JFP News 8/19: Amnesty International: Honduras Testimonies Show Extent of Police Violence
Just Foreign Policy News
August 19, 2009
Amnesty International: Honduras Testimonies Show Extent of Police Violence
There has been very little attention in the U.S. press to repression in Honduras under the coup regime. Hopefully, that will now change: Amnesty International issued a report today documenting "serious ill-treatment by police and military of peaceful protesters" in Honduras, warning that "beatings and mass arrests are being used as a way of punishing people for voicing their opposition" to the coup.
Urge the Miami Herald and McClatchy to Report on Amnesty's Charges
No word yet from the Miami Herald or McClatchy on the Amnesty International report, although it has been reported by CNN, the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, and AP. Send the Herald and McClatchy a note.
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1) Amnesty International says in the seven weeks since the coup in Honduras, several hundred people protesting against the de facto government have been arbitrarily arrested and beaten by government forces, CNN reports. "Detention and ill treatment of protesters are being employed as a form of punishment for those openly opposing the de facto government and also as a deterrent for those contemplating taking to the streets to peacefully show their discontent," said Amnesty's Central America researcher.
2) A Washington Post-ABC News poll says a majority of Americans now see the war in Afghanistan as not worth fighting and just a quarter say more U.S. troops should be sent to the country, the Washington Post reports. Majorities of liberals and Democrats solidly oppose the war and are calling for a reduction in troops. Nearly two-thirds of liberals stand against a troop increase, as do about six in 10 Democrats. Women have shifted against the war more sharply than men and are far more apt to say troop levels should be decreased (51 percent) than are men (38 percent). Nearly six in 10 women say the war was not worth fighting.
3) U.S. envoy Holbrooke met with Liaqat Baloch, a leader of Pakistan's "anti-American" Jamaat-i-Islami party, the Los Angeles Times reports. Jamaat-i-Islami is one of the most influential Pakistani Islamist parties, and its anti-American views are widely shared, U.S. officials say. A US official described the conversation as a major outreach effort. Baloch told Holbrooke he welcomed Obama's declarations that he wants a better relationship with the Muslim world. But he insisted that, with American drone strikes in Pakistan and troops in Afghanistan, "there still is no change in the practice."
4) The Obama administration and Syria agreed to establish a committee with Iraq to monitor the Syrian-Iraqi border as the U.S. draws down troops from Iraq, the Wall Street Journal reports. In June, the top U.S. commander in Iraq said there had been a significant decrease in foreign fighters entering Iraq from Syria. "The Baathists have been coming under a lot of pressure in the last few months," said one diplomat. "Some have been kicked out, some have been told to shut up." Syria's moves seem to be a response to Obama's active outreach efforts, the Journal says. The administration has announced the return of a U.S ambassador to Damascus and eased U.S. sanctions.
5) A State Department report says Mexico's fight against drug traffickers generated a sixfold increase in human rights complaints against the Mexican military between 2006 and 2008, and it is unclear any of those complaints resulted in prosecutions, the New York Times reports. Senator Leahy said the report failed to adequately address the concerns about impunity within the Mexican military that led him to threaten to hold up millions of dollars in U.S. assistance. A spokeswoman for the Miguel Augustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Center called on the U.S. to withhold the funds.
6) The US said it had complained to Israel about restrictions on the travel of US citizens of Palestinian origin, calling the measures "unacceptable," AFP reports. Israel has been issuing entry stamps for some travelers, mostly those of Arab ancestry, stating that they are only allowed in the Palestinian Authority and cannot transit through Israel. "We have made it quite known to the Israeli government ... that we expect all American citizens to be treated the same regardless of their national origin," the State Department said.
7) Israel's housing minister said his government had not given final approval for any new housing projects in the West Bank since it took office, the New York Times reports. Peace Now said more than 1,000 Israeli housing units are currently under construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The group noted that Israel has not issued invitations for new bids since November 2008, but that government-sponsored construction accounts for only about 40 percent of building in the settlements while private building initiated by settler groups continues.
