2011-01-31 US State cables used in Liberian president war crimes defense

Reuters reports that the defense for former Liberian President Charles Taylor, on trial for war crimes, have won the right to use U.S. state cables leaked by Wikileaks in his defense. Taylor is facing charges of instigating murder, rape, mutilation, sexual slavery and conscription of child soldiers during wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone which killed a quarter of a million people. He has denied all charges. The court ruled in favor of a defense motion seeking to re-open its case for the “limited purpose” of admitting into evidence two U.S. cables.

Cable 09MONROVIA188 from 2009-03-10 warns “Should Taylor be acquitted in The Hague or given a light sentence, his return to Liberia could tip the balance in a fragile peace. The international community must consider steps should Taylor not be sent to prison for a long time. We should look at the possibility of trying Taylor in the United States. … All legal options should be studied to ensure that Taylor cannot return to destabilize Liberia. Building a case in the United States against Taylor for financial crimes such as wire fraud would probably be the best route. There may be other options, such as applying the new law criminalizing the use of child soldiers or terrorism statutes.

Cable 09THEHAGUE247 from 2009-04-15 indicates “Court employees have intimated that the Trial Chamber could work more expeditiously. … Moreover, contacts in Prosecution and Registry speculate that Justice Sebutinde may have a timing agenda. They think she, as the only African judge, wants to hold the gavel as presiding judge when the Trial Chamber announces the Taylor judgment. Reportedly, her next stint as presiding judge begins in January.”

Cable 09MONROVIA188

There is quite little the GOL can do legally to arrest, prosecute or freeze assets of those who were close to Taylor, even if the political will were there, which remains an open question. The TRC has recommended a domestic war crimes court be set up, but under statute an Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INHCR) would implement the recommendation, and the Legislature (some of whom had close ties to Taylor) has thus far failed to establish the INCHR. The Legislature has also refused to pass any law that would allow the GOL to freeze assets of those on the UN sanctions list, and the Supreme Court has ruled that any confiscation of property can be done only after a trial. …

The pro-Taylor forces still have the ability to organize themselves. An NPP rally in December 2008 gathered a sizeable crowd, and Taylor supporters in June 2008 succeeded in preventing FBI investigators from entering Taylor’s residence “White Flower” to obtain evidence for the Chucky Taylor trial in Florida. The most recent example was their effort on March 7 to disrupt the International Women’s Colloquium. Taylor remains popular within many rural communities, especially in Bong, Lofa and Nimba counties, and is seen as someone who was able to unite Liberia’s different ethnic groups. We also suspect there is some sympathy within the Americo-Liberian population who saw him as their deliverance from their losses following the 1979 coup. While we do not suggest they would want Taylor to return, we are sure that they do no want too many rocks to be turned over. …

The threat of a return of Taylor strengthens their hand and for now they see no need to give in at all. However, if Taylor is put away for a long time, the government may feel a bit bolder in recovering assets and bringing Taylor backers who committed war crimes to justice.

The international community has just a few tools to pressure the Taylor people into accepting the new reality. The UN sanctions appear to have the intended effect of keeping them somewhat marginalized and fearful of further attempts to strip them of their ill-gotten gains. However, we have regularly heard of travel outside Liberia of those on the travel ban list without prior approval.

However, the best we can do for Liberia is to see to it that Taylor is put away for a long time and we cannot delay for the results of the present trial to consider next steps. All legal options should be studied to ensure that Taylor cannot return to destabilize Liberia. Building a case in the United States against Taylor for financial crimes such as wire fraud would probably be the best route. There may be other options, such as applying the new law criminalizing the use of child soldiers or terrorism statutes.”

The peace in Liberia remains fragile, and its only guarantee is the robust and adaptable UNMIL presence. The GOL does not have the ability to quell violence, monitor its borders or operate independently to fight crime. A free Taylor could tip the balance in the wrong direction.

