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Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

Category: Sudan

ISRAEL: A welcome to South Sudan ... and maybe a lesson at home

Hundreds of Sudanese and other African asylum seekers and migrants celebrated the independence of South Sudan in Israel on Sunday, flocking from all ends of the country to a southern neighborhood of Tel Aviv, the home away from home for many migrants.

Israel has long been keen to curb the influx of African and other foreign migrants through legislation, occasional repatriation and the sealing of its border with Egypt. The issue generates frequent public debate that touches raw nerves in a society constantly counting heads and beads on a big demographic abacus. And although its treatment of asylum seekers is often criticized by organizations inside and outside the country, Israel is still considered the best deal in the neighborhood.

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LIBYA: Human rights lawyer on Kadafi warrant impact on Arab Spring

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After the International Criminal Court prosecutor's requested arrest warrants for Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi, son Seif Islam and brother-in-law Abdullah Sanussi for crimes against humanity, Babylon & Beyond spoke with Widney Brown, a human rights lawyer and senior director for international law and policy at Amnesty International in London. She helped lobby for passage of the ICC's Rome Statute in 1988 that covers such warrants.

Q: How significant is the prosecutor's request for these ICC warrants?

A: It’s a good sign that being a head of state is not seen as a protection against having a warrant issued when there are signs you have broken the law.

Q: But how effective are these warrants, given that other embattled leaders -- for instance, President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir in Sudan -- have had warrants issued against them and remained in power, traveling the world without being arrested?

A: [Bashir's] world has definitely gotten smaller. But it is distressing to see the number of countries that seem very happy they don’t have to arrest him. He’s being very careful about where he’s going. It’s not a good sign that you can have an outstanding warrant for a year and nothing’s been done.

Q: The warrant for Kadafi would only cover crimes committed since the current conflict began Feb. 15. Could past crimes be included, too?

A: What you have also with Col. Kadafi is not only the crimes he is alleged to have committed in the conflict now, but the crimes he committed in the past, some of which are ongoing. The prosecutor might be able to look at ongoing crimes. It’s not as if there’s going to be a dearth of things to investigate.

Q: What would be considered "ongoing crimes?"

A: For instance, enforced disappearances.

Q: Would that be similar to those disappeared in South America's "dirty wars" in the 1970s?

A: Yes, like in South America's dirty wars. That was when the term was created, when governments found it very effective to disappear people. Quite frankly, that’s what’s happening in Syria now. Why they’re being rounded up is pretextual or illegal. They’re being held incommunicado, they don’t have lawyers and we think they’re being subjected to torture and disappeared into a black hole. Things are worse now in Syria than they were in Libya when they made the Kadafi referral.

Q: So you and Amnesty officials think the ICC should pursue warrants against Syrian officials as well?

A: For the ICC to maintain its legitimacy, it needs to maintain its consistency and not irreparably politicize justice. We have called on the ICC to make a referral on Syria, to refer the situation to the prosecutor.

Q: Why Syria and not other countries in the region, such as Bahrain, Yemen or Egypt?

A: When the military is really turning on civilians in a systematic way, that certainly is a trigger to say this could be crimes against humanity. It’s not to say we’re not looking at evidence we’re  gathering in places like Yemen, Bahrain and northern Iraq to see what evidence there is. All these countries didn’t ratify the Rome Statute. So you want to go to the U.N. with really good evidence. You don't want it to be a case where they cannot defend their own actions in terms of making the referral.

Q: How many countries in the region have not ratified the Rome Statute that allows for these warrants to be issued?

A: The only country that ratified it in the Middle East was Jordan. Egypt and Tunisia have said they will, but they have not deposited instruments of ratification with the U.N. yet.

The interim Egyptian authorities have also said they will investigate and prosecute those responsible for crimes during the revolution.

Q: But how can you guarantee they will investigate fairly when a new president has not even been elected?

A: If it turns out that the investigation is a sham, then you revisit the case and try to get it before the International Criminal Court. People have a gut feeling that justice is a local concept. They want justice in their own countries and you want to support that. In Egypt, for instance, you want to build a credible justice system because then if they do it right, you’ve helped rebuild a critical institution.

 

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Cairo

Photo: A man looks at portraits of people who killed or disappeared under Moammar Kadafi's regime in Benghazi, Libya, on Monday. Luis Moreno-Ocampo, prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, announced Monday that he would seek arrest warrants against the Libyan leader, son Seif Islam and the country's intelligence chief on charges of crimes against humanity. Credit: Rodrigo Abd /Associated Press.

 

LIBYA: Rights groups praise arrest-warrant request for Kadafi, call for action in Syria

LlafafncHuman rights groups on Monday called the International Criminal Court prosecutor's request for arrest warrants for Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi, his son Seif Islam Kadafi and Abdullah Sanoussi, his military intelligence chief, a first step toward achieving justice, but they said more needs to be done to stop abuses in Libya, Syria and throughout the region.