8) Israel has declared the shooting of unarmed American demonstrator Tristan Anderson in the West Bank to be an "act of war," the Palestine Media Center reports. Anderson was critically injured in March when Israeli soldiers shot him in the forehead with a high velocity tear gas canister. He remains unconscious in Tel Aviv's Tel Hashomer Hospital. Attorney Leah Tsemel said the "act of war" designation releases the government from paying compensation, and that Israel makes this designation "all the time," in cases involving Palestinian victims.
9) A delegation of U.S. Catholic leaders urged the Obama administration to seize what they called a rare political opportunity to lift the 47-year-old economic embargo against Cuba, AP reports. Bishop Thomas Wenski said the delegation came away from a meeting with U.S. officials with the impression that U.S. policy toward Cuba is under review and that "their approach seems to be piece by piece." He urged a quicker pace after "50 years of lack of confidence on both sides." Cuba has pushed for release of the "Cuban Five," men convicted of being unregistered foreign agents by a Miami court. Cuba says the men were trying to avoid terrorist attacks on the island.
10) Some experts say Peru could displace Colombia in 2011 as the world's biggest producer of coca, the raw material of cocaine, EFE reports, citing La Republica. Peru, like Bolivia, allows cultivation of coca in small quantities for use in teas, folk remedies and Andean religious rites.
1) Police brutality rampant in Honduras, amnesty report says
CNN, August 19, 2009
In the seven weeks since the military-backed bloodless coup ["bloodless"?! - JFP] in Honduras, several hundred people protesting against the de facto government have been arbitrarily arrested and beaten by government forces, a new Amnesty International report says.
The report, released Wednesday, said the beatings were meant to punish those who opposed the ouster of President Manuel Zelaya in June.
It includes testimony from, and photographs of, several people who were baton-whipped and detained by police officers who sometimes wore no visible identification and hid their faces behind bandanas as they broke up demonstrations.
"They beat us if we raised our heads; they beat us when they were getting us into the police cars," said a student whom Amnesty International interviewed in late July at the police station where he was being detained. "They said, 'Cry and we'll stop.'"
Multiple requests to the government for comment went unanswered. The government has said in the past that the demonstrators were arrested for engaging in violence and provoking authorities.
Among several examples, the Amnesty report quotes F.M., a 52-year-old teacher, who said he was demonstrating peacefully when police descended on the rally. "They grabbed me and shouted, 'Why do you (all) support Zelaya's government?' They beat me. I have not been informed as to why I am detained." He showed deep-red imprints on his back, which he said were from a beating with a baton.
"Detention and ill treatment of protesters are being employed as a form of punishment for those openly opposing the de facto government and also as a deterrent for those contemplating taking to the streets to peacefully show their discontent with the political turmoil the country is experiencing," said Esther Major, Amnesty's Central America researcher.
2) Majority in Post-ABC Poll Say Afghan War Not Worth Fighting
Few Express Confidence in Lasting Results From Thursday's Election
Jennifer Agiesta and Jon Cohen, Washington Post, Wednesday, August 19, 2009 4:58 PM
A majority of Americans now see the war in Afghanistan as not worth fighting and just a quarter say more U.S. troops should be sent to the country, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
The new poll comes amid widespread speculation that the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, will request more troops for his stepped-up effort to root the Taliban from Afghan towns and villages. That is a position that gets the backing of 24 percent of those polled, while nearly twice as many, 45 percent, want to decrease the number of military forces there. (Most of the remainder say to keep the level about the same.)
In January, before President Obama authorized sending an additional 17,000 troops to the country, public sentiment tilted more strongly toward a troop increase.
Should President Obama embrace his general's call for even more U.S. military forces, he risks alienating some of his staunchest supporters While 60 percent of all Americans approve of how Obama has handled the situation in Afghanistan, his ratings among liberals have slipped and majorities of liberals and Democrats alike now, for the first time, solidly oppose the war and are calling for a reduction in troops.
Overall, seven in 10 Democrats say the war has not been worth its costs, and fewer than one in five support an increase in troop levels. Nearly two-thirds of the most committed Democrats now feel "strongly" that the war was not worth fighting. Among moderate and conservative Democrats, a slim majority say the United States is losing in Afghanistan.
