Stephen Goose, director of Human Rights Watch's Arms Division, was instrumental in bringing about the 2008 convention banning cluster munitions, the 1997 treaty banning antipersonnel mines, the 1995 protocol banning blinding lasers, and the 2003 protocol requiring clean-up of explosive remnants of war. He and Human Rights Watch co-founded the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), which received the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize. Goose created the ICBL’s Landmine Monitor initiative, the first time that non-governmental organizations around the world have worked together in a sustained and coordinated way to monitor compliance with an international disarmament or humanitarian law treaty. In 2013, he and Human Rights Watch co-founded the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. Before joining Human Rights Watch in 1993, Goose was a US congressional staffer and a researcher at the Center for Defense Information. He has a master's degree in International Relations from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a B.A. in History from Vanderbilt University.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A member of the Palestinian security forces takes part in a training session to find and remove landmines, organised by the Palestinian Ministry of Interior and the United Nations, in the West Bank city of Jericho June 25, 2012.

© 2012 Reuters

Palestine has become the 164th state to ban antipersonnel landmines, another sign of the growing global stigma against these abhorrent weapons.

Palestine acceded to the Mine Ban Treaty following the treaty’s annual meeting in Vienna in December. Palestine has expressed support the treaty for the past two decades.

Despite the fact Palestine doesn’t possess these weapons, the move to join the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty helps to further stigmatize landmines – especially today, when the use of these deadly weapons by non-state actors appears to be on the rise. The latest Landmine Monitor report by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines reported a significant increase in civilian casualties from landmines, particularly victim-activated improvised explosive devices in the Middle East and North Africa. The increase reversed a long, downward trend in new casualties from landmines.

The treaty came into force in March 1999 and provides the framework necessary to create a mine-free world. The treaty imposes a ban on antipersonnel mines, and requires destruction of stockpiles, clearance of mined areas, and assistance to victims of the weapons.

According to a voluntary report it provided in 2012, Palestine does not possess antipersonnel mines and has never produced these weapons. There have been no allegations of use of antipersonnel mines or mine-like devices by any Palestinian entity in recent years.

According to Landmine Monitor, there are at least 90 minefields in the West Bank: 13 were laid by the Jordanian military in 1948-1967 and the rest were laid by the Israeli military along the Jordan River after Israel occupied the West Bank following the 1967 war. Since 2014, the UK-based demining organization the HALO Trust has worked to clear West Bank minefields in cooperation with Palestinian and Israeli authorities.

Jordan joined the treaty two decades ago, while Israel and nine other states from the Middle East and North Africa have yet to do so: Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and the United Arab Emirates.

Israel rarely elaborates its position on the Mine Ban Treaty, but views antipersonnel mines as a legitimate means of defense. Yet it ceased production and imports of antipersonnel mines in the early 1980s and has observed a moratorium on all exports, sales, and transfers of these weapons since 1994. Since 2011, the Israeli government has been working to clear, “minefields not essential to Israel’s national security.”

If Israel and other non-signatories to the Mine Ban Treaty are serious about stopping non-state armed groups from using improvised landmines, these countries should lead by example and review their own policy and practice on landmines. Most critically, they should join the treaty, and become part of the solution rather than the problem.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Smoke billows behind a building in the Yemeni capital Sanaa on December 3, 2017, during clashes between Houthi rebels and supporters of Yemeni ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh. 

© 2017 Getty Images

(Beirut) – Lawless armed conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) morphed into disastrous trends for the region in 2017, Human Rights Watch said today in releasing its 2018 World Report.

“Failed leadership, failed governments, and failed policies have brought nothing but catastrophe for the youth and future generations of the Middle East caught up in the region’s wars,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The legacy of these wars will be recorded as the ‘shame of the century’ for the Middle East.”

In the 643-page World Report, its 28th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that political leaders willing to stand up for human rights principles showed that it is possible to limit authoritarian populist agendas. When combined with mobilized publics and effective multilateral actors, these leaders demonstrated that the rise of anti-rights governments is not inevitable.

The top five trends in the region’s wars included:

  1. Chemical and Other Banned Weapons as the New Normal: The Syrian government, backed by its Russian allies, has used banned chemical weapons, and in Yemen, the United States-supported Saudi-led coalition has used widely banned cluster munitions. Human Rights Watch documented dozens of instances in which the Syrian government used chemical weapons in Syria, including littering Aleppo with chlorine-filled barrel bombs. The Islamic State (also known as ISIS) also used chemical weapons in both Syria and Iraq. The Russian government effectively blocked the only body whose job it was to attribute responsibility and pave the way for sanctions against Syria for using chemical weapons by vetoing the Joint Investigative Mechanism’s Mandate at the United Nations Security Council. Human Rights Watch also documented the Saudi-led coalition’s repeated use of cluster munitions in Yemen – including those made in the US and Brazil. Houthi-Saleh forces made wide use of anti-personnel landmines, despite repeated promises not to use this weapon, which leaves behind unexploded bomblets that harm civilians for generations.

“While the world moves to end the scourge of chemical weapons, cluster munitions, and landmines, the Middle East has made these disgusting weapons the new normal in warfare,” Whitson said. “It’s repellent that arms manufacturers continue to profit off the sale of banned weapons.”

  1. Starving Children During War: Beyond bombing homes, schools, hospitals, and irreplaceable cultural architecture in the region, the Syrian government and Saudi-led coalition have each resorted to blocking aid and impeding critical supplies from reaching starving children. The Syrian government imposes sieges in various regions of Syria, including in so-called “de-escalation zones” such as Ghouta, severely restricting access to food and medical care for the civilian population. The Saudi-led coalition imposed a nation-wide blockade on all of Yemen’s ports and airspace, in a country where malnutrition, cholera, and diphtheria were already ravaging children and have now reached epidemic levels. The UN secretary-general placed the Saudi-led coalition on his annual “List of Shame” for violations against children, despite extraordinary threats and bullying by the Saudi government to be taken off the list.

“It is deeply disturbing that Arab governments are deliberately starving Arab children during wartime,” Whitson said. “The cruelty and barbarism on display in the Middle East should lead to a collective hanging of heads in shame in the region.”

  1. Unlawful Video Executions by Warlords, National Armies Alike: It’s not just ISIS that has promoted itself with gruesome acts of violence and savagery. Human Rights Watch documented Iraqi army soldiers and Khalifa Hiftar-aligned Libyan militias proudly recording depraved acts of torture and executions of detainees. The Egyptian army and police in Sinai staged “shoot-outs” to cover up such executions. Governments failed to investigate, condemn, or appropriately punish repeated unlawful acts by their forces, despite sometimes promising to do so. 

“It’s difficult to square the global outrage against ISIS horrors in the face of national armies and militias that mimic their tactics but receive military assistance from various foreign governments,” Whitson said.

  1. Ran Out of Men, Let’s Use Children: Houthi-Saleh forces resorted to recruiting children to help fight in Yemen. The UN secretary-general placed Houthi forces, as well as other parties in Yemen, on his annual “List of Shame” for their persistent recruitment of children. Human Rights Watch also documented the use of child soldiers in the Syrian conflict by multiple parties, including Kurdish armed groups and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Iran actually recruited Afghan immigrant children to fight in support of Syrian government forces.

“As if slaughtering and starving the region’s children is not bad enough, some are now despicably dragging children to fight and die on the battlefield,” Whitson said.

  1. Arabs Flee the Arab World En Masse: Many people in the Middle East voted with their feet, fleeing their countries in record numbers over the past five years. Millions of Syrians escaped Syria, while the hundreds of thousands who sought refuge in Europe faced a widespread backlash against refugees. Libyans, Iraqis, Yemenis, and Egyptians joined the ranks of millions of refugees and internally displaced in the Middle East who have lost their homes, livelihoods, and communities.

“Is there any greater evidence of just how inhospitable the Middle East has become than the reality of millions of its people fleeing, or trying to flee, disastrous wars – caused by disastrous leadership?” Whitson said.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

New evidence supports the conclusion that Syrian government forces have used nerve agents on at least four occasions in recent months: on April 4, 2017, in a chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun that killed at least 90 people, and on three other occasions in December 2016 and March 2017. 

When the UN Security Council meets this week to discuss chemical weapons use in Syria, its 15 members should send a strong message to the Syrian government that those responsible for dozens of chemical weapon attacks will be held accountable and may face future prosecution. It should do so first by imposing sanctions on people suspected of involvement in the illegal use of toxic agents, which have killed hundreds of Syrians and seriously injured many more.

By failing to hold those responsible for these appalling crimes accountable, the Security Council has effectively given perpetrators a green light to deploy sarin and other nerve agents, as well as mustard or chlorine gas against men, women and children.

Russia has used its Security Council veto 11 times to shield its allies in Damascus from condemnation, sanctions or referral to the International Criminal Court. Most recently, Russia vetoed renewing a joint investigation of the UN and Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), whose job it was to identify the culprits behind chemical attacks.

The UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) had accused both the Syrian government and Islamic State (also known as ISIS) of repeatedly using illegal chemical agents. In October, the JIM found the Syrian government responsible for the April 2017 sarin gas attack at Khan Sheikhoun that killed dozens, mostly women and children. This echoed Human Rights Watch’s findings.

Russia has in the past taken positive steps urging Syria to change. In 2013, Russia helped pressure Syria to accede to the Chemical Weapons Convention and begin dismantling its chemical weapons program, and Moscow played a key role in establishing the JIM in 2015. But this time around, Moscow has helped Syria’s government evade responsibility for Khan Sheikhoun, alleging that armed groups carried out the attack themselves but offering little evidence to support this claim.

The Russian government should change course, and support UN Security Council in holding those responsible for chemical attacks accountable. Even if it does not, UN members should continue to fund other UN investigative teams established to investigate crimes in Syria and ferret out those responsible for the chemical attacks.

If perpetrators know that evidence of their crimes is being gathered for future prosecution, that may make them think twice before launching another bomb filled with sarin.  

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Syrian government and Russian forces have escalated their airstrikes on Eastern Ghouta, a suburb approximately 15 kilometers from the center of Syria’s capital, Damascus, killing dozens of civilians in apparently unlawful attacks. Syrian forces have tightened their siege of the enclave, held by anti-government armed groups, severely restricting humanitarian aid in violation of the laws of war and preventing civilians from leaving the area.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Children in the rubble of damaged buildings in the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta, Syria. 

© Private

(Beirut) – Syrian government and Russian forces have escalated their airstrikes on Eastern Ghouta, a suburb approximately 15 kilometers from the center of Syria’s capital Damascus, killing dozens of civilians in apparently unlawful attacks, Human Rights Watch said today. Syrian forces have tightened their siege of the enclave, held by anti-government armed groups, severely restricting humanitarian aid in violation of the laws of war and preventing civilians from leaving the area.

The UN Security Council, which on December 19, 2017, renewed its mandate for cross-border delivery of humanitarian aid to millions of desperate Syrian civilians, should demand that the Syrian government immediately end unlawful restrictions on aid to Eastern Ghouta or face targeted sanctions against those responsible.

“The world is silently looking on as Russia and Syria tighten the noose around the suffering population of Eastern Ghouta with unlawful strikes, widely-banned weapons, and a devastating siege,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The Security Council should demand that Syria immediately end its tactics that are starving the population, preventing civilians from leaving, and denying humanitarian aid.”

Syrian government and Russian forces have escalated their airstrikes on Eastern Ghouta, a suburb approximately 15 kilometers from the center of Syria’s capital Damascus, killing dozens of civilians in apparently unlawful attacks.

Human Rights Watch in November and December spoke remotely with 12 residents, humanitarian workers, and doctors in Eastern Ghouta concerning alliance airstrikes and restrictions on humanitarian aid.

Syrian government forces have besieged Eastern Ghouta, which has a population of about 400,000, since 2013. In October 2017, the government restricted the use of the al-Wafideen crossing, the only entry point for commercial merchandise, depleting scarce food and medical supplies and causing prices to skyrocket.

From November 14 to November 30, the Russian-Syrian joint military operation conducted more than 400 airstrikes on Eastern Ghouta, according to the Syrian Civil Defense, a volunteer group that works in anti-government areas, and the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights. The Russian-Syrian alliance struck more than half the towns in the besieged enclave at least once during this period, according to local media monitors. Homes, a makeshift school, and a public market were among the civilian structures hit.

Human Rights Watch documented three aerial attacks in Eastern Ghouta since November 14 that were apparently indiscriminate, in violation of the laws of war. One incident involved the use of cluster munitions, widely banned weapons that are inherently indiscriminate. These three attacks caused the death of at least 23 civilians and wounded many others.

The threat to civilians from the intensified aerial campaign has been exacerbated by lack of access to medical care and essential foodstuffs, Human Rights Watch said. The air and ground attacks and siege have together resulted in the deaths of at least 190 civilians, including 51 children, between November 14 and 30, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights.

Anas al-Ta’an, a local resident, told Human Rights Watch: “We don’t know whether to hide in the basement from the strikes, or risk it to stand in line for two hours in the hopes of getting bread for our children. This is the choice we make, and the situation is beyond tragic.”

The laws of war do not prohibit sieges so long as the harm to the civilian population does not exceed the expected military gain, starvation is not used as a method of warfare, and humanitarian aid delivery is not hindered.

Syrian forces have severely restricted the entry of essential food and medicines and the exit of civilians from Eastern Ghouta in violation of the laws of war, Human Rights Watch said. Entry of humanitarian aid through UN convoys has been extremely limited, with the Syrian government only granting permission to the UN to enter a handful of times over the past year. While a besieging force may prevent the entry of weapons and food and other supplies destined for opposing armies, essential goods for civilians must be allowed.

A UN official told Human Rights Watch, “the government systematically rejects life-saving medicines and medical equipment.” The UN estimates that aid reached only a quarter of the besieged population in Eastern Ghouta in 2017.

The government has also unnecessarily hindered the evacuation of people with urgent medical needs, Human Rights Watch said. The UN said that close to 500 people require immediate medical evacuation and that at least 10 people have died since June while awaiting Syrian government permission to leave Eastern Ghouta for treatment elsewhere. UNICEF, the UN children’s agency, reported in December that 137 children, ages 7 months to 17 years, needed immediate medical evacuation.

The escalating airstrikes and tightening of the siege in November meant hospitals were over capacity, lacking necessary medical supplies, and doctors were overwhelmed. “There was a child, Osama Al-Tukhi, he was 5 years old and he died of a brain infection,” a representative of a medical facility in Eastern Ghouta told Human Rights Watch “We could have saved him. He only needed an antiviral shot that is easily attainable in any Damascus pharmacy, but not here.”

Infighting among anti-government armed factions and restrictions on freedom of movement within the enclave have contributed to worsening humanitarian conditions, Human Rights Watch said. Anti-government armed groups should allow unimpeded humanitarian access and movement of civilians away from areas of hostilities, Human Rights Watch said.

In December, local media reported that negotiations were ongoing between the Russian and Syrian governments and non-state armed groups operating in Eastern Ghouta for the evacuation of the armed group Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham, previously Jabhat al-Nusra, from the besieged enclave. Any agreement should be consistent with laws-of-war protections for both civilians who evacuate and those who remain behind, and should ensure delivery of humanitarian aid to populations in need, Human Rights Watch said.

“Russia will have a difficult time bringing Syrians together in Sochi if it is indiscriminately bombing civilians while allowing its ally, the Syrian government, to continue its increasingly deadly siege of Eastern Ghouta,” Fakih said. “At the very least, it should pressure the Syrian government to allow humanitarian aid and evacuate urgent medical cases.”

The Besieged Enclave
The besieged enclave of Eastern Ghouta, east of Damascus, is covered by a July de-escalation agreement between Russia, the Syrian government, and Syrian anti-government groups, that calls for a ceasefire and the delivery of humanitarian aid. Syrian state media reported that Syrian government military operations against the enclave were in response to an attack on November 14 by the anti-government armed groups Faylaq al-Rahman and Ahrar al-Sham on a strategic objective, the Vehicles Administration Center, near the town of Harasta. The Russian government stated that the alliance attacks in Eastern Ghouta since November 14 have been targeting Islamic State (also known as ISIS) forces.

Seven people in Eastern Ghouta told Human Rights Watch that Russian-Syrian alliance airstrikes were not limited to Harasta, where clashes were occurring, or areas where fighters were based, but extended to densely populated areas with no evident military objectives. In the three November airstrikes that Human Rights Watch documented, witness accounts and a review of video and photographs of the strikes gave no indication of any military objective in the vicinity.

Non-state armed groups in Eastern Ghouta have also shelled neighboring government-held areas using mortars, causing civilian casualties and damage to infrastructure, according to pro-government media sources. Attacks using indiscriminate weapons in populated areas violate the laws of war.

Ahmed Hamdan, a local working in media in Eastern Ghouta, said: “There is no way for us, regular people, to identify why we were hit or where we will be hit next. There is no place that we can say, ‘Oh, if I stay away from this area, I will be safe.’ Nowhere is safe.”

Three Unlawful Airstrikes
Human Rights Watch documented three apparently unlawful airstrikes in Hamouriyeh and Irbin in Eastern Ghouta in November and early December. While Human Rights Watch has not been able to determine whether the attacks were carried out by Russian or Syrian aircraft, only Russian and Syrian forces have been conducting airstrikes in the area. But responsibility for an unlawful airstrike does not rest solely with the aircraft or weapon used. All those taking part in the attack, including at the command level, may bear legal responsibility. The laws of war require all government forces involved in an apparently unlawful attack to carry out a credible and impartial investigation of the episode.

Hamouriyeh
Four local residents said that Russian-Syrian alliance aircraft have struck the town of Hamouriyeh, seven kilometers from Damascus, several times since November 14. Hamouriyeh is a densely populated, primarily residential town located near the center of the besieged enclave. It is under the control of the anti-government armed group Faylaq al-Rahman.

On November 19, between 5:30 and 6 p.m., Russian or Syrian aircraft struck Hamouriyeh with cluster munitions three times, according to three residents and online reports. The residents saw the aircraft as it circled above the town. One said that the strikes occurred on Hamouriyeh Square and near Hayjat Street, both residential areas. Available information indicates that the three strikes were with inherently indiscriminate cluster munitions.

A civilian photographer who accompanied a Syria Civil Defense ambulance to the site of the second attack, said that when the driver, Alaa al-Din Juha, stepped out of the car, he set off an unexploded submunition, killing him. Two videos appear to show the explosion of the submunition and Juha’s body next to the Syria Civil Defense ambulance.

Another civilian, Abdo Yassin, died the next day from injuries sustained in the attack, the witnesses said.

The three residents said they were unaware of any military forces in the area struck, which was far from the front lines. Hamouriyeh is three kilometers from the nearest front line.

On December 3, two airstrikes hit between noon and 1 p.m., according to four residents who heard the plane before the strikes. The first strike hit the road in a residential area between Hamouriyeh and Irbin, near a medical facility called the Balsam Center. Ahmad Hamdan, a local media activist who photographed the damage, said that a rocket lodged deep in the concrete of the road and exploded:

I saw six who were dead immediately. The rocket fell in the middle of the road, it created a big hole. The diameter was about 1.4 meters. It went into the concrete and the explosion was huge. There were no remnants; the explosion was significant. There was a steel [iron] door to one of the residential buildings, which was heavily dented.

The second airstrike, approximately half an hour later, contained three munitions, according to three residents. Nibras Hamuriyeh, who lives across the street from where the munitions struck, said that he saw three munitions hit his neighborhood from a plane while he was on the street heading home. He ran home, which was right across the street from one of the strikes, to find the doors and windows broken, and his wife and children crying – “but thankfully unharmed.”

Two other munitions struck the roofs of buildings, Hamuriyeh said. He said that the strike killed his uncle and two adult male cousins who lived in one of the buildings. The building also housed a makeshift school in the basement, which was being used because the regular neighborhood schools had been closed after earlier attacks, two residents said. The makeshift school was destroyed, but no students were harmed because school was out for the day. Hamuriyeh said several other residents also died in their homes from the strikes.

Residents who documented deaths from the December 3 strikes provided a list of 18 civilians killed, including six children.

Video footage from first responders arriving on the scene shows extensive damage to the neighborhood from the December 3 airstrikes.

Irbin
On November 23, at approximately 12:30 p.m., a Russian or Syrian aircraft carried out about eight strikes on the Eastern Ghouta town of Irbin, three residents said. Irbin is located near the edge of the enclave, less than a kilometer from the Vehicles Administration Center that anti-government armed groups attacked on November 14. The town is controlled by Faylaq Al-Rahman.

Four of the strikes hit a neighborhood in Irbin with a public market and residential buildings, approximately 100 meters apart, two residents said.

Ammar al-Bouchiri, a local resident who was at home when the first strike hit, said:

We heard a warplane… The munition hit the house that is immediately next door, that of our neighbors. The explosion was massive. I was at home and the sound was very loud. And I was thrown to the side.

He said he couldn’t feel anything for several seconds:

There was yelling, there was so much noise, and dust was all over the place. I couldn’t see anymore because of that. I couldn’t find my way out. The ceiling was down, doors were broken, and I couldn’t get out. I couldn’t see; the situation was horrifying.

The strikes killed three civilians: a shop-owner, and two children, and injured at least 20, according to media reports and witnesses.

“When I first got out, there was a dead man on the road facing our house, he was hit with a shrapnel piece,” al-Bouchiri said. “There were also two kids, one of them was still alive, we could still hear her voice.”

Restrictions on Essential Goods and Humanitarian Access
Syrian government forces and associated militias have besieged Eastern Ghouta since 2013. In April 2017, government forces retook the Barzeh and Qaboun neighborhoods of eastern Damascus, closing off smuggling tunnels between the neighborhoods and further restricting the movement of aid into and evacuation of people with urgent medical needs out of the enclave.

The government further tightened the siege on October 3 by severely restricting the use of al-Wafideen, the only commercial trade-crossing with the enclave. The closure of the tunnels and the crossing made prices of goods in Eastern Ghouta skyrocket.

An aid worker said that in November the one-month cost in Eastern Ghouta of a “survival minimum expenditure basket” (SMEB) – a unit used by humanitarian organizations to measure basic survival needs per household – was approximately US$700. A UN inter-agency assessment found that by mid-November, the price of a bundle of bread in Eastern Ghouta was 85 times the price in nearby Damascus; in August it was 24 times the Damascus price. Residents estimated that the average worker made only between US$50 and a US$100 a month and said that the majority were unemployed.

Firas Abdullah, a media activist in the Eastern Ghouta city of Douma, described impact of the siege:

The siege is killing us. A man must work two jobs to scrape together enough money to put one meal for his children a day, if that. It’s almost as bad as it was in 2013-14. Then, we got to a point where we used to take the feed that we saved for the chicken – very harsh, inedible stuff – and eat it.

The government allows only one well-known merchant to use the al-Wafideen crossing to bring merchandise in, residents and aid workers said. They said that in November the merchant was required to pay a tax of approximately 2000 Syrian pounds (US$4) for each kilogram of material brought in, making goods even more expensive.

“Imagine the path to let aid in is clear, they [the Syrian government] can do it,” the doctor from Irbin said. “They just don’t want to. Instead, we must pay exorbitant prices, that go to the regime to fund the very militias that are besieging us.”

Another doctor said: “A lot of children are dying from malnutrition. And this is a shame to the entire international community, to all those who are watching.”

The Syrian government has restricted the number of UN aid convoys to the area and the amount and types of goods that can be delivered. Humanitarian workers said that the convoys that entered since September did not contain aid that was sufficient for the population they were intended for and often did not meet their needs. Even when permission is granted, administrative and security issues often result in excessive delays, a UN official based in Damascus said.

Since the tightening of the siege, there have been many reports of harm to civilians from a lack of adequate food or medicine. The Syrian Network for Human Rights said that at least five civilians died as a direct result of lack of food or medicine between November 14 and 28. On November 2, local media reported that a one year-old girl named Maram, who had been born with one kidney, needed medicine that was unavailable and surgery that could not be performed within the enclave.

Siege Watch reported that on November 13, a child named Walid with a heart condition had died after Syrian authorities had refused requests for a medical evacuation. A hospital director said on November 30 that medications were running low, and that patients needed procedures and treatments that were unavailable: “a little girl died from a cardiac issue, to diagnose her we needed an echocardiogram, which we didn’t have for children.”

The doctors said that the lack of medicine and adequate medical care has made people desperate. On December 15, the Damascus and Rural Damascus Directorate of Health, which is responsible for medical services in Ghouta, sent a letter to the World Health Organization describing the strain that the systematic denial of medicine and medical supplies has placed on the overwhelmed medical system of Eastern Ghouta.

The doctor from Irbin described trying to evacuate a girl, Sara, who had a malignant tumor in her eye, a genetic condition that had killed two of her siblings:

We left no stone unturned trying to get her out, to treat her but to no avail. No one would let her out, or help us. She died. Her parents gave birth to another girl, around a month or two ago, initial tests indicate that she has the same sickness. Her father, this time, when I wanted to discuss treatment with him refused outright. He said he doesn't want to discuss treatment anymore, he doesn't want to treat her anymore – there is no point. We’ll wait to die together, he told me.

The doctor described the pressures on the medical system:

On the 18 or 19 [of November], there was an airstrike and a relative of mine was injured. A young guy, 33 years old with children, whose hands had to be amputated. I was the one to treat him, but I didn't realize it was my relative. I didn’t realize until I got home, and my wife told me a relative of mine had to have his hand amputated. I asked her, was it the one with the two hands amputated? She said yes. I treated him but I was so overwhelmed with the number of patients, I didn’t even recognize him. This is our lives now.

International Humanitarian Law
International humanitarian law, or the laws of war, which apply to the armed conflict in Syria, prohibit attacks that target civilians or civilian property, that do not or cannot discriminate between civilians and combatants, or that cause harm to civilians or civilian property that is disproportionate to any anticipated military gain. All parties to the conflict have an obligation to take all feasible precautions to spare civilians from harm, and not to deploy forces in densely populated areas.

The laws of war do not prohibit siege warfare so long as the purpose is to achieve a military objective and not to starve or cause disproportionate harm to the civilian population. Civilians may not be forcibly displaced unless their security depends on their evacuation.

A party that imposes a siege that has the effect of starving the civilian population has an obligation to provide access for humanitarian aid for civilians in need and not arbitrarily interfere with it. Parties must also ensure the freedom of movement of humanitarian workers, which can only be restricted temporarily for reasons of imperative military necessity.

Individuals who commit serious violations of the laws of war with criminal intent – that is, intentionally or recklessly – may be prosecuted for war crimes. Individuals may also be held criminally liable for assisting in, facilitating, aiding, or abetting a war crime.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Thank you for the floor, Mr. President.

We thank the Committee on Cooperative Compliance for its diligent and important work, and also thank it for the opportunity for the ICBL and its members to contribute to the process.

There is no question that the overall record of compliance with the Mine Ban Treaty is admirable. But it is by no means perfect, and States Parties can do better.

The most serious compliance concern of course is the possible use of antipersonnel mines by a State Party. There has been one confirmed instance of this in the past 20 years, by Yemen in 2011-2012. We have just heard from the Committee about its actions with respect to Yemen, as well as to allegations of use by three other States Parties: South Sudan, Sudan, and Ukraine.

It is worth noting that there have been no new allegations of use by States Parties in the past three years. The allegations about government use in these countries are now all three to five years old. The Compliance Committee has noted that in all of these cases, the States Parties have mined areas under their jurisdiction, but outside of their control, and that the cases will have to remain open until those states conclude appropriate investigations into those areas.

As more time passes, the potential effectiveness of any investigation decreases greatly. 

We appreciate the updates just provided by Sudan and South Sudan. These updates were not included in the report of the Compliance Committee to this Meeting of States Parties, and we look forward to seeing the updates in writing, to studying them, and to having the Compliance Committee assess them.

In June 2017, Sudan reported that it had conducted an investigation in one area where there was alleged use by government forces, and concluded that no use had occurred. Sudan said it was not able to investigate in three other areas with alleged use. Today, Sudan indicated that at least one more area has been investigated, without finding any evidence of mine use by government forces. But at least one more area still needs to be investigated.

South Sudan today stated that it carried out an investigation in November 2017, and found no evidence of use of antipersonnel mines. It is unclear if further investigations into other areas still need to be conducted.

Full transparency with respect to these investigations and their findings is crucial.

While being the most serious, use allegations are by no means the only compliance issues of concern.

On Article 4, the long-missed stockpile destruction deadlines for Greece and Ukraine remain unmet. We will elaborate on this in our statement on stockpile destruction later. We enthusiastically congratulate Belarus for having completed its destruction program.

On Article 3, we fail to understand why States Parties are not speaking out and asking questions of the many States Parties that are keeping mines under the Article 3 exception without ever using them for any of the permitted purposes. These are in essence stockpiled mines, not mines retained for training or development. We will come back to this in our stockpile destruction statement.

On Article 5, there are far too many mine clearance extension requests, and too little respect for the “as soon as possible” requirement and the ten-year deadline. Of deep concern, as noted by many States Parties, Ukraine has been in violation of the treaty since 1 June 2016 for missing its clearance deadline without having requested an extension in time. We continue to hope Ukraine will move to remedy this situation as soon as possible, as it is clearly in its own best interests to do so. Extension requests are required, and submission of a request is not a matter for negotiation or for pre-conditions. Given the very difficult conflict situation it is enduring, it is hard to understand why Ukraine is needlessly bringing harsh criticism upon itself for its failure to abide by the treaty’s legal requirements.

On Article 7, the compliance rate for transparency reporting continues to be embarrassingly low (less than 50% for 2016), indicating widespread disregard for this legal obligation.

In closing, it is vital to promote compliance with the norm being established by the Mine Ban Treaty: that there should not be any use of antipersonnel mines by any actor under any circumstance.

According to Landmine Monitor, in the past year, two governments continued using antipersonnel mines: Syria and Myanmar. In both cases, the number of mines used appeared limited.

However, non-state armed groups have continued using antipersonnel mines (mostly improvised antipersonnel mines, also called victim-activated improvised explosive devices, which are prohibited by the Mine Ban Treaty) in at least nine countries, with extensive use in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, and limited use in India, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, Ukraine, and Yemen.

As an aside, the issue of improvised antipersonnel mines can also be a compliance issue. States Parties need to treat these as they do other antipersonnel mines, to report them in transparency reports as contaminated areas, and to report on clearance in accordance with treaty mandated deadlines.

States Parties should condemn any new use by non-state armed groups as well as government forces, and States Parties should seek out new ways to stigmatize and stop the use of improvised antipersonnel mines.

Thank you.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

The Broken Chair, a statue in support of the bans on landmines and cluster munitions, stands outside the United Nations in Geneva.

© 2017 Mary Wareham/Human Rights Watch
(New York) – Sri Lanka joined the international treaty banning antipersonnel landmines on December 13, 2017, Human Rights Watch said today. The action is especially significant because Sri Lanka used antipersonnel mines in the past and has since undertaken an extensive, ongoing mine clearance effort.

“Sri Lanka’s accession should spur other nations that haven’t joined the landmine treaty to take another look at why they want to be associated with such an obsolete, abhorrent weapon,” said Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch and chair of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines – the group effort behind the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. “This should spur other countries that haven’t joined the treaty to review their position and address any obstacles to joining it.”

Sri Lanka deposited its instrument of accession to the treaty with the United Nations in New York, becoming the 163rd country to join. The Mine Ban Treaty comprehensively bans antipersonnel landmines, and requires destruction of stockpiles, clearance of mined areas, and assistance to victims of the weapons.

Sri Lanka participated as an observer in the fast-track diplomatic Ottawa Process, which led to the adoption of the Mine Ban Treaty in September 1997, but said it could not sign due to its ongoing conflict with the secessionist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the northern and eastern parts of the country. Since then it has expressed its support for the humanitarian objectives of the Mine Ban Treaty and voted in favor of every annual UN General Assembly resolution on it. In December 2015, Sri Lanka announced that it was “seriously considering” joining the Mine Ban Treaty “as a matter of priority” following “a paradigm shift” in policy after the election of a new government in January 2015.

Sri Lanka reports that it has never produced or exported antipersonnel mines. Under the treaty, its stockpiled landmines must be destroyed within the next four years. The Sri Lanka army has acknowledged using antipersonnel mines in the past, while the LTTE produced and used them extensively during the armed conflict, which ended in May 2009.

After Sri Lanka’s accession, three South Asian countries have yet to join the Mine Ban Treaty: India, Pakistan, and Nepal.

Austria will host and preside over the 16th meeting of the states parties to the treaty in Vienna during the week of December 18-21, 2017.

Human Rights Watch is a founding member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), chairs the US Campaign to Ban Landmines, and serves as ban policy editor for Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor. The ICBL received the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize, together with its coordinator, Jody Williams, for its efforts to bring about the Mine Ban Treaty and for its contributions to a new international diplomacy based on humanitarian imperatives.

“After deliberating for almost two decades, Sri Lanka ultimately decided to get on the right side of history by relinquishing antipersonnel mines,” Goose said. “With every country that joins the treaty, the norm against these weapons only gets stronger."

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Yemen's former President Ali Abdullah Saleh addresses a rally held to mark the 35th anniversary of the establishment of his General People's Congress party in Sanaa, Yemen, August 24, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

(Beirut) – The killing of former longtime Yemeni president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, on December 4, 2017, underlines the need for governments to support the new United Nations expert panel to investigate abuses by all sides to Yemen’s war, Human Rights Watch said today. Saleh, implicated in numerous abuses during his 33-year-long rule of Yemen and during the current conflict, was reportedly killed by Houthi forces while trying to leave the capital, Sanaa.

The Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen was created by the UN Human Rights Council in September to investigate and identify those responsible for abuses in Yemen’s armed conflict. The United StatesUnited Kingdom, and other UN member countries should press the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi armed group to cooperate with the UN inquiry.

“Saleh’s death is a grim reminder of the consequences of granting immunity to those linked to grave abuses since countless Yemeni victims and their families should have been able to confront him in court for his alleged crimes,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The US, UK, and others should fully support the UN expert panel and pursue the justice Yemenis deserve.”

Tensions between forces loyal to Saleh and the Houthis had been increasing over the past few months, with armed clashes breaking out on December 1 in Sanaa. On December 4, Houthi-affiliated media reported that Houthi forces had killed Saleh. Videos purportedly showing Houthi forces putting Saleh’s body, with a head wound, into a truck circulated on social media. Close associates of Saleh later confirmed he had been killed that day. The circumstances of his death remain unclear.

During the recent fighting in Sanaa, dozens of people, including civilians, were killed, and hundreds wounded. Ambulances and medical teams were not able to reach the wounded and medical teams were reportedly attacked, according to the UN. An International Committee of the Red Cross medical warehouse was struck during fighting, the organization’s regional director said on Twitter. Humanitarian agencies repeatedly called on all sides – including the coalition, which had reportedly carried out airstrikes against Houthi forces during the fighting – to allow civilians safe passage.

Civilians in Sanaa had already been suffering from a lack of essential supplies, like food, fuel, and medicine, following the coalition’s decision to block the entry of goods through ports under Houthi control on November 6.

Saleh leaves a deeply troubling legacy. Although officially deposed from power during the Arab Uprisings in 2012, Saleh stayed in Yemen and acted as a political spoiler throughout the country’s aborted transitional process. In September 2014, the Houthi armed group took over Sanaa. Despite having waged a six-year, intermittent civil war against the Houthis in the north, Saleh aligned himself with the rebel group in the fight against President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi and the Saudi-led coalition.

The allied Houthi-Saleh forces committed numerous violations of the laws of war, some most likely war crimes. Human Rights Watch documented that Houthi-Saleh forces laid antipersonnel landmines throughout the country and killed and wounded civilians and prevented their return home. The Houthi-Saleh forces indiscriminately shelled densely populated areas like the cities of Taizz and Adenforcibly disappeared and abused scores of individuals in areas under their control and blocked and impeded the distribution of aid.

Saleh left office in February 2012 under a flawed transfer pact brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council and backed in most aspects by the UN Security Council, the US, and European Union member countries. The accord promised Saleh immunity in exchange for leaving office. Yemen’s parliament fulfilled the promise, passing a law granting blanket immunity from prosecution to Saleh and his aides for any action during his 33-year rule.

Shortly before Saleh left office, Human Rights Watch confirmed the deaths of 270 protesters and bystanders during attacks by government security forces and gangs on largely peaceful demonstrations against his rule, most in Sanaa. Dozens more civilians were killed in 2011 in apparently indiscriminate attacks by government security forces on densely populated areas in Taizz during clashes with armed opposition fighters. Human Rights Watch also documented a broad pattern of international human rights and laws-of-war violations by government security forces while Saleh was in power, including apparent indiscriminate shelling in the 2004-2010 civil wars against the Houthis and the use of unnecessary and lethal force since 2007 to quash a separatist movement in the south.

On December 4, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights named Kamel Jendoubi, Charles Garraway, and Melissa Parke to the UN expert panel. In announcing the appointments, the high commissioner said: “For three years, the people of Yemen have been subjected to death, destruction and despair. It is essential that those who have inflicted such violations and abuses are held to account.”

“It’s critical for the panel to be able to do its job so that the thousands of Yemenis who have suffered can find a measure of redress,” Whitson said. “Saleh’s death adds one more incident to the UN expert panel’s very long caseload.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Summary

Security forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo killed at least 62 people and arrested hundreds of others during protests across the country between December 19 and 22, 2016, after President Joseph Kabila refused to step down at the end of his constitutionally mandated two-term limit.

As people took to the streets – blowing whistles, banging on pots and pans, and shouting that Kabila’s time in office was up – government security forces fired live ammunition and teargas at the protesters. Some witnesses heard soldiers yell at them: “We are here to exterminate you all!” Activists and opposition leaders were thrown in jail in the days leading up to and during the protests, while security forces wounded, threatened, detained, or denied access to international and Congolese journalists covering the protests. In the aftermath of the demonstrations, authorities denied relatives access to hospitals and morgues, making it impossible for many families to bury their loved ones.

In the lead-up to the December protests, and as domestic and international pressure on Kabila escalated, senior Congolese security force officers had mobilized at least 200 and likely many more former M23 rebel fighters from neighboring Uganda and Rwanda to protect Kabila and help quash the anti-Kabila protests.

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© 2017 John Emerson for Human Rights Watch

The M23 combatants were recruited between October and early December 2016 from military and refugee camps in Uganda and Rwanda—where many M23 fighters have been based since the armed group’s defeat in eastern Congo in November 2013. Once in Congo, the M23 fighters were deployed to the capital, Kinshasa, and the eastern and southern cities of Goma and Lubumbashi. They were given new uniforms and weapons and integrated into the police, army, and units of the Republican Guard, the presidential security detail. Congolese security force officers—including many from previous Rwandan-backed rebellions who had since integrated into the Congolese army—looked after them, paying them well and providing them with food and accommodation. To protect the president and quash protests, the M23 fighters were given explicit orders to use lethal force, including at “point-blank range” if necessary.

