< /head > Colorado Coalition for Human Rights: November 2006

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Experts Concerned as Ballot Problems Persist

From the New York Times:

After six years of technological research, more than $4 billion spent by Washington on new machinery and a widespread overhaul of the nation’s voting system, this month’s midterm election revealed that the country is still far from able to ensure that every vote counts.

Tens of thousands of voters, scattered across more than 25 states, encountered serious problems at the polls, including failures in sophisticated new voting machines and confusion over new identification rules, according to interviews with election experts and officials.

In many places, the difficulties led to shortages of substitute paper ballots and long lines that caused many voters to leave without casting ballots. Still, an association of top state election officials concluded that for the most part, voting went as smoothly as expected.

Over the last three weeks, attention has been focused on a few close races affected by voting problems, including those in Florida and Ohio where counting dragged on for days. But because most of this year’s races were not close, election experts say voting problems may actually have been wider than initially estimated, with many malfunctions simply overlooked.

That oversight may not be possible in the presidential election of 2008, when turnout will be higher and every vote will matter in what experts say will probably be a close race.

Voting experts say it is impossible to say how many votes were not counted that should have been. But in Florida alone, the discrepancies reported across Sarasota County and three others amount to more than 60,000 votes. In Colorado, as many as 20,000 people gave up trying to vote, election officials say, as new online systems for verifying voter registrations crashed repeatedly. And in Arkansas, election officials tallied votes three times in one county, and each time the number of ballots cast changed by more than 30,000.

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World Court Official Reports Evidence on Darfur Criminals

From the Washington Post:

The International Criminal Court has found sufficient evidence to identify the perpetrators of some of the worst atrocities in Sudan's Darfur region, and the probe offers "reasonable grounds to believe" that crimes against humanity were committed, chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo told the annual meeting of the court's member states in The Hague.

"We selected incidents during the period in which the gravest crimes occurred," he said Thursday in a report on his activities over the past year. "Based on the evidence collected, we identified those most responsible for the crimes." Moreno-Ocampo did not name the targets of the investigation, which he said is nearly complete.

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U.S. Finds Iraq Insurgency Has Funds to Sustain Itself

From the New York Times:

The insurgency in Iraq is now self-sustaining financially, raising tens of millions of dollars a year from oil smuggling, kidnapping, counterfeiting, connivance by corrupt Islamic charities and other crimes that the Iraqi government and its American patrons have been largely unable to prevent, a classified United States government report has concluded.

The report, obtained by The New York Times, estimates that groups responsible for many insurgent and terrorist attacks are raising $70 million to $200 million a year from illegal activities. It says $25 million to $100 million of that comes from oil smuggling and other criminal activity involving the state-owned oil industry, aided by “corrupt and complicit” Iraqi officials.

As much as $36 million a year comes from ransoms paid for hundreds of kidnap victims, the report says. It estimates that unnamed foreign governments — previously identified by American officials as including France and Italy — paid $30 million in ransom last year.

A copy of the seven-page report was made available to The Times by American officials who said the findings could improve understanding of the challenges the United States faces in Iraq.

The report offers little hope that much can be done, at least soon, to choke off insurgent revenues. For one thing, it acknowledges how little the American authorities in Iraq know — three and a half years after the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein — about crucial aspects of insurgent operations. For another, it paints an almost despairing picture of the Iraqi government’s ability, or willingness, to take steps to tamp down the insurgency’s financing.

“If accurate,” the report says, its estimates indicate that these “sources of terrorist and insurgent finance within Iraq — independent of foreign sources — are currently sufficient to sustain the groups’ existence and operation.” To this, it adds what may be its most surprising conclusion: “In fact, if recent revenue and expense estimates are correct, terrorist and insurgent groups in Iraq may have surplus funds with which to support other terrorist organizations outside of Iraq.”

Some terrorism experts outside the government who were given an outline of the report by The Times criticized it as imprecise and speculative. Completed in June, the report was compiled by an interagency working group investigating the financing of militant groups in Iraq.

A Bush administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed the group’s existence. He said it was led by Juan Zarate, deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism, and was made up of about a dozen people, drawn from the C.I.A., the F.B.I., the Defense Intelligence Agency, the State Department, the Treasury Department and the United States Central Command.

