In Paris this week on an official visit, Azerbaijan’s autocratic President Ilham Aliyev has already scored one photo op. Anyone reading yesterday’s Azeri media could see dozens of photos of Aliyev posing with leaders of top French companies, including Airbus, Suez, and Credit Agricole.

Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev (L) shakes hands with his French counterpart Francois Hollande as they visit a local French school under construction in Baku, May 11, 2014.

© 2014 Reuters

Today, President Hollande will receive President Aliyev and host an official dinner at Palais de l’Elysee. Again, Parisian photo ops abound. But amid the flashing cameras, one has to wonder where Azerbaijan’s repression of critics and the jailing of opponents fits in the new relationship between Paris and Baku?

In the past few years, Azerbaijani authorities have aggressively gone after the country’s once vibrant civil society, jailing dozens of activists, journalists, and political opponents. It also adopted draconian legislation making it virtually impossible for independent non-governmental organizations to operate.

One year ago, as Azerbaijan’s economy started to suffer from falling oil prices, several of those detained on political grounds were released. That was an important first step, but hopes for progress were short-lived.

Many of those released face travel bans or obstacles to their activities. Dozens are still locked up on political grounds, including opposition activist Ilgar Mammadov, despite repeated calls by the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe for his immediate release. And more activists have been thrown in jail. Recently, one of the country’s most popular journalists and bloggers, Mehman Huseynov, was sentenced to two years in prison for allegedly defaming the police, in response to his brave public denouncement of the police abuses he suffered.

When visiting Paris, Brussels, or other European capitals, President Aliyev hopes to get more business opportunities and investment in Azerbaijan. But he prefers to ignore that the people of Azerbaijan want human rights protections, transparency, and good governance. Those standing up for these values are routinely exposed to attacks and harassment.

Yet what more clear message that Azerbaijan’s crackdown cannot be ignored by potential investors than last week’s decision by the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), an international coalition promoting better governance of resource-rich countries, to suspend Azerbaijan – precisely because of its actions against civil society.

President Hollande should reject a narrative that only finance and economy matter in Azerbaijan. Human rights should be as central to France’s foreign policy as other topics.

Hollande should publicly call for the release of Ilgar Mammadov and all those detained in retaliation for their activism and criticism. A failure to explicitly support human rights principles would be the worst message to those unjustly waiting behind bars.

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

Arvind Ganesan is the director of Human Rights Watch’s Business and Human Rights Division. He leads the organization’s work to expose human rights abuses linked to business and other economic activity, hold institutions accountable, and develop standards to prevent future abuses. This work has included research and advocacy on awide range of issues includingthe extractive industries; public and private security providers; international financial institutions; freedom of expression and information through the internet; labor rights; supply chain monitoring and due diligence regimes; corruption; sanctions; and predatory practices against the poor. Ganesan’s work has covered countries such as Angola, Azerbaijan, Burma, China, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, India, Indonesia, the United States, and Nigeria. His recent research has focused on predatory lending practices and governance issues on Native American reservations in the United States. He has written numerous reports, op-eds, and other articles and is widely cited by the media.

Ganesan has also worked to develop industry standards to ensure companies and other institutions respect human rights. He is a founder of the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights for the oil, gas, and mining industries and is a founding member of the Global Network Initiative (GNI) for the internet and telecommunications industries, where he also serves on the board. Ganesan has helped to develop standards for international financial institutions such as the World Bank, and regularly engages governments in an effort to develop mandatory rules or strengthen existing standards such as the Kimberley Process. He serves on the board of EGJustice, a nongovernmental organization that promotes good governance in Equatorial Guinea, and is a member of the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR)’s steering committee.

Before joining Human Rights Watch, Ganesan worked as a medical researcher. He attended the University of Oklahoma.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Fueled by access to large data sets and powerful computers, machine learning and artificial intelligence can offer significant benefits to society. At the same time, left unchecked, these rapidly expanding technologies can pose serious risks to human rights by, for example, replicating biases, hindering due process and undermining the laws of war.

To address these concerns, Human Rights Watch and a coalition of rights and technology groups recently joined in a landmark statement on human rights standards for machine learning.

Known as the Toronto Declaration, the statement calls on governments and companies to ensure that machine learning applications respect the principles of equality and non-discrimination. The document articulates the human rights norms that the public and private sector should meet to ensure that algorithms used in a wide array of fields – from policing and criminal justice to employment and education – are applied equally and fairly, and that those who believe their rights have been violated have a meaningful avenue to redress.

While there has been a robust dialogue on ethics and artificial intelligence, the Declaration emphasizes the centrality and applicability of human rights law, which is designed to protect rights and provide remedies where human beings are harmed.

The Declaration focuses on machine learning and the rights to equality and non-discrimination, but many of the principles apply to other artificial intelligence systems. In addition, machine learning and artificial intelligence both impact a broad array of human rights, including the right to privacy, freedom of expression, participation in cultural life, the right to remedy, and the right to life. More work is needed to ensure that all human rights are protected as artificial intelligence increasingly touches nearly all aspects of modern life.

Drafted by rights groups, technologists, and researchers, the Toronto Declaration was finalized and announced on May 16, 2018 at the RightsCon conference in Toronto.
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A girl works in an artisanal diamond mine in Sosso Nakombo, Central African Republic, near the border with Cameroon, in August 2015.

© 2015 Marcus Bleasdale for Human Rights Watch

(London) – The Responsible Jewellery Council, an international industry group, should strengthen its standard for responsible sourcing of gold, diamonds, and other minerals, 20 independent groups and trade unions said today in a letter to the group’s standards committee.

The organization is reviewing its core certification standard for its members, which include more than 1,000 companies in jewelry supply chains, including mining companies, refiners, manufacturers, and jewelry retailers. The public comment period on revisions to the standard closes on July 1, 2018.

“The RJC should make significant changes to its code to raise the bar for responsible sourcing in the jewelry industry and provide consumers with confidence that their jewelry is not tainted by human rights abuse,” said Jo Becker, an advocacy director for Human Rights Watch.

The Responsible Jewellery Council’s certification standard, known as the Code of Practices, sets out business practices in regard to human rights, labor rights, environmental impact, mining practices, product disclosure and other issues in the jewelry supply chain. All members must be certified as compliant with the code through a third-party audit.

The letter recommended that the code should be brought fully into alignment with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High Risk Areas, including its five-step framework to identify and respond to human rights risks in the minerals supply chain. The OECD’s guidance is the most authoritative and widely accepted standard in the minerals sector.

The council plans to complete its review by the end of 2018. Reform may be particularly urgent for member companies now, as the European Union has made clear that it will recognize only refiners operating according to OECD-aligned standards as “responsible” for its minerals regulation entering into force in 2021. A recent assessment of the Responsible Jewellery Council by the OECD called for more robust due diligence measures.

The groups emphasized that the OECD due diligence should also be applied to diamond supply chains. Currently, Responsible Jewellery Council members are expected to avoid “conflict diamonds” that may be linked to abusive rebel groups, but many do not conduct due diligence for other human rights abuses such as child or forced labor.

