Newscast for Tuesday, March 19, 2013

  • On Iraq War anniversary, US veterans and Iraqis describe ongoing trauma and call for human rights hearing
  • Hunger strike at Guantanamo prison spreads, drawing attention to stalled military justice system
  • Ahead of Obama’s visit to Mideast, West Bank residents express hope and criticism
  • Federal trial in New York centers on police department’s stop and frisk program

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Man facing foreclosure among five arrested at US House hearing on Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac

More than a dozen housing rights activists were escorted out of a US House Financial Services Committee hearing today; five were arrested. Ramon Suero, a homeowner facing foreclosure, interrupted the acting director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency OR FHFA as he addressed the committee. Suero said interim FHFA leader Edward DeMarco is responsible for kicking his family out of their home. DeMarco has refused to put in place a principal reduction program that would reset government-backed mortgages to fair market value. Today’s action was organized by the New Bottom Line and Right to the City. The groups are calling for the President to name a permanent leader of the FHFA, fund the National Housing Trust Fund and implement a principal reduction program.

Both Syrian forces and rebel fighters claim others used chemical weapons; dozens dead

Medics in Syria tell al Jazeera today they are treating patients with severe respiratory symptoms, as many as 25 have died; 100 others are injured. Both pro- and anti-government forces say the other deployed chemical weapons in an attack in Khan al-Assal village in Aleppo province. But chemical warfare experts say they see no evidence to support the claims. A coalition of forces seeking to oust President Bashar al Assad elected a Prime Minister today. Ghassan Hitto, a technology executive who lived for decade in the US, will lead the interim opposition government based in rebel-held areas of Syria. Government forces carried out an air raid on northern Lebanon yesterday in what the US State Department called a serious escalation.

Voters in Zimbabwe approve new constitution; prominent human rights lawyer still in jail

Election officials in Zimbabwe announced the official results of the weekend ‘s vote on a new constitution. Misheck Rusere has more.

The proposed draft passed overwhelmingly, with only five percent of over three million voters saying no. The landslide approval comes amid a concerted effort by the state to repress civil society groups who sought to educate voters and the arrests in recent days of high level opposition leaders and a prominent human rights lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa. Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai said today that the ongoing detention of political and human rights activists is an assertion of power by forces aligned with President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF party, which include the police.

“Arrests, attack on civil society. This is a reaction of people who are communicating with their constituency, that in spite of the progress the people are making, even the question of the fact that the people have consented to this constitution, we are still in charge.”

The draft holds the bill of rights as the sacrosanct section of the constitution which, unlike the previous constitution, cannot be amended. Critics say the new version still affords too much executive power to the President. Zimbabwe’s next presidential elections are scheduled for next July. Misheck Rusere, FSRN, Harare, Zimbabwe.

Indigenous elder in Quebec on months-long hunger strike against resource development

In Canada, an indigenous elder is continuing to put pressure on the Canadian and Quebec governments through a hunger strike against resource development in northern Quebec. FSRN’s Aaron Lakoff has details from Montreal.

Jeanette Pilot, an Innu aboriginal grandmother from the reserve of Uashat in northern Quebec, stopped eating solid food on January 1st, and for the last 7 days, she has also refused all  liquids including water. Pilot’s fast began in solidarity with the Idle No More movement for Indigenous rights in Canada. She continues to protest mining, forestry, and hydro-electric dams on her people’s territory. Further, she’s demanding an autonomous traditional government for the Innu people, who currently have no treaty with the federal or provincial governments. Last night in Montreal, around 75 people attended a protest march in her support. After marching for nearly half an hour, Montreal police declared the demonstration illegal and dispersed the crowd. No one was arrested. Mathieu Morin-Robertson is an Innu man who took part in the demonstration.

“This woman is giving her life to defend a cause that is just, that is legitimate. So it’s important that everywhere in Quebec, not just in Montreal, that people take responsibility for this horrible thing that has happened – colonization.”

Pilot has said that she is willing to fast until death. Aaron Lakoff, FSRN, Montreal.

Congolese warlord still in US embassy in Kigali; awaiting transfer to the Hague

A Congolese warlord indicted by the  International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity is still in the US Embassy in Kigali, Rwanda today. US State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said yesterday that the US wants to honor his request to transfer him to the court at the Hague, and will work with the ICC. The UN’s Dianne Penn has more.