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Thursday, November 23, 2006

Activists Cite Flaws In Nepal's Peace Deal

From the Washington Post:

Human rights activists on Wednesday welcomed an agreement designed to end a 10-year war between the government of Nepal and Maoist rebels but said it failed to ensure that perpetrators of abuses underlying the conflict would pay for their crimes.

Mandira Sharma, a leading human rights advocate from Nepal, said the country was "moving in the right direction" by consolidating a cease-fire agreement with the new accord and committing to dialogue. But from a human rights perspective, she said, the agreement "is weak."

"It mentions a truth commission but does not give a time frame," said Sharma, who is currently touring the United States. "The approach and mind-set is to move forward. The government thinks if we start delving into all the extrajudicial killings and disappearances, that will hamper the peace process."

Nepal's civil war has resulted in more than 13,000 deaths. Peace negotiations began seven months ago after an uprising by civil society groups, which ended King Gyanendra's autocratic rule.

The king's Royal Nepalese Army is accused of killing noncombatants, torturing prisoners and illegally detaining more than 1,200 people, according to Human Rights Watch. The Maoists, in turn, have publicly executed people they deemed enemies, tortured individuals suspected of treason and forcibly recruited thousands of child soldiers.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Iraqi civilian deaths hit new high

From the LA Times:

In its bleakest assessment since the U.S.-led invasion, the United Nations today reported the highest monthly death toll among Iraqi civilians so far: At least 3,709 killed during October, up nearly 400 from September and 700 more than in August.

The vast majority of the killings took place in Baghdad.

The continued slaughter of civilians as well as increasing poverty has forced more than 2 million people from their homes, according to the report. Every month, nearly 100,000 Iraqis flee to neighboring Jordan and Syria, the U.N. found.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Report: Jewish Settlements Built on Palestinian Property

From the Washington Post:

An Israeli advocacy group has found that 39 percent of the land used by Jewish settlements in the West Bank is private Palestinian property, and contends that construction there violates international and Israeli law guaranteeing the protection of property rights in the occupied territories.

In a critical report released here Tuesday, the Settlement Watch project of Peace Now also disclosed that much of the land that Israeli officials have said would remain part of the Jewish state under any final peace agreement is private Palestinian property.

That includes some of the large settlement blocs inside the barrier that Israel is building to separate Israelis from the Palestinian population in the West Bank. The report states that 86 percent of Maale Adumim on Jerusalem's eastern edge sits on private Palestinian land. A little more than 35 percent of the settlement of Ariel, which cuts deep into the northern West Bank, is also on private property.

Israel's government has long maintained that the settlements, developed in large part with public money, sit on untitled property known as "state land" or on property of unclear legal status. Israeli courts have also ruled that unauthorized outposts erected on private Palestinian property must be razed, although those orders are rarely carried out.

The 38-page report offers what appears to be a comprehensive argument against the Israeli government's contention that it avoids building on private land, drawing on the state's own data to make the case. Israeli officials said Tuesday they are studying the findings.

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Friday, November 17, 2006

For West Bank, It’s a Highway to Frustration

From the New York Times:

For West Bank, It’s a Highway to Frustration


November 18, 2006

ROAD 60, West Bank, Nov. 14 — For four years, the separation barrier Israel has been building just inside the West Bank boundary has drawn protests from Palestinians and international censure for the hardship it imposes on their movement and access to jobs and land.

But getting much less notice have been parallel and perhaps even more restrictive measures imposed by the Israeli military much deeper inside the West Bank. The internal checkpoints and barriers on roads have increasingly limited movement, something Palestinians say they find especially grating, because they are not trying to enter Israel, only to go from one Palestinian area to another.

On a two-day, 75-mile trip along Road 60, the main north-south highway that runs along the hilly spine of the West Bank, a reporter and a photographer for The New York Times examined the daily friction between Palestinian civilians and Israeli soldiers.

In one of the more sweeping restrictions, men under 35 from the northern West Bank are generally not allowed to leave the area. The rules often change, but this one has been enforced most days for the last four months, Palestinians say.

“My main job now is waiting in line,” Hakim Abu Shamli, 40, said during a two-hour delay at a teeming checkpoint. Mr. Abu Shamli, an electrical engineer, lives in Tubas near the city of Nablus, and for years his commute to work was a 20-minute taxi ride. Now he leaves home at 5:30 a.m. to reach his job by 8, and he is often late. There are always two checkpoints, and one recent day there were seven, he said.