Cable 09THEHAGUE247

Currently, the Registry,s budget milestone document projects an October 31 trial termination date, a March 2010 judgment, sentencing in April 2010, and the conclusion of appeals in October 2010. If, however, the Defense case starts in August, the timeline could be pushed back by approximately two months.

A delay in the timing for the Taylor trial may create additional challenges. First, the International Criminal Court (ICC), the location of the Taylor trial, has informed the SCSL that it will need its second courtroom as of September 2009. (The ICC scheduled its second trial to start September 24th, and will likely need the courtroom prior to September 24th for pre-trial work). Back-up options explored by the Registry include finding other space or working during gaps in the ICC schedule. Second, according to Registry sources, each additional month of trial time costs approximately one million dollars.

Judges Slowing Things Down? Further muddying timing predictions, Court employees have intimated that the Trial Chamber could work more expeditiously. The Taylor Chamber consists of three judges who take turns presiding: Justice Richard Lussick (Samoa), Justice Teresa Doherty (Northern Ireland) and Justice Julia Sebutinde (Uganda), along with an alternate judge, Justice El Hadji Malick Sow (Senegal). A couple of Court employees have grumbled that when the last Prosecution witness testified on January 30, 2009, the Court still had 11 outstanding motions, some over a year old. Additionally, one Chamber contact believes that the Trial Chamber could have accelerated the Court,s work by excluding extraneous material and arguments. Moreover, contacts in Prosecution and Registry speculate that Justice Sebutinde may have a timing agenda. They think she, as the only African judge, wants to hold the gavel as presiding judge when the Trial Chamber announces the Taylor judgment. Reportedly, her next stint as presiding judge begins in January.

2011-01-31 Protests in Sudan

Sudanese protesting in Khartoum yesterday were attacked and arrested by hundreds of riot police as they chanted “We are ready to die for Sudan,” and “Revolution, revolution until victory”. The police surrounded the entrances of four universities in the capital, firing teargas and beating students at three of them.

Youth For Change had called for a demonstration on Sunday, January 30 from 11:00am – 2:00pm. Their facebook page attracted 16,864 followers to “Attending the Peace Process in Khartoum, Sudan” and said, “The people of Sudan will not remain silent any more. It is about time we demand our rights and take what’s ours in a peaceful demonstration that will not involve any acts of sabotage. We will come out to protest the high cost of living, corruption, nepotism, unemployment and all the practices of the regime, including striking women… that are contrary to the most basic laws of Islam and humanity, and violate the rights of minorities. We will go out to prove to the whole world that the people… will not remain silent in the face of persistent injustice and humiliation.

But Al Jazeera reports

Pro-government newspapers carried front page warnings against protests which they said would cause chaos and turmoil.

The Sudan Vision daily’s editorial blamed the opposition.

“Our message to those opposition dinosaurs is to unite their ideas and objectives for the benefit of the citizens if they are really looking for the welfare of the Sudanese people,” it read.

The pro-democracy group Girifna (“We’re fed up”) said nine members were detained the night before the protest and opposition party officials listed almost 40 names of protesters arrested on Sunday. Five were injured, they added.

 

The International Criminal Court has issued two arrest warrants for president Omar al-Bashir of the (NCP), one in 2008 for crimes against humanity, and another on July 12, 2010 for genocide.

Sudan, which was united with Egypt under British colonial rule, was the last Arab country to change a government with protests before Tunisia, when Jaafar Nimeiri was removed from the presidency in 1985. While Khartoum was protesting, the south was celebrating the first official results of a referendum on dividing the country. The south, which holds the country’s oil reserves, voted 99.57% for secession to end the five decades of conflictbetween the north and south.

2011-01-31 Syria: Day of Rage on February 5

Facebook pages are calling for a Syrian Day of Rage on February 5, demanding an improvement in living standards, respect for human rights, freedom of speech for all Syrian citizens, and greater influence for Syrian youth.

