#. 130. February 2007

Electronic Journal & Daily Weblog

The Shi’ite “Cult” Militia and Iraq’s Apocalypse
by Sarkis Pogossian, WW4 REPORT

Security Forces Burn Peasant Settlements for Canadian Nickel Firm
by Bill Weinberg, Indian Country Today

An End to Africa’s Reign of Impunity?
by Michael Fleshman, Africa Renewal

The Chechnya War and the Right Not to Kill
from War Resisters International

From Weekly News Update on the Americas:


Book Review:
Stephen Kinzer Traces a Century of Destabilization
by Tom Cornell, The Catholic Worker


“We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders. And every single day, every single one of us needs to step outside and take some action to help stop this war. Raise hell. Think of something to make the ridiculous look ridiculous. Make our troops know we’re for them and trying to get them out of there. Hit the streets to protest Bush’s proposed surge… We need people in the streets, banging pots and pans and demanding, ‘Stop it, now!'”

—Molly Ivins, 1944-2007, in her final column, Jan. 12, 2007

Exit Poll: Why are Africa’s ex-dictators Charles Taylor and Hissène HabrĂ© facing the dock, while Guatemala’s equally genocidal ex-tyrant Rios Montt is free to run for that country’s Congress?

Extra Credit: How is it possible that Taylor and HabrĂ© face the dock, while the Darfur genocide continues and Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir remains in power, raking in petro-dollars and aspiring to lead the African Union?

Extra Extra Credit: Would it merely be juvenile to even bring up George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, George H.W. Bush, Henry Kissinger, Robert McNamara, etc.? And, oh yeah, Vladimir Putin?

Just asking.

Responses to last month’s Exit Poll:





89 Fifth Ave. #172
Brooklyn NY 11217

Or donate by credit card:

Click Here to Pay Learn More

Subscribe to WORLD WAR 4 REPORT

Reprinting permissible with attribution.
Subscriptions free but donations needed!!!

Continue Reading#. 130. February 2007 

Dear WW4 REPORT Readers:

For starters, a couple of apologies.

Yes, our February issue is coming out five days late, and our daily weblog has been inactive for nearly a week. This is because your hard-working editor (yours truly) has been down with the flu. (At first I thought it was an ultra-virulent genetically-modified strain of SARS, but I was just being bionoid.)

We are also aware that for the past few weeks, readers have been unable to post comments on the weblog. We are still trying to work out the bugs from switching to a new server last year, and hope to have the problem fixed soon. Please bear with us.

Meanwhile, our winter fund-raiser is still $1,385 short of our goal of $2,000. The only reason we are asking for $2,000 is because that is what we NEED to be able to continue our work.

To cite just one example of our work that we think is critical: the shocking evictions of Maya peasant settlements by the Guatemalan army on behalf of multinational mineral interests last month was a throwback to the days of the dictatorship. Yet with the escalating horrors in the Middle East, such injustices are now overlooked even by the “alternative” media. The Guatemalan evictions received virtually no other coverage in English. A shorter version of my account appeared in the weekly Indian Country Today. The full version appears only on WW4 REPORT.

The reason we produce WW4 REPORT is because there is simply no market elsewhere for this kind of journalism. While much of the rest of left media descend into obvious and redundant Bush-bashing, we actually do the work of looking beyond the headlines and sound-bites to INVESTIGATE rather than merely moralize, to INFORM rather than to preach.

We urgently appeal to you, our readers, to allow us to continue this work! Please find your category (honestly) on the chart below, and send something TODAY, while you are still thinking about it.

Minors, indigent and prisoners: FREE
Students, fixed-income and unemployed: $5
Working class Jane/Joe: $10
Professionals with health insurance: $25
Professionals who just got a raise: $75
Just closed a big dope deal: $100
SUV owners: $200
Confused Republicans who like us because we’re “anti-government”: $500
Self-hating CEOs: $1,000 and up

Send checks to:

89 Fifth Ave. #172
Brooklyn NY 11217

Please make checks payable to WORLD WAR 4 REPORT.

Or donate by credit card:


Thank you for your support. We can’t do it without you—really.

Bill Weinberg

PS Hopefully, we will be doing another print run of our pamphlet series
this month, so we will have something to send you as a token of our


Feb. 1, 2007

Continue ReadingDear WW4 REPORT Readers: 


Stephen Kinzer Traces a Century of Destabilization

by Tom Cornell, The Catholic Worker

OVERTHROW: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq
by Stephen Kinzer
Times Books, Henry Holt & Co., New York 2006

From the Introduction: “Why does a strong nation strike against a weaker one? Usually because it seeks to impose its ideology, increase its power or gain control of valuable resources. Shifting combinations of these three factors motivated the United States as it extended its global reach over the past century and more. This book examines the most direct form of American intervention, the overthrow of foreign governments… [I]t focuses only on the most extreme set of cases: those in which the United States arranged to depose foreign leaders. No nation in modern history has done this so often, in so many places and so far from its own shores.”

Then, chapter by chapter with some review to illustrate a point or fill out an argument, Stephen Kinzer’s Overthrow takes us through a series of fourteen case histories.

Th estudy starts with the overthrow of the of the Hawaiian monarchy and the incorporation of the Hawaiian Islands into US territory for commercial interests. “The influence that economic power exercises over American foreign policy has grown tremendously since the days when ambitious [American] planters in Hawaii realized that by bringing their islands into the United States, they would be able to send their sugar to market without paying import duties.” This first chapter, “A Hell of a Time up at the Palace,” reads like a good thriller. The writing is vivid and fast-paced and sets a tone for the rest of the book. The Hawaii take-over was a brazen “seat of the pants” operation, which nevertheless formed a template for future subversions of increased complexity and sophistication.

From Hawaii, Stephen Kinzer takes us to the US seizure of the remnants of the Spanish Empire in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippine Islands, then to Central America—Nicaragua, Honduras and Panama. We all know of the Monroe Doctrine from grammar school days, but few have heard of the 1904 (Theodore) Roosevelt Corollary which asserted the right of the US to intervene in any country in the Western hemisphere where its interests are threatened or where, in the eyes of the US power elite, the natives don’t yet know how to order their affairs. Can we now speak of a “Bush Corollary” to extend to the whole world?

Kinzer stresses economic interests but he does not neglect cultural aspects, racism, or “the White man’s burden.” He cites excerpts of speeches on the floor of the House and Senate in support of Theodore Roosevelt’s military campaigns by Rep. Charles Cochrane of Mississippi, who invoked “the onward march of the indomitable race that founded the Republic,” and the prediction of “the conquest of the world by the Aryan races.” Sen. Albert Beveridge of Indiana described expansion as part of the natural process, “the disappearance of debased civilizations and decaying races before the higher civilization of the nobler and more virile types of man.” These brought ovations from the chambers.

Americans must believe that whenever we intervene in the affairs of other nations, we do so for the highest motives, for their own good. In fact, the conquered seldom benefit and the victors lose as well, by the inexorable law of unexpected consequences, as Kinzer clearly demonstrates. Many have drawn parallels between President McKinley’s war in the Philippines and the war in Vietnam, or between Vietnam and Iraq, but this is the first study to trace the arc of military intervention for regime change from the beginning of the 20th century to the present, with all its sorry consequences.

The cast of characters over this century is fascinating, and none more so than John Foster Dulles. If you think Dick Cheney has connections, consider John Foster Dulles, President Eisenhower’s secretary of state. Both his grandparents and his uncle had served as secretaries of state-for Benjamin Harrison and Woodrow Wilson. His son is the revered theologian, Avery Cardinal Dulles. His father was a Presbyterian missionary, and (Kinzer does not note this) the family trace their ancestry to Charlemange. John Foster “spent decades working for some of the world’s most powerful corporations… It was Dulles who ordered the 1953 coup in Iran to make the Middle East safe for American oil companies. A year later he ordered another coup, in Guatemala, where a nationalist government challenged the power of United Fruit, a company his old law firm had represented.” As the century progressed, captains of industry and commerce not only influenced national policy, they made it.

The study in the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Iran under Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953 is particularly thorough and detailed while still reading like a thriller. Kinzer had already published All the Shah’s Men on the subject in 2003. At the beginning of the Eisenhower administration, the Cold War was at a high point and England this country’s closest ally. Britain’s “ability to project military power, fuel its industries and give its citizens a high standard of living depended largely on the oil it extracted from Iran. Sinec 1901, a single corporation, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, principally owned by the British government, had held a monopoly on the extraction, refining and sale of Iranian oil. Anglo-Iranian’s grossly unequal contract…required it to pay Iran just sixteen percent of the money it earned from selling the country’s oil. It probably paid even less than that, but the truth will never be known, since no outsider was permitted to audit its books. Anglo-Iranian made more profit in 1950 alone than it had paid Iran in royalties over the previous half century.”

Mohammad Mossadegh, twice designated prime minister by Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, determined to nationalize Anglo-Iranian (now British Petroleum). President Eisenhower and John Foster Dulles saw in this a tilt towards socialism and the Soviet Union. They sent Theodore Roosevelt’s son Kermit and the CIA to overthrow the government in Iran to protect British oil interests. Needless to say, they did not foresee the chain of events that would lead from the Shah’s imposition of an authoritarian regime-the backlash and eventual triumph of the Shi’ite Islamic revolution.

Bringing the arc to the present state of turmoil in the Middle East and West Asia, Kinzer writes, “Fateful misjudgements by five presidents had laid the foundation, the groundwork not only for the September 11 attacks but for the emergence of the worldwide terror network from which they sprang. Jimmy Carter launched the covert CIA project in Afghanistan. During the 1980s, Ronald Reagan spent billions of dollars to arm and train anti-Western zealots who were fighting the Soviets there. George HW Bush further inflamed Muslim radicals by establishing permanent military bases in Saudi Arabia… Bill Clinton failed to grasp the scope of the threat…and during his presidency, guerillas who had been trained and armed by the United States a decade earlier completed their transformation into terrorists.”

Many Americans still find it hard to grasp that their leaders might not be motivated by the highest ideals. Kinzer points out many times in many ways, the founding myth, that this country is uniquely blessed by God and that it has been divinely appointed to bring peace, freedom, prosperity and enlightenment to the lesser races. He cites President McKinley’s stated intent to bring Christianity to those poor benighted people of the Philippines-unaware that over 90 percent of its population outside the southern island of Mindanao is Roman Catholic. American power is exerted “for their own good,” even if that entails murder and theft on a monumental scale. In the 21st century, the crime is worse than that. It is a crime against peace itself.

This book is a very valuable teaching tool and may help to bring the US back into the community of nations subject to international law. That is the only hope for lasting peace.

This story originally appeared in the January-February edition of the Catholic Worker, 36 East First St. New York, NY 10003


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Feb. 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution



The Shi’ite “Cult” Militia and Iraq’s Apocalypse

by Sarkis Pogossian, WW4 REPORT

What the Bush administration is calling a victory over a strange new insurgent militia in Iraq is actually a sign of the terrifying fragmentation of the war into chaotic factionalism and a general breakdown of society.

At least 250 militants were killed and a US helicopter shot down in clashes near the southern city of Najaf on January 28. For 15 hours, Iraqi forces backed by US jets, choppers and tanks battled hundreds of gunmen in a date palm orchard near the village of Zarqaa. The militants calling themselves the Jund al-Samaa—”Soldiers of Heaven”—were armed with mortars, hand grenades, rocket-propelled grenades and Russian-made Katyusha rockets as well as hundreds of automatic rifles. US and British jets dropped 500-pound bombs on their positions as the battle raged for nearly 24 hours. Hundreds of the militants were killed and taken prisoner. Two US troops died when the helicopter fell, and about 10 Iraqi soldiers and police officers lost their lives. It was the first significant engagement for Iraqi forces in Najaf Province since they officially took over control of security there from the US in December.

Iraqi officials said the group of hundreds fighters was discovered in the orchard the previous evening, prompting to a midnight meeting of local authorities who decided to launch an attack. When the resistance was more fierce than anticipated, they called on US forces for help, officials said.

Asad Abu Ghalal, governor of Najaf Province, told the press the militants had come to assassinate Shi’ite clerics and attack processions of pilgrims converging on the Shi’ite holy city for Ashura, the sacred festival marking the death of Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, at the hands of the Umayyad Caliphate in the 680 CE Battle of Karbala. Najaf protects the golden-domed resting place of Hussein’s father and Muhammad’s son-in-law, Imam Ali, the founding martyr of Shia Islam. Ashura brings hundreds of thousands of Shiite pilgrims to both cities, despite the growing threat of deadly sectarian violence.

Ghalal told reporters the planned attack “was meant to destroy the Shiite community, kill the grand ayatollahs, destroy the convoys and occupy the holy shrine.” He said the militia was led by a man named Ali bin Ali bin Abi Talab, who claimed to be the Mahdi, Shia Islam’s Twelfth Imam who disappeared into “occultation” in 874 CE, and whose prophesied return holds apocalyptic portent. The Soldiers of Heaven were said to be the armed force of a new Shi’ite millenarian movement calling itself the Mahdawiya.

The Pentagon is trying to put a positive spin “This is an example of a promise kept,” Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, deputy commander of the Multi-National Division-Baghdad and the 1st Cavalry Division, told the Associated Press. “Everything worked just as it should have.”

But Iraqi authorities made clear that government forces would have been overwhelmed if US air power had not been called in. At a news conference, officials stressed that the mysterious organization was very days away from its planned attacks—which were to include an attempt on the life of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s most venerated Shi’ite cleric. “The deadline was very close,” Ghalal said..

