Friday, January 30, 2009

Crimes Against HumanityNOW AVAILABLE: Crimes Against Humanity: A Beginner's Guide, by Adam Jones (OneWorld, 2008; 168 pp., US $14.95 pbk). See "A remarkable book that is immediately accessible for the novice in the field, or students, and yet also engages with its topic in intellectually interesting ways for the more seasoned reader." (James Gow, Professor of International Peace and Security, King's College London.)

Genocide Studies Media File
January 19-30, 2009

A compendium of news stories, features, and human rights reports pertaining to genocide and crimes against humanity. Compiled by Adam Jones. Please send links and feedback to

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"Cambodia: Khmer Rouge Trials to Start"
By Seth Mydans
The New York Times, 20 January 2009
"A United Nations-backed tribunal announced that it would open the first hearing on Feb. 17 in the long-delayed trials of five former leaders of the Khmer Rouge, which caused the deaths of 1.7 million Cambodians from 1975 to 1979. The first defendant will be Kaing Guek Eav, 65, left, known as Duch, who commanded the Tuol Sleng torture house, where at least 14,000 people were killed or sent to a killing field for execution. He is charged with an array of crimes, including murder, torture, rape and political persecution. Cases are still being prepared against the other four defendants, all in custody. Thirty years after the Khmer Rouge were ousted in a Vietnamese invasion, no Khmer Rouge leader has ever been brought to a court to face judgment."
[n.b. This is the complete text of the dispatch. Thanks to Paula Drumond for bringing it to my attention.]


"Rwanda Arrests Congo Rebel Leader Laurent Nkunda"
By Eddy Isango and Todd Pitman
Associated Press dispatch on Yahoo! News, 22 January 2009
"In a stunning reversal of alliances, Rwandan troops captured Congo's most powerful rebel leader, a longtime ally who the Congolese government says was at the heart of years of war in the east, officials said Friday. Congo applauded the surprise arrest, hoping it would herald a new era of peace and mark the end of the Central African nation's Tutsi rebellion. But few believe the country's problems are over and many fear the unprecedented and unpopular deal with former enemy Rwanda is a risky gamble that could unleash more bloodshed. Rwanda detained Laurent Nkunda apparently as part of an agreement with Congo that opened the way for thousands of Rwandan soldiers to cross the border this week in a joint operation to hunt down Rwandan Hutu militiamen. The region has been mired in conflict since Rwanda's 1994 genocide spilled war across the border and Hutu militias sought refuge here. Rwanda has invaded twice to eradicate the militias -- though it was accused of plundering Congo's great mineral riches instead. The militia's presence also gave birth in 2004 to Nkunda's rebellion, whose raison d'etre was defending minority Tutsis against Rwandan Hutus. Nkunda drew international attention late last year after his forces advanced to the outskirts of the regional capital, Goma, forcing more than 250,000 people from their homes. Analysts say Rwanda was under intense international pressure to use its influence over the Tutsi rebellion to end the crisis. At the same time, rebels had grown disenchanted by Nkunda, who they increasingly regarded as a flippant, authoritarian megalomaniac who allegedly embezzled money from rebel coffers. Late Thursday, Rwandan and Congolese troops converged on Nkunda's stronghold in the tiny electricity-less town of Bunagana on the Ugandan border, said government spokesman Lambert Mende. Nkunda's forces resisted and briefly opened fire before fleeing farther south and crossing into Rwanda, he said. Rwandan troops on the other side of the border took Nkunda into custody because forces loyal to him resisted the operation, Rwandan army spokesman Maj. Jill Rutaremara said. ... The ouster of Nkunda removes Congolese President Joseph Kabila's main internal nemesis and allows the central government to take back huge swaths of territory previously in rebel hands. But inviting Rwanda into Congo is a huge political gamble that could endanger the nation's first democratically elected government in 40 years and destabilize the country. [...]"


"Spain's Probe of Israelis Presents Legal Quandary"
By Paul Haven
Associated Press dispatch in, 30 January 2009
"A Spanish judge's decision to investigate seven Israeli officials over a deadly 2002 attack against Hamas that had nothing to do with Spain has renewed a debate about the long arm of European justice. Critics say Madrid should mind its own business, particularly since Spain is still struggling to address its own bloody past. Supporters argue that some crimes are so heinous that all of humanity is a victim and somebody has to prosecute them. Spain is hardly alone. A number of European countries have enacted some form of 'universal jurisdiction,' a doctrine that allows courts to reach beyond national borders in cases of torture or war crimes.
- In 2001, a war crimes suit against Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was filed in Belgium by Palestinian survivors of the 1982 Sabra and Chatilla refugee camp massacre in Lebanon. Belgium's highest court then dismissed the war crimes proceedings against Sharon and others, ruling it had no legal basis to charge them.
- French judges have opened investigations into Congolese security officials and convicted a Tunisian Interior Ministry official of torturing a fellow citizen on Tunisian soil.
- And Spain has indicted the late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and Osama bin Laden among others, including Argentine dirty war suspects.
'I think some of these judges are looking for publicity, taking on causes that have no business being tried in Spain,' said Florentino Portero, an analyst with the Strategic Studies Group, a conservative Spanish think tank. 'They are practicing politics through judicial work.' The most recent case involves a 2002 bombing in Gaza that killed Hamas militant Salah Shehadeh and 14 other people, including nine children. Spanish Judge Fernando Andreu agreed to take the case on the grounds the incident may have been a crime against humanity -- prompting a furious response from Israel. [...]"

"Israel Says Spain Says It Will Amend War Crimes Law"
Reuters dispatch, 30 January 2009
"Israel said on Friday the Spanish government had said it would work to amend a law under which a Madrid court is to consider trying seven Israelis over the killing of Palestinians. Spain's High Court announced this week it would launch a war crimes investigation into a Israeli ex-defence minister and six other top security officials for their role in a 2002 attack that killed a Hamas commander and 14 civilians in Gaza. Spanish law allows the prosecution of foreigners for such crimes as genocide, crimes against humanity and torture committed anywhere in the world. 'I was just told by the Spanish foreign minister that Spain decided to change the legislation,' Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told journalists after a telephone conversation with her Spanish counterpart Miguel Angel Moratinos. 'In order to change the possibility of different organisations, political organisations, to abuse the legal system in Spain in order to put charges against Israelis and others that are fighting terror.' Spain's Foreign Ministry did not reply to repeated telephone requests for confirmation. [...]"
[n.b. Just as I was getting hopeful about the possibility of the first trials of western officials for crimes against humanity since Nuremberg ... see below.]

"Spanish Court to Probe Israeli Officials for Alleged 'Crimes Against Humanity'"
By Roni Sofer and AFP, 29 January 2009
"National Infrastructure Minister and former Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and former IAF and IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz may face criminal charges in Spain for killing Palestinian civilians seven years ago. A Spanish court granted a petition by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights on Thursday, asking the two be investigated for alleged 'crimes against humanity' for their involvement in the 2002 assassination of Hamas operative Salah Shehade. Fourteen civilians were killed in the incident and about 100 more were injured. Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter, former IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Yaalon, former GOC Southern Command Doron Almog, former National Security Council Head Giora Eiland and Brigadier-General (Res.) Mike Herzog have also been named as persons on interest in the case. 'Those who call the killing of terrorists "a crime against humanity" are living in an upside-down world,' said Defense Minister Ehud Barak. He called the Spanish announcement 'delusional.' 'This decision is all the more outrageous when you consider Hamas' true colors, being revealed once again these days to us and the world,' Barak added. He said he would do everything in his power to get the charges dropped. 'All senior officials belonging to the defense establishment, past and present, acted properly and in the name of the State of Israel, out of their commitment to protect the citizens of Israel,' he said. According to a legal source in Madrid, Justice Fernando Andeo decided to grant the Palestinian petition 'in the name of universal justice.' Andeo, a Audiencia Nacional de España (National Court of Spain) judge, is expected to inform both the Israeli and Palestinian authorities of his decision. [...]"

"Israel Warns Soldiers of Prosecution Abroad for Gaza 'War Crimes'"
By Damien McElroy
The Telegraph, 23 January 2009
"At least four human rights groups are believed to be compiling suits alleging that Israelis perpetrated war crimes in planning or carrying out the three-week operation Cast Lead. Daniel Friedman, Israel's justice minister, was appointed to head a special task force to defend individuals detained abroad and the military censor declared that names of officers from lieutenant to colonel must not be published. More than 1,300 Palestinian deaths were reported during the offensive in Gaza and the United Nations has led demands that Israel investigate high-profile incidents including the shelling of its facilities. Private prosecutions are already being prepared. 'We are building files on war crimes throughout the chain of command from the top to the local level,' said Raji Sourani of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights. 'We are convinced these have been the most bloody days for Gaza since the occupation and that war crimes were perpetrated against Palestinian civilians.' Courts in six countries, including Britain, have accepted petitions to prosecute alleged war crimes in previous wars. Most notoriously, activists in Belgium used a clause, since removed from the statute, to target the former prime minister, Ariel Sharon. Accusations of war crimes strike an especially sensitive chord in Israel, a nation founded in the wake of the Holocaust. Comparisons between the long siege of Gaza and the Jewish ghettoes of central Europe draw a vociferous denunciation from the government. Israel insists troops did their best to limit civilian casualties in heavily populated areas where Hamas gunmen were attacking from tunnels and had booby-trapped civilian homes. While senior politicians travel with diplomatic immunity, retired officials have already faced problems travelling abroad. A retired major general, Doron Almog, was forced to remain on an El Al plane at Heathrow in 2005 after the Israeli military attaché warned he would be arrested if he disembarked. Gen. Almog commanded Israeli forces in Gaza when a bombing raid on an apartment block that killed a Hamas commander, Salah Shehadeh, resulted in the deaths of 14 others. The magistrates' warrant was later quashed. [...]"

"Understanding Gaza"
By Gabriel Kolko, 21 January 2009
"How will history describe the Israeli war against the Palestinians in Gaza? Another Holocaust, this time perpetrated by the descendants of the victims? An election ploy by ambitious Israeli politicians to win votes in the February 10 elections? A test range for new American weapons? Or an effort to lock in the new Obama Administration into an anti-Iranian position? An attempt to establish its military 'credibility' after its disastrous defeat in the war with Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006? Perhaps all of these ... and more. But one thing is certain. Israel has killed at least 100 Palestinians for each of its own claimed losses, a vast disproportion that has produced horror in much of the world, creating a new cause which has mobilized countless numbers of people -- possibly as strong as the Vietnam war movement. It has made itself a pariah nation -- save in the United States and a few other countries. Above all, it has enflamed [sic] the entire Muslim world. As Bruce Riedel, a 'hawk' who has held senior posts in the CIA for nearly 30 years and is now one of President Obama's many advisers, has just written: '... the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the central all-consuming issue for al Quaeda,' and 'Muslims feel a profound sense of wrong about the creation of Israel that infuses every aspect thinking and activities and has become the rallying cry used the convince the ummah of the righteousness of al Quaeda's cause.' That was before Gaza. Much of the world now detests Israel but most it will live for many years to come with the consequences of Israel's atrocities. Muslim extremists will now become much stronger. Charges of war crimes are now being leveled -- and justifiably so -- at the Israelis, many of whom themselves come from families that suffered in the hands of the Nazis over 60 years ago and now claim that the Holocaust was the only tragedy -- as if the far more numerous deaths of goyim throughout the world after 1945 count for nothing. The United Nations and human rights groups are demanding that Israel be brought to justice for what now amounts to having killed over 1300 Gazans with immense firepower, many of which, like phosphorous bombs, are illegal. Israel has already prepared its senior officers to be ready to defend themselves against war crimes charges and Israeli Attorney General Menahem Mazuz several weeks ago warned the government was expecting a 'wave of international lawsuits.' [...]"

"Rights Groups to Ask World Court to Probe Israel 'War Crimes'"
Agence France-Presse dispatch, 18 January 2009
"An international group of lawyers and jurists said Saturday they would ask the International Criminal Court to probe alleged 'war crimes' committed by Israel during its offensive in the Gaza Strip. 'The request for an investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity would be placed by Wednesday at The Hague,' Haytham Manna, Arab Commission for Human Rights spokesman, told AFP. The commission is among 300 human rights groups planning to submit a 37-page dossier to the ICC based in the Netherlands. International lawyers and jurists met Saturday in Geneva to finalise details of the dossier, which documents several violations against international human rights committed by the Israeli army during the Gaza offensive, said Manna. The ICC is competent to adjudicate war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed after 2002. It can try individuals if a crime is alleged to have been committed on the territory of, or by a national of, a state party to the court's founding statute. Even though Israel is not a state member, the group of jurists said the ICC could still prosecute individuals in the country. Manna added that some state members such as Venezuela and Bolivia are also interested in going to the ICC. As state members of the ICC, these countries can go one step further than simply requesting for an investigation by putting forward the charge against the Israeli authorities, said Manna. Bolivia is preparing a request seeking to have Israel prosecuted by the ICC, two ministers said Friday in Geneva. The South American state says it wants to muster support among regional peers for a bid to have 'the Israeli political and military leaders responsible for the offensive on the Gaza Strip' brought before justice, said Sacha Llorenti, whose portfolio covers civil society. [...]"


"Israel Does Not Regard Famine in 30s [as] Genocide of Ukrainians"
Itar-Tass dispatch, 29 January 2009
"Israel does not regard the famine in Ukraine in the 30s of the past century as genocide, and, just as Russia, considers it a tragedy of many peoples of the USSR, Pinhas Avivi, the deputy director-general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry in charge of relations with Russia, CIS and East European countries, told Itar-Tass on Wednesday. 'We regard the "holodomor" as a tragedy but in no case do we call it genocide,' he said. 'We describe it as the tragedy in which the peoples of Russia, Moldova, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and of other countries suffered, and we accept Russia's wording,' he said. 'The Holocaust is the only genocide to us,' he said. 'We voted precisely in this way in the United Nations on the document Ukraine presented and we regard it (the "holodomor") as the common tragedy of many peoples, not Ukraine alone.' 'This was Israel's clear message, and we, specifically, decided that we recognize the document UNESCO adopted two years ago, and nothing else,' Avivi said. Late last year Ukraine’s delegation to the UN circulated a declaration calling for recognition of the 'holodomor' as genocide of the Ukrainian people. In addition to Ukraine, 31 countries, Israel included, signed the document. Israel, however, addressed to Ukraine's representative a letter with reservations regarding its stand, which were not given a broad coverage. The Russian delegation succeeded in blocking the Ukrainian delegation's resolution in the UN in December. 'We have succeeded in preventing it from being put on the agenda of the 63rd session of the UN General Assembly,' Vitaly Churkin, Russia's ambassador at the UN then said. He said Kiev's suggestion to regard the famine of the 30s of the past century as genocide of the Ukrainian people can be assessed as 'an attempt to sow discord and animosity between the Russians and Ukrainians.' Churkin said, 'Our peoples have the common past and the famine affected not Ukraine alone.' [...]"