The Israeli military says that the web of travel restrictions was imposed in response to the Palestinian uprising that erupted in 2000 and that the measures have greatly reduced the number of deadly attacks by Palestinians.

“We’re seeing an increasing fragmentation of the West Bank,” said David Shearer, head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which monitors the West Bank. “The whole fabric of life for the Palestinians has been disrupted.”

His office says Palestinians traveling within the West Bank now face 542 obstacles, 83 of which are guarded by soldiers, compared with fewer than 400 a year ago. The obstacles have effectively divided the West Bank into three sectors — northern, central and southern — and limited movement among them.

“We know these measures harm the quality of life of the Palestinians, but they save the lives of Israelis,” said Shlomo Dror, a spokesman for the government department that deals with the Palestinians.

As Palestinians make their way through dozens of military checkpoints, they are delayed for hours, rerouted to dirt roads and sometimes turned back altogether on their way to jobs, schools and family visits. They also face hundreds of unattended obstacles that include earth mounds, concrete blocks and trenches that have cut many roads, forcing lengthy detours.

“I used to work as a laborer in Israel,” said Mutie Milhem, 33, a taxi driver near Jenin who had just endured a lengthy wait at a checkpoint. “When that became difficult, I thought it would be easier to be a driver in the West Bank. But every day here becomes harder. We never know what we are going to face.”

Jenin has the reputation as the most radical West Bank town, a center for militancy, and Israel has increasingly isolated it. Israel’s separation barrier, which consists of fences and walls, blocks travel in three directions, and the only way out of Jenin to another city is Road 60 to the south.

The town’s economy has been hit hard, and the main taxi stand overflows with frustrated drivers working their way through packs of cheap cigarettes. The drivers write their names on a blackboard and wait, sometimes for a day or more, before they are called to take passengers outside Jenin. Then they begin hitting obstacles well before reaching the closest Palestinian city, Nablus, less than 20 miles away.

Road 60 is closed to Palestinians for a short stretch that passes by Shavei Shomron, one of many Jewish settlements built on hilltops overlooking the road. To circumvent the blockade there, Palestinian taxi and truck drivers created a rutted path that travels across open fields for several miles.

By the western entrance to Nablus, at the Beit Iba checkpoint where Mr. Abu Shamli, the engineer, was stuck, the Israeli soldiers grew angry as the Palestinian crowd began bunching around them. The soldiers began confiscating identity documents as a punishment, though they later returned them.

Israel says the multiple layers of security not only keep Palestinian attackers out of Israel but also protect the 250,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Before the Palestinian uprising began in 2000, obstacles in the West Bank were relatively few.

“Route 60, used both by the Israeli and Palestinian populations, is a designated location for terrorist attacks against Israelis,” the Israeli military said in a statement. “If it were not for Palestinian terrorism, the crossings would not have been established.”

The Israeli military listed 13 actual or attempted Palestinian attacks on Road 60 in the last year, with four Israelis killed. In addition, Palestinians threw stones or fired on cars dozens of times.

In the northern West Bank, jobs are extremely scarce and the movement restriction on men under 35 has made it virtually impossible for them to look elsewhere in the West Bank for work. University students, most of them commuters, also face a tough time with changing rules.

“Sometimes I can’t make it to the university,” said Ala Suboh, 21, an engineering student at Al Najah University in Nablus. “Other times I make it but I’m not allowed to leave the city and have to spend the night on the floor of a friend’s house.”

The Hawara checkpoint, on the southeastern edge of Nablus, is about 15 miles from the closest West Bank boundary, and a few years back it consisted of several soldiers on the side of the road checking identity documents. Now it resembles an international border.

Israel says internal checkpoints like the one at Hawara are crucial. Numerous would-be suicide bombers have been stopped there.

In 2002, West Bank Palestinians carried out more than 50 suicide bombings; this year there have been two that killed Israelis.

Many Palestinians going through the checkpoint are commuting to Nablus from their homes in surrounding villages. Yet Palestinians must go through turnstiles and metal detectors, while soldiers work on computers in glass booths.

It routinely takes an hour or more to pass during the morning and evening rush hours. Cars cannot pass unless they have permits from Israel. Some taxis and trucks have them, but private Palestinian cars on Road 60 are rare, because the permits are so hard to obtain.

The next major city along the road is Ramallah, the de facto political capital. Traditionally Palestinians have regarded the contiguous cities of Ramallah, Jerusalem and Bethlehem as one metropolitan area.

