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

A Chinese national flag sways in front of Google China's headquarters in Beijing on January 14, 2010.

© 2010 Reuters

(New York) – Stakeholders and shareholders in Google and Facebook should urge the companies not to exchange user rights for access to China’s market, Human Rights Watch said. According to reporting in The Intercept, Google has been developing a search engine app to comply with China’s expansive censorship requirements. Facebook previously developed a censored version of its service for China, though never launched it.

The US Congress, European Parliament, and other legislatures around the world should express concern at US companies who are cooperating with China’s censorship and surveillance, Human Rights Watch said.

“Technology companies should be challenging China’s censorship – not complicit in it,” said Cynthia Wong, senior internet researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Shareholders in Google and Facebook who care about human rights should urge these companies not to compromise them for access to China’s market.”

Leaked documents examined by The Intercept describe the company’s plans to launch a censored version of its search engine as an Android app. According to the media report, Google has already demonstrated the app to Chinese officials and is waiting for approval for launch. The project, code-named Dragonfly, has been in development since spring 2017. According to reporting by The Intercept, work on the project accelerated following a meeting between Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Chinese government officials in December 2017, and the app could launch in the next six to nine months. The company is also in talks with potential Chinese partners to provide other cloud services inside the country, according to separate media reports.

Human Rights Watch reached out to Google to ask how it proposes to safeguard human rights as it seeks to expand its products and services in China. HRW had not received a response for the record at time of this publication.

China’s extensive censorship regime restricts a wide range of peaceful expression that officials deem politically sensitive, including criticism of government policy and information that does not conform to official narratives. China’s Great Firewall Internet filtering system blocks websites at the national level, including Google and Facebook services. Broadly drafted laws also require social media services, search engines, and websites that host user content to censor politically sensitive information on its behalf. The government issues vaguely worded censorship orders and expects companies to proactively restrict access to broad categories of information.

“Google withdrew from China in 2010 because the human rights and cybersecurity environment was too precarious,” Wong said. “Since then, China renewed its crackdown on rights and enacted new laws that conscript tech firms in censorship and surveillance, but the company hasn’t explained how this time will be any better.”

According to media reports, Google’s custom Chinese search app would comply with the censorship regime by automatically identifying and filtering sites blocked by the Great Firewall. Filtered sites would not be shown in response to searches, and the company would notify the user that some results may have been removed. Examples of websites that would be censored include the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and Wikipedia, according to documents seen by The Intercept.

Google is not the only US internet company considering whether to censor to seek access to the Chinese market. In November 2016, the New York Times reported that Facebook was developing software “to suppress posts from appearing in people’s news feeds in specific geographic areas,” specifically “to help Facebook get into China.” The report states that Facebook would “offer the software to enable a third party—in this case, most likely a partner Chinese company—to monitor popular stories and topics,” and would allow that third party to “have full control to decide whether those posts should show up in users’ feeds.”

Facebook’s formal entry into China would raise many of the same human rights concerns faced by Google. Facebook holds highly sensitive information about its users’ networks and affiliations, which the government may demand the company disclose. Online activists could be particularly at risk because of Facebook’s policy of requiring users to employ an “authentic identity” – a name that is commonly used by family and friends, that might also be found on certain types of identity documents. Human rights organizations and officials, including Human Rights Watch and United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of expression David Kaye, have long criticized this policy, because it can chill online expression and is also likely to be disproportionately enforced against those who use pseudonyms because they are at risk of reprisals.

In 2016, Human Rights Watch wrote to Facebook to ask whether the proposed system would proceed and how Facebook intends to avoid complicity with Chinese state censorship, and also asked how Facebook would protect its users from abusive surveillance and reprisals for their online activity if Facebook launches a version of their application that complies with Chinese law. In a written response, Facebook stated that “at this time we have not concluded how or when access to Facebook could be restored for people in China, recognizing the principal role the Chinese government plays in making this decision” and that “as we continue to study this market, we will consider the important points you raise.”

In May 2017, Facebook quietly launched a photo-sharing app, Colorful Balloons, in China through a local company without a public connection to Facebook. The company has also unsuccessfully sought to open an innovation hub and subsidiaries in China.

In August 2018, Human Rights Watch again contacted Facebook for updates to its approach to China. HRW had not received a response for the record at time of this publication.

From 2006 to 2010, Google ran a censored version of its search engine in China. In March 2010, the company announced it would stop censoring search results in China, citing concerns about online censorship, surveillance, and cyber-attacks directed at the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. As a result, the search engine has remained inaccessible to mainland Chinese users, along with other Google services.

Since 2010, the Chinese government has only broadened and intensified its crackdown on human rights, especially after President Xi Jinping took power in 2013. In recent years, authorities have tightened censorship requirements, restricted access to censorship circumvention tools, and strengthened ideological control over all media. In 2017, the government shut down dozens of social media accounts, called on internet companies to “actively promote socialist core values,” and passed stricter regulations to require real-name registration, disabling people from protecting their identities if they engaged in disfavored speech. Authorities have subjected more human rights defenders, including foreigners, to show trials, subjected them to torture, and often held them incommunicado for months.