Among all adults, 51 percent now say the war is not worth fighting, up six points since last month and four points above the previous high, reached in February. Less than half, 47 percent, say the war is worth its costs. Those strongly opposed (41 percent) outweigh strong proponents (31 percent).
Among liberals, his rating on handling the war, which he calls one of "necessity," has fallen swiftly, with strong approval cratering by 20 points. Nearly two-thirds of liberals stand against a troop increase, as do about six in 10 Democrats.
Beyond ideological and partisan divisions on the war, women have shifted against the war more sharply than men and are far more apt to say troop levels should be decreased (51 percent) than are men (38 percent). Nearly six in 10 women say the war was not worth fighting, up from just under half last month.
3) U.S. envoy has 'useful dialogue' with anti-American Pakistani leader
The Islamist politician speaks warmly to Richard Holbrooke, then drives off to a demonstration against the U.S. presence in the region. The talks illustrate the Obama approach to foreign policy.
Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times, August 19, 2009
Islamabad, Pakistan - Obama administration officials have pledged to talk to world leaders no matter their views. On Tuesday, they showed that the offer extends to Islamists who spend the day denouncing America from the street corners.
U.S. envoy Richard C. Holbrooke met with Liaqat Baloch, a leader of Pakistan's Jamaat-i-Islami party. About an hour later, as the bearded scholar prepared to depart for an anti-American rally across town, the veteran diplomat said that despite their disagreements, the meeting had begun "a very useful dialogue."
Pakistan is eager for U.S. aid, but many people are wary of U.S. intentions. Jamaat-i-Islami has limited leverage in the government, but it is one of the most influential Pakistani Islamist parties, and its anti-American views are widely shared, U.S. officials say.
One of Holbrooke's aides described the conversation as a major outreach effort for the United States, roughly equivalent to talking to the Muslim Brotherhood, an Egyptian Islamist party that Washington shuns.
Baloch pressed Holbrooke on one of the most passionate issues of the moment, suspicions that a planned expansion of the U.S. Embassy is aimed at turning the compound into a military base. Baloch has charged that the United States has a secret plan to build a military "cantonment" as a prelude to trying to seize Pakistan's nuclear arsenal.
Suspicions about such a base have generated dozens of news stories recently, despite diplomats' insistence that they are adding 16 acres only to accommodate staff members needed to help implement the U.S. aid program, which is to grow fourfold in the next 18 months. A Pakistani journalist challenged Holbrooke in a group interview Monday to explain why the United States wanted to build "a fortress in the middle of the capital."
Holbrooke invited Baloch to come to the embassy to examine the blueprints. "We have no secrets on this," he said.
Baloch told Holbrooke that he welcomed Obama's declarations that he wants a better relationship with the Muslim world. But he insisted that, with American drone strikes in Pakistan and troops in Afghanistan, "there still is no change in the practice."
Holbrooke contended that the new administration had changed policy from the Bush days in "dozens" of respects. He said the administration had halted the effort to eradicate Afghan poppy crops, tightened rules on Afghan military strikes to avoid civilian casualties, and was increasing economic aid to Pakistan. But Holbrooke insisted that he wouldn't support a withdrawal from Afghanistan, as Baloch wanted, until the country was no longer at risk of descending into turmoil.
4) Damascus Agrees To Help Monitor Iraqi Border
Syria Plans to Join Baghdad and the U.S. In Bid to Boost Security in the Region
Jay Solomon and Julien Barnes-Dacey, Wall Street Journal, August 19, 2009
The Obama administration and Damascus tentatively agreed to establish a tripartite committee, with Baghdad, to better monitor the Syrian-Iraqi border as the Pentagon draws down American troops from Iraq in coming months, said senior U.S. officials.
The proposed three-way border-control assessments could boost Iraqi security and patch one of the region's most volatile fault lines. The initiative was made by a team of U.S. Central Command officers and their Syrian counterparts last week in Damascus.