Bashar Assad has been the President of Syria since 2000, and before that his father held the post for three decades. Al Jazeera pointed out, Syria, as one of the primary thorns in the side of US influence in the region, is not Egypt or Tunisia. This president has his own facebook page, and his country has not been accused of being a puppet of the US.

“What happened in Tunisia and Egypt was not just about hunger, it was about national pride,” said Mazen Bilal, the editor of Suria al-Ghad, a political news website familiar with government thinking.

“Syria is another story. Through all the problems it maintained its national stances and its sovereignty and so people are proud of their nation.”

Crucially, as well, the government’s reform of the economy is maintaining a system of support to alleviate the worst effects of poverty.

 

Today Assad gave an interview to the Wall Street Journal in which he explained, ”We started the reform since I became a president. But the way we look at the reform is different from the way you look at it. For us, you cannot put the horses before the carriage. If you want to start, you have to start with 1, 2, 3, 4… you cannot start with 6 and then go back to one.”

Will that be enough for the protesters in the streets on February 5? ”Perhaps the Saudis will have to build a whole village for Arab presidents once they run out of villas,” joked a taxi driver.

2011-01-31 Student in Sudan protests killed by police

As WL Central reported yesterday, protesters in Sudan were beaten by riot police as they tried to leave their universities to demonstrate. Today the facebook page for the January 30 demonstration contains a red script proclaiming a martyr. “Al-Gorashy was a martyr for us. And you are our martyr now, Mohammed Abdulrahman”, it says, in reference to a student who died this morning in Omdurman hospital after being beaten by the police yesterday.

Al Jazeera reports“Medical sources confirmed to us that the student died yesterday from his injuries inflicted by security forces,” said Yasir Arman, the top official in the north of south Sudan’s main party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). Arman condemned the use of force and said the students were trying to hold peaceful demonstrations.

Today’s report from Al Jazeera says that at least six universities in different parts of Khartoum and Omdurman, and in El-Obeid, about 600km west of the capital were surrounded by hundreds of heavily armed police, preventing students from leaving the grounds. At the medical faculty of Khartoum University police attacked with batons, arresting 64 people and wounding many and later surrounded the compound with more than 20 police trucks.

On Monday, journalists said security forces prevented the opposition Ajras al-Huriya and the independent al-Sahafa newspapers from being distributed after they wrote about the protests.

“Security came to the printing press and stopped the paper going out,” said Fayez al-Silaik, deputy editor of Ajras al- Huriya, adding his paper was targeted because it had a front page article on the protests.

Dozens of students including two sons of opposition politician Mubarak al-Fadil were arrested and many remain detained, activists and opposition officials said on Monday.

2011-01-31 Cable: Egyptian April 6 activist’s democracy goals “highly unrealistic”

US state cable 08CAIRO2572 from December, 2008 details the experiences of an April 6 activist who attended the December 3-5 “Alliance of Youth Movements Summit, and met with US government officials, on Capitol Hill, and with think tanks. “He alleged that several opposition parties and movements have accepted an unwritten plan for democratic transition by 2011; we are doubtful of this claim. … April 6’s stated goal of replacing the current regime with a parliamentary democracy prior to the 2011 presidential elections is highly unrealistic, and is not supported by the mainstream opposition.”

XXXXXXXXXXXX expressed satisfaction with the December 3-5 “Alliance of Youth Movements Summit” in New York, noting that he was able to meet activists from other countries and outline his movement’s goals for democratic change in Egypt. He told us that the other activists at the summit were very supportive, and that some even offered to hold public demonstrations in support of Egyptian democracy in their countries, with XXXXXXXXXXXX as an invited guest. XXXXXXXXXXXX said he discussed with the other activists how April 6 members could more effectively evade harassment and surveillance from SSIS with technical upgrades, such as consistently alternating computer “simcards.” However, XXXXXXXXXXXX lamented to us that because most April 6 members do not own computers, this tactic would be impossible to implement. XXXXXXXXXXXX was appreciative of the successful efforts by the Department and the summit organizers to protect his identity at the summit, and told us that his name was never mentioned publicly.