Conspiracy Theories

Abdul Hussein Abtan, Najaf’s deputy governor, called the Soldiers of Heaven “an ideological and military organization with long experience,” and said that its leaders came from outside Iraq. He claimed the militant group included Sunnis as well as Shiites and that two Egyptians had been apprehended in Najaf in connection with the fighting, but had escaped, along with a Sudanese and a Lebanese. The New York Times quoted him saying the leaders had rallied a large group of “naive people” over the past two days by proclaiming the return of the Imam Mahdi. “They worked under Shiite slogans, but the capabilities they had in the battle are, for sure, not local ones,” he said. “This group had more capabilities than the government.”

Abtan said they planned first to seize a major mosque in Najaf, then bombard the police stations and seize the city as power base. “They intended to occupy Najaf, then topple the Iraqi government and kill all the great religious leaders,” he told the Associated Press.

The Daily Telegraph reported Feb. 1 that US soldiers confiscated some $10 million in American notes from the ruins of the Soldiers of Heaven compound. Hundreds of weapons including automatic guns and rocket launchers were said to be found, as well as automotive and bomb-making workshops and such unlikely accoutrements as a large swimming pool and an air-conditioned beauty salon. The report also said the remains of three children and six women were among the uncollected dead still littering the site.

Time magazine’s website reported Feb. 1 that the site of the supposed compound was bought by Shi’ite migrants from the city of Hilla displaced by the violence in the wake of Operation Desert Storm, who built there a small community complete with school, bakery and infirmary. The Time account also cited Iraqi government sources claiming that “unspeakable and impious things” went on in the compound—including a lurid theory on the purpose behind the pool and beauty salon. The pool is where cultists (including women presumably dolled up at the salon) engaged in ritual sex orgies—”in the apparent belief that immoral behavior would hasten the advent of the Mahdi.”

Across Iraq’s Shi’ite south, there were incidents officials pointed to as signs of potential attacks timed for the start of Ashura. Maj. Gen. Othman al-Ghanemi, the commander in charge of the Najaf region, said cult followers—including women and children—planned to disguise themselves as pilgrims and kill as many real pilgrims and clerics as possible. Three gunmen were captured in Najaf after renting a hotel room in front of Grand Ayatollah Sistani’s office. Police in Karbala said they had arrested three men—a Saudi, an Afghan and a Moroccan—who were found on the road between Najaf and Karbala with an explosives belt and more explosives in their car.

Clerics in Najaf told the Times the gunmen were part of a Shi’ite faction known as the Mehwadiya that Saddam Hussein helped build in the 1990s to compete with followers of Ayatollah Sistani. They said the Mehwadiya was loyal to Ahmad bin al-Hassan al-Basri, an Iraqi cleric from Hawza, the revered Shi’ite madrassa in Najaf.

Iraq’s national security minister, Sherwan al-Waeli, claimed the group’s followers were told the killing of Sistani would be a sign that the Mahdi was returning. “No sane person could believe it,” Waeli said.

Despite this apparent fanaticism, Gov. Ghalal described the movement as Shi’ite in its “exterior” but not in its “core.” He emphasized a possible foreign presence among the militants, claiming some wore the brown, white and maroon regalia of Pakistani and Afghan fighters. Najaf officials later claimed Afghans, Saudis and a Sudanese were among the dead.

The Kuwait News Agency (KUNA), citing an anonymous source in Iraq’s security forces, reported that cult leader Ahmad al-Basri was among those killed in the battle—and that he had been detained in Iran before crossing border into Iraq, said Monday an Iraqi security source. By KUNA’s account, al-Basri moved to Iran after the fall of Saddam, where he claimed to be an “ambassador” of the Mahdi. After he was released by Iranian authorities, al-Basri returned to the Iraqi city of Basra where he where he gained more followers in the atmosphere of chaos. He then led his supporters to Najaf Province to prepare their seizure of the holy city.

Deputy governor Abtan told the Associated Press the group’s leader was identified as Dia Abdul Zahra Kadim, who went by several aliases and had been detained twice in the past few years.

Iraqi officials also used their leader’s apparent past links to the Saddam dictatorship to support speculation that the Soldiers of Heaven were cooperating with Sunni militants and Baathist insurgents. The Iraqi army said the staging area they had established in the orchards had once been controlled by Saddam’s al-Quds Army, a territorial defense militia the dictator sponsored in the 1990s. Officials said the cultists had dug trenches around the staging area, and that their weaponry and military skills suggested they were not just a homegrown phenomenon. Some broached a link to the so-called “al-Qaeda in Iraq.”

However, despite these conjectures, all reports indicated the big majority of the militants were poor Shiite farmers from Najaf Province. Time’s account claims the group’s arms were looted from al-Quds Army caches on adjacent lands when the Shi’ites moved in after Desert Storm.

Juan Cole, the noted Islamic scholar at the University of Michigan, writes on his Informed Comment web site that the cult has roots in the powerful Shi’ite movement now lead by Moktada al-Sadr, with an armed wing known as the Mahdi Army. “The Mahdawiya is a splinter group of the Sadr movement, which broke away in the late 1990s, and was led by Ahmad al-Hassaani al-Yamani of Diwaniya. He styled himself styled himself Ali b. Ali. b. Abi Talib, that is, he was claiming to be the return of an (otherwise unknown) son of Ali (d. 661), whom Shiites believe was the true successor to the Prophet Muhammad. The Mahdawiya leader is alleged to have been killed in Sunday’s battle.”

Whilte Iraq’s Shi’ite establishment sought to link the Soldiers of Heaven to Baathists and Sunni extremists, jingoists in the United States are seeking to link them to Iran. Prof. Cole dismisses these claims. “The buzz in the Right blogosphere that the Mahdawiya is somehow linked to Iran is a profound falsehood. Sadrist splinter groups in Iraq generally are Iraqi nativist and deeply distrust Iran. These cultists wanted to kill Sistani (an Iranian).”

But the reality could be far more frightening than a mere shadow play by Baathists, al-Qaeda or Iran—the beginnings of an internal Shi’ite civil war, adding a whole new level to the ethnic and sectarian strife now tearing apart Iraq. Writes Cole: “It seems most likely that this was Shiite-on-Shiite violence, with millenarian cultists making an attempt to march on Najaf during the chaos of the ritual season of Muharram,” the sacred month of the Ashura festival. “The dangers of Shiite-on-Shiite violence in Iraq are substantial, as this episode demonstrated.”

Shadow Play?

The most ambitious theory was put forth in the UK Independent Jan. 31 by journalist Patrick Cockburn in Baghdad. He wrote of “growing suspicions in Iraq that the official story of the battle outside Najaf…is a fabrication. The heavy casualties may be evidence of an unpremeditated massacre.” Cockburn proffered an alternative version, based on “on independent Iraqi websites and in Arabic newspapers,” in which the US intervened with indiscriminate force in what started as a small clash between an Iraqi Shi’ite tribe on pilgrimage to Najaf and an Iraqi army checkpoint. Invoking yet another name for the mysterious would-be messiah, Cockburn wrote: “The involvement of Ahmed al-Hassani (also known as Abu Kamar), who believed himself to be the coming Mahdi, or Messiah, appears to have been accidental.”

According to Cockburn’s sources: “The cult denied it was involved in the fighting, saying it was a peaceful movement. The incident reportedly began when a procession of 200 pilgrims was on its way, on foot, to celebrate Ashura in Najaf. They came from the Hawatim tribe, which lives between Najaf and Diwaniyah to the south, and arrived in the Zarga area, one mile from Najaf at about 6 AM on Sunday. Heading the procession was the chief of the tribe, Hajj Sa’ad Sa’ad Nayif al-Hatemi, and his wife driving in their 1982 Super Toyota sedan because they could not walk. When they reached an Iraqi army checkpoint it opened fire, killing Mr Hatemi, his wife and his driver, Jabar Ridha al-Hatemi. The tribe, fully armed because they were travelling at night, then assaulted the checkpoint to avenge their fallen chief.”

Members of a local Shi’ite tribe, the Khaza’il, intervened to try to stop the fighting but themselves came under fire, according to Cockburn’s version. Meanwhile, the troops at the checkpoint called up their commanders saying they were under attack by heavily-armed al-Qaeda insurgents. Reinforcements poured into the area and surrounded the Hawatim in the nearby orchards.

US helicopters then arrived and dropped leaflets reading: “To the terrorists, surrender before we bomb the area.” The desperate and terrified tribesmen fired on the chopper, bringing it down—or perhaps it was brought down by friendly fire. The air-strikes were then called in—killing at least 120 tribesmen and local residents.

The Iraqi security forces had reasons of their own for the bloodbath. The Hawatim and Khaza’il tribes are both opposed to the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and the Dawa Party, the Shi’ite political groups which jointly control Najaf and make up the core of the Baghdad government. By Cockburn’s account, the Soldiers of Heaven were drawn into the fighting because their presence provided “a convenient excuse for what was in effect a massacre.”

Cockburn concedes this his account “cannot be substantiated,” citing as sources the Healing Iraq website and the Baghdad daily Azzaman. He notes that this version would explain the disparity between the government casualties—less than 25 by some accounts—and the high number of casualties among the mysterious gunmen, whoever they were. But this does contradict reports (accepted by Juan Cole, among others) that the government forces were nearly overwhelmed before the air-strikes were called in.

Typically, the government seems to be doing all it can to conceal the evidence. Writes Cockburn: “The Iraqi authorities have sealed the site and are not letting reporters talk to the wounded.”

Historical background

The annual Ashura pilgrimage has long been politically charged in Iraq. It was periodically banned by Iraq’s ruling Sunni minority beginning in the 1930s. Clashes erupted when the Baath Party regime arrested thousannds of pilgrims en route to Karbala in 1977, leaving hundreds dead. Repression of Shi’ite rites escalated again when Saddam Hussein seized control of the Baathist regime and invaded Iran, where a radical Shi’ite regime had just taken power. Under Saddam, more defiant pilgrims were gunned down on the road to Karbala. The city was the center of the 1991 post-Desert Storm Shi’ite uprising, which was brutally put down by Saddam. US forces still holding the area around Basra at that time did nothing to interfere—despite the fact the George HW Bush had encouraged the Shi’ites to revolt.

With tragic irony, the post-Saddam Shi’ite revival has been concomitant with a frenzy of deadly sectarian violence. Beginning with the historic 2003 rites in the immediate aftermath of Saddam’s fall, the Ashura celebrations have annually brought hundreds of thousands of Shiite pilgrims from throughout Iraq, Iran and as far as Uzbekistan. Simultaneously, the Ashura rites and the holiest Shi’ite shrines have been targeted for relentless terror. Predictably, these serial acts of mass murder and desecration have done nothing to intimidate the Shi’ites; embrace of martyrdom—especially martyrdom at the hands of Sunnis—is the very meaning of Ashura, and is historically central to Shi’ite identity.

In August 2006, a suicide attack at a checkpoint in a market square near Najaf’s Imam Ali mosque killed 35.

The prelude to Ashura 2006 brought the February bombing of the gold-domed Shi’ite mosque of Samarra, which holds the tomb of two of Shia’s 12 imams, the 10th, Ali al-Hadi, and the 11th, Hadi al-Askari. A second shrine in Samarra indicates where the Mahdi went into “occultation” according to Shiite tradition.

On Aug. 31, 2005, up to 1,000 were killed in a stampede on Baghdad’s al-Aaimmah bridge sparked by rumors that a suicide bomber had infiltrated a crowd of one million pilgrims had marching toward the Kadhimiya mosque, the shrine of Imam Musa al-Kazim, one of the twelve Shiite Imams.

In February 2005, for the second year in a row, Ashura celebrations saw a string of suicide attacks, leaving 74 worshippers dead. On March 31, Shi’ites across Iraq celebrated Arabaein (also rendered: Arbayeen), the festival marking the end of Ashura, the 40-day mourning period for Imam Hussein. A suicide bomber drove a van full of explosives into a crowd of worshippers in the northern city of Tuz Khurmato, killing four, including a child. A similar attack in the Shi’ite holy city of Samarra—although ostensibly aimed at a US military vehicle—left one civilian dead and several injured.

In May 2004 fighting between US forces and the Shiite insurgency led by Moqtada al-Sadr at Najaf’s Shrine of Ali, the gold dome was hit by gunfire, and a courtyard wall was damaged in a shell blast. The Shrine of Ali has long been the center of political conflict, and was damaged by Saddam in repression against the Shiite rebellion of 1991. It has more recently been contested by al-Sadr’s forces and rival Shiite factions.

In March 2004, Ashura celebrations in Karbala saw 143 killed in attacks by suicide bombers and gunmen with mortars and grenades, especially at the shrine to Imam Musa al-Khadam. Tehran officials claimed at least 20 of dead were Iranians. US officials pointed to Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, Jordanian-born leader of the so-called “al-Qaeda in Iraq.” One intercepted letter from al-Zarqawi reportedly defended such actions: “Some people will say that this will be a reckless and irresponsible action that will bring the Islamic nation to a battle for which the Islamic nation is unprepared. Souls will perish and blood will be spilled. This is, however, exactly what we want.”

On Aug. 29, 2003, a car bomb exploded at Najaf’s Shrine of Ali mosque during Friday prayers, killing 75—including one of Iraq’s most important Shiite clerics, Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, 64, who had just delivered a sermon calling for Iraqi unity. The mosque suffered minor damage, with some mosaic tiles blown off. Ayatollah al-Hakim was leader of the SCIRI. His brother Abdel Aziz al-Hakim became SCIRI’s new leader.

That same month, the dome of the shrine of Imam Ali Zein Abeddine, an important Shiite saint, was destroyed in Kurd-Turcoman violence in Kirkuk.

