Half a million Afghans displaced by war have been left homeless and struggling to survive because of government and international neglect, Amnesty International said Thursday.
Around 400 people join makeshift shelters around the country every day, Amnesty said in a report entitled “Fleeing war, finding misery”, based on three years of research.
The Afghan government estimates that more than 40 people froze to death this winter, the harshest in 15 years, with at least 28 children dying in camps around Kabul.
The government is “not only looking the other way but even preventing help from reaching them” in an attempt to avoid making the settlements permanent, Amnesty researcher Horia Mosadiq said.
“Local officials restrict aid efforts because they want to pretend that these people are going to go away. This is a largely hidden but horrific humanitarian and human rights crisis,” she said.
The report calls on the government to remove conditions placed on humanitarian aid and on international donors to “ensure that their humanitarian assistance addresses the needs of internally displaced people”.
Kabul alone houses up to 35,000 displaced persons in 30 slum areas around the city, according to the report.
Slum residents told Amnesty that they had fled their homes to escape the escalating war which has seen the number of civilian deaths rise steadily to a record of more than 3,000 in 2011, according to UN figures.
Most of the casualties are caused by Taliban insurgents, but many displaced Afghans told Amnesty that they fled their homes in fear of NATO bombardment and to avoid being used as human shields by the militants.
NATO has some 130,000 troops in Afghanistan supporting the government of President Hamid Karzai against an insurgency led by remnants of the Islamist Taliban regime overthrown by a US-led invasion in 2001.
“Afghans have real grounds to feel less secure now than at any point in the last 10 years,” said Mosadiq.
“International and Afghan forces should address the impact of conflict on civilians, including displacement. The Taliban must also look to protect civilians, by ensuring humanitarian access to the areas they control.”
Food is scarce in the camps and children in slum communities have little access to education, according to the report.
“Since we came there is no assistance or anything; the family has not eaten anything for the past two days,” a camp dweller named Zarin told Amnesty.
Most women give birth in difficult and unsanitary conditions without skilled attendants, increasing the risk of maternal and infant death in a country ranked among the world?s worst places for maternal health, the report said.
With housing scarce and expensive in the main cities, families who flee the war construct makeshift dwellings from mud, poles, plywood and plastic sheeting that give them little protection from the cold in winter and heat in summer.
“I don’t know which problem I should talk about – school, unemployment, not having proper housing, food, health — when my children are getting sick and I have to pay for the doctor — it’s everything,” said Fatima, a woman in her 20s living in a Kabul camp.
The report calls on the government to protect displaced people against forced eviction, guarantee their children access to primary education and allow them to be issued with identity cards so they can exercise their legal rights.
The head of the UN refugee agency Antonio Guterres told AFP this month that UNHCR was overhauling its strategy in a bid to stop returning Afghans from becoming destitute, and to focus on sustainable reintegration.
ATLANTA (Reuters) – Death penalty opponents urged Georgia on Monday to halt the execution of a man convicted of raping and killing a woman in 1994, saying there was inadequate evidence linking him to the crime.
Marcus Ray Johnson, 46, is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on Wednesday for the killing of Angela Sizemore in Albany, Georgia. Sizemore, 34, was mutilated and stabbed 41 times with a small knife, according to trial testimony.
Amnesty International said “serious doubts” remained about Johnson’s guilt, echoing concerns raised by supporters of Troy Davis, who was executed in Georgia on September 21 for the murder of a police officer.
“We are deeply troubled to see the state of Georgia prepare to execute another prisoner while serious doubts about his guilt are unresolved,” said Laura Moye, director of Amnesty International’s Death Penalty Abolition Campaign.
“Despite the enormous outpouring of concern from Georgians and those around the world about a deeply flawed system that ended Troy Davis’ life, the state is gearing up to execute a person who may well be innocent.”
The Davis case had attracted worldwide attention because of claims by his advocates he may have been innocent. No physical evidence linked Davis to the crime, and some witnesses changed or recanted their testimony after his conviction.
Prosecutors in Albany did not return phone calls for comment on the Johnson case but have stood by his conviction in comments to local media, saying there was nothing to indicate he was not the killer.