"Remembering the Holocaust"
By Peter Bills
The Independent, 26 January 2009
"[...] This Tuesday, January 27th, is World Holocaust Day. It was the day in 1945, too late, far, far too late, when the Red Army liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau. What they found and revealed to the dismaying world that day 64 years ago this Tuesday, stained the hand of mankind forever. No-one can ever be quite the same after a visit to this place. The sheer scale of the killing grounds is breathtaking. By the time they had fled Auschwitz/Birkenau, the Nazis had dynamited the gas chambers and crematoria, plus many of the individual huts where the prisoners who had been selected for forced labour, had slept. Yet plenty survives to indict an entire nation. Just a few days ago, the cold at Auschwitz assaulted not just your body but your mind. Survival became a struggle as fingers froze, even through gloves, and faces felt red raw at the bitter cold. Minus 10 degrees and thick snow was close to unbearable. 24 hours earlier it had been minus 15. Multiple layers of clothing made little difference. For the inmates, clad only in thin prison issue trousers and top, on winter days in the early 1940s, it was prolonged torture, a living death. At Auschwitz No. 1 camp, some were selected to clean out ponds. It meant wading through icy water, waist deep and staying in it sometimes for up to 11 hours. Those who didn’t perish there and then often died that night in their unheated barracks. The world well knows the facts and horrors of this place. What underpinned, indeed made possible everything that happened in this trembling, terrible place, was German efficiency, that nation’s well-merited reputation for ruthless organisation and neatness. Everything was planned with a meticulous evil that touched a new low in mankind's inhumanity to man. To walk into the very gas chamber and (re-constructed) crematoria in Auschwitz camp No. 1 where 600 Russian prisoners of war and 250 of the sick from the camp hospital earned the terrible notoriety of being the first exterminated at the camp by Zyklon B gas and then incinerated, is to brush closer than ever you would wish to man's most bestial behaviour. Nothing, no-one can prepare you for Auschwitz. To go in mid-winter, when the snow lies heavy upon the Polish landscape, was deliberate. We cannot know, still less understand the suffering, the torment, brutality or hatred that poured out here, like puss [sic] from a sore. But at least the brutal cold is something we can share with those who perished, many worked to the bone, starved and beaten, before they finally succumbed. [...]"


"Dozens Believed Dead in Reprisal Attacks as Hamas Retakes Control"
By Rory McCarthy
The Guardian, 30 January 2009
"Evidence is emerging of a wave of reprisal attacks and killings inside Gaza that have left dozens dead and more wounded in the wake of Israel's war. Among the dead are Palestinians suspected of collaborating with the Israeli military. Others include criminals who were among the 600 prisoners to escape from Gaza City's main jail when it was bombed as the war began. Their attackers are thought to be their victims' relatives. During and after the war, there have also been attacks on security officials from Fatah, the bitter rival of Hamas, the Islamist movement in control of the Gaza Strip. One witness told the Guardian how her brother, a Fatah military intelligence officer, was shot three times in the legs in an apparent punishment attack by gunmen from Hamas's armed wing. The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz reported yesterday that several Palestinian agents working in Gaza for the Israeli security services during the war had been killed, and cited one source as saying that agents were 'intercepted' by Hamas because their intelligence had been used 'carelessly' by the military. Palestinians in human rights organisations are reluctant to speak publicly about what is a sensitive issue, but one respected human rights worker in Gaza said he believed between 40 and 50 people had been killed in reprisal attacks since the start of the war. But there was not yet enough evidence to suggest this was an organised campaign by Hamas, he said. 'We don't know who's doing the killing,' the worker said. 'Some are individuals, some might be from Hamas. It's been happening over several days, all across Gaza. It's not all necessarily Hamas actions against Fatah.' Another human rights worker put the figure at between 25 and 30 documented cases of reprisal. A human rights group in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, and funded by the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, has protested. 'A number of citizens have been extra-judicially killed during and after the Israeli military aggression on the Gaza Strip,' the Independent Commission for Human Rights said in a statement. 'Fire was opened on affected citizens at a close distance. In addition, individuals in official uniform or masked persons opened fire on people's legs, severely beat others, imposed house arrests, and threatened to punish citizens along with their families if they would not comply.' Hamas dismissed the claims but said it had arrested suspected collaborators, apparently as part of an effort to reassert control over Gaza. [...]"

"Netanyahu Would Let West Bank Settlements Expand"
By Mark Lavie
Associated Press dispatch on Yahoo! News, 26 January 2009
"The front-runner in Israel's election said in an interview published Monday that he would let Jewish settlements expand in the West Bank if he's elected prime minister, threatening to put him at odds with the Obama administration. The remarks by hawkish Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu come just before the new U.S. special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, is scheduled to visit Israel, the West Bank and elsewhere this week for talks aimed at keeping alive a fragile Gaza cease-fire and reviving Mideast peace negotiations. Mitchell is a critic of Israel's West Bank settlements, which are a key issue in peace talks. Mitchell is expected to meet with Israeli leaders, including Netanyahu. President Barack Obama has pledged to dive into Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking at the beginning of his term. Netanyahu, who is already a critic of U.S.-sponsored peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, was quoted by the Haaretz daily as saying he would allow the Jewish settlements to expand to accommodate 'natural growth' -- building new housing to accommodate growing families among the settlers. Such growth, however, is ruled out in the internationally backed 'road map' peace plan that serves as the basis for negotiations. With Israel's Feb. 10 election just two weeks away and polls showing Netanyahu's party ahead, Israel and the United States appeared headed for a clash. U.S. policy supports creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza next to Israel, but Netanyahu, who served as Israel's prime minister from 1996 to 1999, has always opposed giving up territory in the West Bank, maintaining that Israel needs to control it for security. 'I have no intention of building new settlements in the West Bank,' Netanyahu was quoted as telling international Mideast envoy Tony Blair on Sunday. 'But like all the governments there have been until now, I will have to meet the needs of natural growth in the population. I will not be able to choke the settlements.' [...]"
[n.b. Since this candidate for the Israeli leadership has announced in advance his intention to commit war crimes if elected (see the 4th Geneva Convention injunction against "the transfer of parts of the Occupying Power's civilian population into the occupied territory"), could the Obama administration make it known that if Mr. Netanyahu wins, the United States will entertain no formal relations with his government until a complete freeze on Israeli settlements is guaranteed?]

"Children of Gaza: Stories of Those Who Died and the Trauma for Those Who Survived"
By Rory McCarthy
The Guardian, 23 January 2009
"Amira Qirm lay on a hospital bed today with her right leg in plaster, and held together by a line of steel pins dug deep into her skin. For several days after her operation Amira, 15, was unable to speak, and even now talks only in a low whisper. In her past are bitter memories: watching her father die in the street outside their home, then hearing another shell land and kill her brother Ala'a, 14, and her sister Ismat, 16, and then the three days that she spent alone, injured and semi-conscious, trying to stay alive in a neighbour's abandoned house before she could be rescued last Sunday. Ahead of her, she has a long recovery. First there is an imminent flight to France for the best possible medical treatment, many more operations and then months of rehabilitation and psychiatric care. Only now, after most of the dead have been buried, is the first properly researched reckoning of the toll emerging. What already stands out is the striking cost borne by the children of Gaza, who make up more than half of the 1.5 million people living in this overcrowded strip of land. The Palestinian death toll after three weeks of Israel's war was 1,285, according to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, or 1,268, according to the al-Mezan Human Rights Centre. Among those dead were at least 280 children. The impact will be felt by many more for years to come. Among the more than 4,000 people injured more than a quarter were children, some left with severe disabilities. The Gaza Community Health Programme estimates that half Gaza's children -- around 350,000 -- will develop some form of post-traumatic stress disorder. [...]"

"Israel Admits Using White Phosporous in Attacks on Gaza"
By James Hider and Sheera Frenkel
The Times, 23 January 2009
"After weeks of strenuous denial that it had used white phosphorous in the heavily populated Gaza Strip, Israel finally admitted today that the controversial weapon had been deployed in its offensive. The army's use of white phosphorous -- with its distinctive shell burst of dozens of separate smoke trails -- was revealed by The Times on January 5, and denied by the army. Now, in the face of mounting evidence and increasing international outcry, Israel has been forced to backtrack on that denial. 'Yes, phosphorous was used, but not in any illegal manner,' Yigal Palmor, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, told The Times. 'Some practices could be illegal but we are going into that. The IDF [Israel Defence Forces] is holding an investigation concerning one specific unit and one incident.' The incident in question is believed to be the firing of white phosphorous shells at a UN school in Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip on January 17. The shells are legal if used as a battlefield smokescreen but banned from deployment in civilian areas Pictures of the attack show Palestinian medics fleeing parked ambulances as dozens of blobs of burning phosphorous rain down on the compound. A senior army official also admitted today that shells containing phosphorous had been used in Gaza, but insisted that the aim of their deployment had been to provide a smokescreen. 'It was a smoke shell with felt pieces inside with phosphorous in it,' said the official, who asked not to be named. Before the attack the Ministry of Defence had asked lawyers to investigate the legal consequences of deploying white phosperous inside the Gaza Strip, home to 1.5 million Palestinians, and one of the most densely populated places in the world. [...]"

"Shocked and Grieving Gazans Find Bodies Under the Rubble of Homes"
By Tyler Hicks
The New York Times, 18 January 2009
"As the people of Gaza emerged from hiding on Sunday, they confronted, for the first time, the full, sometimes breathtaking extent of the destruction around them wrought by the Israeli military. Bombs had pulverized the Parliament and cabinet buildings, the Ministry of Justice, the main university and the police station, paralyzing Gaza's central nervous system and leaving residents in a state of shock. Some places in Gaza City were bustling and matter-of-fact. Work crews in bright orange vests repaired power and water lines. Shops reopened. People lined up at bank machines. But other areas ached with loss. In Twam to the north, thousands dragged belongings away from ruined houses; they were dazed refugees in their own city. In Zeitoun, families clawed at rubble and concrete, trying to dislodge the bodies of relatives who had died weeks before. The death toll kept climbing: 95 bodies were taken from the rubble. More than 20 of them were from the Samouni family, whose younger members were digging with shovels and hands for relatives stuck in rooms inside. Faris Samouni, 59, sat alone, watching them. He had lost his wife, daughter-in-law, grandson and nephew, and he was heartbroken. 'Twenty-one are down there,' he said, starting to cry. 'One is my wife. Her name is Rizka.' The dead were badly decomposed, and families searched for familiar personal details that would identify them. One woman's corpse was identified by her gold bracelets. Another by her earrings. And a third by the nightgown she wore. The smell of rotting flesh was suffocating, and as they got closer, the diggers donned masks. At 10:55 a.m., the body of Rizka Samouni emerged as an Israeli fighter jet roared in the sky. Other corpses followed. Houda, 18. Faris, 14. Hamdi, 21. The smallest corpse that emerged, from a different family, was that of a 4-year-old. 'They killed the elders, the children, the women, the animals, the chickens,' said Subhi, 55, Rizka's brother. 'It's a nightmare. I never thought I would lose all of them.' [...]"
[n.b. There is something almost biblical about this latest atrocity. I can imagine an injunction in, say, the Book of Joshua to "go forth and kill the elders, the children, the women, the animals ..."]

"Israel Kept Out Aid for Gaza"
By Jason Koutsoukis
The Sydney Morning Herald, 19 January 2009
"Israel deliberately blocked the United Nations from building up vital food supplies in Gaza that feed a million people daily before the launch of its war against Hamas, according to a senior UN official in Jerusalem. In a scathing critique of Israeli actions leading up to the conflict, the UN's chief humanitarian co-ordinator in Israel, the former Australian diplomat Maxwell Gaylard, accused Israel of failing to honour its commitments to open its border with Gaza during several months of truce from June 19 last year. 'The Israelis would not let us facilitate a regular and sufficient flow of supplies into the Strip,' Mr. Gaylard said. The chief spokesman for Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Yigal Palmor, said the claims were 'unqualified bullshit.' 'At no time was there a shortage of food in Gaza over the past three weeks,' Mr. Palmor said. Mr. Gaylard, who is the UN Special Co-ordinator's Office's most senior representative in Israel, told the Herald that when Israel launched its surprise attack on Gaza on December 27, the UN's warehouses in Gaza were nearly empty, with all food and equipment sitting in nearby port facilities. 'The food was in Israel but we couldn't get it in. This is before. The blockade was very tight.' As the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, halted the attacks, declaring Israel had attained its goals in the lethal assault on Gaza that has killed more than 1240 Palestinians -- a third of them children -- Hamas militants continued to fire rockets into Israel. Thirteen Israelis have also been killed. [...]"


"Roma Holocaust Victims Speak Out"
BBC Online, 23 January 2009
"Holocaust Memorial Day on 27 January is an occasion for Jews and Roma (Gypsies) to remind the world how their families were terrorised and butchered by the Nazis in World War II. Roma in Vlasca, a village in southeastern Romania, told the BBC's Delia Radu about their wartime ordeal. The wartime suffering of many Roma villagers is not well documented The Roma people of Vlasca -- traditional metal workers called Kalderash -- are closed and inward-looking. They are reluctant to talk to anyone from outside the community. It took weeks of negotiation to hear the accounts of Holocaust survivors in the village. Historians often call it 'the forgotten Holocaust.' Up to 500,000 Roma are believed to have died in mass shootings and Nazi gas chambers. Recent studies have brought more of their suffering to public attention, but to this day little is known about the Roma targeted for persecution and extermination by the allies of the Third Reich on the eastern front. ... In freezing cold, with no food, thousands of Roma were marched towards the river Bug. The survivors were forced to live in camps of flimsy hovels on the outskirts of war-torn villages, or in stables on deserted collective farms, to provide forced labour. 'My father, Mihai Gheorghe, died there, my mother Maria died there, both my brothers died there,' says Mihai Gogu. 'They died because of the bitter cold, because there was nothing to eat and you couldn't wash. I think filth was the main killer: lice were crawling everywhere, like teeming ants in an anthill. That was our ordeal.' [...]"