The pact awaits the green light from Baghdad, which expressed frustration at being excluded from the U.S.-Syrian talks, saying they violated Iraqi sovereignty on security matters.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki met Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus on Tuesday. A statement issued late in the day by the Iraqi prime minister's office in Baghdad said only that the two sides "discussed the expansion of the Iraqi and Syrian cooperation" in border control. "Both governments are working seriously and practically to deal with all the issues," added Alaa al-Jawadi, the Iraqi ambassador in Damascus. "The Syrians have been positive with us."
The Pentagon regularly accused Syria of facilitating the flow of foreign fighters and al Qaeda militants into Iraq since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
In June, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno, said there had been a significant decrease in the number of foreign fighters entering Iraq from Syria. But U.S. officials also say there are issues to resolve. "We're still a little bit concerned with Syria's role in this," Gen. Odierno told reporters in Baghdad on Monday. "I think our bilateral discussions with them are important."
Syria says it has detained more than 1,700 militants, blocked potential combatants from passing through the country en route to Iraq and imposed stricter border policing. Syria also appears to have cracked down on former members of Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime who fled to Damascus after the Iraqi invasion. "The Baathists have been coming under a lot of pressure in the last few months," said one senior Western diplomat. "Some have been kicked out, some have been told to shut up."
Syria's moves seem to be a response to President Barack Obama's increasingly active outreach efforts. The administration has announced the return of a U.S ambassador to Damascus and recently eased U.S. sanctions in an apparent bid to draw Syria away from its alliance with Iran.
5) Mexico Drug Fight Fuels Complaints
Ginger Thompson and Marc Lacey, New York Times, August 19, 2009
Washington - Mexico's fight against drug traffickers generated a sixfold increase in human rights complaints against the Mexican military between 2006 and 2008, and it is unclear that any of those complaints resulted in prosecutions, according to a State Department report on the effort.
The 17-page report was delivered to Congress last week as part of a joint counternarcotics program known as the Merida Initiative. The $1.4 billion initiative, passed by Congress last year, provides equipment and training to Mexican security forces. But it also calls for 15 percent of the money to be withheld until the State Department verifies that the government is meeting four human rights requirements, including the prosecution of police officers and soldiers responsible for abuses.
While the State Department cited several examples of progress, it was hardly a glowing endorsement. And a key Democratic senator said the report failed to adequately address the concerns about impunity within the Mexican military that led him to threaten to hold up millions of dollars in United States assistance.
"It is well known that the military justice system is manifestly ineffective," said a statement issued Tuesday by Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, chairman of the Senate appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations, which must approve disbursement of the Merida assistance. "And it is apparent that neither the Mexican government nor the State Department has treated human rights abuses by the military, which is engaging in an internal police function it is ill suited for, as a priority."
But as the troops' presence on the streets has increased, the State Department reported, so have the number of complaints against them. Between 2006 and 2008, they rose to 1,230, from 182, the report said. In all, Mexico's National Human Rights Commission has received some 2,050 complaints against soldiers since Mr. Calderón took office at the end of 2006.
Based on those complaints, the human rights commission - which is financed by the Mexican government - issued 26 recommendations for follow-up to the Defense Ministry. The ministry agreed to consider 25 of them. And since soldiers accused of abuses are generally prosecuted in closed military tribunals, it was impossible to tell whether any complaints had resulted in punishments.
"The information received from the Mexican government regarding these cases," the report said, "and the opaqueness of the military court system makes it difficult to analyze the nature and the type of complaints filed, the status of the cases against members of the military alleged to have violated human rights, or the results of the military prosecution."
The State Department report says the head of a newly established military human rights directorate had announced that military courts had convicted 12 soldiers since 2006 and were investigating an additional 52 officers in connection with offenses including homicide, torture, kidnapping and extortion.
However, the State Department acknowledged that little was known about these cases.
Human Rights Watch, which has been documenting abuses in Mexico, responded hours later with two cases, both from Mr. Calderón's home state of Michoacán, in which soldiers accused of torture two years ago have not been prosecuted.
In an interview on Tuesday, Madeleine Penman, a spokeswoman for the Miguel Augustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Center, called on the United States to withhold the funds. "There is very little evidence of action on human rights by the Mexican government," she said. "We do not think that simply backing up Felipe Calderón's fight against organized crime helps at all with rule of law in Mexico."