But now Israel does not allow the vast majority of West Bank Palestinians to enter Jerusalem. So they can no longer take Road 60 to Bethlehem and the south, but instead must take a lengthy detour on a narrow, winding road through the barren hills east of the city, which also includes a checkpoint.

Gabriel Jacoman, 50, was raised in a house on Road 60 as it enters Bethlehem. In 1994 he opened a chicken restaurant that thrived by serving the tourists who came from Jerusalem to visit the tomb of Rachel, the biblical matriarch.

Today his home and neighboring restaurant, now shuttered, are sandwiched between 25-foot concrete walls built across Road 60. One wall is several hundred yards north of his home and serves as the border between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. The second wall is a few paces south of his front door, part of the wall built around Rachel’s Tomb.

“This was the road everyone took from Jerusalem to the southern West Bank,” Mr. Jacoman said. “Now you can’t take it in either direction.”

In the 1990s, Israel rerouted parts of Road 60 so that it looped around some Palestinian towns. Those bypasses allowed Jewish settlers to travel the West Bank without having to go through Palestinian towns, where they often faced stones or worse.

The center of Hebron, the southernmost West Bank town on Road 60, is ghostly quiet. Aside from occasional pedestrians, the only activity consists of Israeli security forces patrolling near the Tomb of the Patriarchs.

Several hundred Jewish settlers live in the city. Israel has imposed some of its most severe restrictions on roughly 30,000 Palestinians who used to live in the center; many have moved out, at least temporarily.

“The whole area is completely dead,” said Talib Karaki, 50, who lives with more than 100 members of his extended family in a two-house compound near the tomb.

Last month Mr. Karaki’s 3-year-old grandson, Walid, picked up gravel and started tossing it toward a soldier at the checkpoint, Mr. Karaki said. The soldier came to complain, and a big argument ensued.

“The whole thing was ridiculous,” the grandfather said. “But it shows how crazy our life has become.”

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Some Americans Lack Food, but USDA Won't Call Them Hungry

From the Washington Post:

The U.S. government has vowed that Americans will never be hungry again. But they may experience "very low food security."

Every year, the Agriculture Department issues a report that measures Americans' access to food, and it has consistently used the word "hunger" to describe those who can least afford to put food on the table. But not this year.

Mark Nord, the lead author of the report, said "hungry" is "not a scientifically accurate term for the specific phenomenon being measured in the food security survey." Nord, a USDA sociologist, said, "We don't have a measure of that condition."

The USDA said that 12 percent of Americans -- 35 million people -- could not put food on the table at least part of last year. Eleven million of them reported going hungry at times. Beginning this year, the USDA has determined "very low food security" to be a more scientifically palatable description for that group.

The United States has set a goal of reducing the proportion of food-insecure households to 6 percent or less by 2010, or half the 1995 level, but it is proving difficult. The number of hungriest Americans has risen over the past five years. Last year, the total share of food-insecure households stood at 11 percent.

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Monday, November 13, 2006

Congo Pins Protest on Homeless

From the Washington Post:

Scores of homeless children and others living on the streets of Congo's capital have been rounded up and accused of starting a protest that led to violence, officials said Monday. The move came as this increasingly tense nation awaited results of a presidential election.

Advocates for street children said those arrested were scapegoats, but Interior Minister Denis Kalume was quoted on state radio as saying the 337 homeless people, including 87 children and 15 mothers, had provoked violence "by disturbing the peace." Kalume said they were being taken outside the capital for "social training."

Violence erupted Saturday between supporters of President Joseph Kabila and Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba, the contenders in a presidential runoff late last month. The governor of the Congolese capital said gun and mortar fire killed three civilians and a soldier in front of Bemba's home -- the scene of the weekend fighting.

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Sunday, November 12, 2006

Citizenship Requirements Put Infants' Access to Medicaid in Danger

From the New York Times:

