The student-led movement to end mass atrocities.

U.S. Interrogations in Yemeni Prisons

Content warning: the following piece contains graphic descriptions of torture

On February 13, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a War Powers Resolution that would require the U.S. to end military support to the Saudi-led war in Yemen. This is a historic step towards ending the crisis in Yemen, but in the short term, it will have little effect on mitigating the suffering of Yemeni prisoners.

Recent articles have reported on an “American presence” in Yemeni prisons, showing evidence of Americans playing an active role in leading interrogations. The Daily Beast describes one detainee, Salvatore, who admits that he was a member of Al-Qaeda 20 years ago. In the prison, Salvatore and other detainees were blindfolded during interrogations.

During the interrogations, Salvatore was questioned by two people, one who he describes as having an American accent and giving commands and the other, presumably an Emirati, who asked the questions. Salvatore recalls that John, the presumed American, would whisper something and the Emirati would then question him. Another detainee interviewed by The Daily Beast gave similar accounts—both describe seeing Americans in military uniforms with American flag insignia.

Both detainees also recall the brutal methods of torture, either following interrogations or on their own. Al-Hasani recalls being electrocuted under his armpits and genitals and intense beatings. Both also recalled that other prisoners were sexually assaulted with an object known as the “Opener.” Salvatore, while not subject to this specific method of torture, was threatened with rape after being stripped naked. In addition, a dog, nicknamed Shakira was also used for intimidation. Shakira was claimed to be the size of a donkey and al-Hasani claims that she had torn off the chest and stomach skin of another prisoner.

The Associated Press has also reported on an American presence at a secret prison at the Riyan airport. A former prisoner said that men in civilian clothes, who the Emirati claimed were Americans, would show up for interrogations. Emirati officials would ask questions and translate the answers to the Americans. Officials in the Yemen military also claimed that Americans were conducting interrogations at sea. The prisoners suffered similar methods of torture as Salvatore and al-Hasani: sexual assault and severe beatings.

The Pentagon released a report stating that military personnel has been in Yemen since May 2016 in order to interrogate members of Al-Qaeda, but deny the use of torture: “[The Department of Defense (DoD)]  has not developed any independent, credible information indicating that U.S. allies or partners have abused detainees in Yemen.” Meanwhile, Chief Pentagon Spokeswoman Dana White claims that DoD has “found no credible evidence to substantiate that the U.S. is participating in any abuse […] We would not turn a blind eye, because we are obligated to report any violations of human rights.”

Despite these protestations, the firsthand accounts should be investigated, and anyone found complicit in torture must face consequences. As Salvatore remarked upon his eventual release, “Why would they blindfold us? So that we wouldn’t say anything.”

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aishaAisha Saleem is a member of the STAND Communications Task Force. She is a first year at Barnard College in New York and is passionate about human rights and interested in urban studies.

The Pursuit of Truth in Burma

In December 2018, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) reported that there is compelling evidence that violence against the Rohingya crisis is genocidal in nature. The report condemns the mass atrocities that the Rohingya population has suffered at the hands of the Burmese military – including crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.

In September 2018, two Reuters journalists were sentenced for 7 years in prison for investigating the Rohingya genocide. The journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe, were detained and arrested for violating Burma’s Official Security Act on December 12, 2017.

Prior to his arrest, Lone had spent weeks investigating Battalion 8, a military unit in the northern Rakhine state. His investigation led him to acquire photographs of a group of Rohingya Muslims before and after they were killed. In the background of some of these pictures were members of Battalion 8. Lone’s Reuters article outlined the murder of the ten individuals, uncovering startling practices within the  Burmese government, and ultimately leading to the journalists’ arrests.

Since then, Reuters has published several articles tracking the legal journey of these journalists and advocating for their release. A Reuters Investigation into their arrest found that Wa Lone was deceived by a phone call from Naing Lin, a corporal in Myanmar’s 8th Battalion. The officer urged Lone to meet him on the outskirts of Yangon. Lone questioned why the police would want to meet him at night, but after discussion with other reporters decided to go.

Lone took another reporter, Kyaw Soe, and met the officer in a beer garden. The officer told the reporters about being under attack by Rohingya insurgents. At the end of the conversation, the colonel handed Lone a copy of the newspaper containing documents inside. As the reporters left the restaurant, they were surrounded by men in civilian clothes and arrested.