The groups urged the council to require all members to report publicly on their efforts to address human rights and undergo more transparent and rigorous third-party audits. Currently, full audit results for individual companies are not even shared with the council.

Human Rights Watch examined responsible sourcing in the jewelry industry in a February 2018 report, The Hidden Cost of Jewelry. The report assessed 13 well-known jewelry and watch brands, as well as several global standards, including the RJC’s. The organization also is carrying out a campaign, called #BehindTheBling, to urge jewelry companies to source gold and diamonds responsibly.

“The RJC’s Code is full of loopholes and provides no guarantee that jewelry from a member is responsibly sourced,” Becker said. “With its current review process, the council should seize the opportunity to bring its code into line with international best practices.”

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on the jewelry industry, please visit: The Hidden Cost of Jewelry

Please note additions have been made since original publication. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

An illegal diamond dealer from Zimbabwe displays diamonds for sale on September 19, 2010

© 2010 Reuters

The diamond industry continues to be tainted by links between diamonds and human rights abuses, conflict finance, and corruption. Although the diamond industry is not the only sector facing these threats, it is unique in its particular unwillingness and inability to take genuine steps towards responsible business conduct. We the undersigned, who represent a diverse range of civil society organizations, stand united in our efforts to break the links between diamonds and abuse, conflict, and corruption and to ensure that governments and industry engaged in the sector play their appropriate and necessary roles.

Advancing responsible sourcing, sustainable development, and transparency at all levels of the industry must be prioritized by a sector that has seen serious damage to its reputation in recent decades for its links to human rights abuse, conflict and corruption.

Jewelry Brands Should Come Clean

Jewelry Brands Should Come Clean

You should know what is #BehindTheBling. This Mother's Day tell global jewelry brands to ensure their jewelry is responsibly sourced and address human rights abuses in their supply chains.

Unfortunately, these links continue to flourish, as evidenced by the role of diamonds in the ongoing conflict in Central African Republic. We call upon governments, diamond industry associations, and all companies to tackle human rights abuse, conflict and corruption in the diamond supply chain by engaging in meaningful, transparent reform in line with international law and standards on human rights and responsible sourcing of minerals.

As a reform period for the Kimberley Process (KP), 2017-2018 brought hope of meaningful change. Unfortunately, however, the KP’s lack of transparency means that the public has no clarity on what to expect from a reform agenda that would propel the KP forward.

What has been made public about reform efforts demonstrates that the agenda is nearly identical to the agenda in 2012-13, the last time the KP took up reform. That is not the sign of an initiative moving forward or bringing meaningful progress on the ground, and we urge the EU, as 2018 Chair, and all participants to redouble their efforts to achieve meaningful and long-overdue reform.

More worryingly, little has been made public about the reform agenda or its broader activities because the KP is moving towards a greater focus on "confidentiality." No serious multi-stakeholder initiative should undermine public awareness of its work or inhibit those attempting to play a critical watchdog role, including and especially within the regions it is intended to benefit. We strongly urge participants to object to any such efforts.

Given the persistent failures of the KP to show any progression in its operations it is critical that the diamond sector strengthens its engagement in other responsible sourcing forums in pursuit of a comprehensive and harmonized approach to the full range of problems evident in the sector.

However, we also have concerns about the broader diamond industry. As underscored by the Human Rights Watch-led campaign launched earlier this year, initiatives like the Responsible Jewellery Council and company-specific efforts have failed to align sufficiently with international standards or to meaningfully advance responsible sourcing. Rather, our research and on-the-ground efforts reveal too many areas where companies are able to set their own agendas for what responsibility means, often at the expense of meaningful due diligence and origin tracing throughout the supply chain. This includes not allowing for the transmission of source of origin information through the supply chain and preventing assessment by stakeholders against transparent standards.

Moreover, whilst some major corporate players appear to have taken steps to advance responsible sourcing, we are concerned that their efforts lack serious engagement with the true task at hand. Not only do these initiatives not tackle serious human rights abuses associated with large-scale mining, but they fail to develop sourcing from artisanal communities that can positively impact local livelihoods by being scalable over time.

Given recent and past experience of industry engagement, we are concerned that such efforts are being used to distract from the need for meaningful industry-wide progress.

The industry as a whole - from mining to retail - needs to move toward responsible sourcing practices clearly and demonstrably aligned with the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas, as well as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. It also needs to enable artisanal mining communities to work towards the achievement of sustainable development. These actors are woefully underrepresented in the membership or governance of industry bodies, and their interests and concerns need to be heard.

The conflict in the Central African Republic comes around two decades after diamond- fueled conflicts in Angola, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Democratic Republic of the Congo triggered the creation of the KP. Both the diamond industry and the international community should be extremely concerned that links between diamonds, human rights abuse, conflict, and corruption remain a reality and that current measures are failing to adequately address this unacceptable situation.

The diamond industry is lagging behind other mineral sectors in its responsible sourcing practices. Until it takes steps in line with the above, diamonds will likely continue to play a role in devastating the lives of local communities caught up in conflicts that are not of their making. The entire sector, including large companies, needs to demonstrate a willingness to take difficult decisions which advance the interests of all within the sector, including mining communities.

We look forward to more direct engagement with the industry and governments to achieve these goals.






Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Washington, DC, June 21, 2018) The United States government at all levels should act to prevent the criminal justice system from punishing poverty and further impoverishing the poor, the Criminal Justice Policy Program (CJPP) at Harvard Law School and Human Rights Watch said today. In particular, authorities should not rely on fines and fees to pay for government programs because they disproportionately hurt the poor.

The United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty, Philip Alston, highlighted the practice during a recent visit to the country. In his report, he says that “the criminal justice system is effectively a system for keeping the poor in poverty while generating revenue.” He is scheduled to present his findings to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on June 22, 2018.

“In the United States, many jurisdictions rely on fees and fines for revenue for the criminal justice system and for other programs,” said Mitali Nagrecha, director of the National Criminal Justice Debt Initiative at CJPP. “This has led to an increase in fees assessed across the country and more aggressive collection tactics, including time in jail. Given the makeup and size of our criminal justice system, this unsurprisingly places a disproportionate burden on large numbers of poor people and communities of color.”

Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty, visits Skid Row in Los Angeles.

© 2017 United Nations

In his report, Alston describes the burden fines and fees place on poor people charged with low-level infractions and the harsh collection tactics that are often designed in ways that trap people in poverty. He cites the common practice of suspending drivers’ licenses when people fail to pay their criminal justice debt. He notes that this “is a perfect way” to ensure that the poor, unable to pay their debts, are also “unable to earn a living that might have helped to pay the outstanding debt.”

These practices appear to have evolved from governments’ desire to reduce taxation to support criminal justice in favor of increasing fines and fees for offenders. However, that approach is highly regressive; it tends to place the greatest financial burden on the low-income people whose cases make up the largest share of many courts’ dockets.

Alston also addresses the money bail system, used in almost every US state, which requires people to pay to secure their release from jail prior to trial. Across the US, almost half a million presumptively innocent people sit in jail daily because they cannot afford bail. Some of the devastating consequences include loss of jobs, disruption of child care, inability to pay rent, and deeper destitution, Alston said.