Congolese rebel Bosco Ntaganda surrendered to the U.S. embassy in the Rwandan capital, Kigali on Monday. He is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Ituri in eastern DR Congo between 2001 and 2003. General Ntaganda, who is one of the leaders of the M23 rebellion in eastern DR Congo, is also accused of using children in armed conflict as well as acts of murder, rape and sexual slavery. Carlos Araujo is spokesperson for MONUSCO.

“MONUSCO hopes General Bosco Ntaganda will be transferred to The Hague as soon as possible. General Bosco is accused by the International Criminal Court of serious war crimes and crimes against humanity. MONUSCO supports all current efforts to bring him to justice. MONUSCO hopes his transfer to The Hague will mark the end of impunity that he enjoyed during many years.”

MONUSCO says the surrender of Bosco Ntaganda and his early transfer to the ICC will send a strong signal to other human rights offenders that they are not beyond justice. Dianne Penn, United Nations.



On Iraq War anniversary, US veterans and Iraqis describe ongoing trauma and call for human rights hearing

Today in Baghdad, a series of car bombs, roadside bombs, and shootings killed more than 50 people, the second major day of attacks in less than a week. Blasts tore through a public market and near the US military’s Green Zone.  The violence hit on the eve of the 10-year anniversary of the war in Iraq. On March 19, 2003, US President George W. Bush delivered an address to the nation at 10:15 pm Eastern announcing a military attack on Iraq and pledging “every effort to spare innocent civilians from harm.” Airstrikes were followed by a ground invasion and the US occupation of the country. A decade later tens of thousands of people are dead, and many more injured and displaced in a war that cost trillions of taxpayer dollars.

The violence and suffering has continued long after President Bush declared “Mission Accomplished” in 2003 and long after President Obama officially pulled out all US troops in 2011. Both veterans of the war and Iraqis continue to struggle with physical and mental injuries as they also work to hold the US government accountable for war crimes. Some of these survivors  gathered in front of the White House today to demand full health care, reparations for loss of life and environmental damage in Iraq, and a full hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. In Washington, D.C., FSRN’s Alice Ollstein has more.

Hunger strike at Guantanamo prison spreads, drawing attention to stalled military justice system

The US military has acknowledged that a hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay is spreading among prisoners, making it one of the most extensive protests at the facility in recent years. On Monday, a Navy spokesperson said the strike now involves at least 21 men, though attorneys who have visited the facility in recent weeks say that number is much higher and that most of the men in Camp 6, which holds the largest number of detainees, are participating in the strike. Lawyers say the protest began in early February, when camp officials began confiscating personal items, such as family letters, photos and correspondence with lawyers and began searching Korans, “seemingly without provocation.”

Some 50 attorneys have signed a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, warning him that the hunger strike is  “urgent and grave” and that it could damage detainees’ health in “alarming and potentially irreparable ways.” Of the 166 detainees at Guantanamo, 86 have been cleared for release, yet still remain at the prison. For more we’re joined by Brian Foster, he’s an attorney at Covington & Burling and is on a legal team that currently represents 12 Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

Ahead of Obama’s visit to Mideast, West Bank residents express hope and criticism

President Barack Obama begins a three-day visit to Israel and Palestine tomorrow. His agenda includes seeing the Israeli military’s iron dome missile system, the church of the nativity and the 2,000-year-old Dead Sea scrolls. He’ll be meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and giving a televised speech to university students. He’s also scheduled to visit the West Bank and meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad. Palestinians are looking at the trip with mixed feelings. The Palestinian leadership downplayed the possible outcomes of this visit while residents and NGOs are demanding more American pressure on Israel to change its policies. FSRN’s Ghassan Bannoura has more.

Federal trial in New York centers on police department’s stop and frisk program

In New York City, a trial began this week challenging alleged abuses in the New York Police Department’s practice of stopping and often frisking people on the streets. More than five million stop-and-frisks have taken place during the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union, many of them targeting young people of color. The class action lawsuit seeks to permanently bar a majority of these stops that lawyers say lack reasonable cause and are discriminatory. FSRN’s Jaisal Noor brings us more from New York.

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