vXXXXXXXXXXXX told us that SSIS detained and searched him at the Cairo Airport on December 18 upon his return from the U.S. According to XXXXXXXXXXXX, SSIS found and confiscated two documents in his luggage: notes for his presentation at the summit that described April 6’s demands for democratic transition in Egypt, and a schedule of his Capitol Hill meetings. XXXXXXXXXXXX described how the SSIS officer told him that State Security is compiling a file on him, and that the officer’s superiors instructed him to file a report on XXXXXXXXXXXX’s most recent activities.

XXXXXXXXXXXX described his Washington appointments as positive, saying that on the Hill he met with Rep. Edward Royce, a variety of House staff members, including from the offices of Rep. Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Rep. Wolf (R-VA), and with two Senate staffers. XXXXXXXXXXXX also noted that he met with several think tank members. XXXXXXXXXXXX said that Rep. Wolf’s office invited him to speak at a late January Congressional hearing on House Resolution 1303 regarding religious and political freedom in Egypt. XXXXXXXXXXXX told us he is interested in attending, but conceded he is unsure whether he will have the funds to make the trip. He indicated to us that he has not been focusing on his work as a “fixer” for journalists, due to his preoccupation with his U.S. trip.

XXXXXXXXXXXX described how he tried to convince his Washington interlocutors that the USG should pressure the GOE to implement significant reforms by threatening to reveal information about GOE officials’ alleged “illegal” off-shore bank accounts. He hoped that the U.S. and the international community would freeze these bank accounts, like the accounts of Zimbabwean President Mugabe’s confidantes. XXXXXXXXXXXX said he wants to convince the USG that Mubarak is worse than Mugabe and that the GOE will never accept democratic reform. XXXXXXXXXXXX asserted that Mubarak derives his legitimacy from U.S. support, and therefore charged the U.S. with “being responsible” for Mubarak’s “crimes.” He accused NGOs working on political and economic reform of living in a “fantasy world,” and not recognizing that Mubarak — “the head of the snake” — must step aside to enable democracy to take root.

XXXXXXXXXXXX claimed that several opposition forces — including the Wafd, Nasserite, Karama and Tagammu parties, and the Muslim Brotherhood, Kifaya, and Revolutionary Socialist movements — have agreed to support an unwritten plan for a transition to a parliamentary democracy, involving a weakened presidency and an empowered prime minister and parliament, before the scheduled 2011 presidential elections (ref C). According to XXXXXXXXXXXX, the opposition is interested in receiving support from the army and the police for a transitional government prior to the 2011 elections. XXXXXXXXXXXX asserted that this plan is so sensitive it cannot be written down. (Comment: We have no information to corroborate that these parties and movements have agreed to the unrealistic plan XXXXXXXXXXXX has outlined. Per ref C, XXXXXXXXXXXX previously told us that this plan was publicly available on the internet. End comment.)

XXXXXXXXXXXX said that the GOE has recently been cracking down on the April 6 movement by arresting its members. XXXXXXXXXXXX noted that although SSIS had released XXXXXXXXXXXX and XXXXXXXXXXXX “in the past few days,” it had arrested three other members. (Note: On December 14, we pressed the MFA for the release of XXXXXXXXXXXX and XXXXXXXXXXXX, and on December 28 we asked the MFA for the GOE to release the additional three activists. End note.) XXXXXXXXXXXX conceded that April 6 has no feasible plans for future activities. The group would like to call for another strike on April 6, 2009, but realizes this would be “impossible” due to SSIS interference, XXXXXXXXXXXX said. He lamented that the GOE has driven the group’s leadership underground, and that one of its leaders, Ahmed Maher, has been in hiding for the past week.