6) US complains to Israel on Palestinian-American entry rules
AFP, August 19, 2009
The United States said Wednesday it had complained to Israel about restrictions on the travel of US citizens of Palestinian origin, calling the measures "unacceptable." The State Department said that Israel has been issuing entry stamps for some travelers, mostly those of Arab ancestry, stating that they are only allowed in the Palestinian Authority and cannot transit through Israel.
"We have made it quite known to the Israeli government ... that we expect all American citizens to be treated the same regardless of their national origin," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said. "These kinds of restrictions we consider unacceptable," Kelly told reporters. "We will continue to protest."
The State Department, in a recent travel advisory, warned that Israeli immigration authorities may write a Palestinian Authority identification number in a passport, regardless of whether the traveler has US citizenship or even held Palestinian documentation previously.
Such travelers are then required to carry Palestinian travel documents and may be refused use of Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv, the country's main international gateway.
Instead, the travelers must transit through the Allenby Bridge connecting the West Bank and Jordan. Due to Israeli checkpoints, this means they effectively cannot go to Jerusalem or the Gaza Strip.
Israeli authorities recently started to stamp in visitors' passports whether they are heading to Israel or the Palestinian territories, potentially preventing them from travelling to both.
Israel's tourism ministry on Monday denounced the restrictions introduced by the interior ministry, warning they would damage Israel's reputation and impede some of the millions of pilgrims who flock each year to religious sites across the region. In some cases, Israeli immigration has given such "Palestinian Authority only" stamps even to travelers with no apparent Palestinian origin, according to the State Department.
7) Settlement Building Is in 'Waiting Period,' Israel's Housing Minister Says
Isabel Kershner, New York Times, August 19, 2009
Jerusalem - Israel's housing minister said Tuesday that his government had not given final approval for any new housing projects in the West Bank since it took office in late March, in a sign that the Israelis may be trying to lower tensions with the United States over the settlements issue.
But the minister, Ariel Atias, and other officials emphasized that the hiatus in issuing government invitations for bids for new housing projects did not constitute a formal settlement freeze.
In an interview with Israel Radio, Mr. Atias described this as a "waiting period," but said "there is no freeze." The prime minister was "acting wisely," Mr. Atias said, by "not trying to be a hero toward the Americans and clash with them."
Peace Now, an Israeli leftist advocacy group that opposes Jewish settlement in territory the Palestinians want for a state, said Tuesday that more than 1,000 Israeli housing units are currently under construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The group noted that Israel has not issued invitations for new bids since November 2008, but that government-sponsored construction accounts for only about 40 percent of building in the settlements while private building initiated by settler groups continues.
8) Israel Declares Shooting Of American An "Act Of War" To Avoid Compensation
Palestine Media Center, 19/08/2009
Israel has declared the shooting of unarmed American demonstrator Tristan Anderson in the West Bank to be an "act of war" in a bid to avoid compensating his family. The Israeli Army Ministry sent a letter containing this declaration to the Anderson family's lawyers, according to attorney Leah Tsemel who is perusing a civil suit against the Israeli government.
Anderson was critically injured on 13 March 2009 when Israeli soldiers shot him in the forehead with a high velocity tear gas canister during a demonstration against the separation wall in the West Bank village of Ni'lin. He remains unconscious in Tel Aviv's Tel Hashomer Hospital, where he recently underwent another surgery to reattach part of his skull that was removed during life-saving surgery five months ago. Prospects for his recovery remain unclear.
Tsemel, the civil suit attorney told Ma'an that the "act of war" designation automatically releases the government from paying compensation under a recently-amended tort law. Israel makes this designation "all the time," in tort cases involving Palestinian victims, she said. She also said the Andersons' lawyers would "exhaust all possibilities in Israeli courts," and in international courts if necessary, to hold the government accountable. A court date has not yet been set.