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© 2017 John Emerson for Human Rights Watch

“Many M23 were deployed to wage a war against those who wanted to threaten Kabila’s hold on power,” one M23 fighter told Human Rights Watch. “We received orders to shoot immediately at the slightest provocation by civilians,” another said.

Many of the recruited M23 fighters were sent back to Uganda and Rwanda in late December and early January 2017. Congolese security forces again covertly recruited M23 fighters from Rwanda and Uganda between May and July 2017. They were sent to Kisangani in northeastern Congo where they were awaiting training, allegedly to prepare them for future “special operations” to respond to any threats to Kabila’s hold on power.

This report documents the repression of peaceful protesters, activists, journalists, and political opposition leaders and supporters in Congo in December 2016 and the covert recruitment of members of an abusive armed group, the M23, to help carry out this repression. With more protests planned in the coming weeks – nearly one year past the end of Kabila’s constitutional mandate – the findings in this report raise concerns about further violence and repression.

Following the days of violence around December 19, 2016 and significant international and regional pressure, Kabila’s ruling coalition agreed to a Catholic Church-mediated power-sharing agreement with the main opposition coalition on December 31. The deal called for presidential elections to be held by the end of December 2017 and included a clear commitment that Kabila would not run for a third term or amend the constitution. Yet Congo’s ruling coalition defied key tenets of the so-called New Year’s Eve agreement, failing to organize elections or implement the confidence-building measures to ease political tensions.

On November 5, 2017, the national electoral commission (CENI) published an electoral calendar, setting December 23, 2018 as the date for presidential, legislative, and provincial elections – more than two years after the end of Kabila’s constitutionally mandated two-term limit. The CENI also cited numerous financial, logistical, legal, political, and security “constraints” that could impact the timeline.

Leaders from civil society and the political opposition denounced the calendar as merely another delaying tactic to unconstitutionally extend Kabila’s presidency. They have called on Kabila to step down by the end of 2017 and for a transition without Kabila to be organized, led by individuals who could not be candidates in future elections and with the primary aim of organizing credible elections, restoring constitutional order, and allowing for a new system of governance where basic rights are respected.

Meanwhile, Kabila has sought to entrench his hold on power through corruption, large-scale violence, and brutal repression. Kabila’s refusal to step down in accordance with the constitution has plunged Congo into a web of political, security, human rights, and economic crises that have not subsided, and that could have devastating consequences for the entire sub-region. The covert operations to recruit former rebel fighters from an abusive armed group to protect Kabila and suppress any resistance, documented in this report, show how far Kabila and his coterie are willing to go to maintain their grip on power.

High-level engagement and sustained, targeted and well-coordinated pressure on Kabila and his government at the national, regional, and international levels are urgently needed to press Kabila to abide by the constitution and step down to allow for the organization of credible elections as soon as possible.

 

Glossary

Military, Law Enforcement, and Intelligence Agencies

Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (Forces armées de la République démocratique du Congo, FARDC): created in 2003, the Congolese national army is estimated to have between 133,000 and 145,000 personnel. The force has a long record of serious human rights violations. Those responsible for abuses are rarely held to account. Furthermore, the government has a longstanding practice of integrating former fighters from abusive armed groups into the army without formal training or vetting to exclude those implicated in past abuses. President Joseph Kabila, who holds the rank of major general, serves as commander-in-chief of the army. Gen. Didier Etumba has been the army’s chief of staff since 2008.

National Intelligence Agency (Agence nationale de renseignements, ANR): under the control of the president, the agency is mandated to investigate crimes against the state, such as treason and conspiracy. In recent years, the ANR has arbitrarily arrested scores of human rights and pro-democracy youth activists and opposition leaders, many of whom were held incommunicado for weeks or months, without charge and without access to their families or lawyers. Some detainees were badly mistreated or tortured, including with electric shocks and a form of near-drowning. Local and international human rights monitors and Congolese lawyers have limited access to ANR detention centers across the country and in some places, like Kinshasa, have no access at all. Kalev Mutondo has been the director of the ANR since 2011.

National Police Force (Police nationale congolaise, PNC): created in 2002, Congo’s national police force is estimated to have some 100,000 police officers. Congo’s police have a record of abusive and corrupt behavior that has engendered distrust among the population. Gen. Charles Bisengimana was the acting and later official national police commissioner from 2010 until July 17, 2017, when he was replaced by Lt. Gen. Dieudonné Amuli Bahigwa, the former deputy chief of staff in charge of operations and military intelligence of the Congolese army.

Republican Guard (Garde républicaine): the elite presidential security detail made up of some 18,000 soldiers, including many from the former Katanga province (home province of Joseph Kabila’s father). The Republican Guard is mandated to protect the president, presidential premises, and “distinguished guests.” The Republican Guard is deployed at airports, border posts, and other strategic sites, and carries out security functions far beyond its mandated role, including protection and oversight of mines and other assets owned or controlled by the president’s family. Gen. Ilunga Kampete has been the commander of the Republican Guard since 2014.

Armed Groups in Eastern Congo

(Several dozen armed groups are currently active in eastern Congo. Here we only discuss current and former armed groups that are mentioned in this report.)

Congolese Rally for Democracy (Rassemblement congolais pour la démocratie, RCD): a former Congolese rebel group backed by Rwanda, active during the “second Congo war” from 1998 to 2003.

National Congress for the Defense of the People (Congrès national pour la défense du peuple, CNDP): Rwandan-backed Congolese rebel group established in 2006 ostensibly to defend, protect, and ensure political representation for the several hundred thousand Congolese Tutsi living in eastern Congo and several tens of thousands of Congolese refugees, most of them Tutsi, living in Rwanda. The group’s fighters were responsible for widespread war crimes. Many CNDP fighters had been part of the RCD (see above). In early 2009, following a secret deal between Congo and Rwanda, CNDP fighters were integrated into the Congolese army and immediately participated in joint military operations with the Rwandan and Congolese armies against the FDLR (see below).

March 23 Movement (Mouvement du 23 mars, M23): a rebellion led by mostly Tutsi officers who had been part of the CDNP (see above), before integrating into the army in early 2009, then defecting in early 2012. The name comes from the March 23, 2009 agreement between the CNDP and the Congolese government, which the M23’s leaders said had not been respected by the government. The M23 relied on significant support from Rwandan military officials who planned and commanded operations, trained new recruits, and provided weapons, ammunition, and other supplies. Hundreds of young men and boys were recruited in Rwanda and forced to cross the border into Congo and fight with the M23. Between April 2012 and November 2013, when the group was defeated, M23 fighters committed widespread abuses, including summary executions, rape, and recruitment of children, including by force.

Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda, FDLR): a largely Rwandan Hutu armed group based in eastern Congo. Some of its members participated in the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. Since then, Rwandan Hutu militias based in eastern Congo have reorganized politically and militarily, going through various name and leadership changes. The rebel group’s current configuration, the FDLR, was established in 2000. Its forces have been involved in numerous serious abuses against Congolese civilians. Since 2012, the group’s military commander, Sylvestre Mudacumura, has been sought on an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court for nine counts of war crimes allegedly committed in eastern Congo in 2009 and 2010. He remains at large.

Nyatura: with the start of the M23 rebellion in early 2012, Congolese Hutu armed groups spread throughout Masisi territory and parts of Rutshuru, Walikale, and Kalehe territories in eastern Congo’s North Kivu and South Kivu provinces. New groups were formed and older groups re-established themselves. While many of these groups have their own individual names, or are named after their commanders, they are often referred to collectively as the Nyatura, which means “hit hard” in Kinyarwanda, a language spoken in Rwanda and by some in eastern Congo and southern Uganda. Nyatura fighters, often operating together with the FDLR (see above), have been responsible for widespread abuses, including summary executions, rapes, and recruitment of children, including by force. Since the M23’s defeat in late 2013, some Nyatura groups have allied with former M23 fighters.

Recommendations

To President Joseph Kabila

  • Publicly order state security forces to end unlawful and excessive use of force and other forms of repression against protesters, activists, and the political opposition;
  • Ensure an immediate end to all recruitment and deployment of M23 fighters by the Congolese security forces;
  • Respect the constitution and the New Year’s Eve agreement by stepping down from the presidency by the end of December 2017.

To the Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo

  • Take all necessary measures to stop the unlawful and excessive use of force by the security forces and other forms of repression against protesters and the political opposition;
  • Investigate and appropriately prosecute those responsible for serious human rights violations, regardless of position or rank;
  • Ensure that all Congolese, including civil society groups and opposition parties, are able to participate in peaceful demonstrations and other political activities without disruption;
  • Release all political prisoners and end politically motivated prosecutions of individuals for exercising their basic rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly;
  • Open all media outlets that have been arbitrarily shut down, and ensure that access to information, including independent international media outlets, social media platforms, and text message communication, is not blocked;
  • Ensure that Congolese and international human rights defenders and journalists are able to work in Congo without interference;
  • Support efforts to bring to justice M23 commanders implicated in war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious abuses, in accordance with the Nairobi Declarations, signed in December 2013;
  • Support the implementation of a credible Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) program for M23 combatants who are not wanted for serious international crimes, including long-term follow-up and support programs after they reintegrate into civilian life, in accordance with the Peace, Security, and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Region (“Framework Agreement”), signed in February 2013, and the Nairobi Declarations.

To the Governments of Rwanda and Uganda

  • Cease any support by Ugandan and Rwandan officials to the recruitment and mobilization of M23 fighters in Uganda and Rwanda by the Congolese security forces;
  • Investigate and prosecute as appropriate Rwandan or Ugandan civilian and military officials for unlawfully assisting the recruitment of M23 fighters;
  • Cooperate with efforts to bring to justice M23 commanders implicated in war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious abuses, and ensure that any such commanders who have fled to Rwanda or Uganda are not shielded from justice, as called for in the Framework Agreement.

To the African Union, Southern African Development Community, International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, and other regional leaders

  • Publicly and privately denounce the unlawful and excessive use of force during protests in Congo, and the recruitment of M23 fighters to participate in suppressing these protests;
  • In accordance with the Framework Agreement, seek to ensure that any arrangement between the Congolese government and the M23 excludes integration into the Congolese army of M23 leaders implicated in war crimes and other serious abuses, including those on UN and US sanctions lists;
  • Press for the arrest and prosecution of military commanders, including members of the M23, implicated in war crimes and other serious abuses;
  • Support a peaceful transfer of power by urging President Kabila to step down from the presidency and helping to ensure that concerns about Kabila’s physical security after he leaves office are addressed.

To the UN Secretary-General and Security Council and International Donors, including the EU, US, China, and International Organisation of La Francophonie

  • Publicly and privately denounce the unlawful and excessive use of force during protests in Congo, and the recruitment of M23 fighters to participate in suppressing these protests;
  • Seek to ensure that any arrangement between the Congolese government and the M23 excludes integration into the Congolese army of M23 leaders implicated in war crimes and other serious abuses, including those on UN and US sanctions lists;
  • Press for the arrest and prosecution of military commanders, including members of the M23, implicated in war crimes and other serious abuses;
  • Support the implementation of a credible Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) program for M23 combatants who are not wanted for serious international crimes, including long-term follow-up and support programs after they reintegrate into civilian life;
  • Impose new targeted sanctions, including travel bans and assets freezes, against those most responsible for serious human rights violations in Congo. These should include senior government, intelligence, and security force officials implicated in the recruitment, support and funding of M23 fighters;
  • Suspend all support to Congolese security forces, direct financial support to the Congolese government, and support to the electoral process until there is demonstrated willingness to organize credible elections and ensure a climate conducive to free, fair elections, and until concrete steps are taken to end widespread rights abuses across the country and hold those responsible, regardless of rank, to account. Such steps could include: a public, explicit commitment by Kabila that he will step down and will not seek to amend the constitution; the release of political prisoners and activists in detention; dropping politically motivated charges against political opposition leaders and activists; opening arbitrarily banned media outlets; and arresting and appropriately prosecuting senior officials responsible for serious human rights abuses;
  • If the government does not implement such measures before the end of 2017, impose sanctions on Kabila himself and work with regional leaders to press Kabila to step down from power and help ensure that concerns about Kabila’s physical security after he leaves office are addressed;
  • If Kabila does leave office before elections are organized, actively monitor and support efforts to establish a transitional authority, which would be led by individuals who could not be candidates in upcoming elections and which would have the primary aim of organizing credible, peaceful elections, restoring constitutional order, and allowing for a new system of governance based on the rule of law and strong democratic institutions;
  • Continue support to the UN peacekeeping mission, UN agencies and nongovernmental organizations providing humanitarian and development assistance, and Congolese civil society and human rights organizations, including by redirecting any direct financial support to the Congolese government to these organizations.

To the UN Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO)

  • Publicly and privately denounce the unlawful and excessive use of force during protests in Congo, and the recruitment of M23 fighters to participate in suppressing these protests, as well as other political repression and serious human rights abuses;
  • Take all possible steps to protect civilians, including by using peacekeepers to deter violence and unlawful use of force by Congolese security forces in Kinshasa and other major cities;
  • Be prepared to rapidly deploy peacekeepers to respond to serious security incidents and threats to civilians across the country;
  • Support the implementation of a credible Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) program for M23 combatants who are not wanted for serious international crimes, including long-term follow-up and support programs after they reintegrate into civilian life.

To the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court

  • Monitor the situation in Congo closely and undertake a visit to the country at an opportune time;
  • Publicly denounce violence and repression in the country, and consider investigating recent serious crimes for possible prosecution.

 

Methodology

This report documents the repression of political protests around December 19, 2016, and the covert recruitment of M23 fighters from Uganda and Rwanda in late 2016 to participate in the suppression of protests.

Human Rights Watch’s findings are based on over 120 interviews, including with victims of abuses, witnesses, family members of victims, local activists, Congolese security force officers, Congolese government officials, UN officials, diplomats, and 21 former M23 fighters, commanders, and political leaders. [1] Human Rights Watch conducted field research in Kinshasa, Goma, and Lubumbashi in Congo and in Brussels, Belgium from December 2016 to November 2017, as well as during three research trips in Uganda and one in Rwanda in the first quarter of 2017.

Human Rights Watch interviewed 13 M23 fighters who were recruited between October and early December 2016 from Uganda and Rwanda and sent to Kinshasa (nine fighters), Goma (two fighters) and Lubumbashi (two fighters) to protect President Kabila and repress any anti-Kabila protests. All returned to Uganda or Rwanda in late December or early January. They were interviewed privately and individually – most had been in different groups and did not travel to Congo together. Human Rights Watch also interviewed six M23 commanders and political leaders who were involved in planning and overseeing the transfers but did not themselves travel to Congo, two M23 political leaders who were aware of the recruitment efforts, and several other individuals close to the M23 movement and witnesses present during the mobilization efforts or transfers.

Human Rights Watch interviewed nine Congolese security and intelligence officers who spoke without attribution about the operation, including five based in Kinshasa and four in Goma.

Due to security concerns, the names of many interviewees and other identifying information have been withheld. All interviews were conducted on the basis of informed consent. The majority of interviews were conducted in person; a few were conducted over the phone. No one was provided compensation for being interviewed. The interviews were conducted in French, Swahili, Lingala, Kinyarwanda, English, and German.

Human Rights Watch shared its research findings with senior Congolese, Rwandan, and Ugandan government officials and with the M23 political leadership in advance of publication of this report. The Congolese and Rwandan governments did not officially respond. The Ugandan response and the M23’s response are reflected in the findings of the report and included in Section VII.

 

I. Political Context

The Democratic Republic of Congo is facing a worsening political, economic, and security crisis. President Joseph Kabila was due to step down in December 2016 at the end of his constitutionally mandated two-term limit.[2] But he has managed to hold on to power by delaying elections and overseeing a brutal crackdown against those calling for the constitution to be respected.

Human Rights Watch documented the extrajudicial executions by security forces of at least 171 people protesting election delays in 2015 and 2016.[3] Many more were injured. The deadliest crackdown was during the week of September 19, 2016, when many Congolese took to the streets to protest the electoral commission’s failure to announce presidential elections, 90 days before the end of Kabila’s second term, as required by the constitution. Security forces responded with excessive force, killing at least 66 people and setting at least three opposition party headquarters on fire.[4] 

Tensions escalated through December 2016, with the future of Kabila and the country increasingly uncertain. In the face of mounting national, regional, and international pressure—including targeted United States and European Union sanctions against top Congolese officials—President Kabila’s ruling coalition agreed to a Catholic Church-mediated dialogue with the opposition and some civil society representatives in late 2016.[5] A deal was signed on December 31, 2016, which included clear commitments to hold elections by the end of 2017 and that Kabila would not be a candidate or try to amend the constitution.[6] It further specified that the main opposition coalition, known as the Rassemblement, would lead the transitional government and a national oversight council, and that “confidence building” measures would be taken to open political space.

Yet nearly a year after the so-called New Year’s Eve agreement was signed, these commitments have largely been ignored while elections are far from sight. A prime minister was appointed who had been dismissed from the main opposition party, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), and the government and oversight council do not include any current members of the Rassemblement. The confidence-building measures have not been implemented, as the crackdown on political opponents continues.

Security forces killed at least 90 people as part of a crackdown against members of the Bundu dia Kongo (BDK) political religious sect protesting Kabila’s extended presidency in Kinshasa and Kongo Central province in January, February, March, and August 2017. Some of the BDK members also used violence, killing at least five police officers.[7] During a protest called by pro-democracy activists and opposition leaders in Goma on October 30, security forces shot dead five civilians, including an 11-year-old boy, and wounded 15 others.

Hundreds of opposition leaders and supporters, human rights and pro-democracy youth activists, and peaceful protesters were arbitrarily arrested and detained. Many were held in secret detention for weeks or months, without charge and without access to their families or lawyer. Others were put on trial on trumped up charges.[8] In July, unidentified armed men shot and nearly killed a judge in Lubumbashi who refused to hand down a ruling against opposition leader and presidential aspirant Moïse Katumbi.[9]

Authorities have also prevented international and Congolese journalists from doing their work, including by arresting them, denying access, or confiscating their equipment and deleting footage. At least around 40 journalists were detained in 2017.[10] Numerous Congolese media outlets close to the opposition have been shut down, at least five of which remain blocked at time of writing.[11] The signal for Radio France Internationale (RFI), the international news outlet most followed in Congo, was blocked in Kinshasa between November 2016 and August 2017, and in June 2017 authorities refused to renew the accreditation for the RFI correspondent in Congo.[12] The following month, the Reuters correspondent was unable to renew his Congolese visa.[13] Human Rights Watch’s senior researcher in Congo was also barred from the country in August 2016.[14]

Senior Congolese officials have blamed election delays, in part, on violence in the southern Kasai region, where up to 5,000 people have been killed, 1.4 million displaced from their homes, and 600 schools attacked or destroyed since August 2016.[15] Nearly 90 mass graves are scattered across the region,[16] and most are believed to contain bodies of civilians and militia fighters killed by government forces.[17] In March, two United Nations investigators—Michael Sharp, an American, and Zaida Catalán, a Swedish and Chilean citizen—were executed while investigating serious human rights violations in the Kasai region.[18] Human Rights Watch investigations and an RFI report suggest government responsibility for the double murder.[19]

The resource-rich country is also facing serious economic challenges, due in part to widespread corruption, a reluctance to invest in a country amid a political crisis and with an uncertain future, and a lack of transparency of Congolese government finances, including the state mining company.[20] The Congolese franc has lost over 30 percent of its value compared to the dollar in the past year. This has contributed to massive youth unemployment, families across the country struggling to make ends meet, and government employees getting reduced or late payments, or no salary at all.[21] In late June, the International Monetary Fund told the Congolese government that “a credible path toward political stability” will probably be a condition for any future financial assistance.[22] Meanwhile, the Kabila family has continued to enrich itself, with a “network of businesses that reaches into every corner of Congo’s economy,” according to investigations by the New York University-based Congo Research Group and the international financial media agency Bloomberg News.[23]

Due to the impasse in implementing the New Year’s Eve agreement, the Catholic bishops withdrew from their mediation role in March.[24] In June, they blamed the country’s dire security, human rights, economic, and political crises on the failure of a small group of people to hold elections in accordance with the constitution, and they called on the Congolese people to “stand up” and take their destiny into their own hands.[25]

On June 15, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and nine former African presidents launched an “urgent appeal” to Kabila and other Congolese leaders for a peaceful, democratic transition. They said that the future of the country is in “grave danger” and that the political crisis “represents a threat to the stability, prosperity and peace of the Great Lakes region, and indeed for Africa as a whole.”[26]

Officials from Congo’s southwestern neighbor Angola also appear increasingly concerned about Kabila’s inability to resolve the crises facing the country, including the violence in the Kasai region that forced more than 33,000 people to flee across the border into Angola.[27]

The EU and US imposed additional targeted sanctions against top Congolese officials responsible for serious human rights abuses and for attempts to delay or derail the elections on May 29 and June 1, 2017.[28]

In early November, days after US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley visited Congo and called on Kabila and other officials to organize elections by the end of 2018, the CENI published an electoral calendar, setting December 23, 2018 as the date for presidential, legislative, and provincial elections – more than two years after the end of Kabila’s constitutionally mandated two term-limit. The CENI also cited numerous financial, logistical, legal, political, and security “constraints” that could impact the timeline.[29]

Leaders from civil society and the political opposition denounced the calendar as merely another delaying tactic to unconstitutionally extend Kabila’s presidency.[30] They have called on Kabila to step down by the end of 2017 and for a “citizens’ transition” without Kabila to be organized, led by individuals who could not be candidates in future elections and with the primary aim of organizing credible elections, restoring constitutional order, and allowing for a new system of governance where basic rights are respected.[31]

Despite the mounting pressure, Kabila has shown no sign that he is preparing to step down or allow for a peaceful, democratic transition.[32] Activists and opposition leaders have called for more demonstrations in the coming weeks, and there is a risk of further violence and repression as Kabila and those around him may again seek to suppress protests and further entrench their hold on power.

II. December 2016 Crackdown

Prior to the end of President Joseph Kabila’s second and final term in office, according to the constitution, Congolese security forces deployed heavily in cities and towns across the country. Police and military forces patrolled the streets in armored vehicles and warned groups of 10 or more people gathered that they would be dispersed by force—including in Kinshasa, Lubumbashi, Goma, Bunia, Beni, Walikale, Kindu, Uvira, Kalemie, Mbuji-Mayi, Mbandaka, and Lisala. This appeared to be a deliberate attempt to deter protests and keep demonstrators off the streets. On December 19, 2016, the last day of Kabila’s mandate, there were “villes mortes” (literally “dead cities”), or general strikes, across the country; shops and businesses were closed, and people largely stayed indoors and kept their children home from school. Many of those who dared to protest were arrested or dispersed by security forces.

Beginning in the early hours of December 20—once Kabila was no longer seen by many to be the “legitimate” president—more people took to the streets, blowing whistles, banging on pots and pans, and shouting that Kabila’s time in office was up. Security forces, including the M23 combatants integrated into their units, used unnecessary and excessive force to quash the protests, killing at least 62 people between December 20 and 22, including 36 in Kinshasa, 16 in Lubumbashi, 6 in Boma, and 4 in Matadi. A police officer was also killed, reportedly by a stray bullet.[33]

Security forces also arrested hundreds of people in mid and late December while they were protesting or planning to protest, gathered outdoors in groups, or just wearing red—which had become a symbol of Kabila’s “red card,” a soccer reference telling him his time in power was up.[34] Many of the arrests in the days leading up to December 20 targeted activists and opposition youth leaders who were most active in organizing the protests and mobilizing participation. Arresting them in advance seemed to have had an important deterrent effect in limiting the scale of protests. In Kinshasa, Republican Guard soldiers conducted door-to-door searches in certain neighborhoods on December 20, arresting suspected protesters.

As part of a broader crackdown on the media, security forces also wounded, threatened, detained or denied access to at least 11 international and Congolese journalists covering the protests in Kinshasa, Mbuji-Mayi, and Goma around December 19, and they expelled five Belgian journalists on December 16.[35] On the morning of December 19, authorities blocked the signals of several Congolese news outlets close to the opposition.[36] They also instructed international telecommunication companies to shut down or restrict access to social media networks, in particular to prevent the sharing of photos and videos, including an appeal by the late opposition leader Étienne Tshisekedi to no longer recognize the authority of the president, which was posted on YouTube on December 19.[37]

In the aftermath of the demonstrations, authorities in Kinshasa denied relatives access to hospitals and morgues, making it impossible for many families to bury their loved ones. A morgue official told Human Rights Watch that they had received instructions from the health ministry not to disclose any information on the cases of people who had been killed.[38] He also said that the police officers assigned to guard the morgue were all replaced in early January 2017 to help prevent the disclosure of information.[39] Another morgue official said that police officers had taken three bodies of victims killed during the December protests from the morgue where he worked to an unknown destination during the night of January 21 to 22.[40]

Family members in Lubumbashi also had difficulties finding and burying their loved ones. A morgue official said that they had received instructions not to talk to any visitors who asked about people killed or wounded during the December protests. He also said that intelligence officers had taken the wounded out of the morgue and brought them to an undisclosed location.[41]

Authorities had used similar tactics in September 2016, preventing families from burying victims after security forces used excessive and unnecessary lethal force during earlier protests in Kinshasa, killing at least 66 people.[42]

In a report published on February 28, 2017, the UN Joint Human Rights Office in Congo said that security forces killed at least 40 people, wounded at least 147 others, and arrested over 917 people during protests across the country between December 15 and 31. The killings were the “result of a disproportionate use of force and the use of live ammunition by defense and security forces, particularly FARDC [Congolese army] soldiers, to prevent and contain public demonstrations,” the report said, adding that some cases seem to “demonstrate an intentional shoot-to-kill approach by FARDC soldiers.”[43] The report notes the use of “lethal force and live ammunition on upper parts of the body, by the Congolese defense and security forces,” and that “many victims were injured as a result of cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment during arrest and detention.”[44]

According to the Congolese police spokesperson, 22 people were killed during protests across the country between December 18 and 21, and 275 others were arrested.[45]

Accounts from Victims and Witnesses to December Repression

Kinshasa

In Kinshasa, Republican Guard and army soldiers and police[46] fired live rounds to disperse protesters in Matete, Ngaba, Kinseso, Kimbanseke, Masina, Limete, Lemba, Ndjili, Barumbu, Lingwala, Selembao, Mont-Ngafula and Ngiri-Ngiri neighborhoods—killing at least 36 people, and wounding around 50 others between December 19 and 21. On December 20, Republican Guard soldiers conducted door-to-door searches in Matete and Lemba neighborhoods, arresting scores of suspected protesters.

A witness described how Republican Guard soldiers fired on demonstrators in Kisenso neighborhood on December 20, soon after UN peacekeepers drove by:

When two MONUSCO vehicles with peacekeepers drove down the avenue, people started clapping and chanting slogans about Kabila’s mandate being up. Just after they passed, Republican Guard soldiers stormed into the neighborhood and began firing live bullets to chase the demonstrators who fled into houses to take cover. I was looking out from the window of my home. All of a sudden, I saw my neighbor, who’d been standing outside his house, yell and fall over. I got really scared. Then the soldiers entered into the compound and picked up my neighbor’s body. He was bleeding terribly. We didn’t know where they took him. His family found his body three days later in one of the morgues, after having searched for him in prisons and hospitals across the city.[47]

A woman said that her son was shot dead by Republican Guard soldiers in Lemba neighborhood on December 20:

The Republican Guard soldiers had been deployed in our neighborhood since the day before [December 19]. Then that morning, as the protests were happening, they started harassing the population, stealing phones, watches, and other valuables from people in the neighborhood. When a man resisted as the soldiers tried to steal his phone, the soldiers started firing their guns. My son, who had gone out to buy bread, was hit by a bullet in the forehead, and he died on the spot. He hadn’t participated in the protests.[48]

A man said that his son was shot in Limete neighborhood on December 20:

My son was eating breakfast on the corner of the avenue. Then at about 10 a.m., the soldiers who came to chase the protesters out of our neighborhood fired in every direction. My son was hit by a bullet in his right leg. He later died of his wounds.[49]

In the early hours of December 20, a taxi driver stepped out of his house in Kinshasa’s Masina neighborhood to take a phone call. Soldiers deployed to crack down on protesters saw him talking on his phone and accused him of “calling rebels to plan an attack against Kinshasa.” They arrested him and brought him to a nearby camp. His family went to negotiate his release, but soldiers told them to return home and “cry over his death.” Shortly after, neighbors found his body in a hole next to the road, just hundreds of meters away from his home.[50]

The Kinshasa representative for the activist group Filimbi, Carbone Beni, was arrested on December 13 alongside other activists outside the building in Kinshasa where the Catholic Church-mediated talks were being held and brought to a military camp. Beni said:

I was brought to an underground cell known as “Zaire” [Congo’s former name] … When you enter [there], it’s like you’re no longer in Congo. You’re in the dark. They showed me [a tablet computer with Beni’s interviews in international media], and said, “So, you say: ‘Bye bye Kabila’ [name of a Filimbi campaign], but now it’s you who will leave, because Kabila will never leave.” … They gave orders to another officer to guard me, adding that I “should not see the sun.”[51]

Beni’s family had no news about him until his wife received a handwritten note from him on December 26, informing her that he was being held at the Tshatshi military camp. Beni was finally released on January 11, after 29 days of secret detention in Kinshasa, first at the military camp and later at an intelligence agency detention center.[52]

Members of the youth movement Struggle for Change (LUCHA), Gloria Sengha and Musasa Tshibanda, were arrested on December 16. Sengha later said that she had been thrown into a car, blindfolded and beaten. “They said, ‘Do you know where we’ll bring you? We will kill you, since you want to make Kabila leave [power]. We will kill you,’” she told Human Rights Watch. “I was scared. I told myself: ‘This is the end of me; this is my death.’”[53] Held in incommunicado detention first at Camp Tshatshi and then at the 3Z detention center of the intelligence services, she was interrogated about LUCHA and its supporters. She received little food and water until her release on December 27. Tshibanda was released on February 8, 2017.[54]

Franck Diongo, a member of parliament and president of the opposition party Movement of Progressive Lumumbists (MLP), was arrested on December 19 in Kinshasa. Security forces arrested him and his colleagues after they had apprehended three men who, according to Diongo, were Republican Guard soldiers wearing civilian clothes. Diongo said he feared they had been sent to attack him.[55] Congo’s Supreme Court of Justice sentenced Diongo to five years in prison on December 28, 2016, following a hasty trial that he attended in a wheelchair and on an intravenous drip, which his lawyers said was due to the treatment he endured during arrest and detention. According to Diongo and his lawyers, this amounted to torture. Diongo was convicted of “aggravated arbitrary arrest” and “illegal detention.” As a member of parliament, Diongo was tried by the Supreme Court; he has no possibility to appeal the judgement.[56]

A Congolese journalist said that he was abducted by people he believes were linked to the government after getting in a taxi in Kinshasa following the protests on December 20:

One of the people with me in the taxi pointed a gun at me, before putting a hood over my head. They then brought me to a house where they interrogated me about my origins. They eventually let me go and told me to stop writing articles that upset the authorities and to stop saying things that annoy them.[57]

Lubumbashi

In Lubumbashi, major violence broke out between December 20 and 22. Republican Guard and army soldiers fired on protesters, some of whom threw rocks at security forces and looted or set fire to police offices and cars, ambulances, trucks, and other buildings in Gecamines, Kisanga, and Katuba neighborhoods. In total, security forces fatally shot at least 16 protesters and wounded 40 others.

A local activist described what he saw on Lubumbashi’s Kasumbalesa road in the Kenya neighborhood on December 20:

Protesters had erected barricades along the road. The police tried to clear the road but the protesters didn’t want that, so they started throwing stones and other things. The police shot in the air to try to disperse them. When men in military uniforms with ski masks covering their faces arrived on the scene, that’s when the killing started. I myself saw six dead bodies while I was trying to flee.[58]

Another witness said that a protester was shot at point-blank range by soldiers on December 20:

While the protesters were chanting hostile slogans about the authorities and the end of Kabila’s mandate, soldiers came to disperse them with live bullets. A young man I knew was shot in his throat and died on the spot. This angered the crowd of protesters who then set the Katuba courthouse on fire.[59]

A witness said that a young mechanic was killed when security forces arrived to disperse looters at a public hospital on December 20:

The soldiers first fired in the air to disperse the looters at the hospital. As the looters fled into the surrounding neighborhood, the soldiers followed them. Hearing the gunshots nearby, the mechanic, who was with a client, decided to go home. While leaving his client’s home, he came across the soldiers who’d been chasing the looters. They grabbed him, and the man went down on his knees, begging them not to kill him and explaining that he had just left the house of his client and wasn’t among the looters. Despite this, they shot him in the head. The soldiers then took his body and brought it to one of the public morgues.[60]

A woman described how her brother-in-law was killed during the demonstrations on December 20:

Between 8:30 and 9 a.m., we found out that there were demonstrations on the road near our house. Just after that, we started hearing gunshots. People were fleeing in all directions. Some people ran towards us and said that [my brother-in-law] was shot. My husband got the courage to search for him, but in vain. We later learned that soldiers had taken his body to the morgue.[61]

Goma

In Goma, security forces arrested over 100 people between December 15 and 31, according to the UN.[62] This includes many of those who were planning the protests and mobilizing others to participate. This seems to have had an important deterrent effect in preventing large-scale protests from going forward on December 20.[63]

On December 17 in Goma, two men in uniform arrested two members of the Engagement for Citizenship and Development (ECiDé) opposition political party, Christian Badose and André Bisimwa. First detained at the military intelligence premises, they were transferred to the military prosecutor’s office, and then to the general prosecutor’s office. They were released on December 28, with no charges brought against them.[64]

On December 18, LUCHA activist Bienfait Katalanwa was abducted in Goma’s city center by four men in civilian clothes and released the following evening.[65]

On December 19, at least 41 people were arrested. Among those arrested were 12 representatives of the Rassemblement opposition party coalition – including the ECiDé, Social Movement for Renewal (MSR), National Party for Development and Democracy (PND), and UDPS political parties – who were leading a peaceful march down the street in the center of Goma. They were arrested in the presence of a team of UN human rights observers and transferred to the police intelligence prison. The human rights observers were later denied access to them.

Sephora Bidwaya, a young UDPS activist among those arrested on December 19 told Human Rights Watch about the “revolting conditions” at Goma’s Munzenze prison, where they were held:

They distribute food to us – just a large bowl of beans – once every other week. Most people here sleep on the floor. The situation is really appalling.… We should be released immediately because we haven’t committed any crimes.… We were only calling for the respect of the constitution, which is a legitimate thing![66]

Sephora and the 11 others were eventually released on September 9, 2017.

On December 21, police arrested 19 LUCHA activists as they tried to hold a peaceful sit-in outside the governor’s office. They were released on December 27. An international journalist observing the protest was detained for several hours.[67]

Boma

In Boma, in the southwestern Kongo Central province, on December 20, police and soldiers killed at least six people when they fired live rounds to disperse protesters chanting that Kabila’s “time was up” in the Kalamu, Nzandi, and Kabondo neighborhoods. Several witnesses said that they heard soldiers tell the protesters: “We are here to exterminate you all!”[68] One witness said he heard a soldier say, “The person whose mandate you say has ended is in Kinshasa; go make noise there. Here, we will exterminate you one by one.”[69]

Security forces also shot and wounded about a dozen people. Many of those targeted had not participated in the protests, but were hiding in homes, seeking shelter from the gunfire. Some of those targeted were taking advantage of the chaos to loot in Kalamu neighborhood.

One resident said that his wife was killed on December 20 when a soldier followed her to the house where she had taken shelter, to flee the soldiers who were firing on protesters in their neighborhood:

My wife was inside [the house], and the soldier arrived soon after. He first fired warning shots and demanded that the door be opened. The owner of the house refused to obey. The soldier then counted out loud to three, and then he fired two shots into the house. One of the bullets hit my wife in the head.[70]

Another man said that solders had shot and killed his 35-year-old son during protests in their neighborhood on the morning of December 20 as he was standing next to him:

My son was shot by a bullet in the head. As he fell down, I immediately bent down. A bullet then passed right above my head and hit the window. If I had remained standing, I too would have been killed. We were standing in front of our house, and we weren’t among the protesters or looters. This soldier aimed and fired at us with the intention of killing us. My son has now left [the world] just like that, for no reason at all.[71]

Matadi

In Matadi, the capital of Kongo Central province, security forces used excessive and unnecessary force to disperse protesters chanting that Kabila’s mandate had ended, killing at least four people on December 20. They also conducted door-to-door searches in Mvuzi and Nzanza neighborhoods, arresting several people. Some protesters engaged in looting.

A woman said that her grandson was killed during the protests on December 20:

My grandson went out about 9 a.m. to buy bread a few meters away from the house. When the police started firing live bullets to disperse the protesters who were chanting about the end of the president’s mandate, he was struck by a stray bullet that entered his forehead and exited through his neck. He was only 16-years-old, and he wasn’t at all a rowdy boy.[72]

Other Cities

Several dozen people, mostly youth, were arrested in the early hours of December 20 in the eastern town of Oicha for making noise with whistles and pots clamoring for Kabila to leave office. Local civil society activists reported that many were mistreated in detention. They were released the following day.[73]

On December 21, seven LUCHA activists and a bystander were arrested in Mbuji-Mayi, Kasai Oriental province, while they were discussing their upcoming activities. Six of them were released the next day while two others, Jean-Paul Mualaba Biaya and Nicolas Mbiya Kabeya, were eventually acquitted on February 1, 2017, and then released.

In the morning of December 22, at least 14 activists from LUCHA, Filimbi, and Réveil des Indignés were arrested during a sit-in in front of the provincial assembly in Bukavu. They were released the same day.[74]

Mobilization of Youth Gangs

Congolese authorities instructed members of youth leagues and street gangs in Kinshasa and Goma to infiltrate and provoke violence among protesters in order to give a pretext to security forces to disperse the demonstrations by force. Two members of a pro-government youth league in Kinshasa said that they received their instructions during a meeting in Kinshasa on December 18 with senior officials who promised them 120,000 Congolese francs (US$77) each.[75] The recruits said that some soldiers were mixed in among the members of youth leagues, and that they were divided into four groups. The person responsible for each group was given a revolver. Members of youth leagues in Kinshasa were given similar instructions to infiltrate protests in September 2015 and September 2016.[76]

In Goma, two young men said that they had been working closely with security forces for a long time, infiltrating youth movements to gather intelligence in return for alcohol and up to 5,000 Congolese Francs (US$3.20).[77]

Looting and Violence by Protesters

Some protesters engaged in violence, throwing stones at security forces or vehicles, while others burned tires in the streets and looted shops and public and private buildings.