During the US aerial bombardment and invasion of Spring 2003, pro-Saddam resistance fighters took refuge in Najaf’s Shrine of Ali. The city’s Shiite residents spontaneously mobilized to protect the mosque, demanding that the fighters abandon it and that US troops not enter it. Citizens also gathered at the Imam Hussein Mosque in Karbala to protect it from war damage.

In the aftermath of the invasion, the US managed to woo significant Shi’ite factions into Iraq’s new Governing Council, but the group which would prove to have the most power among Shi’ites on the ground refused to cooperate. The Sadr Movement was built by Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, assassinated by Saddam’s agents in 1999. Himself a cousin of Shi’ite dissident Muhammed Baqir al-Sadr (executed in 1980), Muhammad Sadiq was repeatedly imprisoned by the regime, and took a hard line against both Saddam and the US. After his death, his son Moqtada al-Sadr assumed leadership of the movement. Sadr movement leaders and militia filled the power vacuum after the fall of Saddam in the Baghdad Shi’ite district known as Saddam City—since renamed Sadr City. The Sadr Movement still has effective control of the district, and areas of strong support in other Shi’ite enclaves.

The Sadr Movement’s ultra-conservative cultural line reflects that of the ruling ayatollahs in Iran, but the movement also has an Iraqi nationalist streak that sets it against pro-Iran factions. Chief among these is the SCIRI, whose leader Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim was killed in the car bomb attack on the Shrine of Ali in Najaf on August 29, 2003. SCIRI’s 10,000-strong Badr Brigade militia battled Sadr’s Mahdi Army for control of East Baghdad after the fall of Saddam. SCIRI agreed to join the Governing Council after Jay Gardner was replaced by Paul Bremer as civilian leader of the occupation. The Badr militia is now thought to largely overlap with the Shi’ite death squads apparently operating out of the Interior Ministry.

Despite the much-sensationalized sabre-rattling between Washington and Tehran, the US seems to have cultivated the Badr Brigade to implement its “Salvador Option” against common enemies—Sunni and Baathist insurgents and militantly independent Shi’ite factions like the Sadr forces.

This also reveals the degree of US desperation in Iraq, and how Washington’s real proxies have largely been eliminated, especially among influential Shi’ite factions. More firmly in the US camp was the followers of Abdel Majid al-Khoei, who was beaten to death by a mob in Najaf April 10, 2003 apparently having just received $13 million from the CIA. Big wads of cash literally fell from his robes as he was assaulted, by some reprots. The incident was sparked by a contest between Sadr and al-Khoei followers for control of Shrine of Ali—and a stockpile of arms abandoned there by Saddam’s Fedayeen militia.

Karbala has also seen strife over access to the shrine of Imam Hussein between Sadr adherents and followers of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani—who comes closest to being official leader of Iraq’s Shi’ites, but who is rejected by the Sadr Movement for being too soft on both the US and Iran.

On April 18, 2003 the Sadr Movement lead the 20,000-strong Baghdad protest against the occupation, with a coordinated simultaneous protest in Karbala—just a day before the historic Shi’ite pilgrimage to Karbala, which had been banned for 20 years by Saddam. The Sadr Movement was also allegedly involved in July riots against US Marine patrols in Karbala, which left one dead and nine wounded when Marines reportedly responded to gunfire from the crowd. Wrote Juan Cole in the Autumn 2003 Middle East Journal: “It seems clear that the future of Iraq is intimately wrought up with the fortunes of the Sadr Movement.”

Since the establishment of the ostensibly “sovereign” government in 2004, the Sadr movement has taken seats in Iraq’s parliament, while still opposing the US occupation and rejecting SCIRI and Dawa too moderate and beholden to both Washington and (ironically) Tehran. US forces have repeatedly battled Sadr forces in Baghdad, Najaf and elsewhere despite their participation in the government.

Media accounts now claim that the supposed would-be messiah Ahmad bin al-Hassan al-Basri started out as a follower of Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr at Najaf’s Hawza madrassa, but had a falling-out with him before his 1999 martyrdom. Al-Sadr proved even more powerful as a dead martyr, making al-Hassan’s Mehwadiya useful to Saddam’s regime as a tool to divide Shi’ite loyalties. Moqtada al-Sadr is now seen as carrying the torch of his father Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr—which would make al-Hassan still useful to Moqtada’s many enemies. These would include such strange bedfellows as SCIRI, Dawa, Tehran, al-Qaeda, the Baathists—and Washington. Who was arming the self-proclaimed Mahdi, and whether he was really killed or even really planning the spectacular attacks now attributed to his imagination, are questions which may never be answered.

Bloody Ashura

In the prelude to Ashura 2007, there were growing signs of planned attacks. Officials in Karbala said the police arrested three men—a Saudi, an Afghan and a Moroccan—who were found on the road to Najaf with a bomb belt and explosives in their car. Despite the atmosphere of impending doom, some 1.5 million pilgrims converged on Karbala.

The actual Ashura fireworks, while anti-climactic compared to the apparently averted apocalypse, were grimly spectacular enough to satisfy the most extreme fanatic. On Jan. 30, a bomb blast at a Shi’ite mosque in Mandali, Diyala province, left 23 dead and more than 50 wounded. At least ten Kurdish Shi’ite pilgrims were killed and 30 wounded by a roadside bomb as they walked in a street procession in the Diyala town of Khanaqin along the Iranian border. Gunmen in two cars opened fire on a minibus carrying Shi’ite pilgrims in Baghdad, killing at least seven and wounding seven more. Also that day, mortar rounds slammed into Baghdad’s Sunni district of Adhamiyah, killing at least 10.

On Feb. 1, two suicide bombers struck a crowded market in the Shi’ite town of Hilla, killing at least 60 and injuring 150. In Baghdad, relentless shelling, a suicide bombing outside a hospital, and a car bomb in a central square killed at least 46.

On Feb. 3, at least 140 were killed and hundreds injured when a truck bomb exploded at a crowded food market in a Shi’ite district of Baghdad. The blast, the single deadliest since the 2003 invasion, leveled some 30 shops and several houses.

In the aftermath of the Ashura carnage, Shi’ites protested that a US-backed “security” plan that had replaced Mahdi Army militiamen with “official” police and US troops in Baghdad had left the populace vulnerable. They said only the Sadr forces had the ability to be effective eyes and ears on the ground and provide real security.

From Asymmetrical to Molecular

The level of carnage in Iraq is now such that spectacular news such as the battle of the Soldiers of Heaven has eclipsed the ongoing, daily horrific violence almost completely from the headlines. On the same day as the notorious battle alone, Jan. 28, two car bombs, including one at a Kurdish market, killed at least 17 in Kirkuk. In Baghdad, 54 bodies were found, many showing signs of torture. At least five girls were killed and 20 wounded when a mortar round hit a school in Adil, a Sunni neighborhood in the capital. A bomb inside a minibus exploded in a Shiite area of the capital, killing one and wounding five. Meanwhile, in the Sunni area of Yarmouk in western Baghdad, gunmen killed four, including a consultant with the Ministry of Industry and his daughter, who were shot on their way to work. That night, heavy clashes broke out in Yarmouk, with machine-gun and mortar fire echoing for hours.

The attacks in Kirkuk are especially troubling, as they indicate that the Kurdish north, heretofore a relative island of stability, could be embroiled in the escalating social chaos. Kirkuk lies outside the Kurdish autonomous zone but is coveted by the Kurdish leaders as their capital—leading to a tense three-way political struggle for the city between Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen. On Feb. 3, eight car bombs exploded in Kirkuk, targeting the offices of the Kurdish nationalist parties and a Turkmen neighborhood, killing two and injuring 40.

Another disturbing signal is that even the pacifistic Sufis have declared a jihad against both the US occupation and the fundamentalist Shi’ites who would like to exterminate them as apostates. The Washington Post reported Aug. 26, 2006 that Sufi leaders Sheik Mohammed al-Qadiri, announced that his followers would form a new armed group, the Battalions of Shikh Abdul Qadir al-Gaillani. “We will not wait for the Mahdi Army and the Badr Brigade to enter our houses and kill us,” said Ahmed al-Soffi, a Sufi leader in Fallujah. “We will fight the Americans and the Shiites who are against us.”

The potential for a confused Shi’ite civil war adds a new dimension to the struggle between the religious and ethnic groups, and against the occupation troops. It points to the conflict metamorphosing beyond the current Pentagon model of “asymmetrical warfare” to what some have called “molecular” warfare—a conflict so ultra-fragmented that sides are nearly impossible to even identify: rather than a struggle between two unequal forces (the US versus “the terrorists”), a far more terrifying contest of multiple armed ethno-religious micro-factions against both the US and each other. Something on the model of Lebanon in the 1980s—but potentially much, much worse.

Sending in more US troops will only hasten Iraq’s apocalypse, by allowing all bloody factions to portray themselves as the “resistance,” and their ethno-religious enemies as collaborators. We must accept the fact that at this late date, a US withdrawal may be insufficient to keep Iraq from continuing to descend into social apocalypse. But we must also face the fact that it remains the first, absolutely necessary step before there can even be any hope for de-escalation.


KUNA, Jan. 29

AP, Jan. 29

AP, Jan. 29

Time, Feb. 1

The Independent, Jan. 31

Healing Iraq

Juan Cole’s Informed Comment

The Hidden Imam
WSU “Earlly & Medieval Shia” site

From our weblog:

Iraq: slaughter of the innocents
WW4 REPORT, Jan. 31, 2007

Najaf: Shrine of Ali once again target of sectarian warfare
WW4 REPORT, Aug. 11, 2006

Iraq: Samarra’s al-Askari dome destroyed
WW4 REPORT, Feb. 22, 2006

More Pakistan terror: sectarian—or random?
WW4 REPORT, Jan. 27, 2007

Ashura violence in Pakistan, Afghanistan
WW4 REPORT, Feb.10, 2006

Brits go “guerilla” in Iraq marshlands; Sufis declare jihad
WW4 REPORT, Aug. 26, 2006

Iraq: “Salvador option” revealed
WW4 REPORT, Nov. 16, 2005

From our archive:

WW4 REPORT #94, January 2004

WW4 REPORT #83. April 28, 2003

WW4 REPORT #80. April 7, 2003

See also:

Paradoxical Legacies of the Militant Mystics
by Khaleb Khazari-El
WW4 REPORT #123, July 2006

by Sarkis Pogossian
WW4 REPORT #115, November 2005

by Bill Weinberg
WW4 REPORT #114, October 2005

(And Can the U.S. Anti-War Movement Help?)
by Bill Weinberg
WW4 REPORT #109, May 2005

Special to WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Feb. 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution



Security Forces Burn Peasant Settlements for Canadian Nickel Firm

by Bill Weinberg, Indian Country Today

On January 8, some 200 Guatemalan army troops and twice as many national police occupied two Qeq’chi (Kekchi) Maya indigenous communities at El Estor, a rural municipality in the department of Izabal, on the shores of the scenic lake of that name. Their orders were to evict the 308 families that made up the settlements, La UniĂłn and La Pista. The following morning, 175 more Kekchi families were forcibly expelled from the nearby communities of La RevoluciĂłn and La Paz. That day also saw the eviction of a Kekchi community at a site called Lote 8 in Cahaboncito municipality just across the line in the neighboring department of Alta Verapaz.

The evictions were carried out on behalf of the Guatemala Nickel Company (CGN), a subsidiary of the Vancouver-based Skye Resources Nickel Mining Co., which holds a disputed title to the lands in question.

The first evictions at La UniĂłn were peaceful. Public Prosecutor Rafael Andrade Escobar read the eviction notice aloud as workers-contracted by CGN-Skye-dismantled the modest wood-and-thatch structures. But when the security forces next arrived at La Pista, they found the residents had fled. Police troops set upon the dwellings, sacking and torching them.

The following day at La RevoluciĂłn, contracted helicopters hovered low over the community as a mixed force of army troops, black-clad riot police and CGN security guards wearing black face paint arrived by land. Security guards were also positioned on the cliffs overlooking the road in and out of the settlement. Some 50 residents were surrounded, including about a dozen women and some children. As the prosecutor finally arrived, CGN-contracted security dispersed throughout the settlement and set the dwellings ablaze, according to witnesses. The prosecutor ostensibly attempted to call the security personnel to order them to stop, but claimed his cell phone had no signal. The residents watched as 18 of their homes were reduced to ashes and wreckage.

James Rodriguez, a photojournalist who was on the scene, posted shots to his website of peasants looking on the destruction in tears. “I am sad because my little home is gone,” he quoted one elderly man.

Eventually, the torchings were halted, and the remainder of the settlement’s dwellings were dismantled. By then, the families were gathered on the roadside with what was left of their belongings.

Grahame Russell, co-director of Rights Action, a Connecticut-based group that supports Kekchi alternative development and land reclamation efforts, calls the actions illegal, and protests that “483 families were made homeless in less than forty-eight hours.”

He says the evictions show a deep iniquity in the Guatemalan legal system more than 21 years after the end of military rule in the Central American republic. “The local communities that have lived there forever don’t have title. It never gets resolved, because the courts do not work when its issues pertaining to human rights or the rights of the poor. They only work when companies come along and want an eviction order.”

In a press release, Skye Resources calls the Kekchi “squatters who had been illegally occupying, for several months, land leased by Compania Guatemalteca de Niquel (CGN) for its Fenix project.” It claims, “The operation is being carried out by a special unit of the national police that has been trained to avoid violence in such situations.”

The statement says Guatemala’s First Instance Criminal Court had ruled in favor of CGN in December. “Since then,” it reads, “the company has worked to find a peaceful resolution to the dispute.”