Money bail also creates pressure on the poor who want to return home to plead guilty, leaving them with a criminal record solely because they could not afford bail, research has found, though Alston did not address this aspect in his report.  

Even the US’ most widely used alternative to money bail concerns Alston, who warns that pretrial risk assessment tools that rely on formulas may replicate existing societal racial and class biases, but project a false veneer of objectivity. These tools often lack transparency and are subject to political manipulation, which raises serious due process concerns, he says. A Human Rights Watch analysis has found that risk assessment tools have the potential to be as harmful as the system it seeks to replace.

Alston also cautions that privatization of the criminal justice system can harm poor people. He cites bail bond corporations, which charge high fees and interest, and private supervision and collection companies, which charge additional fees and often rely on arrest warrants to secure payment.

In advance of the special rapporteur’s report, CJPP and Human Rights Watch submitted testimony to him describing how fees and fines and money bail create a two-tiered system of justice and keep people trapped in poverty. 

Alston also condemned the US practice of enforcing criminal laws against people who lack housing for conduct directly related to their situation, like sleeping in public places. He describes how cities are jailing or fining the poorest people for offenses rooted in their homeless status, saying he observed aggressive enforcement of this kind in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Such practices have often been favored over policies such as preserving affordable housing or providing health services to address the problem of poverty. Alston endorsed legislation known as “The Right to Rest Act,” being considered in several western states, which would prevent cities from criminalizing actions by people linked to their lack of housing and force governments to find rights-respecting solutions.

State and local governments, with support from the federal government, should respond to the special rapporteur’s findings by working together to remedy the two-tiered system of justice, CJPP and Human Rights Watch said. State and local governments should initiate reforms to address these problems.

“The special rapporteur addresses the many ways the US criminal justice system punishes people for their poverty and helps entrench their poverty further,” said Komala Ramachandra, senior business and human rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Justice should not be blind to how it harms the poor, and federal and state governments should work with reform movements to fix these problems.”  

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Gambian security officers at the Supreme Court in Banjul, December 5, 2016.

© 2016 Reuters

The Gambian authorities should thoroughly investigate the alleged excessive use of force by police causing the deaths of two anti-sand mining demonstrators on June 18, 2018, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said today. The Gambian government should accelerate the reforms needed to ensure that government security forces have the supervision, training, and equipment needed to police demonstrations in accordance with international human rights standards.

Witnesses said that police fired live ammunition at demonstrators in the village of Faraba Banta, killing local residents Bakary Kujabi and Ismaila Bah, and wounding at least six others. President Adama Barrow issued a news release the same day stating that he had opened an investigation and that all mining in the area had been suspended. The government also said that five police officers involved in the shooting were in police custody and will be suspended while investigations are conducted.

“The alleged excessive use of lethal force by the security forces has conjured up painful memories from Gambia’s recent past,” said Sabrina Mahtani, West Africa researcher at Amnesty International. “The government’s promise to investigate is a positive move. Gambians should be able to hold demonstrations safe from disproportionate and excessive use of force by the security forces.”

Members of Gambia’s Police Intervention Unit (PIU), a police paramilitary force, clashed with residents of Faraba Banta, 50 kilometers south of the capital, Banjul, after local residents blocked mining-related traffic.

A journalist who observed the protest told Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, “As soon as [police reinforcements] came out of the vehicle they started firing live bullets. They did not issue a warning or alarm.” Another journalist in the village, Pa Bojang, said that police officers detained him for six hours, slapped him, and confiscated his voice recorder.

Witnesses told Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International that protesters threw stones and burned vehicles, injuring more than a dozen police officers. Gambia’s police chief, Landing Kinteh, said in a June 18 media statement that police leadership, “did not authorize the use of firearms” by police in responding to the protests.

Several protesters arrested on June 18, including those injured, remain in police custody, and face possible charges for destruction of property. Injured detainees should receive medical attention and a court should promptly review the necessity of their continued detention. Those responsible for destroying property or committing other offenses should be prosecuted in accordance with international fair trial standards.

A May 26 protest in Faraba Banta against sand mining, which provides sand for concrete for construction, had also led to clashes between local residents and police, with officers firing teargas and rubber bullets to disperse at times violent demonstrators. Faraba Banta residents say that sand mining will damage the rice fields they rely on for food and income. The Police Intervention Unit had maintained a presence in the village following the May 26 clashes.

The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials state that the intentional lethal use of firearms by security forces “may only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.” Furthermore, “[i]n the dispersal of violent assemblies, law enforcement officials may use firearms only when less dangerous means are not practicable and only to the minimum extent necessary.”

The Guidelines on Policing Assemblies in Africa, adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, state that, “firearms must never be used to disperse an assembly” and that intentional use of lethal force is prohibited “unless it is strictly unavoidable to protect life.” Where force is used, law enforcement officials must ensure that medical assistance is rendered to any injured person.

“Gambia’s Police Intervention Unit has a history of using excessive force against demonstrators, and escaped censure during former President Jammeh’s abusive rule,” said Jim Wormington, West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Gambian government needs to show that it can conduct credible investigations and appropriately discipline or prosecute those responsible for abuses.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

This week, June 18 to 22, Antwerp hosts a meeting of governments, the diamond industry, and nongovernmental groups to take stock of the Kimberley Process, the certification process set up nearly two decades ago to end the trade in “blood diamonds.” But the Kimberley Process is not up to the task. The European Union—currently the chair of the Kimberley Process—should push for change to improve the protection of human rights starting with mining and throughout the entire supply chain. Belgium has a key role to play as well, as global diamond trading hub and EU member state.

Far away from Antwerp, villagers in Zimbabwe recently faced a violent crackdown by police and soldiers. Why? They were protesting because they believe that state-run companies have looted billions of dollars in revenue from local diamond mines with no benefit to their community. Residents say security force personnel beat women with batons, fired live ammunition into the air, and fired tear gas canisters to disperse the demonstrators—sending three children to the hospital.

Zimbabwe’s diamond mines have a long history of human rights abuses. Armed forces killed more than 200 people when the military first seized control of the mines in 2008 and have coerced children and adults into forced labor. In April, local organizations reported that security guards had handcuffed local miners and unleashed attack dogs on them.

Yet, diamonds from Zimbabwe are exported legally into the international market under the Kimberley Process. Diamonds tainted by abuse—in Zimbabwe or elsewhere—can still reach the global diamond market easily. The Kimberley Process is narrowly focused on curbing abuses perpetrated by armed groups, ignoring those of state actors. It also lacks an independent monitoring system to check if the necessary customs controls are actually in place. Finally, the Kimberley Process only applies to rough diamonds, allowing stones that are fully or partially cut and polished to fall outside the scope of the initiative.

This needs to change. At the Kimberley Process “intersessional” meeting this week, delegates should seek to strengthen human rights protection in diamond supply chains, including by expanding the Kimberley Process definition of conflict diamonds.