In Kinshasa, protesters burned the headquarters of the ruling People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD) on December 20 in Matete neighborhood. The same day, in Lubumbashi, protesters ransacked or burned several government buildings, including health and environment ministry offices, a courthouse, police stations, and a local administration office. Gas stations, the so-called “Joseph Kabila Stadium,” and private vehicles were also targeted.

In Boma, protesters in the Kalamu neighborhood looted or ransacked shops, including some owned by individuals linked to government officials, Chinese-owned shops (China is perceived as a close ally of Kabila), and government buildings in Kalamu neighborhood.

In Matadi, protesters also looted privately owned shops, while others clashed with security forces. At least 10 police officers were injured by stones that were thrown by protesters, and one soldier had a broken leg after being attacked by a machete, apparently to avenge the death of a protester who had been killed by the security forces.

 

III. Background on the M23

The Rwandan-backed M23 rebellion began in April 2012, under the leadership of Gen. Bosco Ntaganda, who is now on trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, where he faces 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity charges.[78] In 2012 and 2013, M23 fighters committed widespread war crimes in eastern Congo, including summary executions, rapes, and forced recruitment of children.[79]

The M23 was made up largely of former members of the National Congress for the Defense of the People (Congrès national pour la défense du peuple, or CNDP), a previous Rwandan-backed Congolese rebel group, whose fighters were integrated into the Congolese army in 2009. The CNDP had purportedly been established to defend, protect, and ensure political representation for the several hundred thousand Congolese Tutsi living in eastern Congo, and several tens of thousands of Congolese refugees, most of them Tutsi, living in Rwanda. The group’s fighters were also responsible for widespread war crimes.[80] Many CNDP fighters had previously been part of another Congolese rebel group backed by Rwanda, the Rally for Congolese Democracy (Rassemblement congolais pour la démocratie, RCD), during the “second Congo war,” from 1998 to 2003. 

Over the years, many former commanders and individuals close to the various Rwandan-backed rebellions have been given senior posts in the Congolese security forces and government.

The M23 relied on significant support from Rwandan military officials who planned and commanded operations, trained new recruits, and provided weapons, ammunition, and other supplies.[81] Hundreds of young men and boys were recruited in Rwanda and forced to fight with the M23 in Congo. The M23 also relied on support from senior Ugandan government officials, according to the UN Group of Experts.[82] The group controlled large swathes of Rutshuru and Nyiragongo territories in North Kivu.

International attention on the crisis grew when the M23 seized the main eastern city of Goma in late November 2012, again with significant Rwandan military support. The M23 withdrew from Goma on December 1, when the Congolese government agreed to peace talks.

On February 24, 2013, 11 African countries (later joined by two other countries) signed the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Region in Addis-Ababa, under the auspices of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The signatories – including Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda – agreed not to interfere in the internal affairs of neighboring countries; not to tolerate or provide support of any kind to armed groups; neither to harbor nor provide protection of any kind to anyone accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity, acts of genocide or crimes of aggression, or anyone falling under the UN sanctions regime; and to cooperate with regional justice initiatives.[83]

As Rwanda was under increased pressure to stop supporting the abusive armed group and its commander, Ntaganda (who was already sought on an arrest warrant from the ICC), the M23 split and the faction led by Ntaganda was defeated by the faction led by another M23 officer, Sultani Makenga, in March 2013. Apparently fearing for his life, Ntaganda turned himself in at the United States embassy in Kigali, and he was soon transferred to The Hague. Most of the fighters loyal to Ntaganda then took refuge in Rwanda.[84] Makenga’s group was eventually defeated by the Congolese army—with support from the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo, MONUSCO, and its Force Intervention Brigade (FIB)—in November 2013. Most of Makenga’s fighters then took refuge in neighboring Uganda.[85]

Following the group’s defeat, the Congolese government and M23 signed the so-called Nairobi Declarations in December 2013, concluding a dialogue that started in 2012 and was mediated by then Ugandan defense minister Dr. Crispus Kiyonga.[86] As per the individual declarations, the Congolese government committed to give an amnesty to combatants not otherwise sought for serious crimes and to: respect and implement transitional security arrangements that would include cantonment, disarmament, demobilization and social reintegration of M23 combatants; release political prisoners; support the return and resettlement of Congolese refugees and internally displaced people; carry out national reconciliation efforts; implement governance as well as socio-economic reforms; and establish a mechanism for evaluating and following up on the Nairobi declarations.

The M23, in turn, committed to renounce its rebellion; comply with and implement transitional security arrangements; produce a list of its imprisoned members; transform into a political party in accordance with Congo’s laws and constitution; encourage the return and resettlement of refugees and internally displaced persons; and participate in a national reconciliation commission and a mechanism for implementing, monitoring and evaluating the Nairobi declarations.

Progress on implementing the Nairobi Declarations and the earlier Framework Agreement over the past four years has been limited. The M23 may continue to pose a threat to civilians until M23 leaders responsible for serious international crimes are brought to justice and eligible M23 combatants are repatriated so that they can participate in a credible disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) program that provides them a viable alternative to rebellion. While the M23’s original leader, Ntaganda, has been on trial at the ICC for crimes committed in 2002 and 2003 in Ituri district when he was part of another rebellion, no other M23 leaders have been arrested or brought to justice for crimes committed during the M23 rebellion.

The Nairobi declarations were clear that M23 leaders allegedly responsible for war crimes and other grave international crimes would not benefit from an amnesty. More than a dozen M23 commanders are sought on Congolese and international arrest warrants for war crimes and crimes against humanity.[87] Seven of these individuals are on UN and US sanctions lists that subject them to a travel ban and assets freeze.[88] In July 2013, the Congolese government officially requested the extradition of four M23 leaders from Rwanda to Congo, namely Eric Badege, Baudouin Ngaruye, Jean-Marie Runiga, and Innocent Zimurinda. Human Rights Watch is not aware of any recent efforts to follow up on the extradition requests. Three of the four were involved in organizing the operations to quash protests in Congo in December 2016, which is a violation of the Nairobi declarations.[89]

In November 2013, the Ugandan government reported that a total of 1,456 M23 combatants were in Kisoro, Uganda,[90] although other estimates were significantly lower.[91] After disarming them and handing their weapons over to the Congolese government, Ugandan authorities reportedly relocated 1,312 M3 combatants to Hima in Kasese district. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the expanded joint verification mechanism (EJVM) of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) visited them there. Fifty children were reportedly handed over to the ICRC.[92]

Around 1,300 combatants were then reportedly transferred to the Bihanga military training camp in December 2013. The UN peacekeeping mission, EJVM, journalists and others visited M23 fighters there. In May 2014, a Congolese government delegation visited Bihanga to register combatants following the signing of the amnesty law three months prior.[93]

Later that year, in December 2014, a total of 182 former M23 elements were repatriated from Uganda to the Kamina military camp in Congo. The same month, the UN reported that about 1,000 ex-M23 elements had refused to be repatriated and fled the camp in Bihanga, reportedly moving to the Rwamwanja refugee camp, 26 kilometers from Bihanga.[94] Their refusal to return came in the context of reports that more than 100 other demobilized combatants and dependents had died from starvation and disease in a remote military camp in Congo after officials failed to provide adequate food and health care.[95] At time of writing, the situation of many other ex-combatants in camps around the country remains dire, with DDR programs stalled and many lacking the means to start a new life and tempted to join an armed group to make ends meet.[96]

In January 2015, M23 official René Abandi resigned from his position as coordinator tasked to oversee implementation of the Nairobi declarations, alleging that the Congolese government was violating its commitments.[97] Other M23 leaders also expressed concern and fear about the security in cantonment camps in Congo.[98] In October that year, the political leader of the M23 wing in Uganda, Bertand Bisimwa, declared that the M23 group residing in Uganda would no longer honor its commitment under the Nairobi declarations given the perceived obstruction and unwillingness of the Congolese government.[99]

In December 2015, only 646 M23 combatants were reportedly present in Bihanga camp in Uganda with nearly 500 others recorded as absent. Thirteen M23 were later repatriated to Kamina in Congo, bringing the number of total M23 combatants repatriated from Uganda to Congo to a total of 195 by the end of 2015, two years after the Nairobi declarations had been signed. By that time, 309 were still present and accounted for in Rwanda out of about 600 M23 who had fled to Rwanda in March 2013.[100]

In April 2016, Uganda hosted a meeting with regional stakeholders to discuss the delayed implementation of the Nairobi declarations. A month later, M23 representatives traveled to Kinshasa to attend a meeting between signatories to the declarations.[101]

While some M23 fighters were being recruited in late 2016 to protect Kabila in the country’s main cities, others crossed the border from Uganda and Rwanda to eastern Congo’s Rutshuru and Nyiragongo territories, ostensibly to create a new rebellion. Sporadic skirmishes with the Congolese army were reported in late 2016 and early 2017. The Congolese ambassador to the United Nations in New York wrote to the UN Security Council in January 2017, warning that the renewed “war” with the M23 could delay plans for the organization of elections. While some M23 fighters and commanders may genuinely oppose the Congolese government and support a renewed rebellion, several M23 combatants told Human Rights Watch that the government used some of the renewed fighting as a diversion and that some elements of the M23 continued to get support from and maintain good relations with some senior Congolese security force officers.[102]

On January 18, 2017, the Ugandan government reportedly arrested 101 M23 combatants who had escaped from Bihanga camp and said others had been “quietly escaping into the general public and some to unknown places.”[103] Another 40 M23 rebels were discovered to have escaped earlier on January 12.[104]

Also in January, the Rwandan government announced that a group of unarmed people claiming to be M23 combatants had fled from Congo to Rwanda.[105]

On February 9, 2017, an intelligence officer and captain at the Bihanga Army Training School said that they could not account for 750 M23 rebels.[106] A few days later, a Ugandan army spokesperson said that 44 ex-M23 combatants, who had fled to Uganda following clashes with the Congolese army, had been arrested and were being held in the military camp in Kisoro, Uganda.[107] In early September 2017, Uganda could account for 214 combatants physically present while another 887 remain unaccounted for.[108]

On October 18, a Congolese army spokesperson announced the repatriation of 51 M23 combatants from Uganda to Congo, and he added that over 300 M23 combatants had already been repatriated since the start of 2017. He said they were currently in training centers as part of the demobilization and reinsertion program for former combatants.[109]

Ugandan authorities have repeatedly expressed their dissatisfaction with the stalemate of hundreds of M23 members residing in their country. In 2014, for example, a Ugandan military spokesperson lamented that “we don’t have money [to feed them]. They are a burden for us.”[110] In an official correspondence to Human Rights Watch on September 5, 2017, the Ugandan Minister of Defense and Veteran Affairs Adolf Mwesige wrote, “currently, the Ex-M23 combatants in Uganda are neither prisoners, NOR refugees because they are NOT prisoners, some of them have moved out of the cantonment and scattered in other surroundings areas, including refugee camps and other country sides in search for employment to raise cash for basic essentials such as clothing and et al.” He also clarified that Uganda “still bears the burden of accommodation, feeding, clothing and general welfare of ex-M23 combatants. This is being done against a constrained budget. Bearing in mind that these members are neither in prison nor in a refugee camp, containing their movement has been difficult. Their repatriation therefore is overdue and should be expedited.”[111]

The failure to officially repatriate the majority of M23 combatants to Congo, grant them refugee status in Uganda or Rwanda (Uganda is in the process of granting refugee status, the government said in September 2017[112]), or possibly relocate them to another country appears to have played a role in convincing many M23 combatants to return to Congo and partake in the December 2016 repression.

 

IV. M23 Recruitment and Role in December 2016 Crackdown

Based on interviews with 21 M23 fighters, commanders and political leaders and nine Congolese security force officers, Human Rights Watch estimates that at least around 200 M23 fighters were recruited in Uganda and Rwanda by Congo’s government and deployed to Kinshasa, Lubumbashi, and Goma around December 19, 2016. The actual number is likely significantly higher.

While senior M23 officers were aware of the operation and helped facilitate the transfers, it was largely the rank-and-file combatants—who would not be recognized by the Congolese population or the security forces—who were sent to Congo. Numerous security officials in Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda, as well as at least 20 senior M23 officers, organized and helped facilitate the covert transfers across the three countries, involving long overland drives and flights. Congolese security service officials paid M23 combatants relatively large sums of money and fed and accommodated them during the deployment.

Motivations of M23 Combatants

M23 fighters told Human Rights Watch that they agreed to participate in the operation to protect Kabila because they were paid well, they were well taken care of before and during their deployment to Congo, and they were simply following the orders of their commanders. Some said that they had been promised senior ranks and prestigious positions in the Congolese army or a return to Congo after spending years abroad in difficult circumstances. Eight of the M23 combatants interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that their superiors had told them that only Kabila would protect and promote their interests in Congo, so they had to do what they could to make sure he stayed in power. They were told that the presidency, in turn, did not trust its regular army and favored the M23 for their loyalty and ruthlessness in executing orders.[113]

One high-ranking M23 officer in Uganda told Human Rights Watch:

We continue to be supported here by people inside the Congolese government. We regularly receive money from Kinshasa, like other units of the FARDC [Congolese army]. The M23 is essentially working for Kabila [now].

The only way for Kabila to stay in power is if he remains strong, but you aren’t strong if you don’t entirely control your army and that’s where the M23 comes in. We have the best soldiers loyal to President Kabila other than those who integrated into the army after they were with [the previous rebel groups] RCD and CNDP.

We were warned that “the power in Congo will tumble if we don’t mobilize behind Kabila, who has helped us for a long time. If he’s no longer there, nobody would speak about us [Congolese Tutsi] in Congo anymore. We need to mobilize or it will also be the end of us.”[114]

Another M23 officer in Uganda said:

 

A Congolese general told us the president was in danger and therefore all of Kabila’s friends are also in danger. The general explained to us in clear and simple terms why we must help Kabila, saying that Congolese from the west [of the country] don’t appreciate those of us who come from the east. If Kabila leaves office, it’s the end for the people from the east. They will be chased out of Kinshasa like dogs or sorcerers. This is why we must all rally to protect the president.[115]

An M23 combatant in Uganda said Kabila’s lack of trust in his own army was a reason for him to turn to the M23 for help:

M23 combatants went to Kinshasa because the president has lost confidence in his own military. He only trusts soldiers from the east: North and South Kivu [provinces]; many of them once worked with the RCD and CNDP. A lot of M23 were deployed to wage a war against those who want to put Kabila’s power in danger.[116]

Another combatant said that “Kabila called us in, the M23,” adding: “We’ve supported him. We also know that he supports us in a variety of ways. It’s thanks to him that we live here, in Uganda. It’s thanks to him that many members from our [Tutsi] community found senior positions in the army, the police, and even in the public administration.”[117]

An M23 fighter in Rwanda said that former CNDP and RCD officers in the Congolese army had told M23 officers that “the new ranks” for M23 fighters will be announced “soon,” that the high ranks “will be accompanied by better positions, and that the M23 will control the entire army in North Kivu and South Kivu provinces. But while waiting for this to happen, the M23 must also support the president in his final battles, and this fight is to ensure he can stay in power beyond December 19, 2016.”[118]

A lieutenant colonel in the Congolese army elaborated on the motivation behind recruiting M23 into the ranks of the Congolese forces:

You know the presence of soldiers has always frightened civilians. That’s why President Kabila decided to deploy M23 on the streets of the major cities [in Congo] so that all those civilians who wanted to protest would be too afraid to leave their homes.[119]

Recruitment in Uganda

Throughout 2016, but especially toward the end of the year, senior Congolese security officials went to Uganda, including the refugee camps in Rwamwanja and Kyaka, as well as the military camp Bihanga, to meet with senior M23 officials and inform them about the operation to send M23 fighters to Congo at the end of the year. They also gave M23 officers significant amounts of money to finance the operation. Some M23 officers and fighters also received phone calls from their contacts in the Congolese security forces, encouraging them to support and participate in the operation.

An M23 officer told Human Rights Watch about a Congolese army general’s regular visits to Uganda in 2016: “All of his trips were meant to prepare the people who could protect the president at the end of his mandate.”[120]

Around November 21, 2016, senior M23 officers invited dozens of M23 fighters based in Rwamwanja camp in Uganda to a meeting at a hotel in Katalieba, not far from the camp. During the meeting, the officers told them about the operation and explained why they needed to go to Congo to protect Kabila. The M23 fighters ate and drank well, and each of them left the meeting with an envelope containing US$300 to $500—a lot of money for M23 fighters who had not had any official employment for years.

Human Rights Watch interviewed several of the M23 fighters who had participated in the meeting. One of them said, “There was a lot of food and drinks at the meeting. I was surprised by the reception and how many of us were there. Each of us could drink whatever and how much he liked.”[121]

Another combatant said that he decided to attend the meeting at the hotel because he “had had heard that … money was already circulating in Rwamwanja for those who would accept to go to Congo to protect President Joseph Kabila.” When he got to the meeting, he said he was “surprised to see such a large number of people available to go on a mission to Congo. After the meeting, I received an envelope containing $500. I was really happy. There was also a lot of food for us.”[122]

Another M23 fighter said he was recruited by M23 Col. Yusuf Mboneza, who was in charge of military operations for the M23.[123] He said that Mboneza told him that a Congolese army officer had brought money to Rwamwanja to finance the transfer of M23 fighters to Congo. “It wasn’t difficult, because there was money to give around,” he said. “Personally, I received $300.”[124] Another M23 combatant told Human Rights Watch he participated with several M23 leaders, including Colonel Mboneza and a high-ranking Congolese army official, in a meeting to plan the recruitment of M23 combatants.[125]

A shopkeeper told Human Rights Watch about the “climate of mobilization” in Rwamwanja in November and December:

We thought they were getting ready for a new liberation war in Congo. In November and December, a lot of money circulated in the camp. The young men [M23 fighters] had a lot of money. One of them would come with a 100 dollar bill to buy a beer. This was really unusual. I don’t know when exactly they left, but by the beginning of December, the camp was nearly empty of young men. Some of them returned in late December; others came back in January. When they returned, we thought they must have had a great opportunity because they came back with money. Some later returned again to Congo [in 2017].[126]

Recruitment in Rwanda

In Rwanda, M23 fighters have been dispersed across several refugee camps, including Kiziba camp in Kibuye district, Western province, and Kigeme camp in Nyamagabe district, Southern province. In October 2016, senior M23 officials met with Congolese army officers in Gisenyi and Goma (neighboring cities in Rwanda and Congo, respectively). They were given large sums of money and instructions to start mobilizing the troops and prepare them for the operation in Congo in December.

“They got an important sum of money,” one M23 fighter told Human Rights Watch, referring to what the Congolese army officers paid the M23 commanders. “I don’t know the exact amount, but I can tell you that a lot of them started new construction projects in Goma since they got these payments.”[127]

M23 officials and senior officers then did a tour of the military and refugee camps to start mobilizing the M23 fighters. During this period, while awaiting the deployment to Congo, one M23 fighter in Rwanda described how the M23 commanders treated them:

[They] took really good care of us then. They gave us food and rations and even bought [alcoholic] drinks for us. We wondered where this generosity came from, and we realized later that it was part of their strategy to keep us close to them so we would be ready to deploy anytime. And we realized they had received money to take care of us during this period.[128]

Another M23 fighter described how they used word of mouth to spread the message: He said his commander came to mobilize them and “told us to go to the others, our colleagues and friends. That’s how the information spread to all the M23 fighters.”[129]

Journey to Congo

The M23 fighters travelled from the refugee and military camps in Uganda and Rwanda to their deployment in Kinshasa, Lubumbashi, and Goma in numerous different groups that varied in size, from a handful of M23 fighters to several dozen.[130] Some of the M23 fighters in Rwanda travelled to Congo on their own. They took different routes and travelled on different days to avoid drawing attention to their movements. Along the way, Ugandan, Rwandan, and Congolese officials, including army officers and border agents, facilitated their journeys, providing vehicles, flights, army uniforms, accommodation, food, and free passage.

Some travelled by road from Rwamwanja to Kitagoma, where they crossed the border from Uganda to Congo and then continued by road to Beni. From there, they took flights to Kisangani in northeastern Congo, and some went on to Kinshasa, while others flew to Lubumbashi. Others went from Rwamwanja to Kisoro and then to Kyanika, and from there they crossed the border from Uganda into Rwanda and drove on to Kigali. Some went from the Kibungo camp in Rwanda to Kabuhanga, where they crossed the border into Congo’s Rutshuru territory. They stayed with an allied Nyatura armed group before eventually being deployed to Goma. Others in the Rwandan refugee camps travelled on their own to Gisenyi, where they crossed the border into Goma. From there, they either stayed in Goma or they were put on planes to Lubumbashi or Kinshasa. Some were sent first to the Congolese military training camp in Kitona, in southwestern Congo, before going on to Kinshasa.

An M23 fighter in Rwamwanja told Human Rights Watch that Ugandan and Congolese army colonels had facilitated his journey to Kinshasa with other fighters:

We left Rwamwanja on December 7. We first went to Kitagoma, where a Ugandan colonel got us across the border at night. A FARDC [Congolese] colonel picked us up on the other side. He gave us military uniforms and we got into his trucks. Another FARDC colonel joined us. We got to Beni the next day. We went to the airport and flew to Kisangani. Some went from there to Lubumbashi. The others and I continued to Kinshasa. Military trucks were waiting for us at Ndolo airport. There were many of us, and we stayed at several different places in Masina neighborhood.[131]

Another M23 fighter described his journey from Rwamwanja to Lubumbashi:

On December 6, we left Rwamwanja in trucks. None of us knew where we would be sent, but we knew that three cities were specifically targeted, namely Kinshasa, Lubumbashi, and Goma. The next morning, we arrived in Kisoro [Uganda] and took a break there in the [Ugandan] military camp, waiting for the night to arrive. About 8:30 p.m., the trucks came back and brought us to the border at Kitagoma. We didn’t have any difficulties crossing the border; everything was already arranged. It seems that the border agents already knew that we would arrive. They didn’t ask us for our identities. At the Congolese side of the border, FARDC trucks and jeeps were waiting for us. We got on board and drove to Beni. From Beni, we took a FARDC plane to Kisangani.

In Kisangani, some of us continued for Kinshasa, while we waited for another plane to bring us to Lubumbashi. On December 11, we left for Lubumbashi. FARDC officers were waiting for us, and they organized our accommodation.[132]

Another M23 combatant in Uganda said that he was given a Rwandan army uniform when passing through Rwanda:

On December 7, we left Rwamwanja in Ugandan military trucks. In Rwanda, we changed into RDF [Rwanda Defence Force, the national army of Rwanda] uniforms. When we arrived in Kigali, we were brought to the Kanombe military camp, close to the airport. We met others there who would join us. M23 Col. [Innocent] Zimurinda came to visit us and wished us good luck. We left for Congo on December 10 or 11.[133]

The M23 fighters in Rwanda generally travelled to Congo individually or in smaller groups. One of them told Human Rights Watch: “There are more than 100 M23 fighters in the [refugee] camp here, and many of us found each other in Kinshasa. But the strategy wasn’t to travel in big groups. We left individually or in small groups, and we took public transport. Each of us received a sum of money to facilitate our transport to the designated location.”[134]

Another M23 fighter in Rwanda said that he and his group from Kibungo camp spent time with the Nyatura armed group before going on to Goma:

In early October, under the command of a [M23] colonel, we left Kibungo camp. Three buses came to pick us up. In Kabari [Rwanda], we took a turn towards Kabuhanga, at the Congolese border. A FARDC police lieutenant gave us FARDC uniforms to cross into Congo at night. We then crossed over on foot. Each of us received a weapon and ammunition. We left for Tongo [Rutshuru]. There, we exchanged fire with the [Congolese] army but they later seemed to have received orders to let us pass. We continued to Busumba [Masisi], where we stayed with Nyatura elements. In mid-December, we left by bus towards Kanyaruchinya and Gabiro, just north of Goma. A FARDC general then met a M23 colonel to give us more uniforms and our instructions for the following days.[135]

Congo Deployment

Once they arrived in Kinshasa, Lubumbashi, and Goma, the M23 fighters were given Congolese army, police, or Republican Guard uniforms, and they were mixed into various units, mostly those that were commanded by former CNDP or RCD officers. Their housing and meals were also largely organized by security force officers they knew and trusted. They were told not to do anything that might bring attention to their presence. They were given orders to use all available means to quash protests and protect the president.

An M23 commander told Human Rights Watch about the orders he and his men had received: “We split up into different units, and each unit was led by a trusted commander or someone close to Kabila. We received the order to use all means at our disposal to dissuade even the smallest protest, and you know a soldier only has his weapon.”[136]

An M23 combatant said that his recruiter had told him how “easy” the mission would be:

He told us we “should not wince, because the war won’t be hard; we will fight against demonstrators, who are civilians with no weapons. They will fear us. Really, it’s money that we will earn for free.” And so we went there, and it worked very well. The people of Kinshasa feared us. We had the authorization to use our weapons if there were threats. We were also told that the Kuluna [members of criminal gangs] in Kinshasa were very dangerous, and that, if they came near us, we shouldn’t hesitate to shoot them in the chest.[137]

Another M23 combatant, who was part of a unit charged with protecting the state radio and television headquarters and the parliament, said:

 We were heavily armed, and we were all wearing military uniforms. We received orders to shoot immediately at the slightest provocation by civilians. Sometimes we returned to our accommodations to relax, but we received orders not to speak too much to civilians and to avoid being photographed. It was also strictly forbidden to look for prostitutes.[138]

One M23 fighter said his unit protected Kinshasa from possible threats that could come from Kongo Central province:

We controlled the road into Kinshasa from Matadi [capital of Kongo Central province]. We all wore FARDC uniforms. We received the order to shoot at every possible threat or if a group of more than 10 people came towards us. There were more than 100 soldiers in our unit, and most of us were M23. We knew each other, and we were surprised to find each other there. “My friend, you came too?!,” we would say. When we left for Kinshasa, we didn’t know who had come and who hadn’t.[139]

An M23 combatant who was deployed in a military police unit in Kinshasa said:

We used our weapons to intimidate and scare the population of Kinshasa. We circulated everywhere, in all of Kinshasa’s neighborhoods. When there were bodies of people killed along the road, we picked them up quickly to hide them far away from where the international community would find out about them. This is the work we did to protect Kabila’s hold on power so he could continue to lead the country.[140]

Another M23 fighter deployed in Kinshasa said: “We imposed order in Kinshasa. The people of Kinshasa saw we were strong; they were scared of us. They knew they had to be, or we would send them to their graves.”[141]

An M23 fighter who went from the Rwamwanja refugee camp in Uganda via Rwanda to Congo said he had received orders from a Rwandan army officer:

You are leaving for Kinshasa [the Rwandan officer said]. You’ve got to be quiet there. Don’t speak in public so that the population doesn’t learn who you are. If some of you speak Lingala [the dominant language in western Congo], they have to be in charge of talking to the people, but only if they need to. You’ll receive more orders once you arrive in Kinshasa. Just follow the orders and don’t get caught.[142]

An M23 combatant posted in Lubumbashi’s Katuba neighborhood said:

M23 fighters were everywhere in Lubumbashi. We were spread out all over the city. I controlled the Matshipisha axis [in Katuba neighborhood]. Before coming to Lubumbashi, we were told that the population of Katuba is very loyal to [opposition leaders] Moïse Katumbi and Kyungu wa Kumwanza. That’s why we received the order to seriously reprimand every person who would try to make even the slightest noise akin to a demonstration. We were told to fire at point-blank range at the protesters. We knew that the other protesters would flee if some of them were killed.[143]

Another M23 combatant who was deployed in a “mobile unit” in Lubumbashi said:

We were in vehicles, mainly small trucks and we drove all over the city. Our [Congolese army] commander told us: “You are here on a mission; your only objective is to protect the president. The city of Lubumbashi has to be calm; if you see demonstrators, don’t hesitate to shoot in the middle of them. Don’t be afraid; nobody will do anything to you.” We really succeeded in our mission: every time there were demonstrations, we went there and did what we were asked to do. The Katuba commune was the most difficult to manage, but we imposed ourselves; to those who were hard headed, we showed that we are as hard as stone.[144]

Five Congolese security and intelligence officers in Kinshasa and four in Goma confirmed to Human Rights Watch that M23 fighters were deployed to Congo to crack down on protesters.

One army officer in Kinshasa said:

The Congolese government invited M23 elements to help Kabila stay in power past his mandate [ending on December 19, 2016]. In November, his people did everything in their power so the M23 would arrive in Kinshasa. Their mission was to repress all demonstrations against the president. They received orders to shoot live bullets in case of any resistance.[145]

A lieutenant working for the Republican Guard in Kinshasa said that M23 fighters were integrated into his unit:

M23 fighters were brought into our unit to reinforce our capacity to protect the head of state. That was their principal objective. There were more than 100 of them. In case the regime would be in danger, they’d intervene.[146]

A Congolese intelligence officer described “a large presence” of M23 combatants in Goma at the end of 2016. “They were untouchable at this point. We couldn’t do anything [about their presence],” he said.[147]

Return to Uganda and Rwanda

In late December and early January, many and perhaps most of the M23 fighters returned to their camps in Uganda and Rwanda to await their next mission. The M23 combatants Human Rights Watch interviewed who participated in the operation all returned to Uganda and Rwanda in late December and January. However, they indicated that some M23 combatants stayed in Congo, embedded in Congolese security force units.

One combatant said, “I stayed in Kinshasa for a few more days past the 19th [of December], and then I returned to Goma on board a [Congolese] military plane.” He then travelled by road back to the Kyaka refugee camp in Uganda.[148]

“We left Kinshasa in early January,” another M23 fighter said. “We first went to Goma and later returned to Rwamwanja via Rwanda. Cars were waiting for us at the main border crossing between Goma and Gisenyi.”[149]

Another fighter who had been deployed to Lubumbashi said:

I returned to Goma in January. At the airport in Goma, I left behind the new FARDC commando uniform I had received in Lubumbashi. I then crossed into Rwanda without any problems. We were in a land cruiser with tinted windows and without a license plate. The car wasn’t stopped at the border. I eventually arrived back in Rwamwanja [Uganda].

“Many M23 left the way they came to Kinshasa, namely in small groups of four and five people on commercial flights,” a captain working for Congolese military intelligence said.[150]

 

V. M23 Recruitment for “Special Operations”

In addition to their deployment to Kinshasa, Lubumbashi, and Goma around December 19, 2016, the Congolese government recruited at least an estimated 200 M23 fighters from Uganda and Rwanda between May and July 2017 and sent them to a training camp in Kisangani, in northeastern Congo.[151] Many of them were first sent to a Congolese army camp in Kamina, southern Congo, before being sent to Kisangani. Several sources said that the operation had been led by the military intelligence director, Gen. Delphin Kahimbi. The military’s apparent objective is to prepare them for a “special mission” or “special operations” to respond to any threats against Kabila and his hold on power.

“We know that Kabila still needs them,” a high-ranking army officer said. “He wants them to integrate into the army because he trusts them more than his soldiers. The president is well-aware of what the M23 did for him. He isn’t just recruiting M23, but also others from Rwanda and Uganda. They’re being integrated right into the army, so they’re no longer mercenaries. Kabila isn’t joking anymore.”[152]

“I’ve been in Kisangani since early May [2017],” an M23 combatant in Kisangani said over the phone. “I came with others from different [refugee] camps in Rwanda and Uganda. We crossed the border clandestinely with the help of the Rwandan military. We are currently at the Lukusa military camp [in Kisangani]. We are wearing [Congolese] army uniforms and awaiting orders. Many others are also waiting to join us here.”[153]

A senior Congolese security official told Human Rights Watch that those in Kisangani have a “special mission,” and that the group will be “specialized in responding to the current political situation and any threat against the head of state.”[154]

 

 

VI. Congolese Officials Implicated in the M23 Recruitment

Human Rights Watch received information about the involvement of 19 Congolese security force and intelligence officers and one North Kivu provincial member of parliament in the recruitment of M23 fighters from camps in Uganda and Rwanda and their deployment to Congo in late 2016. The following officers were cited by multiple sources as having played a commanding role in the operation:

Gen. Delphin Kahimbi

General Kahimbi, commander of military intelligence, has a long record of involvement in serious human rights abuses, including in eastern Congo and Kinshasa.[155] He has recently been implicated in arbitrary arrest and detention and mistreatment in Kinshasa in the context of repression against the political opposition and others. He has been alleged to be the mastermind behind the operation to recruit and deploy M23 fighters, according to army and M23 sources.[156] A major in the army told Human Rights Watch that “General Kahimbi is Kabila’s right hand. He has been a central figure in the recruitment of M23 combatants. He’s got his intermediaries, too, who help him organize his activities.”[157]

An M23 combatant told Human Rights Watch, “General Delphin Kahimbi told us ‘you have a lot to do in Congo. Stay strong. Don’t be discouraged. We’re thinking of you. We’ve got plans for you in Congo.’ He then distributed money among our leaders.”[158]

Kahimbi was sanctioned by the European Union in December 2016 for “trying to obstruct a consensual and peaceful solution to the crisis as regards the holding of elections in the DRC.”[159]

Gen. Gabriel Amisi (also known as “Tango Four”)

General Amisi, commander of the army’s First Defense Zone, which covers Kinshasa and the western provinces, also has a long record of involvement in serious human rights abuses.[160] He is known to be a close ally of President Kabila, and he’s a former officer in the Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD), a Rwandan-backed rebellion. Amisi was involved in the recruitment efforts and coordinated the deployment of soldiers across Kinshasa in December 2016, according to several M23 combatants.[161]

Some of the recruits knew Amisi well and had worked with him in the RCD and when they were previously in the Congolese army. Amisi reportedly travelled frequently to Kampala, Uganda, to help coordinate the operation and distributed money for the recruitment. “General Amisi brought Kabila’s money to take care of the new M23 recruits and send them to Kinshasa,” a major in the army told Human Rights Watch.[162] “General Tango Four regularly organized meetings with M23 officers in Kinshasa to evaluate and plan the operation. General Kahimbi also participated, providing intelligence. I was there myself,” an M23 combatant told Human Rights Watch.[163]

Amisi was sanctioned by the United States and the European Union for human rights abuses in September and December 2016, respectively.[164]

Gen. Muhindo Akili Mundos

General Mundos is an army commander officially based in Mambasa, Ituri province, who is also known to be a close ally of the president. Several M23 members told Human Rights Watch that Mundos oversaw the deployment of M23 fighters in Lubumbashi.[165] Two army officers, one who is close to Mundos, echoed what M23 members said, adding that Mundos also helped coordinate the repression by Republican Guard soldiers and intelligence officers in Kinshasa.[166] “Mundos is a high-ranking officer in the FARDC, who is entrusted by Kabila to keep him in power,” one said. “He has the power to give orders, even from a distance. He knows how to operate clandestinely.”[167]

Mundos was sanctioned by the European Union for human rights abuses in May 2017.[168]

Gen. François Kamanzi

General Kamanzi is a former RCD officer who is now commander of North Kivu’s military zone. Several M23 members told Human Rights Watch that Kamanzi oversaw the deployment of M23 combatants in Goma, including by giving them orders, and he coordinated the transport of those deployed in Goma or passing through Goma en route to Kinshasa or Lubumbashi.[169]

“General François greeted us [in Goma],” an M23 combatant told Human Rights Watch. “We [combatants] were very happy because he seemed very satisfied with our presence in Congo. He told us, ‘If you hadn’t responded to the invitation to come save the Raïs [President Kabila], I’d have been lost. Luckily, you are still loyal and courageous soldiers. You are going to be rewarded for all your efforts. We are going to save what we have built together over a long time.’”[170]

 

 

VII. Response from Government Authorities and the M23 Leadership

Human Rights Watch shared the research findings documented in this report in letters sent to senior Congolese, Rwandan, and Ugandan officials in August and September 2017. The Congolese and Rwandan governments did not provide official responses to Human Rights Watch.

The Ugandan Minister of Defense and Veteran Affairs, Adolf Mwesige, replied with an official correspondence to Human Rights Watch on September 5, 2017. He said no incident of covert recruitment by senior Congolese security officials of M23 combatants in Uganda “has ever been reported to Ugandan authorities.” The minister further stated that “no Ugandan officer(s) has been reported for facilitating the recruitment or providing transport to M23 Ex-combatants to travel to DRC from Uganda.” Listing the arrests of M23 made by Ugandan security officials, Mwesige said “there has been no need for Uganda authorities to sanction or discipline any of its officers.” He also clarified that the commanders and staff officers of the Bihanga Training School supervise M23 fighters residing there.[171] See Annex I for the full letter from Mwesige.

Human Rights Watch shared its research findings with the M23’s political leader, Bertrand Bisimwa, during a phone interview on November 15. In response, Bisimwa said that Congolese security force officers had recruited M23 combatants from camps in Uganda and Rwanda and sent them to Congo to participate in special operations:

The Congolese government has refused to implement the accords that we signed in Nairobi. It’s a fact that they refused to implement the accords which opened the door to this kind of maneuver. They [Congolese security force officers] tricked our combatants.... Some of them are tired of waiting in exile, so they’re tempted to accept offers to participate in this type of thing. They’re offered money, and they’re told that they’ll be put in charge of an army unit. [The recruiters] take advantage of their unhappiness being in exile. [The M23 combatants] are tired of waiting so they fall into the government’s trap.... We regret that some of our combatants are taken back to [Congo] to be used in these operations.

Bisimwa said that he was not aware of which operations the M23 combatants were involved in after they get to Congo: “Once they arrive in Congo, they’re completely used by the government, so we don’t have any control over them.”

Bisimwa also said that those M23 fighters who had returned to Congo through the official process were sent to camps where they are living in “lamentable conditions.” He called on the guarantors of the Nairobi Declarations to fulfill their responsibilities and ensure full implementation of the agreements.[172]

 

VIII. Domestic and International Law

As described in this report, Congolese military, police, and intelligence personnel along with M23 fighters have violated fundamental rights protected under domestic and international law with virtual impunity. Human Rights Watch is not aware that any member of the state security forces or a state agent, including M23 fighters, has been arrested or prosecuted for the serious crimes documented. No independent and transparent judicial investigation has been conducted into the violence committed by security forces in December 2016 in Kinshasa, Lubumbashi, Boma, and Matadi. Human Rights Watch has found no instance where senior civilian or high-ranking military leaders sought to prevent abuses or take serious actions to punish individuals under their effective control who were responsible for serious crimes in violation of international law.

