate the state’s egregious human rights record by petitioning to the U.N. to investigate the Kwan-li-so, the North Korean gulag system. Approximately 200,000 alleged political dissenters along with three generations of their relatives are detained and face rape, torture, and extra-judicial killings. Prisoners are forced to work under dangerous conditions on rations reportedly as low as 20 grains of corn per day with no medical care. The prisons caused an estimated 400,000 prisoners to die over the past few decades.   By Evan Hearnsberger

North America, Mexico

Human Rights Watch released a 212-page report detailing “widespread human rights violations” in Mexico by the military and police through their participation in the Mexican “war on drugs.” After being elected in 2006, President Felipe Calderon declared “war” on organized crime. The report claims Calderon’s “war” is perpetuating violence and criminal activity. According to Human Rights Watch America’s director Jose Miguel Vivanco, “Mexico’s ‘war on drugs’ has resulted in a dramatic increase in killings, torture, and other appalling abuses by security forces.” The report claims to have evidence linking security forces to over 170 cases of torture, 24 extrajudicial killings, and 39 “disappearances.” The human rights violations have largely been overlooked, primarily due to a lack of civilian prosecution. “These abuses are almost never adequately investigated, yet government officials routinely dismiss the victims as criminal and discount their allegations as false,” says Vivanco. The report was presented earlier this month to Calderon, members of Mexico’s Congress, and the Supreme Court in an effort to end the egregious human rights violations.   By Laura Patrick

 

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