Tsemel also reiterated that overwhelming evidence shows that Anderson was not a combatant and presented no threat to the Israeli soldiers. In an eventual court proceeding, she said, Anderson's lawyers would present eyewitnesses, videotape, a medical report, and even the Israeli soldier's own reports to prove this.
"If a process by which unarmed civilian demonstration is classified by Israel as an 'act of war,' then clearly Israel admits that it is at war with civilians," said Attorney Michael Sfard, who is handling the criminal side of the Anderson case, in a statement circulated by the International Solidarity Movement (ISM).
Anderson was shot at a distance of 60 meters while standing with a group of Palestinians and international activists, hours after the demonstration had been dispersed from the construction site of the Wall.
9) US church leaders urge Obama to end Cuba embargo
James Anderson, Associated Press, Tuesday, August 18, 2009 4:54 PM
Havana - A delegation of U.S. Roman Catholic Church leaders urged Barack Obama's administration Tuesday to seize what they called a rare political opportunity to lift the 47-year-old economic embargo against Cuba's communist government.
Bishop Thomas Wenski of Orlando, Florida, said the U.S. church welcomed a recent move by Washington to relax travel restrictions on Cuban Americans with family in Cuba as well on the remittances they can send to those families. But he said there is much more to be done. Wenski said at a news conference that the U.S. church hopes "both sides listen to their better angels" and move to normalize ties.
The U.S. church long has urged an end to the embargo, imposed by Washington in 1962 to weaken Cuba's communist government. Opponents argue that easing or lifting the sanctions will only sustain a government that doesn't tolerate dissent.
Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston said Obama's election presents a rare opportunity to bridge an "immense psychological distance" that has marred relations and end an economic policy the church says punishes Cuban citizens. "There were other opportunities that were lost," Wenski said. "And it's important we do not lose the opportunity this time."
Wenski said the delegation came away from the Interests Section meeting with the impression that U.S. policy toward Cuba is under review and that "their approach seems to be piece by piece." He urged a quicker pace after "50 years of lack of confidence on both sides."
"That's a lot of history to overcome," Wenski added. "We would hope that both sides listen to their better angels."
Cuba insists that any dialogue have no preconditions - but it also has pushed for the release of the "Cuban Five," men convicted of being unregistered foreign agents by a Miami court in 2001. Three also were convicted of conspiracy to obtain military secrets from the U.S. Southern Command. Cuba says that the men were trying to avoid terrorist attacks on the island and that anti-Castro sentiment in South Florida kept them from getting a fair trial.
Wenski said Tuesday that the Cuban church has enjoyed more freedom since a 1998 visit by Pope John Paul II and that the country, which is suffering a severe economic crisis, "has reasons for hope. I believe this visit is a reason for that kind of hope."
10) Peru Will Be No. 1 Coca Producer by 2011, Experts Say
EFE, August 17, 2009
Lima - Peru could displace Colombia in 2011 as the world's biggest producer of coca, the raw material of cocaine, according to experts quoted Monday by La Republica newspaper.
In "2011 or 2012 Peru very probably should come to be the No. 1 producer of cocaine in the world, as occurred in the 1980s," analyst Jaime Garcia Diaz told the paper.
In that decade, the amount of territory in Peru on which coca leaf was being grown was about 120,000 hectares (300,000 acres). In 2005, about 48,200 hectares were used to grow coca and in 2008 56,100 hectares, and at present the country is the world's second largest producer of coca, according to the United Nations.
If the rising trend of the past few years is maintained, with coca production increasing by about 4 or 5 percent annually, coca leaf cropland in Peru will total 75,000 hectares in 2011, despite the government's efforts to eradicate about 10,000 hectares of the illegal crop each year.
In contrast, in Colombia, the land area on which coca leaf was being grown, by 2008, had fallen by 18 percent to about 80,953 hectares, according to U.N. figures cited by La Republica.
Garcia Diaz and drug trafficking expert Jaime Antezana, both of whom are with ConsultAndes, agree that the aggressive campaign to eradicate coca plots being pursued in Colombia could cause drug traffickers to shift their production to Peru.
Peru, like neighboring Bolivia, allows cultivation of coca in small quantities for use in teas, folk remedies and Andean religious rites.
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