“There’s no evidence that indicates that there was anybody else there, but even if there was anybody else there, like I said, none of it exonerates, nothing removes him from the crime,” Dougherty District Attorney Greg Edwards said in remarks aired on local television channel WALB.
Trial testimony showed that Johnson met Sizemore in a bar in Albany. Sizemore had been drinking so heavily that the bar stopped serving her, a court synopsis of the case stated.
A bartender handed Johnson the keys to Sizemore’s car, and the pair left together at about 2:30 a.m. A man walking his dog discovered Sizemore’s body the next morning lying across the front seat of her car.
Johnson told police that Sizemore became angry because he did not want to “snuggle” after sex, and he punched her in the face. He said he “hit her hard” and then walked away. “I didn’t kill her intentionally if I did kill her,” he told police.
Citing Johnson’s lawyers, Amnesty International said the case against Johnson was built on unreliable witness testimony from people who did not see the crime but had placed Johnson with the victim in the hours before the murder.
DNA testing matched blood on Johnson’s shirt with Sizemore’s blood, according to court records. But Amnesty, which campaigns against the death penalty, said there was a lack of physical evidence tying Johnson to the crime.
“Evidence of blood is not evidence of a commission of a crime, necessarily,” Amnesty spokeswoman Suzanne Trimel said.
Johnson’s lawyers asked the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles on Monday to grant their client clemency. A board spokesman said there would be no decision on Monday.
Defense attorneys have filed a motion for a new trial, calling for DNA testing on newly discovered evidence in the case. Lawyers for Johnson could not be reached for comment.
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Cynthia Johnston)
Mochila insert follows.
Khmer Rouge survivors reacted with dismay Tuesday as a top regime leader walked out of his genocide trial for a second day and a co-defendant sought acquittal under a 15-year-old amnesty.
The elderly suspects’ defiant attitude underlined the challenges facing Cambodia’s UN-backed war crimes court in a case long awaited by victims of the 1970s totalitarian movement, which wiped out nearly a quarter of the population.
“Brother Number Two” Nuon Chea, wearing a woolly hat and his trademark sunglasses, refused to stay for the second day of proceedings focussed on preliminary legal objections by his co-defendant Ieng Sary.
Nuon Chea said he would only return to “actively participate” when his own case was discussed, and was escorted out of court by security guards.
On Monday the 84-year-old had left the courtroom after only half an hour in protest at the handling of the investigation and legal proceedings.
The four accused face charges including genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes over the deaths of up to two million people from starvation, overwork, torture or execution during the Khmer Rouge’s brutal 1975-79 rule.
“Nuon Chea is a bad person. I am quite disappointed with his behaviour,” said farmer Thein Ouen, one of hundreds of people watching the hearing from the public gallery.
“I think he does not want to take part in the trial. We want him to tell us the truth about the Khmer Rouge, but he is trying to hide it.”
The four elderly defendants, who also include former head of state Khieu Samphan and one-time social affairs minister Ieng Thirith, are allowed to be absent if they refuse to cooperate.
Ieng Sary, a former foreign minister, further angered victims of the regime with his claim that he should not be tried because he was granted a royal pardon and amnesty in 1996 exchange for leading a mass Khmer Rouge defection.
The complex trial, expected to take years, is seen as vital to healing the traumatised nation’s deep scars.
But Va Chhorn, who was also watching from the public gallery, said of the defendants: “They are trying to avoid their responsibilities. This is not good.”
“They committed mass killings,” the 70-year-old added. “They should cooperate with the court to find justice for the people.”
Ieng Sary, 85, was sentenced to death in absentia for genocide in a 1979 show trial conducted by the government installed after Vietnam invaded and occupied the country, ending the Khmer Rouge’s bloody reign.
But the international face of the regime received a royal pardon and amnesty in 1996 upon surrendering to the government.
The prosecutors argued that Ieng Sary’s pardon only saved him from his 1979 death sentence and the amnesty did not bar him from further prosecution, citing examples from other war crimes courts around the world.
The trial is the culmination of years of preparation by the tribunal, which was established in 2006 after nearly a decade of negotiations between Cambodia and the United Nations.