November 3, 2006
Medicaid Wants Citizenship Proof For Infant Care
Under a new federal policy, children born in the United States to illegal immigrants with low incomes will no longer be automatically entitled to health insurance through Medicaid, Bush administration officials said Thursday.
Doctors and hospitals said the policy change would make it more difficult for such infants, who are United States citizens, to obtain health care needed in the first year of life.
Illegal immigrants are generally barred from Medicaid but can get coverage for treatment of emergency medical conditions, including labor and delivery.
In the past, once a woman received emergency care under Medicaid for the birth of a baby, the child was deemed eligible for coverage as well, and states had to cover the children for one year from the date of birth.
Under the new policy, an application must be filed for the child, and the parents must provide documents to prove the child's citizenship.
The documentation requirements took effect in July, but some states have been slow to enforce them, and many doctors are only now becoming aware of the effects on newborns.
Obtaining a birth certificate can take weeks in some states, doctors said. Moreover, they said, illegal immigrant parents may be reluctant to go to a state welfare office to file applications because they fear contact with government agencies that could report their presence to immigration authorities.
Administration officials said the change was necessary under their reading of a new law, the Deficit Reduction Act, signed by President Bush in February. The law did not mention newborns, but generally tightened documentation requirements because some lawmakers were concerned that immigrants were fraudulently claiming United States citizenship to get Medicaid.
Marilyn E. Wilson, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Medicaid program, said: ''The federal government told us we have no latitude. All states must change their policies and practices. We will not be able to cover any services for the newborn until a Medicaid application is filed. That could be days, weeks or months after the child is born.''
About four million babies are born in the United States each year, and Medicaid pays for more than one-third of all births. The number involving illegal immigrant parents is unknown but is likely to be in the tens of thousands, health experts said.
Doctors and hospitals denounced the policy change and denied that it was required by the new law. Dr. Jay E. Berkelhamer, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said the policy ''punishes babies who, according to the Constitution, are citizens because they were born here.''
Dr. Martin C. Michaels, a pediatrician in Dalton, Ga., said that continuous coverage in the first year of life was important because ''newborns need care right from the start.''
''Some Americans may want to grant amnesty to undocumented immigrants, and others may want to send them home,'' Dr. Michaels said. ''But the children who are born here had no say in that debate.''
Under a 1984 law, infants born to pregnant women on Medicaid are in most cases deemed eligible for Medicaid for one year.
In an interview on Thursday, Leslie V. Norwalk, acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said the new policy ''reflects what the new law says in terms of eligibility.''
''When emergency Medicaid pays for a birth,'' Ms. Norwalk said, ''the child is not automatically deemed eligible. But the child could apply and could qualify for Medicaid because of the family's poverty status. If anyone knows about a child being denied care, we want to know about it. Please step up and tell us.''
Under federal law, hospitals generally have to examine and treat patients who need emergency care, regardless of their ability to pay. So the new policy is most likely to affect access to other types of care, including preventive services and treatment for infections and chronic conditions, doctors said.
Representative Charlie Norwood, Republican of Georgia, was a principal architect of the new law.
''Charlie's intent was that every person receiving Medicaid needs to provide documentation,'' said John E. Stone, a spokesman for Mr. Norwood, who is a dentist and has been active on health care issues. ''With newborns, there should be no problem. All you have to do is provide a birth certificate or hospital records verifying birth.''
But Dr. Berkelhamer disagreed. Even when the children are eligible for Medicaid, he said, illegal immigrants may be afraid to apply because of ''the threat of deportation.''
The new policy ''will cost the health care system more in the long run,'' Dr. Berkelhamer added, because children of illegal immigrants may go without immunizations, preventive care and treatments needed in the first year of life.
Doctors, children's hospitals and advocacy groups have been urging states to preserve the old policy on Medicaid eligibility for children born to illegal immigrants.
Sara Rosenbaum, a professor of health law at George Washington University, said: ''The new policy reflects a tortured reading of the new law and is contrary to the language of the 1984 statute, which Congress did not change. The whole purpose of the earlier law, passed with bipartisan support, was to make sure that a baby would not have a single day's break in coverage from the date of birth through the first year of life.''
California has objected to the new policy. S. Kimberly Belshé, secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency, said: ''By virtue of being born in the United States, a child is a U.S. citizen. What more proof does the federal government need?''