"Don't Arrest Sudan President, Say African Leaders"
By Michael Chebud, 30 January 2009
"Executives of the African Union have called for a 12-month suspension of international efforts to arrest President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, claiming his detention would derail the peace process in the conflict-ridden African country. 'The African Union has requested the UN security council to suspend the ICC (International Criminal Court) indictment against the president,' said Jean Ping, Chairperson of the African Union Commission, in the opening of the 14th ordinary session of the executive council here Thursday. Sudan President Omar al-Bashir.Sudan President Omar al-Bashir.This was reiterated by the chairperson of the executive council Bernard K. Membe, who is also Tanzania's minister for foreign affairs. The request made by the chief prosecutor of the ICC for the indictment of Al-Bashir is the greatest challenge facing the peace process in Darfur, he said. Membe and other African leaders argue that, with tension extremely high in Sudan, the arrest of Al-Bashir could lead to an outbreak of grim violence between supporters of Al-Bashir and those who support the indictment. The African Union (AU) also says Al-Bashir is a necessary player in the peace process mediated by the Arab League, AU, and other groups. 'The case of Darfur is unique,' said AU deputy chairperson Erastus Mwencha. 'We cannot sacrifice peace in pursuit of justice. We are interested in processes that are complementary to each other, but which do not compromise the search for both,' Mwencha reportedly told a reporter for the Panafrican News Agency today. 'Once [the peace process] is done, we shall support the prosecution of anyone cited in the ICC warrants of arrest,' Mwencha added. The international court, which embraces 108 member countries, accuses al-Bashir of masterminding and implementing a plan to destroy in substantial part the Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa groups during a campaign of ethnic persecution in the Darfur region that the United Nations estimates has cost 300,000 lives in five years while over 2.7 million people have been displaced. [...]"

"Fresh Darfur Violence Linked to Pending War Crimes Ruling"
By Rob Crilly
The Irish Times, 18 January 2009
"Darfur has seen some of its worst fighting in a year as rebels opened two fronts against government forces, which retaliated with air strikes. Meanwhile, aid agencies and diplomats are considering evacuation procedures, while the country waits nervously for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to make its decision on issuing arrest warrants for President Omar al-Bashir. The result is a country on a knife edge. Last week rebels from the Justice and Equality Movement (Jem) seized the strategic town of Muhajiriya from a government-aligned rebel grouping. Yesterday government officials said they had repelled an attack on the capital of north Darfur, El Fasher. Fouad Hikmat, Sudan expert with the International Crisis Group, said the violence was linked to the pending ICC decision. 'The ICC has thrown a new card on to the table and everyone is working out how to play it,' he said. 'All of the rebel groups realise that this gives them tremendous leverage. Those that are strong on the ground are making their move so that they are on the front foot when the time for negotiations arrives.' Muhajiriya lies along supply routes to Nyala, the capital of south Darfur and Sudan’s third largest city. Jem took the town from a faction of the Sudan Liberation Army led by Minni Minawi, who signed a peace deal with Khartoum three years ago. He is believed to be considering returning to the bush, disillusioned with his treatment by the government. Khartoum responded to his loss of Muhajiriya with air strikes against Jem positions. UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon condemned the violence in north and south Darfur. 'The secretary general calls on all parties to immediately cease ongoing hostilities and to abide by their obligations under international law,' a statement issued by his spokesperson said. [...]"


"Pictures 'Prove' That Burma Refugees Were Left to Die at Sea"
By Catherine Philp
The Times, 27 January 2009
"Pressure is mounting on the Thai Government to reveal the truth about allegations that its military towed hundreds of Burmese refugees out to sea and abandoned them. The demands come after photographs emerged apparently showing soldiers caught in the act. The pictures, obtained by CNN from someone directly involved in the operation, showed the refugees being rounded up on a Thai beach and towed out to sea in flimsy boats. Human rights groups believe that up to 600 members of the ethnic Rohingya minority drowned after being caught by the Thai military while fleeing persecution in their native Burma. Nearly 1,000 migrants are known to have set off from the Burmese coast in two groups last month but there are fears that many more are missing. Several hundred survivors have been rescued off the Indian Andaman Islands and the coast of Indonesia after drifting for days without food, water or engines. The Thai whistleblower said that the migrants had been provided with food and water, but confirmed that the boats were towed for two days into international waters before they were set adrift by Thai soldiers wishing to deter them from seeking refuge in Thailand. More than 230,000 members of the Burmese Muslim minority group have taken refuge in Bangladesh after fleeing their country and thousands of others have ended up in Malaysia. The UN refugee agency said a formal request for access to 126 more Rohingyas believed to be in Thai military custody had gone unanswered, prompting fears that they may also have been dumped at sea. 'We don't know where they are,' Kitty McKinsey, a UNHCR spokeswoman, said. The new photographic evidence is backed up by statements from survivors in India, Indonesia and Thailand. Iqbal Hussein, a survivor who made it back to the Thai shore, told CNN that five of the six boats his group was travelling in sank after being towed out to sea."
[n.b. This is the complete text of the dispatch.]


"Gaza Strife Engulfs British Broadcasters"
By Catherine Mayer, 26 January 2009
"If there's one thing guaranteed to make news organizations queasy, it's becoming news rather than reporting it. No wonder that the BBC, Britain's venerable public service broadcaster, is looking green around the gills. In the past couple of years, 'Auntie Beeb' has rarely been out of the spotlight, amid speculation on the future of the broadcaster's public funding, scandals over mismanaged phone-in competitions and red faces after footage of the Queen was wrongly edited to suggest she had stormed out of a photo shoot. Yet all of these controversies pale in comparison to the storms of anger now battering the BBC over its refusal to show an appeal for humanitarian aid for the people of war-ravaged Gaza. Despite more than 1,000 phone calls, 11,000 e-mails of complaint and a series of protests outside its London and regional headquarters, the broadcaster has dug in its heels against pressure to run the filmed appeal by the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), a non-aligned umbrella organization representing 13 long-established charities such as the British Red Cross, Christian Aid and Oxfam. Defending the decision on one of the BBC's own morning news shows this morning, the BBC's Director General Mark Thompson said 'We are passionate about our impartiality ... We worry about being seen to endorse something that could give the impression we were only backing one side.' Could an appeal for emergency aid for Gazans living in extreme hardship after the Israeli military campaign be construed as an attack on that campaign? Thompson and his lieutenants fear so. Ben Bradshaw, a former BBC newsman, now Health Minister, called the reasoning 'completely feeble.' MPs are queuing to sign a motion brought by Richard Burden, a Labour MP, expressing 'astonishment' at the rebuff. 'It completely baffles me,' Burden says. 'Do I think impartiality is important? Of course I do. But to be honest, what the BBC is doing is undermining its reputation for impartiality rather than bolstering it.' Such criticisms are not confined to temporal seats of power. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has called on the BBC to carry the appeal. John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, argued that the BBC should focus on humanity, not impartiality. [...]"

"Rivals Break with BBC in Gaza Row"
"ITV, Channel 4 and Five are to air a charity appeal for Gaza which the BBC has declined to broadcast. A Five spokesman said the channel felt it was 'an urgent humanitarian situation which transcends politics.' International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander urged broadcast of the Disasters Emergency Committee film to recognise 'immense human suffering.' The BBC has said it could compromise its impartiality. A protest has been held at Broadcasting House in London. At least 200 people gathered outside the building, and chants of "BBC, shame on you" were heard as a petition was handed in to the corporation. Veteran politician Tony Benn, a speaker at the protest, said: 'We can't ignore suffering in the interests of what the BBC call impartiality. We can't allow others to die when we have an opportunity to save their lives.' ... Andrew Burgin, of the Stop the War coalition, said: 'Because of this decision, people in Gaza will die. They will not receive the amount of aid they would otherwise have received.' The BBC, ITV and Sky earlier agreed not to air the appeal. An ITV spokesman had said that no consensus could be reached among broadcasters, before announcing on Saturday that it would run the appeal. [...]"


"Samantha Power Returns: Professor Who Slammed Clinton Will Be Obama Aide"
By Matthew Lee
The Huffington Post, 29 January 2009
"Samantha Power, the Harvard University professor and Pulitzer Prize-winning author [of '"A Problem from Hell": America in the Age of Genocide"'] who earned notoriety for calling Hillary Rodham Clinton a 'monster' while working to elect Barack Obama president, will take a senior foreign policy job at the White House, The Associated Press has learned. Officials familiar with the decision say Obama has tapped Power to be senior director for multilateral affairs at the National Security Council, a job that will require close contact and potential travel with Clinton, who is now secretary of state. NSC staffers often accompany the secretary of state on foreign trips. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because Power's position, as well as that of other senior NSC positions, have not yet been announced. One official said the announcements would be made in the near future. White House officials would not provide details of Power's new role. Power was an early and ardent Obama supporter until the 'monster' comment forced her off his campaign, but she was rehabilitated after the election when she made a gesture to apologize to Clinton and was included in the transition teams for both the State Department and the U.S. mission to the United Nations. At the time, an official close to the transition said Power's 'gesture to bury the hatchet' with Clinton had been well-received. Power and Clinton have met at least once since Clinton's confirmation last week when they both appeared at a State Department ceremony at which Obama announced the appointment of special envoys to South Asia and the Middle East. Reporters at the event saw Power and Clinton chat briefly at the end, although the conversation was inaudible. [...]"


"The Torture Ban That Doesn't Ban Torture"
By Allan Nairn, 26 January 2009
"If you're lying on the slab still breathing, with your torturer hanging over you, you don't much care if he is an American or a mere United States -- sponsored trainee. When President Obama declared flatly this week that 'the United States will not torture' many people wrongly believed that he'd shut the practice down, when in fact he'd merely repositioned it. Obama's Executive Order bans some -- not all -- US officials from torturing but it does not ban any of them, himself included, from sponsoring torture overseas. Indeed, his policy change affects only a slight percentage of US-culpable tortures and could be completely consistent with an increase in US-backed torture worldwide. The catch lies in the fact that since Vietnam, when US forces often tortured directly, the US has mainly seen its torture done for it by proxy -- paying, arming, training and guiding foreigners doing it, but usually being careful to keep Americans at least one discreet step removed. That is, the US tended to do it that way until Bush and Cheney changed protocol, and had many Americans laying on hands, and sometimes taking digital photos. The result was a public relations fiasco that enraged the US establishment since by exposing US techniques to the world it diminished US power. But despite the outrage, the fact of the matter was that the Bush/Cheney tortures being done by Americans were a negligible percentage of all of the tortures being done by US clients. For every torment inflicted directly by Americans in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo and the secret prisons, there were many times more being meted out by US-sponsored foreign forces. Those forces were and are operating with US military, intelligence, financial or other backing in Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Jordan, Indonesia, Thailand, Uzbekistan, Colombia, Nigeria, and the Philippines, to name some places, not to mention the tortures sans-American-hands by the US-backed Iraqis and Afghans. What the Obama dictum ostensibly knocks off is that small percentage of torture now done by Americans while retaining the overwhelming bulk of the system's torture, which is done by foreigners under US patronage. Obama could stop backing foreign forces that torture, but he has chosen not to do so. [...]"


"Bishop Who Denied Holocaust Apologizes"
Associated Press dispatch on, 30 January 2009
"A bishop recently rehabilitated by Pope Benedict XVI expressed regret Friday to the pontiff for the 'distress and problems' he caused by denying the Holocaust. In a letter to the Vatican, Bishop Richard Williamson, who recently denied in a TV interview that 6 million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, called his remarks 'imprudent.' The letter was posted on Williamson's personal blog and addressed to Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, who has been dealing with the rehabilitation of Williamson and other renegade bishops who had been excommunicated. The Holocaust denial had outraged Jewish groups and many others. It was not immediately clear if Williamson's letter, which contained no apology for the content of his remarks, would ease that anger. 'Amidst this tremendous media storm stirred up by imprudent remarks of mine on Swedish television, I beg of you to accept, only as is properly respectful, my sincere regrets for having caused to yourself and to the Holy Father so much unnecessary distress and problems,' Williamson wrote. Papal spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said he had 'nothing to say about this letter. Everyone can evaluate it as they see fit.' Lombardi said he didn't know if the pope or the cardinal had seen it. The bishop in the letter also offered the pope his 'sincere personal thanks' for lifting the excommunication. The Vatican had imposed the Church's most severe discipline, excommunication, on Williamson and three other bishops 20 years ago because they had been elevated to bishop's rank by a renegade, ultraconservative prelate, the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. In his letter on the blog, Williamson promised to 'offer a Mass' for Benedict and Castrillon Hoyos. Earlier Friday, Israel's ambassador to the Holy See, Mordechay Lewy, said the Jewish state has good relations with the Vatican, despite the flap over Williamson's comments. The four rehabilitated bishops belong to the ultraconservative Society of St. Pius X, which Lefebvre founded because he rejected the modernizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. [...]"

"Pope, Expressing Solidarity With Jews, Reacts to Uproar Over a Holocaust Denier"
By Rachel Donadio
The New York Times, 28 January 2009
"Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday addressed for the first time the uproar over his decision to rehabilitate a Holocaust-denying bishop, expressing solidarity with Jews and strongly condemning Holocaust denial. A circus juggler performing for Pope Benedict XVI during his general audience at the Vatican on Wednesday. On the same day, the pope condemned the Holocaust and any attempts to deny it. In his weekly audience with the public on Wednesday, Benedict said he 'renewed with love' his 'full and indisputable solidarity' with Jews, whom he called 'our brothers of the first covenant.' He added that he had repeatedly visited Auschwitz, the location of the 'brutal massacre of millions of Jews, innocent victims of blind racial and religious hatred,' and said that the Holocaust 'should be a warning for everyone against forgetting, denying or diminishing its significance.' But tensions remained, a day after Israel's highest religious body sent a letter to the Vatican asking to postpone an annual bilateral meeting and voicing 'sorrow and pain' at the pope's decision to welcome the bishop back into the fold. On Saturday, the pope revoked the excommunication of four schismatic bishops from a traditionalist sect, including Bishop Richard Williamson, who in an interview broadcast in Sweden last week and widely available online said he believed that no more than 300,000 Jews perished during World War II, none of them in gas chambers. Oded Wiener, the director general of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, praised the pope's comments on Wednesday as 'a giant step forward' and 'an extremely important statement, not only for the Jewish people, but also for all the world.' But on Tuesday, the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day, Mr. Wiener sent a letter to the Vatican saying that unless the bishop issued a public apology and recanted his 'deplorable statements,' it would be 'very difficult for the Chief Rabbinate of Israel to continue its dialogue with the Vatican as before.' [...]"