“We’re disappointed that the organizers of the land invasions were not able to keep their commitment to have their people leave the land so we could engage in further dialogue,” Skye president and CEO Ian Austin says in the statement. “However, we’re also thankful that the Guatemalan government has upheld the company’s rights to the land and we remain committed to working with community leaders to find solutions to this important issue.”

According to the statement, community leaders had promised to abandon the lands in exchange for a pledge of dialogue in a December meeting brokered by the bishop of Izabal. “Land rights are a challenging issue throughout the country, but we believe that the programs we already have in place and our continuing commitment to employ as many local people as possible, while we develop the Fenix project, will help us work positively with the community,” says Austin.

Leonardo Crippa, a staff attorney with the DC-based Indian Law Resource Center (ILRA), which is working with the Defensoria Qeq’chi, the local land rights organization, says some of the sites were in fact abandoned in December-but retaken after Skye showed bad faith. “The communities called for a nonviolent solution to the question of land claims. The Defensoria and the bishop were working to have a meeting with all the parties concerned, and set a date, but the mining company representatives didn’t attend.”

As accounts mounted of the torching of La RevoluciĂłn, on Jan. 17 Austin issued a new letter admitting that “during the eviction process, a total of 18 makeshift houses were set on fire… While we don’t know who started the fires, we do know it was not anyone who works for CGN or contracted by CGN.” This is contradicted by the accounts from Rights Action and James Rodriguez.

Austin’s letter also claimed, “During the final eviction a small group of 15 squatters confronted the police.” It claimed the company is offering financial compensation for lost property-but his list (“structures, cooking utensils and any crops that were planted”) makes clear this excludes land. The letter says the displaced were offered transportation to Panzos, where food and water would be made available. It does not mention shelter or lands. Panzos is outside the immediate region-some 50 kilometers away, across the department line in Alta Verapaz.

On the same day Austin issued his letter, there were more evictions-and more dwellings burned down-as national police and soldiers were sent in to remove Kekchi who had re-entered the lands they had been expelled from days earlier. At Lote 8, the security forces found the residents had already fled, and again set the huts alight. At La UniĂłn, police used tear gas to disperse the Kekchi, and a group of gunmen apparently deputized by El Estor’s municipal government arrived in three pick-up trucks, firing in the air.

At La Paz, the evictions were orderly and no homes were torched, due to the presence of an observer from the national Human Rights Prosecutor’s office. At La Pista and RevoluciĂłn, residents also fled into the forest before the arrival of the security forces.

The dispute goes back to the 1960s when the Canadian mining giant INCO, started to buy or force out local campesinos from their small agricultural holdings. At the time, the Guatemalan army was putting down a guerilla insurgency in the region, and human rights violations were widespread. Campesinos who refused to sell out were violently evicted by company thugs, often backed up by the army. This was one of the most violent periods in the 1954-86 military dictatorship. In 1999, the UN Truth Commission for Guatemala found INCO directly responsible for killings and other rights abuses.

Land claims related to INCO operations were among the grievances at issue when over 100 protesting Maya were massacred by the army at Panzos in May 1978—seen as the key step towards the genocide in the Guatemalan highlands that would take some 50,000 lives over the next five years. Graham says the military used company airstrips and trucks in Izabal and Alta Verapaz in those years. “INCO’s been challenged on this at shareholders meetings,” he says. “They do nothing about it.”

INCO had bought other of the lands in question from the Guatemalan government in the late 1950s, on very favorable terms. This was the aftermath of the CIA-back coup of 1954, which toppled the moderately socialist elected government. North American corporations were granted widespread and easy access in these years.

The Guatemalan government had acquired the lands during World War II, when the large holdings of oligarchs of German ancestry were expropriated. The lands had been granted to the Germans in the 1870s under the Liberal dictatorship of Justino Rufino Barrios-which, in turn had illegally expropriated them from the Kekchi communities.

Under INCO’s local subsidiary EXMIBAL open-pit mining began in 1979, scarring the hillsides and-residents claim-releasing acid and sulfur into the lake, although no study was ever conducted. Operations halted with falling nickel prices in 1981, and the lands lay vacant and unproductive for decades. Cattle grazed on the company golf course, and the opulent housing for company managers-a stark contrast to the humble campesino homes nearby-also sat vacant. Locals were allowed to use an access road through the vast holdings, which incorporate much of the Sierra de Santa Cruz, a small mountain range overlooking the lake. But the road is lined with “private property” sings in Spanish and Kekchi. A force of private guards kept residents away from the empty housing.

In 2004, Skye purchased the mining leases from INCO, and announced plans to resume operations under the name Project Fenix. Skye began exploratory drilling in the high cloud forest of the sierra. The Kekchi settlement of Las Nubes, high in the Sierra, faced eviction due to the explorations slated for their lands. The residents of Las Nubes repeatedly blocked access roads last year to keep Skye from entering their lands, until the company agreed to halt the encroachment pending dialogue. But on the agricultural lands at El Estor below, nothing changed.

Then in September 2006, hundreds of Kekchi families who had been living in the overcrowded town of Chichipate, just to the west, moved back to El Estor to reclaim their ancestral territories. On September 19, dozens of landless Kekchi families moved onto “La Pista”-the long-unused company landing strip. Families subsequently entered the lands at the other nearby locations, and began to prepare the ground for their subsistence crops of beans and maize.

Doña Fidelia, an elder in La RevoluciĂłn community, told independent journalist Dawn Paley in an account distributed by Rights Action: “We are recuperating our lands, not invading them. Some of us were born on these lands, before any mining company arrived in the area…. EXMIBAL was not here first, our parents were.”

The new settlements at La UniĂłn, La Pista and RevoluciĂłn were evicted by a force of around 60 police on November 12. Rights Action says that one of the men involved in the land occupation at La Pista, Jose Chocoj Pan, was seriously beaten in the operation. Walking alone on the road to El Estor following the eviction, he was stopped and abducted by a truck of police. After hours of physical abuse, he was left unconscious in the forest.

The lands were subsequently re-taken by the Kekchi, after CGN representatives failed to show up for a Nov. 15 meeting to discuss the land claims issue, according to Rights Action.

Following the November land actions, a group calling itself the “civil society of El Estor” paid for an open letter, “El Estor United Against the Violence and Vandalism,” published in the national daily Prensa Libre. Purportedly comprised of “business people, hotel owners, honorable persons and members of the civil society” (no actual signatories), the group called themselves “members of the Mayan culture Q’eqchi’,” and referred to El Estor as “Land of Nickel.” Ominously, the letter stated “that as a “contribution to the solution of this problem, [we have] has organized [our]selves into a group of Civil Patrollers. The Civil Patrols will work together with the public security forces (National Civil Police and Army) to re-establish order and maintain the peace in our municipality.” The clearly invokes the Civil Patrols established by the army in occupied Maya villages during the years of the genocide. The deputized gunmen in pick-up trucks who backed up the official security forces in the Jan. 17 eviction at La UniĂłn appear to be a part of this new semi-official force.

The mayor of El Estor, Rigoberto Chub, is in favor of Skye Resources and appears to be responsible for the creation of the civil patrol. In November, an open-air kiosk on his property was burned down in an apparent arson attack. Subsequently, the Defensoria Qeq’chi started receiving anonymous telephone threats to burn their offices and the home of the group’s coordinator Arnoldo Jat. The group’s Kekchi attorney Juan Chen Dubon and an American priest who supports the Defensoria, Daniel Vogt,, have also been threatened. The Guatemalan courts are considering a petition to issue an amparo or protection order. Meanwhile, the ILRC is asking the Inter-American Human Rights Commission to order measures to protect the lives of the Defensoria leaders.

In its November 2006 report “Land Conflicts in El Estor, Izabal, Guatemala & the Rights of the Maya Q’eqchi’ People,” the Defensoria Q’eqchi protested the transfer of the 250-square kilometer lease area to Skye. “This area is mostly on lands possessed by 16 Q’eqchi’ communities. No previous consultation with the indigenous communities was undertaken. The communities have repeatedly stated that they do not wish their lands to be mined. The granting of this license represents a clear violation of Convention 169 of the ILO (International Labor Organization), ratified by Guatemala in 1996, an international treaty with the force of law that requires the state to consult indigenous communities when and if mining or other projects would affect their lands or impact their lives.”

“There should be an outright moratorium on mining in Guatemala just for the sake of decency,” says Grahame Russell of Rights Action. “There’s too much conflict. The Canadian government should call for a moratorium. The issues are not being resolved peacefully. The powers that be are resorting to violence and the people who lose are always the campesinos and indigenous peoples.


A shorter version of this story appeared in the Jan. 23 edition of Indian Country Today, a national weekly published at the Oneida Nation, Canastota, NY



Rights Action

Indian Law Resource Center

James Rodriguez blog

Skye Resrouces

From our weblog:

Guatemalan war criminal dies a free man
WW4 REPORT, May 30, 2006

See also:

Maya Municipal Democracy Versus the Mineral Cartel by Cyril Mychalejko
WW4 REPORT #114, October 2005


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Feb. 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution



The Chechnya War and the Right Not to Kill

from War Resisters International

On October 7, 2006, Anna Politkovskaya, a well-known journalist who regularly exposed Russian human rights violations in Chechnya, was murdered in her flat in Moscow.

Six days later, on October 13, the Russian Chechen Friendship Society (RCFS) of Nizhnii Novgorod was ordered closed by a local court, because the recently adopted NGO law makes it illegal for an organization to be headed by a person convicted of “extremist activities.” Amnesty International commented that Stanislav Dmitrievskii, executive director of RCFS, was convicted on “race hate” charges on February 3, 2006 for publishing articles by Chechen separatist leaders. He was – in the view of Amnesty International – convicted for the peaceful exercise of his right of freedom of expression, and should not have faced trial in the first place.

Only a few days later, the military prosecutors in Chelyabinsk dropped their investigation of four army officials accused of failing to stop the hazing of army conscript Andrei Sychyov, who was so badly beaten that his legs and genitals had to be amputated. While the person who beat him was sentenced on September 26 to four years imprisonment, no further action will now be taken against those in charge of protecting conscripts.

The killings of journalists, the subsequent poisoning death of former KGB officer-turned-Putin-critic Alexander Litvinenko in November 2006, and the crackdown on NGOs and civil society groups have taken place in the context of rising violence against minorities and political activists. In November 2005, two anarchists were attacked by fascists in St. Petersburg, leaving one of them dead, the other one seriously injured. Caucasians (that is, people from the Caucasus region) living in Russia face racist attacks and abuse regularly. And the present escalation of the conflict between Russia and Georgia – with the deportation of hundreds of Georgian citizens from Russia – adds to the climate of violence pervading Russian society.

The human rights situation in Russia is getting worse, while Western leaders and businesses increasingly make accommodations with Moscow. Chechnya, and the increasingly racist policy towards Caucasian citizens within Russia, is Russia’s “war on terror,” and the silence of Western leaders is the price paid for Russian cooperation in Bush’s “war on terror.” For the American peace movement, it is important not to be silent about Chechen and Russian human rights violations, but instead support peace and human rights activists in Russia and Chechnya.

Three Years of Conscientious Objection

The Russian law on conscientious objection came into force on January 1, 2004, introducing a “right” to conscientious objection which is not in line with international standards — including a substitute service 1.75 times longer than military service.

In practice — even leaving the long service time aside — problems arise mainly from the bureaucratic application procedure. An application for conscientious objection has to be submitted no later than six months before call-up. However, many potential COs are not aware of these deadlines, and the draft boards often give wrong or incomplete information. According to Sergey Krivenko, secretary of the All-Russian NGO Coalition for Democratic Alternative Civilian Service, there are cases where draft board officials overtly misinformed draftees, knowingly giving wrong or insufficient information (e.g. claiming that the right to conscientious objection only applies to people with religious beliefs). Most draft boards do not provide information on the right to conscientious objection at all.

Presently there are several cases where an application for conscientious objection was denied because of the missed deadline, and subsequently conscientious objectors were forced to perform military service. This part of the CO law is being challenged at the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation. There are also cases where the local draft board did not pass on CO applications to the conscription board — the only body which is empowered to make decisions on CO applications.

Overall, since the law on conscientious objection came into force, about 3,500 people applied for conscientious objection. There are no statistics available on how many applications have been accepted or turned down. However, about one hundred people have contacted human rights organizations in Russia to ask for help because of problems with the bureaucracy. Most won their right to conscientious objection subsequently.

Conscientious objection in Russia has to be seen in light of the disastrous situation within the military and widespread draft avoidance. According to a poll by the independent Levada center, willingness to serve in the Russian military had dropped to less than 40% by the beginning of 2006. However, for most young people draft avoidance — by means of “buying” medical exemptions or deferments — is the method of choice, and not the legally provided form of conscientious objection. This means that CO numbers do not reflect the widespread discontent with the Russian military.

Dedovshchina: Hazing in the Russian Military

In 1988, the publication of an article in Komsomol’skaia Pravda, describing an incident in which a conscript who had been the victim of ongoing abuse in the barracks eventually snapped and turned his weapon against his fellow servicemembers, killing eight, started the public debate about dedovshchina (hazing).

The practice of dedovshchina gave rise to another phenomenon more or less unique to post-Soviet Russia: the Soldiers’ Mothers Movement.

The Soldiers’ Mothers’ Committees provide practical assistance to young men who do not want to join the military for fear of dedovshchina, and have made many human rights abuses in the military public. The Soldiers’ Mothers have put the issue of dedovshchina on the agenda of Russian society, and the widespread awareness of these abuses has led to the near-collapse of the Russian conscription system through widespread draft avoidance.