The government has significantly broadened mass surveillance efforts using big data and artificial intelligence-driven technology across China, particularly in the minority region of Xinjiang. The government also recently enacted laws that impose new requirements on companies to facilitate online surveillance. The Cybersecurity Law requires certain technology companies to retain, store, and disclose user data inside China and monitor and report “network security incidents.” Other new rules require app providers to keep user logs for 60 days to reduce the spread of “illegal information.” Under Chinese law, “security incidents” and “illegal information” are often defined broadly to encompass peaceful criticism of the government.

The Chinese government’s intensified offensive against human rights makes the timing of Google’s and Facebook’s actions particularly troubling and disappointing, Human Rights Watch said.

Google already provides two apps in China, Google Translate and file management app Files Go, though its own app store, Google Play, remains blocked. However, offering services via mobile phone apps raises additional human rights concerns that were not present when Google first entered China in 2006, when smart phones were not ubiquitous. Mobile applications can access extraordinarily sensitive data stored on phones, including contact lists, files, messages, photos, device identifiers, and location information, and can also turn on a phone’s camera and microphone if given permission by the user. Often users approve access without fully understanding the personal data that would be available. Such personal data would be more vulnerable to monitoring and collection by mobile service providers and public security agencies in China.

“US tech companies shouldn’t enter China until they can show they won’t become repression’s helping hands,” said Wong. “In the current human rights environment, that seems unlikely.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Police officers check the identity cards of a people as security forces keep watch in a street in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China on March 24, 2017.

© 2017 Thomas Peter/Reuters

Global concern is finally on the rise about Xinjiang, a region of China in which ethnically Turkic Muslims have long endured shocking repression. As governments grapple for ways to put pressure on Beijing over these abuses, attention is turning toward whether international firms doing business in the region are complying with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, that set out companies’ responsibilities to respect human rights. 

Chinese authorities are creating a profiling and policing infrastructure to identify people considered disloyal to the Chinese Communist Party under the ruse of promoting “social stability.” Human Rights Watch has documented the Xinjiang police’s abusive mass surveillance projects, including gathering DNA and other biometric information, often without people’s knowledge or consent. China lacks privacy protections against state surveillance, or an independent judicial system. Ethnic minorities have no real power to question – much less resist – authorities’ demands.

In June 2017, Human Rights Watch discovered that Thermo Fisher, a Massachusetts-based biotechnology company, had sold DNA processing technology to the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau. Human Rights Watch wrote repeatedly to the company about abuses in Xinjiang, and asking whether it is complying with the Guiding Principles to ensure that its business operations aren’t furthering abuses. Its replies provide little comfort: that it is legal to sell the equipment; that, “given the global nature of our operations, it is not possible for us to monitor the use or application of all products we manufactured;” and that they “expect all of our customers to act in accordance with appropriate regulations and industry-standard best practices.”

In June, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross asserted in a letter to the Congressional Executive Commission on China that Thermo Fisher’s sales were legal. At a July commission hearing, Senator Marco Rubio aptly pointed out that, “China lacks the kinds of legal safeguards that other countries implement to manage their DNA databases,” and added, “These are the same companies that are up here every day in Washington, D.C. lobbying for us not to raise these issues so they can have access to China’s 1.3-billion-person marketplace...This is sick.”

All governments concerned about the increasingly dire situation in Xinjiang should ask companies from their countries a critical question: what you are doing in Xinjiang may not break the law – but is it defensible?

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

Andrew Wheeler, the former coal lobbyist who became acting administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) after Scott Pruitt resigned, is weakening rules that protect people who live near coal-fired plants from the toxic ash left from burning coal.

Coal-fired power plants across the United States produce more than 100 million of tons of toxic ash every year. For decades, many states have allowed power companies to dump most of this ash into watery pits that are, on average, the size of nearly 40 football fields.

These pits, created with little or no regulatory oversight, pose a risk of a catastrophic spill flooding nearby communities with toxic sludge and widespread leaching of dangerous heavy metals into groundwater. Half of the U.S. population relies on groundwater for drinking, and private wells near power plants are especially vulnerable to contamination from coal ash.

Three days before Christmas in 2008, a dam broke on a coal ash pond in Kingston, Tennessee, spilling more than a billion gallons of black sludge into the Emory River. The spill, which took five years and cost more than $1 billion to clean up, was a dramatic reminder of the public health threat posed by the more than 1,000 coal-ash disposal sites that dot nearly every U.S state.

Coal ash from the Kingston Fossil Plant spill piles up along an inlet that empties into the Emory River, near Kingston, Tennessee in 2008.

