Tag Archives: Amnesty International

Saudi Airstrikes Hit Yemen Market, Killing at Least 41 Civilians

by Jason Ditz

Saudi warplanes attacked a crowded marketplace in the northwestern Yemeni province of Hajjah today, killing at least 41 people, all of them civilians, and wounding scores of others. Local officials say many of the wounded are severely so, and are not expected to survive.

The attacks centered on an outdoor marketplace and a nearby restaurant, and overwhelmed two nearby hospitals with the number of casualties. Saudi officials expressed “regret” for any “injuries or loss of life,” but insisted they weren’t sure it was true.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) confirmed the incident, however, saying 40 of the wounded civilians were admitted to Abs Hospital, one of the two hospitals which took in casualties. Amnesty International reiterated their call for the US to stop sending arms to the Saudis, saying both unexploded US bombs and fragments of exploded US bombs are showing up around civilian targets in Yemen.

This is the latest in a large number of Saudi airstrikes against targets that ended up being civilian in nature. Over the course of the first year of the Saudi war in Yemen, over 6,000 people have been killed, roughly half civilians, and those overwhelmingly the result of airstrikes.

Many Americans are OK with torture after the release of the CIA’s report

After the release of the CIA Torture Report, many politicians are defending the report or analyzing the results, but the American public seems unchanged from the findings.  In fact, many Americans are alright with torture and have not bothered by torture for some years.

A 2009 Pew Research poll found 71 percent of Americans were fine with torture on some level as long as it was justified by obtaining important information which could save American lives or similar reasons.

A similar study in 2012 by YouGov yielded similar results.  And more recently, Amnesty International published a study in early 2014 showing the U.S. is the most supportive western country of the use of torture against those deemed enemies.

Now, CBS held a poll in the wake of the release of the torture report showing 57 percent of those polled think the tactics outlined in the report had extracted reliable and important information.  Some of the tactics mentioned in the report were waterboarding, forcing a prisoner to stay awake for 18 hours, threatening sexual abuse against the prisoners family, and forced ice water baths.

The poll also found 57 percent of Americans believed the CIA when they said these torture tactics were effective.

However, while many Americans believe the use of torture was a helpful asset, the committee responsible for compiling and releasing the report found, “The CIA’s use of its enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective means of acquiring intelligence or gaining cooperation from detainees.”  The report itself also says the effectiveness of the strategies to extract information were exaggerated.

The site Hot Air points out this should not be a surprise though.  The site contends the rise of ISIS has many Americans valuing security rather than civil liberties.

New Malware Tool Aims to Detect Government Surveillance

EFF, Amnesty International Back Effort to Stop Surveillance

by Jason Ditz, November 20, 2014
Amnesty International, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and other groups are throwing their weight behind a new open-source software malware detection project called Detekt.

Unlike the more all-purpose antivirus and anti-malware programs, Detekt centers around detecting and warning end users of surveillance malware of the sort known to be used by government.The revelations of NSA surveillance last year by Edward Snowden has brought new attention to the problem of government surveillance, and nations across the planet are using malware utilities to spy on civilians. The Detekt program was developed by Claudio Guarnieri, who has previously developed other programs related to the analysis of malware. Detekt is designed only for Windows-based computers, which of course are the most commonly used and subsequently most commonly targeted.

Detekt is available at resistsurveillance.org, and the source is available at github. The program’s authors warn it may not detect the newest revisions of government surveillance malware, but that it may help weed out some of the most common.

US government acknowledges it “crossed the line” on torture

For many years, the US government has said it respects, protects, and promotes human rights here at home and all over the world.  However, the US admitted to the UN Committee on Torture that after 9/11, abuses had occurred during the “War on Terror.”

The US legal adviser Mary McLeod spoke to the ten member committee saying, according to the Raw Story, “In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, we regrettably did not always live up to our own values… we crossed the line and we take responsibility for that.”