In its historic first trial, the tribunal sentenced former prison chief Kaing Guek Eav — also known as Duch — to 30 years in jail last July for overseeing the deaths of 15,000 people.
Led by “Brother Number One” Pol Pot, who died in 1998, the Khmer Rouge emptied Cambodia’s cities and abolished money and schools in a bid to create an agrarian utopia before they were ousted from the capital by Vietnamese forces.
The initial hearing will continue until Thursday, with more preliminary legal objections and talk of reparations for the nearly 4,000 victims taking part in the proceedings as civil parties.
Full testimony from the suspects, held at a purpose-built detention centre since their 2007 arrests, will not take place until late August at the earliest.
LONDON (AFP) – Two US prisoners who have been held in solitary confinement for nearly 40 years should have their isolation ended immediately, Amnesty International said Tuesday.
Albert Woodfox, 64, and Herman Wallace, 69, have been held in solitary at Louisiana State Penitentiary ever since they were convicted of murdering a prison guard in 1972, the London-based human rights group said.
Their four-decade ordeal “is cruel and inhumane and a violation of the US’s obligations under international law,” said Guadalupe Marengo, Amnesty’s Americas deputy director.
“We are not aware of any other case in the United States where individuals have been subjected to such restricted human contact for such a prolonged period of time.”
The pair are suing the Louisiana authorities claiming that their prolonged isolation is “cruel and unusual punishment” and so violates the US constitution.
“The treatment of these men by the state of Louisiana is a clear breach of US commitment to human rights,” said Marengo.
“Their cases should be reviewed as a matter of urgency, and while that takes place authorities must ensure that their treatment complies with international standards for the humane treatment of prisoners.”
Amnesty said the men were confined to their cells, measuring two metres (6.5 feet) by three metres, for 23 hours a day, and have never been allowed to work or have access to education.
The American Civil Liberties Union and Amnesty International are calling for an independent investigation into the death of detainees at Guantanamo Bay after the U.S. military reported another death at the detention facility on Wednesday night.
“This latest death highlights the immediate need for a full and independent inquiry into deaths at Guantanamo,” Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU Human Rights Program, said. “It also underscores the tragic consequences of indefinite detention and unfair trials of detainees.”
A 37-year old Afghan detainee died at Guantanamo Bay in an apparent suicide, the U.S. military said in a statement.
The man, identified by one name, Inayatullah, was an admitted planner for Al-Qaeda terrorist operations, according to the Southern Command. He arrived in Guantanamo in September 2007. A spokeswoman for the detention center said he did not have a history of disciplinary problems and was “generally a compliant detainee.”
Inayatullah was the eighth person to die at Guantanamo since the U.S. government started transferring prisoners there following the 2001 ouster of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The Associated Press reported that he had tried to kill himself two other times and had been diagnosed with a mental illness.
“I will tell you as far as I’m concerned he never did a violent act, he never planned a violent act,” Attorney Paul Rashkind told The Associated Press. “He was not a terrorist. His mental health issues made it difficult to address why he was there.”
The Southern Command said the Naval Criminal Investigative Service will investigate the incident, something it does with all detainee deaths.
“Previous investigations carried out by this service into detainee deaths have lacked independence and transparency,” said Susan Lee, Amnesty International’s Americas Programme Director.
The prisoner hanged himself with a bed linen in an exercise yard, according to the U.S. military.
“The families of those who have died at Guantánamo should also have access to remedy, including compensation, for any human rights violations to which their relatives were subjected during their years in U.S. custody, including arbitrary detention, torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” Lee added.
SHENZHEN, China (Reuters) – China executed on Wednesday three Filipinos convicted of drug trafficking despite a flurry of public appeals for clemency in the Philippines, and days after Amnesty International slammed Beijing’s sweeping use of the death penalty.
The three, two women and a man, were caught smuggling several kilogrammes of heroin each into China in 2008. Under Chinese law, the trafficking of at least 50 grammes of any illicit drug is punishable by death. “It is a sad day for us, up to the last minute we were doing everything we can to postpone the execution,” Philippine Vice President Jejomar Binay said in a radio interview from Qatar.