According to a report by the Mothers’ Rights Foundation, “three thousand soldiers on average die every year in the Russian army… 23% of deaths in the army are attributed to accidents, 16% to military operations, 15% to other soldiers’ aggressive acts and 11% to illness. Parents of a soldier who died can get a pension that amounts to 70 dollars a month, but they receive it only if it was proved that the cause of death wasn’t a suicide or an illness. In addition, these investigations don’t take into consideration that in most cases a soldier was driven to suicide after brutal harassment.” The Russian military is now responding with a reduction in the term of military service (to one year starting in 2008), and increased professionalization. However, it is unlikely that these steps will eliminate the problems mentioned above, as they are not accompanied by structural changes.

Chechnya: War Crimes Continue

Chechnya marks the other side of human rights problems related to the Russian military: the systemic violation of human rights of Chechen civilians by the armed forces. And increasingly these practices are spreading to the neighboring republic, Ingushetia. Amnesty International writes: “Serious human rights violations, including war crimes, continue to be committed in Chechnya by both Chechen and federal forces. Chechen security forces are increasingly implicated in arbitrary detention, torture and “disappearances” in Chechnya. Women suffer gender-based violence, including rape or threats of rape, by members of the federal and Chechen security forces. There are also reports that Chechen armed opposition groups continue to commit war crimes, including direct attacks on civilians. Amnesty International is aware of only two convictions during 2005 for serious human rights violations committed in Chechnya. The majority of investigations into alleged violations are ineffective and in the few cases that come to court the prosecution is flawed.”

Violence and unrest have also been reported in other North Caucasus republics, including abuses such as arbitrary detention, torture, “disappearances” and abductions. On October 13, 2005 a group of up to 300 rebels launched attacks on government installations in and near Nalchik, the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria, in which more than 100 people, including at least 12 civilians, are said to have been killed. The raid was reportedly in response to months of persecution of practicing Muslims in the region, including arbitrary detention and torture by law enforcement officials, and the closure of mosques. Following the raid, law enforcement officials detained dozens of people; many of the detainees were reportedly tortured.

While the European Court of Human Rights ruled against Russia on the disappearances and death of Chechen citizens in February and on October 12, 2006, the situation has not improved. In its February ruling, the ECHR found Russia guilty of serious human rights violations in Chechnya, including the disproportionate force in military operations, indiscriminate targeting of civilians, and failure to adequately investigate civilian deaths.

An Anti-War Movement?

In spite of widespread dedovshchina and the war in Chechnya, the anti-war movement in Russia is tiny. Some small groups, including the Soldiers’ Mothers Committees, Autonomous Action, Memorial, and a few others, work against Russia’s “war on terror” in Chechnya. Many Russian activists place their hopes on European and international institutions, and appeal to these to help stop the war in Chechnya. However, this is unlikely to happen, especially while the public opposition to the war in Russia itself is so limited.


This story originally appeared in the December/January issue of Peacework,
American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), Cambridge, MA


“The Russian Federation: Human Rights and the Armed Forces”
War Resisters International report to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, September 2003

Amnesty International 2005 report on the Russian Federation

Soldiers’ Mothers Committees

Autonomous Action



From our weblog:

Russia closes Chechnya rights watchdog amid new torture claims
WW4 REPORT, Oct. 16, 2006

Chechen resistance attacks Kabardino-Balkaria
WW4 REPORT, Oct. 14, 2005

See also:

Assassination of Rebel President Signals Escalation in North Caucasus
by Raven Healing
WW4 REPORT #108 April 2005

International Conscientious Objectors Meet in Bogota
by Yeidy Rosa
WW4 REPORT #127 November 2006


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Feb. 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution



from Weekly News Update on the Americas

Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez Frias started his third term—his second full six-year term—on Jan. 10 in a ceremony before the 167-deputy National Assembly. No foreign dignitaries attended the Jan. 10 inauguration. According to Colombian foreign minister Maria Consuelo Araujo, Chavez had made the decision not to have a diplomatic presence. Instead, she said, heads of state would be attending the inauguration of Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega later the same day. Chavez himself flew to Managua after his own inauguration. (El Universal, Caracas, Jan. 10)

Chavez used the ceremony to emphasize his plans for what he calls “21st-century socialism.” In a three-hour speech he called for the National Assembly to help the “acceleration of tempos” by passing a special law empowering him to issue decrees with the status of law. He has also been pushing for his backers to unite in a single socialist party. On Jan. 8 he had announced his intention to nationalize electric and telecommunication services and to increase the government’s stake in oil projects in the Orinoco Basin. “All that was privatized, let it be nationalized,” he said, referring to privatizations under neoliberal economic policies in the 1990s. Shares of Compania Anonima Telefonos de Venezuela (CANTV), a state telephone company that was privatized in 1991, promptly fell 14% on New York stock exchanges. (La Jornada, Mexico, Jan. 11; El Diario-La Prensa, NY, Jan. 11/07 from EFE; New York Times, Jan. 9)

In press conferences on Jan. 11, cabinet ministers indicated that the nationalizations wouldn’t be as dramatic as Chavez had suggested. Telecommunications Minister Jesse Chacon explained that CANTV would be the only telecommunications company affected. Currently New York-based Verizon manages CANTV and owns 28.5% of the shares; the Spanish firm Telefonica owns 6.9%, the government owns 6.5% and CANTV employees own 11.7%. Verizon had planned to sell its stake in April for $677 million to a joint venture of America Movil and Telefonos de Mexico SA, controlled by Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim; this plan is now on hold. Finance Minister Rodrigo Cabezas insisted on Jan. 11 that CANTV “[s]hareholders will receive…the fair value of their assets…. [A]ny decisions to be made are under the current laws. Rationality will prevail; the process will [not be] traumatic.” But a major electric company, La Electricidad de Caracas, will be nationalized, Cabezas said, even though unlike CANTV it was started as a private company. (ED, Jan. 9 from AP; International Herald Tribune, Jan. 11 from AP; El Universal, Jan. 11)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 14

Veep Removed, Cabinet Reshuffled

In a surprise call to the television program “Contragolpe” on the night of Jan. 3, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez Frias announced that he was replacing Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel with former National Electoral Council (CNE) president Jorge Rodriguez, and that legislative deputy Pedro Carreno would replace Interior and Justice Minister Jesse Chacon. Chavez announced other changes in his cabinet on Jan. 4, including the replacement of Finance Minister Nelson Merentes with legislative deputy Rodrigo Eduardo Cabezas Morales.

Chavez had been expected to change his cabinet in preparation for his new six-year term, which starts on Jan. 10, but analysts were surprised that he removed Rangel, a close associate who had held various key cabinet posts over the last eight years. In announcing the change, Chavez himself referred to Rangel as a “star pitcher…for whom I feel the affection and respect of a child for a father.” The 77-year-old Rangel is expected to remain an adviser to Chavez.

16 Dead in Prison Violence

A conflict authorities described as a fight between rival gangs left 16 prisoners dead and 13 wounded early on Jan. 2 in Uribana prison near the western Venezuelan city of Barquisimeto. Fanny Marquez, a federal prison official, said some inmates were killed with guns and knives and others were hanged before prison authorities regained control of the facility. The violence began on the night of Jan. 1; National Guard troops restored order on the morning of Jan. 2, Marquez told the state-run Bolivarian News Agency. “It was a fight for control of two cellblocks,” Marquez said. “We have the situation under control.” (Miami Herald, Jan. 3)

In replacing Interior Minister Jesse Chacon, whose responsibilities included the prison system, Chavez mentioned the “sorrowful tragedy” of the Uribana killings, which he called the “product of internal security defects.” But analysts said Chavez had undoubtedly planned the change before the prison incident. (El Universal, Jan. 4; La Jornada, Jan. 5; Clarin, Buenos Aires, Jan. 5)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 7

Zulia: Another Campesino Leader Murdered

On Oct. 22, two hooded men on a motorcycle—probably hired killers—shot to death 75-year old campesino leader Jesus Fernandez in Catatumbo municipality on the southern shores of Lake Maracaibo, in Venezuela’s Zulia state. Fernandez was hit by seven bullets. The Ezequiel Zamora National Campesino Front (FNCEZ) reports that Marcos Gonzales and Giusseppe Gannetti, alleged owners of the lands occupied by the Bello Horizonte XV cooperative in Catatumbo, had days earlier threatened to kill Fernandez if he didn’t abandon his occupation of the land. More than 165 campesinos have been killed, and no one has been brought to justice in any of the cases, the FNCEZ notes. “We’re tired of providing the dead bodies for this revolution while the bureaucrats and corrupt ones fill their pockets with revolutionary phraseology,” the FNCEZ said in a communique. (FNCEZ Communique, undated, via Resumen Latinoamericano, Oct. 27)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Oct. 29

US Blacks Out Grant Info

On Aug. 26 the Associated Press (AP) reported that it had received a response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request it filed nearly nine months earlier for documents from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) on the funding of non-governmental organizations in Venezuela. USAID finally responded by sending AP 132 grant contracts, totaling some 1,600 pages, for 2004 and 2005, but whited out the names of nearly half the recipient groups. The agency said revealing their names might make them targets of intimidation or legal action by the Venezuelan government. AP is filing an appeal.

Some of the grants were for small projects, like $19,543 for baseball equipment delivered to a pro-Chavez neighborhood. But Chavez supporters question some larger grants whose recipients were whited out, such as: a $47,459 grant for a “democratic leadership campaign”; $37,614 for citizen meetings to discuss a “shared vision” for society; and $56,124 to analyze Venezuela’s new Constitution of 1999.

USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI)—which also works in such “priority countries” as Iraq, Afghanistan, Bolivia and Haiti—has overseen much of the spending, but not all. The OTI says it has overseen a total of $26 million in Venezuela since 2002. President Chavez charged recently that some of his political opponents take “gringo money.” “The empire pays its lackeys, and it pays them well,” he said. (Miami Herald, Aug. 26 from AP)

On Aug. 23 the Venezuelan National Guard seized cargo the US had brought into the country in a C-17 transport plane, along with a diplomat’s belongings. The US protested the seizure as a violation of diplomatic conventions. The material included ejection seat parts for combat planes which Venezuela had bought from the US before the US imposed an arms embargo, but Interior Minister Jesse Chacon said in a press conference on Aug. 25 that the cargo also included fuses for detonators. (MH, Aug. 26) In addition, there were rockets for Bronco airplanes in the seized material; the Venezuelans said they had ordered these but that they should have been turned over directly to the Venezuelan military. Adm. Luis Cabrera Aguirre, one of Chavez’s military advisers, warned that this equipment could have gotten into the hands of opposition groups. (La Jornada, Aug. 28 from DPA, Reuters, Prensa Latina)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Sept. 10


Weekly News Update on the Americas

See also:

WW4 REPORT #125, September 2006


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Feb. 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution



from Weekly News Update on the Americas

Promising to end “the long night of neoliberalism,” economist Rafael Correa started a four-year term as president of Ecuador in a ceremony in Quito on Jan. 15. Only about 25 of the 100 legislative deputies in the opposition-dominated Congress attended, but there was a large international delegation including nine presidents from the Americas, most of them leftists or social democrats: Evo Morales (Bolivia), Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (Brazil), Michelle Bachelet (Chile), Rafael Uribe (Colombia), Rene Preval (Haiti), Daniel Ortega (Nicaragua), Nicanor Duarte (Paraguay), Alan Garcia (Peru) and Hugo Chavez (Venezuela). Correa was the third Latin American leftist to take office in less than a week; Chavez and Ortega both had inaugurations on Jan. 10.

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also attended. Iran is an important member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), and his presence was thought be connected with plans for Ecuador to rejoin OPEC.