Under international standards, companies need to have due diligence safeguards in place to identify and respond to human rights risks throughout their supply chain. Yet, many jewelry companies do not live up to these standards. Human Rights Watch recently scrutinized the diamond sourcing practices of 13 leading jewelry and watch brands, whose combined annual revenue totals about US$30 billion. We found that many companies point to their compliance with the Kimberley Process as evidence that their diamonds are “responsibly sourced,” but take limited action to identify forced labor or other human rights risks in their diamond supply chains.

Companies and governments need to do much more to ensure human rights are protected. The Kimberley Process should adopt a wider definition of “conflict diamonds” to address abuses like those seen in Marange, and establish an independent monitoring system and ensure more rigorous controls. The diamond industry in Antwerp and elsewhere needs to take responsibility, too, and establish robust human rights safeguards throughout the supply chain, to ensure they are not linked to or contributing to human rights abuses in Marange or anywhere else.

Juliane Kippenberg is a child rights expert at Human Rights Watch and co-author of “The Hidden Cost of Jewelry”, a report on jewelry supply chains published in February 2018. Follow her on Twitter @KippenbergJ

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

Next week (June 18-22) the European Union hosts governments, the diamond industry, and nongovernmental groups in the diamond-trading city of Antwerp to take stock of the Kimberley Process, the certification process set up nearly two decades ago to end the trade in “blood diamonds.” But the Kimberley Process is not up to the task. The European Union-currently the chair of the Kimberley Process-should push for change to improve the protection of human rights starting with mining and throughout the entire supply chain.

An illegal diamond dealer from Zimbabwe displays diamonds for sale on September 19, 2010

© 2010 Reuters

Far away from Antwerp, villagers in Zimbabwe recently faced a violent crackdown by police and soldiers. Why? They were protesting because they believe that state-run companies have looted billions of dollars in revenue from local diamond mines with no benefit to their community. Residents say security force personnel beat women with batons, fired live ammunition into the air, and fired tear gas canisters to disperse the demonstrators-sending three children to the hospital.

Zimbabwe’s diamond mines have a long history of human rights abuses. Armed forces killed more than 200 people when the military first seized control of the mines in 2008 and have coerced children and adults into forced labour. In April, local organizations reported that security guards had handcuffed local miners and unleashed attack dogs on them.

Yet, diamonds from Zimbabwe are exported legally into the international market under the Kimberley Process. Diamonds tainted by abuse-in Zimbabwe or elsewhere-can still reach the global diamond market easily. The Kimberley Process is narrowly focused on curbing abuses perpetrated by armed groups, ignoring those of state actors. It also lacks an independent monitoring system to check if the necessary customs controls are actually in place. Finally, the Kimberley Process only applies to rough diamonds, allowing stones that are fully or partially cut and polished to fall outside the scope of the initiative.

This needs to change. At the Kimberley Process “intersessional” meeting in Antwerp this week, delegates should seek to strengthen human rights protection in diamond supply chains, including by expanding the Kimberley Process definition of conflict diamonds.

Under international standards, companies need to have due diligence safeguards in place to identify and respond to human rights risks throughout their supply chain. Yet, many jewelry companies do not live up to these standards. Human Rights Watch recently scrutinized the diamond sourcing practices of 13 leading jewelry and watch brands, whose combined annual revenue totals about US$30 billion. We found that many companies point to their compliance with the Kimberley Process as evidence that their diamonds are “responsibly sourced,” but take limited action to identify forced labor or other human rights risks in their diamond supply chains.

Companies and governments need to do much more to ensure human rights are protected. The Kimberley Process should adopt a wider definition of “conflict diamonds” to address abuses like those seen in Marange,  and establish an independent monitoring system and ensure more rigorous controls. Jewelry companies, diamond traders, and cutters and polishers need to take responsibility, too, and establish robust human rights safeguards throughout their supply chain, to ensure they are not linked to or contributing to human rights abuses in Marange or anywhere else.

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

(New York, June 13, 2018) – The World Bank, along with the Afghan government and its donors, should use its new education program to reverse the declining number of girls in school in Afghanistan, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday in a letter to bank management. The anticipated US$300 million donor-funded World Bank project, Education Quality Reform in Afghanistan (EQRA), is to be submitted for approval to the World Bank’s executive board in the coming weeks.

A June 2018 UNICEF report found that up to 3.7 million children in Afghanistan – nearly half the children in the country – are out of school, and 60 percent of those are girls. In six of the country’s 34 provinces – Helmand, Kandahar, Paktika, Uruzgan, Wardak and Zabul – 15 percent or less of girls are in school. For the first time since 2002, UNICEF found, the number of Afghan children studying is falling.

“There’s an education crisis in Afghanistan right now – with girls most affected – and the world is looking away,” said Heather Barr, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “It’s intolerable that nearly 17 years after the Taliban government’s fall, the number of girls going to school in Afghanistan is falling.”

The UNICEF findings are consistent with an October 2017 Human Rights Watch report that found that while deteriorating security is a significant barrier to girls’ education, girls were at increasing risk of missing school due to other factors. These include decreases and changes in donor support, and discrimination against girls within the Afghan government’s school system.

In addition to reducing funding, donors in many cases are shifting their bilateral aid from supporting nongovernmental organization-run schools focused on serving girls, to pooled funding through the World Bank program that directly funds the Afghan government’s education system. While direct government aid can improve sustainability, this particular shift is likely to harm girls’ ability to attend school because the government has made education inaccessible to many girls, Human Rights Watch said.

The Afghan government has 5,260 boys’ schools but only 2,531 girls’ schools – more than two to one. Many families want their daughters to study but will only accept them being taught by a female teacher – and in half of Afghanistan’s provinces, 20 percent or fewer teachers are female. Neither boys nor girls should have to study at a school without a toilet, but it is much harder for girls, especially as they reach puberty and begin menstruation – and 60 percent of Afghan government schools have no toilets.

EQRA will become the third World Bank project to support education in Afghanistan since 2002. It will receive funding from the World Bank-administered Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF). As of April 2018, donors to the ARTF, by pledge size, were: the European Union/European Community, the United States, United Kingdom, Denmark, Canada, Australia, Italy, Finland, South Korea, Switzerland, Japan, and Poland.

To move forward, the EQRA project will require approval by the World Bank’s board, which consists of donor countries to the bank’s work. That gives board members the opportunity to ensure that the education project and its respective donor countries give priority to addressing the disproportionate barriers to girls’ education.

“Girls’ education in Afghanistan is at urgent risk unless donors use their funds to ensure that the Afghan government takes this problem seriously,” Barr said. “The World Bank’s US$300 million education project is their best chance to turn this crisis around.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Re: Education Quality Reform in Afghanistan (EQRA) project

Dear Vice Presidents Dixon and Sennhauser,

I am writing on behalf of Human Rights Watch to update you on our research and to raise urgent issues regarding the World Bank’s funding for girls’ education in Afghanistan. We are specifically interested in the Education Quality Reform in Afghanistan (EQRA), which we expect will be reviewed by the World Bank board this summer.