After this, the committee began to ask the 30 top US officials present for the hearing, various questions regarding how the US planned to amend and atone for these acknowledged abuses.

Some of these questions revolved around Guantanamo Bay.  The committee asked the US delegates why the prison was still open after saying it would be closed and when the US government plans on shutting down the prison for good.

The delegates were also questioned on the Abu Ghraib prison incident and the lack of redress for the victims.

McLeod responded by saying, according to ABC News, “As President Obama has acknowledged, we crossed the line and we take responsibility for that… The United States has taken important steps to ensure adherence to its legal obligations.”

Amnesty International previously submitted evidence of human rights abuses to the UN Committee on Torture, outlining various violations US personnel are responsible for.  The method of water-boarding and secret detention of captives were two methods mentioned on this list.

From here, the UN questions moved from international torture to torture at home.

They questioned the delegates how the government justifies the detention of non-violent, non-criminal illegal immigrants, specifically children.  The disproportionate levels of police brutality in cases involving minorities were also brought into question.

The committee plans to publish its conclusions concerning torture and the US government on November 28.

Middle Eastern civilians have more to fear than ISIS now

ISIS is currently the single largest, immediate threat to citizens in the Middle East, but people in the area now have to worry about Shia militias carrying out similar acts of brutality.

Shia militias in Iraq have reportedly abducted and killed large numbers of Sunnis in the area in retaliation against ISIS, according to an Amnesty International report released Tuesday.

This report says the Shia militias are armed and supported by the Iraqi government which is currently controlled by Shia Muslims.  However, the report does say these militiamen are not part of any official Iraqi military organization, and they operate outside any official oversight or legal framework.

Bodies have been showing up in cities not controlled by ISIS since June, when the Iraqi military was in a state of disarray from the threat of ISIS.  The bodies have been found in Baghdad, Kirkuk, and Samarra, and all have reportedly had execution style gunshot wounds to their heads.

“Shia militias are ruthlessly targeting Sunni civilians on a sectarian basis under the guise of fighting terrorism,” said Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Response Adviser Donatella Rovera, according to the Independent.  “By granting its blessing to militias who routinely commit such abhorrent abuses, the Iraqi government is sanctioning war crimes and fueling a dangerous cycle of sectarian violence that is tearing the country apart.”

While the Amnesty report has shed light on human rights violations in Iraq, but according to Al-Jazeera, Shia militia spokesmen in the country have called the report, “an attempt to downgrade our gains and accomplishments so far in the fight against ISIL by supporting the Iraqi forces.”

Naeem Al-Aboudi, the spokeman of the Shia militia group Aasab Ahl Haq, said, “We had fought and won over ISIL in Shia and Sunni areas and while doing so we had not violated any human rights.” 

Egypt, China, Iran Criticize US Over Crackdown on Ferguson Protesters

“The eyes of the world are watching,” said Missouri Governor Jay Nixon last Saturday when he announced a curfew in Ferguson, MO. Ever since the controversial officer-involved shooting death of unarmed African-American teen Michael Brown, police, National Guard troops, protesters, and a handful of violent agitators have clashed in scenes that remind viewers of footage from battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan. The militarized police response in Ferguson has been widely criticized by American politicos, both on the left and the right, inspiring a national conversation over the militarization of domestic police forces.

According to ABC News, political figures from around the world have also piled on to condemn the harsh crackdown on protesters and journalists in Ferguson. Quite ironically, some of the voices calling for restraint come from Egypt, China, and Iran, nations that have often been criticized by US officials over human rights abuses. Though Russia did not join other nations in criticizing the US, anti-Putin activists in Russia did, fearing that Putin himself would point to police tactics in Ferguson to justify future escalations against demonstrators.

Grand Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, tweeted, “Today like previous years, African-Americans are still under pressure, oppressed and subjected to discrimination. #Ferguson.” The barrage of tweets from his account continued, saying, “Racial discrimination is still a dilemma in the U.S. #Ferguson,” and also pointing out, “Look at how US govt treats black community! It’s not about 50-100 years ago but it’s about today!”