"Jews Outraged by Holocaust-Denying Bishop"
Associated Press dispatch on, 23 January 2009
"The Vatican's relations with Jews risked a new crisis Friday after an excommunicated British bishop -- reportedly in line for rehabilitation -- said that historical evidence 'is hugely against 6 million Jews having been deliberately gassed' during World War II. Two Italian newspapers reported Thursday that Pope Benedict XVI planned to lift the excommunication of Richard Williamson and three other bishops punished for having been consecrated without papal consent 20 years ago by the late French conservative Archbishop Marcel Lefevbre. The Vatican declined to comment on the reports, but Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi suggested Friday that such a decree would be made public soon. Rome's chief rabbi asked the Vatican to halt the reported rehabilitation. Rabbi Ricardo Di Segni said it is 'inconceivable' the pope didn't know Williamson's views. The International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultation also urged that the excommunications of all four -- and especially Williamson -- not be lifted, saying they were all opposed to pursuing relations with Jews, Protestants and Muslims. Vatican-Jewish relations have been already strained by Jewish criticism of World War II Pope Pius XII, accused by some of not speaking out in a bid to head off the Holocaust. Israeli officials recently took offense when a senior cardinal said Gaza under the Israeli offensive seemed like a 'big concentration camp.' Williamson made his comments in an interview with Swedish state TV while in Germany in November; the broadcast was aired Wednesday night. He said the Nazis did not use gas chambers. 'I believe that the historical evidence ... is hugely against 6 million Jews having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler,' he said. [...]"


"Jewish Leaders Say Nazi Imagery at Anti-Israel Rallies Incites Anti-Semitism"
By Aron Heller
Associated Press dispatch in The Los Angeles Times, 19 January 2009
"The use of Nazi imagery at recent anti-Israel demonstrations across Europe has fanned the flames of anti-Semitism and incited violence against Jews, the head of Israel's Holocaust memorial said Monday. Protests against Israel's Gaza offensive have included signs and slogans comparing Israeli soldiers to German troops, the Gaza Strip to the Auschwitz death camp and the Jewish Star of David to the Nazi swastika. The protests have come amid a dramatic increase in anti-Semitic acts, including attacks on synagogues, beatings of pro-Israel demonstrators and proposed boycotts of Jewish businesses, according to the U.S.-based Anti-Defamation League. Avner Shalev, chairman of the Yad Vashem museum and memorial, said the comparisons were 'manipulative distortions of history' and called for the Holocaust to be left out of contemporary political discourse. 'It is legitimate to constructively criticize the policies of any nation, including Israel. However, the baseless use of Holocaust imagery and terminology as a weapon against Israel has incited a tangible surge of anti-Semitism,' he said. 'That is the danger inherent when people cynically use the Holocaust to distort a present political conflict.' Most of the protesters reject any accusation of anti-Semitism. ... Images of the devastation in Gaza -- including the bloodied bodies of children and anguished victims in hospitals -- stoked protests around the world. Human rights groups accused Israel of using disproportionate force and of not doing enough to protect Gaza's civilian population. Anti-Semitic incidents during the war spiked markedly in Europe, the Anti-Defamation League said. Molotov cocktails have been hurled toward synagogues in France, Sweden and Belgium. Jews have been beaten in England and Norway, and an Italian union endorsed a boycott of Jewish-owned shops in Rome. In Amsterdam, a Dutch lawmaker marched in a demonstration where the crowd hollered 'Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the Gas.' Socialist lawmaker Harry van Bommel said he did not repeat calls for another Holocaust and only chanted, 'Intifada, Intifada, Free Palestine.' [...]"


"Study Looks at Mortality in Post-Soviet Era"
By Judy Dempsey
The New York Times, 16 January 2009
"Rapid and widespread privatization in several former states of the Soviet Union and former Soviet satellites in Eastern Europe in the early 1990s contributed to rising mortality rates, particularly in Russia, according to a study published Thursday. The report, in the British medical journal The Lancet, said the results varied among the countries, depending on the pace of privatization, the official response to unemployment and the level of support from social organizations. The global financial crisis has set off a debate over the social consequences of rapid economic change that takes place without strong national institutions to support it. In Eastern Europe this week, demonstrations in Latvia and Bulgaria over the slow pace of reform turned into riots. The report, 'Mass Privatization and the Post-Communist Mortality Crisis: A Cross-National Analysis,' is by David Stuckler, a sociologist at Oxford; Lawrence King of Cambridge; and Martin McKee, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. 'Rapid mass privatization as an economic transition strategy was a crucial determinant of differences in adult mortality trends in post-Communist societies,' they wrote in the report. The effects of privatization were 'reduced if social capital was high. These findings might be relevant to other countries in which similar policies are being considered,' they added. The report contends that life expectancy diminished in the early to mid-1990s in countries that were being rapidly transformed after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Even though the governmental and economic transitions occurred nearly two decades ago, the report said, 'only a little over half of the ex-Communist countries have regained their pretransition life-expectancy levels.' From 1991 to 1994, life expectancy in Russia was reduced by five years. But life expectancy in Croatia and Poland improved in the same period. By last year, the life expectancy of Russian men was less than 60 years, compared with 67 years in 1985. [...]"
[n.b. Link to the complete text of the Lancet article in PDF format. I cited the post-communist mortality in the USSR as a possible case of structural genocide in my book Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction.]


"Global Court Starts with a Fumble. Warlord Grins"
By Robert Marquand
Yahoo! News, 30 January 2009
"The script was set for the first trial of the world's first permanent war crimes court this week: Chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo went after warlord Thomas Lubanga, charged with recruiting 30,000 child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo, saying Mr. Lubanga's acts would 'haunt a generation.' But 48 hours later, the prosecution's first witness, a child soldier, caused the entire court to gasp. At first, the young soldier said he was snatched by Lubanga's militia on his way home from fifth-grade classes. The witness, now a teen, then threw the landmark case briefly into limbo when he recanted his testimony, denying that he'd ever been a child soldier taken to a military training camp, and that his testimony was prompted by an unnamed nongovernmental organization. In the court, Lubanga, sitting behind the defense team in dark suit and tie, and in clear view of his alleged former child recruit, smiled. Prosecutors suggested to Chief Judge Adrian Fulford, of Britain, that the star witness, who was to give two days of testimony, felt unprotected and feared for his safety. A probe is now under way. The washout of the International Criminal Court's (ICC) first witness is another blow for a court whose own judges nearly threw out the Lubanga case last June over a dispute about evidence sharing. Justice experts, including Jon Silverman of the University of Bedfordshire, in Britain, note that 'you have to take a long view,' describing years of delay and a rocky start in the trial of Sierra Leone strongman Charles Taylor. That trial, convened under the auspices of the Special Court for Sierra Leone and also held here at The Hague, is now moving quickly. The Lubanga case is the first for the ICC since it was formed in 2002. The idea for the court emerged after the relative success of war crimes tribunals in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, with experts hoping that stronger concepts of justice would serve as a soft-power deterrent against heinous acts and genocide. The court has since moved in fits and starts. Prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo made a splash last summer by indicting Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, but most of the ICC's focus so far is on Congo, where little-noticed wars have claimed some 5.5 million lives. Four Congolese alleged warlords are now at The Hague; a joint trial of Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo is expected in several months. [...]"

"Researchers Document Rwanda Tribunal on Genocide"
By Gene Johnson
Associated Press dispatch on Yahoo! News, 27 January 2009
"As a judge for the United Nations' Rwanda war crimes tribunal, Erik Mose has spent a decade soberly delving into the most horrific crimes possible. But tears well in his eyes when he is asked how the work has changed him as a person. He struggles to say just a few words: 'No one can be unaffected.' With the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda preparing to disband, Mose and nearly 50 other judges, lawyers, interpreters, investigators and staff sat down with a team of researchers to discuss their experiences. The result is a remarkable set of video interviews that explores not only the legal and political obstacles the court has faced, but the personal traumas suffered by those who spend their days seeking justice for genocide. Batya Friedman, a University of Washington professor who leads the team, said the idea is to turn the videos into a searchable collection that will be available -- in English, French and the local language of Kinyarwanda -- for many generations. The first was being made public Tuesday. Friedman envisions rural Rwandans projecting the videos onto sheets hung in their villages or searching through clips by cell phone. Legal scholars could learn better ways of setting up international courts. School children could edit clips into their own documentaries, and hip-hop artists could sample them in their music -- small steps toward reconciliation and peace. 'What we realized is that the people of the tribunal are going to disperse to the four corners of the globe, and with them would go all of their personal experiences, knowledge, wisdom, insight,' she said. 'We thought, "Wouldn't it be amazing if some of their stories could be captured?"' [...]"

"Thomas Lubanga Becomes First to Stand Trial for War Crimes at the ICC"
By Catherine Philp
The Times, 26 January 2009
"The first trial at the International Criminal Court will get under way today when the Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga appears on war crimes charges for his role in the country's civil war. The landmark trial in The Hague comes more than ten years after the Rome Treaty, when 120 countries signed an agreement for a permanent world court to try war criminals. The proceedings will be watched keenly by potential defendants -- as well as key powers yet to sign up to the court, such as America, Russia, India and China. There are high hopes that President Obama may seek to change Washington's stance on the court. Mr. Lubanga, 45, faces charges of using children as weapons of war in the Democratic Republic of Congo's lawless north-east, and recruiting and commanding a militia that committed atrocities during an ethnic conflict in which tens of thousands of people were killed. He is accused of seizing children as young as 10 and sending them to fight and die for his militia, the Union of Congolese Patriots. Mr. Lubanga, who was taken into the court's custody in March 2006, is alleged to have committed his crimes in 2002-03. He is expected to plead not guilty when he comes before the court today. The trial is the climax of six years' work by the court's first prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo of Argentina, who set up investigations into four African conflicts, including Darfur, where he is seeking the first war crimes indictment of a sitting head of state. President al-Bashir of Sudan will be among those watching, along with the Tutsi warlord, Laurent Nkunda, arrested last week in Rwanda, and President Mugabe of Zimbabwe, whose greatest fear is said to be ending up in the dock at The Hague. [...]"


"India Grapples With High Maternal Death Rate"
Reuters dispatch in The New York Times, 25 January 2009
"In Sindri village in a dirt-poor district of eastern India, Manohar Kumbhakar and his family are still mourning the death of his wife, who died in childbirth aged 25 while being treated by a local quack. 'I don't know what he did to my daughter-in-law. The quack kept me outside the room and later, after almost two hours, he said she had to be taken to a hospital,' said Kumbhakar's mother, Helubala. 'He later denied he had any role in the treatment.' Every year, about 78,000 mothers die in childbirth and from complications of pregnancy in India, according to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). The figures illustrate how poor women in rural India have largely been left behind by India's economic boom which has lifted millions of people out of poverty. India's maternal mortality rate stands at 450 per 100,000 live births, against 540 in 1998-1999. The figures are way behind India's Millennium Development Goals which call for a reduction to 109 by 2015, according to UNICEF. By comparison, fellow Asian giant China's maternal mortality rate has dropped to below 50. UNICEF's 2009 State of the World's Children report, which was released in January, said India's fight to lower maternal mortality rates is failing due to growing social inequalities and shortages in primary healthcare facilities. Millions of births are not attended by doctors, nurses or trained midwives, despite India's booming economy which grew at nearly 9 percent in each of the past three years. Around two-thirds of Indian women still deliver babies at home. Women from the lower castes suffer the most as they are often denied access to basic healthcare. [...]"

Sunday, January 18, 2009

NOW AVAILABLE: Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction, by Adam Jones (Routledge, 2006; 430 pp., US $33.95 pbk). See "The best introductory text available to students of genocide studies ... likely to become the gold standard by which all subsequent introductions to this enormously important subject will be measured" (Kenneth J. Campbell).

Genocide Studies Media File
January 5-18, 2009

A compendium of news stories, features, and human rights reports pertaining to genocide and crimes against humanity. Compiled by Adam Jones. Please send links and feedback to

Consider inviting colleagues and friends to subscribe to Genocide_Studies and the G_S Media File. All it takes is an email to


"Bosnian Serbs Slam EU Parliament Move to Commemorate Srebrenica Genocide"
EU Business, 17 January 2009
"Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Milorad Dodik on Friday branded as incorrect and uncceptable a decision by the European Parliament to proclaim July 11 a day of commemoration of the Srebrenica genocide. 'The European Parliament was not correct in this case. For us (Serbs) marking in that way only that event and giving importance to that event only is unacceptable,' Dodik was quoted by the local SRNA news agency as saying. 'An answer on how to mark overall sufferings in Bosnia-Hercegovina should have been found rather than singling out one event which is a subject of different political interpretations,' Dodik said. The Bosnian Serb leader added that he was not denying that there had been victims in Srebrenica but said Bosnia's 1992-1995 war had claimed Serb victims too, SRNA said. Members of the European Parliament on Thursday adopted a resolution on Srebrenica recognising July 11 as the 'day of commemoration of the Srebrenica genocide.' They called on the European Union's executive Commission and members countries to support the parliament's move 'all over the EU.' The resolution also called on all Balkans countries to do the same. Bosnian Serb forces overran the eastern town of Srebrenica on July 11, 1995. After the fall of the UN-protected Muslim enclave they killed around 8,000 Muslim men and boys throwing their bodies into mass graves. The Srebrenica massacre, Europe's worst atrocity since World War II, has been termed a genocide by the International Court of Justice and the UN war crimes tribunal, both based in The Hague. [...]"

"Two Suspects Enter Not Guilty Pleas for Srebrenica"
Reuters dispatch on, 16 January 2009
"Two Bosnian Serb wartime commanders entered not guilty pleas on Friday before the Bosnian war crimes court to charges of taking part in genocide against Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica in July 1995. The court indicted Momir Pelemis, 59, and Slavko Peric, 41, for their role in the detention and killing of 1,700 Bosnian Muslim men from the eastern enclave of Srebrenica, after it fell to Bosnian Serb forces commanded by General Ratko Mladic. The massacre of around 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the enclave, which was under the protection of United Nations peacekeepers, is seen as Europe's worst atrocity since World War Two. 'I am not guilty for any count of the indictment,' said Pelemis, who was arrested in November while working as a municipal inspector in the eastern town of Zvornik. Peric also entered a not guilty plea. Most of the Srebrenica Muslims were killed while trying to escape through the woods, either shot down immediately or seized and brought to warehouses or schools. They were then taken to execution sites, killed and buried in mass graves. The two men were accused of taking part in mass executions in the village of Pilica, where one of the largest mass graves was found, and at the military cooperative at Branjevo. The United Nations war crimes tribunal in The Hague has sentenced seven Bosnian Serbs for the Srebrenica massacre. Nine more are on trial, and Mladic, seen as the mastermind of the massacre, is on the run 13 years after he was indicted. In Bosnia, 26 Bosnian Serbs have been put on trial over Srebrenica. Eleven have been jailed, seven acquitted and eight are still being tried. [...]