EQRA will be the third World Bank education project in Afghanistan since 2001, following EQUIP 1 and EQUIP 2. With an anticipated US$300 million budget, it will play a major role in setting the direction of international support for education in Afghanistan for years to come.

Human Rights Watch’s October 2017 report on girls’ access to education in Afghanistan,[1] attached, found that in many parts of Afghanistan the number of girls going to school is falling.[2] Based on 249 interviews, most with out-of-school girls, in Kabul, Kandahar, Balkh, and Nangarhar provinces, we found that while deteriorating security is a barrier to girls’ education, other important factors are also driving this decline. 

Human Rights Watch’s research indicates that the Afghan government’s education system discriminates against or fails to provide access to education for girls in the following ways:

  1. There are fewer government schools for girls. The government has 5,260 boys-only general education schools, and 2,531 girls-only general education girls’ schools.[3]
  2. There is a dire shortage of female teachers – 20 percent or fewer in half Afghanistan’s provinces – and many families won’t let daughters study with a male teacher, especially as they get older. Afghan officials argue that it is difficult to get women to take teaching jobs, especially in remote areas, but a likely more important barrier is that because of corruption, teaching jobs are “purchased” in return for hundreds of dollars – something women are less able to do than men.[4]
  3. The government school system suffers from a lack of infrastructure, which specifically affects girls. For example, 60 percent of government schools have no toilets.[5] The lack of toilets has a disproportionate impact on girls, especially as they reach puberty and begin menstruation and have no facilities or privacy to manage their periods.

Our research also showed the importance of community-based education (CBE) programs, which are small schools that usually prioritize or solely serve girls. CBE is a completely parallel system of education from the government’s and risks being abandoned as funds are shifted from bilateral to multilateral funding mechanisms. As donors are giving less money, and the money they are giving is increasingly spent through pooled mechanisms rather than bilaterally, funding is being shifted out of CBE programs and into the government system that is not serving girls well — making it especially important that donors mitigate discrimination in the government system.[6]

In this context, we see the new EQRA project as a crucial moment for the World Bank to halt the decline in girls’ education in Afghanistan. Human Rights Watch strongly urges the Bank and the countries contributing to the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund to insist that EQRA include:

  1. A requirement that the government end discrimination in the number of girls’ schools versus boys’ schools. This can be done most quickly by turning boys’ schools into mixed schools, and accomplished through a shift system or separate classes in communities where co-education is not feasible;
  2. Specific targets and timeline for equalizing access of girls to equivalent qualified and adequately trained female teachers as boys have to male teachers;
  3. A specific plan, and funding, for ensuring that all mixed and girls’ schools have adequate toilets — meaning toilets that are accessible, private, locking, and have access to water on-site, waste receptacles, plans for upkeep, etc.;
  4. A long-term plan to ensure the survival of CBE by using EQRA to integrate CBE into the government school system. The Afghan Ministry of Education should receive EQRA funds to establish CBE programs for girls, and the World Bank should monitor closely to ensure that these schools are run properly and serve girls; and
  5. A commitment to monitoring with a focus on gender-equity, including gender disaggregation of all indicators, and specific monitoring of all measures focused on assisting girls. Monitoring of the EQRA program will be crucial to its success and needs to include, from the outset, indicators and monitoring mechanisms that will fully capture the impact of the program on girls.

Thank you, and we look forward to your response. We would also be most happy to discuss this research with you or your staff in person or by telephone.

Cc: World Bank Board of Executive Directors

[1] Human Rights Watch, “I Won’t be a Doctor and One Day You’ll Be Sick: Girls’ Access to Education in Afghanistan,” October 2017, (accessed June 12, 2018).

[2] This finding is confirmed by Afghan government statistics. Data in the government’s statistical yearbook for 2016-2017 compared to data 2015-2016 shows the number of girls enrolled in government schools fell in 32 out of 34 provinces. This decline is happening in a context in which girls were already frequently excluded. According to the Afghan Ministry of Education, 85 percent of all out-of-school children are girls. No province has 50 percent female students; in some provinces, enrolment is as low as 15 percent.

[3] Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Central Statistics Organization, Statistical Yearbook 2015-16 and 2016-17, and (accessed June 11, 2018).

[4] Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Monitoring and Evaluation Committee, “Vulnerability to Corruption Assessment of the Ministry of Education,” October 2017, (accessed June 11, 2018).

[5] Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Ministry of Education, “Afghanistan Education for All 2015 National Review,” 2015, (accessed June 6, 2018), p. 25.

[6] CBE consists of small, local schools designed to provide primary education, often on an accelerated basis, to children who are unable to attend government schools due to reasons of distance, security, lack of female teachers, etc. There has been rigorous research showing that CBE helps to eliminate the gender gap in enrollment and in test scores.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A child walks between bales of tobacco on an auction floor in Harare, Zimbabwe.  

© 2017 Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP Photo

Today is the World Day Against Child Labor, and this year’s theme highlights the global need to improve the health and safety of young workers and eradicate hazardous child labor.

Worldwide, about 73 million children work in hazardous conditions. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates a staggering 22,000 children are killed at work every year. Children who work often miss out on an education, and studies show they are less likely to find decent-paying jobs as adults. Human Rights Watch has documented the risks child workers face in agriculture, mining, the apparel industry, and other sectors.

On tobacco farms in Zimbabwe, Indonesia, and the United States, Human Rights Watch found that child workers face significant health risks from exposure to nicotine and toxic pesticides. Last year, we spoke to 15-year-old “Davidzo” who worked on a Zimbabwe tobacco farm. “The first day I started working in tobacco, that’s when I vomited.” He said he felt especially sick when he carried the harvested leaves. “I started to feel like I was spinning,” he said. “Since I started this [work], I always feel headaches and I feel dizzy.”

Like Davidzo, many child workers told us they experienced nausea, vomiting, headaches, and dizziness – all symptoms consistent with nicotine poisoning – after handling tobacco leaves. Children are particularly vulnerable to toxic chemicals because their bodies are developing.

In small-scale gold mines in Ghana, Mali, Tanzania, and the Philippines, Human Rights Watch documented how children work in underground pits, and have sometimes been killed when pits collapsed. Children use toxic mercury to process gold, without being aware that mercury can cause brain damage, and even kill.

Governments should take comprehensive action to regulate industries to prevent child labor, and businesses should conduct human rights due diligence, including monitoring child labor throughout their supply chains. Unfortunately, at present, governments and companies do not do enough to ensure rights are respected in supply chains, as our recent work on 13-well known jewelry companies shows. We found most companies are unable to identify where their gold and diamonds are sourced.

Human rights law leaves space for children older than 15 to work, as long as the jobs are safe and do not interfere with schooling – such work might actually benefit them. But no child should ever have to suffer injury, illness, pain, or even death in a dangerous workplace. We owe it to kids to protect them from these perils.

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

(Brussels, June 6, 2018) – The new European Union General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will enhance privacy and should spur other countries to improve protection of people’s personal information, Human Rights Watch said in a question and answer document released today. The document summarizes key portions of the EU law and discusses what comes next.