In September 2018, both men were found guilty in a trial and sentenced to prison for seven years. The United Nations, Canada, Australia, and United Kingdom have condemned the verdict. British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has publicly claimed that the two journalists are innocent, recording a series of videos on Twitter to demonstrate his commitment to bringing justice to both the Rohingya and the journalists. Time Magazine has named Lone and Soe as Persons of the Year for documenting the deaths of the ten Rohingya. Ben Goldberger, Time Magazine’s assistant managing editor, said that he hoped it was “a reminder of the importance of defending free expression and the pursuit of truth and facts.”

In the first week of January, the journalists appealed their imprisonment but were rejected by the Yangon High Court, crushing their remaining hopes. Lone’s wife, Pan Ei Mon, who had given birth to a baby girl since her husband’s imprisonment, was saddened by the results. She stated, “Since I became pregnant, I stayed strong on the hope that Wa Lone would be released. After yesterday’s verdict, if feels like my hopes have been destroyed.”

Next steps that the journalists can take include advocating for a presidential pardon or an appeal to Burma’s Supreme Court. The current president of Burma could be difficult to win over, however, as a loyalist to Aung San Suu Kyi. Since the beginning of the Rohingya genocide, her reputation as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate has been tarnished due to her continued disregard for the plight of ethnic minorities in Burma. Notably, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum revoked their prestigious Elie Wiesel Award from her in March 2018 because of her inaction on the Rohingya crisis, and some reports label her an authoritarian due to the arrest of 135 journalists since her election. She has denied that Lone and Soe were jailed because they were journalists. Because of these recent actions, UN investigators claim that she has failed to use her “moral authority” for the better.

The arrest of the journalists shows that in an age of politics where the pursuit of the truth is endangering, we must support those upholding the values of truth and justice. You can stay up to date on the journalists’ legal case here.

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aishaAisha Saleem is a member of the STAND Communications Task Force. She is a first year at Barnard College in New York, and is undecided about her major. She is passionate about human rights and interested in urban studies.

Protect South Sudan’s Future

The children in the world’s youngest country are suffering. South Sudan has been embroiled in a civil war for almost 5 years now. The rivalry between the armed forces and opposition groups has led to the widespread displacement of about 2 million people and has forced around 2.5 million to move to neighboring countries. Recent reports estimate that the death toll is around 380,000. South Sudanese children have faced the worst of the war’s consequences— from malnourishment and lack of education, to abduction and forced military action. The physical and emotional pain that the children must bear leads many to question the potential for progress in the country.

Child Soldiers:
The armed South Sudanese forces and opposition groups are both guilty of abducting and forcing child soldiers into war. Both have been reported to take children, mostly teenage boys, from their parents and detain them in overcrowded rooms. The children are given no proper nourishment but are still forced to be trained as soldiers. In the midst of their training, they are forced to commit heinous crimes like gang rape, infanticide, and arson, an escaped soldier told Human Rights Watch.

The trauma that these child soldiers are forced to undergo at such a young age prevents them from having a childhood. For the soldiers who do escape and come back to society, very few find their real families and homes. Many depend on shelters to provide food and education. An escaped 17-year-old child soldier who was interviewed by the Human Rights Watch is now starting primary schools. He states, “If I learn, I will be independent and able to do things on my own. Maybe I can become a leader”.

Rape and Child Marriage:
It has been reported that the Sudanese army, Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), has committed about 80% of the document 987 child murders as of June 2018. The child soldiers of SPLA were also involved in 90% of the gang rapes of the reported 658 women. These statistics demonstrate that violence against women and children has been used as a weapon of war in order to prove the SPLA’s dominance over an entire society.

Additionally, child marriage continues to be a common occurrence in South Sudan in the midst of the war. Recently, men have begun to use social media to sell their brides. In a recent Facebook post, a picture of a 17-year-old girl was shared with her father claiming that she would be sold to the man with the highest dowry. The winner was a wealthy businessman who gave the child’s father “over 500 cows, three luxury cars and $10,000 dowry.” The child was reported as the “most expensive woman in South Sudan.” Facebook eventually had the post removed but not until it was too late. This was one of the first recorded instances of online auctions and points to a dangerous future.

Education and Disease:
In the midst of these issues, all children suffer from malnutrition and disease. Since the beginning of violence, children faced the highest rate of food insecurity, which is expected to deteriorate furthermore. The lack of food inhibits the growth of these young children and affects their development. Additionally, many children are out of school, making them more vulnerable to violence and capture. The stunted growth and lack of education they receive questions the possibility for success of South Sudan’s future. If the children are unable to eat or attend school, what will South Sudan’s future look like?

The combination of issues that the youth suffer in South Sudan makes them one of the most suffered groups of people in the civil war. Especially when considered collectively, these issues render the children of South Sudan one of the world’s most vulnerable populations. These children do not get to experience a childhood and likely will not be able to prepare for the future of South Sudan.