He said he sent an appeal on Tuesday asking to keep the Filipinos alive while Manila investigated new evidence that could have proved the innocence of at least one or two of the three.
“The sad part is China did not grant our request and proceeded with the execution of the three Filipinos,” said Binay, who flew to Beijing in February and gained a brief delay of the death sentences.
Elizabeth Batain, 38, was executed by lethal injection at a prison in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen. Sally Ordinario-Villanueva, 32, and Ramon Credo, 42, were executed in the port city of Xiamen.
The three were told on Wednesday morning that their sentences would be carried out later in the day, Philippine officials said, and they were allowed visits by family members.
In the Philippines, prayer vigils and Masses were held, while a rally of overseas foreign workers was planned later on Wednesday. Millions of Filipinos work overseas, including thousands employed as maids in Hong Kong.
The three are the first Filipinos to be executed in China for drug trafficking, saidPhilippines officials.
The families of two of the prisoners had sent open letters appealing for clemency, arguing they had been set up.
“We believe our loved ones are victims of larger drug syndicates who take advantage of the unawareness, vulnerability and desperation of our people,” the families wrote. “We are pained that they are meted the death penalty while the big true drug operators and syndicates go on wild abandon.”
China’s foreign ministry said that drug trafficking was a serious offence and that justice had been served.
“This is an isolated criminal case. I do not want it to affect bilateral relations,” said spokeswoman Jiang Yu at a regular briefing on Tuesday.
Despite competing claims over the resource-rich Spratly Islands in the South China Sea and criticism last year over the botched police handling of a hostage crisis in Manila that led to the deaths of Hong Kong tourists, bilateral relations between China and the Philippines have been relatively stable.
The executions come after Amnesty International again slammed China’s human rights record and widespread use of the death sentence in its latest annual report on the issue.
China is now believed to execute far more people than the rest of the world combined, even though the nation does not release official statistics.
China has executed several other foreigners for drug offences, including Japanese,Nigerians and a Briton in 2009.
While China maintains an iron grip on crime with 55 offences still punishable by death, far more than many other nations, it has scrapped the death penalty for nearly a dozen non-violent crimes including smuggling cultural relics and tax fraud.
(Additional reporting Manny Mogato and John Mair in Manila and Sui Lee Wee in Beijing; Editing by Chris Lewis and Alex Richardson)
LONDON (Reuters) – At least 527 people were executed around the world last year, down from 714 in 2009, although China is believed to have put to death thousands more, human rights group Amnesty International said on Monday.
It said Beijing was thought to have executed far more people than the rest of the world combined. Amnesty’s tally does not include figures for China, which describes them as state secrets, the rights group said.
At least 23 countries carried out judicial executions in 2010, four more than the previous year, Amnesty said in its annual report on the death penalty, which it wants abolished.
China has scrapped the death penalty for 13 non-violent crimes including smuggling historic relics and tax fraud-related offenses, but capital punishment will still apply to 55 offences, Chinese news reports said last month.
“A number of countries continue to pass death sentences for drug-related offences, economic crimes, sexual relations between consenting adults and blasphemy, violating international human rights law forbidding the use of the death penalty except for the most serious crimes,” Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty said in a statement.
Of the 527 executions recorded in 2010, at least 252 were carried out in Iran, at least 60 in North Korea, at least 53 in Yemen, 46 in the United States, at least 27 in Saudi Arabia, at least 18 in Libya and at least 17 in Syria, Amnesty said, noting that only a few countries published official figures.
Methods of execution used in 2010 included beheading, electrocution, hanging, lethal injection and shooting, it said.
At least 2,024 new death sentences were imposed in 67 countries in 2010 and at least 17,833 people were under sentence of death worldwide at the end of the year, the group said.
Some 8,000 prisoners remained on death row in Pakistan in 2010, despite Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani’s announcement in 2008 that all death sentences should be commuted to life imprisonment.
At the end of 2010, there were more than 3,200 people under sentence of death in the United States.
After 2009, a year in which, for the first time on record, no executions were recorded in Europe and the former Soviet Union, Belarus carried out two executions in 2010, it said.