“In the digital age, so much of what we do generates data that can reveal intimate details of our lives, thoughts, and beliefs,” said Cynthia Wong, senior internet researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The GDPR is hardly perfect, but it strengthens protections for privacy in the EU and shows that strong safeguards for data are both possible and good for human rights.”

As of May 25, 2018, the new rules are legally binding across the EU’s 28 Member States. The law, agreed upon in 2016, is one of the strongest and most comprehensive attempts globally to regulate the collection and use of personal data by both governments and the private sector. If robustly implemented and enforced, it can bolster the right to privacy in Europe and serve as a useful model for countries such as the United States that have comparatively weak protections for personal data.

The regulation requires government agencies and companies such as Facebook and Google to obtain genuine and informed consent before they collect data, and to clearly explain how they will use, share, and store it. Internet users have the right to ask companies and other organizations what personal data they hold, request corrections, and withdraw consent for their data’s continued use. People can bring complaints about data misuse to national data protection regulators, who can investigate and impose penalties for violations.

Public and private entities must promptly report data breaches, build privacy safeguards into their systems – known as “privacy by design” – and allow people to download their data so they can easily switch service providers if they choose. People can also appeal decisions based on algorithmic or automated decision-making and profiling by requesting human review. Such a review would provide safeguards against discrimination if algorithms are used to determine, for example, eligibility for public benefits, insurance, credit, or employment.

The new EU rules contain some shortcomings and limitations. Many provisions include vague, undefined, or potentially overly permissive terms. For example, governments and companies may obtain and process data without consent if their “legitimate interests” outweigh a person’s rights and freedoms. The regulation’s permissible legitimate interests are either not well defined or broadly drawn, which could create significant loopholes.

Regulators and courts will need to work vigilantly to make sure that governments and corporations do not try to exploit ambiguities in violation of rights. In addition, the regulations will not curtail large-scale government surveillance as they allow government processing of data without consent for undefined “national security” and “public security” reasons.

Data protection laws are critically important for human rights in the digital age, Human Rights Watch said. Many countries around the world have few, if any, such protections. Recent scandals involving Facebook and Cambridge Analytica and public concern about digital data breaches, targeted advertising, and unchecked private sector profiling have driven calls for greater controls over how personal data is collected and used.

Governments and companies are increasingly amassing large pools of data on our private lives and using it to make important decisions that affect us,” Wong said. “Governments should regulate how this information is handled so that it is less vulnerable to abuse by governments, companies, or crooks.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Comprehensive data protection laws are essential for protecting human rights – most obviously, the right to privacy, but also many related freedoms that depend on our ability to make choices about how and with whom we share information about ourselves. The European Union General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is one of the strongest and most comprehensive attempts globally to regulate the collection and use of personal data by both governments and the private sector. It was enacted in 2016 by the European Union, and went into effect May 25, 2018, across the EU’s 28 Member States. If robustly implemented and enforced, it will bolster privacy protections in Europe and potentially far beyond.

The regulation’s new safeguards are particularly important for human rights in the digital age. Recent scandals involving Facebook and Cambridge Analytica and public concern about digital data breaches, targeted advertising, and private sector profiling have driven calls for greater controls over how personal data is collected and used.

The following questions and answers summarize key portions of the law and discuss what comes next.

  1. What is the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and to whom does it apply?

The EU GDPR is a new set of rules that aims to strengthen protections for personal data and to ensure consistency of such protections across the EU. The regulation builds upon the EU’s existing 1995 Data Protection Directive, an important set of laws that predates ubiquitous smart phones and the rise of social media and other online services (search, email, etc.) that companies offer free-of-charge to users, but finance with data-driven targeted advertising. The EU regulation expands the directive’s privacy protections and introduces new safeguards in response to these technological developments.

In the digital age, everything a person does online generates or implicates data that can be highly revealing about their private life. The GDPR provides new ways people can protect their personal data, and by extension their privacy and other human rights. It gives everyone more control, and requires businesses, governments, and other organizations to disclose more about their data practices, and regulates the way they collect, process, and store people’s data.

Personal data” is defined broadly under the GDPR to include “any information relating to an identified or identifiable person.” Thus, even data that does not directly identify a named person, but could still help identify them, is still covered by the law. This definition encompasses online and device identifiers (like IP addresses, cookies, or device IDs), location data, user names, and pseudonymous data.

Although the GDPR is an EU regulation, it will affect the data practices of many organizations outside the EU. It applies to any organization that offers free or paid goods or services to people in the EU, or that monitors the behavior of anyone in the EU, regardless of the organization’s location. This includes, for example, large US internet companies, advertising companies, and data brokers that process the personal data of people in the EU. Under the regulation, “processing data” is defined broadly to include any activity that touches personal data, such as collecting, storing, using, or sharing it.

For the purposes of this Q&A, we refer to the obligations of “organizations” and companies. However, it is important to note that the GDPR’s requirements apply to a broad range of private and public sector entities, including government agencies, companies, and non-governmental organizations.

  1. What are the distinctive protections of the GDPR?

The EU regulation requires all organizations, public and private, that process personal data of people in the EU to put into place certain protections and disclose more information about what data they collect and how they will use and share it. It also provides many more privacy protections for people and the data they may be giving a company or government agency. For example:

  • Companies must ask for consent before collecting or using a person’s data. In most circumstances, companies, governments, and other organizations must now obtain genuine and informed consent before they can collect, use, or share a person’s personal data. The request for consent must be clearly distinguishable, in an intelligible and easily accessible form, and use clear and plain language [Art. 6(1)(a)]. In other words, the request for consent has to be easy to find, and easy to understand.
  • Special protections apply to sensitive information. Processing certain special categories of sensitive data is very tightly regulated. These include information revealing someone’s racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs, or trade union membership, as well as data about genetics, health, and biometrics (for example, fingerprints, facial recognition and other body measurements) [Art. 9].
  • Companies must treat online identifiers and location data as personal data [Art. 4(1)]. That means that information that advertisers and websites use to track online activity like cookies, device identifiers, and IP addresses are entitled to the same level of protection as other personal data. Such information can be highly revealing about online searches and activity, especially when combined with other data companies hold.
  • Companies must explain how a person’s personal data is used, shared, and stored [Art. 13], even if they obtained their data from another company like a data broker or social media company [Art. 14].
  • Anyone can ask a company what personal data they hold about them free of charge [Art. 15] and then request that it be deleted.
  • A person can download their personal data and move it to a competitor through a new right to data portability [Art. 20]. For example, everyone should be able to take their data from one social media network or financial institution in a format that enables them to more easily switch to another.  
  • Companies are encouraged to build privacy-protecting mechanisms into their systems – a concept known as privacy by design [Art. 25]. Under the regulations, those who process data must carry out technical and organizational security measures designed to protect the data from abuse, loss or misuse – for example, by minimizing the data they collect, and considering the use of pseudonyms and encryption. Where the risk to people’s rights seems high, and particularly where the technology is new, companies are required to conduct data protection impact assessments before processing data [Art 35].
  • Data breaches must be reported to authorities [Art. 33] under almost all circumstances, and people must also be informed if their data is subject to a breach that is likely to result in a “high risk” to their rights and freedoms [Art. 34].