Comment: XXXXXXXXXXXX offered no roadmap of concrete steps toward April 6’s highly unrealistic goal of replacing the current regime with a parliamentary democracy prior to the 2011 presidential elections. Most opposition parties and independent NGOs work toward achieving tangible, incremental reform within the current political context, even if they may be pessimistic about their chances of success. XXXXXXXXXXXX’s wholesale rejection of such an approach places him outside this mainstream of opposition politicians and activists.

2011-01-31 US state cables on Syria

In February, 2010, the Amir of Qatar discussed Syrian relationships with Senator John Kerry. Syrian President Bashar al-Asad, who is currently facing a potential revolution in his country, discusses U.S.-Syrian relations with six US senators in US state cable 10DAMASCUS8 from January, 2010. In the cable he stresses the absence of trust Syria has for the US and the need for the US to take steps to establish trust. The US senators request that Syria “demonstrate goodwill” by gestures such as interceding for them with Iran and reopening an international school which had been shut in 2008 in response to a U.S. military attack on Syrian soil which had killed seven innocent civilians.

One area, however, in which relations had not improved was intelligence cooperation. The U.S. and Syria appeared to have common interests in seeing a stable Iraq, not dominated by Iran. Yet, foreign extremists continued to travel through Syria into Iraq. The U.S. had provided information regarding four named individuals to the Syrian government, but nothing had happened.

The U.S. possessed a “huge information apparatus” but lacked the ability to analyze this information successfully, maintained Asad. “You’re failing in the fight against extremism. While we lack your intelligence capabilities, we succeed in fighting extremists because we have better analysts,” he claimed, attributing the superior analysis to living in and understanding the region.

Citing the U.S. inability to control its long border with Mexico, Asad said the border was not the major challenge. Syria’s close intelligence cooperation with Turkey enabled both countries to prevent terrorists from crossing their 860-kilometer border without relying on a huge border security presence. This intelligence cooperation enabled Syria to “suffocate” logistical networks critical to the movement of terrorists. “In the U.S., you like to shoot (terrorists). Suffocating their networks is far more effective,” said Asad.

After the August 19 bombings and Iraqi accusations against Syria for facilitating the terrorist attacks, Syria remained willing to participate in the border assessments. It was the U.S., Asad insisted, that had backed away. Syria had no interest in supporting extremists, who weren’t killing Americans but rather Iraqi civilians. “That hurts us,” Asad claimed. U.S. “mistakes in Iraq” had cost Syria and the region a great deal. Syria had out of self-interest sought to deter terrorists who popped up. Still, despite a shared interest with the U.S. in ensuring Iraqi stability, Syria would not immediately jump to intelligence cooperation without ensuring its own interests would be respected. “I won’t give it (intelligence cooperation) to you for free,” he said. Senator Bayh replied that the U.S. was working to normalize relations and considering positive steps to take along the way. Syria, Asad commented, had been clear on how to start rebuilding relations. “We didn’t say no,” he said, “but we have to build from an absence of trust.”

Iran represented the most important country in the region, Asad assessed, ranking Turkey second and Syria third.

From the U.S. perspective, Syria might demonstrate as a goodwill gesture its interest in better relations by helping obtain the release of three American citizens — Joshua Fattal, Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd — who apparrently crossed into Iran while hiking in northeastern Iraq.

Senator Klobuchar and Senator Enzi argued Syria might demonstrate good will by re-opening the Damascus Community School (DCS), whose closure had hurt not just American students, but also many foreigners and Syrians. Senator Enzi said his committee’s purview on education created a personal interest in seeing the DCS re-opened; the school’s closure represented a step away from moving towards positive relations. Asad replied he wanted to open Syria to the rest of the world. In September 2008, for example, the French Embassy opened a new international school. Asad explained he had ordered DCS’s closure after a U.S. military attack on Syrian soil had killed seven innocent civilians in late October 2008. “We had to respond,” he argued, saying the school’s closure “was the only step we could take” in response to the Bush Administration. President Carter, Asad continued, had urged the reopening of DCS during his December 2008 visit. “I told Carter that we are ready,” said Asad, who noted the Syrian government wanted to send positive signals to the Obama administration and had done so by re-opening the American Cultural Center (ACC).