"Genocide Tribunal Delves into Cambodia's Dark Past"
ABC News, 16 January 2009
"The long-awaited prosecutions of former Khmer Rouge officials accused of genocide in the 1970s are reaching a crucial stage in Cambodia. While some victims are keen to see justice done, many ordinary Cambodians would rather see the time and the money spent improving their lives. This month marks 30 years since the Khmer Rouge; the red communist Cambodians were driven from power in Cambodia. During their four-year reign well over 500,000 people died, accused of being spies for their country or for refusing to embrace the changes forced upon them by Pol Pot -- the cold-blooded leader of the movement who wanted to build an agrarian utopia free of western influence and meddling. Today tourists flock to the killing fields site in Phnom Penh and elsewhere to view piles of skulls and bones and to walk among the dusty graves. And soon they'll be able to see the Khmer Rouge accused. In December the Khmer Rouge head of state, Khieu Sampan, was in court for a procedural hearing. He's now 77 and is ailing, but maintains his innocence. He is one of five former members of the KR who are set to face trial under the extraordinary chambers in the courts of Cambodia -- a United Nations-backed process more commonly known as the KR or genocide tribunal. It is proving to be a laborious process, running several years and more than $100 million over budget. It's been dogged funding shortfalls, internal bickering, and allegations of corruption, but within a matter of months the first trial should begin. Bruno Carette is a Paris-based film maker who has released a feature film on the genocide tribunals. He believes the role China and the US played in the region at that time needs to be addressed. He says there is little popular support for the tribunal process. 'Nowadays Cambodia is trying to join the world, they have been at war for 30 years ... with this terrible story and most of the people are very poor and living with less than $1 per day -- especially the farmers [who make up] 90 per cent of the population -- and they don't think this trial is necessary,' he said. [...]"


"China to Seek Holiday Marking Defeat of Tibet's Pro-independence Uprising 50 Years Ago"
Associated Press dispatch in The Los Angeles Times, 10 January 2009
"Chinese-backed Tibetan leaders will soon set a date for what they call 'Serf Liberation Day' to mark the defeat 50 years ago of a pro-independence uprising in the Himalayan region, state media reported Sunday. A holiday to mark the 'emancipation of millions of serfs and slaves' in Tibet will be decided on during a meeting of the region's legislature starting Wednesday, Xinhua News Agency said. The entry of Chinese forces into Tibet in 1949 was followed by efforts to transform the Buddhist, feudal order into a socialist, secular society. Tibetans rebelled on March 10, 1959, to try an oust the Chinese, but the uprising ended after 20 days with the flight of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, into exile in India. A bill to decide on a holiday marking those events will be presented during the second annual session of the ninth Tibet Regional People's Congress, Xinhua said. The bill is aimed at 'reminding all the Chinese people, including Tibetans, of the landmark democratic reform initiated 50 years ago,' Pang Boyong, deputy secretary general of the Tibetan regional congress standing committee, said Saturday, according to the report. 'Since then, millions of slaves under the feudal serfdom became masters of their own,' Pang said. Calls to the Tibet regional people's congress rang unanswered and two Tibetan government officials contacted by phone Sunday in Lhasa said they were unaware of the news. Critics of Chinese rule in Tibet note the region remains one of China's poorest and say most of the benefits of economic development have gone to members of the Han Chinese majority, rather than to Tibetans. They accuse the government of enforcing policies intended to destroy the indigenous culture and language and of persecuting Tibetan Buddhists loyal to the Dalai Lama. [...]"


"The Martyrs of Amritsar"
By Andrew Buncombe
The Independent, 9 January 2009
"On a sweltering afternoon 90 years ago in April, a squad of Gurkha and Baluchi troops under the command of British officers marched into an enclosed park in the city of Amritsar and levelled their weapons. The park was densely crowded and there was only one way in and out. The officer in charge -- General Reginald Dyer, whose name will forever be cloaked in infamy -- then gave the order to fire. Within 10 minutes the soldiers had fired 1,650 rounds, and hundreds of people lay dead, dying or wounded in the city's Jallianwala Bagh. General Dyer could not have realised that the massacre, and the outraged response it triggered, marked a crucial landmark in India's struggle for independence. Yet, despite the importance of the atrocity in the freedom struggle, the people who died there have never been officially recognised by the Indian government. Until now. After a decades-long campaign by the relatives of those killed, officials have announced the dead shall be officially recognised as 'freedom fighters.' While it is unlikely any relatives will be able to claim compensation (that right was limited to spouses and daughters of those killed) the families say the decision marks the significance of what was one of the bloodiest and most shameful incidents of Britain's colonial rule in India, and the sacrifice of those killed. 'I am very happy indeed,' said Nand Lal Arora, a marketing executive whose grandfather, Faqir Chand, was among those killed on 13 April 1919. The event was portrayed in Richard Attenborough's epic Gandhi. 'My father and grandfather had gone to the park to hear the speeches. My grandfather was on the stage when the shooting started and he was killed. My father suffered a back injury. My grandfather and family did something for the country and I'm glad the government has decided to recognise it.' [...]"


"Witness to Genocide"
By Heather Pringle
Archaeology, 62: 1 (January-February 2009)
"[...] To clinch their case, prosecutors needed to put a team of highly skilled forensic archaeologists and anthropologists to work excavating some of the country's mass graves. In a desolate stretch of the Hajara Desert in Iraq's Muthanna province, Sonny Trimble crouched down, eye level with a 7,000-pound trackhoe bucket. At his signal, the operator angled it gently into the ground, shaving off a half-inch layer of sand. The two men had been at this work for nearly an hour on a sweltering April morning in 2005. With each pass of the bucket, Trimble strained to hear the sound of metal scraping against bone -- the prelude to a grave. So far, nothing. But as the bucket edged past, he spied a small tuft of black, then a swatch of brilliant orange, emerge from the ground. He stopped the trackhoe and crawled over for a closer look. Sticking out of the sand were pieces of a woman's black dress and a flaming orange sash. ... In spring 2004, Trimble received a phone call from a lawyer working in the Department of Justice, asking if he would head a major investigation of Iraq's mass graves. The enormous project would require the forensic excavation of hundreds of victims and detailed analysis of evidence in a secluded laboratory in Iraq. Crimes against humanity are usually investigated during peacetime, when researchers can exhume bodies from mass graves patiently, without fear of attack or reprisal. Iraq, however, was spiraling rapidly into civil war. Car bombings, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), ambushes, and kidnappings grabbed daily headlines around the world. A Western forensic team working for months at a mass-grave site would present a large, stationary target for insurgents. No one could guarantee the safety of the team, but Trimble, who had worked under these conditions before, understood the risk. He accepted the mission. 'I was really interested in assisting the Iraqi people,' he recalls. [...]"
[n.b. A detailed, fascinating, and very moving account of the forensic work being done in Saddam Hussein's killing fields for Kurdish civilians.]


"Paper Love: Inside the Holocaust Archives"
By Sarah Wildman, 5 January 2009 and following
"[...] The International Tracing Service in Bad Arolsen, Germany, was, until late 2007, the largest unopened Holocaust archive in the world. For decades, historians have begged to get inside these doors, the source of years of diplomatic tension between the United States -- prodded by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum -- and our European allies. Toward the end of the last century and the beginning of this one, it became the locus of hopes of survivors and researchers from all over the world, partly because no one really knew what they would find there. ITS holds some 50 million records. Sheltered in several buildings—once SS barracks—across a wide campus that recalls a New England liberal-arts college, the archives are located in a small farm village with a large palace, home to the fairy-tale-sounding character Prince Wittekind of Waldeck. (His godfather, staying with the period theme, was Heinrich Himmler.) By mandate, the archives were closed to research and outsiders beginning in 1955. That's when the myths began. 'Nobody knew exactly what was inside,' Volkhard Knigge, director of the Buchenwald concentration camp memorial told me in the summer of 2006, after the international commission controlling the archives finally set a timetable to open ITS at a meeting in Luxembourg. 'It became ... a place of imaginations, of fantasies.' We spoke by phone, I in Madrid, Spain, and he in Weimar, Germany. 'Nobody knows exactly whether we will find -- [for example] documents about decision making on the part of perpetrators or administrations of the crimes of the Holocaust. This archive became a kind of black box, and it invited people to create ideas about why nobody had access.' Some thought the mystery was Germany's fault, he told me; others believed that the administrators were keeping 'files hidden to let survivors die so that they cannot prove their right for financial compensation.' Because it was a European rather than a German archive, some claimed that other nations had something to hide -- perhaps proof of collaboration. Still others voiced concern that European privacy laws -- stricter in many cases than those in the United States -- would be violated if the files were opened. [...]"
[n.b. This is part one of a five-part series on the archives, all of which can be linked to through this page.]


"Stolen by the Nazis: The Tragic Tale of 12,000 Blue-Eyed Blond Children Taken By the SS to Create an Aryan Super-Race"
By Andrew Malone
The Daily Mail, 9 January 2009
"[...] Devised in 1935, the Lebensborn scheme operated on different levels to provide 'Aryan' children for Hitler's mad schemes of eugenics. As well as the stealing of blond children from families in occupied areas, another part of the scheme involved special 'breeding clinics' where pure German SS officers were told to mate with suitable German women. ... [After the war,] the children were officially classified by the Norwegian government as 'rats' and Nazi 'whore children'. Now elderly, some still get spat on in the street. The Norwegian government even tried sending 8,000 to Australia to get rid of them. As well as being locked in asylums, suicide rates among Lebensborn children were up to 20 times higher than normal for the population, while alcoholism, drug abuse and criminality were also rife. ... Campaigners are also attempting to bring the Norwegian government to court over documented evidence of drugs trials carried out on both children and mothers. Witnesses and documents say they were force-fed LSD, mescaline and other substances during experiments by the Norwegian military. The irony of all this, given what happened to the Jews, is beyond further comment. Perhaps the best known of the offspring of a Norwegian mother and a German soldier father was Anni-Frid Lyngstad, the brunette singer from the pop group Abba. She and her family fled the post-war persecution by moving to Sweden, where her secret was not known. Others were less fortunate, being beaten and raped. The post-war hatred towards the offspring of German soldiers was so great that psychologists even concluded that women who had taken part in the scheme were 'of limited talent and asocial psychopaths, some of them seriously backward'. The words 'father was a German' were indictment enough to send children from the previously occupied Scandinavian countries to mental hospitals, where many were tortured and raped. They were deemed dangerous because of their 'Nazi genes' and capable of forming a fascist fifth column. [...]"
[n.b. Thanks to Megan Lee for bringing this source to my attention.]


"Foreign Minister to Meet Relatives of Massacre Victims"
NRC Handelsblad, 13 January 2009
"Dutch foreign minister Maxime Verhagen will meet relatives of the half-century old Rawagede massacre during his visit to Indonesia later this week, he wrote in response to questions from parliament. The Indonesian village of Rawagede was the scene of a massacre perpetrated by Dutch soldiers in 1947. The village has claimed 431 men were executed without trial. The massacre occurred during the 1945-1950 Dutch military re-occupation of what was formerly the colony of the Dutch East Indies. This lengthy 'policing' operation was in response to Indonesia's unilateral declaration of independence in August 1945, which was not acknowledged by the Dutch government of the time. In his letter, Verhagen writes that he wants to demonstrate his 'compassion and respect' and express sympathy with the relatives of those who were killed. Victims' relatives from the Javanese village, now known as Balongsari, have filed for compensation from the Dutch government. The official Dutch standpoint is, however, that the incident took place too long ago to still qualify for the payment of compensation under Dutch law. Verhagen is on a 12-day tour of Singapore, Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand."
[n.b. Sounds like a classic gendercidal massacre. This is the complete text of the dispatch.]


"'Tungsten Bombs' Leave Israel's Victims with Mystery Wounds"
By Raymond Whitaker
The Independent, 18 January 2009
"[...] The UN is not the only international body insisting that inquiries must be held as soon as possible into the tactics and weapons used by Israel. Erik Fosse, a Norwegian doctor who worked in Gaza's hospitals during the conflict, said that Israel was using so-called Dime (dense inert metal explosive) bombs designed to produce an intense explosion in a small space. The bombs are packed with tungsten powder, which has the effect of shrapnel but often dissolves in human tissue, making it difficult to discover the cause of injuries. Dr. Fosse said he had seen a number of patients with extensive injuries to their lower bodies. 'It was as if they had stepped on a mine, but there was no shrapnel in the wounds,' he said. 'Some had lost their legs. It looked as though they had been sliced off. I have been to war zones for 30 years, but I have never seen such injuries before.' However, the injuries matched photographs and descriptions in medical literature of the effects of Dime bombs. 'All the patients I saw had been hit by bombs fired from unmanned drones,' said Dr. Fosse, head of the Norwegian Aid Committee. 'The bomb hit the ground near them and exploded.' His colleague, Mads Gilbert, accused Israel of using the territory as a testing ground for a new, 'extremely nasty' type of explosive. 'This is a new generation of small explosive that detonates with extreme power and dissipates its power within a range of five to 10 metres,' he said. ... While the loudest controversy has been over accusations that white phosphorus was illegally used, other foreign doctors working in Gaza have reported injuries they cannot explain. Professor Mohammed Sayed Khalifa, a cardiac consultant from Sudan, said that two of his patients had had uncontrollable bleeding. 'One had a chest operation, and continued bleeding even after having been given large quantities of plasma,' he said. 'The other had what seemed to be a minor leg injury, but collapsed with profuse bleeding. Something was interfering with the clotting process. I have never seen such a thing before.' [...]"