The most death sentences last year, 365, were handed down in Pakistan, while at least 279 people were sentenced to death in Iraq, 185 in Egypt and at least 151 in Nigeria, it said.
Despite the increase in the number of countries carrying out executions last year, Amnesty International said there was a clear global trend toward abolition of the death penalty.
The number of countries that had abolished the death penalty in law or practice had risen to 139 from 108 in 2001, it said.
Gabon removed the death penalty from its legislation in 2010 and at the end of the year Lebanon, Mali, Mongolia and South Korea were considering proposals to abolish execution, it said.
(Editing by Andrew Roche)
Mochila insert follows.
The international human rights group Amnesty International claimed Wednesday that a number of female protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square were rounded up by the Egyptian military and tortured recently.
Some women even said they were subjected to a “virginity test” while soldiers looked on and took pictures.
Amnesty said at least 18 different women were subjected to this treatment, first at a military prison, then inside the Cairo Museum.
The women claimed they were beaten and tortured with electric shocks, and one woman who allegedly “failed” her virginity test was reportedly singled out for the worst abuse.
“20-year-old Salwa Hosseini told Amnesty International that after she was arrested and taken to a military prison in Heikstep, she was made, with the other women, to take off all her clothes to be searched by a female prison guard, in a room with two open doors and a window,” the group explained. “During the strip search, Salwa Hosseini said male soldiers were looking into the room and taking pictures of the naked women.”
All of them were taken on March 9, as the military cleared Tahrir Square of demonstrators.
“Women and girls must be able to express their views on the future of Egypt and protest against the government without being detained, tortured, or subjected to profoundly degrading and discriminatory treatment,” Amnesty said in an advisory. “The army officers tried to further humiliate the women by allowing men to watch and photograph what was happening, with the implicit threat that the women could be at further risk of harm if the photographs were made public.”
The group also demanded that the women not face trial before a military court due to the system’s history of hasty verdicts and allegations of corruption.
Led by journalist Rasha Azeb with the al-Fagr newspaper, the women have filed a lawsuit against Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, demanding that the use of military courts end.
Amnesty added that testimony gathered by the El Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence corroborated Azeb’s claims of torture, beatings and sexual abuse.
A spokesperson for Amnesty International was unavailable for comment. Messages left with Egypt’s embassy in Washington, D.C. were not returned.
WASHINGTON – Gov. Haley Barbour (R-MS), a rumored 2012 presidential contender, lobbied on behalf of Mexico last decade for a program that would have assisted unauthorized immigrants with gaining permanent residency.
That’s according to a report in TIME’s Swampland blog by Michael Scherer, who obtained State Department filings revealing that Barbour’s lobbying firm — Barbour, Griffith & Rogers — lobbied for Mexico on the program in 2001 and 2002.
Barbour’s firm was paid $35,000 a month by Mexico, plus other expenses.
The revelation could create political problems for the Mississippi Republican, the current chairman of the Republican Governors Association and important player within the GOP, if he decides to run for president. The Republican base is fiercely opposed to any kind of legalization program for unauthorized immigrants.
Barbour’s firm helped Mexico build Congressional support for a bill relating to Section 245(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which would have allowed undocumented immigrants in the United States to attain legal visas and permanent residency based on job skills and family connections. They would have to pay a fine but would not have to return to their country of origin.
The effort was denounced by conservative critics as a “mini-amnesty” program.
“This amnesty loophole allowed aliens who broke our laws to pay a $1,000 fine and go to the head of the line in front of prospective immigrants who complied with our laws,” wrote conservative Phyllis Schlafly in 2002.
A similar provision was eventually championed by the Bush administration in its attempts to overhaul immigration in 2006 and 2007. The legislation ultimately failed, with the legalization program serving as a dealbreaker for too many Republicans.
Barbour has largely embraced his lobbyist past, but his conservative supporters aren’t likely to ignore this aspect of his lobbying, especially if Barbour seeks the Republican nomination for president.
He’s widely considered a dark-horse candidate, garnering only a few percent of the Republican vote in most national polls.