Senseless Violence from Beirut to Ohio

Witness room facing the execution chamber at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville,Ohio

Ohio execution chamber, 2009 CAROLINE GROUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images

The life of Abdul Hamin Awkal has been punctuated by violence. And on June 6, unless the Governor of Ohio steps in, his life will end in the violence of execution.

Born in Beirut in 1959, he grew up in a family with an abusive father and a history of mental illness. In 1975, when he was a teenager, the Lebanese civil war broke out, unleashing waves of violence. There followed 8 years of witnessing dismembered bodies, bombings and kidnappings. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Locked Away: Sri Lanka's "Security" Detainees

Sri Lanka

Prisoners have been held for extended periods without charge at Welikada Prison © Private

I want to tell you a story about a man arrested in Sri Lanka.  It’s shocking.

In June 2008, “Roshan” (not his real name) was arrested in Colombo by unknown assailants who he later learned were plainclothes police.  The police suspected him of links to the opposition Tamil Tigers.  He was held for two years without ever being charged or tried and was repeatedly tortured, before eventually being released.  No one has been held accountable for his treatment.


Sri Lanka's Killing Fields

Sri Lanka

Civilians, in between Kilinochchi and Mulathiv, Sri Lanka, May 2009, during the last few months of the war. (c) Private

Last night, I watched a harrowing new documentary, “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields,” by Channel 4, a British media company, about the final months of the civil war in Sri Lanka in 2009.

The 49-minute film depicts the massive human rights abuses and violations of the laws of war committed by both the Sri Lankan government forces and the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels.  The film is available online at Channel 4’s website until June 21.

Please note:  some of the scenes in the film are very disturbing.  It is NOT for younger viewers.

The film includes an extended version of the “execution video” released in 2009, in which naked prisoners are shown being shot in the head.  There are scenes of dead female Tamil Tigers who appear to have been raped and murdered.


Investigate War Crimes In Sri Lanka!

This week marks the second anniversary of the end of Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war, between government forces and the opposition Tamil Tigers.  The Tigers were seeking an independent state for the Tamil minority on the island.  As documented by Amnesty International and a recent U.N. panel report, there are credible reports that both sides committed gross abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law, including war crimes.  Yet no one has been held accountable for these crimes.

We know that the Sri Lankan government won’t effectively investigate these abuses.

So Amnesty International has been campaigning for an international war crimes investigation in Sri Lanka.  On March 15, we took to the streets in Chicago to demand justice in Sri Lanka.  In New York City, Amnesty International activists gathered outside the Sri Lankan Mission to the U.N. on April 8 as part of “Get on the Bus – New York.”  On April 15, we demonstrated outside the Sri Lankan Embassy in Washington as part of “Get on the Bus – DC.”  More recently, as shown in the photos above, Amnesty members in other parts of the U.S. have joined in calling on the U.N. to hold an international investigation on war crimes in Sri Lanka.

It would be a great help if we can get the U.S. government to publicly support our call for an international war crimes investigation in Sri Lanka.  Please write the U.S. government today, so that the victims and their families can finally receive truth and justice.

UN: Release Sri Lanka Panel Report

Yesterday, the United Nations advisory panel on accountability in Sri Lanka turned over its report to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.  The panel had been established by Ban last June to advise him on how to pursue accountability for reported war crimes and other human rights abuses committed by both the government forces and the opposition Tamil Tigers during Sri Lanka’s brutal civil war (which ended with a government victory in May 2009).

While the Secretary-General’s spokesperson said yesterday that the U.N. intends to make the report public, he didn’t give a timeframe for doing so.  It’s critical that the report be made public as a first step towards achieving accountability.

Amnesty International has been asking the U.N. to establish an international war crimes investigation in Sri Lanka.  This past February, I accompanied Yolanda Foster, the Amnesty researcher on Sri Lanka, and Dr. Kasipillai Manoharan, the father of one of the “Trinco 5” students killed by the security forces in 2006, as we delivered to the U.N. offices in New York over 52,000 signatures on a petition to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calling for such an international investigation.  Above is the trailer of a short film of our trip, which Amnesty has just released.

Please write to Ban Ki-moon and ask him to make the U.N. advisory panel’s report public.  It’s important that the U.N. hears from everyone concerned about truth and justice for the victims and their families in Sri Lanka.

Hope and Human Rights Abuses in Honduras

Mediation efforts in Costa Rica concerning the ongoing crisis in Honduras reached a turning point today as diplomats and the interim (and openly racist) Honduran government agreed that ousted President Zelaya could return to Honduras within the next 24 hours. This comes as a relief to many human rights activists and President Arias of Costa Rica who feared that the crisis could lead to civil war.

Supporters of ousted Honduras President Manuel Zelaya sit in front of Honduran army soldiers, 3 July 2009

Supporters of ousted Honduras President Manuel Zelaya sit in front of Honduran army soldiers, 3 July 2009 © AP/PA Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills

But as mediation in Costa Rica appears to be helping the crisis, a new report by COFADEH (Comité de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos en Honduras) details 1161 seperate human rights violations since the morning of the coup. Amnesty International has also issued several statements urging the interim Honduran government to respect the rule of law and human rights during this tumultuous time.