Kidnappings Return to Sri Lanka

From the New York Times:

November 7, 2006
Kidnappings Haunt Long War in Sri Lanka
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Like a returning ghost, a rash of mysterious abductions has come to haunt this country once more.
Men and women are being grabbed from their homes, sometimes after dark, sometimes in broad daylight. Ransom is demanded in some cases; in others, political intimidation seems to be the point. A few have been freed, but corpses have also turned up. With rare exceptions, the crimes remain unsolved.
The abductions are a terrifying sideshow in Sri Lanka’s newly revived ethnic conflict, and they contain eerie echoes of the horrors of a generation ago, when this island nation achieved notoriety for tens of thousands of disappearances.
For nearly a quarter of a century, the ethnic Sinhalese-dominated government has been locked in battle with Tamil separatist guerrillas. A new menace has come in the form of a breakaway Tamil rebel faction, widely accused of being allied with the government and — say kidnapping victims lucky enough to tell their tales — of having a hand in the abductions.
The government denies having any link to the group, called the Karuna faction, and describes the latest abductions as a law-and-order problem that it can tackle.
It is difficult to know who is responsible, or exactly how many people have been seized.
The International Committee of the Red Cross says it received more than 350 reports of disappeared persons through late October. The National Human Rights Commission logged 419 such complaints between last December and September.
A private human rights advocacy group, called Home for Human Rights, has documented 203 cases of missing persons in the first nine months of this year, using newspaper clippings and other reports. It lists 965 more extrajudicial killings, some of whose victims might also have been abducted.
The victims come from all walks of life: a radio reporter, a university dean, a fish trader. For the most part, they are Tamil, the country’s main ethnic minority. Many of the abductions have been carried out in government-controlled territory — sometimes in the heart of this highly fortified capital, at other times in the north and east, close to military installations. Some of those kidnapped have won release only after their families appealed to the highest echelons of the state.
A white van appears repeatedly in their recollections: it is the iconic symbol of the late 1980’s, when white vans were used in a wave of abductions as the government fought a violent leftist insurrection.
Despite the official denials, the abductions have spread a cloud over the administration of President Mahinda Rajapakse, including a recommendation by the
United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Louise Arbour, to dispatch foreign monitors to investigate rights abuses here.
[Instead, on Nov. 6, Mr. Rajapakse’s government announced formation of a government commission of inquiry, to be aided by foreign observers. Ms. Arbour’s office cautiously welcomed the plan but warned of the need to “establish not only individual responsibility for crimes, but the broader patterns and context in which they occur.”]
The spike in rights abuses corresponds to the swift deterioration of a 2002 cease-fire between the Sri Lankan military and the ethnic rebels, the
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
The rights record of the Tamil Tigers has hardly been exemplary. They have been repeatedly accused of abductions, including of children whom they draft into military service. The rebels are also implicated in a rash of assassinations, in particular attacks on ethnic Tamils who work with the state.
The terror of this war has grown ever sharper with the emergence of the Karuna faction, which broke away from the Tamil Tigers.
Sathasivam Kumararatnam, the fish trader, was packed into a white van on a Thursday morning in late September from a street corner near his house. His captors, he said, pistol-whipped him, blindfolded and gagged him, bound his wrists and took his cash.
He was beaten and interrogated about his links to the Tamil Tigers. His family was then pressed for nearly $10,000 for his release. The Kumararatnams bargained his captors down to half that amount, and when a courier came to pick up the ransom, Mr. Kumararatnam’s first-born son, Ravindran, beat him to a pulp. He also forced a confession out of him. “I’m with the Karuna faction,” Ravindran said he heard him say.
The police confirmed that a man arrested in connection with Mr. Kumararatnam’s kidnapping had confessed to links to the rebel faction. They gave no further details.
His captors have since released Mr. Kumararatnam. But he is not yet free. He still receives threatening phone calls, he says. “This time, we will kill you,” the callers tell him.
The political nature of many of the abductions, even in cases where the kidnappers’ identities are hard to pin down, seems clear.
Nadaraja Kuruparan, a Tamil radio reporter, said he was not asked for a single rupee after he was yanked from his car one early morning in August. He was held overnight at what appeared to be a private house, he said, and told he would have to “clarify” some of his reports. He was released on the outskirts of Colombo the following day, and given taxi money to return home.
The government had previously warned the station about Mr. Kuruparan’s popular talk show, on which he had interviewed a Tamil Tiger leader this year. Since his kidnapping, he has decided to take the talk show off the air.
In another case, Balasingam Sugumar, the dean of arts at the main public university in Batticaloa, in the east, was plucked from his house and detained for 10 days, despite his family’s quiet efforts to buy off his captors, the family said.
In exchange for his release, his abductors demanded the resignation of a senior university administrator, whom they accused of having links to the Tamil Tiger rebels. It remains a mystery how the white van that came to get him on a Saturday night in late September managed to pass through the military checkpoints that sit on both ends of his road.
His family says they do not know what ultimately led to Mr. Sugumar’s release, only that they reached out to representatives of each of the warring parties, including President Rajapakse, who promised to investigate.
Mr. Sugumar refused to be interviewed. [He has since fled the country, his family said.]
For now, there seems to be little consensus within the government on who is behind the abductions, let alone what to do about them.
A senior negotiator for the government, Palitha T. B. Kohona, said the kidnappings represented a law-and-order challenge for the state. “We would like to get to the bottom of this,” he said. “We will intensify investigations if necessary.”
Gotabaya Rajapakse, the president’s brother, who also serves as defense secretary, said in late October that “lots of people” had been apprehended in connection with the abductions. But he did not have details on how many and in what period.
His claim was contradicted by a retired judge whom the president appointed to look into the abductions. The judge, Mahanama Tilakaratne, said the police had made virtually no arrests. He also said he believed many of the recent abductions were a result of personal grudges and had little to do with the ethnic conflict.
By way of example, he took out the file of one victim and pointed out that he was suspected of an extramarital affair. The judge said he could not share details of any other cases.
Many of those who disappeared a generation ago are still unaccounted for. Their faces stare out from a simple memorial erected on the outskirts of Colombo. Once a year, their families come to lay flowers.
In late October came a weeping father, W. A. W. Weerasinghe, to remember his son, Krishantha, who was stuffed into a white van one afternoon more than 16 years ago and has not been heard from since.
Along with dozens of other parents, Mr. Weerasinghe, 68, laid flowers and wept. “Disappearance is a crime against humanity,” reads a tablet at the base of the memorial. “Let us not allow it to happen again.”
At the time of those disappearances, President Rajapakse was an opposition lawmaker and a human rights activist whose colleagues were among the thousands abducted and killed. Nine months after Mr. Weerasinghe’s son disappeared, Mr. Rajapakse headed to Geneva to draw the attention of the United Nations to human rights abuses in his country, carrying with him reams of files on missing persons.
According to human rights groups and news reports from that time, the Sri Lankan police seized the documents at the airport.
Shimali Senanayake contributed reporting.


