Jurist

Guatemala: court refuses to lift lawmaker's immunity

The Supreme Court of Guatemala on Jan. 28 rejected a request to strip a member of congress of his immunity from prosecution for allegedly overseeing grave human rights violations during the country's civil war. Edgar Justino Ovalle is a top adviser to President Jimmy Morales and a member of Congress, which gives him immunity from prosecution. A spokesperson for the court stated that there was insufficient evidence that he participated in the alleged acts. However, the spokesman also explained that the court decided to reject the request "in limine," without further investigation. Edgar Ovalle was accused of having led operations as a military officer in which 77 massacres took place. The request to lift Ovall's immunity came from Attorney General Thelma Aldana.

Iraq: mass graves disturbed, HRW says

Mass graves in Iraq are being disturbed, which could lead to destroyed evidence in proving possible genocide committed against the Yazidis, according to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released on Jan. 30. Dozens of Yazidi people are believed to have been killed by the Islamic State, actions many believe may amount to genocide. Yazda, a support group for the Yazidi people, also contributed to the report. Yazda has said that on numerous visits to Mount Sinjar (liberated from ISIS by Kurdish forces last year), they have observed mass graves that were completely unprotected and say that people regularly take items from these sites. In one instance, a bulldozer was used at one site to cover the grave with earth. HRW is urging authorities in Iraq to have forensic experts analyze the graves for evidence of any possible crimes and to preserve any evidence found.

Burundi: mass graves found in satellite investigation

Amnesty International (AI) reported Jan. 29 that satellite images show five possible mass graves in Buringa, Burundi, which may be connected to last month's infamous massacre. On Dec. 11, security forces killed  at least 87 armed protesters who stormed military barracks in the capital of Bujumbura. Witnesses told AI that authorities retrieved bodies from the streets the following day and dumped them in several undisclosed locations. Local reports suggest that there may be nine more mass graves in Mpanda and Kanyosha. AI has called on African leaders to demand further investigation into the matter during the African Union summit taking place this weekend.

AI releases report on death row juveniles in Iran

Amnesty International (AI) released a report (PDF) Jan. 26 on the many juvenile offenders on death row in Iran. The report states that 73 executions of juvenile offenders took place between 2005 and 2015 and that 160 juvenile offenders are currently on death row. Iran ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child and despite being legally obligated, has not, completely abolished the use of the death penalty against juvenile offenders. Iran implemented a reform that allowed judges to use their discretion to impose "alternative punishments on juveniles convicted of capital crimes," but it has largely been used in order to deflect criticism of the state's appalling human rights record, the report states. Amnesty International hopes that Iranian authorities will comply with international human rights standards now that international sanctions have been lifted and the country is on the road to seek rapprochement with the international community.

Libyan parliament rejects unity government

The internationally-recognized Libyan parliament voted Jan. 25 to reject a proposal by the UN-supported unity government to curb the country's political crisis. In an 89-15 vote, the parliament rejected the cabinet selected by the UN-backed Presidential Council and said the council would be dissolved if it failed to form a new, smaller cabinet in 10 days. Libya's government is currently fractured—the internationally-recognized authorities and parliament in Tobruk, and the rebel-backed authority holding power in Tripoli. The unity government was created by the Libyan Political Agreement in July (formalized in December) and intends to bridge the splintered government. The nine-member PC has the authority to choose the cabinet of the new unity government. Many members of the competing political authorities denounced the agreement as not fairly representative of all Libyan factions.

Egypt: crackdown ahead of revolution anniversary

In anticipation of the fifth anniversary of the start of the Egyptian revolution, authorities have spent the last week clamping down on dissidents in an effort to avoid further political unrest. At the instruction of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Egyptian security forces searched over 5,000 homes, seized activists in public, closed an art gallery, raided a publishing house and arrested a medical doctor in a night-time raid, all as "precautionary measures." Fearing a similar uprising to the one that ousted his predecessor Hosni Mubarak, al-Sisi addressed his critics last month, stating "Why am I hearing calls for another revolution? Why do you want to ruin the nation? I came by your will and your choice and not despite it." Speaking anonymously to the Associated Press, an Egyptian senior security official stated, "We are very concerned and will not allow protests. These movements are aimed at polarizing society and mobilizing the masses against the government."

Poland: thousands march against surveillance law

Thousands of people in Poland on Jan. 23 protested the government's planned changes to the legal code that would increase its surveillance over Polish citizens. The proposed changes to the law, initiated by the ruling Law and Justice Party, would expand the government's power to access digital data and loosen restrictions of using surveillance in law enforcement. The Law and Justice Party has been making moves to gain more control over the judiciary since it took office in November. The European Union has taken notice, launching an investigation into allegations that the Polish government is undermining democratic principles. If Poland were to be found guilty of these allegations, the country would lose voting rights in the EU for a specified period of time.

UN expresses concern over delayed Haiti election

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Jan. 23 expressed concern over the delay of Haiti's presidential election and urged political actors to reject all forms of violence. The election, which was to be held the next day, was postponed a day earlier due to concerns of violence, and had already faced past delays as well. The Secretary General further asked political actors to "refrain from any action that can further disrupt the democratic process and stability in the country." The country's constitution mandates that the transfer of presidential power take place by Feb. 7, despite the many delays.

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