The 1995 EU Data Protection Directive imposed many of the same requirements, but the GDPR strengthens and expands the directive’s obligations.

  1. How does the GDPR protect individuals and human rights?

The GDPR gives people enhanced protections against unnecessary data collection, use of data in unanticipated ways, and biased algorithmic decision-making. In the digital age, personal data is intrinsically linked to people’s private life and other human rights. Everything a person does leaves digital traces that can reveal intimate details of their thoughts, beliefs, movements, associates, and activities. The GDPR seeks to limit abusive intrusions into people’s private lives through their data, which in turn protects a range of other human rights.

The EU regulation gives people in EU member states more control over their personal data, including what information they turn over, how it is used, and with whom it is shared. When a company collects someone’s personal data, it will often need to get consent in plain language, which means the person will often be asked to “opt-in” to collection or use of their data. Companies should collect and process only what data is necessary for the service, whether selling something online or creating a social media account.

Individuals can download and view the data collected on them, ask for corrections, request that their data be erased in some circumstances, and withdraw consent for the data’s continued use. People also have the right to object to online profiling and targeted advertising, and entities must then stop processing their personal data unless the company can demonstrate “compelling legitimate grounds” to do otherwise. Though the regulations don’t define what will be considered “compelling legitimate grounds,” they do provide an absolute right to object to and stop direct marketing by email, phone calls, and text messages.

After data is collected, companies have to be more transparent about how they share it with others. In theory, this means users may be able to learn more about how companies approach online profiling and ad-targeting partnerships, especially those that offer web analytics, advertising, or social media services.

Finally, the new framework also guarantees some protections from decisions based on profiling and from computer-generated decisions [Art. 22]. Systems that incorporate algorithmic decision-making or other forms of profiling can lead to discrimination based on race, sex, religion, national origin, or other status. Even if individuals consent, they still have the right to human review of significant results from automated decision-making systems. As governments and companies increasingly use algorithms to make important decisions about people’s lives, such as whether a person gets public benefits, health insurance, credit, or a job, these protections promise a degree of transparency and accountability and safeguard against discrimination that affects a person’s human rights.

  1. How clear are the rights and duties under the GDPR?

The GDPR, like any new rule, will become clearer over time as people and companies challenge practices and interpretations of its requirements. There are already certain areas that are likely to be contentious and await further resolution.

Member States of the EU have a certain amount of flexibility in deciding how to apply the law and reflect it in their own national data protection regimes. One area in which some variation is expected is the age at which children can themselves consent to the processing of their data without a parent or guardian. The EU regulation allows member states to set the age of consent to anywhere between ages 13 and 16. This raises the risk of inconsistencies in approaches across the European Union.

Another area of uncertainty is when the regulation permits organizations to obtain and process a person’s data without consent if the entity’s “legitimate interests” outweigh a person’s rights and freedoms. Some of the legitimate interests that entities can rely on include fraud prevention, internal administration, information security, and reporting possible criminal acts. But direct marketing is also a legitimate interest, raising a potentially much broader category against which the individual’s rights would be weighed. Depending on how the “legitimate interests” provision is interpreted, it could create a major loophole allowing data collectors to avoid seeking consent. One safeguard is that the EU member states will still need to apply and enforce the regulation in a way that ensures respect for people’s human rights found in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

  1.  What problems will the GDPR not be able to solve?

The EU regulation will not curtail large-scale government surveillance, as it allows for government surveillance under broad exemptions. Government agencies can process personal data without consent if there is a “national security,” “defense,” or “public security” concern, terms the regulation does not define. As the EU’s Court of Justice has established, however, such terms do not provide carte blanche for countries to do whatever they like. International and regional human rights laws (and any national regulations that do not conflict with the EU regulation) still apply to limit the surveillance and data processing activities of intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

However, many European states have expanded their surveillance laws in recent years, undermining protections for privacy and other human rights. In the coming years, the EU Court of Justice is likely to be called on to delineate the regulation’s state interest exceptions in the context of EU, European, and international human rights law.

The strengthened data protections under the EU regulation also highlight how much weaker US data protection regulations are in comparison. It also exacerbates concerns about transfers of EU data to the US under the Privacy Shield agreement. Under EU law, US companies can’t transfer EU personal data to the US unless they show it will be protected in ways “essentially equivalent” to protections in Europe. In a 2015 case against Facebook brought by a privacy advocate, Max Schrems, the EU’s top court invalidated an agreement allowing such transfers, citing concerns that US intelligence agencies could access European data indiscriminately, without meaningful redress if agencies violated rights.

Under pressure to restore cross-Atlantic data flows, in July 2016, the US Commerce Department and the European Commission reached a new deal, the Privacy Shield, with promises of stronger data protection. The deal relies on written assurances by the US director of national intelligence that European data won’t be subject to “indiscriminate mass surveillance.”

However, this deal was flawed from the start since Privacy Shield doesn’t prevent dragnet surveillance of European data. As a result, Human Rights Watch contends that US surveillance laws and practices make the Privacy Shield invalid.

  1. What happens if companies and other institutions don’t comply with the GDPR?

The EU regulation imposes stiff penalties on public and private sector organizations that violate its terms. For example, regulators can fine companies up to €20 million or 4 percent of annual global turnover (revenue) for non-compliance, whichever is larger.   

  1. What effect will the GDPR have outside the EU?

The EU regulation is likely to become a de facto global standard, much as the previous European Data Protection Directive did, because it will apply to any organization that collects or processes the data of EU citizens, regardless of where the organization is based or where the EU data is processed. It is also possible that non-European countries will copy some or many of its protections as they modernize or establish data protection laws.

The GDPR may become the standard many organizations follow by default everywhere, or at least elements of it. Some multinational companies may choose to apply the EU regulation to everyone worldwide, while others may attempt to identify and apply a separate set of rules for people in the EU. For example, Microsoft, Apple, and Twitter announced that they would extend at least some of the regulation’s protections to their customers worldwide, with varying degrees of detail about which provisions would be applied. Facebook has also said it will extend the GDPR’s protections “in spirit” to users located outside the EU, but has stopped short of a commitment to apply the regulation globally. At the same time, the firm took steps to ensure that Facebook users in Africa, Asia, Australia, and Latin America may not fall under the regulation’s ambit.

Still other businesses may exit the EU market altogether or temporarily block people in the EU while they work to come into compliance. In other cases, systems developed in response to the EU regulation, like data portability, could be easily offered for users outside Europe once they are in place.

All countries should adopt comprehensive data protection laws that place individuals’ human rights at their center. The GDPR is not perfect, but it is one of the strongest data protection regime in force anywhere in the world. Governments should regulate the private sector’s treatment of personal data with clear laws, and limit companies’ collection and use of people’s data to safeguard rights.