"The request for arrest warrants is a step forward for international justice and accountability in the region," said Michael Bochenek, Amnesty International's director of law and policy.  

"However, the international community that came together in such unprecedented agreement to refer Libya to the International Criminal Court cannot allow justice to appear selective. By any standard, what is happening in Syria is just as bad as the situation was in Libya when the [United Nations] Security Council referred that country to the ICC." 

Amnesty International's research in Libya since February points to the commission of possible crimes against humanity and war crimes, according to a statement the London-based group released Monday.

The group called on the U.N. Security Council to "uphold the neutrality of international justice" by authorizing an ICC investigation into killings of hundreds of protesters in Syria. 

"Real international justice has to be for everyone in the Middle East and North Africa," Bochenek said.

Richard Dicker, international justice director at New York-based Human Rights Watch, called the ICC warrants, "a warning bell to others that serious crimes will not go unpunished."

"It's a message to those responsible for grave abuses that they will be held to account for their actions," he said in a statement Monday.

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MIDDLE EAST: Governments clamp down on Egypt-inspired protests, rights group says

Human Rights Watch says governments in the Arab world are clamping down on protests inspired by the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.

“Images of the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt have mesmerized the Arab public but have terrified their rulers,” Sarah Leah Whitson, the group’s Middle East and North Africa director, said in a statement Tuesday. “They have responded with their usual mix of repression and intimidation to nip the buds of any wider democratic blossoming.”

Among the incidents cited by Human Rights Watch:

 Police and military forces in Yemen used live ammunition and rubber bullets to disperse protesters on Thursday.

Witnesses in Sudan reported that security forces used pipes, sticks and teargas to disperse anti-government protesters in Khartoum and Omdurman in January. One student was said to have died of his injuries. Human Rights Watch could not independently confirm the death.

Security forces in Saudi Arabia briefly arrested between 30 and 50 demonstrators in Jeddah after noon prayers Jan. 28, the group said. A Saudi dissident in London reportedly called for the demonstrations via his satellite TV program to protest the chaos caused by recent heavy rains.

Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that the Palestinian Authority’s police and “special forces” punched, kicked and detained participants in a Wednesday rally in Ramallah in support of the protesters in Egypt.

In Syria, five young demonstrators were detained during a series of demonstrations in solidarity with Egyptian protesters and to protest corruption and high cellphone communication costs, the group said.

In a separate statement Tuesday, Amnesty International said that a Libyan political commentator arrested on charges of hitting a man with his car may have been targeted because he called for peaceful protests in the country. Jamal Hajji, who has dual Libyan and Danish nationality, was detained Feb. 1 in Tripoli.

"The Libyan authorities must clarify the legal status of Jamal al-Hajji," Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in the statement. "They must release him immediately and without conditions if the real reason for his continuing detention is his peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression."

-- Alexandra Zavis

SUDAN: Fearing protests, government arrests opposition leader

Turabi photo reuters Fearing the kind of unrest that toppled the government of Tunisia, security forces in Sudan on Tuesday arrested leading Islamist opposition leader Hassan Turabi after he threatened a popular revolt over rising prices on food and other goods.

Sudanese authorities accused Turabi, leader of the Popular Congress Party, of supporting the heavily armed Justice and Equality Movement, a rebel group battling government forces in the western region of Darfur. The arrest is another indication of the many pitfalls for President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir as he faces widening divisions within Africa’s largest nation. 

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SUDAN: Referendum might mark birth of a new nation, though fear of violence looms

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Southern Sudanese are widely expected to vote for independence — splitting the largest country in Africa and the Arab world in two — in a referendum on Sunday. Secession would mark the beginning of a complicated process of creating a new African state.

Carnegie logoThe referendum was designed to be the culmination of a peace process ending decades of conflict between the north and the south in Sudan, but there are lingering fears that tensions could erupt into violence.

Tensions between the north and south have a long history, going back to pre-colonial days. The two areas have significantly different cultural, ethnic and religious makeups — the north is mainly Arab and Muslim while the south is mainly African and Christian or animist — which have complicated relations for many years.

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MIDDLE EAST: Can the region's Christians survive the 21st Century?

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As the 21st Century enters its second decade, two millennia of Christian presence in the Middle East might be eclipsed by the end of the century.

Carnegie logoThe new decade began in the Middle East with a car bomb that went off minutes after midnight outside an Egyptian church and left more than 20 people dead. This bombing came just a few weeks after radical Islamic gunmen killed dozens of people in a church in Iraq. The rise of Al Qaeda and the spread of radical Islamic movements have made the difficult situation of the Middle East’s Christian minorities far worse.