"UN Says Israel 'May Have Committed War Crimes'"
Reuters dispatch in The Irish Times, 17 January 2009
"UN officials have said war crimes may have been committed during Israel's offensive in the Gaza Strip. United Nations officials expressed outrage after Israeli tank fire killed two boys in a UN school today. Mr. John Ging, the head of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Gaza, said he was concerned about possible war crimes. 'These two little boys are as innocent, indisputably, as they are dead,' Mr. Ging said as Israel's offensive entered its 4th week. 'The question now being asked is: is this and the killing of all other innocent civilians in Gaza a war crime?' UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called for independent investigations into possible war crimes after Israel's shelling of another UN school compound killed 42 people, including women and children, earlier this month. Israel claimed the area near the compound was being used by militants to fire rockets. The sheer number of Palestinian dead in the conflict -- 1,203, of whom 410 are children -- has also led to calls by human rights groups and aid workers for Israel to face examination under international criminal law, specifically on the issue of "proportionality" in the prosecution of the war. ... Israeli army commanders admit they have seldom carried out such a full-throttle assault on an enemy. 'We've used artillery shells, tanks and helicopters for close-range assistance. I don't remember when we ever fired mortars in Gaza before,' a battalion commander told Haaretz newspaper, which described Israel as acting like a steamroller. A Palestinian rights group this week urged the International Criminal Court to investigate Israel, producing a 25-page petition alleging that Israel was using 'terrorist weapons to conduct crimes against humanity.' The ICC prosecutor in the Hague responded by saying the court had no jurisdiction to investigate in Gaza. The ICC can investigate war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed on the territory of, or by a national of, a state. But Gaza is not a state. 'In Gaza at present, the ICC lacks such jurisdiction,' the prosecutor said in a statement. While Israel has not signed the Rome Statute that enshrined the ICC, it can still be investigated, but it would require the UN Security Council to call for such a move. Any such proposal would be likely to draw a veto from Israel's ally, the United States. [...]"

"Israel TV News Broadcasts a Gaza Father's Heartbreak"
By Jeffrey Fleishman and Batsheva Sobelman
The Los Angeles Times, 17 January 2009
"It was a voice of anguish that pierced a nation. Israeli TV broadcast a father's heartbreak Friday night when a Palestinian doctor living in Gaza made a frantic phone call to a newscaster saying an Israeli tank had shelled his home, killing three of his daughters and injuring other family members. Izz el-Deen Aboul Aish, who speaks Hebrew, worked as a gynecologist in an Israeli hospital. Even as the crossings between the Gaza Strip and Israel had largely been closed in recent months, he had traveled frequently from one place to the other. But he had remained in Gaza since the Israeli offensive began 21 days ago. He gave frequent interviews to the Israeli media on living conditions in the seaside enclave. He spoke of having tanks around his house and of passing through checkpoints; he told Israelis what it was like to be Palestinian. Minutes away from a scheduled phone interview on Israeli TV 10 with newscaster Shlomi Eldar, Aboul Aish called Eldar's cellphone, screaming and weeping in Arabic and Hebrew. The doctor's home had been struck by a shell. 'Oh God, oh my God, my daughters have been killed. They've killed my children. ... Could somebody please come to us?' Sitting at his news desk for one of Israel's main evening news broadcasts, Eldar held his phone up. For three minutes and 26 seconds, Aboul Aish's wailing was broadcast across the country. Eldar welled up. He put his head down. He looked at the camera. He looked at his phone. He made pleas for helpfor the family, but the doctor kept crying, his voice scratchy, like sand on paper, until Eldar took out his earpiece and walked off the set to try to arrange for help. The newscaster's bewildered face seemed to capture a bit of pause in a nation that has largely supported its military campaign and prefers not to question its course. News reports said there had been shooting in the area of the doctor's house before the shelling. The Israeli military had no immediate comment. [...]"
[This will likely be viewed as a defining moment in this atrocious assault. An Al-Jazeera report is available, with subtitled excerpts of the broadcast. The longer broadcast in the original Hebrew is almost unbearable to watch, but is worth seeing for the play of emotions across the announcer's face as Dr. Aboul Aish howls his grief. It is also worth witnessing Dr. Aboul Aish being verbally attacked by a group of Israelis during his subsequent press conference.]

"Israel Shells Gaza U.N. Warehouse, Hospital, Media Offices"
By Ahmed Abu Hamda and Dion Nissenbaum
McClatchy Newspapers on Yahoo! News, 15 January 2009
"[...] Israeli officials, however, later issued contradictory versions of why Israeli forces fired on the U.N. compound. An anonymous Israeli military official first told the Associated Press that Gaza militants had fired anti-tank weapons and machine guns from inside the compound. Then Israeli officials came forward to say that preliminary results showed that the militants ran for safety inside the U.N. compound after firing on Israeli forces from outside. Chris Gunness, a spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency dismissed the Israeli claims as 'baseless' and challenged Israeli officials to produce evidence to support their version of events. Relations between the U.N. and Israel have been strained by Israeli attacks in Gaza that have killed United Nations staff members, students and refugees seeking refuge in temporary shelters. In the worst such incident, 43 Palestinians were killed last week when an Israeli strike hit a U.N. school where hundreds had sought safety. Then, as now, Israeli officials initially claimed that Hamas militants had fired from inside the school. After the U.N. denied that charge, Israel said that its soldiers had fired at Hamas militants who were firing mortars near the school. On Thursday, Gunness said that Israel's shifting stories raise questions about Israeli officials' veracity. 'With every flip-flop, Israel's credibility is severely undermined,' he said. Israeli forces also hit a Red Crescent hospital where more than 100 staff and patients were trapped as a blaze engulfed the administration building. 'It is unacceptable that wounded people receiving treatment in hospitals are put at risk,' said Jakob Kellenberger, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross. Another Israeli strike hit several high-rise buildings, including one that houses the Reuters news service's office. Reuters had given the Israeli military the location of its office before the fighting broke out last month. On Thursday, as Israeli forces moved in, Reuters staffers said they called the Israeli military to remind them where they were. Two minutes after they made the call, a shell hit their office, the Reuters staff reported. The Associated Press reported that gunfire hit its office in a separate building. [...]"
[n.b. Sometimes you just have to shake your head in disbelief.]

"UK Labour MP: 'The Reply of the Nazi'"
Politics Blog, The Guardian, 15 January 2009
"[...] Sir Gerald [Kaufman, Labour MP], who was brought up as an orthodox Jew and Zionist, told MPs [in the House of Commons on 15 January]: 'My grandmother was ill in bed when the Nazis came to her home town ... a German soldier shot her dead in her bed. My grandmother did not die to provide cover for Israeli soldiers murdering Palestinian grandmothers in Gaza. The present Israeli government ruthlessly and cynically exploit the continuing guilt from gentiles over the slaughter of Jews in the Holocaust as justification for their murder of Palestinians.' He said the claim that large numbers of the Palestinian victims were militants 'was the reply of the Nazi' and added: 'I suppose the Jews fighting for their lives in the Warsaw ghetto could have been dismissed as militants.' The Manchester Gorton MP acknowledged that Hamas was a 'deeply nasty organisation' but it was democratically elected and 'is the only game in town.' Refusing to hold talks with Hamas was a 'culpable error from which dreadful consequences have followed,' he said. Calling for an arms embargo, he said: 'It is time for our government to make clear to the Israeli government that its conduct and policies are unacceptable and to impose a total arms ban on Israel.' Sir Gerald added: 'It is time for peace -- but real peace, not the solution by conquest which is Israel's real goal but which is impossible for them to achieve. They are not simply war criminals, they are fools." [...]"
[n.b. The headline provided here is my own. The full broadcast recording of Kaufman's powerful statement in the House of Commons is available here.]

"Bolivia Breaks Israel Ties, Claims Gaza 'Genocide'"
Associated Press dispatch on Yahoo! News, 14 January 2009
"President Evo Morales announced Wednesday he was breaking relations with Israel over its invasion of the Gaza Strip and said he will ask the International Criminal Court to bring genocide charges against top Israeli officials. Morales' ally Hugo Chavez of Venezuela broke ties with Israel last week. Morales told the country's diplomatic corps that the Israeli attack 'seriously threatened world peace' and he called for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his Cabinet to face criminal charges. Morales chided the United Nations' 'Insecurity Council' for its 'lukewarm' response to the crisis and said the U.N. General Assembly should condemn the invasion. He also said Israeli President Shimon Peres should be stripped of his Nobel Peace Prize for failing to stop the invasion. [...]"

"Israel Accused of Gaza 'Genocide'", 14 January 2009
"The president of the UN General Assembly has condemned Israel's killings of Palestinians in its Gaza offensive as 'genocide.' Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann also told Al Jazeera he had never believed that the UN Security Council would be able to stop the violence in Gaza and that Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, had practically told the UN to 'mind their own business' by continuing the offensive. 'The number of victims in Gaza is increasing by the day... The situation is untenable. It's genocide,' d'Escoto said at the UN in New York. About 970 Palestinians have been killed and 4,300 injured since Israel began its Gaza offensive on December 27, which it says is to stop Palestinian fighters attacking Israel with rockets. ... 'There have been some who were under the illusion that the Security Council would do something that could help the situation,' d'Escoto said. 'I never thought so. Now we're faced with not only with a lack of compliance but with a prime minister of Israel who has practically responded to the Security Council by saying "mind your own business." It's unbelievable that a country that owes its existence to a general assembly resolution could be so disdainful of the resolutions that emanate from the UN.' D'Escoto, a former Roman Catholic priest and Nicaragua foreign minister, is known for his outspoken criticism of Israel and last year likened Israel's treatment of the Palestinians to the racist apartheid system previously used in South Africa. Gabriela Shalev, Israel's ambassador to the UN, called d'Escoto an 'Israel hater' for having hugged Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president and a vocal critic of Israel. D'Escoto also said the UN had to bear some responsibility for the long-standing conflict in the Middle East as it had allowed the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, leaving the Palestinians stateless. 'You have to attack problems at their root cause and the Palestinian people have been subjected to subhuman treatment for decades and this [the Israeli offensive] is going to make matters worse.' [...]"

"The Righteous Jews of Today" (photo gallery), 13 January 2009
[n.b. Some images, and signs, that I will have a hard time getting out of my mind. The DesertPeace blogger describes him/herself as follows: "I have been living in Jerusalem, Israel for 23 years and have dedicated all of those years to try and create an atmosphere that will lead to a just and permanent peace in this area. Israelis and Palestinians have more in common that the outsider might see ... I will attempt on this blog to show those similarities and show why I am so confident that one day we will live in peace together."]

"The Blood-Stained Monster Enters Gaza"
By Uri Avnery, 12 January 2009
"Nearly seventy ago, in the course of World War II, a heinous crime was committed in the city of Leningrad. For more than a thousand days, a gang of extremists called 'the Red Army' held the millions of the town's inhabitants hostage and provoked retaliation from the German Wehrmacht from inside the population centers. The Germans had no alternative but to bomb and shell the population and to impose a total blockade, which caused the death of hundreds of thousands. Some time before that, a similar crime was committed in England. The Churchill gang hid among the population of London, misusing the millions of citizens as a human shield. The Germans were compelled to send their Luftwaffe and reluctantly reduce the city to ruins. They called it the Blitz. This is the description that would now appear in the history books -- if the Germans had won the war. Absurd? No more than the daily descriptions in our media, which are being repeated ad nauseam: the Hamas terrorists use the inhabitants of Gaza as 'hostages' and exploit the women and children as 'human shields,' they leave us no alternative but to carry out massive bombardments, in which, to our deep sorrow, thousands of women, children and unarmed men are killed and injured. [...]"

"One Third of Those Killed Are Children, with Total Now 265"
By Toni O'Loughlin
The Irish Times, 10 January 2009
"Up to one third of the people killed in Gaza are children, who have nowhere to run for shelter, according to UN reports. As Israel's soldiers and tanks have moved from farmland at Gaza's edge into the broken-down refugee camps and towns of the territory, the child death toll has more than quadrupled. From 60 child deaths in the first eight days of aerial bombardment, the number of children who have been killed now stands at 265. Eight children were killed yesterday as the overall death toll climbed to 800 in an area that is sealed off from the world by Israel's 18-month blockade, and is just 38 miles long and eight miles wide. 'There is no safe space in the Gaza Strip, no safe haven, no bomb shelters and the borders are closed and the civilians have no place to flee,' the UN's Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a weekly report. Schools, mosques and houses, where people have been sheltering, have been hit. But Israel says Hamas is to blame and accuses the militant group of storing and mounting attacks from sites used by civilians. 'Hamas uses homes, mosques and hospitals to fire from and civilian casualties are unavoidable,' said Maj Jacob Dallal, a spokesman for the military. Israel's military also insists that the majority of deaths have been Hamas members. Yet Al-Mezan, a Palestinian human rights group, which is trying to verify the UN's casualty numbers, which come from the Palestinian ministry of health, says the military is attacking unarmed civilians. It says, for example, that on the morning before the ground invasion began, a father and his three sons were scavenging for wood for cooking and heating when they were hit by a missile. Children are also dying because rescue teams and ambulances cannot retrieve them from the wreckage. [...]"

"100 Survivors Rescued in Gaza From Ruins Blocked by Israelis"
By Craig Whitlock and Reyham Abdel Kareem
The Washington Post, 9 January 2009
"Emergency workers said they rescued 100 more trapped survivors Thursday and found between 40 and 50 corpses in a devastated residential block south of Gaza City that the Israeli military had kept off-limits to the International Committee of the Red Cross for four days. Relief agencies said they feared more people remained in the rubble of several shattered houses in the Zaytoun neighborhood. Red Cross officials said that they began receiving distress calls from people in the houses late Saturday but that they were blocked by the Israeli military from reaching the area until Wednesday. ... The Red Cross has accused the Israeli military of repeatedly refusing to grant permission for ambulances to go to [the neighbourhood of] Zaytoun, even though soldiers were stationed outside the damaged houses and were aware people were wounded inside. In a statement issued early Thursday, the agency called the episode 'unacceptable' and said the Israeli military had 'failed to meet its obligation under international humanitarian law to care for and evacuate the wounded.' ... The United Nations also pressed Israel to investigate the Red Cross allegations. John Holmes, chief of U.N. humanitarian aid programs, called the Zaytoun deaths 'a particularly outrageous incident.' 'What they found was absolutely horrifying,' he said at a news conference in New York. B'Tselem, the Israeli human rights group, said residents of Zaytoun who had been trapped in other houses have given similar accounts of how Israeli soldiers were aware of their plight but refused to allow rescue workers into the neighborhood. 'What these family members say consistently is that the IDF was close by,' said Sarit Michaeli, a spokeswoman for the group, referring to the Israel Defense Forces. 'This wasn't some remote area. The soldiers certainly were about and were aware of their position.' ... Two surviving members of the Samuni family said dozens of their relatives in the area had been rounded up by the Israeli military early Sunday and ordered to stay inside a handful of houses while soldiers conducted operations door-to-door. They said some people died in the shelling, which left a gaping hole in the roof of the Samuni home. On Friday, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said it had confirmed the account of what happened to the Samuni family. Calling it 'one of the gravest incidents' in Gaza since the start of the fighting, the U.N. said Israeli soldiers had packed about 110 Palestinians into the house Sunday, then 'shelled the home repeatedly' 24 hours later. [...]"
[n.b. This is sickening stuff. The Zaytoun massacre is clearly a war crime, but might also fit the provisions of the crime against humanity of "extermination," as it has been applied under international law. Either way, it requires immediate investigation and prosecution. If the Israeli authorities are not up to the task, then investigations should be mounted and indictments issued by the International Criminal Court.]