  1. What happens next with the GDPR?

In recent weeks, many companies and other institutions have sent out a flurry of notices about changes to their terms of service and privacy policies in preparation for the EU regulation’s deadline. Yet some of corporate notices have raised questions about whether companies are already circumventing the spirit of the regulations. For example, the EU regulation requires companies to get informed consent from users before collecting or using their data. But journalists previewing Facebook’s privacy policy consent notices criticized them for being designed to encourage unthinking (rather than informed and meaningful) consent and for failing to provide users adequately detailed controls over their data.

On April 30, the EU’s top data protection official, European data protection supervisor Giovanni Buttarrelli, warned regulators to be “vigilant about attempts to game the system,” pointing to the stream of privacy policy updates that appeared to press users to consent to broad digital tracking as a “take-it-or-leave-it proposition.” This warning underscores the difficulty of ensuring meaningful, informed consent, even with enhanced transparency.

The GDPR will most likely lead to a flood of court cases and enforcement actions as data protection authorities and companies contest the contours of the new rules and the meaning of ambiguous terms. On May 25, privacy advocate Max Schrems had already filed the first complaints against Google and Facebook in France, Belgium, Germany, and Austria alleging failure to give European users specific control over their data. Schrems contends that the companies’ all-or-nothing approach to their terms of service is a form of “forced consent.” If successful, the complaints could result in up to €7.6 billion (around US$8.8 billion) in fines.

Effective implementation, monitoring, and enforcement are now needed to ensure that the GDPR truly protects the personal information that people share with Internet and technology companies, governments, and others.

  1. What impact will the GDPR have on freedom of expression? 

The regulations provide for a right to erasure [Art. 17]. This provision expands what had become known as the “right to be forgotten” that the EU Court of Justice had established in 2014 in a case against Google Spain. Under the GDPR, individuals can ask companies to erase personal data in specific circumstances: for example, if the data is no longer necessary for the purposes for which it was collected; if the individual withdraws consent or objects and there is no overriding justification for keeping it; or if the data was otherwise unlawfully processed in breach of the GDPR. This right also applies if the personal data has been made public, raising considerable implementation difficulties given the ease with which online information can be copied and shared across multiple websites in various jurisdictions.

The rules provide exceptions, including if the data processing is necessary for the exercise of freedom of expression and information or for archival or research purposes. However, these exceptions are not well defined in the GDPR, and are left for national legislation to elaborate. Because private platforms risk penalty for non-compliance, the provision may tend to encourage unnecessary or excessive take-downs of content, infringing freedom of expression. In addition, leaving determinations about when processing is necessary for freedom of expression (and other public interest grounds) to the discretion of companies, rather than impartial tribunals, means there is little procedural recourse for those who wish to continue to have access to information that is removed.

The “right to be forgotten” developed in EU Court of Justice rulings has been criticized for enabling people to suppress truthful, non-defamatory information that simply may be unflattering. For example, people in positions of public trust (such as elected officials, priests, and financial professionals) have attempted to use the right to be forgotten to remove news articles discussing their previous criminal convictions from Google search results.

The contours between data protection and freedom of expression will continue to be contested as individuals invoke the GDPR’s right to erasure.

Finally, the EU regulation is not designed to address the spread of disinformation, hate speech, or other illegal content online.

  1. What else needs to be done to protect data and the right to privacy?

The GDPR is a vital step toward stronger privacy protections. However, it will not be effective without interpretation, implementation, and enforcement.

National data protection authorities will need to rigorously respond to complaints, promptly investigate breaches, and actively pursue investigations to enforce the provisions. Many data protection authorities are poorly resourced, particularly in comparison to large companies, and lack the capacity to play a comprehensive enforcement role. Member states should allocate appropriate financial and human resources to data protection authorities.

Even with strong enforcement, there are still many structural challenges to achieving the GDPR’s vision of data privacy and control. For one, while the regulation requires consent before companies can collect or process data, meaningful informed consent is difficult to achieve without choice. Many large online services have few real competitors, so users are faced with either consenting to a social network’s terms or missing out on a central component of modern social or professional life. Though the Schrems case may force some positive changes, the GDPR doesn’t fully address the effects of this kind of monopoly power.

In addition, informed consent will only become more elusive over time as advertising ecosystems become more complex. The EU regulation doesn’t directly challenge ad-driven business models that invite users to trade their personal data for free online services like email, social networking, or search engines – all while using that data to create detailed profiles to sell to advertising networks. The average user may consent to data processing without a true understanding of the complexities of how their data will be used, despite the regulation’s requirement of clear privacy notices. The GDPR’s approach to consent may make it more difficult for future Cambridge Analyticas to gain unsanctioned access to data, but it is far from clear whether the regulation can fully prevent unexpected or abusive use of personal data, such as for “psychometric” election advertising. Human rights are a minimum standard that cannot be waived by consent, even if all potential uses of data could be foreseen. Ultimately, the digital society may require many more substantive protections than a consent-based model can provide.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

After nearly 16 months behind bars, trade union leaders Nurbek Kushakbaev and Amin Eleusinov are finally back home with their families in western Kazakhstan.

Nurbek Kushakbaev handcuffed in an Astana court. Astana, April 7, 2017.

© 2017 Timur Aitmukhanbetov (RFE/RL)

Kushakbaev and Eleusinov were arrested on January 20 last year after participating in a peaceful workers’ protest against the unjustified forced closure of the country’s main independent union group, the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Kazakhstan (KNPRK). Early last month, courts granted Kushakbaev and Eleusinov parole, and they were released from prison two weeks later.

Kazakhstan has long violated workers’ rights, but the government is gaining a reputation at the international level for cracking down on freedom of association in the workplace and the right to organize – rights enshrined in key conventions of the International Labour Organization (ILO), to which Kazakhstan is party.

Amin Yeleusinov.

© 2017 Sania Toiken (RFE/RL)

The trade unionists’ release on parole coincided with a high-level mission to Kazakhstan by the ILO, which in 2017 criticized the country’s “persistent lack of progress” in addressing worker abuses and demanded the Kazakh government take steps to improve, including amending the country’s restrictive 2014 trade union law and letting the KNPRK go about its work in peace. But so far Kazakhstan has taken no meaningful steps to address these, or other, violations noted by the ILO.

And the ILO is not the only body that’s voiced its concerns. Last December, the European Parliament condemned the forced closure of KNPRK and urged Kazakhstan to revise its problematic trade union and labor laws. The United States Trade Representative is set to review Kazakhstan’s labor rights record later this month too.

If the US trade representative finds that Kazakhstan is violating internationally protected workers’ rights (which it should, given Kazakhstan’s track record), Kazakhstan could lose more than just its reputation. Such a decision would have significant financial consequences for Kazakhstan, as the outcome could affect duty-free trade Kazakhstan currently enjoys with the US.

The Kazakh authorities should now have Kushakbaev’s and Eleusinov’s convictions quashed and lift the ongoing restrictions on their engagement in trade union activism – as well as those imposed on KNPRK President Larisa Kharkova. It should also reform its deeply flawed trade union law, as the ILO has been demanding for four years.

This would help the country shed its terrible reputation for labor rights, but also be the right thing to do for workers across Kazakhstan.

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