Will the police and interim government ever be held accountable for the violations that happened and are still happening in Honduras? It will certainly take a lot of outside pressure from NGOs and the international community, and let’s hope Honduras stays in the headlines long enough so that the pressure stays strong on human rights violators. But after reading an eyebrow raising story from Democracy Now! alleging that many top officials in the interim government were trained by the U.S. military, I hope General Romeo Vásquez Velásquez’s law avoiding skills aren’t as polished as Cheney’s!

Human Rights Flashpoints

This is the first edition of Human Rights Flashpoints, a weekly column about countries at risk of escalating human rights violations.

SUDAN—Abyei decision and border skirmish with Chad

Tensions are rising in South Sudan. Both northerners and southerners in Sudan are awaiting the final ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague on the boundaries of Abyei, which will come on Wednesday. The borders of Abyei were one of the most sensitive issues left undecided in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which ended the civil war between the North and the South. The BBC reports that the verdict is seen as a key test of the peace process. U.N. Special Representative Ashraf Qazi accused South Sudan over the weekend of having soldiers in Abyei but said he was “reassured” on Monday when the army took steps to withdraw its soldiers.

In a separate development, Sudan referred Chad to the U.N. Security Council on Monday, after the Sudanese army accused Chad of launching an air raid and attacking west Darfur district with two planes on Thursday. Khartoum claims that this is the fourth raid N’Djamena has carried out in Sudan in two months. Reuters reports that Sudan is claiming France, a permanent member of the Security Council, is supporting Chad’s attacks in Sudan.

Must Reads


“All these armed groups must be immediately withdrawn to outside the area, and.. the international community [is] closely monitoring the situation in and around Abyei and expects all sides to behave in the most responsible manner in order to avoid violence.”
Ashraf Qazi, U.N. Special Representative for Sudan, July 18, 2009.

“While the members of the international community will be on hand in Abyei to witness the announcement of the panel’s decision and to assist as appropriate with its implementation, it will ultimately be the responsibility of the two parties to ensure lasting peace, stability and security in Abyei, as well as continued implementation of the CPA.”
Ian Kelly, U.S. Department of State Spokesman, July 14, 2009.

IRAN—Call for referendum and Global Day of Action

While we can expect major protests around the world this weekend, the situation in Iran remains tense. Former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami has called for a national referendum on the legitimacy of the current government in light of last month’s electoral uprising. Khatami was quoted as saying:

“The only way out of the current situation is to hold a referendum.  People should be asked whether they are happy with the current situation … If the vast majority of people are happy with the current situation, we will accept it as well.”

This call joins a long string of challenges to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini’s demand that Mahmoud Ahmedinejad be accepted as the president of the Islamic Republic. Mir Hussain Mousavi, Ahmedinejad’s main opponent during the election cycle, also released a statement yesterday insisting on the immediate release of detained protesters while also laughing off the supposed role of foreign powers during the uprising.

To date, at least 20 people have been killed during the violent protests following the June 12 election.  Hundreds of others, including politicians, journalists, and activists have been arrested and detained by police.

A Global Day of Action to demonstrate support for the civil rights movement in Iran has been planned by major human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, for this Saturday, July 25. To find events in your area, visit for a complete listing.

Must Reads


“Durability of order and continuation of the country’s progress hinge on restoring public trust.  From the start, we said there is a legal way to regain that trust.  I openly say now that the solution to get out of the current crisis is holding a referendum.”
Mohammed Khatami, former Iranian President, July 20, 2009

“Neither the president nor I have any illusions that direct dialogue with the Islamic Republic will guarantee success. But we also understand the importance of trying to engage Iran and offering its leaders a clear choice: whether to join the international community as a responsible member or to continue down a path to further isolation…. The time for action is now. The opportunity will not remain open indefinitely.”
Hillary Clinton, U.S. Secretary of State, July 15, 2009

“We’ve got some fixed national security interests in Iran not developing nuclear weapons, in not exporting terrorism, and we have offered a pathway for Iran to rejoining the international community.”
Barack Obama, July 11, 2009

Coming This Week

  • July 21: Presidential Task Forces on the War on Terror Fail to Meet Deadlines
  • July 21/22: Global Day of Action for the people of Gambia
  • July 21: Amnesty International USA 4:30pm rally at the Gambian embassy in Washington, DC to protest human rights abuses
  • July 22: Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague will issue a ruling on the boundary and status of Abyei, territory that lies at the juncture of South Sudan, North Sudan, and Darfur
  • July 22: Negotiations to resolve the crisis in Honduras to resume in San Jose, Costa Rica
  • July 25: Global Day of Action for Iran
  • Keep an eye out later on this week for a rebuttal to Khatami and Mousavi’s proposed referendum on the legitimacy of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s government

Juliette Rousselot and Samah Choudhury contributed to this post

Human Rights Flashpoints is a weekly column about countries at risk of escalating human rights violations and is brought to you by AIUSA’s Crisis Prevention and Response Campaign.