Saturday, November 11, 2006

Despite Billions Spent, Rebuilding in Iraq Incomplete

From the Washington Post:

For a little more than $38 billion, the United States and its contractors in Iraq have provided 4.6 million people with access to water. They have distributed seeds to Iraqi farmers, improving wheat harvests. With electricity-generating capacity now above prewar levels, they have given many Iraqis more daily hours of power. They have repaired more than 5,000 schools and vaccinated 4.6 million children against polio.

The list goes on. But as the U.S.-led, U.S.-funded portion of Iraq's reconstruction nears its end, American officials and contractors alike are grappling with a cold reality: Thousands of successes in Iraq may add up to a single failure.

"We accomplished a significant amount of work. But it was just overwhelmed by the overlay of violence," said Clifford G. Mumm, who has spent much of the past three years in Iraq managing projects for Bechtel Corp. "It's hard to be very optimistic."

U.S.-funded projects have long been a target for sabotage. Many of those that were spared remain unused by a population paralyzed by violence.

Yet those inside the reconstruction effort say security concerns were hardly the only problem. Poor planning and coordination by U.S. officials meant that even successful individual projects failed to do the job; for example, health-care centers were built at great cost but had no water and sewer service. Poor work-site management by contractors meant that some projects went awry. And now that the United States is handing over reconstruction efforts to Iraq, many involved with the process worry that the Iraqis don't have the training or the money to keep U.S.-built facilities running.

This was not how the rebuilding of Iraq was supposed to go. In the fall of 2003, six months after the U.S. invasion, President Bush promised Iraq "the greatest financial commitment of its kind since the Marshall Plan." Top administration aides said they considered that plan, which helped rebuild Europe after World War II, to be a model for Iraq. Congress soon passed a spending bill that, while offering less money than the Marshall Plan, was expected to be enough to get Iraq back on its feet...

The United States has committed more than $38 billion to reconstructing Iraq, far more than any other nation, according to the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction. Most of that money is now gone. Three-quarters of the primary fund for rebuilding has been spent and the rest has been set aside for finishing key projects.

Overall, 88 percent of planned projects -- about 12,000 -- have been completed, with just 4 percent yet to begin.