Hours after the ceremony, Correa announced his second decree, calling on the Supreme Electoral Council to hold a referendum on March 18 on Correa’s proposal for a Constituent Assembly to replace the 1997 Constitution, which promoted neoliberal economic policies. (Servicio Informativo “Alai-amlatina,” Jan. 15; El Diario-La Prensa, Jan. 16 from AP and EFE)

Correa is Ecuador’s eighth president in 10 years, and none of his seven predecessors served a full term. Correa has little support in Congress, where the rightwing parties strongly oppose the plan for a Constituent Assembly. But an opinion poll conducted by the private firm Cedatos/Gallup Jan. 16-18 in urban areas showed Correa with a 73% approval rating, the highest for any president since the end of military rule in 1979. Congress has an approval rating of 13%, with an unfavorable rating of 68%. (ED-LP, Jan. 21 from EFE) The Congress itself is divided. On Jan. 11 the Patriotic Society Party (PSP) of ex-president Lucio Gutierrez broke with the right-wing parties and announced support for the Constituent Assembly plan. The Cuban wire service Prensa Latina says this could make the center-left and leftist parties the majority, with a 54-vote bloc. (PL, Jan. 12)

Correa also faces pressure from his left. Before his inauguration he condemned Colombia’s decision to resume spraying with the herbicide glyphosate near the country’s border with Ecuador. But after meeting with President Uribe in Managua the week before his inauguration, Correa accepted a compromise in which Colombia would warn Ecuador before spraying so that Ecuadoran technicians could “see that the glyphosate doesn’t pass into Ecuadoran territory.” Environmental, indigenous and campesino organizations denounced the agreement as “Rafael Correa’s first slip.” (Alai-amlatina, Jan. 15)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 21

Following Ecuador’s Nov. 26 presidential runoff election, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal declared Correa the winner with 57.14%, compared to 42.86% for banana tycoo Alvaro Noboa. (La Jornada, Mexico, Nov. ) His vice president is Lenin Moreno Garces, a businessperson and motivational speaker from the Amazon province of Napo who was physically disabled in a shooting nine years ago and gets around in a wheelchair. (Altercom, Ecuador, Nov. 27; El Universo, Guayaquil, Aug. 6)

Correa proposal for a Constituent Assembly to rewrite Ecuador’s Constitution is a key demand of the country’s indigenous and popular movements. He also says he hopes the assembly will make it possible to renegotiate contracts with multinational oil companies. Correa also announced that he will arrange for the state bank to repatriate some $2 billion deposited in the US. (LJ, Nov. 29) While the legislature remains extremely unpopular in Ecuador–Correa referred to it in his campaign as the “sewer of party-ocracy”–Correa denied that he aims to shut it down, though he said he expects it to play a limited role while the Constituent Assembly convenes. (El Universal, Caracas, Nov. 30)

Correa’s party, the Proud and Sovereign Homeland (PAIS) Alliance, did not run any candidates for Congress in the Oct. 15 general elections. The 100-member single-chamber Congress will have 28 deputies from Noboa’s National Action Institutional Renewal Party (PRIAN) and 24 from the Patriotic Society Party (PSP) of populist ex-president Lucio Gutierrez. Another 12 deputies are from the right-wing Social Christian Party (PSC), 12 are from the Democratic Left (ID) party, eight are from the indigenous Pachakutik Plurinational Unity Movement-New Country alliance and the rest are from various smaller parties. (El Nuevo Herald, Nov. 24 from EFE; Congressional results from Ecuadorelige.com, Nov. 16)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Dec. 3


Ecuadoran defense minister Guadalupe Larriva was killed when two military helicopters collided on the night of Jan. 24 as the air force carried out a series of nighttime military exercises. Also killed in the crash were one of Larriva’s three children, 17-year-old Claudia Avila Larriva, and five air force officers. According to Hector Camacho, head of the Armed Forces Joint Command, the crash took place near the Puerto Viejo road in Manabi province. Larriva was the head of the small Socialist Party until leftist president Rafael Correa named her to be the first woman to head Ecuador’s military. Correa took office on Jan. 15.

Larriva and the others were riding in two Gazelles, helicopters produced by the French company Eurocopter; they are armed with artillery and use special equipment for night flights. The helicopters had “excellent maintenance,” Camacho said, and the crew was “duly trained.”

The site of the crash is near the Manta military base, which since 1999 has been the main center for US anti-drug activities on South America’s Pacific coast. Correa announced after his election in November that he would not renew the 10-year contract with the US for use of the base when it expires in 2009. On Jan. 22 Larriva repeated the promise. “The Manta base issue is very clear,” she told the daily El Universo. “The agreement ends in 2009, and there is no intention to renew it.” Asked if she expected reprisals from the US, Larriva said: “I expect that won’t happen.”

“It’s not normal for two helicopters to fly together, especially at night, for which reason it is necessary to have a deep and exhaustive investigation,” said Interior Minister Gustavo Larrea, who referred to the accident as “unheard-of.” Gustavo Ayala, the current head of the Socialist Party, also expressed doubts about the causes of the collision. Correa said he believed the crash was “an unfortunate accident,” but he is naming a neutral commission to investigate “so that there is not the least doubt.” After discussions with Chilean president Michelle Bachelet and France’s ambassador to Ecuador, Didier Lopinot, Correa announced that the commission would include specialists from Eurocopter and the Chilean air force. Larriva’s son, Rodrigo Avila Larriva, and retired army captain Guillermo Bernal will also be on the commission. (La Jornada, Jan. 26 from AFP, DPA, Reuters; El Diario-La Prensa, NY, Jan. 23, 26 from AP)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 27


Weekly News Update on the Americas

See also:

WW4 REPORT #124, August 2006

ECUADOR’S CHAVEZ? Rafael Correa and the Popular Movements
by Yeidy Rosa
WW4 REPORT #128, December 2006

From our weblog:

Ahmadinejad tours Latin America
WW4 REPORT, Jan, 22, 2006


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Feb. 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution



from Weekly News Update on the Americas

Argentine bricklayer Luis Gerez, a survivor of torture who testified against a former police official, disappeared the evening of Dec. 27 in his town of Belen de Escobar, 60 kilometers north of the city of Buenos Aires, in Buenos Aires province. He left the house of a friend to buy some meat at the butcher shop for a barbecue and never returned. His vehicle was found with his documents, money and keys still in it.

Gerez is a member of the Evita Movement and of the Commission for Memory of the Campo de Mayo. Last May, Gerez provided key testimony that led the Chamber of Deputies to prevent deputy-elect Luis Abelardo Patti—a former rightwing police agent and former mayor of Escobar—from taking his seat in the national legislature. In his testimony to the Chamber of Deputies, Gerez recounted being tortured in the Escobar police station in 1972, when he was a 17-year-old member of the Peronist Youth. Although he was kept hooded during the ordeal, he recognized Patti’s voice.

Patti still faces criminal charges for human rights violations—including the 1980 murder of two leaders of the Montoneros [urban guerilla] organization, among other cases—and Gerez will almost certainly be called to testify against him in court. (AP, Dec. 29; La Jornada, Mexico, Dec. 29; Resumen Latinoamericano, Dec. 28 from ANSA, Agencia Walsh; Clarin, Buenos Aires, Dec. 30) Last Nov. 8, Gerez reported that he and his family had received recent serious threats. Gerez said his tires were repeatedly slashed, and several times people pointed guns at him from other vehicles while he was driving. (Indymedia Argentina, Dec. 28; LJ, Dec. 29) Patti publicly condemned Gerez’s disappearance. On Dec. 29 Patti told a radio station that he felt no resentment against Gerez, and that whoever is behind his disappearance is “against democracy.” (AP, Dec. 29)

On Dec. 29, hundreds of people took part in two marches in Buenos Aires province, including one in Escobar, demanding the safe return of Gerez and of Jorge Julio Lopez, a torture survivor and witness who disappeared last Sept. 18 and remains missing. Lopez’s testimony was key in sentencing former Police Chief Miguel Etchecolatz to life in prison for the disappearance of six people. (AP, Dec. 29; Clarin, Dec. 30)

The Buenos Aires provincial government offered $130,000 for information on Gerez’s whereabouts, and President Nestor Kirchner postponed a trip to the southern province of Santa Cruz to coordinate efforts to locate Gerez. Human rights groups say the disappearances of Gerez and Lopez are an effort to intimidate witnesses so they don’t testify in trials scheduled for the coming months against human rights violators. The trials were reactivated after the Supreme Court annulled, in 2005, two amnesty laws that had protected rights violators from prosecution.

Late in the evening on Dec. 29, President Nestor Kirchner spoke about the disappearances in a televised address, calling them a blackmail attempt by former military and police agents seeking amnesty for abuses committed during the military dictatorship (1976-1983). “Everything seems to indicate that both cases involve… paramilitary or para-police elements who want to intimidate, to achieve their goal of maintaining impunity,” Kirchner said.

“Let it be known to everyone that this president will not allow any type of amnesty to be carried out. All of Argentine society is victimized by the mafioso actions of those who want to guarantee their impunity,” warned Kirchner. “We won’t give in to this extortion, we won’t allow the trials to be stopped,” Kirchner insisted. “On the contrary, we demand that the courts act swiftly in these trials, so we can at once obtain a just sentence that puts the murderers where they belong: in common jails.”

After 9 PM on Dec. 29, less than an hour after Kirchner’s speech, Gerez was found alive, stripped to the waist, after having been thrown from a moving vehicle onto the street in the city of Garin, less than 10 kilometers from Escobar. Gerez was taken to the hospital for treatment; he was described as being in reasonable health but emotionally traumatized. (AP, Dec. 29; Miami Herald, Dec. 30 from AP, EFE; Clarin, Dec. 30) According to Alberto Fernandez de Rosa, a friend who spoke to Gerez after his reappearance, Gerez said he was kidnapped by three men who kept him blindfolded with his hands and feet bound and burned him with cigarettes. (AP, Dec. 29) Gerez’s wife, Mirta Praino, confirmed on Dec. 30 that Gerez had cigarette burns on his chest, but had not been beaten. (Clarin, Dec. 30)

A day before Gerez was abducted, disappeared activist Hector Dario Bustos reappeared alive after being tortured for 13 days by four individuals who Bustos said “seemed to be police agents.” Bustos, a member of the Solidarity Network of Children of the Disappeared from the town of Venado Tuerto in Santa Fe province, was found on Dec. 26, nearly naked, on a road near San Gregorio. He had burns over his whole body, including his genitals, and a swastika burned into his chest. Bustos said that while they were burning him, his torturers yelled: “Shitty little lefty, we’re going to change your heart.” They also left him with a scar on his face, a warning that every time he looks in the mirror he should remember that the disappeared don’t talk. Bustos attributed his abduction to “political motives.” “They put a hood over my head and talked on a cell phone, they said ‘mission accomplished, we got him,'” said Bustos. Criminal court judge Hugo Perazzi in Venado Tuerto characterized the case as “torture”; the Santa Fe provincial government has ordered special protective custody for Bustos. (Resumen Latinoamericano, Dec. 28 from ANSA; Indymedia Argentina, Dec. 28)

Spain to Return Rights Violators

On Dec. 28, Argentine judge Sergio Torres formally asked the Spanish courts to extradite Ricardo Miguel Cavallo, accused of committing genocide, terrorism and torture while he was a lieutenant commander at Argentina’s Navy Mechanics School (ESMA), used as a torture center for political prisoners under the country’s 1976-1983 dictatorship. On Dec. 20, the Criminal Chamber of Spain’s National Court ruled that Cavallo’s case should be transferred to Argentina, where the “Final Point” and “Due Obedience” amnesty laws that prevented his prosecution were overturned in 2005. The Mexican government must also approve the extradition, since Cavallo was arrested in Mexico in August 2000 and extradited to Spain by Mexican authorities in June 2003. Cavallo has been jailed in Spain since his arrival there. (La Jornada, Dec. 29; El Nuevo Herald, Dec. 27 from EFE)

On Dec. 28, Spanish authorities arrested another Argentine rights violator, Rodolfo Eduardo Almiron Sena, in Torrent, a suburb of the city of Valencia. Almiron, a former leader of the ultra-rightwing Argentine Anticommunist Alliance (AAA), is charged in Argentina with the murders of at least four people in a criminal case first filed in 1975. Argentine judge Norberto Oyarbide requested Almiron’s arrest and extradition after the Madrid daily El Mundo published an expose on Dec. 17 detailing the fugitive’s undisturbed life in Torrent.

The AAA was founded in 1973 by Jose Lopez Rega, minister of social welfare in the government of President Juan Domingo Peron. Lopez stayed in that post after Peron’s widow, Maria Estela Martinez de Peron, became president, while Almiron served as a bodyguard for Martinez. Under pressure from the military, Lopez and Almiron were forced out of the Martinez government in 1975. The two moved to Spain, where they were protected by fascist supporters of ex-dictator Francisco Franco; Almiron served as a bodyguard for Manuel Fraga Iribarne, founder of the right-wing Popular Alliance, which later became the Popular Party. The Popular Party continued to support Almiron, and was paying for his apartment in Torrent. Lopez died in 1989.

Almiron is wanted in Argentina for the murders of Rodolfo Ortega Pena and former police chief Julio Troxler, and for the double murder of teacher Silvio Frondizi and his friend Luis Mendiburu. The AAA is considered responsible for between 1,500 and 2,000 murders and numerous other human rights violations between 1973 and early 1976. Following Argentina’s 1976 military coup, a number of AAA members went on to form paramilitary groups responsible for abductions, torture and disappearances under the dictatorship. Lopez and the AAA had the support of Robert Hill, former US ambassador to Argentina, who helped Lopez establish links with death squads in Central America, especially in Guatemala—links which continued under the Argentine dictatorship. (El Nuevo Herald, Dec. 29 from EFE; La Jornada, Dec. 28, 29; El Mundo, Dec. 17)

Martinez de Peron, better known as Isabelita, who served as president of Argentina from July 1974 to March 1976 and is also said to be living in Spain, may be called to testify in the case against Almiron. Evidence presented in court in the 1970s mentions Martinez de Peron presiding over a cabinet meeting on Aug. 8, 1974, at the Olivos presidential palace, at which participants (including Lopez and Almiron) viewed slides showing individuals who were later assassinated for alleged subversive activities. At the same meeting, a decision was made to eliminate Troxler, a Peronist who was deputy police chief of Buenos Aires province under the brief progressive government of President Hector Jose Campora Demaestre, from May 25 to July 13, 1973.

According to Judge Oyarbide’s resolution, the AAA acted in obedience to “political circumstances with a context that was also ideological, and all organized from the state’s own apparatus.” This state support granted AAA members a “guarantee of impunity,” said Oyarbide, in carrying out “a widespread practice of crimes.” (La Jornada, Dec. 28)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Dec. 31


Weekly News Update on the Americas

Our last report on Argentina:

WW4 REPORT #129, January 2007

Our last report on the “dirty war” legacy:

WW4 REPORT #126, October 2006

See also:

Argentina: Amnesty Laws Overturned WW4 REPORT #111, July 2005


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Feb. 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution



from Weekly News Update on the Americas


On Dec. 20, environmental activists Heraldo Zuniga and Roger Ivan Cartagena were shot and killed in the central plaza outside the mayor’s office in Guarizama municipality, in the large eastern Honduran department of Olancho, bordering Nicaragua. The two men were activists with the Environmental Movement of Olancho (MAO), which described their murder as an extrajudicial execution carried out by National Police agents. On Dec. 19, according to MAO, Zuniga had reported receiving death threats from loggers employed by the Sansone logging company in Salama municipality, in northeastern Olancho.