China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency released an article condemning the US response to Ferguson protesters. “The Ferguson incident once again demonstrates that even if in a country that has for years tried to play the role of an international human rights judge and defender, there is still much room for improvement at home,” reads the op-ed. It also said, “…it is undeniable that racial discrimination against African Americans or other ethnic minorities, though not as obvious as in the past, still persists in every aspect of US social lives, including employment, housing, education, and particularly, justice.”

The Xinhua commentary also touched on the NSA controversy, “…the US human rights flaws extend far beyond racial issues. As revealed by famous whistleblower Edward Snowden, the US government has hacked into emails and mobile phones of ordinary Americans as well as leaders of other countries, including traditional US allies.” Criticism of US drone strikes came next in the commentary by China’s press agency, “What’s more, Uncle Sam has witnessed numerous shooting sprees on its own land and launched incessant drone attacks on foreign soil, resulting in heavy civilian casualties.” The piece concluded, “Each country has its own national conditions that might lead to different social problems. Obviously, what the United States needs to do is to concentrate on solving its own problems rather than always pointing fingers at others.”

Egypt’s foreign ministry also capitalized on the opportunity to criticize the US over Ferguson, saying it would keep an eye on the situation and urging restraint. A recipient of US aid, Egypt’s government was widely criticized, even by the US, for its own crackdowns on demonstrators during tumultuous protests in 2011 and 2013.

US State Department spokesperson Marie Harf defended America’s human rights record, claiming that the Ferguson crisis has been dealt with “openly and honestly” despite the realities on the ground that journalists have been jailed by police and authorities declared a no-fly zone over the protests, preventing news helicopters from providing coverage. She also slammed comparisons by reporters between the US and nations like Egypt, China, and Iran.

Additionally, a spokesman for United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon reminded American officials to respect the free speech rights of protesters in Ferguson, and Amnesty International responded to the controversy by deploying human rights observers to the US for the first time in world history.

War crimes in Afghanistan covered up by U.S. military, says report

A new report released by Amnesty International titled “Left in the Dark,” has found the U.S. military has systematically disregarded or hid evidence of war crimes, unlawful killings, and torture in the war torn country of Afghanistan.

The report uses ten case studies where violence has claimed the lives of civilians in the country, all of which “raise concerns about the unlawful use of force.”  However, according to the report, “Very few cases involving alleged unlawful killings of civilians in international military operations have led to prosecution.”

Even when a trial has been sought, what the Daily Beast is calling, the “compromised military justice system,” has failed to produce justice for the slain, injured, or maimed.

One victim talked with Stars and Stripes, telling of their experience at Camp Nerkh at the hands of military forces.  “First,” says the victim, “they took off my clothes… Then they tied a thin plastic cord around my penis so I couldn’t pee.  Then they forced me to lie down face down on the floor.  Four people beat me with cables.”

The Amnesty International report also claims two of the case studies offer “abundant and compelling” evidence of war crimes.  One case involves the shooting death of two pregnant women and a 17-year-old girl in a nighttime raid in the eastern Paktia province.

According to the Independent, a press release from the U.S. forces in the area about the incident stated the three women were found by U.S. troops “bound and gagged” within their home.  This same release stated the three were killed in a “traditional honour killing.”

What is important to note is not all civilian deaths in a combat or war zone are ruled as unlawful.  Under international law, in order for a civilian death to be classified as unlawful, the victim must be indiscriminately or deliberately targeted.  Even then, a proper and impartial investigation must be carried out in order to deem these two criteria are met.

The Pentagon has made several claims stating they would investigate various incidents which could be classified as war crimes, but according to a 70-year-old patriarch in Afghanistan named Haji Sharabuddin, he has yet to hear of any results from an investigation or if there was even investigations held .

President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, said, according to Stars and Stripes, “I believe that the civilian casualties must not happen at all… Our aim and yours must be stopping the civilian casualties.”