"Gaza Under Fire"
By John Pilger
New Statesman, 8 January 2009
"[...] Mostly Jewish truth-tellers such as Avi Shlaim, Noam Chomsky, Tanya Reinhart, Neve Gordon, Tom Segev, Uri Avnery, Ilan Pappé and Norman Finkelstein have undermined this and other myths and revealed a state shorn of the humane traditions of Judaism, whose unrelenting militarism is the sum of an expansionist, lawless and racist ideology called Zionism. 'It seems,' wrote the Israeli historian Pappé on 2 January, 'that even the most horrendous crimes, such as the genocide in Gaza, are treated as discrete events, unconnected to anything that happened in the past and not associated with any ideology or system ... Very much as the apartheid ideology explained the oppressive policies of the South African government, this ideology -- in its most consensual and simplistic variety -- allowed all the Israeli governments in the past and the present to dehumanise the Palestinians wherever they are and strive to destroy them. The means altered from period to period, from location to location, as did the narrative covering up these atrocities. But there is a clear pattern [of genocide].' In Gaza, the enforced starvation and denial of humanitarian aid, the piracy of life-giving resources such as fuel and water, the denial of medicines, the systematic destruction of infrastructure and killing and maiming of the civilian population, 50 per cent of whom are children, fall within the international standard of the Genocide Convention. 'Is it an irresponsible overstatement,' asked Richard Falk, UN special rapporteur for human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories and international law authority at Princeton University, 'to associate the treatment of Palestinians with this criminalised Nazi record of collective atrocity? I think not.' [...]"

"U.N. and Red Cross Add to Outcry on Gaza War"
By Ethan Bronner
The New York Times, 8 January 2009
"International aid groups lashed out at Israel on Thursday over the war in Gaza, saying that access to civilians in need is poor, relief workers are being hurt and killed, and Israel is woefully neglecting its obligations to Palestinians who are trapped, some among rotting corpses in a nightmarish landscape of deprivation. Soldiers rested on the Israeli side of the border with Gaza during the three-hour cease-fire on Wednesday. The United Nations declared a suspension of its aid operations after one of its drivers was killed and two others were wounded despite driving United Nations-flagged vehicles and coordinating their movements with the Israeli military. The United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, called for an investigation by Israel for a second time in a week after the more than 40 deaths near a United Nations school from Israeli tank fire on Tuesday. The International Committee of the Red Cross reported finding what it called shocking scenes on Wednesday, including four emaciated children next to the bodies of their dead mothers. In a rare and sharply critical statement, it said it believed that 'the Israeli military failed to meet its obligation under international humanitarian law to care for and evacuate the wounded.' Israeli officials said that they were examining all the allegations, that they did not aim at civilians and that they were not certain that the source of fire that killed and wounded the United Nations drivers was Israeli. 'We do our utmost to avoid hitting civilians, and many times we don’t fire because we see civilians nearby,' said Maj. Avital Leibovich, chief army spokeswoman for the foreign media. 'We are holding meetings with U.N. officials to try to work out a mechanism so that their work can go forward.' She said that the army learned of the Red Cross allegations in a media report, and that the Geneva-based committee had not yet presented the evidence of what she called 'these very serious allegations' to the army. [...]"

"Israel Condemns Vatican's 'Concentration Camp' Remarks"
By Rachel Donadio
The New York Times, 8 January 2009
"Tensions rose between the Vatican and Israel on Thursday after Israel condemned a high-ranking Vatican official for comparing the Gaza Strip to 'a concentration camp.' 'Look at the conditions in Gaza: more and more, it resembles a big concentration camp,' Cardinal Renato Martino, the president of the Council for Justice and Peace, said in an interview published Wednesday in an online publication. He defended his comments in the center-left daily newspaper La Repubblica on Thursday. While noting that Hamas rockets into Israel were 'certainly not sugared almonds,' he called the situation in Gaza 'horrific' and said conditions there went 'against human dignity.' Israel on Thursday harshly condemned the cardinal’s use of World War Two imagery. 'We are astounded that a spiritual dignitary would have such words, that are so far removed from truth and dignity,' said Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry. He added that it was 'shocking to hear the vocabulary of Hamas propaganda coming from a member of the church.' ... The Vatican sought to downplay the cardinal's remarks. The Vatican spokesman, Rev. Federico Lombardi, called Cardinal Martino's choice of words 'inopportune,' and said they created 'irritation and confusion' more than illumination. ... Indeed, the cardinal's remarks overshadowed an important discourse that Pope Benedict XVI delivered on Thursday, in which he called for a ceasefire in Gaza and decried 'a renewed outbreak of violence provoking immense damage and suffering for the civilian population.' 'Once again I would repeat that military options are no solution and that violence, wherever it comes from and whatever form it takes, must be firmly condemned,' he told diplomats accredited to the Vatican. [...]"

"Israel: Boycott, Divest, Sanction"
By Naomi Klein
The Nation, 7 January 2009
"It's time. Long past time. The best strategy to end the increasingly bloody occupation is for Israel to become the target of the kind of global movement that put an end to apartheid in South Africa. In July 2005 a huge coalition of Palestinian groups laid out plans to do just that. They called on 'people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era.' The campaign Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions -- BDS for short -- was born. Every day that Israel pounds Gaza brings more converts to the BDS cause, and talk of cease-fires is doing little to slow the momentum. Support is even emerging among Israeli Jews. In the midst of the assault roughly 500 Israelis, dozens of them well-known artists and scholars, sent a letter to foreign ambassadors stationed in Israel. It calls for 'the adoption of immediate restrictive measures and sanctions' and draws a clear parallel with the antiapartheid struggle. 'The boycott on South Africa was effective, but Israel is handled with kid gloves. ... This international backing must stop.' Yet many still can't go there. The reasons are complex, emotional and understandable. And they simply aren't good enough. Economic sanctions are the most effective tools in the nonviolent arsenal. Surrendering them verges on active complicity. Here are the top four objections to the BDS strategy, followed by counterarguments. [...]"


"Milosevic's Secret Police Chief Denies Knowledge of Major Massacre in Kosovo"
By Dusan Stojanovic
Associated Press dispatch in The Los Angeles Times, 13 January 2009
"Slobodan Milosevic's secret police chief said Tuesday he had no knowledge of a massacre by Serbian troops of ethnic Albanian civilians during the Kosovo war. Radomir Markovic testified as a witness in the trial of eight former Serbian security officers charged with ordering and carrying out the March 1999 killings in the Kosovo village of Suva Reka. Serb troops allegedly executed 48 members of one family, including infants, women and the elderly. 'If I knew about the killings, I would have done something,' said Markovic, who is serving a 40-year prison sentence for an unrelated crime. The proceedings at Belgrade Special Court are considered a test of Serbia's ability to punish those responsible for war crimes during Milosevic's tenure in the 1990s. The Suva Reka massacre took place only days after NATO launched air attacks on Serbia to force Milosevic to end his crackdown against the ethnic Albanian separatists in Kosovo. He died of a heart attack in U.N. detention in The Hague, Netherlands, in 2006. According to the indictment against the Serb officers, the massacre victims included 14 children, two infants, a pregnant woman and a 100-year-old woman. Their bodies were later dumped in a mass grave at a police training camp near Belgrade, where they were discovered in 2001. 'I have heard about the suffering of civilians when I was already in prison in 2001,' Markovic told the court, when asked why he had no knowledge of the Kosovo massacre while occupying such a senior security position at the time. The indictment -- which does not include Markovic -- alleges that the defendants, including a former assistant commander of an elite police unit, rounded up the family, killed several men with automatic rifle fire before forcing the rest into a restaurant and throwing hand-grenades at them. [...]"


"Bashir 'War Crimes' Call Arrest"
BBC Online, 15 January 2009
"Sudanese Islamist leader Hassan al-Turabi has been arrested after calling on President Omar al-Bashir to hand himself in to face war crimes charges. The veteran opposition leader is the most high-profile Sudanese figure to say the president should go to The Hague to face charges over Darfur. Mr. Turabi's son said he was worried for the health of his 76-year-old father. International Criminal Court (ICC) judges are deciding whether to issue an arrest warrant for Mr Bashir. The BBC's Amber Henshaw in Khartoum says tension is mounting ahead of the ICC decision. The head of national intelligence recently said foreigners in Sudan could be attacked if an arrest warrant is issued for the president. Mr. Turabi was taken from his Khartoum home just after 2300 local time (2000 GMT) on Wednesday, family members said. ... Mr. Turabi said on Monday that President Bashir should hand himself over to the ICC to save the country from possible UN sanctions. 'Politically we think he is culpable ... He should assume responsibility for whatever is happening in Darfur, displacement, burning all the villages, rapes, I mean systematic rapes, continuously, I mean on a wide scale and the killing.' He added: 'Six million of the Sudanese are now paralysed, no agriculture, no animal farming or rearing. He is responsible and we condemn him.' The ICC's chief prosecutor wants Sudan's president to be charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity, accusing him of supporting the Arab Janjaweed militias accused of ethnic cleansing against Darfur's black African population. Sudan says any charges would be part of a political plot against its leader. [...]"


"Thais 'Leave Boat People to Die'"
By Subir Bhaumik
BBC Online, 15 January 2009
"Thai soldiers are detaining illegal migrants from Bangladesh and Burma and forcing them back out to sea in boats without engines, survivors say. Survivors say their hands were tied and they were towed out to sea with little or no food or water. About 500 migrants are now recovering from acute dehydration in India's Andaman islands and the Indonesian province of Aceh. Thai officials were not immediately available for comment. But sources in the police and army confirmed to the BBC's Jonathan Head in Bangkok that asylum seekers are being pushed out to sea. They did not provide further details about the practice. Thousands of poor Burmese and Bangladeshis try to reach south-east Asian nations in search of work. Survivors rescued by Indian coast guards say hundreds of other asylum-seekers are still missing after leaving Bangladesh and Burma since the end of November. They told the BBC that they paid agents to take them to Thailand by boat so that they could have a better life. They said that the Thai authorities detained many of them in Koh Sai Daeng island. 'Thai soldiers tied up our hands and then put us in boats without engines. These were towed into the high sea by motorised boats and left to drift,' said Zaw Win, a survivor rescued by Indian coast guards off the coast of Little Andamans after drifting for 12 days. 'We were without food and water. The Thai soldiers clearly wanted us to die on the boats,' Win told the BBC by telephone from a camp where survivors are being cared for. Other survivors said that about 400 migrants were put on a huge boat by soldiers. It was equipped with only two bags of rice and two drums of drinking water. 'The food and water ran out in two days. After that we were starving for nearly 15 days before we saw a lighthouse and jumped into the sea and tried swimming ashore,' Mohammed Said told the BBC. This group of migrants was also rescued by the Indian coast guards and put into relief camps. [...]"


"Uganda's Conflict Spreads to Congo, Where LRA Rebels Massacre Villagers"
By Edmund Sanders
The Los Angeles Times, 11 October 2009
"The rebels targeted churches on Christmas Day. Men were killed first, often stripped of shirts and pants, and then bound with their arms behind their backs. Rather than waste bullets, the attackers hacked victims in the back of the neck with machetes or shattered their skulls with sticks. 'It happened step by step,' said Joseph Kpayajadia, 58, a farmer who hid in the grass and saw his son being killed. 'They held everyone together in a group and then took people five or six at a time into the bush to kill. Then they came back for more.' By the time the rampage ended, 254 people were dead in nine villages in a string of attacks that lasted several days, officials in Doruma estimate. This troubled area of northeastern Congo, where regional conflicts have left 5 million people dead over 12 years, is now home base for one of Africa's longest-running and most insidious rebel movements: the Lord's Resistance Army, a fearsome group from neighboring Uganda that claims to demand strict adherence to the Ten Commandments. A surprise joint offensive last month by the armies of Uganda, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo had sought to crush the rebel militia, notorious for preying on children, in its Congo hide-out. But rather than kill the LRA's elusive leader, Joseph Kony, airstrikes against half a dozen rebel camps in the dense forests here appear to have only given new life to an old conflict, turning Uganda's civil war into a growing regional crisis. After a lull in attacks over the last two years, the rebel army -- estimated at 600 fighters -- has split into small bands, scattering in different directions and terrorizing civilian populations with the most brutal massacres by the militia since 2004. Humanitarian groups worry this pocket of northern Congo is witnessing the same type of catastrophe that northern Uganda did a decade ago. Congolese victims say the military offensive has put them in the cross hairs of a neighbor's war. ... Women and children were not spared. The father of a 4-year-old girl, lying stiffly on a filthy hospital mattress, said the attackers tried to break her neck and then threw her atop the corpses of her mother and two siblings. In nearby beds, other survivors, still shaking in pain and fear, were so traumatized that they had been unable to speak since the attack, hospital officials said. [...]"


"Kerry's Historic Opportunity on Genocide Policy"
By Susan Morgan and Eric Cohen
The Huffington Post, 12 January 2009
"At last, US rhetoric on genocide may mature into effective policy against genocide. What better place to begin than the confirmation hearings to be held Tuesday by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee? The bi-partisan 'Genocide Prevention Taskforce' published its recommendations on December 8, 2008. Their 'blueprint for action' comes just in time for the 60th anniversaries of the landmark 'Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide' and the 'Universal Declaration of Human Rights.' Sixty years is a long time to wait to have a coherent and effective approach to preventing and responding to genocide -- too late for Rwanda and other 20th century genocides, but in time, still, to make a difference for Darfur. Senator John Kerry is well-positioned to take a historic step toward implementing an effective anti-genocide policy. ... As the newly named chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Kerry's first major task will be to vet President-elect Obama's nominees for Secretary of State, Senator Hillary Clinton, and UN Ambassador, Dr. Susan Rice. The Genocide Prevention Taskforce urged 'America's 44th president to demonstrate at the outset that preventing genocide and mass atrocities is a national priority.' That process can and should start in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Since Kerry's statements in 2004, the situation in Darfur has continued to be dire. Despite a UN prohibition on offensive military flights, the Government of Sudan continued to bomb villages, at least 43 times in 2008. Insecure camps warehouse over 2.5 million people. UN peacekeepers and humanitarian workers are robbed and attacked. Khartoum obstructs the deployment of the UN peacekeeping force, threatens the entire humanitarian program, and their Janjaweed militia are still armed. No meaningful peace process exists. ... In his leadership role as chairman of the committee, Senator Kerry should ensure time in the hearings for the nominees to elaborate their plans. We must know that the next administration is already working to ensure peace throughout Sudan, protection for civilians in Darfur and accountability for perpetrators of the world's worst crimes. [...]"