Congolese Law

The actions of government officials and agencies documented in this report infringe fundamental rights set out in the Congolese constitution, which came into effect on February 18, 2006.[173] Article 16 of the constitution ensures citizens the right to life and the right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. Article 18 states that all arrested persons must be immediately informed of the reasons for arrest, the charges against them, and their rights. Detained persons have the right to enter into immediate contact with their family or legal counsel and must not be held in police investigative custody for longer than 48 hours, after which time they must be released or brought before the competent judicial authority. The life, physical and mental health, and dignity of all detainees must be protected. Article 19 states that every person has the right to trial before a competent judge within a reasonable time.[174]

Many constitutional rights have been incorporated into the Congolese penal code.[175] For instance, arbitrary arrest is a crime under article 67 of the penal code, punishable by between one and five years in prison. This sentence can be increased up to 20 years if the arrest was accompanied by physical ill-treatment or torture and up to death or life imprisonment where such injuries result in the death of the detainee. (Although the death penalty is still permitted in Congo, there has been a moratorium on executions since 2003.[176] Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances because of its inherent cruelty and finality.) 

Under the constitution, Republican Guards and other military security personnel are not empowered to arrest civilians or detain them in military facilities.

International Human Rights Law

The crimes committed by Congolese security forces and M23 fighters documented in this report, including summary killings, arbitrary arrest, detention without trial, and torture and other ill-treatment, constitute violations of Congo’s obligations under international human rights law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Congo ratified in 1976; the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which Congo ratified in 1987; and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which Congo ratified in 1996.

Security forces used force, including lethal force, during demonstrations in Kinshasa, Lubumbashi, Boma, and Matadi in December 2016 without regard to international standards. The UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials provide that officials exercising police powers, including military personnel, should apply non-violent means in carrying out their duties and only use force when strictly necessary. When the use of force is unavoidable, it should be used in proportion to the seriousness of the offense and the legitimate objective to be achieved, and shall minimize damage and injury.[177] The principles further state that law enforcement officials exercising police powers shall “not use firearms against persons except in self-defense or defense of others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury … and only when less extreme means are insufficient to achieve these objectives” and that “[i]n any event, intentional lethal use of firearms may only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.[178]

Crowd control should be handled by security forces with training in crowd control, normally the police and not the military. The UN Basic Principles set out requirements for training in the use of force and firearms.[179]

Governments have a duty to impartially investigate and appropriately prosecute serious violations of human rights, including unlawful killings, torture, and arbitrary arrests. The UN Human Rights Committee, which monitors compliance with the ICCPR, has stated that governments not only have a duty to protect their citizens from such violations, but also to investigate violations when they occur and to bring the perpetrators to justice.[180]According to the committee, when investigations uncover violations of human rights:

States Parties must ensure that those responsible are brought to justice. As with failure to investigate, failure to bring to justice perpetrators of such violations could in and of itself give rise to a separate breach of the Covenant. These obligations arise notably in respect of those violations recognized as criminal under either domestic or international law, such as torture and similar cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment (article 7), [and] summary and arbitrary killing (article 6).... Indeed, the problem of impunity for these violations, a matter of sustained concern by the Committee, may well be an important contributing element in the recurrence of the violations.[181]

International human rights law also enshrines the right to an effective remedy.[182] A victim’s right to an effective remedy not only obligates the government to prevent, investigate, and punish serious human rights violations, but also to provide reparations. Among various reparations mechanisms, governments should restore the right violated and provide compensation for damages. The government is under a continuing obligation to provide an effective remedy; there is no time limit on legal action.[183]

Various international standards also seek to promote state efforts to obtain justice for victims. For instance, the Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions call upon governments to remove officials implicated in such crimes from direct or indirect power over the complainants and witnesses, as well as those conducting the investigation.[184]

Combating impunity requires the identification of the specific perpetrators of the violations. The doctrine of superior or command responsibility imposes criminal liability on superiors for the unlawful acts of their subordinates, where the superior knew or had reason to know of the unlawful acts, and failed to prevent or punish those acts.[185]

In addition to the obligation to investigate and prosecute, governments have an obligation to provide victims with information about the investigation into the violations. Victims should be entitled to seek and obtain information on the causes and conditions resulting in rights violations against them.[186] The former UN Commission on Human Rights adopted principles stating that “irrespective of any legal proceedings, victims, their families and relatives have the imprescriptible right to know the truth about the circumstances in which violations took place.”[187]

 

Acknowledgments

This report was researched and written by a team of researchers in the Africa division of Human Rights Watch, including Ida Sawyer and Timo Müller. James Ross, legal and policy director, and Babatunde Olugboji, deputy program director, provided legal and program review respectively. Specialist reviews were provided by the UN advocacy team.

Jean-Sébastien Sépulchre, associate in the Africa division, provided writing, editorial, and production assistance. Rebecca Rom-Frank, publications and photography coordinator, Fitzroy Hepkins, administrative manager, and Jose Martinez, senior coordinator, provided production assistance.

Sarah Leblois translated the report into French. Jean-Sébastien Sépulchre and researchers in the Africa division vetted the French translation.

Human Rights Watch wishes to thank the many individuals who agreed to be interviewed, despite the risks to their own safety, and who provided time and substantive input to this research.

 

[1] Throughout the report, the short form “M23 fighters” or “M23 combatants” will be used. Although the M23 rebellion is no longer active as an armed group, these fighters are still part of the M23 movement, and identify as such.

[2] Art. 70 (para. 1) of the Constitution of the Democratic Republic of Congo, adopted in 2005, revised in 2011, http://www.wipo.int/wipolex/en/text.jsp?file_id=315718 (accessed November 28, 2017).

[3] See “DR Congo: Kabila Should Commit to Leave Office,” Human Rights Watch news release, December 16, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/12/16/dr-congo-kabila-should-commit-leave-... “Democratic Republic of Congo at a Precipice: Ending Repression and Promoting Democratic Rule,” Human Rights Watch report, September 18, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/09/18/democratic-republic-congo-precipice-... “DR Congo: Officials Linked to Attack on Protesters,” Human Rights Watch news release, October 6, 2015, https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/10/06/dr-congo-officials-linked-attack-pro... “DR Congo: Deadly Crackdown on Protests,” Human Rights Watch new release, January 24, 2015, https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/01/24/dr-congo-deadly-crackdown-protests.

[4] Human Rights Watch, World Report 2017 (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2017), Democratic Republic of Congo chapter, https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2017/country-chapters/democratic-republ....

[5] “EU and US Slap Sanctions on Top DR Congo Officials,” post to “Democratic Republic of Congo in Crisis” (blog), Human Rights Watch, December 12, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/content/297602.

[6] “Deal Sets Congo on Path toward First Democratic Transition, but Huge Challenges Ahead,” post to “Democratic Republic of Congo in Crisis” (blog), Human Rights Watch, January 2, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/content/298259.

[7] These findings are based on Human Rights Watch research in Kinshasa and Kongo Central between February and September 2017, and interviews with at least 73 victims and witnesses.

[8] “Congo Should Release All Political Prisoners,” post to “Democratic Republic of Congo in Crisis” (blog), Human Rights Watch, September 27, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/content/309513.

[9] “Affaire Katumbi: tentative d’assassinat d’un juge,” BBC, July 19, 2017, http://www.bbc.com/afrique/region-40659155 (accessed November 11, 2017) ; Institut de Recherche en Droits Humains, “Les ONGDH congolaises et Amnesty International ont facilité le transfert du juge Mbuyi Lukasu Jacques à Johannesburg pour des soins appropriés,” July 23, 2017, http ://www.irdh.co.za/PAD-CIPO/ (accessed November 21, 2017) ; Human Rights Watch email exchanges with Lubumbashi human rights activist, late July 2017.

[10] Journaliste en Danger (JED), “République Démocratique du Congo : La répression se banalise,” November 2, 2017, http://jed-afrique.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/JED-RAPPORT-2017.pdf (accessed November 27, 2017).

[11] Radiotélévision Lubumbashi JUA (RTLJ), Nyota TV, Radiotélévision Mapendo, La Voix du Katanga, and Congo News.

[12] “La RDC ne renouvelle pas l’accréditation de l’envoyée spéciale permanente de RFI,” Radio France Internationale news release, June 22, 2017, http://www.rfi.fr/afrique/20170622-rdc-renouvelle-pas-accreditation-envo... (accessed July 17, 2017).

[13] “Reuters reporter forced to leave DRC,” Agence France-Presse, August 8, 2017, https://www.news24.com/ Africa/News/reuters-reporter-forced-to-leave-drc-20170810 (accessed November 5, 2017).

[14] “DR Congo: Human Rights Watch Researcher Barred,” Human Rights Watch news release, August 9, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/08/09/dr-congo-human-rights-watch-research....

[15] “RDC: ‘Pas possible’ d’organiser les élections avant la fin de l’année (commission électorale),” Radio Okapi, July 8, 2017, https://www.radiookapi.net/2017/07/09/actualite/politique/rdc-pas-possib... (accessed November 27, 2017) ; “Statement by Ms. Kate Gilmore, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Interactive Dialogue on the regular periodic update on DRC, 36th session of the Human Rights Council,” September 26, 2017, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22154&L... (accessed November 27, 2017); “Kasai in crisis,” UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, July 31, 2017, https://unocha.exposure.co/kasai-in-crisis (accessed November 27, 2011); “150,000 children in Greater Kasai region need emergency support to continue education,” UNICEF press release, June 9, 2017, https://www.unicef.org/media/media_96397.html (accessed November 27, 2017).

[16] United Nations Security Council, “Special report of the Secretary-General on the strategic review of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” S/2017/826, http://undocs.org/S/2017/826.

[17] “U.N. points finger at ‘elements’ in Congo army over Kasai mass graves,” Reuters, July 25, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-congo-violence/u-n-points-finger-at-e... (accessed November 27, 2017).

[18] See “DR Congo: Bodies of Two UN Experts Found,” Human Rights Watch news release, March 28, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/03/28/dr-congo-bodies-two-un-experts-found.

[19] Sonia Rolley, Bunkonde : l’exécution de deux experts de l’ONU, RFI, September 12, 2017, http://webdoc.rfi.fr/rdc-kasai-violences-crimes-kamuina-nsapu/chap-04/ (accessed November 11, 2017).

[20] The Carter Center, “A State Affair: Privatizing Congo’s Copper Sector,” November 3, 2017, https://www.cartercenter.org/resources/pdfs/news/peace_publications/demo... (accessed November 15, 2017).

[21] Human Rights Watch interview with Congolese government official, Paris, November 2017; Olivier Liffran, “RD Congo : les médecins de retour dans les hôpitaux après plusieurs semaines de grève,” Jeune Afrique, September 6, 2017, http://www.jeuneafrique.com/471971/societe/rd-congo-les-medecins-de-reto... (accessed November 29, 2017); “RDC : La VSV appelle le Gouvernement à mettre fin aux violations des droits socio-économiques!, Sauti ya Congo, July 25, 2017, http://www.sautiyacongo.org/rdc-la-vsv-appelle-le-gouvernement-a-mettre-... (accessed July 26, 2017).

[22] Aaron Ross, “IMF says Congo assistance contingent on political progress,” Reuters, July 11, 2017, https://www.reuters.com /article/congo-economy-imf-idUSL8N1K24BI (accessed July 26, 2017). In December 2012, the IMF halted $240 million in scheduled loan payments to the Congolese government because it failed to disclose mining contracts as requested by the fund. See “UPDATE 1-IMF halts Congo loan over mining contract concerns,” Reuters, December 3, 2012, http://www.reuters.com/article/congo-democratic-imf-idUSL5E8N3F6G20121203 (accessed August 4, 2017).

[23] Congo Research Group, “All the President’s Wealth,” July 20, 2017, https://allthewealth.congoresearchgroup.org/ (accessed July 20, 2017); Michael Kavanagh, Thomas Wilson, Franz Wild, “With His Family’s Fortune at Stake, President Kabila Digs In,” Bloomberg, December 15, 2016, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2016-12-15/with-his-family-fortu... (accessed July 17, 2017); see also, Thomas Wilson, “Ivanhoe’s Congo Success Follows Deals With Kabila’s Brother,” Bloomberg, July 18, 2017, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-07-17/ivanhoe-s-congo-succe... (accessed July 20, 2017); Thomas Wilson, “Diggers, Drivers, Diamonds: How Congo’s Zoe Kabila Makes Money,” Bloomberg, July 19, 2017, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-07-18/diggers-drivers-diamo... (accessed July 20, 2017); Trésor Kibangula, “Ida Sawyer : La fortune de Kabila peut être l’une des raisons qui le poussent à s’accrocher au pouvoir,’” Jeune Afrique, July 21, 2017, http://www.jeuneafrique.com/459536/politique/ida-sawyer/ (accessed July 26, 2017); Kimiko de freytas-Tamura, “When Will Kabila Go? Congolese Leader Long Overstays His Welcome,” The New York Times, July 23, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/23/world/africa/congo-joseph-kabila-elec... (accessed July 26, 2017); David Lewis, “Congo’s pricey passport scheme sends millions of dollars offshore,” Reuters, April 13, 2017, www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/congo-passports/ (accessed November 1, 2017); Global Witness, “Regime Cash Machine,” July 21, 2017, https://www.globalwitness.org/en/campaigns/democratic-republic-congo/reg... (accessed November 3, 2017); The Carter Center, “A State Affair: Privatizing Congo’s Copper Sector,” November 3, 2017.

[24] “Congo tense as Catholic bishops withdraw from talks,” Reuters, March 28, 2017, https://af.reuters.com/article/africaTech/idAFKBN16Z15S-OZATP (accessed November 11, 2017).

[25] Conférence Episcopale Nationale du Congo, “Le Pays va très mal. Debout, Congolais !,” June 23, 2017, http://cenco.cd/pays-va-tres-mal-debout-congolais-message-de-54-eme-asse... (accessed November 11, 2017).

[26] Kofi Annan Foundation, “Urgent Appeal for a Peaceful Democratic Transition in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” June 15, 2017, http://www.kofiannanfoundation.org/supporting-democracy-and-elections-wi... (accessed July 17, 2017).

[27] Stephen Eisenhammer, “As Congo refugees pour over border, Angola’s backing for Kabila in doubt,” Reuters, September 21, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-angola-congo/as-congo-refugees-pour-o... (accessed November 29, 2017); UN Inter-Agency Update, “Angola: Inter-Agency Operational Update,” August 15, 2017, https://data2.unhcr.org /en/documents/details/58837 (accessed August 24, 2017); Alex Vines, “The DRC Will Be the First Foreign Policy Priority for Angola’s New President,” Chatham House, August 21, 2017, https://www.chathamhouse.org/expert/commen t/drc-will-be-first-foreign-policy-priority-angola-s-new-president (accessed August 24, 2017); David Lewis, Aaron Ross, “Angola shifts tone on Congo, deepening Kabila’s isolation,” Reuters, June 21, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-congo-angola/angola-shifts-tone-on-co... (accessed November 29, 2017).

[28] See “DR Congo: EU, US Sanction Top Officials,” Human Rights Watch news release, June 1, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news /2017/06/01/dr-congo-eu-us-sanction-top-officials.

[29] Independent National Electoral Commission, “Discours du Président de la CENI à l'occasion de la publication du calendrier électoral,” November 4, 2017, https://www.ceni.cd/ressources/publications-et-interventions (accessed November 11, 2017).

[30] “New DR Congo Electoral Calendar Faces Skepticism Amid More Protests, Repression,” post to “Democratic Republic of Congo in Crisis” (blog), Human Rights Watch, November 6, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/content/311078; Patient Ligodi, Amedee Mwarabu, “Congo sets presidential election for December 2018,” Reuters, November 5, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-congo-politics/congo-sets-presidentia... (accessed November 11, 2017).

[31] “Manifeste du citoyen congolais,” August 18, 2017, http://www.manifesterdc.com/manifeste/ (accessed August 24, 2017); see also, “‘Manifesto of the Congolese Citizen’ Calls for a Transition without Kabila,” post to “Democratic Republic of Congo in Crisis” (blog), Human Rights Watch, August 18, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/content/308000; “RDC : Félix Tshisekedi et Moïse Katumbi demandent une transition sans Joseph Kabila,” Jeune Afrique, September 19, 2017, http://www.jeuneafrique.com/475459/politique/rdc-felix-tshisekedi-et-moi... (accessed November 27, 2017); Cyril Bensimon, “RDC : à Paris, la société civile agrège ses forces pour obtenir le départ de Kabila,” Le Monde, August 18, 2017, http://www.lemonde.fr/afrique/article/2017/08/18/rdc-a-paris-la-societe-... (accessed November 27, 2017).

[32] Bartholomäus Grill and Susanne Koelbl, “‘I’m Not Going to Commit Suicide,’” Der Spiegel, June 3, 2017, http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/spiegel-interview-with-congo-p... (accessed October 31, 2017); see also, Kenneth Roth and Ida Sawyer, “The Jig Is Up for Congo’s Embattled President,” Foreign Policy, September 19, 2017, http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/09/19/the-jig-is-up-for-congos-embattled-p... (accessed November 27, 2017); “Congolese Authorities Arrest, Later Release 49 Activists Holding Anti-Kabila Protests,” post to “Democratic Republic of Congo in Crisis” (blog), Human Rights Watch, October 5, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/content/309942.

[33] Trésor Kibangula, RDC : 20 civils tués à Kinshasa selon l’ONU, le gouvernement conteste, Jeune Afrique, December 20, 2017, http://www.jeuneafrique.com/385750/politique/rdc-20-civils-tues-a-kinsha... (accessed November 29, 2017).

[34] “DR Congo Death Toll Rises, Mass Arrests After Protests,” post to “Democratic Republic of Congo in Crisis” (blog), Human Rights Watch, December 22, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/content/298132.

[35] “Tensions High in Congo on Last Day of Kabila’s Mandate,” post to “Democratic Republic of Congo in Crisis” (blog), Human Rights Watch, December 19, 2017 https://www.hrw.org/content/297883.

[36] “One Month On, Little Progress Implementing DR Congo Elections Deal,” post to “Democratic Republic of Congo in Crisis” (blog), Human Rights Watch, February 1, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/content/299587.

[37] Timo Mueller, https://twitter.com/MuellerTimo/status/810647406081609728, December 18, 2016; “RDC : les autorités décident une restriction des réseaux sociaux,” Radio Okapi, December 16, 2017, https://www.radiookapi.net/2016/12/16/actualite/societe/rdc-les-autorite... (accessed November 27, 2017); “RDC: Voici le mot d’ordre du President du Rassemblement et de l’UDPS, le Dr Etienne Tshisekedi,” December 19, 2016, video clip, YouTube, https://youtu.be/LqSxxrGbIQI (accessed July 17, 2017); “Congolese Mourn Death of Prominent Opposition Leader,” post to “Democratic Republic of Congo in Crisis” (blog), Human Rights Watch, February 2, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/content/299640.

[38] Human Rights Watch interview with morgue official, Kinshasa, December 23, 2016.

[39] Human Rights Watch interview with morgue official, Kinshasa, January 5, 2017.

[40] Human Rights Watch interview with morgue official, Kinshasa, January 25, 2017.

[41] Human Rights Watch interview with morgue official, Lubumbashi, January 18, 2017.

[42] “DR Congo: Kabila Should Commit to Leave Office,” Human Rights Watch news release, December 16, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/12/16/dr-congo-kabila-should-commit-leave-....

[43] “Report on Human Rights Violations in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the Context of the Events of 19 December 2016,” United Nations Joint Human Rights Office, February 28, 2017, http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Countries/CD/UNJHRODecember2016_en.pdf (accessed November 27, 2017), pp. 3, 20.

[44] Ibid., p. 10.

[45] “Événements des 19 et 20 décembre en RDC : 22 morts, selon la police,” Radio Okapi, December 22, 2017, http://www.radiookapi.net/2016/12/22/emissions/linvite-du-jour/evenement... (accessed July 17, 2017).

[46] This includes M23 combatants wearing Congolese security force uniforms mixed into army, police, or Republican Guard units. This is the case with all further mentions of the security forces in Kinshasa, Goma, and Lubumbashi.

[47] Human Rights Watch interview with witness, Kinshasa, December 24, 2016.

[48] Human Rights Watch interview with family member, Kinshasa, December 21, 2016.

[49] Human Rights Watch interview with family member, Kinshasa, December 23, 2016.

[50] Human Rights Watch interview with family member, Kinshasa, December 21, 2016.

[51] Human Rights Watch interview with Carbone Beni, Brussels, March 24, 2017.

[52] Ibid.

[53] Human Rights Watch interview with Gloria Sengha, Kinshasa, July 4, 2017.

[54] “Deal Sets Congo on Path toward First Democratic Transition, but Huge Challenges Ahead,” post to “Democratic Republic of Congo in Crisis” (blog), Human Rights Watch, January 2, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/content/298259.

[55] Human Rights Watch phone interview with Franck Diongo, Kinshasa, December 19, 2016.

[56] “Detained Opposition Leader Forcibly Removed from Hospital,” post to “Democratic Republic of Congo in Crisis” (blog), Human Rights Watch, September 5, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/blog-feed/democratic-republic-congo-crisis#blog-308473; “Doubts Surround Implementation of New Year’s Eve Deal,” post to “Democratic Republic of Congo in Crisis” (blog), Human Rights Watch, January 12, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/content/298918.

[57] Human Rights Watch interview with journalist, Kinshasa, March 23, 2017.

[58] Human Rights Watch interview with activist, Lubumbashi, January 19, 2017.

[59] Human Rights Watch phone interview with witness, April 4, 2017.

[60] Human Rights Watch phone interview with witness, March 30, 2017.

[61] Human Rights Watch interview with family member, Lubumbashi, January 19, 2017.

[62] “Report on Human Rights Violations in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the Context of the Events of 19 December 2016,” United Nations Joint Human Rights Office, p. 13.

[63] Ibid.

[64] “Tensions High in Congo on Last Day of Kabila’s Mandate,” post to “Democratic Republic of Congo in Crisis” (blog), Human Rights Watch, December 19, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/content/297883.

[65] “Congo’s Security Forces Crack Down on Whistling Demonstrators,” post to “Democratic Republic of Congo in Crisis” (blog), Human Rights Watch, December 20, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/content/297983.

[66] Human Rights Watch interview with Sephora Bidwaya, Goma, June 13, 2017. See also, “Sephora, Beaten, Jailed for Holding a Red Card,” post to “Democratic Republic of Congo in Crisis” (blog), Human Rights Watch, June 2, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/content/304547; and “Free Sephora Bidwaya and 11 Co-detainees,” post to “Democratic Republic of Congo in Crisis” (blog), Human Rights Watch, July 11, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/content/306488.

[67] Human Rights Watch phone interview with journalist, Goma, December 21, 2016; “DR Congo Death Toll Rises, Mass Arrests After Protests,” post to “Democratic Republic of Congo in Crisis” (blog), Human Rights Watch, December 22, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/content/298132.

[68] Human Rights Watch phone interviews with several witnesses in Boma, December 2016 and March 2017.

[69] Human Rights Watch phone interview with witness in Boma, March 30, 2017.

[70] Human Rights Watch phone interview with family member, Kinshasa, March 21, 2017.

[71] Human Rights Watch phone interview with family member, Kinshasa, March 21, 2017,

[72] Human Rights Watch phone interview with family member, Kinshasa, March 22, 2017.

[73] “One Month On, Little Progress Implementing DR Congo Elections Deal,” post to “Democratic Republic of Congo in Crisis” (blog), Human Rights Watch, February 1, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/content/299587.

[74] Ibid.

[75] Human Rights Watch interviews with youth league members, Kinshasa, December 18, 2016.

[76] “DR Congo: Kabila Should Commit to Leave Office,” Human Rights Watch news release, December 16, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/12/16/dr-congo-kabila-should-commit-leave-... “DR Congo: Officials Linked to Attack on Protesters,” Human Rights Watch news release, October 6, 2015, https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/10/06/dr-congo-officials-linked-attack-pro....

[77] Human Rights Watch interview with gang member, Goma, February 9, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with second gang member, Goma, February 9, 2017.

[78] See “Bosco Ntaganda,” Human Rights Watch webpage, https://www.hrw.org/topic/international-justice/bosco-ntaganda; “DR Congo: Bosco Ntaganda Recruits Children by Force,” Human Rights Watch news release, May 15, 2012, https://www.hrw.org/news/2012/05/15/dr-congo-bosco-ntaganda-recruits-chi....

[79] “DR Congo: War Crimes by M23, Congolese Army,” Human Rights Watch news release, February 5, 2013, https://www.hrw.org/news/2013/02/05/dr-congo-war-crimes-m23-congolese-army; “DR Congo: M23 Rebels Committing War Crimes,” Human Rights Watch news release, September 11, 2012, https://www.hrw.org/news/2012/09/11/dr-congo-m23-rebels-committing-war-c....

[80] See “DR Congo: Peace Accord Fails to End Killing of Civilians,” Human Rights Watch news release, July 17, 2008, https://www.hrw.org/news/2008/07/17/dr-congo-peace-accord-fails-end-kill... “Killings in Kiwanja: The UN’s Inability to Protect Civilians,” Human Rights Watch report, December 11, 2008, https://www.hrw.org/report/ 2008/12/11/killings-kiwanja/uns-inability-protect-civilians; “Always on the Run: The Vicious Cycle of Displacement in Eastern Congo,” Human Rights Watch report, September 14, 2010, https://www.hrw.org/report/2010/09/14/always-run/vicious-cycle-displacem... “DR Congo: ICC-Indicted War Criminal Implicated in Assassinations of Opponents,” Human Rights Watch news release, October 13, 2010, https://www.hrw.org/news/2010/10/13/dr-congo-icc-indicted-war-criminal-i....

[81] “DR Congo: Rwanda Should Stop Aiding War Crimes Suspect,” Human Rights Watch new release, June 3, 2012, https://www.hrw.org/news/2012/06/03/dr-congo-rwanda-should-stop-aiding-w... “DR Congo: US Should Urge Rwanda to End M23 Support,” Human Rights Watch new release, November 20, 2012, https://www.hrw.org /news/2012/11/20/dr-congo-us-should-urge-rwanda-end-m23-support.

[82] UN Security Council, “Final report of the Group of Experts on the DRC submitted in accordance with paragraph 4 of Security Council resolution 2021 (2011),” S/2012/843, November 15, 2012, http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/2012/843 (accessed August 2, 2017).

[83] Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the region, February 24, 2013, http://peacemaker.un.org/drc-framework-agreement2013 (accessed July 17, 2017).

[84] “DR Congo: Bosco Ntaganda’s Trail of Atrocities Ends at the ICC,” Human Rights Watch news release, March 22, 2013, https://www.hrw.org/news/2013/03/22/dr-congo-bosco-ntagandas-trail-atroc....

[85] “After the M23 – Congo’s Next Challenges,” Human Rights Watch dispatch, November 5, 2013, https://www.hrw.org/news/2013/11/05/dispatches-after-m23-congos-next-cha....

[86] Letter from the Permanent Representative of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the United Nations addressed to the President of the Security Council, S/2013/740, December 13, 2013, http://www.securitycouncilreport.org/ atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/s_2013_740.pdf (accessed July 25, 2017).

[87] “Still Awaiting Justice for M23 Abuses,” Human Rights Watch dispatch, December 11, 2014, https://www.hrw.org /news/2014/12/11/dispatches-still-awaiting-justice-m23-abuses.

[88] Those on sanctions lists include Eric Badege, Innocent Kaina, Sultani Makenga, Baudouin Ngaruye, Bosco Ntaganda, Jean-Marie Runiga, and Innocent Zimurinda. See “List established and maintained pursuant to Security Council res. 1533 (2004),” UN Security Council, generated on November 27, 2017, https://www.un.org/sc/suborg/en/sanctions/1533/materials (accessed November 27, 2017).

[89] According to Human Rights Watch’s findings, Badege, Runiga, and Zimurinda were involved in organizing the operations to quash protests in December 2016. For more information on Zimurinda, see “You Will Be Punished,” Human Rights Watch report, December 13, 2009, https://www.hrw.org/report/2009/12/13/you-will-be-punished/attacks-civil... “DR Congo: Congolese Groups Demand the Removal of Abusive Army Commander, Human Rights Watch news release, March 1, 2010, https://www.hrw.org/news/2010/03/01/dr-congo-congolese-groups-demand-rem... “DR Congo: Complaint Against Lt. Col. Innocent Zimurinda,” Human Rights watch news release, March 1, 2010, https://www.hrw.org/news/2010/03/01/dr-congo-complaint-against-lt-col-in....

[90] “Response to Human Rights Watch on alleged recruitment of M23 combatants in late 2016,” Ugandan Minister of Defense and Veteran Affairs Adolf Mwesige, MOD/10/6, September 5, 2017, p. 4.

[91] According to the January 2014 report of the UN Group of Experts on Congo, Congolese government officials and MONUSCO military sources estimated that fewer than 400 M23 troops had crossed into Uganda. See UN Security Council, “Final report of the Group of Experts submitted in accordance with paragraph 5 of Security Council resolution 2078 (2012),” S/2014/42, January 23, 2014, http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/2014/42 (accessed November 27, 2017).

[92] “Response to Human Rights Watch on alleged recruitment of M23 combatants in late 2016,” Ugandan Minister of Defense and Veteran Affairs Adolf Mwesige, MOD/10/6, September 5, 2017, p. 4.

[93] Ibid.

[94] Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, December 30, 2014, http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/2014/956 (accessed August 3, 2017); Report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Region, March 13, 2015, https://ungreatlakes.unmissions.org/sites/default/files/sg_report_on_the... (accessed August 3, 2017).

[95] “DR Congo: Surrendered Fighters Starve in Camp,” Human Rights Watch news release, October 1, 2014, https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/10/01/dr-congo-surrendered-fighters-starve....

[96] Human Rights Watch interviews with four ex-M23 combatants, Walikale, March 12, 2017, and with local activist from Masisi, Goma, July 31, 2017; Human Rights Watch phone interview with ex-FDLR combatant in Angenga, November 21, 2017.

[97] “Démission de René Abandi : une cuisine interne au M23, selon François Muamba,” Le Phare, January 14, 2015, https://7sur7.cd/new/2015/01/demission-de-rene-abandi-une-cuisine-intern... (accessed August 24, 2017).

[98] Report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Region, March 13, 2015.

[99] Report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Region, March 9, 2016, http://undocs.org/S/2016/232 (accessed August 3, 2017).

[100] Ibid.

[101] “Response to Human Rights Watch on alleged recruitment of M23 combatants in late 2016,” Ugandan Minister of Defense and Veteran Affairs Adolf Mwesige, MOD/10/6, September 5, 2017, p.6.

[102] Human Rights Watch interview with M23 political leader, Kisoro, January 27, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with M23 commander, Rwamwanja, February 19, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with M23 combatant, Congo, June 2017.

[103] “M23 Press Release,” Ministry of ICT and National Guidance, Republic of Uganda, January 19, 2017 http://www.mediacentre.go.ug/press-release/m23-press-release (accessed August 24, 2017).

[104] Ibid.

[105] Ministry of Defense Rwanda, press release, January 30, 2017, https://mod.gov.rw/news-detail/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=3352&cHash=a5ec72... (accessed November 29, 2017).

[106] “Over 750 former M23 rebels escape from Bihanga Army Training School,” Business Guide Africa, February 9, 2017, https://businessguideafrica.com/over-750-former-m23-rebels-escape-from-b... (accessed August 5, 2017).

[107] Report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Region, March 10, 2017, http://undocs.org/S/2017/208 (accessed August 4, 2017).

[108] “Response to Human Rights Watch on alleged recruitment of M23 combatants in late 2016,” Ugandan Minister of Defense and Veteran Affairs Adolf Mwesige, MOD/10/6, September 5, 2017, p. 5.

[109] “Nord-Kivu : 51 ex-combattants M23 se sont rendus à l’armée,” Radio Okapi, October 19, 2017, https://www.radiookapi. net/2017/10/19/actualite/societe/nord-kivu-51-ex-combattants-m23-se-sont-rendus-larmee (accessed November 15, 2017).

[110] “En fuite en Ouganda, les ex-M23 attendent de pouvoir rentrer en RDC,” RTBF, February 11, 2014, https://www.rtbf.be /info/monde/detail_en-fuite-en-ouganda-les-ex-m23-attendent-de-pouvoir-rentrer-en-rdc?id=8198510 (accessed August 5, 2017).

[111] “Response to Human Rights Watch on alleged recruitment of M23 combatants in late 2016,” Ugandan Minister of Defense and Veteran Affairs Adolf Mwesige, MOD/10/6, September 5, 2017, pp.1, 4.

[112] Ibid., p. 5.

[113] Human Rights Watch interview with M23 combatant, Kiziba, March 27, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with M23 combatant, Gisenyi, March 29, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with M23 political leader, Rwamwanja, February 19, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with M23 combatant, Kyaka, February 19, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with M23 combatant, Rwamwanja, February 21, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with M23 combatant, Kisoro, January 27, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with M23 combatant, Rwamwanja, March 9, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with M23 combatant, Congo, June 7, 2017.

[114] Human Rights Watch interview with M23 combatant, Rwamwanja, February 19, 2017.

[115] Human Rights Watch interview with M23 combatant, Rwamwanja, March 9, 2017.

[116] Human Rights Watch interview with M23 combatant, Rwamwanja, February 21, 2017.

[117] Human Rights Watch interview with M23 combatant, Rwamwanja, March 8, 2017.

[118] Human Rights Watch interview with M23 combatant, Kiziba, March 27, 2017.

[119] Human Rights Watch interview with a high-ranking Congolese army officer, Goma, April 17, 2017.

[120] Human Rights Watch interview with M23 combatant, Rwamwanja, March 9, 2017.

[121] Human Rights Watch interview with M23 combatant, Kyaka, February 19, 2017.

[122] Human Rights Watch interview with M23 combatant, Rwamwanja, March 9, 2017.

[123] Human Rights Watch documented 44 summary executions committed by the M23 between March and July 2013, including one ordered by Col. Yusuf Mboneza. See “DR Congo: M23 Rebels Kill, Rape Civilians,” Human Rights Watch news release, July 22, 2013, https://www.hrw.org/news/2013/07/22/dr-congo-m23-rebels-kill-rape-civilians.

[124] Human Rights Watch interview with M23 combatant, Rwamwanja, February 20, 2017.

[125] Human Rights Watch interview with M23 combatant, Rwamwanja, March 9, 2017.

[126] Human Rights Watch interview with shopkeeper, Rwamwanja, February 21, 2017.

[127] Human Rights Watch interview with M23 combatant, Kiziba, March 27, 2017.

[128] Human Rights Watch interview with M23 combatant, Kigeme, March 28, 2017.

[129] Human Rights Watch interview with M23 combatant, Kigeme, March 28, 2017.

[130] See map on page II.

[131] Human Rights Watch interview with M23 combatant, Kyaka, February 19, 2017.

[132] Human Rights Watch interview with M23 combatant, Rwamwanja, March 8, 2017.

[133] Human Rights Watch interview with M23 combatant, Rwamwanja, March 9, 2017.

[134] Human Rights Watch interview with M23 combatant, Gisenyi, March 29, 2017.

[135] Human Rights Watch interview with M23 combatant, Kiziba, March 27, 2017.

[136] Human Rights Watch interview with M23 combatant, Rwamwanja, February 19, 2017.

[137] Human Rights Watch interview with M23 combatant, Rwamwanja, March 9, 2017.

[138] Human Rights Watch interview with M23 combatant, Kyaka, February 19, 2017.

[139] Human Rights Watch interview with M23 combatant, Rwamwanja, February 20, 2017.

[140] Human Rights Watch interview with M23 combatant, Congo, June 2017.

[141] Human Rights Watch interview with M23 combatant, Kigeme, March 28, 2017.

[142] Human Rights Watch interview with M23 combatant, Kisoro, January 27, 2017.

[143] Human Rights Watch interview with M23 combatant, Rwamwanja, March 8, 2017.

[144] Human Rights Watch interview with M23 combatant, Rwamwanja, March 8, 2017.

[145] Human Rights Watch interview with Congolese army officer, Kinshasa, March 19, 2017.

[146] Human Rights Watch interview with Congolese security officer, Kinshasa, April 16, 2017.

[147] Human Rights Watch interview with Congolese intelligence officer, Goma, June 12, 2017.

[148] Human Rights Watch interview with M23 combatant, Kyaka February 19, 2017.

[149] Human Rights Watch interview with M23 combatant, Rwamwanja, February 20, 2017.

[150] Human Rights Watch interview with Congolese security officer, Kinshasa, April 16, 2017.

[151] Human Rights Watch interviews with several M23 fighters, foreign diplomats, and Congolese security force officials.

[152] Human Rights Watch interview with Congolese army officer, Goma, June 7, 2017.

[153] Human Rights Watch phone interview with M23 combatant in Kisangani, Goma July 15, 2017.

[154] Human Rights Watch interview with Congolese security official, Brussels, mid-2017.

[155] “DR Congo: Surrendered Fighters Starve in Camp,” Human Rights Watch news release, October 1, 2014, https://www.hrw.org /news/2014/10/01/dr-congo-surrendered-fighters-starve-camp; “Killings in Kiwanja,” Human Rights Watch report, December 11, 2008, https://www.hrw.org/report/2008/12/11/killings-kiwanja/uns-inability-pro...

“Renewed Crisis in North Kivu,” Human Rights Watch report, October 23, 2007, https://www.hrw.org/report/2007 /10/23/renewed-crisis-north-kivu.

[156] Human Rights Watch phone interview with Congolese army officer, September 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with M23 leader, Congo, July 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with M23 leader, Brussels, November 2017.

[157] Human Rights Watch phone interview with Congolese army officer, September 2017.

[158] Human Rights Watch interview with M23 combatant, Kigeme, March 28, 2017; phone interview, September 2017.

[159] “Congo: Profiles of Individuals Sanctioned by the EU and US,” Human Rights Watch news release, December 16, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/12/16/dr-congo-profiles-individuals-sancti....

[160] “DR Congo: Kabila Should Commit to Leave Office,” Human Rights Watch press release, December 16, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/12/16/dr-congo-kabila-should-commit-leave-... “HRW Letter to UN Security Council on Visit to DR Congo,” Human Rights Watch letter, November 9, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/11/09/hrw-letter-un-security-council-visit... “Congo: War Crimes in Kisangani,” Human Rights Watch report, August 20, 2002, https://www.hrw.org/news/2002/08/20/congo-war-crimes-kisangani.