The killing was apparently organized by Salama-based police Sgt. Juan Lanza, who brought Zuniga and Cartagena to Guarizama, in the northwest corner of Olancho, where other police agents linked to the powerful logging companies finished them off. Both Zuniga and Cartagena were left to die in the municipal plaza in the center of Guarizama. Before he died, Zuniga managed to tell witnesses that loggers had paid Sgt. Lanza to ambush them. MAO reports that with these latest killings, six environmental activists have been murdered in Olancho in recent years.

In May, after Honduran President Manuel Zelaya declared a logging ban in several municipalities in northern Olancho, loggers blamed MAO for the ban, and death threats against environmental activists became increasingly frequent. That same month, MAO asked the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to recommend that the Honduran government take measures to protect a number of MAO activists: Father Andres Tamayo, Santos Efrain Paguada, Victor Manuel Ochoa, Rene Wilfredo Gradiz, Macario Zelaya and Pedro Amado Acosta. The Commission granted the request on Dec. 22, two days after Zuniga and Cartagena were murdered. The Honduran government is required to inform the Commission by Jan. 7 of measures taken to protect the safety of the MAO activists.

Messages demanding protection for environmental and human rights activists and a thorough investigation and punishment for those responsible for the murders can be sent to Honduran embassies in the US (embassy@hondurasemb.org) or Canada (embhonca@embassyhonduras.ca); to President Manuel Zelaya Rosales (Fax #504-221-4552); Attorney General Leonidas Rosa Bautista (Email: Lrosa@mp.hn); and National Human Rights Commissioner Ramon Custodio Lopez (Email: central@conadeh.hn); with copies to MAO at info@maoambiente.org and Rights Action at info@rightsaction.org. [Rights Action Urgent Action 12/29/06, from MAO press releases; EFE 12/22/06]

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Dec. 31


One person was killed and two wounded on Jan. 3 in a clash between residents of the municipalities of Nahuala and Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan in Solola department, western Guatemala. The conflict began when a group of campesinos from Nahuala were hired to cut down trees in an area disputed by the two municipalities. Francisco Tambriz, mayor of Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan, said the wounded were taken to a health center in Salcaja, Quetzaltenango. Tambriz said negotiations had been held over the land dispute but were not respected. Calm returned later in the day, said Tambriz, but residents refused to allow the National Civilian Police (PNC) to enter the area. (Guatemala Hoy, Jan. 3 from Prensa Libre, Nuestro Diario)

On Dec. 29, Guatemalan president Oscar Berger promised to revive constitutional reforms to help Guatemala’s poor and indigenous population as the nation prepared to mark the 10th anniversary of peace accords that ended a 36-year civil war. Berger said he would send Congress a bill on Jan. 13 with measures that include granting official recognition to Mayan languages, strengthening the justice system, allowing a civilian defense minister and ending the army’s role in policing. “We need to construct a more just, united and tolerant society,” Berger said. The measures had originally been promised in a United Nations-brokered peace accord signed on Dec. 31, 1996. (Miami Herald, Dec. 30)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 7


A group of unidentified men in a white pickup truck assassinated Pedro Zamora, general secretary of the Union of Workers of the Quetzal Port Enterprise (STEPQ), the night of Jan. 15 near his home in Iztapa, in the southern department of Escuintla. Zamora was driving home with his two small children when the assailants rammed his car and sprayed it with gunfire; 100 bullets hit the vehicle, and 20 of them struck Zamora. One of the assailants then walked up to the car and shot Zamora in the face. Zamora’s three-year-old son, Angel Estuardo Zamora, was wounded in the attack and had to be hospitalized.

Zamora led the 500-member dock-workers union in Puerto Quetzal, the country’s main Pacific port, for eight years. At the time of his death he was renegotiating the Collective Work Pact with the port’s management and arranging the rehiring of nine laid-off workers. According to the Brussels-based International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), Zamora had been leading efforts to stop the privatization of the port; the union was proposing a program of upgrading and modernization as an alternative, ITUC said. Nery Barrios, the leader of the Union and Popular Action Unity (UASP) coalition, said five union leaders have been murdered in Guatemala since October. Another STEPQ leader was shot in the chest six months ago, according to the union’s secretary, Lazaro Reyes. Activists say Zamora had alerted the authorities that he was receiving death threats. On Jan. 18 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), an agency of the Organization of American States (OAS), said that Zamora had been given police protection because of “a series threats he had received as a result of his union activities.” The IACHR called on the Guatemalan government to investigate the murder and punish those responsible. (Prensa Latina, Jan. 16; ITUC OnLin, Jan. 17; Europa Press, Jan. 17; Univision, Jan. 19 from EFE)

At least three armed men shot at environmental activists Carlos Albacete Rosales and Piedad Espinosa Albacete shortly after midnight on Jan. 10 as they were riding home in a taxi from La Aurora National Airport in Guatemala City. At least six bullets hit the taxi; Carlos Albacete was left slightly injured by broken glass from a shattered window. The men didn’t pursue them, but a car followed the couple again on Jan. 12. The two activists work for the Guatemalan environmental organization Tropico Verde (Green Tropic), which seeks to protect the Mayan Biosphere Reserve in the northern Peten region and has been active in exposing the usurpation of land inside the reserve by cattle ranchers and alleged drug traffickers. The couple’s house was shot at in September, and they have heard rumors of plans to kill them.

The Guatemala Human Rights Commission (GHRC)-USA urges letters to Attorney General Juan Luis Florido (fax 011 502 2411 9124) and others calling for an investigation of the incidents and protection for the activists. (Sample letters are available from ghrc-usa@ghrc-usa.org.) (GHRC-USA urgent action , Jan. 18, with info from Amnesty International)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 21

According to the Guatemalan National Civilian Police (PNC), community leaders Marco Antonio Leon Salazar and Rolando Eugenio Orellana Perez were shot to death on the night of Dec. 21 in the La Majada neighborhood of Zacapa, capital of Zacapa department in eastern Guatemala. (Guatemala Hoy, Dec. 26 from Nuestro Diario)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Dec. 31


Dozens of laid-off workers looted and set fire to the Genesis Feliz Tex S.A. garment plant in Guatemala City on the afternoon of Jan. 20. The workers came to the plant to demand their severance pay. Finding no one at the factory, the workers decided to seize apparel and machinery in compensation. Within minutes unit of the National Civil Police (PNC) arrived and dispersed the crowd with tear gas, but before they left the workers started a fire; firefighters spent two hours putting it out. No arrests were made.

The plant was a maquiladora (tax-exempt assembly plant producing for export) apparently owned by a Korean company. There are more than 300 apparel-producing maquiladoras in Guatemala, employing about 100,000 workers, mostly impoverished women. Some 20 of these plants closed down in 2006, leaving 5,000 people without work. (Prensa Libre, Guatemala, Jan. 21; La Gente, online service of Radio La Primerisima, Managua, Jan. 21; El Diario-La Prensa, NYC, Jan. 21, 22 from EFE, AFP)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 27


On Dec. 23, some 300 residents from the municipalities of Tajumulco, Malacatan and San Pablo in the western Guatemalan department of San Marcos marched peacefully in the town center of San Pablo to protest the planned construction of a hydroelectric plant in that municipality. The march started in front of the Urban School and ended in front of San Pablo’s central park with a rally where leaders from all three municipalities spoke. Humberto Orozco of Malacatan said construction of the hydroelectric plant will affect residents of all the neighboring communities. Marcotulio Lopez of San Pablo said the protesters want “the waters of the Canuja, Cutzulchima and Rio Negro rivers to be used in a rational manner, otherwise when they feed into the Cabuz river they will cause it to overflow with potentially fatal results for the communities along its banks.”

The demonstrators said they don’t oppose development, but want it to be carried out in a transparent way and with respect for the safety of local residents. The protesters asked the municipal corporation of San Pablo to carry out a popular referendum, mediated by Bishop Alvaro Ramazzini, to decide the future of the plant. (Guatemala Hoy, Dec. 27 from Prensa Libre)

In other news, according to the Guatemalan National Civilian Police (PNC), community leaders Marco Antonio Leon Salazar and Rolando Eugenio Orellana Perez were shot to death on the night of Dec. 21 in the La Majada neighborhood of Zacapa, capital of Zacapa department in eastern Guatemala. (Guatemala Hoy, Dec. 26 from Nuestro Diario]


Guatemala’s human rights ombudsperson, Sergio Morales, has revealed that seven prisoners who died in a police operation last Sept. 25 at the Pavon Rehabilitation Center west of Guatemala City were probably executed after being subdued by police and soldiers. The facility had been controlled for over 10 years by a committee of prisoners when some 3,000 police agents and soldiers retook control of the prison.

Morales called the government’s claim that the seven victims died in a shootout amid the chaos of the operation “hard to substantiate.” The investigation carried out by the ombudsperson’s office found that the victims’ wrists appeared to have been bound before they were killed, and that authorities went into the operation with a list of prisoners they were seeking–the same ones who ended up getting killed. Three of the prisoners bled to death without receiving medical attention. Another had five bullet wounds across a small area of his chest, spanning three ribs. “How is it going to be possible that they hit him with five bullets in the same spot in the middle of a chaotic shootout?” asked Carla Villagran, author of the ombudsman’s office report. (AP, Dec. 28)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Dec. 31


At least 20 prisoners died on Jan. 6 in what authorities said was a fight among gang members using homemade weapons in the maximum security Apanteos prison in the western Salvadoran department of Santa Ana. The conflict reportedly broke out on the afternoon of Jan. 5 when a group of prisoners from the Mara 18 gang attacked a guard, then started to break down the prison’s internal walls. Authorities initially reported 17 dead, but said three more prisoners were killed in a subsequent clash.

“The information we have is that another uprising erupted in sector 11, where they were holding the prisoners from the 18 gang,” said Wilfredo Olivares, one of the representatives from the Human Rights Ombudsperson’s office who monitor prison conditions. Human Rights Ombudsperson Beatrice Alamanni de Carrillo called it “the worst massacre in recent years,” and criticized prison authorities for mixing gang members with other prisoners. Alamanni confirmed that the prisoners had knocked down six walls, joining six separate cell areas which were previously separate and leading to the mixing of gang members, common prisoners and sick prisoners.

More than 20 journalists, both national and international, tried to reach the prison to report on the situation, but national prisons director Jaime Roberto Vilanova barred them from approaching. Some 100 police shock troops entered the jail to maintain order, and two police buses were used to transfer more than 200 prisoners to the central jail in the city of Santa Ana. Apanteos prison has a capacity for 1,800 prisoners, but holds more than 2,000. (AP, Jan. 6)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 7


Daniel Ortega Saavedra, leader of the leftist Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), was sworn in as Nicaragua’s president on Jan. 10 in Managua’s Omar Torrijos Plaza of the Non-Aligned States with 14 heads of state and some 300,000 Nicaraguans in attendance. Leftist leaders such as Bolivian president Evo Morales, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez Frias and Ecuadoran president-elect Rafael Correa were present, along with right-wingers like Colombian president Alvaro Uribe and Mexican president Felipe Calderon. On Jan. 8 US president George W. Bush phoned Ortega and congratulated him and the Nicaraguan people for their “commitment to democracy,” according to US national security spokesperson Gordon Johndroe.

Ortega was the coordinator of the council that headed the Nicaraguan government after a 1979 revolution overthrew the Somoza family dictatorship, and he was president from 1985 to 1990. He failed in three attempts to regain the presidency–in 1990, 1996 and 2001–but won on Nov. 5, 2006 with about 38% of the vote. Ortega’s presidency may not lead to drastic changes. Right-wing parties continue to hold a majority in the National Assembly; Ortega’s vice president, Jaime Morales Carazo, was a leader of the US-backed contra movement that tried to overthrow the FSLN government in the 1980s. (La Prensa, Managua, Jan. 10; La Nacion, Costa Rica, Jan. 11 from AFP; BBC News, Jan. 10)

On Jan. 11 Ortega signed on to the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), a trade pact promoted by Chavez as an alternative to US-sponsored trade accords. Cuba and Venezuela signed on Dec. 14, 2004, and Bolivia joined on Apr. 29, 2006; Chavez, Morales and Cuban vice president Jose Ramon Machado attended the ceremony, in the Ruben Dario Theater. (El Diario de Yucatan, Jan. 11 from DPA)


On Jan. 8 the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (Cenidh) led a march to the Supreme Court of Justice (CJS) in Managua to file a constitutional challenge to a law that the National Assembly passed on Oct. 26 criminalizing all abortions, including therapeutic abortions when the life of the mother is at risk or when the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. Therapeutic abortion had been legal in Nicaragua for at least 100 years prior to the new legislation. The CSJ has four months to respond to the challenge. The law was rushed through the National Assembly in the days before the Nov. 5 national elections, with the support of most parties and candidates, including the leftist Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) and its candidate, current president Daniel Ortega.