"What to Do About the Torturers?"
By David Cole
New York Review of Books, 15 January 2009
"[...] While the CIA claims to have abandoned waterboarding, the administration has refused to say what tactics CIA interrogators are still permitted to use. Its secret prisons, into which suspects are disappeared for incommunicado interrogation, remain open. The administration has never repudiated the practice of rendering suspects to third countries for interrogation by torture, and has never held anyone accountable for that practice. And several still-secret and still-governing Justice Department memoranda from 2005 reportedly authorize the CIA to continue using coercive tactics even after the McCain Amendment was passed. In March 2008, President Bush vetoed a bill that would have required the CIA to limit itself to interrogation techniques approved in the Army Field Manual. In short, the United States has never taken full responsibility for the crimes its high-level officials committed and authorized. That is unacceptable. In the long run, the best insurance against cruelty and torture becoming US policy again is a formal recognition that what we did after September 11 was wrong -- as a normative, moral, and legal matter, not just as a tactical issue. Such an acknowledgment need not take the form of a criminal prosecution; but it must take some official form. We have been willing to admit wrongdoing in the past. In 1988, President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act, officially apologizing for the Japanese internment and paying reparations to the internees and their survivors. That legislation, a formal repudiation of our past acts, provides an important cultural bulwark against something similar happening again. There has been nothing of its kind with respect to torture. We cannot move forward in reforming the law effectively unless we are willing to account for what we did wrong in the past. The next administration or the next Congress should at a minimum appoint an independent, bipartisan, blue-ribbon commission to investigate and assess responsibility for the United States' adoption of coercive interrogation policies. If it is to be effective, it must have subpoena power, sufficient funding, security clearances, access to all the relevant evidence, and, most importantly, a charge to assess responsibility, not just to look forward. We may know many of the facts already, but absent a reckoning for those responsible for torture and cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment -- our own federal government -- the healing cannot begin."

"Obama's Torture Dilemma"
By Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball
Newsweek, 14 January 2009
"The incoming Obama administration is coming under new pressure to investigate the treatment of terror detainees following a surprise public admission by a top Pentagon official that a high-profile detainee was 'tortured' at Guantánamo Bay. In an unusually candid interview, Susan J. Crawford, the convening authority for the U.S. military commissions, told the Washington Post's Bob Woodward that a number of 'enhanced' interrogation techniques used against one Guantánamo detainee -- Mohammed al-Qahtani -- 'met the legal definition of torture.' 'We tortured al-Qahtani,' Crawford told Woodward. ... Crawford's comments could force the new administration to look backward, as well. As the senior Pentagon official in charge of the military commissions, Crawford had direct access to internal files on Qahtani's treatment that have never been publicly released, including practices that she says left the Saudi detainee in a 'life-threatening condition.' 'I expect that a next step is for the Justice Department of the new administration to take a look at all of the facts and to assess any senior-level accountability for the abuse of detainees,' said Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, in a statement to Newsweek. (Levin recently released a report concluding that senior Bush administration officials were responsible for the abusive treatment of detainees.) Crawford's willingness to publicly use the word 'torture' could have immediate legal implications. Torture is not just a violation of international treaties such as the Geneva Conventions; it is also a federal crime prosecutable by the Justice Department. In fact, just last week, Justice put out a press release highlighting its successful prosecution of Roy M. Belfast (a.k.a. 'Chuckie Taylor'), the son of former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor, for acts of torture committed under his father's regime during the 1990s. ... 'Our message to human rights violators, no matter where they are, remains the same: We will use the full reach of U.S. law, and every lawful resource at the disposal of our investigators and prosecutors, to hold you fully accountable for your crimes,' acting assistant attorney general Matthew Friedrich of the criminal division said in the press release. [...]"

"Advocates of a Special Prosecutor for Bush Seek an Answer From Obama"
By Michael Falcone
The Caucus (blog), The New York Times, 7 January 2009
"With few exceptions the transition period has been a model of presidential goodwill and cooperation. Apparently, the curious users who have been submitting questions on President-elect Barack Obama's Web site,, didn't get the memo. In fact, the number one submission on the popular 'Open for Questions' portion of the site might seem more than a little impolitic to the current, and soon to be former, occupant of the White House. 'Will you appoint a Special Prosecutor -- ideally Patrick Fitzgerald -- to independently investigate the gravest crimes of the Bush Administration, including torture and warrantless wiretapping,' wrote Bob Fertik of New York, who runs the Web site, Though the Obama team has promised to answer some of the top questions as early as this week, they have not said whether they will respond to Mr. Fertik's, which has received more than 22,000 votes since the second round of the question-and-answer feature began on Dec. 30. The site logged more than 1.5 million votes for 20,000-plus questions as of Wednesday. The second highest-ranked submission, which is about oversight of the nation's banking industry, is several thousand of votes behind the query about a special prosecutor. Mr. Fertik's question has been pushed to the top, in part, by a coalition of liberal bloggers, including a writer for the Web site, Daily Kos, who have 'endorsed' it and encouraged their readers to vote for it on On his own site, Mr. Fertik pointed out that during his presidential campaign Mr. Obama left the door open to a special prosecutor. 'What I would want to do is to have my Justice Department and my Attorney General immediately review the information that's already there and to find out are there inquiries that need to be pursued,' Mr. Obama told a Philadelphia journalist last April. But he went on to emphasize the difference between what he called 'really dumb policies and policies that rise to the level of criminal activity.' [...]"


"Time to Forcefully Oust Mugabe"
By John Prendergast
The Christian Science Monitor on Yahoo! News, 16 January 2009
"[...] For a real solution in Zimbabwe, there are two credible choices: isolation or intervention. Neither is cost-free, and both are fraught with dangers. But now that the house is burning, we must take away Mugabe's key. A strategy of isolation would involve widening and deepening targeted sanctions against regime officials and building a coalition to enforce them. Beyond that, Zimbabwe's southern African neighbors could close their borders with Zimbabwe to all but refugees and humanitarian supplies, and interdict all energy and arms exports to Zimbabwe. Furthermore, the UN Security Council could refer the case of Zimbabwe to the International Criminal Court in order to investigate the systematic denial of food to people on the basis of their political affiliation as well as the widespread use of torture by the state. There are significant risks in this approach. The humanitarian crisis could deepen, pushing millions into actual starvation. Mugabe could order his militias and security services to intensify their attacks against civilian populations deemed unsupportive of the regime. His government could block access by humanitarian groups and thousands could die of cholera and other epidemics. The truth, however, is that much of this is already happening, but in slow motion. Mortality rates are creeping upward because of an explosion of untreated AIDS cases, combined with spiraling malnutrition rates. Zimbabwe already has among the lowest life expectancy rates in the world, hovering around 40 years by the UN's last count. There may be a faster solution. When the situation in Idi Amin's Uganda spiraled out of control and he began destabilizing neighbors, Tanzania intervened in 1979 and overthrew Amin's regime. When Charles Taylor's destruction of Liberia and Sierra Leone became untenable, Nigeria and other neighbors sent troops, and the US sent warships off Liberia's coast in a concerted regional push to successfully urge Taylor to resign and leave the country in 2003. When Congo's Mobutu Sese Seko's divide-and-conquer approach to government began creating security problems for neighbors, they supported rebel groups to overthrow him in 1997. As refugees, crime, and disease flow across their borders from Zimbabwe, the time has come for neighboring governments to expedite Mugabe's departure. South Africa remains the key, and the incoming Obama administration would do well to hold early talks with President Kgalema Motlanthe and ruling party leader Jacob Zuma about how this might be accomplished. [...]"
[n.b. Many readers will recognize Prendergast as "co-chair of Enough, a Center for American Progress project focused on ending genocide and crimes against humanity ("]


"Billions Face Food Shortages, Study Warns"
By Ian Sample
The Guardian, 9 January 2009
"Half of the world's population could face severe food shortages by the end of the century as rising temperatures take their toll on farmers' crops, scientists have warned. Harvests of staple food crops such as rice and maize could fall by between 20% and 40% as a result of higher temperatures during the growing season in the tropics and subtropics. Warmer temperatures in the region are also expected to increase the risk of drought, cutting crop losses further, according to a new study. The worst of the food shortages are expected to hit the poor, densely inhabited regions of the equatorial belt, where demand for food is already soaring because of a rapid growth in population. A study in the US journal Science found there was a 90% chance that by the end of the century, the coolest temperatures in the tropics during the crop growing season would exceed the hottest temperatures recorded between 1900 and 2006. More temperate regions such as Europe could expect to see previous record temperatures become the norm by 2100. 'The stress on global food production from temperatures alone is going to be huge, and that doesn't take into account water supplies stressed by the higher temperatures,' said David Battisti, at the University of Washington, who led the study. Battisti and Rosamond Naylor, at Stanford University in California, combined climate models from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and historical examples of the impact of heatwaves on agriculture, and found severe food shortages were likely to become more common. ... According to the study, many local populations now live on less than £1.30 a day and depend on agriculture. The need for food is due to become more urgent as populations are expected to nearly double by the end of the century. 'When all the signs point in the same direction, and in this case it's a bad direction, you pretty much know what's going to happen,' Battisti said. 'You're talking about hundreds of millions of additional people looking for food because they won't be able to find it where they find it now." [...]"


"'A Dangerous Luxury': The International Criminal Court's Dream of Global Justice"
By Thomas Darnstädt, Helene Zuber and Jan Puhl, 14 January 2009
"[...] Exasperatingly, the International Criminal Court -- an ambitious enterprise supported by 108 member states -- could fail on its first and greatest project: bringing peace to violence-torn Africa. Large parts of the world recently rose in opposition to the court once again when it announced last summer that it is seeking a warrant against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for alleged genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. This prompted an angry response from the African Union, which asked the United Nations Security Council to make clear to the chief prosecutor where his competencies end. The Arab League was outraged that The Hague wanted to arrest a head of state. Sudan's ally China expressed 'grave concern,' and Libya and South Africa tried to block the indictment against Bashir in the Security Council. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had earlier expressed his opinion that a too-open search for justice merely compromises efforts to achieve peace. He warned the prosecutor that a warrant against Bashir would have 'a very serious negative impact on efforts to achieve peace' in Sudan. However supporters of the ICC's position point out that Bashir has repeatedly announced negotiations on Darfur while his troops continued to -- as Moreno-Ocampo put it -- 'murder, destroy villages and rape women.' Peace or justice? In faraway Germany even the respected daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung felt that it had the right recipe for combating violence in Africa. In a lead article about the struggles of politicians to broker a peace, it wrote that criminal indictments against African leaders are 'a dangerous luxury.' [...]"

"Taylor's Son Sentenced in US for Torture in Liberia"
McClatchy newspapers report in The Guardian, 9 January 2009
"Son of ex-Liberian president Charles Taylor was sentenced to 97 years in prison today in landmark torture case that grew out of a US investigation into arms trafficking in Liberia. Charles 'Chuckie' Taylor Jr was convicted in October of leading a campaign of torture against people opposed to his father's rule. Although he wasn't charged with killing any of them, his indictment alleged that he killed at least one of seven victims. Federal prosecutors had cited the murder allegation in recommending that US District Judge Cecilia Altonaga send the former Orlando, Florida, resident to prison for 147 years, stemming from his convictions on eight conspiracy, torture and firearm charges. Assistant US Attorney Caroline Heck Miller called Taylor's violent conduct a 'gross offence against the public,' urging the judge to impose consecutive sentences. His defence lawyers countered that Taylor, 31, was not convicted of murder and therefore should be imprisoned for seven to 20 years. Taylor Jr. was tapped by his father to command an anti-terrorist unit called the 'Demon Forces' that beat, burned and beheaded Liberian civilians from 1999 to 2003, the jury concluded. The Miami criminal case -- which took place at the same time the father, Charles Taylor, faced a war-crimes tribunal in the Netherlands -- marked the first US prosecution of torture committed in a foreign country. The son was charged under a 1994 law that permits the federal government to prosecute anyone suspected of carrying out torture outside the country as long as the suspect is a US citizen, legal resident or is present in this country, regardless of nationality. Federal authorities, from Immigration and Customs Enforcement to the FBI, said they were proud of prosecuting the landmark case because it sends a powerful message to torturers who might try to evade justice by sneaking into the United States -- as Taylor tried to do in March 2006 when he was arrested after flying from Trinidad to Miami on a false passport. [...]"


"Woman Burned at Stake after Being Accused of Witchcraft"
By Bonnie Malkin
The Telegraph, 7 Jan 2009
"Local media reported the victim, aged between 16 to 21, had been killed after being accused of conducting an extra marital affair, spreading Aids to one of her murderers and for being a sorceress. According to witnesses the victim in the latest 'sorcery killing,' was stripped, blindfolded, gagged and tied to a pole on top of a pyre of car tyres and firewood on a garbage dump in the Mount Hagen region, The Post Courier newspaper reported. Several men then poured petrol over her and set the pyre ablaze. 'The girl was stripped naked and could not shout for assistance or resist as she was tightly strapped and her mouth gagged,' witness Jessie James, 21, said. The prevalence of crimes linked to black magic has led local media to compare the murders in the highlands to the 17th century witch trials in America. Simon Kauba, highlands police chief, said belief in witchcraft was still widespread in the region. 'I don't know the right words to describe it but it's barbaric. Can you find the best words to describe such acts that are rampant here?' he said. The Post Courier newspaper editorial condemned the killing as 'yet one more example of hysteria and superstition running rampant in parts of our country.' 'How many of our young are afraid to go home because of these sorcery beliefs and vengeance practices? Those who say she got primitive justice should pause to think, it could be you next on that truckload of burning tyres,' it said. Most reports of women being tortured and killed after being accused of witchcraft in PNG in recent years have been linked to the growing death toll on the island from Aids. Less than a hundred years ago some tribes in the rugged South Pacific island nation off the north-eastern tip of Australia had never had contact with the outside world. In 2006, a United Nations report said PNG's population of some six million people was facing an Aids catastrophe, accounting for 90 per cent of HIV infections in the Oceania region."