[161] Human Rights Watch interview with M23 combatant, Rwamwanja, February 21, 2017; Human Rights Watch interviews with two M23 combatants, Rwamwanja, March 9, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with M23 combatant, Congo, June 2017.

[162] Human Rights Watch phone interview with army officer, September 2017.

[163] Human Rights Watch interview with M23 combatant, Kyaka, February 19, 2017; phone interview, September 2017.

[164] “DR Congo: US Imposes Sanctions on 2 Officials EU, UN Security Council Should Also Take Targeted Action,” Human Rights Watch news release, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/09/28/dr-congo-us-imposes-sanctions-2-offi..., September 28, 2016; “Congo: Profiles of Individuals Sanctioned by the EU and US,” Human Rights Watch news release, December 16, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/12/16/dr-congo-profiles-individuals-sancti....

[165] Human Rights Watch interview with M23 combatant, Rwamwanja, February 21, 2017; Human Rights Watch interviews with two M23 combatants, Rwamwanja, March 8, 2017.

[166] Human Rights Watch phone interviews with two Congolese army officers, September 2017.

[167] Human Rights Watch phone interview with Congolese army officer, September 2017.

[168] “DR Congo: EU, US Sanction Top Officials,” Human Rights Watch news release, June 1, 2017, https://www.hrw.org /news/2017/06/01/dr-congo-eu-us-sanction-top-officials.

[169] Human Rights Watch interview with M23 combatant, Kiziba, March 27, 2017, and phone interview, September 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with M23 combatant, Kigeme, March 28, 2017, and phone interview, September 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with M23 combatant, Gisenyi, March 29, 2017.

[170] Human Rights Watch interview with M23 combatant, Kigeme, March 28, 2017; phone interview, September 2017.

[171] “Response to Human Rights Watch on alleged recruitment of M23 combatants in late 2016,” Ugandan Minister of Defense and Veteran Affairs Adolf Mwesige, MOD/10/6, September 5, 2017, pp.5-7.

[172] Human Rights Watch phone interview with Bertrand Bisimwa, November 15, 2017.

[173] Constitution of the Democratic Republic of Congo, adopted in 2005, revised in 2011, http://www.wipo.int/wipolex/en/details.jsp?id=7449 (accessed November 28, 2017).

[174] Ibid., arts. 16, 18, and 19.

[175] Congolese Penal Code, http://www.wipo.int/edocs/lexdocs/laws/fr/cd/cd004fr.pdf (accessed November 28, 2017). See also, Congolese Military Penal Code, http://www.leganet.cd/Legislation/Droit%20Judiciaire/Loi.024.2002.18.11.... (accessed November 28, 2017).

[176] See Ensemble Contre la Peine de Mort, “The Death Penalty Worldwide: Democratic Republic of the Congo,” undated, http://www.abolition.fr/en/the-death-penalty-worldwide/ (accessed November 28, 2017).

[177] Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, Eighth U.N. Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, Havana, 27 August to 7 September 1990, U.N. Doc. A/CONF.144/28/Rev.1 at 112 (1990).

[178] Ibid., principle 9.

[179] Ibid., principles 18 and 19 on Qualifications, training and counseling:

18. Governments and law enforcement agencies shall ensure that all law enforcement officials are selected by proper screening procedures, have appropriate moral, psychological and physical qualities for the effective exercise of their functions and receive continuous and thorough professional training. Their continued fitness to perform these functions should be subject to periodic review.

19. Governments and law enforcement agencies shall ensure that all law enforcement officials are provided with training and are tested in accordance with appropriate proficiency standards in the use of force. Those law enforcement officials who are required to carry firearms should be authorized to do so only upon completion of special training in their use.

[180] UN Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 31 on Article 2 of the Covenant: The Nature of the General Legal Obligation Imposed on States Parties to the Covenant, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/74/CRP.4/Rev.6 (2004), para. 15.

[181] Ibid., para. 18.

[182] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), adopted December 16, 1966, G.A. Res. 2200A (XXI), 21 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 16) at 52, U.N. Doc. A/6316 (1966), 999 U.N.T.S. 171, entered into force March 23, 1976, art. 2(3). The DRC (then Zaire) ratified the ICCPR on November 1, 1976.

[183] According to the Human Rights Committee, the ICCPR “requires that States Parties make reparation to individuals whose Covenant rights have been violated. Without reparation to individuals whose Covenant rights have been violated, the obligation to provide an effective remedy, which is central to the efficacy of [enforcing the ICCPR] is not discharged.… [T]he Covenant generally entails appropriate compensation.” Human Rights Committee, General Comment 31, para. 16. Compensation covers material losses, such as medical expenses and the loss of earnings, as well as economically assessable moral damage, such as pain and suffering.

[184] Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions: Recommended by Economic and Social Council resolution 1989/65 of 24 May 1989, E.S.C. res. 1989/65, annex, 1989 U.N. ESCOR Supp. (No.1) at 52, U.N. Doc E/1989/89 (1989), http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/ProfessionalInterest/executions.pdf (accessed November 28, 2017), principle 15.

[185] See Prosecutor v. Delalic, International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), Case No. IT-96-21-T, November 16, 1998, para. 346 (Celebici). See also Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, 2187 U.N.T.S. 90, entered into force July 1, 2002, art. 28.

[186] UN Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law, March 21, 2006, adopted by the 60th session of the United Nations General Assembly, A/RES/60/147, paras. 11(c) and 24.

[187] UN Set of Principles for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights Through Action to Combat Impunity, October 2, 1997, adopted by the UN Commission on Human Rights, E/CN.4/Sub.2/1997/20/Rev.1, principle 3.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Cambodian Youen Sam En participated in the Dublin negotiations of the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions. He lost his eyesight and both hands when an submunition exploded while he was searching for scrap metal on 12 April 2004 near his house in Kratie on Cambodia's border with Laos. The US used cluster bombs extensively in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam in the 1960s-1970s, creating a deadly legacy of unexploded submunitions and cluster munition remnants.

© 2008 Mary Wareham/Human Rights Watch

(Washington, DC) – The United States’ move to end its longstanding policy not to use unreliable cluster munitions and to destroy its stocks completely disregards the widely accepted international ban on these weapons, Human Rights Watch said today.

The US is not one of the 102 states parties to the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, which prohibits these weapons and requires clearance of their explosive remnants as well as assistance to victims. But the decision reverses the US commitment not to use cluster munitions that fail more than 1 percent of the time, leaving deadly unexploded munitions that can kill for years.

“After spending hundreds of millions of dollars researching alternatives to cluster munitions, the US has decided it can’t produce ‘safe’ cluster munitions so it will keep using ‘unsafe’ ones,” said Mary Wareham, arms division advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, which chairs the Cluster Munition Coalition. “The Trump administration is embracing repugnant weapons rejected by the international community, a move that could embolden others to use cluster munitions that have caused so much human suffering.”

Cluster munitions can be fired from the ground by artillery systems and rockets, or dropped from aircraft. They typically open in the air, dispersing multiple bomblets or submunitions over a wide area. Many submunitions fail to explode on initial impact, leaving unexploded duds that can act like landmines for years to come unless cleared and destroyed.

A Department of Defense policy memo signed on November 30, 2017, by Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan indefinitely delays implementation of a ban on using unreliable types of cluster munitions that was due to take effect on January 1, 2019.

This new policy replaces a Department of Defense policy directive on cluster munitions issued in June 2008, during the administration of President George W. Bush, that required the US to remove all except a tiny fraction of its cluster munitions from active stockpile by the end of 2018 for eventual destruction. The 2008 policy required that the US not use cluster munitions that result in more than 1 percent unexploded ordnance (UXO) from 2019 onward. Senior Pentagon officials told Human Rights Watch after the November 30 announcement that the 2008 policy deadline for removing cluster munitions from active stocks had been “an aspirational goal.”

The new policy allows US military commanders to approve use of existing cluster munitions “until sufficient quantities” of “enhanced and more reliable” versions are developed and fielded. The new policy also facilitates US acquisition of cluster munitions from foreign sources to replenish stocks.

But it retains restrictions on US exports of cluster munitions under existing US law, allowing the US to export only cluster munitions that do not result in more than 1 percent unexploded ordnance, and requiring the recipient to make a commitment not to use the cluster munitions in civilian areas.

The US maintains that cluster munitions have military utility, but, with the exception of a single strike in Yemen in 2009, it has not used them since 2003 in Iraq.

According to an August 25 Department of Defense letter seen by Human Rights Watch, approximately 3.7 million cluster munitions, containing 406.7 million submunitions, have been destroyed from stocks since 2008. Approximately 3.7 million “additional excess and obsolete” cluster munitions, which equates to 324.3 million submunitions, have been removed from the active inventory and await demilitarization.

By comparison, 29 states parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions have completed destruction of their stocks, a collective total of 1.4 million cluster munitions and more than 175 million submunitions. Germany held the largest stockpile among states parties and in November 2015 completed the destruction of 573,000 cluster munitions and 62 million submunitions.

The Cluster Munition Coalition is a global coalition of nongovernmental organizations co-founded and chaired by Human Rights Watch that works to ensure that all countries join and adhere to the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions.

“Allowing the US to again use notoriously unreliable cluster munitions is a gigantic step backward for efforts to protect civilians from the unacceptable harm caused by these weapons,” Wareham said. “It is an insult to the victims of these weapons, especially those who have fought to ban cluster munitions.”

For additional information about the US stock of cluster munitions and how US policy evolved, please see below.

US Production and Stockpiling of Cluster Munitions

Several types of US-made cluster munitions have a history of producing high numbers of submunitions that fail to detonate upon impact. Dud rates of 14-23 percent have been documented in testing for M77, M42, and M46 Dual Purpose Improved Conventional Munition (DPICM) submunitions contained in rockets and artillery projectiles. Two types of air-dropped cluster munitions – Rockeye (CBU99/CBU-100) bombs and Combined Effects Munitions (CBU-87) – produced high numbers of unexploded submunitions when the US used them in combat operations in Iraq, Kuwait, former Yugoslavia, and Afghanistan.

According to testimony to Congress in 2016, the army is spending US$1.3 billion on an alternative non-submunition warhead to replace its stocks of M26 cluster munition rockets. Another US$118 million has been allocated to applied research and advanced development for cluster munition replacement technology in fiscal years 2017 to 2021.

The US last budgeted funds to produce new cluster munitions in 2007 and since then has only manufactured cluster munitions for foreign sales. The CBU-105 is the only cluster munition that the US claims to meet the 1 percent UXO standard, and it is transferred on the condition that recipients agree not to use them in civilian areas.

In August 2016, the private US company Textron Systems announced it was stopping production of the CBU-105, effectively ending US manufacturing of cluster munitions, as it was the country’s last producer. A spokesperson for the company confirmed that Textron has no plans to restart manufacturing cluster munitions, according to the New York Times.

Past US Cluster Munition Use and Policy

The Obama administration never amended the 2008 policy directive on cluster munitions or commented publicly on its position on cluster munitions or on joining the international ban. It suspended US cluster munition deliveries to Saudi Arabia in May 2016 after evidence of civilian harm from the Saudi-led coalition operation in Yemen.

In September 2016, a US Air Force spokesperson, stated that neither the US nor other members of the international coalition has used cluster munitions in the air war against the non-state armed group of Islamic State (also known as ISIS) in Iraq, Libya, and Syria. A Saudi Arabia-led coalition of states has used US cluster munitions in Yemen since April 2015.

US officials have expressed concern at civilian harm caused by the continued use of cluster munitions in Syria. For example, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson condemned Syrian government use of “cluster bombs and other types of weapons that are intended to maim and kill in the most horrific ways” during an April 12, 2017 press briefing in Moscow with the Russian foreign minister.

But the US used cluster munitions in several countries in the past: Cambodia, Lao PDR, and Vietnam (1960s and 1970s); Grenada and Lebanon (1983); Libya (1986); Iran (1988); Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia (1991); Bosnia and Herzegovina (1995); Serbia, Montenegro, and Kosovo (1999); Afghanistan (2001 and 2002); and Iraq (2003).

The US did not participate in the negotiation of the Convention on Cluster Munitions in 2007-2008 and US officials have never participated in a meeting of the ban treaty. In October 2017, the US abstained from voting on an annual UN General Assembly resolution supporting the international ban treaty, as it has in previous years.

Democrat Senators Dianne Feinstein and Patrick Leahy sharply criticized the new cluster munitions policy. On April 7, they introduced the Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act, S.897 to prohibit US use of cluster munitions that result in more than 1 percent unexploded ordnance. The legislation reflected the US policy that was to go into effect at the end of 2018, but went further by prohibiting their use in areas where civilians are known to be present and calling on the US to “take all steps necessary to enable it to accede to the Convention on Cluster Munitions as soon as possible.” The legislation was referred to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Summary
 

In April 2017, tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Venezuela to protest against the government-controlled Supreme Court’s attempt to usurp the powers of the country’s legislative branch. Demonstrations quickly spread throughout the country and continued for months, fueled by widespread discontent with the authoritarian practices of President Nicolás Maduro and the humanitarian crisis that has devastated the country under his watch.

The government responded with widespread violence and brutality against anti-government protesters and detainees, and has denied detainees’ due process rights. While it was not the first crackdown on dissent under Maduro, the scope and severity of the repression in 2017 reached levels unseen in Venezuela in recent memory.      

Security forces and armed pro-government groups attacked protesters in the streets, using extreme and at times lethal force, causing dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries. Authorities detained thousands of protesters and bystanders, many of whom have been subsequently prosecuted in military courts.

The crackdown has extended beyond the protests, with government intelligence agents pulling people from their homes or detaining them on the streets even when no demonstrations were taking place. 

In April 2017, tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Venezuela to protest against the government-controlled Supreme Court’s attempt to usurp the powers of the country’s legislative branch. Demonstrations quickly spread throughout the country and continued for months, fueled by widespread discontent with the authoritarian practices of President Nicolás Maduro and the humanitarian crisis that has devastated the country under his watch. The government responded with widespread violence and brutality against anti-government protesters and detainees, and has denied detainees’ due process rights. While it was not the first crackdown on dissent under Maduro, the scope and severity of the repression in 2017 reached levels unseen in Venezuela in recent memory.

Once detained, government agents have subjected opponents to abuses ranging from severe beatings to torture involving electric shocks, asphyxiation, and other techniques.

This joint report by Human Rights Watch and the Penal Forum, based on in-country research, documents 88 cases involving at least 314 people who were victims of serious human rights violations during the crackdown between April and September 2017. These abuses were committed by different security forces and armed pro-government groups known as colectivos in Caracas and 13 states—Anzoátegui, Aragua, Carabobo, Barinas, Bolivar, Lara, Mérida, Miranda, Monagas, Sucre, Táchira, Vargas, and Zulia.

While Human Rights Watch and the Penal Forum have, to date, been unable to determine the full scope of human rights violations committed during the crackdown, our research shows that the abuses were not isolated cases or the result of excesses by rogue security force members. On the contrary, the fact that widespread abuses by members of security forces were carried out repeatedly, by multiple security forces, in multiple locations across 13 states and the capital—including in controlled environments such as military installations and other state institutions—over the six-month period covered by this report, supports the conclusion that the abuses have been part of a systematic practice by the Venezuelan security forces. 

Our findings are broadly consistent with those of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which in August 2017 reported “the existence of a policy to repress political dissent and instill fear in the population to curb demonstrations” in Venezuela. In its report, the OHCHR stated that it found “a picture of widespread and systematic use of excessive force and arbitrary detentions against demonstrators,” as well as “patterns of other human rights violations, including violent house raids, torture and ill-treatment of those detained in connection with the protests.”

Despite the overwhelming evidence of human rights violations, we found no evidence that key high-level officials—including those who knew or should have known about the abuses—have taken any steps to prevent and punish violations. On the contrary, they have often downplayed the abuses or issued implausible blanket denials. These high-level officials bear responsibility for pervasive, serious abuses being committed on their watch.

The government has repeatedly blamed the violence on the protesters. There have indeed been credible reports of violence by some protestors, and governments not only have a right but an obligation to bring the perpetrators of such violence to justice. It is, nonetheless, unlikely that any opponent accused of crimes would receive a fair trial today in Venezuela, given the absence of judicial independence in the country.

The violent abuses compiled in this report were not carried out by security force personnel who were under attack or threatened with violence. This report describes acts of torture and other violent brutality carried out against people who were in the custody of security forces, as well as acts of disproportionate violence and deliberate abuse carried out against people at protests, in the streets, and even in their own homes.

During 2017, democratic governments throughout the region and elsewhere have spoken out about the crackdown on peaceful expression and protest in Venezuela. It is urgent that they redouble multilateral pressure on the Venezuelan government to ensure it releases those who were arbitrarily arrested, drops charges in cases in which detainees were subject to politically-motivated prosecutions, and holds accountable those responsible for human rights violations. If the Venezuelan government proves unable or unwilling to do so, they should push for accountability abroad.

Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment of Detainees

In 53 cases involving at least 232 people documented in this report, detainees were subjected to physical and psychological abuse, with the apparent purpose of either punishing them or forcing them to incriminate themselves or others. Most of these abuses have been carried out at bases of the Bolivarian National Guard (Guardia Nacional Bolivariana, GNB) or headquarters of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Services (Servicio Bolivariano de Inteligencia Nacional, SEBIN). In some of these cases, the abuses suffered by detainees clearly constituted torture.

These include:

  • Electric shocks;
  • Severe beatings;
  • Being hung in stress positions;
  • Sleep deprivation;
  • Asphyxiation; and,
  • Sexual abuse, including in some cases rape.

In other cases, security forces have engaged in abuses that included detonating teargas canisters in closed environments where detainees were being held, holding detainees for prolonged periods of time with other detainees in small confinement cells, and denying them access to food or water or forcing them to eat raw pasta mixed with excrement or other food deliberately tainted with cigarette ashes or insects.

Security agents have also denied or failed to provide access to medical treatment to some detainees who had preexisting medical conditions or suffered serious injuries during their arrest and subsequent detention—including being shot with pellets at very close range.

This report describes in detail seven cases of detainees who were tortured. These cases illustrate how far security agents have been willing and able to go to punish or intimidate detainees. It also includes dozens of other cases where victims were subject to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment while in detention, including some that may also rise to the level of torture.

Arbitrary Arrests and Prosecutions

Since early April, more than 5,400 people have been detained in the context of massive anti-government demonstrations in Venezuela, according to data gathered by the Penal Forum.

While those arrested included demonstrators, bystanders, and people filming demonstrations—as had happened during the suppression of protests in 2014—this year saw an increase in the number of detentions carried out by intelligence or security agents in incidents completely unrelated to the protests. Those detained in such cases were political opponents, including lesser known activists, or people whom the government claimed had links to the political opposition. In some of these politically motivated prosecutions, detainees were taken away from homes or arrested hours or days after demonstrations in unrelated incidents.

In most cases of arrests documented by Human Rights Watch and the Penal Forum, detaining agents belonged to the GNB, SEBIN, the Bolivarian National Police (Policía Nacional Bolivariana, PNB), or state police forces. Often, detainees were not informed of the reasons for their arrests, and sometimes were not told who was detaining them. In some cases, the detentions were carried out by members of armed pro-government groups called colectivos, who then handed over detainees to security forces.

In several cases, those arrested described being driven around and parked in different places for hours—a practice called “spinning around” or “ruletear” in Venezuela—instead of being taken directly to a detention center or before a judge. During this period, security forces often harassed and threatened detainees, at times putting them in armored vehicles and detonating teargas canisters inside the vehicles, rubbing teargas powder on their faces, or subjecting them to heavy beatings. Security agents and members of colectivos sometimes stole such personal belongings as money or cell phones from detainees during arrests.

Many detainees were released without being brought before a judge, but thousands of others were subject to arbitrary prosecutions that lacked the most basic due process guarantees. In addition to those who remain behind bars, according to the Penal Forum, 3,900 people are still subject to arbitrary criminal prosecutions and to precautionary measures that limit their freedom in different ways. At least 757 civilians were prosecuted by military courts, in violation of Venezuelan and international law. Others were brought before civilian courts without adequate access to lawyers or families to face prosecutions based on what they claimed was planted evidence. Dozens remained behind bars for periods of up to several months, despite having a judicial order for their unconditional release or a judicial order for their release on bail.

Excessive Use of Force in the Streets

During the period covered by this report, Venezuelan security forces—including the GNB, the PNB, and state police forces—systematically used excessive force to suppress anti-government protests, often in situations where no use of force appeared to be justifiable. “Colectivos” at times worked alongside Venezuelan security forces to suppress demonstrations.

Security forces have used less-lethal weapons—such as water cannons, teargas, and pellets—in ways that seemed deliberately intended to inflict painful injuries. In other incidents, security force personnel used modified rubber-pellet shotgun shells that instead shot marbles, broken glass, or metal bolts.

The result has been dozens of people dead and hundreds injured, some severely. According to the OHCHR, out of the 124 deaths recorded by the Attorney General’s Office that occurred in the context of anti-government demonstrations until July 31, 2017, security forces were reportedly found to be responsible for at least 46, the colectivos for 27, and 51 cases remained unsolved. The latest figures published by the Attorney General’s Office indicate that, by the end of July, the office was investigating nearly 2,000 cases of people injured during the protests. In more than half of them, the office was investigating alleged violations of fundamental rights.

In many cases, demonstrators or individuals whom authorities believed to be involved in protests were subjected to levels and forms of violence by security forces or colectivos” amounting to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.

The Venezuelan government claims that 10 security-force officers died in the context of the demonstrations, and reported several instances of violence against government supporters, including two cases in which the victims were allegedly set on fire and one in which a retired military officer was lynched. Some protesters used rocks, Molotov cocktails, weaponized fireworks, and homemade mortars and explosive devices during clashes with security forces.

All crimes—including those committed against security forces, protesters, and bystanders—require rigorous investigation, and those credibly alleged to have committed crimes should be subject to prosecution by courts that are not under political control by the executive branch and are capable of upholding basic due process guarantees. 

Lack of Accountability and the Responsibility of High-level Officials

Since former President Hugo Chávez and his allies in the National Assembly politically took over Venezuela’s Supreme Court in 2004, the judiciary has stopped functioning as an independent branch of government, a check on the abuse of power by the executive branch, and a guarantor of fundamental rights.

In early 2017, Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz, a former government loyalist, began to visibly distance herself from the government. She openly condemned government abuses, including by security forces, and published official information based on investigations carried out by her office, including data regarding deaths and serious injuries that occurred in the context of demonstrations, until the pro-government Constituent Assembly fired her and replaced her with a government supporter in August.

In early August, the government’s communications ministry said that Ortega Díaz had charged 54 members of security forces with responsibility in 17 deaths.[1] In October, a government representative said that public officials who were responsible for “bad practices” in 16 “isolated cases” had been handed over to the judicial system, without specifying the cases. The representative said that in 16 cases, they presumed responsibility on the part of state security agents, in which 25 officials had been charged, and that 14 civilians had been charged in other cases; she also said that 78 percent of cases were still under investigation.[2]

In October, Human Rights Watch and the Penal Forum requested updated information from the Venezuelan government on the status of all investigations that are still open, but had received no response at time of publication.

With the exception of Attorney General Ortega Díaz, who seems to have been fired as a result of her open criticism of the government, high-ranking officials do not appear to have taken adequate steps to bring abuses to an end or ensure accountability, nor did they publicly support the efforts by Ortega Díaz to investigate the abuses.

Under international law, the Venezuelan government has an obligation to prevent serious human rights violations, and to investigate and ensure accountability for violations that take place. Government officials who commit or fail to prevent, investigate, and punish torture and other serious violations can and should be held accountable. Venezuela is a State Party to the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC has jurisdiction over crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide, including when committed on territories of state parties.

Some of the key high-level officials in charge of security forces implicated in widespread abuses who have failed to take adequate steps to prevent, investigate, and punish human rights violations committed by their subordinates are:[3]

  • President Nicolás Maduro, who is the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, which include the Bolivarian National Guard and the General Directorate of Military Counter Intelligence;
  • Maj. Gen. José Benavides Torres, the head of the Bolivarian National Guard;
  • Chief General Vladimir Padrino López, the defense minister and the strategic operational commander of the Armed Forces;
  • Maj. Gen. Néstor Reverol, the interior and justice minister;
  • Gen. Carlos Alfredo Pérez Ampueda, director of the Bolivarian National Police;
  • Maj. Gen. Gustavo González López, the national intelligence director; and
  • Gen. Edgar Rojas Borges, the military attorney general.

This list is not comprehensive and is not meant to exclude other officials who may be directly responsible for human rights violations documented in this report, including those who committed them and others who failed to prevent and punish them.

After years of silence, key international leaders have begun to raise their voices and openly criticize abuses committed by the Venezuelan government. In 2016, OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, invoking the Inter-American Democratic Charter, produced a series of comprehensive reports on Venezuela’s crisis and convened several public meetings to discuss its compliance with the charter’s provisions. In April 2017, citing the charter, 19 of the 35 OAS member states for the first time expressed “grave concern regarding the unconstitutional alteration of the democratic order” in Venezuela.[4] In several subsequent meetings, foreign affairs ministers of the region addressed and openly criticized the human rights situation in Venezuela.

In August, the “Lima Group”—a coalition of 11 Latin American governments and Canada that is following Venezuela’s crisis closely—condemned the breakdown of democratic order and the systematic violation of human rights in Venezuela. They have carried out periodic meetings to evaluate developments and published several statements since then. Canada and the United States have imposed targeted sanctions on key Venezuelan officials, including on President Nicolás Maduro. The European Union imposed an arms embargo and targeted sanctions against Venezuelan officials, including freezing their assets and cancelling visas.

Venezuela was also a priority of the UN Human Rights Council agenda in September. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights presented his office’s report on Venezuela, and many other countries expressed serious concern regarding the human rights and humanitarian crisis in the country. In November, UN Security Council members held a special session to discuss Venezuela’s crisis.

Recommendations

To ensure accountability for and deter the repetition of the human rights abuses documented in this report, it is critically important to redouble international pressure on the Venezuelan government. Specifically:

The Lima Group, the European Union, and other UN Member States should:

  • Press the Maduro government to release all people who have been arbitrarily detained, and drop politically-motivated charges against people subject to arbitrary prosecutions; and,
  • If they have not done so, impose targeted sanctions against specific Venezuelan officials implicated in grave human rights abuses, including freezing their assets and denying them entry to these countries.

States Parties to the Convention Against Torture should:

  • To the extent possible under domestic law, exercise criminal jurisdiction over any Venezuelan authority responsible for torture in accordance with Article 5 of the Convention Against Torture.

The UN Human Rights Council should:

  • Ask the OHCHR to continue to closely monitor the situation in Venezuela, and to keep the Council regularly informed;
  • Act on the OHCHR call to open an international investigation into human rights violations in Venezuela, which should be conducted with a view toward future prosecutions in competent courts; and,
  • Request that the OHCHR or HRC-mandated investigation makes concrete recommendations for restoring judicial independence in the country.

Methodology

This report is a joint publication of Human Rights Watch and the Penal Forum. It is based on interviews conducted by Human Rights Watch researchers with more than 120 people about 88 cases, including 86 alleged victims of human rights abuses or their family members. Other people interviewed were 12 private lawyers affiliated with the Penal Forum who assisted detainees pro-bono (in addition, a thirteenth lawyer provided information in writing), at least 16 medical professionals who attended to people injured during or near demonstrations, four journalists who witnessed the attack on the National Assembly premises, and nine human rights defenders. The Penal Forum reached out to private lawyers who contribute pro-bono to the organization and helped gather the information contained in this report. Its team reviewed and contributed to the report before its publication.

Human Rights Watch conducted a research mission to Venezuela in August 2017, which included visits to Caracas, Aragua state, Carabobo state, Lara state, Mérida state, and Táchira state. Other interviews were conducted via telephone, email, Skype, or text messaging service prior to and following the fact-finding mission. Researchers also interviewed additional victims or lawyers in the states of Anzoátegui, Barinas, Bolivar, Miranda, Monagas, Sucre, Vargas, and Zulia. One interview was carried out in Bogotá.

In Venezuela, researchers conducted interviews with the support of the following local human rights groups: Promedehum in Mérida state, Funpaz in Lara state, and Espacio Público in Caracas.

All those interviewed were informed of the purpose of the interview, its voluntary nature, and the ways in which the information would be used. Interviewees were told they could decline to answer questions or end the interview at any time. All provided oral consent to be interviewed. None received compensation for the interviews.

To protect the safety of some victims and family members who testified, we have used pseudonyms to identify them in this report or we have deliberately avoided including details about the date or location in which the abuses occurred. In all such cases, Human Rights Watch and the Penal Forum have the relevant documentation on file.

In most of the countries where Human Rights Watch works, the practice is to seek meetings with government officials to discuss and seek information and commentary regarding the issues on which it is reporting. This has been our practice in Venezuela as well. Between 2002 and 2007, Human Rights Watch staff held meetings with President Hugo Chávez, senior members of his administration, justices of the Supreme Court, the attorney general, members of the National Assembly, and numerous officials in multiple government agencies. 

However, when conducting research for this report, Human Rights Watch deliberately chose not to establish contact with government officials or draw public attention to our presence in the country. This decision was made out of concern for possible repercussions to victims, human rights defenders, and other interviewees; the risk of compromising our ability to conduct the research; and the safety of our staff. We also took into account the Venezuelan government’s decision to detain and expel Human Rights Watch representatives in 2008, and its declaration that our presence would not be “tolerated” in the country.

In October 2017, we sent letters to Venezuelan authorities with an overview of our findings, requesting the government’s perspective and detailed information on the status of investigations into abuses committed by security forces, and investigations into incidents of violence allegedly committed by anti-government protesters or opposition supporters. The letters were addressed to Foreign Affairs Minister Jorge Arreaza, Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López, and Interior and Justice Minister Néstor Reverol. A copy of the letter to Arreaza—which is identical to the other two—is included as an annex to this report. At time of writing, we had not received a response.

To present an official perspective, this report uses official data from the Attorney General’s Office compiled until July 31, 2017. We reviewed statistics, reports, and press releases produced by the Attorney General’s Office about alleged violent incidents and human rights violations related to the 2017 protests. We also reviewed statements made by President Maduro and several of his cabinet ministers, the attorney general, and top officials including from the National Bolivarian Police, the Bolivarian National Guard, the Bolivarian National Intelligence Services, and members of the National Constituent Assembly. We also conducted an extensive review of news accounts in official media outlets, Twitter feeds of state officials, and other official sources to evaluate the government’s position with respect to specific incidents referred to in this report. Finally, we carefully looked at the government’s own public evaluation of the overall performance of its security forces in the context of protests. 

Cases

This report is based on information we gathered and reviewed on 88 incidents, referred to hereafter as “cases,” in which individuals described being the victims of human rights violations that include excessive use of force on the streets, arbitrary arrests or prosecutions, or abuses in detention. Many said they were subject to these violations alongside other people, and were direct witnesses to abuses suffered by others. This included abuses committed during arrests and while in detention facilities, as well as due process violations before or during judicial hearings. The 88 cases documented here involve a total of at least 314 victims.

In addition to these cases, we documented six instances of raids or other operations targeting residential buildings in Caracas and four states, in which residents claim dozens more were victims of excessive use of force or arbitrary arrests by security forces and colectivos.

In the vast majority of these cases, the facts described in this report are based on testimonies provided directly to researchers by the victims, or by eyewitnesses or relatives in cases where victims are still in detention or were killed.

In 30 of the cases, we also reviewed additional evidence—such as photographs, video footage, medical reports, judicial rulings, or other testimony—that corroborated the accounts we received. In three of those cases, we observed first-hand and photographed physical injuries that the victims said had been inflicted by security forces. In Venezuela’s military courts, access to judicial files is nearly impossible, and in civilian courts, obtaining copies of such documents is extremely difficult.

This report bases its assessments of the credibility of victims and witnesses on careful review of corroborating evidence when available, as well as on whether the detailed accounts provided by the victim, family members, eyewitnesses, or lawyers were consistent, both internally and with patterns and practices documented in other cases. We did not include in the report those cases where we found inconsistencies or implausible and uncorroborated assertions. 

A list and brief description of the 88 cases we documented can be found in the annex at the end of the report.  Not all these cases are included in the text of the report, and those included are not described with the same level of detail. 

Background

The Protests

In early 2014, the Venezuelan government responded to massive anti-government protests with brutal force. For several weeks, security forces used excessive force against unarmed protesters and bystanders. Government forces also tolerated and sometimes collaborated directly with armed pro-government gangs that attacked protesters with impunity. Detainees were often held incommunicado on military bases for 48 hours or more before being presented to a judge, and in some cases, suffered abuses including severe beatings, electric shocks or burns, and being forced to squat or kneel without moving for hours.[5]

In the vast majority of cases, no one has been brought to justice for these abuses—nor for other sporadic abuses committed against protesters and opponents in subsequent years.[6]

On March 29, 2017, the Venezuelan Supreme Court, which is under the political control of the government, effectively shut down Congress, the only official institution that remained independent of executive control, by ruling that it would assume all legislative powers itself or choose some other institution to delegate them to.[7]  Two days earlier, the court had ruled that a statement of support to the Organization of American States by the legislature may constitute treason and warned that the legislators responsible would not enjoy parliamentary immunity.[8]

These rulings received widespread condemnation both nationally and internationally. In a surprising move, Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz, who until then had been a loyal supporter of the regime, publicly challenged the Supreme Court’s decisions, which she called a “rupture of constitutional order.”[9]

In response to this backlash, President Maduro instructed the Supreme Court to reconsider its rulings. The court promptly complied, partially reversing these controversial decisions.[10]

Nonetheless, the Supreme Court rulings motivated many more Venezuelans to take to the streets, demanding the reestablishment of the full powers of the opposition-led National Assembly. Protestors also called on the government to hold free and fair elections, release political prisoners, reestablish judicial independence, and address the humanitarian crisis that Venezuelans are facing.[11] 

The turnout for the anti-government demonstrations was massive and protests quickly spread throughout the country, almost on a daily basis. The government’s response was a crackdown involving widespread abuses, including those detailed in this report. Despite the overwhelming evidence of human rights violations, there is no indication that key high-level officials—including those who knew or should have known about the abuses—have taken any steps to prevent and punish violations. On the contrary, they have often downplayed the abuses or issued implausible blanket denials.[12] In an isolated instance, in June, Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López acknowledged for the first time that National Guard members had committed abuses.

On May 1, President Nicolás Maduro announced that his government would organize elections to establish a Constituent Assembly to draft a new constitution. (The announcement came after months of delaying elections for governors, which the Constitution mandated for 2016). The executive decree establishing the new body granted it broad powers, including to conduct a “reorganization of the state that recaptures the constitutional principle of cooperation of public powers” (instead of protecting the separation of powers) and the possibility to “expand the powers of the justice system to eradicate impunity” for crimes including “crimes against the Fatherland,” “terrorism,” and “foreign interference” to protect Venezuela from “foreign intervention.”[13] The Supreme Court subsequently upheld Maduro’s proposal, validated the proposed rules to elect pro-government members to the Constituent Assembly, and rejected challenges to the process filed by Attorney General Ortega Díaz.[14]

Despite widespread opposition in Venezuela and criticism from abroad, the government moved forward with the election of Constituent Assembly members on July 30. The company hired by the government to oversee the election later concluded that the turnout figures were tampered with and estimated that actual voter turnout was likely one million less than officially reported.[15] The Constituent Assembly’s first moves were to remove Attorney General Ortega Díaz from office, appoint Tarek William Saab, a government loyalist who served as Venezuela’s Human Rights Ombudsman, as the new attorney general, and take over the National Assembly’s powers.[16]

Venezuelan Security Forces

The security forces mentioned in this report include the following:

Bolivarian National Guard (GNB)

The Bolivarian National Guard (Guardia Nacional Bolivariana, GNB) is part of the Venezuelan Armed Forces, together with the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, and the Militia. While the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force have primary responsibility for conducting military operations to protect national defense, the GNB’s primary responsibility is “conducting required operations to ensure internal order of the country.”[17] (The GNB is also charged with cooperating with other Armed Forces units in protecting national defense.) On June 20, 2017, President Maduro—who is the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces—asked that the number of GNB members be increased by 20,000.[18]

General Direction of Military Counterintelligence (DGCIM)

The General Direction of Military Counterintelligence (Dirección General de Contrainteligencia Militar, DGCIM) is the military counterintelligence agency. Its mission is to carry out, coordinate, and execute all activities required to discover, report, and deter “enemy activity,” as well as to contribute to the security of the Armed Forces and the president.[19] It also serves as an auxiliary body to carry out investigations for both the ordinary and military justice systems.[20]

Anti-Extortion and Kidnapping National Commando (CONAS)
The Anti-extortion and Kidnapping National Commando (Comando Nacional Antiextorsión y Secuestro, CONAS) was created by the Ministry of Defense in 2013 as an elite military force specialized in police investigation to combat the crimes of extortion and kidnapping.[21] In 2015, Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino said CONAS acts as a rapid intervention unit that “has expanded beyond those two criminal phenomena [extortion and kidnapping],” to include “anti-subversive activities.”[22]

National Bolivarian Police (PNB)
In 2008, the government of Venezuela created the National Bolivarian Police (Policía Nacional Bolivariana, PNB). The PNB began operations in 2009,[23] and as of 2017 there were 26,248 PNB officers.[24] On June 20, 2017, President Maduro asked that the number of PNB officers be increased by 20,000.[25]

State and Municipal Police
While the Venezuelan Constitution provides that public security operations will be conducted by a national police forcestates and municipalities have, at times, participated in these operations in several cases documented in this report. For example, the report includes cases where members of the police force of the state of Lara, called “Poli-Lara,” or the police forces of the states of Monagas and Merida have participated.[26]

Scientific, Penal, and Criminal Investigative Police (CICPC)
The Scientific, Penal, and Criminal Investigative Police (Cuerpo de Investigaciones Científicas, Penales y Criminalísticas, CICPC) is charged with carrying out forensic investigations to support the work of prosecutors investigating crimes.[27] Members of the CICPC report to the Ministry of the Interior, Justice, and Peace, who in turn reports to the president.[28]

Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN)
In 2010, then-President Hugo Chávez created the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (Servicio Bolivariano de Inteligencia Nacional, SEBIN) to replace the National Directorate of Intelligence and Prevention Services (Dirección Nacional de los Servicios de Inteligencia y Prevención, DISIP). Since 2012, SEBIN reports to the Vice-Presidency of Venezuela.[29] Its main responsibilities include “assist[ing] the executive branch in the elaboration of public policies on security,” “plan[ning] and execut[ing] activities to contribute to the Nation's stability and security,” and “perform[ing] activities as an auxiliary body of investigation.”[30]

“Colectivos”

In Venezuela, the term colectivos was used for a long time to refer to a wide range of social organizations that supported, and, in some cases, helped implement the government’s policies. Many of these groups do not engage in violent behavior.[31]

However, since the 2014 crackdown on protests, the term colectivos has been more commonly used to describe armed pro-government gangs that have attacked protesters, bystanders, or people they believed to be government opponents, often in plain sight of Venezuelan security forces. In cases we have documented since then, the security forces have collaborated with these groups, who at times have detained people before turning them over to security forces. This report uses both terms—“armed pro-government gangs” and colectivos—to refer to groups that carry out violent attacks or detentions that appear to be motivated by loyalty to the government.