FM Muallim noted that only part of the American Language Center portion of ACC had been allowed to re-open. He argued that he and other Syrian officials had told State Department officials that steps by Syria to improve relations first required U.S. steps. “We can’t move without a waiver for Syrian Airlines,” he argued, citing the threat to Syrian civilians posed a U.S. ban on the sale of civilian aircraft and spare parts. Asad noted that a good friend who ran a medical laboratory was similarly unable to import U.S. lab technology. The bigger issue, Asad said, was about bilateral relations. Syria’s intent was to re-open the DCS. Asad said he trusted President Carter and supported President Obama. “We know he has other problems and priorities, but there must be U.S. steps,” Asad insisted.

Cable 10DAMASCUS168 from February, 2010 records the Syrian Vice Foreign Minister (V/FM) Miqdad “Flatly denying any Syrian role in the supply of weapons to Hizballah … while Israel violated Lebanese sovereignty on a daily basis.”

Miqdad commented that it was “strange” the U.S. had chosen to deliver “harsh words while we’re trying to build better relations.” He promised to convey the message to his superiors but reiterated Syria’s desire to avoid escalation. “You may hear about weapons going to Hizballah,” he claimed, “but they are absolutely not coming through Syria.” The real threat to stability was coming from Israeli officials who had threatened recently to attack Damascus and to change the Syrian regime. “Please convey to Washington, while we take note of your demarche, this message should be directed at Israel,” he said.

He then contended the provision of U.S. weapons to the region represented a destabilizing factor. “The most sophisticated weapons are coming to Israel, to be used against whom?” he asked. When the U.S. pressed Israel to stop threatening its neighbors, the situation would stabilize. “We want peace. It’s the only solution. We are the ones who are threatened,” he declared. Charge replied the whole region was threatened. Miqdad said the U.S. and Syria needed to worked toward peace. “You should address your message to the people who don’t want peace,” he added.

Other cables from the Damascus embassy are here.

2011-01-17 Mauritanian man sets himself on fire [UPDATE: 1]

Mauritanian man set himself on fire today in an anti-government protest.

Yacoub Ould Dahoud, 42, stopped his car in front of the Senate, which is several metres (feet) from the presidency in the capital, and set himself alight inside the vehicle, witnesses said.

He had called journalists to tell them he intended to carry out the act because he was ‘unhappy with the political situation in the country and angry with the government.’

Police intervened and he was taken to hospital with burns to his face and hands, a hospital source said.

 

AllVoices writes “a man set himself on fire in front of the West African state’s presidential palace. The man, described as a 40-year-old entrepreneur from a wealthy family, was protesting over alleged government mistreatment of his tribe, police sources said.”

UPDATE 1:

Al Arabiya writes

In Mauritania, a young man with a graduate degree from France and who belongs to a wealthy family set himself on fire to protest against alleged government mistreatment of his tribe.

The family of Yacoub Ould Dahoud, 40, reportedly faced government abuse and was excluded from vital decision-making positions thought the country and from government deals with the country’s tribes, according the Mauritanian’s independent news agency Al-Khabar.

Dahoud’s tribe demands that the government fulfill its commitments in a deal it had made with the tribe over a number health ministry posts, the agency added.

The tribe’s business in agriculture and trade in marine appliances was also reportedly hard-hit by government policies.

Witnesses said Dahoud was shouting epithets against President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz.

 

Earlier in Tunisia, 26-year-old Mohammed Bouazizi died from self inflicted burn wounds, in Algeria, at least four attempted public suicides were reported this week, and a man in Cairo set himself on fire today as well.