Comprising 20% of the region’s population at the beginning of the 20th Century, the remaining 10 to 12 million people make up only 5% of the population today. Though Christians played prominent roles in the cultural, nationalist, leftist and anti-colonial movements of earlier decades, they are excluded from the Islamist politics of recent years.

Since 2001, they have also borne some of the brunt of the confrontation between radical Islam and the (Christian) West.

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ISRAEL: African immigrants caught between Israeli government and society

Israeli officials frequently say Israel is the only First World economy that can be reached on foot from the Third World: You can walk from Africa straight to Tel Aviv. Tens of thousands have done just that -- and if the country doesn't do something about it, many more will, officials warn. 

The large pockets of foreign communities grow in different ways. Foreign workers, like Filipino nursing professionals, come in the front door but stay through the window, overstaying their work permits and settling down.

Most Africans do it the other way around. They climb in through the window of the long, sprawling and largely open border with Egypt and then knock on the door for asylum. About 15,000 African hopefuls have entered the country this year, roughly double the amount of last year. 

The government is determined to stop the influx. For starters, it is fencing off its 150-mile border with Egypt. Work began last month

The border fence will cost about $370 million, but government indecision on immigration matters is costing dearly. Fear of the impact on politics, religion, demography, diplomacy and the economy has paralyzed decision-makers, negating a cohesive immigration policy. Years of Band-Aid solutions have produced a situation that is rapidly approaching a crisis.

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SUDAN: President Bashir accused of amassing billions in illicit wealth

Bashir money pic Sudan denied allegations Saturday by an international prosecutor that President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir, who is wanted for crimes against humanity, has stolen about $9 billion from one of Africa’s poorest countries.

In a U.S. diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, said if the breadth of Bashir’s wealth became known, it would “destroy his reputation” among the Sudanese, many of whom support the president’s defiance of the West.

“Ocampo suggested if Bashir’s stash of money were disclosed (he put the figure at possible $9 billion), it would change Sudanese public opinion from him being a ‘crusader’ to that of a thief,” according to the March 2009 document outlining the prosecutor's meeting with American officials.

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SUDAN: Authorities investigate whipping of woman on YouTube video

 

A YouTube video showing a Sudanese woman pleading and crying as she was flogged in public by police officers has prompted an inquiry by the country's judicial authorities.

"An investigation was started immediately into the lashing of a woman as seen on a website, and the implementation of sanctions that go against what is outlined in the criminal code," the judiciary said in a statement published in a number of Sudanese state-run newspapers.

The video, which has been circulated around the Internet over the last two days, shows a woman in a long black dress and a headscarf being whipped by two blue-uniformed police officers in what appears to be a government yard; a Sudanese flag stands nearby.

One of the officers is heard saying that the unidentified woman's sentence is "50 ... lashes," while others laugh in front of the camera when they realize that the incident is being filmed.

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LEBANON: Sudanese activist continues hunger strike over detainees' rights

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The intravenous drip tied to the metal grating of a door to the Sudanese Cultural Center in Beirut snakes down to the arm of 53-year-old Sudanese activist Abdel Meneem Ibrahim, who, 10 days into his hunger strike, is weak but resolute.

"I'm not afraid," he says. "Just very tired."

"And I have the boys to protect me," he adds, looking up from his mattress at the group of young Sudanese men keeping watch. 

The night before, Lebanese security forces came twice to try and arrest Ibrahim, who also accuses the Sudanese embassy of hiring thugs to harass him.

Ibrahim has been camped in front of the cultural center since last week, refusing to eat until his demands are met.

"I want them to release the Sudanese in jail, and respect us as human beings," Ibrahim said.

Specifically, Ibrahim is demanding the release of 17 Sudanese nationals in Lebanese jails who, he says, have completed their sentences but are being kept there illegally. He also wants the Committee of the Sudanese Cultural Club, which is appointed by the ambassador, to be dismissed and replaced by democratically elected representatives who will advocate on behalf of the Sudanese community in Lebanon.

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SUDAN: Opposition journalists sentenced to prison

Bashir photo A Sudanese court on Thursday sentenced three journalists from an opposition newspaper to prison on charges of spreading hatred against the country, spying, terrorism and false reporting.

The journalists work for Rai Alshab, the newspaper of the Popular Congress Party, headed by Hassan Turabi, the country’s leading Islamic opposition figure. Columnist Abuzar Alamin was sentenced five years in prison for criticizing President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir and describing the national elections in April as rigged. Ashraf Abdul-Aziz and Tahir Abujawhara were each sentenced to two years in jail on similar charges.

The newspaper had investigated allegations of electoral fraud -- a charge widely alleged by international human rights groups -- and printed photographs of juveniles voting in different parts of the country. The three journalists were arrested in May by security forces in Khartoum. They were reportedly tortured before they stood trial. 

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