The Venezuelan Criminal Justice System
Under Venezuelan criminal law, an individual may be detained as a consequence of a judicial order, or, exceptionally, if caught while committing a crime.[32] The Venezuelan Constitution provides that any person under arrest has the right to communicate immediately with members of his or her family, an attorney, or any other person he or she trusts. These people have the right to be informed where the detainee is being held, to be notified immediately of the reasons for the arrest, and to have a written record inserted into the case file concerning the detainee’s personal integrity.[33]

The detainee is required to be brought before a judge within 48 hours of the detention in what is called a “presentation hearing” (audiencia de presentación).[34] During this hearing, a prosecutor provisionally brings charges (imputar) against the detainee for crimes he or she may have committed, and the judge is responsible for reviewing the legality of the arrest and accepting or rejecting the charges. If the judge accepts the charges, the Attorney General’s Office must open an investigation to determine if it will formally accuse the detainee, which should be completed within 45 days if the person is detained,[35] or within eight months if the person was released after the initial hearing.[36] A failure to charge the detainee within 45 days should result in his or her release.[37]

If the prosecutor moves forward with the accusation, the person accused of committing a crime must be brought again before a judge in what is called a “preliminary hearing” (audiencia preliminar), where both the prosecutor and the defense are required to present preliminary evidence and arguments.[38] The judge then decides whether to shelve the case until new evidence is available to reopen the investigation, dismiss it, or send it to trial.[39]

If the judge decides to move forward with the trial, the person accused of committing a crime should be released on bail or on conditional liberty, or, exceptionally, sent to pre-trial detention. No monetary payment is required for release on bail in Venezuela. Venezuelan law allows judges to release people facing criminal prosecution if they present a guarantor, who may be required to prove that he or she meets a monthly income threshold and who must assure the judge the detainee will present him or herself before the court during the process.[40] Detainees may also be released subject to other requirements, such as presenting him or herself periodically before the courts. In some cases documented for this report, detainees were released on condition that they not speak publicly, to the media or otherwise, about their cases.

Similar criminal procedures are provided for in Venezuelan law for prosecutions by military courts. However, international law provides that civilians should not be prosecuted before military courts. The Venezuelan Constitution, in article 261, limits military jurisdiction to crimes that are of a military nature.[41] The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Venezuela ratified in 1978, guarantees the right to a timely trial by a competent, independent, and impartial tribunal.[42] In 2015, the Human Rights Committee, the expert body charged with interpreting the ICCPR, called on the Venezuelan government to “adopt the necessary measures to prohibit military courts from trying civilians.”[43] Similarly, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has ruled that military courts should not try civilians.[44]

Arbitrary Arrests and Physical Abuse of Detainees

Since early April, members of different security forces have detained more than 5,300 people in the context of massive anti-government demonstrations in Venezuela.[45] While some detainees may have been implicated in acts of violence, the vast majority were nonviolent demonstrators, bystanders, people filming demonstrations, government opponents, and some taken from their homes because the government claimed they had links to the political opposition. Police arrested some hours or days after demonstrations.

In many cases documented by Human Rights Watch and the Penal Forum in which people were taken from their homes or picked up on the street in incidents unrelated to the protests, no search or arrest warrants were produced by detaining agents. Often, detainees were not informed of the reasons for their arrests, or even who was detaining them.

In several cases, those arrested described being driven around for hours—a practice called “spinning around” or “ruletear” in Venezuela—instead of being taken directly to a detention center or before a judge. During these “ruleteos,” security forces often harassed and threatened detainees, at times subjecting them to violent abuses inside the vehicles. Security agents and armed pro-government groups sometimes stole personal belongings, such as money or cell phones, from detainees during arrests.

Hundreds of detainees were released without ever being brought before a judge, but thousands of others were subject to prosecutions that lacked the most basic due-process guarantees. In addition to those who remain behind bars, according to the Penal Forum, 3,900 people are still subject to arbitrary criminal prosecutions and to precautionary measures that limit their freedom in different ways. At least 757 civilians were prosecuted by military courts, while others have been brought before civilian courts—without adequate access to lawyers or families—to face prosecutions, often based on planted evidence. Dozens remained behind bars for periods of up to several months, despite, in some cases, having a judicial order for their unconditional release or a judicial order for their release on bail, and having submitted the required paperwork for their release.

Detainees have been held in high-security prisons, military prisons, or headquarters of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN).

In 53 cases involving at least 233 people documented for this report, people were subjected to physical and psychological abuse while in detention, either with the apparent purpose of punishing them, or to force them to incriminate themselves or others.

Some of the abuses suffered by detainees include brutal beatings, electric shocks, exposure to teargas in closed environments, sexual abuse, and being held in small, overcrowded punishment cells called “Little Tigers” (Tigritos).[46] Some detainees were denied access to food or water, while others were given, and sometimes forced to eat food with excrement or cigarette ashes in it. Some detainees who had suffered serious abuse during their arrest and subsequent detention did not have access to medical treatment while in custody. Many were insulted with political epithets, accused of being “guarimberos”—a pejorative term used by government supporters to describe those who participate in opposition demonstrations—or forced to incriminate leaders of the political opposition.

Cases of Detainee Torture

In the following seven cases, the abuses amounted to torture, as defined by international law. They illustrate how far Venezuelan security forces have been willing to go to punish detainees for their real or perceived links with the political opposition, or force them to incriminate themselves or others, including leaders of the political opposition.

Venezuela is a party to the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Degrading and Inhuman Treatments, which prohibits such abuses.[47]

Ernesto Martin (Caracas)

The account below is based on interviews with Ernesto Martin (pseudonym) and his wife, unless noted otherwise in footnotes.[48] Details have been withheld to preserve his anonymity.

In April, a group of plainclothesmen arrived at the home of Martin and identified themselves as members of the General Directorate of Military Counterintelligence (Dirección General de Contrainteligencia Militar, or DGCIM). The officers told Martin that they had an order to take him in for interrogation. Before taking him away, they allowed Martin to tell his mother he was being arrested, and send his wife a Facebook message letting her know he was being taken for questioning.

The officers placed Martin in a truck and drove him to Caracas, where he was handed over to officers of the DGCIM and taken to a well-lit 2x2 meter room at the DGCIM headquarters. They handcuffed Martin with his arms behind his back, and blindfolded him. They left him there until the early morning, when they took him to another room in the same building where a man wearing the uniform of a Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) captain asked him if he knew why he was there, and told him it was a “grave crime” to “meddle with” the government. The officer was referring to a public statement from the day before in which Martin had criticized the regime.
 

The GNB captain accused Martin of having links to the opposition and of being a terrorist, and told him, “You receive dollars from the opposition and you will tell us who gave you those dollars.” When Martin said he did not receive any money, the captain said he knew Martin was funded by “Capriles and Leopoldo”—two prominent opposition leaders—slapped his face, and ordered a young officer from the DGCIM to give him the “reversed 440,” referring to the voltage of electric shocks that Martin was about to suffer. The young officer took Martin to a large enclosed space that was cold and had a wet floor, and forced him to undress.

Once Martin was naked, the young officer and two of his colleagues handcuffed Martin’s ankles and wrists together in front of him and attached the handcuffs to a chain that was hanging from the ceiling. They lifted Martin a few centimeters above the ground and started to throw water at him. Martin said he heard someone say that they needed to wet him well so he did not burn. The officers touched Martin with the tip of a long metal stick. An electric shock caused Martin’s body to spasm painfully. A man who Martin thinks was the GNB captain asked him who had given him the dollars, and when Martin said he did not have any dollars, the young officer said, “We were asked to give you 440, but since you’re a little girl, we’ll give you 220.”

For about 15 minutes, the officers alternated between questioning Martin, giving him electric shocks for five seconds at a time, and dousing him with water. The first time they applied the stick right under his buttocks, which caused him to urinate on himself. He was then left hanging there for about an hour.
 

Lowered and allowed to dress, Martin was taken to a room where the young officer pointed a gun at his head and told him that if he did not speak, he would never be released. The officers left Martin in that room for three days, and only entered the room to feed him three times a day, and twice a day to take him to the bathroom. The food had either insects or cigarette ashes in it, or had been spat or urinated upon, he said.
 

On the fourth day, the officers allowed Martin to call his wife, Beatriz Pérez (pseudonym). During that first call, she told him to have “strength and faith”—a phrase that imprisoned opposition leader Leopoldo López’s wife, Lilian Tintori, is known for using publicly when referring to her husband’s detention and the opposition’s struggle on the streets. After the call, Martin was taken back to the same room and subjected to the same torture with electricity for a total of 10 minutes, but this time they asked him about his relationship with López and Tintori. When Martin was taken back to an office for interrogation, the young officer who had tortured him and two others, including a man who Martin believed was an officer of the Scientific, Penal, and Criminal Investigations Police (CICPC in the Spanish acronym), interviewed him, beat him, called him a “triffling idiot,” and told him he had to respect the government. “Trifling” (esquálido) is an insult that government supporters often use to refer to opposition supporters in Venezuela.
 

Martin then spent three weeks in a communal office space used by various DGCIM officers —the first week, seated in a wooden chair, from which he was under orders not to move except to go to the bathroom. He was later transferred to a cell with a toilet and shower, where he was not mistreated. He had now been away from home for almost a month.
 

After the DGCIM agents arrested Martin, his wife visited every installation where she thought he might be held, including military headquarters, as well as offices of the intelligence services, the investigative police, and the Bolivarian National Police. Everywhere, officers told her that they had not detained anyone that day and Martin was not there, she said. She only learned of his whereabouts when he called days later. Martin was allowed to call his wife almost daily after that first call, but never mentioned the abuses for fear of exposing himself or his family to retaliation. No family member or lawyer was allowed to see Martin during his entire detention.

In June, a GNB colonel summoned Martin to his office, where an officer told him he could not discuss politics through his social networks and that he should forget about what had happened.

The officers then took Martin to a courtroom for the first time, where the DGCIM told him to sign a court document that said he had been detained for one day, not several weeks. He was released on condition that he present himself before the courts every 15 days.

In mid-October, Martin fled Venezuela.
 

Orlando Moreno (Monagas state)

The account below is based on an interview with Orlando Moreno and a written summary of his case provided by his lawyer, unless noted otherwise in footnotes.[49]

On June 27, officers of the Monagas state police force tried to detain Moreno, a 26-year-old student and representative of the opposition party Vente Venezuela in Monagas state, as he was getting into a car after an anti-government demonstration in Maturín. Moreno managed to drive away in another vehicle, but he was intercepted by an unmarked car with no license plates, from which two armed men who did not identify themselves descended and forced him to get out. Minutes later, uniformed state police officers arrived, and the two unidentified men handed Moreno over to them.
 

While the officers were taking Moreno to the Comando Desur – the local headquarters of the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB)— state police officers beat him on his head and back with their fists. At the station, a man who identified himself as a GNB lieutenant asked him if he had information about where they could find opposition leaders—including María Corina Machado, the leader of the political party to which Moreno belonged—and told Moreno that the opposition leaders would not be able to free him. The lieutenant took Moreno into an office where he counted about 10 officials who had arrived in three unmarked vehicles that Moreno thinks were from the Bolivarian National Intelligence Services (SEBIN). One of the officers told him that he would “stay there like Yoel Bellorin.” A university professor affiliated with the Progressive Movement of Venezuela, a political party, Bellorin was arrested in April 2017 and reportedly subjected to physical abuse. He remained in detention at time of writing.[50]
 

One of the officers told Moreno that “he would not come out of this shit” and tried to force him to say on camera that Machado and two other opposition leaders from Monagas state had provided him funding and instructed him to carry out violent protests. Moreno refused.

That night, GNB officials transferred him to a prison in La Pica, Monagas state, where he spent the night on the floor in a corridor with his hands handcuffed in front of him.

Immediately after that, the officer in charge of overseeing the prison took him outside to the back of the prison and handcuffed him to an elevated water tank high enough that Moreno could barely touch the ground with the tips of his toes. He spent all day—about nine hours—in that position, at times under blazing sun, without access to food, water, or a bathroom. While he was hanging there, several officers walked by, identified him as the one who refused to make a video confession, called him a “guarimbero” and beat him on the head or kicked his ribs. A GNB officer stood beside him all day and did not prevent the abuse.

At 5:30 p.m., officers took Moreno down and handcuffed him to a window. Although he was not hanging, he was not able to sit or lie down. He spent several hours standing up.

The following day, members of the GNB continued to hit him. One of them said, “Let’s see what the head of a guarimbero feels like” and punched him in the head while wearing a bulky graduation ring.

On June 30, Moreno was taken before a judge, who charged him with “instigating hatred” and possessing explosives, and released him on condition that he present himself before the court every 15 days. His lawyer said that the sole evidence against him were some containers with gasoline that security forces found near where he was detained, but with no evidence that they were his or that he had any involvement with them.[51] At time of writing, no date had been set for Moreno’s preliminary hearing.

Armando López Carrera, Javier Mendoza, Antonio Alonzo Rivera, and Andrés Salamanca (Carabobo state)

The account below is based on interviews with Armando López Carrera (pseudonym), Antonio Alonzo Rivera (pseudonym), and Andrés Salamanca (pseudonym), unless noted otherwise in footnotes.[52]

On July 20, police arrested and beat four teenagersSalamanca, 17; Javier Mendoza, 17; Alonzo Rivera, 16; and López Carrera, 17 (who is a dual US-Venezuela citizen)at demonstrations in various parts of Valencia, Carabobo state. In the course of doing so, they shot Salamanca with a shotgun while he was lying on the ground. The following day, the four teenagers were taken to a juvenile court. While the Attorney General’s Office did not find that the evidence against them warranted criminal charges, the judge charged Carrera, Rivera, Mendoza, and Salamanca with instigation to public disobedience and injuries and granted them bail. It took well over a week for them to be released.[53]  

The four teenagers were taken to the Comando Desurthe local GNB station—in Ciudad Chávez. At that point, Salamanca was separated from the others.

Salamanca told Human Rights Watch that he spent eight days at Comando Desur, during which time GNB officers refused to provide him with medication or alcohol to clean his shotgun wounds, which were rapidly becoming infected, claiming that they could not help him because they were not doctors. During the hearing, the judge had ordered that Salamanca receive medical treatment. They did not allow him to go to the bathroom or shower, so he had to urinate and defecate in the cell, Salamanca said.

Carrera, Mendoza, and Rivera were transferred by agents the following dayJuly 22from Ciudad Chavez to the Dr. Alberto Ravelli Juvenile Prison. Carrera and Rivera described to Human Rights Watch how, upon arrival, prison guards forced them to squat and walk while crouched for about 100 meters. While they did so, the guards beat them with sticks. The guards later cut their hair and told them that they would have to eat it. Without giving them any food, they forced the three detainees to undergo at least two hours of military training in the sun. The guards forced them to bend over so they would have to stand on their feet and head without using their hands, and hold that pose, without using their hands, for about five minutes, as a form of punishment. When Salamanca joined them in Ravelli a few days later, agents subjected him to the same treatment.
 

The four teenagers were respectively held for 2 to 8 additional days in the “Tigrito” punishment cell, which was 1x3 meters, with no light or ventilation, and crowded with 26 detainees, including convicted prisoners. The detainees were only given five liters of water per day for all. Most detainees spent all day standing up. Once a day, they were allowed to shower for a few seconds, and to go to the toilet. Carrera told Human Rights Watch it was extremely hot, and the smell was unbearable. The conditions were so bad, he said, that some detainees asked others to hit them hard in the chest so they would faint, and guards would have to take them out. Carrera fainted several times as a consequence of the overcrowding.

They were all released on different dates in early August.

Reny Elías (Zulia state)

The account below is based on an interview with Reny Elías, unless noted otherwise in footnotes.[54]

On July 20, the Democratic Unity Roundtable, an umbrella organization of opposition parties, organized a national strike to protest the election, scheduled for July 30, to choose members of the National Constituent Assembly. While the strike was taking place in Zulia state, Elías, a 35-year-old employee in the health division of the Zulia governor’s office, stayed at home. Elías said he also worked as a hair stylist, and was serving those clients at home on July 30.

At about 5:30 p.m., when he opened the door to let one of his clients leave, a group of heavily armed and uniformed members of the Bolivarian National Police (PNB) abruptly entered without showing a warrant. The officers beat him with their shields and helmets, dragged him across the street by his hair, and placed him in an official vehicle.

They took Elías to a building that belongs to Corpoelec, a government-owned electric utility. They took away his personal belongings, which he never got back, and placed him in a GNB vehicle. An officer hit Elías’s leg with his helmet, which made Elías fall to the ground from the vehicle, and they continued to beat him as he lay there.

The officers then forced Elías to lie on the ground with a group of about 20 people, and some 15 PNB officers walked repeatedly on their backs in heavy boots. For about two hours, the officers beat them with their rifle butts, and threw teargas powder and water in their faces. The officers told the detainees not to look at them; if they did, they would beat them harshly. The whole time, they insulted the detainees, calling them “fucking guarimberos,” threatening them with death, and taunting, “Tell the opposition to come and get you out of here!

During the group’s detention at Corpoelec, Elías saw officers inappropriately touching the legs and breasts of two female detainees, including a 16-year-old girl. An officer grabbed one of the woman’s hands and placed it on his crotch, telling her boyfriend, who was also detained, “Look how your girlfriend touches my penis.” Officers took the woman to another room for about 20 minutes, and while she returned visibly traumatized, she did not say what the officers had done to her. The 16-year-old girl was let go, after being threatened with detention again, if she spoke of what had happened. (Another detainee, testifying at his presentation hearing, corroborated Elías’s account of sexual abuse that day and reported that an officer had offered another woman her freedom if she would have sex with him.[55])

Continuing his account of July 20, Elías told Human Rights Watch he witnessed the officers choosing one young man, pulling down his pants in front of the other detainees, putting teargas powder and water in his anus, and penetrating him with a broom stick. The man “screamed horribly,” Elías said.

Officers later ordered the detainees into the back of a government truck, where they forced them to kneel with their hands behind their backs, heads down. The officers used their helmets to beat anyone who looked up at them or tried to shift from that position.

The officers drove them to the Comando Regional 3 GNB station and put them in what the officers called “the tent for guarimberos.” Some GNB officers tried to help the detainees by giving them water or providing them with a pen and paper to send notes to their families, who by this point were waiting outside.

A week later, all 20 detainees were allowed visits from their lawyers, before being taken before a military court.[56] During the hearing, a military prosecutor accused them all, en masse, of crimes including rebellion, “attacking a sentinel,” and disdain for the Armed Forces, alleging they were responsible for violent incidents that had occurred on the day of the strike. The prosecutor provided no evidence specific to any individual detainee.

A lawyer present at the hearing said that Elías and other detainees told the judge about the abuses they had suffered at the hands of the GNB officers. Two detainees said they had been beaten with a steel cable, and two others said the officers had set their hair on fire, causing burns on the back of one of them. A medical report reviewed by the lawyer confirmed evidence consistent with rape in the case in which the detainee reported having been penetrated with the broomstick.

The judge sent the detainee who said he had been raped with a broomstick to house arrest and the other 19 detainees back to the GNB station. This time, agents put them in a cell, instead of in the tent “for guarimberos.” A high-level PNB official told them that it was punishment for having told the judge about the abuses. They shared, with about 30 others, an overcrowded room that lacked ventilation and water. They ate only food brought to them by their families, and the GNB officers ate some of that.

A week later, Elías was transferred to a prison, where he was placed in the women’s pavilion, after telling the prison director he was gay. The prison director told Elías he would help him because “he was a compañero,” suggesting the director was only going easy on him because Elías worked for a Chavista governor. It was at the prison that Elías saw his family for the first time.

During his entire detention, Elías received no medical treatment, despite having severe pain in his ribs from the beatings he had received. A few officers tried to help him, but they did not have the medication or medical supplies necessary to provide proper care.

On September 15, a military judge released Elías and the other 18 detainees on conditional liberty, after dismissing all charges except that of “attacking a sentinel.” The judge ordered them all to appear before the court every week until their preliminary hearing on October 4. During that hearing, a judge acquitted 17 and charged Elías and two others of “attacking a sentinel.” The three formally pled guilty in order to receive suspended sentences; the judge ordered them to perform community service and present themselves before the court every month. He also barred them from leaving the country, according to their lawyer, who was present at the hearings.

Alejandro Pérez Castilla (Carabobo state)

The account below is based on interviews with Alejandro Pérez Castilla (pseudonym) and his lawyer, unless noted otherwise in footnotes.[57]

On July 26, GNB members detained 32-year-old Pérez Castilla when he tried to stop agents from detaining a young boy with disabilities. At that time, violence broke out when about 20 GNB motorcycles, four armored vehicles, and dozens of GNB members on foot arrived at the site of the roadblock, and the officers began to fire shotgun and teargas canisters at protestors and nearby residences. Several shotgun pellets struck Pérez in the arm, chest, and abdomen.

He tried to run away, but a GNB officer blocked him with his motorcycle. Several officers beat and kicked him repeatedly. They pushed him into an armored vehicle, where they continued beating him, stepped on his fingers, and burned his back with a cigarette lighter. The officers forced Pérez to lie on the vehicle’s floor, placed a shield on him, and walked on the shield, which he said painfully compressed his ribcage. Another GNB member took his own penis out of his pants and pushed Pérez’s face towards it, while the others laughed. When they found out that Pérez had a daughter, they threatened to rape her.

When they arrived at a GNB station, a GNB member rubbed teargas powder on Pérez’s face, eyes, nose, and shotgun-pellet wounds. Another officer held his eyes open so they could put powder in them, while a female sergeant told him they were only getting started.

When GNB officers took Pérez to receive medical care, one of the officers threw away the painkillers that the medical staff gave him. When they arrived at another GNB station, the officers handcuffed Pérez to the cage of an air conditioner so high that he could barely stand on tiptoe. While he was hanging there, a sergeant beat Pérez in the ribs for approximately an hour, and later handcuffed him to a metal bench and used a taser to administer electric shocks to his calf.

An officer then ordered Pérez to be put in a small, windowless room, into which officers threw a teargas canister and closed the door. After Pérez fainted, officers took him outside. When he woke up, a captain put teargas powder on a damp towel, added inflammable oil to it, set it on fire, and forced Pérez to blow. When he did, it burned his face. Two guards and a third person Pérez could not identify beat Pérez again and urinated on him, before taking him to a small, overcrowded cell. Detainees in the cell shared some Betadine antiseptic they had hidden with Pérez so he could clean some of his wounds. He did not receive any medical treatment from the authorities.

A week after his arrest, Pérez was allowed to speak with a lawyer for five minutes, before a military tribunal hearing. A prosecutor charged Pérez with offending the Armed Forces, and on July 31 the judge sent him to house arrest pending trial.[58]

Manuel Rojas Villas (Táchira state)

The account below is based on an interview with Manuel Rojas Villas (pseudonym).[59]

On the morning of July 30, the day of the Constituent Assembly election, Rojas Villas, a 21-year-old who had been active in demonstrations, was walking home near the city of San Cristóbal, Táchira state, after an evening out with friends. He told Human Rights Watch that he walked past a parked truck, and five armed men wearing balaclavas got out.

One of them said, “You’re a guarimbero!” and punched him in the head. Rojas fell to the ground, and the men used his own jacket to cover his head, preventing him from seeing anything, and put him in the truck. They never identified themselves or gave him any other reason for taking him away.

The men drove Rojas to a school that was being used as a polling station, and presented him to the GNB commanding officer, who ordered his transfer to the nearby Copa de Oro GNB base. At the base, Rojas’s captors forced him to hold Molotov cocktails while they took pictures. The base commander informed Rojas’s captors that they could not detain him there, as they were already at full capacity. So the men brought Rojas back to the school.

When they arrived, people who had begun to queue to vote saw Rojas coming into the school and shouted: “They caught him! Give him 15 years!” The GNB commander in charge of the polling station ordered the agents who had captured Rojas to interrogate him. They took him to a small classroom, where they confiscated his phone and personal belongings and began to beat him. At some point, when Rojas’s girlfriend called, they stopped beating him and allowed him to briefly tell her that he had been detained. When she called back, seconds later, they instructed him to say that he was fine.

Rojas’s captors then sat him on the floor, took his blindfold off, and forced him to record a video in which they ordered him to incriminate local youths as leaders of the “Resistance” and admit to being paid 100,000 bolivares  to demonstrate. Whenever he made a mistake in what they wanted him to say, they stopped the camera, hit him, and started recording again. Once they were done, the men tied Rojas’s ankles to his wrists behind him, and left him in the room with a guard. He felt dizzy from all the blows to his head.

After about 90 minutes, men wearing green uniforms that Rojas could not identify came in, blindfolded Rojas, and took him to a white truck parked outside. They drove Rojas to what appeared to be a GNB base, given the presence of several GNB members on the scene. They took him immediately to a room downstairs, where officers had him sit on the floor and kicked him in the stomach. Four new officers, wearing balaclavas to mask their faces, took him to another cell, where he was handcuffed to a chair and beaten again. They forced him to film another video, then took him to a cell.

Hours later, a nurse came to treat his wounds. Sometime afterwards, officers blindfolded him again and drove him, at night, to a nearby location in the mountains, where he received food and was not beaten. He described seeing uniformed personnel he thought were soldiers coming and going there. On the third day, officers blindfolded him again and took him to a truck, where someone he could not see threatened to kill him if he ever spoke of where he had been detained. Officers drove him to an unknown location where they took his handcuffs off and told him to get out of the truck and, once he could not hear the engine anymore, run away. When they left, he managed to get help from an old woman who lived nearby, and he made it home to his family.

Throughout his detention, which lasted almost four days, Rojas was, in effect, disappeared. While his family learned of his detention when his girlfriend called on the day of his arrest, security officials denied detaining him and claimed that they were unaware of his whereabouts and condition. 

Wuilly Arteaga (Caracas)

The account below is based on interviews with Wuilly Arteaga, unless noted otherwise in footnotes.[60]

On July 27, uniformed members of the GNB detained Arteaga, a 23-year-old violinist, during a protest in Caracas against the government’s plan to convene a Constituent Assembly. Between 2013 and 2015, Arteaga was a member of the National System of Juvenile and Children’s Orchestras, a state-run education program that former President Hugo Chávez strongly supported during his tenure in office. Arteaga said he joined the protests in May 2017 after Armando Cañizales, another violinist in the state-run program, was killed during an anti-government demonstration. Images of Arteaga playing his violin during the protests went viral on social media, and he soon became a symbol of peaceful protest in Venezuela.

After detaining him on the street, GNB agents forced Arteaga into an armored vehicle with other detainees, where they covered their eyes with pieces of cloth and tied their hands behind their backs with their own shoelaces. GNB officers hit Arteaga on the head with helmets and with his own violin, and he heard one officer say, “rape that bitch.” Although he had his eyes covered, he could hear a woman who was close to him scream that a member of the GNB was “raping her with his fingers.” 

GNB agents moved Arteaga and about 20 others to a truck and took them to the parking lot of a government-run supermarket in the Bicentennial Shopping Mall in Caracas, where Arteaga said the GNB held detainees during the protests. There, a GNB officer asked loudly: “Where is the violinist? Raise your hand.” When officers found him among the detainees, they placed him underneath a stream of dirty water that was falling from the building’s roof into the parking lot.

A few hours later, they took Arteaga to the Fuerte Tiuna military base. There, a GNB member set Arteaga’s hair on fire with a cigarette lighter. Two officers put out the fire by hitting him in the head with their helmets.

The GNB officers then drove Arteaga and other detainees in a truck to a GNB base in the El Paraiso neighborhood of Caracas. In the vehicle, the officers “beat us more than ever,” he said. “Let’s see who beats them the hardest, the winner gets to hit them three more times,” he heard an officer say.

“Beat the violinist harder,” an officer shouted. While some officers held him, another hit Arteaga with a metal tube on his back, head, and right ear. His ear started bleeding, he said, and after that blow, he could not hear anything out of it for around two weeks. When we interviewed him two almost months later, he said he still could not hear properly.

On each of three consecutive days, GNB members took Arteaga to the same office inside the GNB base and interviewed him for about two hours. They asked him what he did for a living and whether he was paid to protest by opposition leaders, including by María Corina Machado and Lilian Tintori.

Arteaga told Human Rights Watch that officers did not force him to say anything, but he was afraid of expressing himself freely because, as he was being interviewed, on two occasions he saw officers making Molotov cocktails in the office. Arteaga later realized that the officers were making the Molotov cocktails in order to falsely implicate him in crimes. On his last visit to the office at the GNB base, an officer indeed asked him to stand beside the cocktails, while others took photos of him.

Five days before his detention, Arteaga was wounded when uniformed GNB officers shot him in the face with a pellet gun at another protest. Even though he received medical treatment immediately after being injured, he was still in pain when he was arrested. Arteaga said he repeatedly asked officers for medical treatment for the previous wounds, but they ignored his request.

A lawyer from the Penal Forum was allowed to see Arteaga on July 28, when Arteaga was taken to the investigative police offices in Caracas.[61] The lawyer said that on July 30, he saw officers bring Arteaga to court, and waited outside to learn when Arteaga’s hearing would be and in which courtroom. At the same time, a civilian judge and a court official were telling Arteaga that he would be represented not by his Penal Forum attorney but by a public defender whom he had not yet met. A prosecutor charged Arteaga with possession of flammable substances, public incitement to commit crimes, and association to commit crimes. The judge said Arteaga could be released on bail, but only upon presentation of a guarantor.[62]

When Arteaga’s Penal Forum lawyer eventually gained access to the case file, he filed the paperwork for someone to serve as guarantor. But Arteaga was not immediately released. Authorities only let Arteaga go several days later, on August 15, after his case received widespread international attention and his release was publicly and formally requested by Tarek William Saab—the attorney general appointed by the pro-government Constituent Assembly after the firing of Luisa Ortega Díaz.[63] GNB members convinced Arteaga to sign a document saying he had not been mistreated, drove him to a park in Caracas, and dropped him off, without notifying his lawyers or family of his release.

On the day Arteaga was released, the powerful Chavista politician Diosdado Cabello aired a video on TV with parts of Arteaga’s interviews in prison to show what he called “the truth about Wuilly.”[64] Arteaga explained that the video was edited to take his statements out of context. For example, in the video he is seen saying that GNB officers did not destroy his violin, but he was referring to the day he was detained in July and not to a previous incident in May, when officers did destroy it.[65]

Arteaga was also shown saying that he had not been mistreated in the GNB base where he was detained; but the parts of the interviews in which he said he had suffered abuses elsewhere were edited out.

Arteaga, who was required to present himself before the court periodically and was told by the judge that he could not participate in demonstrations, fled Venezuela in September.

Arrests of Political Opponents or People with Links to the Opposition

In researching this report, Human Rights Watch and the Penal Forum documented at least 28 cases in which those arrested were political opponents or had real or perceived links to the opposition. These include the cases summarized below (other cases are described in the annex to this report).

Wilmer Azuaje, a 40-year-old opposition legislator, whom intelligence agents stopped on May 2. Azuaje and a member of his staff were driving in Barinas state when agents forced Azuaje out of the car, handcuffed him, and took him to SEBIN headquarters in Barinas, his mother said in documents filed with the Attorney General’s Office and the Ombudsman’s Office days later. The agents did not have an arrest warrant.[66] For weeks, Azuaje’s family did not receive any official confirmation of his whereabouts, and Azuaje was unable to see his family or lawyer. On June 28, the Venezuelan Supreme Court ruled that Azuaje had been detained while committing a crime, because when SEBIN agents detained him and searched his vehicle, the agents claimed to have found grenades and explosives, in violation of the Law of Arms and Explosives. The court ordered Azuaje transferred to house arrest.[67] Pictures of Azuaje in jail have circulated on social media, showing him handcuffed to a ladder.[68] Azuaje was eventually transferred to the high-security prison “26th of July” in Guárico state, where he remains in detention at time of writing.

Roberto Picon, a 55-year-old engineer who for years has advised the opposition umbrella organization, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (Mesa de la Unidad Democrática, MUD), on electoral matters and had, since February, coordinated the opposition’s technical support team. On the evening of June 22, a group of more than 30 SEBIN officers entered the home of a colleague of Picon, without a search warrant, and arrested Picon and others. Members of the opposition had met several times at that home and, hours earlier, a meeting of leaders from the MUD had taken place there. 

On June 25, President Maduro said on television that, days earlier, security forces had seized two servers which he claimed were used to organize “a hacking, intervention, and sabotage process” of the electoral computer system. He accused Picon, who he said was “very close” to opposition leader Henrique Capriles Radonski, of directing the hacking attempt.[69] The official TV channel Venezolana de Televisión reported that five people had been detained and were “cooperating with the investigation.”[70]

A day later, Picon was brought before a military court, and a military prosecutor charged him with rebellion, treason, and “abduction of goods belonging to the Armed Forces.”

Picon’s family received no official information about his whereabouts for four days. Authorities allowed him to see his children 57 days into his detention, and to see his lawyer an additional 13 days after that. In August, he spent 17 days isolated in a bathroom, his daughter said, and was allowed exposure to sunlight only after 87 days in detention. In October, Picón’s case was transferred from military courts to the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. At time of writing, Picon was still detained in SEBIN headquarters in Caracas.[71]

Carlos Graffe, 31, an activist with the opposition party Popular Will, who has collaborated with human rights groups and worked for a decade in low-income neighborhoods in Carabobo state. Agents, whom Graffe later told his mother belonged to PNB, grabbed him on July 13, while he was leaving a meeting of health workers in Valencia, Graffe’s family said.[72] Days prior to his detention, Graffe had actively promoted the unofficial plebiscite organized by the opposition on July 16.[73]  In a video of his arrest, filmed by a passerby, Graffe shouts that he is being kidnapped, and is seen being forced, by men in plainclothes, into a white van.[74] Another man is seen climbing into a blue vehicle, which Graffe’s father said belonged to his son. On July 14, Graffe was brought before a military court and charged with stealing “materials that belong to the Armed Forces” and “instigating rebellion.” A judge ordered his pretrial detention in the Ramo Verde military prison. The family has not seen that vehicle since then. On October 13, Graffe was transferred to a military hospital to get medical treatment, and on November 15, he was transferred to house arrest. Graffe remains subject to criminal prosecution.

Ángel Vladimir Zerpa, 51. Newly appointed by the opposition-led National Assembly to Venezuela’s Supreme Court, Zerpa had lunch with a family member on July 22. Upon returning home, they noticed that a car that had been parked outside of their home since the previous day was still there. They decided to keep driving, and noticed that the parked car began to follow them. Someone in the car pointed a gun at them, forcing them to stop. Three men—two uniformed and one in plainclothes—identified themselves as SEBIN agents and arrested Zerpa. Zerpa asked to see the men’s order for his arrest, but they had none, according to family members.[75]

The men said Zerpa’s arrest was an order from President Nicolás Maduro, according to the family. A day after Zerpa’s detention, Maduro said on TV—speaking of the Supreme Court appointments made by the opposition-led National Assembly—that “those people they appointed, those usurpers out there, they will all go to jail, one by one.”[76]

Zerpa was taken to SEBIN headquarters, and for at least 48 hours, his family was unaware of his whereabouts.[77] Representatives from the Attorney General’s Office asked to visit Zerpa at the intelligence headquarters, where they believed he was being held, but they were denied access.[78]

On July 24, Zerpa was taken to a military court hearing from which his lawyers said they were excluded, charged with treason, and sent back to SEBIN headquarters in Caracas.[79] On August 25, he was released on condition that he present himself before the courts every week. According to his family, the judge prohibited him from leaving the country and ordered him not to talk to the media about his case. In October, the case was transferred from military courts to the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.[80]

Juan Carlos Marquina, 42, brother of opposition legislator José Manuel Olivares Marquina. Olivares said that on September 25, at least 12 armed SEBIN agents wearing ski masks tried to burst into the formal opening of a children’s soup kitchen in Vargas state, an event in which Olivares was participating. Olivares told Human Rights Watch that he was there with part of his team, his wife, and his brother—Juan Carlos Marquina—and that members of the community stopped the agents from entering.[81]

Olivares said that he left with his wife in one car, while Marquina left in a car that his mother had bought him. SEBIN agents stopped both vehicles, forced everyone out, and searched the cars. Olivares said he heard an agent say that they were taking his brother, and he saw agents handcuff and detain Marquina.

That day, the powerful Chavista politician and current member of the Constituent Assembly Diosdado Cabello said that security forces had stopped a caravan of cars in Vargas state that had passed through a check point “by chance,” and that Marquina had been detained because he was driving a stolen car, according to news reports.[82]

Over the course of more than two days, Olivares’s mother visited two SEBIN headquarters in Caracas and was told that Marquina was not being held at either. Olivares and his family did not know Marquina’s whereabouts until the evening of September 27, when he was brought before a judge. His lawyer was able to see him minutes before the hearing, in which Olivares was charged with having forged documents—authorities claimed the paperwork for his car had been altered prior to its purchase by Olivares’ mother, Olivares said. Marquina was taken to SEBIN headquarters in Caracas called “El Helicoide.”[83]

Military Prosecutions

More than 757 civilians have been prosecuted by military courts since early April, despite clear rules under international law prohibiting such prosecutions. While no public record of the military proceedings is available—a problem in its own right—the accounts by lawyers and family members include many disturbing allegations of abuses and procedural defects in the conduct of such prosecutions. Hearings are often held in military courts or other military installations, presided over by military judges who report to the minister of defense. Protesters are charged with serious crimes under the military code, such as “rebellion” and “treason,” for alleged acts of violence at protests for which these charges would be grossly disproportionate even if the defendants had committed them.

In researching this report, Human Rights Watch and the Penal Forum documented 18 cases involving at least 119 people in which detainees were brought before military courts. The examples below are as relayed to us by lawyers who were present at the proceedings and provided legal defense to some of the detainees (other cases of civilians prosecuted in military courts are described in the annex to this report).