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aishaAisha Saleem is a member of the STAND Communications Task Force. She is a first year at Barnard College in New York, and is undecided about her major. She is passionate about human rights and interested in urban studies.

Redefining the Path of Women in Ethiopia

After the resignation of Mulato Teshome, the Ethiopian parliament unanimously elected its first female president, Sahle-Work Zewde on October 25, 2018. Although most of the executive power lies within the role of the prime minister, her election holds social significance. It represents Ethiopia’s path to redefining the role of women in its patriarchal society.

Zewde was born in the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa and attended University of Montpellier in France. She started her diplomatic career by serving as an ambassador to Senegal, Dijbouti and France. She was also a permanent representative of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Before being elected, Zewde was working for United Nations. She was appointed as the Head of the United Nations Office to the African Union (UNOAU) by the UN Secretary General in June 2018. Here, she was also the first women to be appointed this position. During her appointment she was credited for “strengthening partnerships between the United Nations and African Union” (quoted from the UN Secretary General). On October 19, just days before her appointment as president, she celebrated the 18 year anniversary of resolution 1325. This was a “women, peace and security agenda” formed by the African Union to establish efforts to allow female voices be heard.

It is clear that Zewde will bring her interest and experience with female empowerment to Ethiopia. Even in her acceptance speech she even said, “If you thought I spoke a lot about women already, know that I am just getting started.” Her statement reflects a historically patriarchal society where women are constrained to their domestic sphere. It has been previously noted about women’s inability to participate in athletics, because they were challenged by social and religious norms. For this reason, it is controversial that Ethiopia has recently elected fourth president of the nation as its first female president. In addition to Zewde’s election, about half of the prime minister’s cabinet is women. Sehin Teferra, co-founder of the Setaweet movement, mentions that this “critical mass” will change Ethiopia’s future. She recalls that “appointing one or two women would not have made the change”.

Zewde plans to use her new appointment to raise issues to female empowerment for the next 6 years. Sehin also states that despite having as much power as Ahmed, Zewde’s diplomatic power will allow her to ultimately change power given to Ethiopian women.

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aishaAisha Saleem is a member of the STAND Communications Task Force. She is a first year at Barnard College in New York, and is undecided about her major. She is passionate about human rights and interested in urban studies.

 

Where is Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed?

The election of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed created hope for Ethiopia’s future. Even though it has been less than a year since his appointment, he has already instituted multiple changes and proposed  more in the near future.

Despite the hope engendered around the rise of Ahmed, his authority was questioned when ethnic violence rose in Western Ethiopia. Although ethnic violence has been consistently common and its mitigation central to Ahmed’s campaign, recent conflicts are becoming  much more violent than before. The most recent conflict occurred on the border of Oromia and Benishangul-Gumuz region, an area of contention for two of the nine ethnic divisions in Ethiopia. The violence reportedly began after officials from Gumuz were killed while visiting Oromia. The unrest was primarily instigated by youth gangsters wielding firearms and knives who set around 1,560 houses on fire and killed at least 44 Ethiopians. These attacks have displaced up to 90,000 Ethiopians, all who fled to save their life. In leaving their homes and belongings behind, most of these Ethiopians have had to rely on other agencies for support. The Director of National Disaster Risk Management, for example, has so far provided food and assistance to the displaced families residing in the Western zone of Oromia. The commision also reportedly called on the federal government to send troops before violence escalated but received no response.

On the other side of Oromia border, clashes continue between the Somalis and Oromos . These two areas are the largest regions in Ethiopia, sharing a border of about 1,400 km. Moyale which is adjacent to the Ethiopia-Kenya border, has witnessed some of the worst violence in the past three to four months. Moyale, although one region, is separated by the Oromia on the west and Somalis on the east. In July, tensions elevated when Oromo’s brought weapons into Somalia and razed villages to the ground. Adan Kulow, a humanitarian expert, notes that the instigation of this violence was little more than an effort to reclaim land. Many people died from the fire and many others fled. Those who have fled are reportedly still displaced, making Ethiopia a country with one of the highest rates of internally displaced peoples  in the world. One Somali victim of the attack, Mohammed Abid remembers the Oromos “laughing and taunting us in the Oromo language.” Abid claimed to see men being shot in the face in front of their wives and wonders where the prime minister was during all of this.

In response to these clashes, protests occurred on the streets of Ethiopia’s capital earlier this month. During this time, the Ethiopian government allegedly shut down the internet service for 40 hours. It was the second time the internet was shut down, both reportedly occasions of political unrest. Although Ethiopia does have a low Internet percent usage, the restriction of the internet primarily affected the journalists who needed to use it to communicate and publish their work. An Ethiopian blogger, Atnafu Berhane, reported that this shutdown aimed to control the spread of political developments within Ethiopia. However, Abiy’s has pushed against such restrictions.