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U.S. Vetoes Security Council Resolution Assailing Israel for Attacks

From the New York Times:

The United States vetoed a Security Council resolution on Saturday that condemned Israel for its military actions in Gaza and called for an immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces from the area.The United States ambassador, John R. Bolton, told the Council that the resolution "does not display an even-handed characterization of the recent events in Gaza, nor does it advance the cause of Israeli-Palestinian peace."The resolution, introduced by Qatar, the Arab representative on the Council, had been amended during two days of negotiations to meet objections that it was not balanced. But Mr. Bolton said it remained "in many places biased against Israel and politically motivated."In the vote, 4 countries abstained - Britain, Denmark, Japan and Slovakia - and 10 were in favor - Argentina, China, Congo, France, Ghana, Greece, Peru, Russia, Qatar and Tanzania.An original draft had made no mention of Palestinian rocket strikes into Israel and accused Israel of conducting a "massacre" of civilians in its attack at Beit Hanun on Wednesday that killed 18 civilians. New language was inserted condemning the firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel and calling upon the Palestinian Authority to take "immediate and sustained action'' to end the rocket fire. But while the resolution named Israel as liable for the attacks on Gaza, it was silent on who or what group was responsible for the attacks on Israel.In other changes, a reference to "indiscriminate" violence became "disproportionate" violence, and the words "military assault," "aggression" and "massacre" were dropped in favor of the general phrase "military operations."Another provision had proposed that a new United Nations observer force be sent into the area to monitor a cease-fire, but it was substituted with language suggested by France that called for the creation of "an international mechanism for the protection of civilians."

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Friday, November 10, 2006

Dirty Water Kills 5,000 Children a Day

From the Guardian:

The United Nations Development Programme, in its annual Human Development report, argues that 1.1 billion people do not have safe water and 2.6 billion suffer from inadequate sewerage. This is not because of water scarcity but poverty, inequality and government failure.

The report urges governments to guarantee that each person has at least 20 litres of clean water a day, regardless of wealth, location, gender or ethnicity. If water was free to the poor, it adds, it could trigger the next leap forward in human development.

Many sub-Saharan Africans get less than 20 litres of water a day and two-thirds have no proper toilets. By contrast, the average Briton uses 150 litres a day while Americans are the world's most profligate, using 600 litres a day. Phoenix, Arizona, uses 1,000 litres per person on average - 100 times as much as Mozambique.

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Sunday, November 05, 2006

Saddam Hussein to Hang for Crimes Against Iraqis

From the Washington Post:

Former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was found guilty by a special tribunal Sunday of crimes against humanity for the torture and execution of more than 100 people from a small town north of Baghdad 24 years ago. He was sentenced to death by hanging.

Hussein, 69, was led into the courtroom by seven guards and immediately sat in his chair, refusing to rise for his verdict until Chief Judge Raouf Rasheed Abdel-Rahman ordered guards to force him to his feet...

The verdict and sentence will automatically be sent to a nine-judge appellate panel for appeal. That panel has wide latitude to review the case and call for additional testimony, and it has an unlimited time to rule. But once it does, any sentence must be carried out within 30 days.

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Saturday, November 04, 2006

U.S. Seeks Silence on CIA Prisons

From the Washington Post:

The Bush administration has told a federal judge that terrorism suspects held in secret CIA prisons should not be allowed to reveal details of the "alternative interrogation methods" that their captors used to get them to talk.

The government says in new court filings that those interrogation methods are now among the nation's most sensitive national security secrets and that their release -- even to the detainees' own attorneys -- "could reasonably be expected to cause extremely grave damage." Terrorists could use the information to train in counter-interrogation techniques and foil government efforts to elicit information about their methods and plots, according to government documents submitted to U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton on Oct. 26.

The battle over legal rights for terrorism suspects detained for years in CIA prisons centers on Majid Khan, a 26-year-old former Catonsville resident who was one of 14 high-value detainees transferred in September from the "black" sites to the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. A lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents many detainees at Guantanamo, is seeking emergency access to him.

The government, in trying to block lawyers' access to the 14 detainees, effectively asserts that the detainees' experiences are a secret that should never be shared with the public.

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Thursday, November 02, 2006

Seafood Population Depleted by 2048, Study Finds

From the Washington Post:

The world will run out of seafood by 2048 if steep declines in marine species continue at current rates, according to a study released today by an international group of ecologists and economists.

The paper, published in the journal Science, concludes that overfishing, pollution, and other environmental factors are wiping out important species across the globe, hampering the ocean's ability to produce seafood, filter nutrients and resist the spread of disease.

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