On May 5, 40 people who had been detained separately near a food company in Valencia, Carabobo state, which had been looted a day earlier, were brought before a military judge in an improvised courtroom inside the GNB base “Ciudad Chávez.” The hearing started at 7 p.m. and lasted 12 hours.

During the hearing, most detainees showed bruises that they said were caused by GNB members who beat them, sometimes with an aluminum bar or a baseball bat. Some claimed the officers cut their hair during their detention. At least 15 said they were forced to eat raw pasta mixed with human excrement—the officers allegedly put teargas powder in their noses so they would be forced to open their mouths to eat.

Without individualizing the criminal responsibility of each, all 40 were charged en masse with rebellion. The military judge admitted the charges against all, but sent only 19 to the non-military “26th of July” high-security prison in Guárico state, without providing any explanation. The others were released on conditional liberty.[84]

Weeks later, the judge authorized the conditional release of the 19, ordering them to present themselves before the court periodically. At time of writing, the investigation remained open.[85]

On May 9, 16 people who had been detained in different circumstances in La Villa de Rosario, Zulia state, were brought together before a military court in Maracaibo. The detainees included a man who said he was walking home from work when he was picked up by the GNB, and two brothers who said they were working on the roof of their home and were detained without a judicial order. Two others were reportedly taken to the offices of the investigative police (CICPC) from the hospital where they were being treated—one said he was there after suffering an accident at home and the other said that he was a government supporter who had been hit by a bottle in a protest. CICPC agents asked them to declare who had injured them, and then held them.

Eight of the 16 claimed that they were beaten by GNB members when they were detained, and that the officers spread a white powder on their faces that caused a burning sensation and made them cry, which they described as being similar to the effect of teargas.

On May 11, the prosecutor charged the 16 detainees with rebellion and “attacking a sentinel,” without specifying what each of them had done. The judge accepted the charges against all detainees, but ordered seven of the 16 held in pretrial detention at the Santa Ana prison, an installation for people prosecuted in military courts, and released the rest on conditional liberty.[86] The judge provided no explanation for the distinction.

In mid-August, during the preliminary hearing, the military judge dropped all charges against five, and accused 11 of several crimes, including attacking a sentinel, violating security zones, and insulting the Armed Forces. Their lawyer said the 11 who were charged feared a military trial and thus pleaded guilty; each of them was sentenced to three months of community service and was required to appear before the court every 30 days.[87]

Politically Motivated Prosecutions of Opposition Mayors

In mid-2017, the Venezuelan Supreme Court sentenced five opposition mayors to 15 months in prison each and disqualified all from running for office for the same period of time. The convictions followed summary proceedings that lacked basic due process guarantees. Harassing mayors for their politics goes back at least to 2014, when, during a previous crackdown on anti-government protests, the Supreme Court instituted summary proceedings for the first time against two opposition mayors, Daniel Ceballos and Vicencio Scarano.[88]

The mayors punished to date in 2017 are Alfredo Ramos, of the Iribarren municipality in Lara state, Gustavo Marcano of the Diego Bautista Urbaneja municipality in Anzoátegui state, Carlos García of the Libertador municipality in Mérida state, David Smolansky, of the El Hatillo municipality in Miranda state, and Ramón Muchacho, of the Chacao municipality in Miranda state.[89]

In each of these cases, the Supreme Court’s Constitutional Chamber first issued a ruling ordering the mayors to ensure that people did not block roads in their municipalities, and to remove any obstacles that prevented citizens from moving around freely.[90] Later, the Constitutional Chamber accused the mayors of contempt for failing to comply with this order and instituted summary proceedings in which the Constitutional Chamber itself was responsible for both the “accusation” and “sentencing” in the case. The rulings of the Constitutional Chamber, in these cases a court of first instance, are not subject to appeal, which violates the due process right of defendants to appeal a criminal conviction.

Four of the five mayors fled the country. Only Ramos was detained, on July 28, after the Supreme Court handed down its ruling on his case. According to Ramos’ wife and daughter, Ramos learned he had been sentenced when the Supreme Court tweeted about it. They claim he was at the Irribaren municipal building with his family and staff when a group of at least 20 heavily armed men with faces covered forcefully entered his office.[91] Without showing a judicial order, and after threatening to throw a teargas canister inside the office, they allegedly forced Ramos out and took him to a GNB station. Ramos’ wife was allowed to stay with him for several hours, but after telling her she could go home to fetch his medication and clothes, they did not allow her back in, she said.

Ramos was transferred to SEBIN headquarters in Caracas (El Helicoide) and was not allowed to see his family or lawyers for 26 days, his family said. They traveled from Barquisimeto to Caracas to try to visit him “many times” but SEBIN agents told them he was not authorized to receive visits. After Ramos suffered a hypertension crisis on August 31, he was able to see a cardiologist while in detention but his family was denied access to the medical report. At time of writing in November, Ramos had not been able to see another medical professional and remained in detention.[92]

Between May and July 2017, the Supreme Court issued similar injunctions against at least nine other mayors and one governor, all of them from the opposition.[93]

One of them is Omar Lares, the mayor of the Campo Elías municipality in Mérida state.[94] On July 30, dozens of GNB, PNB, and SEBIN agents, as well as members of colectivos burst into his home. The mayor and most of his family were able to escape, but Juan Pedro Lares, his 23-year-old son, was captured and has since been arbitrarily detained.[95]

An employee of the Lares family who was there when the security forces stormed the house said the officers forced him and Juan Pedro to kneel on the ground, handcuffed them, and told them they could shoot them anytime “because no one was watching.” They threatened to spray both of them with gasoline and set them on fire, he said, “if they did not tell them where the firearms where.” They also placed a gun against Juan Pedro’s head, threatening to kill him “if he didn’t tell the truth,” and then hit him on the neck with it. They let the employee go, and drove Juan Pedro away in an official SEBIN vehicle.     

As of November 2017, Juan Pedro was being held at the Helicoide, one of SEBIN’s headquarters in Caracas. He had not been charged with any crime nor taken before a judge.

Arrests and Abuses of Demonstrators and Bystanders

On April 26, GNB personnel detained David Romero (pseudonym), a 19-year-old student, during confrontations between demonstrators and security forces in Barquisimeto, Lara state. According to Romero’s account of what followed, agents captured and then beat him and others with their fists and rifle butts during an operation in a residential zone that had been barricaded by anti-government protesters.[96]

The GNB officers took Romero to a truck, where 28 people—including 11 who were under 18 years old—were already detained. According to Romero, when they arrived at a GNB station, uniformed men from CONAS started to beat several of the detainees, including Romero, who said the officers threatened him, grabbed him by the hair, punched and kicked him, and took away his ID, money, and cell phone.

On April 28, 28 detainees from the April 26 raid were presented before the courts. The adults, including Romero, were charged with several crimes, including obstructing public roads and attacking a sentinel. The prosecutor did not allege any facts that pointed to the individual criminal responsibility of any of the defendants. The judge authorized their release on bail and requested five guarantors for each, but it took several weeks after the guarantors were presented for the detainees to actually be released, forcing them to remain in detention arbitrarily.[97]

During this period, and for more than a month, Romero said, he was held with 27 others at a detention center in horrible conditions. When the detainees arrived at the center, one sergeant struck each of them on the head with a rock, which he called the “stone of justice.” All detainees were held in a small 3x3 meter cell that did not have a toilet, so they had to use a bottle that the prison guards would take out in the morning. Once a day, they would throw a small teargas canister inside the cell, which would take about 10 minutes to dissipate through the only window the room had. The guards did not feed the detainees; they ate only what their families brought to them that the guards did not take for themselves, Romero said.

Romero was eventually released on bail but still needed to present himself before the courts every eight days as of October 2017.

On May 1, Emerson Ibarra, a 24-year-old student, was demonstrating in Mérida when about 10 PNB officers on motorcycles surrounded him. This, he told us, is what happened next:

One officer stripped off the balaclava Ibarra was wearing that day, and another told him to get on the motorcycle. When he resisted, one of them struck him in the face with his rifle butt and forced him onto the motorcycle.[98]

Ibarra was taken with three others he did not know—whom he said were 17, 20, and 25 years old—to the state police headquarters in Glorias Patrias, downtown Mérida, where several officers beat them before taking them to the office of the intelligence division of the state police.

When they arrived, the police officers called them “fucking guarimberos.” One of the officers, whom he recognized as having participated in his arrest, beat him with handcuffs for 10 minutes, while another accused him of being a student leader and having pictures of the protests on his Twitter account. The officer said he did not want to see him on the streets again or he would: “fuck [him] over.”

That evening, the officers put them in a kitchen inside the intelligence offices, adjusted the handcuffs very tight, and deprived them of sleep by repeatedly entering the room screaming “guarimberos!” or insults at them. Ibarra’s family was unable to see him for six days.

On May 4, the four young men were taken before a court. Although the Attorney General’s Office requested their release without any precautionary measures, the judge ruled they would only be released on bail. The paperwork for their release on bail was filed that same day, but they remained in detention for eight days because of delays in processing the papers. A few days later, when Ibarra was at a room with other detainees, two officers of the intelligence division of the state police threw a teargas canister inside the room and mocked their reaction, he said. Ibarra fled the country.

On May 15, PNB officers detained Carlos Jordan (pseudonym) in Aragua state as he was heading home.[99] An anti-government demonstration was taking place nearby at the time, and another nine people who claim they had not participated in the demonstration were also detained that day in the same vicinity.

After he was detained, the officers forced Jordan to take off his pants and one of the officers anally penetrated Jordan with a “tube,” Jordan told the judge in his first hearing. At the hearing, detainees said that during their detention the PNB officers brutally beat them with their helmets and the butts of their weapons, and forced them to breathe teargas residues and to dance sensually amongst themselves while the PNB officers laughed. The officers stole shoes, cellphones, and money from the detainees.

On May 17, Jordan and the others were taken before a judge and charged with instigation to commit crimes. His lawyer claimed his release was deliberately delayed and Jordan was taken back to the same detention facility for a week, until the court finally accepted the guarantors presented by his defense.

In June, GNB agents arrested Lawrence Esposito (pseudonym), a 17-year-old student, as he was filming an anti-government demonstration with his phone in Carabobo state. According to Esposito, a motorcycle officer pointed his firearm at his ribs and told him to get on the motorcycle.[100]

GNB agents forced Esposito into an armored vehicle. Inside, he said, the officers repeatedly beat him and other detainees, threatened to rape them, and shot pepper spray in their faces. They then threw a teargas canister inside the vehicle and closed the doors, which caused Esposito and others to pass out.

The GNB members took Esposito and other detainees to a base and left them outside on a patio where the officers let two Pitbull dogs and two German Shepherds attack them, Esposito said. The highest-level official there punched Esposito on the chest, which interrupted his breathing, and when he fell, the chief said: “Now you’ll cry.”

At the detention center, 18 detainees were packed into a 3x3 meter cell, according to Esposito. During his detention, Esposito said, he saw GNB members take two detainees into a corridor to have one shoot the other. When one refused, an officer shot pellets at the other nonetheless and then put salt on his wounds, causing him to faint.

Within two days of his arrest, Esposito was allowed to speak to his lawyer, but for only five minutes, prior to being taken before a judge. Esposito says the judge released him but told him that he should tell no one what had happened.

Following Esposito’s release, his relatives received several intimidating phone messages from unknown numbers. Esposito’s mother said that a black motorcycle without a license plate stopped next to her and a man asked her if she was “Lawrence’s mother.” After she denied being his mother, the man said, “Yes. You are the mother of Lawrence. Let me give you some advice: keep quiet, because life is worth nothing in this country. Don’t go to the Attorney General’s Office anymore. Don’t file any complaints. Leave your son quiet at home. Mothers should take care of their sons.”

On June 20, Jorge Jiménez (pseudonym), a 17-year-old student, was walking to his grandmother’s home when he found himself between demonstrators and Márida police officials during a demonstration.[101] He had his face covered with a T-shirt to avoid breathing teargas.

Police officers grabbed him and took him to a police station, where an officer beat him in the stomach and on the head and shoulder, slapped him, and hit him on the legs with a stick because, the officer said, Jiménez was a “guarimbero.” At CICPC headquarters, officers put a plastic bag over his head to force him to give them names and addresses of those who had been participating in protests.

When the Penal Forum found out about his detention, a lawyer went to the CICPC offices, and was told that Jiménez was not under arrest, but rather being interrogated. Neither the lawyer nor his family was allowed to see him, according to his lawyer, and the lawyer threatened to file a writ of habeas corpus. Hours later, CICPC officers let Jiménez go, without ever bringing him before a judge.

On July 6, GNB agents detained Carlos Julio Rojas, a journalist and social activist who had been collaborating with two nongovernmental organizations that work with residents of several Caracas neighborhoods, as he was walking in Caracas. Rojas said that the agents stopped him and, after he gave them his ID and press credentials, said they had an arrest warrant for him and forced him into a police car. 

Once inside the car, Rojas heard the voice of someone he thought was a high-ranking official saying on speaker phone: “I want Carlos Julio’s cellphone.” The officers took the phone, and he never saw it again, Rojas said. 

Rojas said he was taken from one location to another for hours until he was eventually taken to a police station where he was placed in a 2x2 meter cell with no bathroom or natural light, called “Tigrito” in Venezuela. Officers later forced Rojas out and into an office in what appears to have been an attempt to frame him: several teargas canisters sat on a table and officers beat him until they managed to take a picture of him beside the canisters, Rojas said. The picture finally taken shows Rojas’ back, and not his face, which had bruises, according to Rojas.[102]

On July 20, agents arrested Manuel Rocas (pseudonym), a 19-year-old student, while he was jogging with a friend in Mérida close to a demonstration that his mother, who has spoken to him in detention, says he did not know was taking place. An armored vehicle passed by firing teargas, and GNB members on motorcycles with their faces covered by balaclavas surrounded and arrested him, his mother said.[103] They spat on him, hit him, forced him onto a motorcycle, and drove him away. Rocas was charged with instigation. At time of writing, he remained detained.

On August 24, Rojas was taken before a judge for the preliminary hearing in which prosecutors are supposed to charge detainees with crimes. Even though the military prosecutor did not charge him with any crimes, the military judge nonetheless ruled that Rojas would be subject to precautionary measures—which are typically adopted, under Venezuelan law, to ensure that a person accused of committing a crime appears before a court. Rojas said he must now present himself before the military court every 30 days, cannot talk to the media about his case, and cannot participate in “political meetings for the purpose of engaging in conspiracy.”

The same day, near the spot where Rocas was arrested, agents from the GNB detained 33-year-old Ambrosio Arragoza (pseudonym). They grabbed him on the street when he was going to the bakery with three neighbors, his brother said; the agents arrested the others as well. Agents threw Arragoza inside a GNB armored vehicle, he said, where they beat him. Arragoza said that he was charged with “instigating public disorder” and spent a month in jail, according to his brother.[104]

Illegal Detentions by Colectivos

In some cases reviewed by Human Rights Watch and the Penal Forum, it was impossible to determine whether arresting agents had the power to arrest or were acting on their own initiative. Often, they were wearing balaclavas, lacked official identification, and were not identifiable.

Human Rights Watch and the Penal Forum documented some cases in which colectivos—who have no powers of arrest under Venezuelan law—illegally detained people and handed them over to police or GNB officers, including the cases described below.

On April 13, members of colectivos illegally detained Alberto Brito and Maribel Ilarraza in two separate incidents in Caracas, and then transferred them to security forces, according to relatives of Brito and their lawyer. The two did not know each other. The day following their detention, they were taken together before the same court in Caracas, where a judge charged them with “instigation to commit crimes” and “holding incendiary substances” during an anti-government demonstration. The judge imposed bail on Brito and authorized Ilarraza’s release without a guarantor, but requested a statement (caución juratoria) that she would present herself before the court. Brito and Ilarraza’s lawyer filed the paperwork in their cases on April 24, but the court had not yet processed the documents at time of writing. Both Brito and Ilarraza remained in detention as of October 2017.[105]

On May 4, three female members of a colectivo detained Lina Espinoza (pseudonym), a 19-year-old student, as she was getting into her car after a visit to a pharmacy, she told Human Rights Watch.[106] Espinoza said that the women kicked and punched her while asking if she was a student. They forced her to start the engine and sit in the back seat between two of them. The third drove the car towards a GNB station. When they arrived, they pushed Espinoza out of the car towards a GNB officer and said, “Here, we brought you another one.” 

Espinoza said she was taken into an official vehicle together with an injured boy that she estimates was 15 years old and a third detainee. “From the trailer, I could see that they searched my whole car, and then four colectivos got inside the car. They were four men, dressed in [the government official party] t-shirts, and they said: ‘Let’s go kill some students,’ and they left,” Espinoza said. 

The GNB personnel forced the three detainees into a jeep and asked them who had paid them. The 15-year-old gave them a name, and when the GNB personnel realized he had lied, they beat them all, Espinoza said.

Espinoza spent two days at the GNB headquarters, where the officers took pictures of her and the other two detainees with shields and Molotov cocktails, she said. Espinoza told us that she has diabetes and that following her arrest she suffered a medical crisis that required taking her to a health center. Despite a doctor’s objection, who told a GNB officer that he would be responsible if Espinoza died, the GNB officer insisted that she be taken back to GNB headquarters. The GNB let the 15-year-old go, but transferred Espinoza and the other detainee to a prison.

On May 7, Espinoza and the other detainee were presented before a military court. A military judge confirmed several charges against her, including attacking a soldier and demonstrating in a security zone, she said. Espinoza said that she remained in detention 19 more days, and her medical condition deteriorated.

On May 26, a military judge allowed her to be transferred to house arrest as a humanitarian measure. Prior to releasing her, agents had her sign a document saying that her human rights had not been violated, she said. On August 7, during the preliminary hearing in her case, Espinoza pleaded guilty to attacking a soldier to avoid going back to jail. A judge sentenced her to 120 hours of community service and ordered her to appear before the court every 30 days, she said.

Abuses in the Streets

Between April and July 2017, Venezuelan security forces—including the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB), the Bolivarian National Police (PNB), the Bolivarian National Intelligence Services (SEBIN), and state police forces—together with armed pro-government groups called colectivos systematically used disproportionate force to suppress anti-government protests. In some of these cases it appeared not only that the force used was disproportionate, but that no use of force on the part of security forces was warranted at all.

In August 2017, the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) concluded that the Venezuelan government was pursuing “a policy to repress political dissent and instill fear in the population to curb demonstrations.”[107] It asserted that its research “paint[ed] a picture of widespread and systematic use of excessive force and arbitrary detentions against demonstrators in Venezuela,” as well as “patterns of other human rights violations, including violent house raids, torture and ill-treatment of those detained in connection with the protests.”[108]

An official report by the Venezuelan Communications Ministry reported 167 deaths in connection with the demonstrations between April 6 and August 4, 2017, including 17 cases in which the deceased were younger than 18 years old. Twenty-nine of these deaths occurred on July 30, the day of the election of Constituent Assembly members.[109]

According to the OHCHR, of the 124 deaths recorded by the Attorney General’s Office that occurred in the context of anti-government demonstrations between April 1 and July 31, 2017, security forces were responsible for at least 46 and colectivos for 27. The office lacked the evidence to issue findings as to who was responsible for the rest.[110]

During the 2014 crackdown on anti-government protests, security forces allowed colectivos to assault unarmed civilians, and in some cases collaborated with them in the attacks.[111] In at least four cases documented for this report, colectivos acted to make arrests or detain individuals who were then turned over to the security forces. In several cases, witnesses described how colectivos worked alongside or in sight of security forces to suppress demonstrations, at times shooting live ammunition at protesters. On July 5, members of colectivos attacked and besieged the opposition-controlled National Assembly in Caracas for several hours, in plain sight of security forces who appeared to do little to protect the institution or disperse the pro-government armed groups.[112]
 

During the April-July period, security forces used such less lethal weapons as water cannons, teargas, and pellets in a way that appeared deliberately meant to inflict pain to protesters and bystanders.[113] Witnesses, victims, and medical personnel who attended them described many incidents where security forces used modified rubber-pellet shotgun shells loaded instead with marbles, broken glass or metal bolts. Such projectiles can in some cases be lethal. Under some circumstances the abusive use of such less lethal weapons, when employed with the intent of causing grave harm, and depending on the seriousness of pain and suffering inflicted, may amount to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or torture.[114]

Throughout the country, demonstrators and citizens living in areas barricaded by protestors have frequently been injured by teargas canisters, regular or modified shotgun rounds, and bullets fired at close range by security forces and colectivos, at times leading to serious injuries, some of them permanent, and even death. In many cases, security forces reportedly issued no warning prior to firing a wide range of riot-control munitions and teargas canisters on demonstrations and surrounding residential areas, according to interviews with demonstrators and bystanders. And, as already detailed earlier in the report, security forces also frequently subjected demonstrators and bystanders to vicious beatings and other forms of physical violence when suppressing demonstrations. 

The government claims that 10 security-force officers—three from the GNB, one from the DGCIM, and six from state police forces—died in the context of the demonstrations. It reported several instances of violence against government supporters, including two cases in which the victims were allegedly set on fire and one in which a retired military officer was lynched.[115]

Some groups of anti-government protesters at times used rocks, Molotov cocktails, weaponized fireworks, and homemade mortars and explosive devices in clashes with security forces. 

Unlawful or violent assemblies may be dispersed by security forces. But in dispersing any peaceful assembly, even an unlawful one, security forces should avoid the use of force or, if that is not practicable, restrict its use to the minimum extent necessary. In dispersing violent assemblies, law enforcement may use firearms only when less dangerous means are not practicable, and then only to the minimum extent necessary. They should in all cases use firearms only in self-defence or in defence of others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury, to prevent the perpetration of a particularly serious crime involving grave threat to life or to arrest or prevent the escape of a person who presents such a danger and is resisting their authority. Even in these circumstances, firearms should be used only when less extreme methods are insufficient to achieve these objectives. The intentional lethal use of firearms is permissible only when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.[116]

Killings

On April 26, Juan Pablo Pernalete, a 20-year-old basketball player who was studying public accounting, was participating in an anti-government demonstration in the Altamira neighbourhood in Caracas when a GNB officer fired a tear-gas projectile designed to be fired at long range into Pernalete’s chest from 15 meters away. The impact killed Pernalete.[117]

While government officials immediately blamed Pernalete’s death on his fellow protesters,[118] an investigation by the then-Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz established that a GNB officer indeed fired the fatal round.[119] A lawyer working on the case said that evidence in Ortega Díaz’s file on the case indicated that the guard had shot the long-range projectile from a distance of about 15 meters from Pernalete.[120]

On September 8, Tarek Saab William, the attorney general appointed by the pro-government Constituent Assembly after it fired Ortega, announced that he was reopening the investigation into Pernalete’s killing upon the suspicion that evidence incriminating the GNB had been manipulated.[121]

On August 13, Luis Guillermo Espinoza, a 16-year-old student and soccer player, died several weeks after a GNB member shot him in the head at point blank range during a demonstration in San Diego, Carabobo state. A witness described to Human Rights Watch how the teenager was trying to run away from GNB members on June 5 when three motorcycles surrounded him. Espinoza resisted when the officers beat him, and then he tried to run away. “One officer pointed his gun at his head and Luis stopped for a second,” the witness told Human Rights Watch. “The guard turned his head and Luis began to run again. I heard a shot. I closed my eyes. And then I saw him [on the ground].”[122]

In another case documented for this report, a bystander died when security forces allegedly fired into residential areas where protesters had sought refuge. On July 11, security forces allegedly fired their guns through the gates of a residential complex in El Tocuyo, Lara state, and killed Janeth Angulo, a 55-year-old retired sports teacher and community organizer, who was standing outside her home. “She had come out to let a pregnant demonstrator seek refuge in her home some 300 meters away from the gate where the security forces were shooting, when she was hit in the head by a bullet,” one of her sisters said. Her family said a police officer was later arrested in connection with Angulo’s death.[123]

On June 7, Neomar Lander, 17, traveled with his mother and cousin from Guarenas, where they lived, to participate in an anti-government demonstration in Caracas.[124] When GNB and PNB officers moved to disperse the demonstration, protestors began running in different directions, Zugeimar Armas, Lander’s mother, said. Armas lost sight of her son.

Later that afternoon, she got a phone call in which someone she knew told her there was a video circulating on social media showing that Lander had been killed. Armas went to a clinic where she had been told that Lander had been taken. When she arrived, a doctor told her that the boy had arrived without vital signs. Armas said she was allowed to see her son’s body; he had a “hole” in his chest that was “just too big.”

On June 8, the vice president of Venezuela said that Lander had died as a consequence of the explosion of a mortar, and that his death had not been caused by the impact of a teargas canister.

In October, a representative of the Attorney General’s Office told Armas and her husband that they should trust her and prosecutors, who were investigating the case at the time. Armas told Human Rights Watch, “How can she ask that we trust her if four months have gone by, nothing has happened, and the government has said Neomar killed himself?"

Serious Injuries

The last statistics published by the Attorney General’s Office under the recently fired Luisa Ortega Díaz indicate that by the end of July, the office was investigating nearly 2,000 cases of people injured during the protests. While the number appears to have included cases in which protesters as well as security forces were the alleged perpetrators, in more than half of the cases the office had evidence suggesting fundamental rights violations.[125]
 

Medical professionals interviewed by Human Rights Watch who worked in different health centers in five locations reported treating numerous people with injuries caused by shotgun pellets and teargas canisters fired at point-blank range (a quemarropa) on protesters, with wounds located in the abdomen, upper body, head, and eyes.[126]

On May 18, Oscar Serrada, a 22-year-old student, was participating in an anti-government protest on the Francisco Fajardo highway in Caracas when GNB and PNB personnel started shooting teargas canisters towards demonstrators. Most demonstrators started to run away, but some began throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails towards the security officials.[127]

Serrada said that he ran from the highway and that when he was on a nearby avenue, he walked toward some members of the GNB with his hands up in the air, asking them to “stop repressing the demonstration.” As he got closer, he saw a guardsman less than 10 meters away pointing his shotgun at him, so he turned around and started to run away. He felt an impact on the back of his right leg, and felt he was losing a lot of blood, Serrada said.

Someone saw Serrada limping and drove him on a motorcycle to a nearby Green Cross urgent care station, where he received first-aid. Serrada later went to a clinic, where an X-ray revealed he had a glass marble lodged in his leg. Doctors operated on Serrada two days later to remove the marble, he said. We reviewed images of Serrada getting medical care on the street, of his X-rays, and the marble that was taken from his body.[128]

In early July, Hernán Sánchez (pseudonym), a 16-year-old student in Mérida state, was walking to theatre practice from school when he encountered a demonstration. When the Mérida state police arrived, Sánchez said, he ran and tried to hide behind a car. He alleges that a policeman mounted on a motorcycle saw him and shot him at close range with a shotgun loaded with birdshot. Sánchez said that, unaware of his injuries, he continued to run until he was caught by policemen who took him to a nearby station. Only then did he notice that he was bleeding from his abdomen, Sánchez said.[129]
 

Sánchez said that despite the blood-soaked white t-shirt indicating that he was wounded, police officers beat him at the station prior to releasing him in a public square a few minutes later. A man who passed by took him to a clinic, where, Sánchez said, doctors told him the pellets had ruptured his colon, and that a piece of the cartridge was still inside his body. Doctors performed a colostomy, and Sánchez spent over a month at the hospital. His family told Human Rights Watch that the three operations cost them around 15 million bolivares  and that Sanchez’s mother, who had to stop working to take care of her son, had to cancel her restaurant’s lease, which she could not afford paying anymore, and take up loans to pay for his treatment.[130]
 

In another case in late June, 19-year-old Carlos Rambrant (pseudonym) was at the frontline of a protest with other youths when he suddenly found himself on the ground. X-rays that Rambrant’s family shared with Human Rights Watch showed a bullet lodged in one of his cervical vertebrae. Rambrant explained that the bullet had not gone through his neck because it had first ricocheted off the inside of his gas mask. He could not move, and felt as though his body had died but he was still conscious.[131]

Fellow demonstrators quickly brought Rambrant to a hospital where doctors stabilized him, he said. The investigative police (CICPC) quickly appeared to question him. For fear of being arrested, the Rambrant family lied to the CICPC and said that he had been shot by a robber.

Lying in bed, Rambrant told us that the bullet did not cut his spine but had burned a part of it, leaving him with temporary paralysis. “At first, because of the shock, all of the pain got blocked and I didn’t feel it. But my senses returned progressively and it is now really painful. I have a bit more mobility now, but I still don’t feel anything from the heart down,” he explained. He said doctors told him that it might take up to a year before he can walk again.

Beatings

On July 22, in Barquisimeto, Lara state, GNB personnel allegedly beat up Luis Enrique Díaz Kay, a press photographer who had tried to prevent the arrest of a young man he thought had been mistakenly arrested for protesting. The GNB officers punched him in the head and he fell to the ground, he said. According to Díaz, while some were holding his feet, others beat and kicked him in different parts of his body. Díaz said he fought back and managed to put himself back on his feet but one of the guards put him in a strong chokehold that fractured two of his cerebral vertebrae, right before Díaz bit him and managed to escape, Díaz said.[132] When we interviewed Díaz in August, he was wearing a neck brace. A copy of his medical report, seen by Human Rights Watch, was consistent with his description of his injuries.

On July 26, GNB agents captured 37-year-old Alberto Caramés (pseudonym) during an attempt to disperse a protest barricade in Mérida. Caramés said a guard broke his jaw with the butt of his gun, and that he could feel his lower molars touching his palate. Guards then took his shoes off and tied his hands with his sweater to a motorcycle. They dragged him barefoot at a speed of 20 or 30 kilometres per hour for about 10 meters, he said. As a result, his soles were completely burned, Caramés said. The sweater then broke, and he fell to the ground. He fainted and later woke up in a private clinic.[133]

Raids in Residential Areas

In researching this report, Human Rights Watch and the Penal Forum also documented six instances in which Venezuelan security forces raided residential areas and apartment buildings in Caracas and four states. In some of these raids, which usually occurred near protest barricades that residents had erected, security forces allegedly burst into homes without warrants, stealing personal belongings and food, and beating and detaining residents.

On May 15, dozens of residents of the Mañongo residential area of Valencia, Carabobo state, participated in a nationwide anti-government protest called “the Planton,” or sit-out, with protestors blockading main roads. Around 4 p.m., after the demonstration ended, at least 50 GNB and CICPC members forcefully entered four residential buildings in the area claiming that they were looking for a sniper, one resident said. Residents told us that security agents used force to break into several apartments, where they stole personal belongings, including cell phones, clothes, and cash. One resident said she saw an agent pointing a gun at a woman who was carrying a baby; others reported that agents beat and detained several residents as well as two people working at the buildings.[134]

On June 13, GNB and CONAS agents raided the Los Verdes apartment complex in Caracas, hours after many residents had participated in anti-government protests, a resident said.[135]

The officers who entered the resident’s home were armed, had their faces covered with black masks, and did not have any identifying documents, the resident said. They had no judicial order, she said, and told her that if she cooperated with them, “there would be no violence.”

Another resident of the Los Verdes apartment complex told the news site Crónica Uno that a group of 10 armed men—two of them wearing masks—entered her home, accused her of collaborating with “terrorists,” and shot her dog in the eye when it started barking.[136] Others told Venezuelan media outlets in taped interviews that security agents damaged cars, entered homes without a judicial warrant, seized computers and footage of security cameras from the building’s main offices, and detained several people.[137] Residents recorded the moment when a military convoy broke into the building complex’s main entrance, and took pictures of destroyed cars and doors, according to press accounts.[138]

That evening, Interior and Justice Minister Néstor Reverol said on Twitter that 23 “terrorists” had been detained during the operation.[139]

In other instances, security forces are alleged to have fired indiscriminately into residential areas where protesters were active or presumed to live. In the city of Mérida, for instance, residential complexes near the areas of La Croacia, La Humboldt, and Cardenal Quintero were particularly affected. First aid volunteers who worked in those areas during the protests said that several individuals living in the residential complexes were affected by the teargas launched by security forces from the streets towards their homes.[140] A young medical student living there, who also treated the patients, described how national guard personnel shot about 30 teargas canisters towards the Cardenal Quintero residences on May 27.[141]

On May 30, residents of the Parque Las Américas apartment buildings complex in Mérida told Promedehum, a local human rights group, that several apartments, including some where the residents were at home, were set on fire when GNB personnel fired teargas canisters through the windows. The governor of Mérida state cited a firefighters’ report that said the cause of fire was “indeterminate,” according to Promedehum. Residents also said security forces fired shotgun shells modified with large glass marbles directly into the apartments. Other teargas canisters landed inside a pre-school in the area, Promedehum said. Although there were no children inside at the time, several staff members hid in the restrooms.[142]

Acknowledgments

This report was researched and written by researchers from Human Rights Watch’s Americas Division and Emergencies Team, including and supervised by Tamara Taraciuk Broner, senior researcher for the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch. It was reviewed by Alfredo Romero, Penal Forum executive director, and Gonzalo Himiob, Penal Forum director. It was edited by Daniel Wilkinson, Americas managing director at Human Rights Watch; Dan Baum, senior researcher/editor; Joe Saunders, deputy program director; Chris Albin-Lackey, senior legal advisor; and José Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the Americas Division. Americas Division associates María Barragán-Santana and Delphine Starr contributed to the report production. Americas Division intern Camila Leone provided valuable research support. The report was prepared for publication by Madeline Cottingham, publications coordinator, Fitzroy Hepkins, administrative manager; and José Martinez, senior administration coordinator. It was translated into Spanish by Gabriela Haymes.

Human Rights Watch and the Penal Forum would like to thank the numerous Venezuelan organizations and individuals that contributed to this report, many of whom asked not to be identified. We would like to thank the following Penal Forum lawyers who coordinated the legal defense work in their states and provided detailed information and contacts to document cases included in this report: Dimas Rivas (Aragua), Ezequiel Monsalve (Bolivar), Luis Betancourt (Carabobo), Fernando Cermeño (Mérida), Alberto Iturbe (Miranda), José Armando Sosa (Monagas), Raquel Sánchez (Táchira), and Laura Valbuena (Zulia). Mariana Ortega, another Penal Forum lawyer, contributed to the research in Caracas. We are also very grateful for the support provided by Nizar El Fakih and the following NGOs in contacting and arranging interviews with victims: Promedehum in Mérida state, Funpaz in Lara state, and Public Space (Espacio Público) in Caracas. Finally, we would like to thank the staff of Urgent Portraits (Retratos Urgentes), a project that publishes video interviews with victims, for sharing information with us.

Human Rights Watch and the Penal Forum are deeply grateful to the victims and their family members who shared their testimonies with us. Human rights violations often inflict deep wounds on victims and their families, and recounting such stories can be painful. Many of the victims who spoke with us expressed the hope that, by telling their stories, they could help prevent others from suffering the same abuses.

[1] Venezuelan Communications Ministry, “Fatal victims of political violence in Venezuela April-August 2017” (Víctimas fatales de la violencia política en Venezuela abril-agosto 2017), August 4, 2017, http://minci.gob.ve/wp-content/uploads/2017/ 08/Investigaci%C3%B3n-Period%C3%ADstica-V%C3%ADctimas-Fatales-de-la-Violencia-Pol%C3%ADtica-ABRIL-AGOSTO-2017-Actualizado-04-08-17.pdf (accessed October 3, 2017).

[2] “Venezuela: Violence and freedom of expression” (Venezuela: Violencia y libertad de expresión), YouTube video uploaded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on October 25, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rV0NW2PdBJs  (accessed October 26, 2017).

[3] For additional information, see Human Rights Watch, “Venezuela: Senior Officials’ Responsibility for Abuses,” June 15, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/06/15/venezuela-senior-officials-responsib... (accessed November 13, 2017).

[4] OAS Permanent Council, Resolution on Recent Events in Venezuela, April 3, 2017, http://www.oas.org/en/ media_center/press_release.asp?sCodigo=E-022/17 (accessed October 26, 2017).

[5] Human Rights Watch, Punished for Protesting: Rights Violations in Venezuela’s Streets, Detention Centers, and Justice System, May 2014, https://www.hrw.org/report/2014/05/05/punished-protesting/rights-violati....

[6] See, for example, “Dissidents Allege Torture, Coerced Confessions,” Human Rights Watch news release, July 26, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/07/27/venezuela-dissidents-allege-torture-... Inter American Commission on Human Rights, 2015 Annual Report, chapter IV.b., http://www.oas.org/es/cidh/docs/anual/ 2016/docs/InformeAnual2016cap4B.Venezuela-es.pdf (accessed November 14, 2017); Inter American Commission on Human Rights, 2016 Annual Report, chapter IV.b, http://www.oas.org/es/cidh/docs/anual/2016/docs/ InformeAnual2016cap4B.Venezuela-es.pdf (accessed November 14, 2017).

[7] Tweet by Venezuela’s Supreme Court, March 29, 2017, https://twitter.com/TSJ_Venezuela/status/847253601433010182 (accessed November 3, 2017).

[8] Tweet by Venezuela’s Supreme Court, March 28, 2017, https://twitter.com/TSJ_Venezuela/status/846734321268523008 (accessed October 5, 2017).

[9]  “Venezuela’s top prosecutor Luisa Ortega Díaz rebukes Supreme Court power grab,” Associated Press, March 31, 2017, https://beta.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/venezuelas-top-prosecutor-lu... (accessed October 4, 2017).

[10] Supreme Court ruling, http://historico.tsj.gob.ve/decisiones/scon/abril/197399-157-1417-2017-1... (accessed October 5, 2017); “Supreme Court cancels decision to take over the National Assembly’s powers” (TSJ suprime decisión de asumir las facultades de Asamblea Nacional), CNN, April 1, 2017, http://cnnespanol.cnn.com/2017/04/01/tsj-de-venezuela-suprime-decision-d... (accessed October 4, 2017).

For additional information on lack of judicial independence in Venezuela, see Human Rights Watch, A Decade Under Chávez: Political Intolerance and Lost Opportunities for Advancing Human Rights in Venezuela, September 18, 2008, https://www.hrw.org/report/2008/09/18/decade-under-chavez/political-into... and Human Rights Watch, Tightening the Grip: Concentration and Abuse of Power in Chávez’s Venezuela, July 17, 2012, https://www.hrw.org/report/2012/07/17/tightening-grip/concentration-and-....

[11] Severe shortages of medicine, medical supplies, and food have undermined the ability of many Venezuelans to get adequate nutrition and health care. The government has denied that the crisis exists, failed to alleviate the shortages, and made only limited efforts to obtain readily available international humanitarian assistance. For additional information see, Human Rights Watch, Venezuela’s Humanitarian Crisis: Severe Medical and Food Shortages, Inadequate and Repressive Government Response, October 24, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/report/2016/10/24/venezuelas-humanitarian-crisis/sev....