As Abiya is promising change for the future, he should be doing more to address the violence instigated by the Oromos. It is clear that ethnic violence has reached an extreme with the introduction of armed groups. Instead of merely downplaying the violence and blaming unrest  on guerrilla groups, the government should address the needs of the people. Witnessing the rise of vigilantes, we’re left asking: where is Abiy Ahmed and why isn’t he keeping his promises?

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aishaAisha Saleem is a member of the STAND Communications Task Force. She is a first year at Barnard College in New York, and is undecided about her major. She is passionate about human rights and interested in urban studies.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Paves the Future for Ethiopia

The ethnic divisions within Ethiopia have physically separated Ethiopians for the past century, making it difficult for the government to rule over the nation. Most of the 80 diverse ethnic groups speak different languages and have varying customs, making it even more troublesome for leaders to communicate with their  people. However, there are new hopes set for the future of Ethiopians as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed attempts to enforce several liberal policies to nationalize all Ethiopians.

Ahmed’s upbringing— his own father a Muslim Oromo and his mother Christian—  shaped his identity and understanding of the differences and conflicts between ethnic and religious groups in Ethiopia. This, coupled with his education, has allowed him to create a modern and liberal political agenda that creates a promising future for Ethiopians. Although it has only been a few months into his term, Ethiopians around the world are calling it  ‘historic’.

One of Ahmed’s most recent controversial and clever tactics included a three-city tour in America in which he talked to thousands of Ethiopians about a unified identity. His knowledge of English in addition to Oromo, Amharic, and Tigrinya allowed him to directly speak to the Ethiopians. He urged the importance of identifying as an Ethiopian, stating that “if you want to be the pride of your generation, then you must decide that Oromos, Amharas, Wolaytas, Gurages, and Sites are all equally Ethiopian.” This is a direct reinforcement of his famous campaign slogan “Break the Wall, Build the Bridge”, which is a reference to his agenda in nationalizing the people of his country. The Minnesotan crowd, mostly with Oromo Ethiopians, cheered, even sporting apparel representing Ahmed’s slogans and their Ethiopian pride. Minnesotan Ethiopians expressed a sense of relief and joy that Ahmed came directly to America to speak with them.

Another agenda item was to discuss the reforms regarding violence in Ethiopia. The recent violent outbreaks between two Ethiopian ethnic groups, Ormo and Somali, led to thousands of displaced families and injured people. This was labeled as a ‘humanitarian crisis’ by the Minnesota Council City Member, and Minnesotans urged change. Although Ahmed has not resolved the issue at hand, he has made an important step towards preventing future conflicts by discussing it. Additionally, he has closed the Makelawi detention center, which has been consistently described as a ‘torture chamber,’ and which is infamous for the detainment of the chairman of Oromon Federalist Congress Bekele Gerba. Many of its prisoners were transferred into the Addis Abbeia detention facility, and some were even released. This is a big step towards human rights reforms, which has consistently been pressured upon ever since its multitude of human rights violations.

In addition to visiting American cities and interacting with fellow Ethiopians, Ahmed also spoke with Vice President Mike Pence about issues concerning another East African country: South Sudan. South Sudan is known for its past history with Sudan and the current displacement of 4 million people due to its internal civil war. Ahmed expressed interest in South Sudan’s oil resources and considered the opportunities for economic prosperity for both countries. The Grand Renaissance Dam, expected to more than double Ethiopia’s current electricity production, is scheduled to be completed in a few years, however, Ethiopia still needs oil to power it. Ahmed proposed an economic agreement that he seeks to pursue in the future.
In pursuit of such an agreement, Ahmed has recently welcomed all South Sudanese with open arms, following the Kenyan police attack on South Sudan. As the Kenyan police tortured and displaced thousands of families, the South Sudanese looked towards Ahmed for comfort as he was recorded praising his East African identity and South Sudan itself, stating “we are brothers” and  “South Sudan is a great country, and you will need it in the future”. His praise of South Sudan came from his understanding of what civil war can do to a country. He also further introduced the idea of identity, claiming “we are members of the East African Community”. The sense of unity that Ahmed brings gives hope to the future of the Ethiopian and Sudanese relationship and their respective economies.

aishaAisha Saleem is a member of the STAND Communications Task Force. She is a first year at Barnard College in New York, and is undecided about her major. She is passionate about human rights and interested in urban studies