© Brian Stansberry

A subsequent EPA review found that the majority of coal-ash disposal sites are more than three decades old, which poses a problem for their structural integrity. Groundwater tests near ponds found high levels of such hazardous metals as arsenic, lead, mercury, and hexavalent chromium.

In 2015, under President Barack Obama, the EPA finalized new rules for coal ash after receiving 450,000 public comments and conducting eight public hearings. These set protections for people living near coal-fired power stations while allowing coal ash to be sold for reuse in concrete and other materials. And it imposed new monitoring requirements on power companies.

On March 1, power companies revealed for the first time the extent of coal-ash contamination of groundwater. That same day, the EPA, then under Pruitt, released its proposal to weaken the federal coal-ash rule by allowing state regulators to suspend groundwater monitoring and increase maximum permitted contaminant levels, among other measures.

On July 18, Wheeler finalized these rule changes, touting a $30 million annual savings in regulatory costs. For the multibillion-dollar power industry, these savings hardly seem like a plausible reason to eviscerate existing rules. Perhaps the greater motive is keeping the extent of pollution hidden from public view.

In the single public hearing the EPA held before finalizing this rule change, Lee McCarty, the mayor of a small town in Alabama that has a leaking coal-ash pond, exhorted the EPA not to weaken the rule. “My county voted 72 percent for the Republican administration,” he told the EPA representatives, “yet I have not had a single person” who supports this rule change. “If this is the best that the Environmental Protection Agency can do, I would say please, at least for transparency reasons, change your name to the UPA, the Utilities Protection Agency.”

In announcing the final rule, the EPA has promised even more changes to the coal-ash rule later this year. Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle should protect the health of the people they represent and insist that the EPA safeguard their constituents’ drinking water and ensure their right to information about possible contamination.

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

An inmate makes a phone call from his cell at the Orange County jail in Santa Ana, California, May 24, 2011.

© 2011 Reuters

The New York City Council voted this week to provide free telephone calls for anyone held in the city’s correctional facilities. The move will save New York City inmates and their families an estimated US$8 million a year.

Until this law takes effect, phone services in the city’s jails will continue to be provided by Securus Technologies which, like other private companies, charges inmates and their families, the ultimate ‘captive customers’, at higher than average rates.

Currently, Securus charges an initial fee of 50 cents, plus 5 cents per minute for calls within New York, as well as fees for depositing funds. The cost of calls can quickly become prohibitive. With black people and Latinos making up over 86% of inmates in New York City, communities of color primarily bear these high costs. Many already lived in poverty before their arrests, and are held in pre-trial detention simply because they cannot afford to pay bail.

The new law will also prohibit the city from making revenue for itself on phone call fees. City government had a revenue sharing agreement with Securus, which guaranteed the city at least $5 million in income each year.

Phone calls provide an important link between people in custody and their families. Inmates that maintain family ties have an easier re-entry process, and may be less likely to reoffend. Children also benefit from having regular contact with parents in prison. The city should not look to raise revenues by charging people for these vital connections, nor should low income families be forced to sacrifice basic necessities to pay for calls.

Last year, a court ruled that the Federal Communications Commission cannot set caps on the cost of in-state prison phone calls, leaving it to each state and local jurisdiction to set the fees. New York City is among the first jurisdictions to eliminate fees altogether, and prohibit revenue sharing contracts. In the absence of national legislation, other cities and states should follow suit. People in custody should be able to stay in touch with their families without paying an exorbitant price.

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

(Sydney, July 26, 2018) – Australia’s proposed modern slavery law needs revisions to be effective in preventing and ending labor rights abuses, Human Rights Watch said today in a submission to Australia’s Parliamentary Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee. 

The Modern Slavery Bill 2018 defines “modern slavery” to include the worst forms of child labor, human trafficking, and criminal offenses including forced labor, forced marriage, and slavery-like practices. 

“Australia’s modern slavery bill takes some critical steps toward holding companies to account for serious abuses in their supply chains, but to be truly effective the law needs teeth,” said Elaine Pearson, Australia director at Human Rights Watch. “The bill should lower the threshold for reporting, require the government to publicize a list of companies required to report its practices, and impose penalties for noncompliance.”

The bill is the result of extensive consultation with nongovernmental groups and businesses. 

It requires companies with annual revenue of AU$100 million (US$74 million) to submit statements describing their operations and supply chains, risks for modern slavery, attempts to assess and address those risks, and the effectiveness of those actions. Human Rights Watch urged lowering the cap to AU$25 million (US$18 million), and requiring the government to publish a list of companies covered by the law to make it harder for companies to ignore the requirement.

In addition, the bill should require companies to conduct a systematic examination of their operations and supply chains for modern slavery risks, and should provide for penalties when companies fail to comply with the law.

“Companies that fail to identify and address forced labor in their supply chains should face legal consequences,” Pearson said. “Greater transparency also helps Australian consumers to know that their dollars are not going to support trafficking or child labor.”

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.
 

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL

ENOUGH PROJECT

GLOBAL WITNESS

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH

IMPACT

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