[12] In May, President Nicolás Maduro publicly praised the conduct of the security forces and has never expressed concern about the abuses. That same month, Maj. Gen. Néstor Reverol, the interior minister, heaped praise on a gathering of police chiefs from across the country, but said nothing about the need to curb abuses. In September, Delcy Rodríguez, the pro-government president of the Constituent Assembly who is part of a “Truth Commission” to investigate what happened in 2017, said that security forces had acted in “strict compliance with the Venezuelan constitution and laws.” A government representative told the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in October that all the deaths were caused by “acts of violence and hatred crimes promoted by some sectors of the Venezuelan extreme right” and that security forces had complied with “universal principles regarding how law enforcement agents should act.” In an isolated instance, in June, Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López acknowledged for the first time that National Guard members had committed abuses. Tweet by Nicolás Maduro, May 26, 2014, https://twitter.com/NicolasMaduro/status/868240897091264514 (accessed October 26, 2017);  “Reverol defines with the Bolivarian National Police strategies to protect public order” (Reverol define con PNB estrategias de protección del orden público), PSUV, May 30, 2017, http://www.psuv.org.ve/temas /noticias/coordinacion-reestructuracion-nestor-luis-reverol-ministro-pnb-regiones-estrategicas-acciones-orden-publico-consolidacion/#.WTG7N4WcGUk (accessed October 26, 2017); “Truth Commission says the Bolivarian National Guard respected human rights during anti-government protests” (Comisión de la Verdad señala que GNB respetó DDHH en protestas opositoras), El Universal, http://www.eluniversal.com/noticias/politica/comision-verdad-senala-que-... (accessed October 26, 2017); “Venezuela: Violence and freedom of expression” (Venezuela: Violencia y libertad de expresión), YouTube video uploaded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on October 25, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rV0NW2PdBJs  (accessed October 26, 2017); “What did Vladimir Padrino López Say and Why did he Say it?,” Caracas Chronicles, June 7, 2017, https://www.caracaschronicles.com/ 2017/06/07/what-did-vladimir-padrino-lopez-say-and-why-did-he-say-it/ (accessed November 14, 2017).

[13] Presidential decree No. 2830, May 1, 2017, http://www.presidencia.gob.ve/Site/Web/Principal/paginas/ Gaceta/Gaceta_Oficial_Extraordinaria_6295.pdf (accessed October 9, 2017).

[14] On May 23, Maduro issued another decree outlining the composition of the Constituent Assembly. It states that 364 of its members would be elected as representatives of specific areas of the country (“territorial representation”), eight would represent indigenous communities, and the rest would be elected to represent specific groups (“sectorial representation”). There are seven “sectors” that would be represented by this last group, according to the decree: fishermen and peasants, people with disabilities, business people, pensioned people, students, workers, and members of communal councils. A total of 174 representatives would be chosen from these sectors, according to electoral rules later adopted by the National Electoral Council. The “sectoral representation,” critics say, reflects an essentially arbitrary choice of groups to represent. Critics argue that because the “territorial representation” component is based on a fixed number of representatives per municipality, independently of how many people live in it, it gives larger weight to the vote of those who live in rural areas. People living in many rural areas have traditionally supported the Maduro administration, while opposition to the government is generally quite widespread in urban areas. “The ABCs of Maduro’s Constituent Assembly Proposal,” Human Rights Watch “Venezuela’s Crisis” blog posting, https://www.hrw.org/content/306478 (accessed November 3, 2017); Tweet by Venezuela’s Supreme Court, May 31, 2017, https://twitter.com/TSJ_Venezuela/status/869952063127662592/photo/1?ref_... twsrc%5Etfw&ref_url=http%3A%2F%2F (accessed October 4, 2017); “Supreme Court: The executive has powers to convoke a Constituent Assembly” (TSJ: Ejecutivo venezolano facultado para llamar a Constituyente), Telesur, May 31, 2017, www.telesurtv.net%2Fnews%2FTSJ-Ejecutivo-venezolano-facultado-para-llama... (accessed October 4, 2017).

[15] Smartmatic statement on the recent Constituent Assembly Election in Venezuela, August 2, 2017, http://www.smartmatic.com/news/article/smartmatic-statement-on-the-recen... (accessed October 4, 2017).

[16] Tweet by the National Constituent Assembly, August 18, 2017, https://twitter.com/ANC_ve/status/898577887460306945 (accessed October 5, 2017); “New Venezuelan Assembly Votes to Oust Chief Prosecutor,” Bloomberg, August 5, 2017,  https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-08-05/venezuela-guard-surro... (accessed October 5, 2017); “Constituent Assembly votes to remove Luisa Ortega,” Al Jazeera, August 5, 2017, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/08/troops-encircle-chief-prosecutor-l... (accessed October 5, 2017).

[17] The militia is not described as part of the Venezuelan Armed Forces in the Constitution; they were created in 2007 by former President Hugo Chávez. Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, art. 329; Organic Law on the National Bolivarian Armed Forces, arts. 40- 42; Bolivarian National Guard, “Mission” (Misión), n.d., http://www.guardia.mil.ve/web/mision/ (accessed September 28, 2017).

[18] “Maduro orders to incorporate 40.000 officers to the National Guard and Police” (Maduro ordena incorporar 40.000 efectivos a la Guardia Nacional y la Policía), Infodefensa, July 3, 2017, http://www.infodefensa.com/latam/2017/07/03 /noticia-maduro-ordena-aumentar-20000-efectivos-guardia-nacional-venezuela.html (accessed October 5, 2017); “Maduro asks for 40,000 young members for the GNB and PNB” (Maduro pide incorporar a 40,000 jóvenes a la GNB y en la PNB), El Nacional, June 20, 2017, http://www.el-nacional.com/noticias/gobierno/maduro-pide-incorporar-4000... (accessed October 5, 2017).

.arisence or facts)ome d r ed. Pienso que es mo complicated. Mejor eliminar la frase. vielo la libertad de expresion e Venezuela[19] Organic Regulation of the General Direction of Military Counterintelligence (Reglamento Orgánico de la Direccion de Contra Inteligencia Militar), published in the Official Gazette of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, No. 40.599 on February 10, 2015.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Resolution No. 000568 of the Ministry of Popular Power for Defense, dated April 2, 2013, published in Official Gazette No. 40.140, dated April 4, 2013.

[22] “Operation by the National Anti-Extorsion and Kidnap Command of the GNB is activated” (Activado operativo del Comando Nacional Antiextorsión y Secuestro de la GNB), Informe 21, https://informe21.com/politica/activado-operativo-del-comando-nacional-a... (accessed October 24, 2017).

[23] National Bolivarian Police, “The National Bolivarian Police” (Cuerpo de Policía Nacional Bolivariana), n.d., http://www.policianacional.gob.ve/index.php/institucion/resena (accessed September 28, 2017).

[24] National Bolivarian Police, “National Deployment” (Despliegue a nivel nacional), http://www.policianacional.gob.ve (accessed September 30, 2017).

[25] “Maduro orders to incorporate 40.000 officers to the National Guard and Police” (Maduro ordena incorporar 40.000 efectivos a la Guardia Nacional y la Policía), Infodefensa, July 3, 2017, http://www.infodefensa.com/latam/2017/07/03/noticia-maduro-ordena-aument... (accessed October 5, 2017); “Maduro asks for 40,000 young members for the GNB and PNB” (Maduro pide incorporar a 40,000 jóvenes a la GNB y en la PNB), El Nacional, June 20, 2017, http://www.el-nacional.com/noticias /gobierno/maduro-pide-incorporar-40000-jovenes-gnb-pnb_188676 (accessed October 5, 2017).

[26]  Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, art. 332.

[27] Organic Law of the Investigative Police Service, the Scientific, Penal and Criminal Investigative Force, and the National Institute of Medicine and Forensic Sciences, (Ley Orgánica del Servicio de la Policía de Investigación, el Cuerpo de Investigaciones Científicas, Penales y Criminalísticas y el Instituto Nacional de Medicina y Ciencias Forenses), published in Official Gazette No. 6.079 Extraordinary, dated June 15, 2012, art. 35.

[28] Ibid., art. 48.

[29] Presidential Decree No. 9.308 through which SEBIN is assigned to the Vice-Presidency of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (Decreto mediante el cual se adscribe a la Vice-Presdencia de la Republica Bolivariana al SEBIN), published in Official Gazette No. 40.066, December 6, 2012.

[30] Presidential Decree No. 7453, Official Gazette No. 39.463, June 1, 2010, arts. 1, 3.

[31] These include, among others, educational, environmental, feminist, and labor groups. “Venezuelan Colectivos: Representatives of the Communal and Popular Power” (Colectivos venezolanos: representantes del Poder Comunal y Popular), Telesur, February 13, 2014, https://www.telesurtv.net/news/Colectivos-venezolanos-representantes-del... (accessed October 25, 2017).

[32] When detaining someone, agents must abide by certain legal requirements, including the following: (i) only use force when strictly necessary and in the required proportion, (ii) not use weapons, except in case of resistance that risks the life or integrity of people, (iii) not inflict, instigate or tolerate any act of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, (iv) identify themselves as agent of a security force, (v) provide information to the detainee of his rights, (vi) provide information to family members regarding the location where the individual is detained and write down the place, date, and time of the detention. Organic Code of Criminal Procedures (Código Orgánico Procesal Penal), art. 119.

[33] Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, art. 44

[34] Organic Code of Penal Prosecution, art. 236. Also, the detainee enjoys the following legal rights: (i) to be informed in a clear and specific manner of the facts that are being attributed to him, (ii) to contact his family and attorneys to inform them of his detention, (iii) to not be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatments, (iv) to be heard throughout the process when he requests it, (v) not be subjected to techniques or methods that might alter his free will (even with his consent), (vi) to be assisted during the initial stages of the investigation by counsel selected by himself, or family member or, if there is none, by a public defender, among others. Organic Code of Penal Prosecution, art. 236.

[35] Ibid., art. 236.

[36] Id., arts. 295-296.

[37] Id., art. 236.

[38] Id., art. 309.

[39] Id., art. 313.

[40] Ibid., arts. 242(8), 244.

[41] Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, art. 261.

[42] ICCPR, art. 14.

[43] Human Rights Committee, Concluding Observations on the fourth periodic report of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, CCPR/C/VEN/CO/4, August 14, 2015, para. 16, http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/ Download.aspx?symbolno=CCPR%2fC%2fVEN%2fCO%2f4&Lang=en  (accessed September 19, 2017): “The State party should adopt the legislative or other necessary measures to prohibit military courts from trying civilians.”

[44] Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Cantoral Benavides vs. Perú Case, August 18, 2000, http://www.corteidh.or.cr/docs/casos/articulos/Seriec_69_esp.pdf (accessed September 19, 2017).

[45] The Penal Forum confirmed this number through its nationwide network of pro-bono lawyers.

[46] There are different reasons why these cells are commonly called Tigritos in Venezuela. Some activists say it is due to the size of the cage—which barely fits a tiger—and others claim it is due to the smell in these overcrowded cells, which is as bad as the stench in a small tiger cage.

[47] UN General Assembly, Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, 10 December 1984, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 1465, p. 85; signed by Venezuela on February 15, 1985 and ratified on July 29, 1991.

[48] Human Rights Watch interview with Ernesto Martin, August 22, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with Beatriz Pérez, Martin’s wife, June 7, 2017.

[49] Human Rights Watch interview with Orlando Moreno, September 25, 2015; Written summary of the case provided by José Armando Sosa, FP lawyer, September 2017.

[50] Written summary of the case provided by José Armando Sosa, FP lawyer, September 2017.

[51] Human Rights Watch interview with José Armando Sosa, FP lawyer, October 10, 2017.

[52] Human Rights Watch interview with Armando López Carrera, August 16, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with Antonio Alonzo Rivera, August 16, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with Andrés Salamaca, August 16, 2017.

[53] Human Rights Watch interview with Luis Betancourt, FP lawyer, August 16, 2017; court documents on file at Human Rights Watch.

[54] Human Rights Watch interview with Reny Elías, September 22, 2017.

[55] Human Rights Watch interview with Laura Valbuena, FP lawyer, September 20, 2017.

[56] Ibid.

[57] Human Rights Watch interview with Alejandro Pérez Castilla, August 16, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with Luis Betancourt, FP lawyer, August 16, 2017.

[58] Decision by military judge, July 31, 2017 (copy on file at Human Rights Watch).

[59] Human Rights Watch interview with Manuel Rojas Villas, August 8, 2017.

[60] Human Rights Watch interview with Wuilly Arteaga, September 16, 2017.

[61] Human Rights Watch interview with Alfredo Romero, FP director, August 24, 2017.

[62] Ibid.

[63] Tweet by Tarek William Saab, August 15, 2017, https://twitter.com/TarekWiliamSaab/status/897631036137451520 (accessed September 19, 2017).

[64] “Con el Mazo Dando 16/08/2017,” Youtube video uploaded by Noticias Venezuela on August 16, 2017,  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zr4de0iZKGQ (accessed September 27, 2017).

[65] “In Venezuela, the Police destroys Willy Arteaga’s violin, Violinist of Liberty” (En Venezuela, la Policía le destroza el violín a Willy Arteaga, “Violinista de la Libertad”), YouTube video uploaded by LoMásTrinado on May 24, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dWoaA5TpFhw (accessed October 25, 2017).

[66] Human Rights Watch interviews with family member of Wilmer Azuaje, May 2017; copies of documents family member filed, as well as relevant photos and videos, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[67] Supreme Court of Venezuela, Case AA10-1-2017-000056, June 28, 2017.

[68] Photograph available at: https://www.cubanet.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/wilmer_azuaje_encaden... carcel_venezuela.jpg (accessed November 14, 2017).

[69] “Roberto Picon, friends with Capriles Radonski, headed CNE hacking attempt” (Roberto Picón, amigo de Capriles Radonski, lideraba hackeo informático del CNE), YouTube video uploaded by Multimedio VTV on June 25, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KmywiI3prgY (accessed October 9, 2017).

[70] “Roberto Picon, close to Capriles Radonski, headed CNE hacking attempt, President Maduro informed” (Roberto Picón, allegado de Capriles Radonski, lideraba hackeo informático al CNE, informó Presidente Maduro), Venezolana de Televisión, June 25, 2017, http://vtv.gob.ve/roberto-picon-amigo-de-capriles-radonski-lideraba-hack... (accessed October 9, 2017).

[71] Human Rights Watch interviews with Isabella Picon, daughter of Roberto Picon, June-November, 2017.

[72] Human Rights Watch interview with Oswaldo Graffe, father of Carlos Graffe, July 17 and November 11, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with Elsa Henriquez Amador and Betalia Bermejo, mother and friend, respectively, of Carlos Graffe, August 16, 2017.

[73] Tweet by Carlos Graffe, July 13, 2017, https://twitter.com/CarlosGraffe/status/885543240191156224 (accessed October 9, 2017).

[74] Tweet by Carlos Graffe, July 13, 2017, https://twitter.com/CarlosGraffe/status/885703375433736192 (accessed October 9, 2017).

[75] Human Rights Watch interview with Zerpa's family members, August 16, 2017.

[76] “One after the other the magistrates appointed by Parliament will go to jail” (Uno a uno irán presos magistrados nombrados por el Parlamento), HispanTV, July 24, 2017, http://www.hispantv.com/noticias/venezuela/348330/maduro-magistrados-pre... (accessed October 9, 2017).

[77] “It is denounced that no one has seen Ángel Zerpa for 48 hours” (Denuncian que nadie ha visto a Ángel Zerpa desde hace 48 horas), El Nacional, July 24, 2017, http://www.el-nacional.com/noticias/presos-politicos/denuncian-que-nadie... (accessed October 9, 2017).

[78] “Venezuela’s Attorney General’s Office files complaint after the detention of the lawyer, Ángel Zerpa” (Fiscalía de Venezuela interpone amparo tras la detención del abogado Ángel Zerpa), CNN, July 24, 2017, http://cnnespanol.cnn.com/2017/07/24/fiscalia-de-venezuela-interpone-amp... (accessed October 9, 2017).

[79] Human Rights Watch interview with Alfredo Romero, FP director, July 26, 2017.

[80] Human Rights Watch interview with Zerpa's family members, August 25, 2017 and November 11, 2017.

[81] Human Rights Watch interview with José Manuel Olivares, September 28, 2017.

[82] “Diosdado Cabello: Olivares’ brother was detained for having a stolen car” (Diosdado Cabello: Hermano de Olivares fue detenido por tener un carro robado), 800 Noticias, September 25, 2017, http://800noticias.com/diosdado-cabello-hermano-de-olivares-fue-detenido... (accessed October 9, 2017).

[83] Human Rights Watch interview with José Manuel Olivares, September 28, 2017.

[84] Human Rights Watch interview with Luis Betancourt, FP lawyer, May 14, 2017.

[85] Human Rights Watch interview with Luis Betancourt, FP lawyer, September 25, 2017.

[86] Human Rights Watch interview with Laura Valbuena, FP lawyer, May 15, 2017.

[87] Human Rights Watch interview with Laura Valbuena, FP lawyer, September 20, 2017.

[88] Human Rights Watch, “Letter to Pope Francis,” June 5, 2015, https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/06/05/venezuela-letter-pope-francis.

[89] Supreme Court of Venezuela, “Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court sanctions the mayor of the Iribarren municipality of Lara State to 15 months in prison” (Sala Constitucional del TSJ sanciona al Alcalde del municipio Iribarren del estado Lara a 15 meses de prisión), July 28, 2017, https://www.facebook.com/TSJVenezuela/photos/ a.1431172463657220.1073741828.1390972677677199/1450795105028289/?type=3&theater (accessed September 25, 2017); Tweet by the Supreme Court of Venezuela, July 25, 2017, https://twitter.com/TSJ_Venezuela/status/889962014176665601 (accessed September 25, 2017); Supreme Court, “Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court sanctions the mayor of the Libertador municipality of Mérida State to 15 months in prison” (Sala Constitucional del TSJ sanciona al Alcalde del municipio Libertador del estado Mérida a 15 meses de prisión), August 2, 2017,  https://www.facebook.com/TSJVenezuela/posts/1455650564542743 (accessed September 25, 2017); “For violating constitutional norms on public demonstrations, the Supreme Court sanctioned Chacao’s Mayor to 15 months in prison” (Por violar norma constitucional sobre manifestaciones públicas, TSJ condenó a 15 meses de prisión al Alcalde de Chacao), Venezolana de Televisión, August 8, 2017, http://vtv.gob.ve/tsj-sanciono-con-15-meses-de-prision-al-alcalde-del-municipio-chacao-ramon-muchacho/ (accessed September 25, 2017); Tweet by Venezuela’s Supreme Court, August 9, 2017, https://twitter.com/TSJ_Venezuela/status/895459690959732736 (accessed September 25, 2017).

[90] For example: Supreme Court of Venezuela, Constitutional Chamber, May 24, 2017, https://www.civilisac.org/civilis/wp-content/uploads/Sentencia-369-Sala-... (accessed October 24, 2017); Supreme Court of Venezuela, Constitutional Chamber, May 24, 2017, http://www.civilisac.org/civilis/wp-content/uploads /Sentencia-368-Sala-Constitucional-24-5-17-Alcalde-Mun-El-Hatillo-Miranda.pdf (accessed October 24, 2017).

[91] Human Rights Watch interview with Carmen and Natasha Ramos, wife and daughter of Alfredo Ramos, September 7, 2017.

[92] Human Rights Watch interview with Ana Leonor Acosta, Ramos’ lawyer, November 6, 2017.

[93] The Supreme Court has issued similar decisions in the cases of Henrique Capriles Radonski, governor of Miranda State (http://www.civilisac.org/civilis/wp-content/uploads/Sentencia-389-Sala-C...), Gerardo Blyde, mayor of the Baruta municipaility in Miranda state (https://www.civilisac.org/civilis/wp-content/uploads/Sentencia-365-Sala-...), José Fernández, mayor of Los Salias municipality in Miranda State (https://www.civilisac.org/civilis/wp-content/uploads/Sentencia-367-Sala-...), Carlos Ocariz, mayor of Sucre municipality in Miranda State (https://www.civilisac.org/civilis/wp-content/uploads/Sentencia-373-Sala-... ), Ronald Aguilar, mayor of Antonio José de Sucre Municipality in Barinas state (http://www.correodelorinoco.gob.ve/tsj-ordena-al-alcalde-de-socopo-reali...), José Luis Machín, mayor of Barinas municipality in Barinas State (https://www.civilisac.org/civilis/wp-content/uploads/Sentencia-376-Sala-...), José Antonio Barrera, mayor of Palavecino municipality in Lara State (https://www.civilisac.org/civilis/wp-content/uploads/Sentencia-401-Sala-...), Juan José Peña, mayor of Alberto Adriani municipality in Mérida State (https://www.civilisac.org/civilis/wp-content/uploads/Sentencia-370-Sala-...érida.pdf), Omar Lares, mayor of Campo Elías municipality in Mérida State (https://www.civilisac.org/civilis/wp-content/uploads/Sentencia-372-Sala-...érida.pdf), and Evelin Trejo, mayor of Maracaibo municipality in Zulia state (http://www.correodelorinoco.gob.ve/sala-constitucional-admite-demanda-po...) (accessed October 2, 2017). 

[94] Supreme Court of Venezuela, Constitutional Chamber, May 24, 2017, www.civilisac.org/civilis/wp-content/uploads/ Sentencia-372-Sala-Constitucional-24-5-17-Alcalde-Municipio-Campo-El%C3%ADas-Mérida.pdf (accessed October 2, 2017).

[95] Human Rights Watch interviews with Omar Lares and Ramona Rangel Colmenares, parents of Juan Pedro Lares, August 6 and September 11, 2017; audio message from Lares family’s employee on file at Human Rights Watch.

[96] Human Rights Watch interview with David Romero, August 14, 2017.

[97] “People detained on April 26 in Sucre are presented [to the courts] without notice” (Presentan “sorpresivamente” a detenidos del 26A en la Sucre), El Impulso, April 29, 2017, http://www.elimpulso.com/noticias/regionales/presentan-sorpresivamente-d... (accessed October 9, 2017).

[98] Human Rights Watch interview with Emerson Ibarra, August 10, 2017.

[99] Human Rights Watch interview with Dimas Rivas, FP lawyer, September 20, 2017.

[100] Human Rights Watch interview with Lawrence Esposito (pseudonym), August 16, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with FP lawyer, August 16, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with María Canteras (pseudonym), Esposito’s mother, August 16, 2017.

[101] Human Rights Watch interview with Fernando Cermeño, FP lawyer, September 22, 2017.

[102] Human Rights Watch interview with Carlos Julio Rojas, September 12, 2017.

[103] Human Rights Watch interview with Lucy Rocas (pseudonym), mother of Manuel Rocas (pseudonym), August 10, 2017.

 

[105] Human Rights Watch interview with Mariana Ortega, FP lawyer, August 21, 2017.

[106] Human Rights Watch interview with Lina Espinoza, August 15, 2017.

[107] Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), “Venezuela: Human rights violations indicate “policy to repress” – UN report,” August 30, 2017, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/Display News.aspx?NewsID=22007&LangID=E (accessed November 14, 2017).

[108] Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), UN human rights team’s findings indicate patterns of rights violations amid mass protests in Venezuela,” August 8, 2017,  http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents /Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=21948&LangID=E (accessed October 3, 2017).

[109] Venezuelan Communications Ministry, “Fatal victims of political violence in Venezuela April-August 2017” (Víctimas fatales de la violencia política en Venezuela abril-agosto 2017), August 4, 2017, http://minci.gob.ve/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Investigaci%C3%B3n-Period... (accessed October 3, 2017); Venezuelan Attorney General’s Office, “Balance of Victims Killed and Injured During Demonstrations in April-July 2017” (Balance de víctimas fallecidas y lesionadas durante manifestaciones en abril-julio de 2017), July 27, 2017 (copy on file at Human Rights Watch).

[110] OHCHR, Human rights violations and abuses in the context of protests in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela from 1 April to 31 July 2017,” August 2017, http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Countries/VE/HCReportVenezuela_1April-31J... (accessed October 3, 2017).

[111] Human Rights Watch, Punished for Protesting: Rights Violations in Venezuela’s Streets, Detention Centers, and Justice System,” May 5, 2014.

[112] Human Rights Watch confidential interviews with parliamentary press and journalists, Caracas, August 21, 2017.

[113] Although the term non-lethal weapon is used in the United Nations Basic Principles for the Use of Force and Firearms by Law-Enforcement, we are using less lethal to reflect the fact that their misuse still carries the risk of causing injury and death. 

[114] For more information, see report to the Human Rights Council of the Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Mission to Morocco, A/HRC/22/53/Add.2, para. 22, http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session... (accessed October 4, 2017).

[115] Venezuelan Communications Ministry, “Fatal victims of political violence in Venezuela April-August 2017.”

[116] Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, adopted by the Eighth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, Havana, Cuba, 27 August-7 September 1990, U.N. Doc. A/CONF.144/28/Rev.1 at 112 (1990), http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/UseOfForceAndFirearms... (accessed October 3, 2017). For more information, see Joint Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions on the Proper Management of Assemblies, A/HRC/31/66, February 2016, http://www.refworld.org/docid/575135464.html (accessed October 4, 2017).

[117] Human Rights Watch interview with Elvira Llovera, mother of Pernalete, August 19, 2017.

[118] “Foreign Affairs minister denounces responsibility of the media in actions that validate interventions” (Canciller denuncia responsabilidad de medios en configuración de hechos que validan intervenciones), Agencia Venezolana de Noticias, April 29, 2017, http://www.avn.info.ve/contenido/canciller-denuncia-responsabilidad-medi...ón-hechos-que-validan-intervenciones (accessed October 4, 2017).

[119]  “Attorney General’s Office Publishes Pernalete Case” (Ministerio Público publica caso Pernalete), YouTube video uploaded by El Foco Digital on May 27, 2017,  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=inqAnMKjZZk (accessed October 3, 2017); “Venezuela’s Attorney General confirms that the student Juan Pernalete died due to the impact of a teargas canister” (La fiscal general de Venezuela confirma que el estudiante Juan Pernalete murió por el impacto de una bomba lacrimógena lanzada por la Guardia Naciona), BBC, May 24, 2017, http://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-america-latina-40037960 (accessed October 10, 2017). 

[120] Human Rights Watch interview with Andrea Santacruz, lawyer from the Human Rights Center at Metropolitan University, August 19, 2017.

[121] “Tarek William Saab re-opened the Juan Pablo Pernalete case” (Tarek William Saab reabrirá caso de Juan Pablo Pernalete), El Nacional, September 7, 2017,  http://www.el-nacional.com/noticias/politica/tarek-william-saab-reabrira... (accessed October 2, 2017).

[122] Human Rights Watch interview with witness who requested anonymity, August 17, 2017; “Luis Guillermo Espinoza, a soccer player victim of repression in Carabobo” (Luis Guillermo Espinoza, un futbolista víctima de la represión en Carabobo), El Carabobeño, August 13, 2017, https://www.el-carabobeno.com/luis-guillermo-espinoza-futbolista-victima... (accessed October 3, 2017); “Luis Guillermo Esponoza, teenager hit on the head by the GNB on June 5 in Carabobo” (Murió Luis Guillermo Espinoza, adolescente herido en la cabeza por la GNB el 5 de junio en Carabobo), Runrunes, August 13, 2017, http://runrun.es/nacional/321504/murio-luis-guillermo-espinoza-adolescen... (accessed October 3, 2017).

[123] Human Rights Watch interview with Judith Angulo, August 14, 2017.

[124] Human Rights Watch interview with Zugeimar Armas, Lander’s mother, October 6, 2017.

[125] Venezuelan Attorney General’s Office, “Balance of Victims Killed and Injured During Demonstrations in April-July 2017.”

[126] Human Rights Watch confidential interviews with medical professionals in San Cristobal, Mérida, Valencia, Valera, and Caracas, August and October 2017.

[127] Human Rights Watch interview with Oscar Serrada, August 22, 2017.

[128] “Urgent Portrait #15: Oscar Serrada” (Retrato Urgente #15 Oscar Serrada), YouTube video uploaded by Retratos Urgentes on June 8, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LY1Zd-EXQBQ (accessed October 3, 2017).

[129] Human Rights Watch interview with Hernán Sánchez (pseudonym), August 11, 2017.

[130] Human Rights Watch interview with Rosa Sánchez (pseudonym), mother of Sánchez (pseudonym), August 11, 2017.

[131] Human Rights Watch interview with Carlos Rambrant (pseudonym), August 14, 2017.

[132] Human Rights Watch interview with Luis Enrique Díaz Kay, August 14, 2017.

[133] Human Rights Watch interview with Alberto Caramés (pseudonym), August 12, 2017.

[134] Human Rights Watch interviews with residents who requested anonymity, May 15-17, 2017.

[135] Human Rights Watch interview with resident who requested anonymity, June 13-14, 2017.

[136] “Cross, the dog that was killed by an official during the search in Los Verdes” (Cross, el perro mestizo que mató un funcionario durante el allanamiento en Los Verdes), Crónica Uno, June 14, 2017, http://cronica.uno/cross-perro-mestizo-mato-funcionario-allanamiento-los... (accessed October 3, 2017).

[137] “Los Verdes neighbors, victims of state terrorism” (Vecinos de Los Verdes, víctimas de terrorismo de Estado), YouTube video uploaded by Noti minuto on June 14, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oGEGJdJC2hQ (accessed October 3, 2017).

[138] “Photographs and Videos : GNB and CONAS caused destruction in Los Verdes in El Paraíso” (Fotos y Videos : GNB y CONAS causaron destrozos en Los Verdes del Paraíso), El Impulso, June 14, 2017, http://www.elimpulso.com/noticias/ nacionales/fotos-videos-gnb-conas-causaron-destrozos-los-verdes-del-paraiso  (accessed October 3, 2017); “Los Verdes neighbors presented their complaints to the Venezuelan Attorney General” (Vecinos de Los Verdes presentaron sus denuncias ante la fiscal general venezolana), NTN24, June 22, 2017, https://twitter.com/NTN24ve/status /877817185107714048 (accessed October 3, 2017); “Penal Forum offers assessment of raids in Los Verdes” (Foro Penal ofreció balance sobre allanamientos en Los Verdes), El Informador Web, June 21, 2017, https://twitter.com /elinformadorweb/status/877724972105441280 (accessed October 3, 2017).

[139] Tweet by Nestor Reverol, June 13, 2017, https://twitter.com/NestorReverol/status/874816126018093060 (accessed October 9, 2017).

[140] Human Rights Watch interview with first aid volunteers, August 11, 2017.

[141] Human Rights Watch interview with confidential source, August 11, 2017.

[142] Information and pictures provided to Human Rights Watch by Promedehum staff, who interviewed the residents.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

As the debate about “killer robots” continues, the threat they pose looms large.

© 2016 Russell Christian for Human Rights Watch

(Geneva) – Countries meeting in Geneva on November 13-24, 2017, missed a chance to move ahead to prevent the development of weapons systems that would select and engage targets without meaningful human control, Human Rights Watch said today.

The countries agreed to continue diplomatic talks that started in 2014 to consider concerns raised over “killer robots,” or lethal autonomous weapons systems. But the unambitious diplomatic process falls far short of what is needed. At risk is a real chance to prevent the development of such weapons systems.  

“A critical mass of states want to start negotiating new international law to prevent the development of killer robots, but this forum looks unlikely to deliver any time soon,” said Steve Goose, arms division director at Human Rights Watch, a co-founder of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. “Bold action is needed before technology races ahead and it’s too late to preemptively ban weapons systems that would make life and death decisions on the battlefield.”

At their annual meeting in Geneva, the 125 nations that are part of the 1980 Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) agreed to continue formal deliberations next year to deal with the challenges raised by lethal autonomous weapons systems.

For the first time, the group of Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) countries called for the development of new international law “to prohibit and regulate” lethal autonomous weapons systems. NAM also called for an immediate moratorium on the pursuit of such weapons.

The group of nations specifically endorsing the call to preemptively ban these weapons expanded to 22, with the additions of Brazil, Iraq, and Uganda. Nearly every treaty member endorsed the concept of human control over autonomous weapons, which, if the human control is truly meaningful, would constitute a ban on fully autonomous weapons.

Ambassador Amandeep Singh Gill of India will continue as chair of the convention’s deliberations on killer robots next year, which will be divided into two, week-long meetings.

Another key topic at the conference was incendiary weapons, which should not be used in populated areas because they cause severe burns to victims and set buildings aflame. Twenty-three countries commented on the harm caused by incendiary weapons and the adequacy of international regulations governing them, amid reports of their continued use in Syria.

Most of these countries called for reviewing the protocol to the Convention on Conventional Weapons on incendiary weapons to close loopholes concerning their use. The protocol should, at a minimum, ensure that all weapons with incendiary effects, regardless of their delivery system, are prohibited in civilian areas. Some countries demanded a total prohibition on incendiary weapons.

Governments at the meeting collectively condemned the use of incendiary weapons against civilians and civilian objects and agreed to discuss the law governing them again in 2018.

“After nearly 40 years, an in-depth review of the law governing incendiary weapons is urgently needed to determine how to  protect civilians from their cruel effects,” Goose said. “The protocol has proven inadequate to deal with harm being inflicted by these reprehensible weapons.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am
© 2012 Russell Christian for Human Rights Watch

It isn’t often that the international community comes together to act preventatively on matters relating to warfare.

So there was a flurry of media coverage earlier this month when representatives from more than 80 countries met at the United Nations in Geneva to discuss what to do about fully autonomous weapons. Often known as “killer robots,” the central concern is that these weapons would be able to select and attack targets without meaningful human control.

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots warns of the perils of allowing machines to take a human life, be it on the battlefield or in a law enforcement situation, and is calling for a ban on such weapons due to serious ethical, legal, operational, and technical concerns.

But dedicating just a few days per year to discuss killer robots is not enough when countries with high-tech militaries are spending significant funds developing weapons with ever-decreasing levels of human control. Left unchecked, there is a growing risk of a global arms race with devastating consequences for security, and even our very humanity.

At the UN meeting, it became clear that most states want to start negotiating new international law on autonomous weapon systems. This includes 22 countries that want to preemptively ban such weapons before they are developed, let alone used.

Not all countries were present, though: Denmark was noticeably absent from the UN meeting despite its previous affirmation of the need for weapons to, “remain under ‘meaningful human control.’”

This absence shows the need for the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots to increase public awareness and build political support for taking swift action. This is why I have come to Copenhagen this week to address a seminar on, “the politics of lethal autonomous weapons systems.”

Instead of sitting on the sidelines, Denmark should start actively participating in the diplomatic talks on killer robots and make explicit where it draws the line in increasing autonomy in weapon systems.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Thank you, Mr. Chairperson.

Nearly four decades ago, when a UN disarmament meeting last had an agenda item dedicated to incendiary weapons, the effects of air-dropped napalm and the politics of the era shaped the discussions. The result was Protocol III, which addressed the main problems associated with incendiary weapons in the 1970s, but has proven inadequate to deal with harm they inflict in twenty-first-century conflicts.

Having Protocol III on the agenda this week has rekindled debate about these especially cruel weapons. Almost every state that has spoken on the topic has expressed concern about or condemned the use of incendiary weapons, especially in Syria. A significant number of states have called on the Meeting of High Contracting Parties to continue and deepen discussions next year.  Some states have called for strengthening the protocol.  

We welcome these interventions but see them as a starting point. We urge the Meeting of High Contracting Parties to set aside more time in 2018 to examine closely the humanitarian harm caused by incendiary weapons and the adequacy of Protocol III. We welcome in particular Switzerland’s proposal to establish an informal meeting of experts on the topic.  High contracting parties should have the opportunity to provide further details about their policies and practices, and new states should add their voices to the conversation.

Incendiary weapons produce heat and fire through the chemical reaction of a flammable substance. Due to their extreme heat, they inflict horrific injuries, including fourth- and fifth-degree burns and respiratory damage, and cause long-term and permanent harm. Victims can suffer from psychological trauma and socioeconomic exclusion because they may be socially shunned due to severe scarring and disfigurement.

Protocol III, the only law that specifically deals with incendiary weapons, has two shortcomings that have weakened the norm against the weapons. First, the definition only encompasses weapons that are “primarily designed” to set fires and burn people. It thus excludes weapons that have incendiary effects, including white phosphorus munitions, that may be designed to serve as smokescreens or illuminants, but cause the same horrific effects as other incendiary weapons.

Second, the protocol prohibits the use of air-dropped incendiary weapons in concentrations of civilians, but has less stringent restrictions on the use of ground-delivered models. The weapons cause the same harm to civilians, however, regardless of the delivery mechanism.

These two loopholes would be legally straightforward to close. The definition in Article 1 should be expanded to encompass all weapons with incendiary effects. The restrictions in Article 2 should prohibit the use of all such weapons, regardless of their delivery mechanisms, in concentrations of civilians. In the long run, an absolute ban would have the greatest humanitarian benefits.

In the 1970s, many states called for such a ban on incendiary weapons, yet the 1980 protocol that was ultimately adopted addressed only the major problem of the day—the air attacks on cities and villages with incendiary weapons clearly designed and used to burn and set fires. It was the result of a historical moment and times have changed.

Air-dropped incendiary weapons continue to inflict harm on civilians. This year alone, Human Rights Watch documented 22 incendiary attacks by Syrian government and Russian forces in Syria, and many more have been reported.

In recent years, ground-launched incendiary weapons have also been used, notably in Ukraine.  In addition, ground-launched white phosphorus munitions have been used in populated areas in numerous conflict zones, including in Afghanistan, Gaza, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. In 2017, the US-led coalition used white phosphorus in its fight against ISIS in Raqqa and Mosul.

At the same time, there is growing support for reviewing and strengthening Protocol III. The momentum has built gradually since 2010, and close to 40 states have addressed incendiary weapons in CCW meetings and elsewhere. The time set aside this week represented a notable step forward and high contracting parties should have even more robust discussions next year in order to avoid sliding backward.   

High contracting parties frequently refer to the CCW as a dynamic or living instrument that is designed to adapt to changing circumstances. They have revisited other elements of the 1980 treaty, including the framework convention and Protocol II.

It is past time for Protocol III to receive the same attention. In 2018, high contracting parties should commence an overdue review and work to strengthen protections of civilians in light of the current military and political landscape.

For more information, please see the new Human Rights Watch report on incendiary weapons, which was released last week.

Thank you. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am