“We cannot teach medical students to kill women who need a therapeutic abortion,” Professor Matilde Jiron of the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN) medical faculty said during the protest. “On the contrary, we must teach them respect for life and women’s rights.” Women’s groups have collected more than 100,000 signatures on a petition in favor of therapeutic abortions and expect to get at least 150,000. The petition will be presented to the new National Assembly. (El Nuevo Diario, Managua, Jan. 8, 9; La Prensa, Managua, Jan. 9)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 14


During the week of Jan. 1, the WR Alajuela company announced it would close its garment factory in La Uruca, San Jose, Costa Rica, laying off 400 workers. The factory has produced jeans for the Wrangler label for over 20 years. The factory claimed the reason for the shutdown was a decrease in demand. Its parent company, VF Corporation, based in Greensboro, North Carolina, had closed another factory in Vazquez de Coronado, San Jose, in December, laying off 350 workers. (El Nuevo Herald, Miami, Jan. 6 from AP; La Nacion, San Jose, Jan. 6)

In January 2005, VF Corporation had laid off 300 of the 700 workers at the same La Uruca plant, eliminating the production of Lee brand jeans at the plant while maintaining production of Wrangler jeans. At the time, the company was operating six plants in Costa Rica with more than 3,000 workers. (LN, Jan. 17)

Foreign Trade Minister Marco Vinicio Ruiz issued a communique on Jan. 5, saying the closure of the factories will also have a negative impact on companies that provide services and raw materials. Ruiz tried to use alarm over the layoffs to bolster support for the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA); Costa Rica is the only participating country which has not yet ratified DR-CAFTA. Ruiz called the factory closings a “warning signal” and urged Costa Rica’s legislative deputies “to quickly approve the free trade treaty between the US, Central America and the Dominican Republic, since this situation is generating uncertainty among companies established here.” (ENH 1/6/07 from AP; LN, Jan. 6)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 7


Weekly News Update on the Americas

See also:

WW4 REPORT #129, January 2007


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Feb. 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution



An End to Africa’s Reign of Impunity?

by Michael Fleshman, Africa Renewal

The world took a giant step towards eliminating impunity for human rights abuses on November 9 when the International Criminal Court (ICC) opened its first-ever hearing in a case against a Congolese militia leader—Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, former leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots, a Ugandan-sponsored guerrilla movement which is believed to have engaged in massacres of the Lendu people in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s eastern Ituri district.

Unlike temporary and specially-created tribunals like the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the ICC is the world’s first permanent international criminal court, with the authority to try and convict individuals for serious human rights violations wherever they occur. Africa is expected to feature prominently on the new court’s docket, with investigations into alleged abuses by members of Uganda’s rebel Lord’s Resistance Army, and combatants in the Darfur region of western Sudan.

But Africa’s own efforts to hold senior government officials and rebel leaders accountable for torture, murder, rape and other crimes against humanity also reached new milestones in 2006. In March, Nigerian authorities arrested the former Liberian president, Charles Taylor, and transferred him to the authority of a special court in Sierra Leone. He faces charges of complicity in war crimes committed there by rebels said to have been equipped, supported and controlled by him during that country’s civil war. The charges range from terrorism, rape and murder to mutilation and the use of child soldiers. It was the first time a former African head of state had been arrested and charged with human rights abuses committed while in office

Four months later Senegal announced plans to try the former Chadian leader Hissène Habré for the torture and murder of suspected political opponents during his eight years in power. Habré was overthrown in 1990 and fled into exile in Senegal, where he has successfully evaded prosecution. In November, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade announced the formation of a commission to prepare for the trial, which will require changes in some domestic laws and international technical assistance and financing.

Targeting Impunity

The moves have been hailed as the beginning of a new era of accountability for abusive political leaders in Africa and an important blow against impunity for official misconduct around the world. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan declared that “the capture and trial of Mr. Taylor will send a powerful message to the region and beyond that impunity will not be allowed to stand and that the rule of law must prevail.” Reed Brody of the non-governmental group Human Rights Watch and an attorney for some of HabrĂ©’s alleged victims welcomed the Senegalese announcement as “an important step in the right direction.”

But the political and legal obstacles to the prosecution of government leaders for serious rights violations remain formidable. Governments are often loath to take up cases outside their borders, particularly when the accused are heads of state who traditionally enjoy immunity from prosecution for acts committed in office. In some instances guarantees of immunity are demanded by combatants in exchange for peace. In others, differences between national and international legal systems and the absence of competent institutions can pose vexing issues of jurisdiction and procedure.

In HabrĂ©’s case, the long effort to bring him to trial began within months of his overthrow and exile to Senegal in 1990, with the creation of l’Association des Victimes des Crimes et de la RĂ©pression Politiques au Tchad (AVCRP) a group of nearly 800 victims of human rights abuses. In 1992 a Chadian government commission of inquiry found that HabrĂ© was responsible for the deaths of upwards of 40,000 people and for the widespread use of torture. Although the commission recommended that HabrĂ© be charged and tried in a Chadian court, the government declined to take up the case amid fears of violence by HabrĂ©’s supporters and concerns about meeting international fair trial standards.

In 2000, the AVCRP went to court in Senegal, accusing the former president of responsibility for crimes against humanity. Although the judge ruled in AVCRP’s favour, the indictment was later dismissed by Senegal’s highest appeals court, the Cour de Cassation. It ruled that HabrĂ© could not be charged in Senegal for crimes said to have been committed in another country. Three of HabrĂ©’s alleged victims then went to court in Brussels, where it was possible to try him under legislation permitting Belgian courts to try individuals for heinous human rights offences wherever committed. It was not until September 2005, however, that Belgium issued an international arrest warrant for HabrĂ© and requested his extradition from Senegal.

“On Behalf of Africa”

Again the Senegalese courts demurred, with the country’s appeals court ruling that it lacked jurisdiction over the Belgian request. Amid indications that Belgium would take Senegal to the International Court of Justice for failing to meet its obligations under the UN Convention Against Torture, President Wade referred the matter to the African Union (AU) at the end of 2005. Following the recommendations of a special judicial review committee, the AU mandated Senegal on July 2, 2006 to “prosecute and ensure that Hissène HabrĂ© is tried, on behalf of Africa, by a competent Senegalese court with guarantees for fair trial.” The pan-African body also pledged to assist Senegalese authorities, and urged African countries and the international community to support the effort.

After years of delays, however, the issue for HabrĂ©’s alleged victims is less about where and by whom he will be tried, but if and when. “We as the victims don’t think that it is the AU or Senegal with their limited resources who can try HabrĂ©,” says AVCRP founder and vice president Suleymane Guengeung. “What means do they have?” AVCRP is not insisting that Senegal try HabrĂ©, he continues, “but for them not to deny us his trial” in another venue.

“The best solution,” he asserts, “is to extradite him to Belgium. If the AU is firm in its decision to fight impunity that is laudable.” Yet months after the AU decision, he notes, “nothing has been done up to today?. It doesn’t give one confidence that this action will take Africa in the direction of no impunity. I don’t think their decision will materialize?. We victims feel it is their intention to keep us waiting so long that we die without seeing justice. It is very sad.”

Persuading Senegal that it has the legal obligation and moral responsibility to try HabrĂ© has been difficult, acknowledges Richard Dicker, director of the international justice program at Human Rights Watch. But the problem isn’t limited to Africa, he says. “National courts around the world are reluctant to try former heads of state for crimes not committed on their territory,” he told Africa Renewal in an exclusive interview. With the Senegalese announcement, however, “we finally have the prospect for an African domestic court to put on trial a former head of state accused of the most serious crimes that can be committed under international law. If that happens, it will be a significant breakthrough. The implications are very exciting.”

No Sanctuary

Charles Taylor’s day in court appears to be more certain, but his case too has been marked by difficult political choices between justice and stability, national sovereignty and international jurisdiction, and the venue of the trial itself. Taylor was elected Liberia’s president in 1997 after a bloody civil conflict. Fighting resumed in 1999. With rebels closing in on the Liberian capital, Monrovia, Taylor accepted an offer of safe haven from Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo in August 2003 as part of a peace agreement. The arrangement allowed Taylor to evade prosecution for alleged complicity in atrocities committed in neighbouring Sierra Leone by a rebel force known as the Revolutionary United Front, RUF. An international tribunal established by the UN and Sierra Leone’s government, the Special Court for Sierra Leone, issued a warrant for his arrest earlier that year for numerous war crimes and crimes against humanity.

He was finally arrested by the Nigerian police and turned over to Liberian authorities in March 2006 at the request of Liberia’s newly elected president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. Taylor was transferred to Sierra Leone, and then on to The Hague, where he awaits trial on 11 war crimes charges by the Special Court, a unique “hybrid” tribunal composed of Sierra Leonean and international judges and staff.

But initially there was little enthusiasm in West Africa for bringing Taylor to trial—in part because of fears that his supporters, some still armed and disaffected, could destabilize fragile peace and reconstruction efforts in the war-ravaged region. There were also concerns that his hand-over could prolong other conflicts by persuading combatants they could not rely on promises of amnesty or asylum. Despite the Sierra Leone warrant, Ghanaian authorities refused to arrest Taylor in Accra in 2003, since he was there to attend crucial peace talks. In the face of heavy political pressure from Washington—the US Congress once offered a $2 million reward for Taylor’s arrest—President Obasanjo defended the sanctuary offer as a diplomatic necessity and refused to expel him in the absence of a formal request from a democratically elected Liberian government.

Liberian authorities, however, were notably reluctant to have Taylor back on Liberian soil. Indeed, Taylor is not wanted by the Liberian police and does not face charges there. Speaking at her first press conference as president in January 2006, Ms. Johnson-Sirleaf said that she did not want Taylor’s fate “to be the issue that constrains us or the issue that causes us not to be able to do what we have to do here for the Liberian people.” Taylor’s prosecution, she noted pointedly, was therefore of secondary importance to Liberia “even though it may be of utmost concern to the international community.”

Even his transfer to Freetown and into the custody of the Sierra Leone Special Court proved only a temporary stop on Taylor’s winding journey towards justice. Within days of his arrival the Special Court requested that the trial be moved to ICC facilities in The Hague to allay security concerns among the region’s governments. Although Taylor would still be judged by the Special Court, it took three months to work through the diplomatic and legal details of the transfer, including an agreement by the UK to imprison Taylor if convicted and a UN Security Council resolution authorizing the shift.

Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch acknowledged that there can be a tension, “but not an opposition,” between the need for criminal accountability and the political imperatives of peacemaking. “But it’s a serious misstep to trade away justice in the hope of reaching a peace settlement. For peace to be durable there must be justice for the most serious offences.”

Justice for All?

Part of the challenge of bringing presidents to trial, he noted, lies in the gaps between sovereign national courts, which remain the cornerstone of the world’s justice system, and a body of international jurisprudence and institutions still very much in its infancy. Ideally, Dicker says, “national courts would try individuals for egregious human rights crimes, even those not occurring on their territory or involving their citizens” using doctrines like universal jurisdiction. International courts like the ICC, and the Rwanda and former Yugoslavia tribunals, he noted, “are courts of last resort, becoming involved only when national courts are unable or unwilling to assume jurisdiction.”

Part of the challenge for the future, he asserts, is to ensure that the evolving system of international justice is not seen as an instrument of Northern power—with only the leaders of poor, weak countries held to account in the courts of the mighty.

While much of the focus of the campaign against official impunity is presently on Africa, it is not limited to the continent. In Europe, an international tribunal continues to hear charges against leaders of the former Yugoslavia. Victims and investigators in Latin America mounted a long campaign to bring a the late Chilean general, Augusto Pinochet, to trial for torture and executions alleged to have been committed in the wake of his 1973 coup. Nor are officials of the most powerful countries necessarily exempt. In mid-November a group of international human rights organizations headed by the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights filed charges in a German court alleging that some senior US government officials are responsible for torture and other crimes related to the “War on Terror” and the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. “Over time,” Dicker predicts, “international justice will become a more level playing field.”

National Courts, International Justice

The primacy of national courts in protecting human rights makes strengthening legal systems in post-conflict and developing countries, an urgent priority, Dicker says. “In many places the courts simply lack the expertise, resources and infrastructure to meet international trial standards and give real meaning to the idea of the rule of law.” Until local courts can successfully prosecute such cases, the world will need a mix of national and international institutions tailored to specific circumstances and supported by the UN and its member states.”

“Let’s keep in mind how new all of this is,” he concludes. “It has really only been in the last 15 years that these various courts have emerged. One size doesn’t fit all, and for that reason we need a number of different approaches. We have a long way to go, but it’s still a dramatic departure from business as usual in the 20th century.”


This story originally appeared in the January edition of Africa Renewal, a United Nations publication.


From our weblog:

African Union to decide in Chad war crimes case
WW4 REPORT, Nov. 29, 2005

Fierce fighting in east Chad
WW4 REPORT, Dec. 10, 2006

War of perceptions on African genocide
WW4 REPORT, Sept. 26, 2006

Ivory Coast violence: new “great game” for West Africa?
WW4 REPORT, Jan. 18, 2006

Israeli diamond merchants worked with Hezbollah, al-Qaeda?
WW4 REPORT, Sept. 15, 2006

World Court: Uganda guilty in Congo war
WW4 REPORT, Dec. 20, 2005

Historical truth at issue in France-Rwanda breach
WW4 REPORT, Nov. 25, 2006

Chile: Pinochet agents sentenced
WW4 REPORT, Jan. 11, 2007

War crimes charges filed against Rumsfeld
WW4 REPORT, Nov. 15, 2006

From our archive:

French Fight Hema Militia in Congo
WW4 REPORT #91, August 2003

Sierra Leone war crimes tribunal mired in controversy
WW4 REPORT #86, May 19, 2003

Belgian Court will not prosecute Sharon for war crimes
WW4 REPORT #61, Nov. 26, 2002

Henry Kissinger: wanted in Chile, Spain, France
WW4 REPORT #31, May 28, 2002

See also:

The World Economic Forum, “Humanitarian Intervention” and the Secret
Resource Wars
by Wynde Priddy
WW4 REPORT #90, July 2003

book review by Bill Weinberg
WW4 REPORT #90, July 2003


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Feb. 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution